The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

 

Clearing the Bases: Chitter Chatter Pitter Patter

A few things:

• The 12-minute spot I recorded on Wednesday morning for "The Young Guns" show on Boston's WWZN 1510 AM is available here. Hopefully now that the show's got a blog they'll be archiving all of my appearances so I can share them here (you can listen to a web stream if you're not in the Boston market but that's live).

As for the clip, once you adjust for the fact that I'd been awake for about seven minutes and was trying to force enough coffee down my gullet to sound coherent, it sounds fine. Though the emphasis is on the Red Sox, there's lots of talk about both LCS matchups.

• I'll be hosting a chat at Baseball Prospectus on Thursday at 2 PM Eastern to discuss both series and anything else you may have on your mind. Those of you looking for something to do after getting home from Yom Kippur services can get a head start on next year's atonement slate by stopping by; that's my plan, at least.

• Familiar faces Joe Sheehan and Cliff Corcoran have nice little wrapups of the Division Series at SI.com on the topic of "What We Learned," in five bite-sized chunks. Cliff's piece covers the AL; here's what he had to say about the Rays:
4. The Rays are an extremely well-rounded team

The Rays aren't going to crush their opponents. They don't have a shut-down ace (though they might when David Price is ready for his close-up). They don't have a don't-let-him-beat-you masher in their lineup (though Evan Longoria could quickly mature into such a hitter). They don't really even have a closer (though curse-spewing Aussie Grant Balfour could assume the role before the postseason is over). They scored just 4.78 runs per game in the regular season, which was a lowly ninth in the AL, and didn't score more than six in any game of the ALDS. They aren't going to beat their opponents into submission; they're just going to out-play them.

The Rays were second in the AL in walks, led the league in stolen bases with a respectable 74 percent success rate, and were the best team in the majors at turning balls in play into outs. Speed, patience, and defense are perhaps the must undervalued skills in the game, and the last has a very large effect on pitching, which is a large reason why the Rays allowed 1.7 fewer runs per game this year than last. The Rays were also second in the AL in one-run wins (to the Angels, who ironically fell one-run short last night) and led the league in extra-inning victories.

One way to look at those stats is to say that the Rays are a team balancing on a razor's edge. Another is to say they're a team that wins games on the margins by being one step faster on the bases and in the field, by tracking down one extra out, and extending their own half of the inning by one extra at-bat, and by not allowing their opponents to plan around their one big bopper or their ace starter. Akinori Iwamura, Dioner Navarro, and Carlos Peña were the top Tampa hitters in the ALDS, but Longoria and Upton both had multi-homer games. Their bullpen allowed one run in 11 2/3 innings while striking out 13. James Shields, Scott Kazmir, and Matt Garza are each capable of a dominant pitching performance. The Rays are dangerous because, while none of their players is going to single-handedly destroy their opponent, they're all capable of hurting them, and the opposing team never knows where the blow are going to come from on any given day.
Joe's piece is on the NL, and his point about the Brewers reflects a change in tune from his thoughts a couple days earlier, perhaps reflecting the enthusiasm he saw in Miller Park last weekend even as the Brew Crew went down in defeat:
4. Despite the early exit, the CC Sabathia trade was worth it for the Brewers.

They may miss Matt LaPorta down the road, as not having him limits their options for future trades, but the Brewers would not have made the postseason without Sabathia, and making the postseason has been a great moment for this franchise. After such a disappointing 2007, in which they blew an 8 1/2-game lead in the NL Central, there was a risk that another such season would jade a fan base just as the products of the farm system were coming together.

By winning a tight wild-card race, bringing October baseball back to Milwaukee and generating towel-waving, Thunderstick-banging excitement for a weekend, owner Mark Attanasio and GM Doug Melvin showed the fans that the Brewers could take the next step, a decision that will resonate for years.
Amen to that.

• Speeking of that, Sheehan's Yankee Stadium Memory for the Bronx Banter series is a fine piece about what must have been a great time -- a doubleheader from 1983, with extra innings in the second game. For a kid that's like ice cream forever.

Emma Span's piece is another worth recommending. Going against the grain, she chooses the infamous Bloody Sock Game (2004 ALCS Game Six) and captures a spirit of camaraderie among the ballpark's infamous hecklers. I bust a gut laughing at her NSFW account of the game, which felt cathartic even after all these years.

All of which prompted me to go looking for my own account of attending the game with Cliff. I wrote it up as a guest piece for All-Baseball.com, which has since merged with MVN.com, orphaning my post. It took me awhile to find it via Archive.org, but I did. Not exactly the most pleasant memory, I'll admit, but I'm proud of the piece and amazed I was able to churn out a nearly 4,000-word opus in less than 24 hours.

Those were the days.

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