Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Between Heads and Tails There's Guts...

It's not easy to determine how much of the universe is relevant to a given event, a pitch, an at bat. The event appears local; a pitcher on a hill of dirt, a batter 60 feet away. But every hitter and pitcher brings with them the mark of every hit and pitch from everywhere they've been, the stuff of prediction and maneuver.

Many psychological states are metaphorically described as physically concrete and tangible; a hitter may carry a burden, or the weight of the world into the batters box. These days, with adjusted and normalized stats, every pitch carries with it the entire league, the entire history of baseball even. Its only 4 feet by 6 in the batters box, but a whole lot can fit. If these stats are more predictive the more of the universe they encompass, are not these numbers carried with a hitter into the box, somehow making it- physically or otherwise- more or less likely that a particular something occurs? Or is the at bat isolated,a self-contained box of novelty and uniqueness? Are matters local, but statistics global?

I dunno, I just work here.

Its hard to predict playoff series, of course. Small sample size yes, flicks of contingencies and mood and clutchiness, sure, but there is also the question of relevance; which stats, if any, are most predictive in a short series? Throw out everything but that particular hitter/pitcher matchup? Or drag in the whole universe? Ignore Ortiz' stats vs. righties when Saunders is pitching? Is Ortiz the feared slugger temporarily non-existent in that scenario, or at least relegated to an irrelevant part of the universe? Or is he in there too, dormant or potent? Why am I using the rhetorical device of rhetorical questions today?

The recent head to head stats don't look good; the circumscribed universe looks confining. Beckett in two starts this year vs. LAAoA: 13.1 IP, 20 H- .345 opponents BA- 11 ER, 2 HR, 2 BB, 14 Ks. In a July 30 start at Fenway: 5.1 IP, 7 ER, 11 H, 8 K, 1 BB. And this start was sandwiched between 1 run in 7 IP vs the yankees, and 2 runs in 6.2 IP vs KC, not amidst a poor streak.

But of course Beckett is the postseason ace, the man who harnesses powers not implied by past performance, who spontaneously delivers something new and amazing, the man who finally lowers the axe after feeding the chicken every day hence (to borrow Bertrand Russell's illustration of the fowl's faulty induction; just because the farmer's always brought food, that doesn't mean tomorrow he won't bring the axe.)

New ace Jon Lester faced LA once this year, back in April: 5 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 2 HR, 2 BB 1 K. DiceK, he of the most unwatchable 18-3 record of all time, had one start, too: 5 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 2 HR, 2 BB, 3 K

But is that all that's relevant? Facing anaheim is similar, so that's one category to project, but postseason performance is another- does Lester's start against Colorado last year count for something now? Is it projectible? Does this baggage travel with each pitch?

From 2005-2007, John Lackey had a 5.53 ERA in 5 starts vs. Boston, and an underwhelming .344 opponents BA. But this year, Lackey was 2-0, allowing 7 H in 16 IP, 5 ER, and 10 K, stifling the Sox for a .132 BA. Which manifestation will show up? And Saunders was also 2-0, 3.38 ERA (though he did walk 9 and only whiff 6.)

Is that all they carry? Of course not; there are plenty of burdens and weights of the world to go around; we all know the Angels have lost 9 straight postseason games to the Sox going back to '86 (the relevance of which greatly decreases as we move backward in time, as we are wont to do), whereas anaheim has won 8 of 9 this year, including two recent sweeps.

So what projects, what predicts? Can we cherry pick; are they in season?

The Angels won 100, best in the league, but were 10th in runs scored, 9th in homers, and not even best in pitching; 5th in starting, 4th in relieving. These runs scored and against are the two legs that make the hypotenuse of their Pythagorean expected record a more humble 89-73, good for 6th in the league in +/-, just barely ahead of the Yankees, and well behind Toronto, who actually finished a run better than Tampa (+104 to +103, giving the bluebirds something to really be sad about; 94 shoulda wins.)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Sox were 2nd in runs and 3rd in starting pitching (though 7th in bullpen,) but good for the leagues best +/-, and an expected record of 97 wins; that's 8 ahead of the the angels in the separate Platonic realm of ideal mathematical records. So does that project, or is it the bumbling too too real team that can't win one run games on the road that takes center stage on TBS, where, contrary to popular opinion, there's only one october?

It's tempting to predict one team or another in 5, but that means saying that it will be tied after 4, which amounts to the specific prediction that one particular team will win one specific game; a hazardous guess indeed. Statistical tendencies to understand the transpirings seem not applicable to single perspirings. At the level of sweat, as the joe morgan's of the world know, the players, not the numbers, play the game.

The playoffs are fun because worlds hang in the balance, teetering on the edge of uncertainty and contingency, with no time for regressing to the mean.

Shit happens, crazy shit.

Nonetheless, 95 wins down, 11 to go.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sometimes 95 Wins Can Be a Real Cool Hand

I refused to watch these last 3 games. Once we clinched the WC, the Yankees were eliminated. That means, as far as I'm concerned, that they're irrelevant, and I was not about to let the moot york yankees get me all riled up. I can't watch a sox/yanks game and not get riled up, so I didn't watch. That's right, I'm endorsing the ostrich's ontological argument; if I can't see it, it doesn't exist.

Instead, I watched the presidential debate on Friday, and Cool Hand Luke (yet again) on Sunday. I scored the first round of the debate (on the economy) 10-8 for Obama, and the second round (on foreign policy) 10-9 for McCain. I also came up with a Hegelian reading of the Paul Newman classic. But, as neither is about the Red Sox, I shan't be posting my explanations here.

But what we do have here is a failure to see Josh Beckett pitch game 1, as he has been bumped to game 3 with an oblique injury, which is obviously disconcerting (and never straightforward. sorry.) But I remain blithely optimistic, confident that the Sox' superior run differential and scientific approach to the game will win out over the messy randomness of the angels, 100 wins be damned. (For the Angels as crapshooting foosball spinners, see here.) Less blithe and more detailed playoffosophy to come.

So the Sox end up with 95 regular season wins. Is that satisfying, or is nothing less than a championship disappointing? It's ok to admit it, I won't tell any Yankees fans...

Friday, September 26, 2008

Modal's Sporting Goods; The Best Value For Your Alternate Universe Dollar

'If Buckner had fielder that grounder, then he would have beaten Wilson to the bag.' Maybe, maybe not. Usually, statements are true when they tell it like it is, false otherwise. But how is it with something that never happened?

Answering such counterfactual questions- so called because the first clause is counter to fact- is difficult not just because we don't know how it is, or could have been, but because, being counter to reality, there may not be anything at all to know.

One of the neat things about philosophy is how a little problem like this has cosmic implications. The philosopher David Lewis argued that any possible state of affairs actually exists, but at another possible universe, different from ours in just such ways. For Lewis, there exists a world where Buckner makes the play to retire the side, forcing another extra inning (remember, the tying run scored on the wild pitch), and there's a world where Buckner makes the play but Wilson beats the throw, and on the next play a grounder goes through Boggs' legs, and so forth. (There's also a world where Tampa wins the division and the Yankees finish third. Crazy, I know.)

The reason for this infinite explosion of universes is to provide grounds for the truth of counterfactual statements. Without such universes, there simply is nothing- nothing exists- that makes counterfactuals true or false; there'd be nothing to know. So according to Lewis, 'if Buckner had made the play, Wilson would have been out' is true if the existent possible world where that happens is closer to this one than a world where he makes the play and he's safe.

Don't worry, I'm not going to explain what makes one world closer than another. (Though it is pretty crucial for the plausibility of all this craziness. For more, here's the wikipedia on "modal realism.")

The point of all this, as I so often have to say to my class, is the Most Valuable Player award.

For some reason, the MVP has to play for a contending team. Now, there might be many different definitions of 'valuable', or, 'most' or 'player', I imagine, but its best to be on the same page with these things. If I say "yankees suck," and some yankees fan says "sure, if by 'suck' you mean 'awesome'", besides from forgetting to conjugate properly, this would be a pretty superficial, if short lived, agreement.

I think the definition of the sort of V that one finds in MVP is best put in counterfactual terms- I think the MVP is the player who answers this question: The hypothetical absence of which player would cause that player's team the greatest loss? Or, in other words and letters, if a player x was absent, then which team y would suffer the most? Player X is your MVP. That is, the most valuable thing is the thing which, if taken away, would harm whatever it was taken away from the most.

So if you can live without your hair, as some of us must, but not without your liver, then your liver is more valuable than your hair. And if your team can win without Manny Ramirez, then Manny ain't that valuable.

Now, what does this have to do with contending? As the Manny example indicates, the better a team is, the more able that team is to withstand the loss of any one player, even if that player is great; I'd say there's an inverse relationship between a players' value and the competence of his team. It's the worst teams, not the best, that can least withstand the hypothetical absence of their best player. The closest possible worlds are those where a bad team loses its best player and plays even worser...

'Well now,' one might say, especially if that one is you, 'take away a great player from a last place team, and they're still last.' Well, yes. But take Manny away from a wild card leading team, and they're still a wild card leading team, even though he's put up monster numbers. And standings are relative to the other teams- you can win close to 95 games and not win a division (stupid tampa), so I think its the number of wins that counts. A last place team may win 65 games with a star player, but, who knows, 50 without him. A first place team may win 96 games with a star player, 94 without him, as they are better able to absorb the blow.

Pedroia is getting a lot of MVP attention, and there's no doubt that he's a kick ass ballplayer, and the heart of this team. But if players on noncontending teams or the Twins are counted, as they should be, he doesn't really stand out. Only on the assumption that only a contending non-Minnesota team is worthy of MVP consideration puts him at the top (even though, of course, Mourneau won in '06.)

Pedroia does well in some traditional and count stats, and not in others. The top 3 in BA: Mauer .327, Pedroia .325, and Bradley .324. But Bradley is far and away ahead on OBP: .439, Mauer second at .413, and Pedey's 17th, at .375. Bradley is 3rd in slugging (behind Arod and Quentin), Youkilis 4th, Pedroia 18th at .493. Bradley leads in OPS, Youkilis is 4th, Pedroia's 18th at .868

Bradley has only played in 124 games, which hurts, whereas Pedroia is tied for third in games (and is 3rd in plate appearances, which helps his count stats.) Pedey leads in runs with 118, with the other contenders not in the top 5. He leads in hits with 210 and doubles with 54, but Aubrey Huff, of all people, leads with 329 total bases (Dustin is 4th), and Huff is 3rd in doubles with 48. Huff also leads in extra base hits with 82, Youkilis and Mourneau tied for 4th with 74. Pedroia's 6th with 73. And Youkilis has played plenty of games.

But it's not clear how much these tell us about the counterfactual situation. Some fancier stats aren't decisive, either. Bradley is way ahead in adjusted OPS+ with 165, Youkilis is 4th with 143, Pedroia's not in the top 10. Grady Sizemore leads in Runs Created with 132, Josh Hamilton is next with 125, and Pedroia 3rd with 122, Morneau 7th, Mauer 19th.

It seems to me that stats like 'value over replacement player' (VORP) are in effect counterfactual- if player x were absent and was replaced by an average player, how many 'value points' would the team lose?- in which case such a stat would be the best indicator for MVP. In this category, Pedroia is 3rd, behind Sizemore and ARod. Huff is 4th, Bradley 5th. Youk 8, Mauer 9, Mourneau 12.

But VORP is relative to a position- its easier to have a high VORP at 2nd than at 1st, and also it doesn't count defense. And particularly relevant to my conception of MVP is that it doesn't take into account the idea that a player's value is inversely proportional to his teams awesomeness, as discussed above. (The Indians would probably be more worse without Sizemore than the Sox without Pedey. And of course, as everyone knows, the Yankees would be even better without ARod and with a 42 year old Scott Brosius instead.)

But it's right about here where the fancy numbers exceed my present state of knowledge, so I have nowhere else to go. And there being another me in another possible world who knows this stuff doesn't help. As a philosopher, I'll simply say I think this is the right direction, and let the guys in the lab coats make the call...

That, and far be it for me to argue against the man. Pedey's 20/21 in stolen bases are remarkable, his f yeah attitude is f'in awesome, he curses and gets dirty, and he hits line drives like they were giving him lip.

I'm sure Pedroia is saving no-hitters in other possible worlds, and that if he were gone, and the Sox had to play Cora or Mark Bellhorn at second, they'd be a lot worse. Because they have a 7 game lead on the Yankees. (Ha), they'd probably would be the wild card without him, though of course it would have been a lot less fun. But just Pedey's swing, let alone the defense, speed, and attitude, for now, at least, make me glad I live in this world.... to the extent that I do, of course.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Bogarting the Wild Card

Hippies. Among other things, hippies are about sharing, and open possibilities.

Clinching a postseason berth is very anti-hippy. It's not sharing, its grabbing and holding, clinching tight. It's staking a claim, planting a flag, putting up a fence and asserting 'its mine.' Clinching closes off possibilities, stomps on all the different ways the future might be, confines them to the path must taken. No sunny optimism this, the future is determined, its been staked out in advance, the bidding is over. We claim this space, and this time, for ourselves, for our conquest.

This time of year, sharing is for losers; the yankees can share 4th place and golf clubs if they want. And 'wait till next year' too, the refrain of open possibilities; that's the wedge between the determined, excluding territory of the here and soon, what's clinched and held tight as ours, and an open ended vague hopeful tomorrow to share with anyone who can dream.

It's hippie stuff for the Yankees.

Mattingly, shave those sideburns.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

(Once More) Unto the Breach

Ok, so I'll grant that Yankee Stadium at least deserves another blog post before its demolished, especially considering that two dyed-in-the-wool Sox fans have spoken eloquently in its defense.

Here's an excerpt of what my friend Maggie wrote:

"am i the only person who is angry and dumbfounded with the closing of yankee stadium? WHY ARE THEY CLOSING THEIR DOORS???? last night i felt a lump in my throat watching the festivities, listening to yogi and whitey ford, watching the clips -- even seeing bernie williams made me teary. that is sacred ground, and the yankees should play there forever. no one should have wanted to close its doors, but since some people are truly evil and actually wanted to for eventual financial gain, they shouldn't have had the chance -- it should be a historical site, protected by the national government.

when i am forced to have a conversation with a yankee fan, the way i get beyond my knee jerk distaste for them is by talking about not what makes us different (NYY vs BOS) but what makes us the same. what on earth could that be, you ask? our LOVE OF BASEBALL. and one of the most beautiful parts of baseball is its long and rich history...a history packed full of memories and moments that have been passed down for more than a century.

i hate the yankees more than anyone, and yet i am so so so sad they are leaving such a precious place. there aren't that many physical locations in the world where so much history has taken place...

and why didn't yankee fans protest this like they would in boston if they tried to tear down fenway park? didn't they all freak out when they renovated it in the '70s? you'd think this would bring even more criticism. us new yorkers are paying $70M of our tax dollars for this project. i feel so dirty to be involved.

i just think this is a crime. last night felt like a televised execution to me.

on the plus side, how cool would it be if the yankees never won another world series again after the move? long live The Curse Of The New Stadium!"

And my friend Marc wrote (in comments to yesterday's post)

"I have to say...it's a real shame for the place to go. Damn the infinite Sinatra loop, but that's a Yankee fan thing, not a Yankee Stadium thing. Same for the beer tosses; same for the asshole fans. You'll see: all that crap will follow the team across the street, but the stadium and its history will not. The history, the ghosts, the center of baseball's true capitol...that stuff is that stadium; it is in itself the closest connection to its past. Without all of that mystique, there would be no significance to that place; and if you can appreciate what has transpired there, the great well of baseball drama and lore that has sprung from that field, then you should mourn its demise at least somewhat. It's a symbol of baseball's great past, the site of the great blossoming in baseball's history, and it's an American landmark. That stadium served to represent so much about The Game, and that city, and none of it will be quite the same without it."

And that's two Sox fans.

Which makes Maggie's question- "why didn't yankee fans protest this like they would in boston if they tried to tear down fenway park?"- all the more salient.

Exactly. These are yankees fans we're talking about. i just googled 'save yankee stadium', and there's very little evidence of any public support. remember all those 'save fenway park' bumper stickers in the early'00s, and the public outcry? i've never noticed anything at all like that here. i don't remember anyone here saying the yankees shouldn't move. i've never seen one t shirt or bumper sticker or anything that indicates there's any public sentiment against moving.

this is entirely fitting with the yankees character; they know that they'll make more money in a new stadium, so the fans are in favor of it- that's what they care about. For the Yankees, 'meaning' is just 'money' spelled wrong.

Now, whether the park itself should be protected as a landmark, as Maggie suggests, upon the team moving out is a distinct question from whether the team should move out at all. Apparently, the building itself doesn't get protected landmark status due to the consensus that the renovations in the 70's so dramatically altered the recognizable features that it's virtually not the same park anymore. City agencies aren't even giving the issue a public hearing; if the public was clamoring that this was outrageous, I'm sure they would.

But this prompts the question as to what extent the stadium is 'owned' by the public, specifically Yankees fans, such that the fate of the park should be determined by such dubious entities as public sentiment or rancor, or whether the right thing to do would have to be independently discerned and executed independently of their desires. Perhaps Yankees fans, in their insatiable quest for escalating payrolls and third place finishes, are happy to molt their old stadium as befitting the snakes they are. (zing.) Or perhaps they should be saved from themselves; Marc is certainly right that they'll take their jerkiness with them to the new stadium, and aren't likely to change of their own accord. Perhaps History belongs not just to Yankee fans but to everyone, in which case the Yankees are being particularly selfish in hording it for themselves. Perhaps its not 'their' park at all. Why should they be exclusively proprietary over history? Why shouldn't Sox fans get to complain; it's our history, too, even it's lousy history.

The points about a common baseball history are well taken; even Joe Dimaggio counts as 'our' history, as Baseball, aka The Game, is a higher unity that transcends even sox/yankees division. And so the provincial history of the Bronx borough is lower in the hierarchy of Forms than is History, which in turn must defer to Baseball, aka The Game, as the ultimate in meaningful ideals which subsumes them all. And it would be just like the Yankees to think they're bigger than The Game, and to abandon History for the sake of a $250 million payroll and a 4th place finish (as naturally payroll and standings are inversely related, I induce.) So I can admit to feeling the twinge in the demolishing of even the hated Yankee Stadium, insofar as it is subsumed by its place in the Game, and I can even happily continue to hate the Yankees for thinking its theirs to destroy, and for Yankees fans for failing to stick up for the larger issues at stake, and place party, or team, over country, or sport.

On the other hand, its just so in character; the evil empire needs a new Death Star. How can we take that away from them? They wouldn't 'be' the Yankees if they couldn't do whatever they possibly could to be as corporate and tramply as possible.

Imagine: It would be funny if they were penalized for their success; suppose that because so much history took place there, they became prohibited from ever moving out, and in another 100 years when every other stadium figures out how to compress seats like microchips and have 1 million capacity stadiums, and the yankees have a fraction of that and become the lowest payroll team as they'd still be restricted to a 20th century analog stadium, and then they'd become the scrappy low payroll underdogs who'd we be forced to cheer for because of their pluck and gritty hard nosed play...

What a strange future that'd be. Maybe this is for the best.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Unto the Breach

I have attended three games at Yankee Stadium; I shan't be attending any more. The Sox' record in those games? 0-3. The Sox' record in October in those games? 0-3.

Below are the box scores for those 3 losses- Game 2 of the 2003 ALCS, Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, and Game 1 of the 2004 ALCS. (click to enlarge.)

Next, the Aaron Boone Game; I had seats in the top tier, and exiting after the trauma involved descending spiraling ramps and hearing 'new york, new york' on an endless loop; a circle of hell indeed. I got hit in the head with beer.

Next year, out for revenge, Schilling gets bombed and injured, and Mussina took a perfect game into the 7th, the Sox explode for 5, comeback falls short, I got hit in the head with beer.

I did not have many happy moments there. I can't say I'm sad to see it go.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sobyrd Up; The Goggles are Off

Plato contrasted Ideals, known through the pure intellect, with the imperfect world we see. I've been idealizing finesse pitchers lately, Paul Byrd being the salient instance, but what I saw Friday was certainly imperfect.

(Does Byrd just slightly resemble Socrates, by the way?)

Byrd was serviceable, technically delivering a quality start- 3 runs in 6 innings, though that amounts to an entirely common ERA of 4.50 (and being common, 'quantity' rather than 'quality' seems appropriate.) More important to me than the many hard hit balls that went for outs, though, disguising the weak showing, was the real lack of artistry on the mound. There was no one pitch sequence that wowed me; the art critics' epithets of 'pedestrian' and 'derivative' sprung to mind during this underwhelming performance. I never oohed nor ahhed. Pitches tailed back over the middle of the plate, Tek had to cross over, curveballs hung, suspended in mid air.

Worse, I felt critical of his approach to lefthanded hitters, rather than delighted; there was no magic, no suspension of disbelief, just a guy with his hand up a puppet's butt (as they say.) Byrd doesn't go inside enough on lefties, which amounts to pitching with one hand tied behind his back. After the Rolen double in the second, he got a called strike on a rare inside fastball to the lefthanded Zaun, which straighted him up. He then accidentally threw a changeup in, which also surprised Zaun, called for strike 2. Then he threw a backdoor curve that didn't even make it back to the outside corner, but Zaun drilled an RBI double to left anyway, obviously looking for the pitch away; Zaun saw through the smoke and mirrors, and even after two in, didn't think lightning would strike thrice.

Byrd has terrible splits this year; he pitches well against righties, .249 BA/.277 OBP/.418 SLG, but .313/.355/.528 against lefties (that's an .883 OPS). Of his 32 walks all year, 24 are to lefties, the asymmetry of which suggests trepidation, and 5 of his 7 hbp's are against righties, suggesting he goes in only to them. Remy called Byrd's "purpose pitch" up and in to Vernon Wells; finesse pitchers must pull off the illusion of looking like power guys sometimes. But to lefties too; they're not just righties in a mirror.

I think a large part of Mussina's renaissance this year has been his improvement throwing the front-door fastball to lefthanded hitters; it looks like its coming inside off the plate from the righthanded pitcher, but moves back over the inside corner. Byrd would benefit greatly from that pitch. (Mussina in 2008: .858 OPS vs. righties, .592 vs. lefties. In 2007, .822 OPS vs. righties, .799 vs. lefties.)

That pitch is magic, after all; it bends backwards, going against the grain, back from whence it came. It hypnotizes; lefties freeze in their tracks.

And as Derek Lowe showed both Terrence Long and Adam Melhuse in the '03 ALDS, that pitch comes about as close to approaching a Platonic Ideal as any one pitch can.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Byrden of Proof; off-day update*

Start with a quote: "He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that," John Stuart Mill once wrote.

Elaborate: If he can't refute the other side, Mill continued in On Liberty, he hasn't grounds for his position, and if he hasn't understood why another would think differently, he doesn't truly understand his own view.

Show the relevance: Not everyone likes Byrd as much as I seem to, an opinion you may know from such blog posts as yesterday's (of which this is an update), and they have good reasons which I must face. For a hard hitting case towards that end, (though also a quite flattering reference to yours truly) see Jere's as always on-the-ball blog.

And in case you're into "evidence" culled from "objective reality" (weirdo), here are some statistical measurements:

Byrd: 98 ERA+, 101 with the Sox, 1.31 whip. With the Sox, 4.74 K/9, 1 HR and 1 BB per 4.75 IP, .792 opponents OPS overall, .826 with the Sox.

Wakefield: 109 ERA+, 1.21 whip, 1 HR per 6.8 IP, 2.9 BB/9, 5.72 K/9, and only .699 opponents OPS.

My ideological preference for finesse pitchers can blind me to the facts on the ground, making me a hawk for Byrd. But I can see the other side. As long as it's not because Byrd's tipping his hand, I'm ok with that.

End with a rallying cry: San Dimas high school football rules!

* This blog post contains almost 50% recycled material. Go green!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

conCERNed with the 4th Boson starter

Obama knows division is bad; so who wants to win the division anyway? Wild Card it is, then. It has a nice ring to it. (Pun, as always, intended.)

So, it turns out that choosing the Sox' 4th (and final) starter for the playoffs is a philosophical dilemma. Assuming Colon is out of the running, (also intended), it's between Wakefield and Byrd. Both are perfectly capable of shut outs and getting bombed. Though Wake's numbers are a bit better overall, he has two stinkers lately, and the stats aren't too far apart. So what's left? Symbolism, naturally.

There's the dialectic of physics and luck, on the one hand, and of will. I like to think of pitching, where so much is in the pitchers hands (I'll stop point them out), in terms of the human categories of will, focus, and drive. Hitting, though, is reactive, and is so often physics and luck; trajectory, geometry, physiology, wind...ology. (By the way, for these notions applied to Beckett vs. Sabathia and the 'o7 ALDS, see here.)

Assuming this schema, I can't stand watching Wakefield "pitch." He's all physics and luck; the knuckleball simply exploits laws of physics, it doesn't finesse them. There's little craft (though of course there's skill.) Off it goes, and, as is so often said, once it leaves Wake's hand, even he doesn't know where its going. Because 'he' doesn't have anything to do with it; it's in the universe's hands, now.

By amusing to me contrast, consider what I wrote about Paul Byrd a few weeks ago; in short, that Byrd can continue guiding the ball as it travels to the plate (it's kind of like in Nintendo's RBI Baseball); that's how subtle and sly the craft of the finesse pitcher is. I like to imagine a metaphysical extension of the self in the finesse pitcher; his will extends beyond the confines of his body to continue to finesse the ball as it travels to home, its teleological destination. Wake is detached at the albeit finely filed fingertips, and the ball is as likely to end up at the backstop as anywhere else; no natural home-seeking motion with the indiscriminate blind particle that is the knuckleball.

So I just can't leave the postseason to chance. For some, the postseason is the most meaningful of events. For others, it's too small a sample size. For the postseason to be meaningful, it has to be thought of as definitive, not random, the result of the virtues- perseverance, talent, and all that etc- not either statistical determinism or fluctuation, a blip off the bell curve. People are right to feel a sting at the disproof of the existence of clutch; it's a moral category replaced by measurement. Clutch is meaningful, not metrical.

So even if Wake can throw a gem- which of course he can- it doesn't mean the same to me. I want to see Byrd battle the elements, his physical shortcomings in the form of an 87 mph fastball, the battle against physics and luck for the sake of will and guts, even if those guts get splattered, rather than take the trial and error that maybe proves that there's a Higgs boson and maybe blows up the universe that is Wakefield.

Though I could be a bit biased. I was at the Aaron Boone game, after all.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


They say baseball's relationship to time is unique among sports; only a baseball game can be infinitely long, where it's merit, and not time, that continues or ends the game. As such, predictability goes out the window, as we could be here awhile.

Not so when watching an archived game on mlb dot com; the video player likes to say how much time is left in the file. So when I can't watch a game live, mlb punishes me, destroying the illusion of infinitude, endless possibility and unlimited expanse; they insist on not just finitude, but the precise amount. They say if you can't quantify it, it don't exist, but, well...

So it wasn't enough that after missing the live game after teaching, avoiding newscasts and emails to watch the battle for first unencumbered by what was by then historical fact, free to revel in my own narrativologizing (not a real word, methinks), that the internet had to crash in a game tied at 1 in the 8th inning, and I had to wait until Wednesday morning to see the predetermined conclusion. No, I had to sit there, watching the Rays get the lead runner on in the 9th, and see that there was about 3 minutes left in the video file of the game. When you can see the end of the tunnel and there isn't any light...

Now of course they can't hear you when you scream at the tv, and they really can't hear you when the game isn't live, but that swing and miss by Pena on a 1-1 count with a runner on in the 9th that got reversed like a McCain policy in a campaign (ha), because apparently an umpire had called 'time', not simply to name it but to stop it, because Tampa's answer to 'what part of 'bullpen' don't you understand?' is 'pen', you know, the 'enclosure' part, because a stray ball just moseyed onto the field just before the pitch, though unbeknowst to the relevant parties, and so the strike didn't count and Pena ended up walking on a full count instead of whiffing, well, i still yelled 'horsesh*t' at the computer and its stupid finite video file. Or horsepen, or whatever.

In any case, Beckett was fantastic. Threw two tons of curveballs, with great command. Got some called third strikes on fastballs after setting them up with a curve. (See how that works, Josh?) Beckett and Tek even seemed not to bicker, for once. At one point, (the 4th?), Tek went out to the mound on a full count to Hinske, 1st and 2nd one out, and Beckett threw his first changeup, to get the whiff. Good communication, good strategy, not a law of nature that Beckett has to throw a fastball there. He's ready for the playoffs.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


People don't like their higher emotions "reduced" to something else, by which they typically mean "explained", either at all, or by something less noble than the thing to be explained (the fancy term for that being 'explanandum').

So when someone says "you only love me because I remind you of your favorite tv show", or "you just say that because you think it will get you elected", the noble love or ideology is 'reduced' on account of explaining the base genesis of the sentiment.

I'd like to think Remy just loves the Sox. After a particularly stirring rendition of Sweet Caroline during Saturday's game (I think), Remy said something to the effect of "If that doesn't get you going, nothing will", and then added gung-ho-ly, "C'mon Sox!"

Bay then promptly ripped one off the monster, and Remy brilliantly punned 'Bay just sweet carolined it off the wall.' (At least I think he said that; maybe I misheard.)

In any case, passion begets punnery.

And tonight, in the Sox' dismantling of Scott Kazmir, leading to a blowout 13-5 victory behind now 17 game winner Dice-K, in a game for first place in the A.L. east, Remy was in a state. After Kazmir hit Tek with a pitch leading off the second, the ump issued a warning to both sides, thereby making the next HBP confer an ejection on the offending pitcher. Remy spewed and ranted, calling the decision "absolutely absurd", and accusing the ump of having "no feel for the game."

Remy was grumpy, with a capital 'grump.' After the Sox went homer, walk, and another homer off the Tampa southpaw to start the 4th, making it 7-1, Ellsbury, in classic Ellsbury form (see yesterday's post), ended up with what was called an infield single to first. But what it was was Kazmir running to cover first on a ball that took first baseman Pena off the bag, and then stopping a few steps short of the bag, allowing Ellsbury to reach. Remy, disgusted with Kazmir's utter disregard for all that is righteous, spat that Kazmir's head just wasn't in the game, and what was he thinking?, and then, seeing Kazmir look over to the Tampa bench for just a moment, decided to play 'projected thought-bubble'- 'Oh, take me out, I want out', he suggested Kazmir was whining to himself.

As I said, I'd like to think Remy just loves the Sox, and is pumped up for the pennant race. But really, I think he just needed a smoke. Ah, sweet reduction satisfaction.

Meanwhile, the Sox just reduced their deficit to Tampa to virtual nothingness, and plan to thwart the erstwhile young soon to be wild card leading Rays again Tuesday evening.

Monday, September 15, 2008

With Specimen in Scoring Position

Inside 'Dry Storeroom Number 1,' in the basement of London's Natural History Museum, is the “type” specimen of the sunfish.

According to the linked above, "a type specimen is the official example of a given species, against which all creatures like it can be compared."

It is important to note that a type specimen is not necessarily typical, or average, but archetypal. An exemplar, the most blankiest instance of any given blank.

Often after a great feat, a ballplayer sends his spikes, or glove, or the ball- something commemorative of the moment- to the Hall of Fame.

Tied at 5 Saturday night, in the 8th inning, with Lowrie on third as the go-ahead run in a game the Sox once trailed 5-2, Jacoby Ellsbury, taking a full swing on a Scott Downs delivery, meekly tapped the ball about 30 feet towards first base, nestling just inside the line. Downs, in his rush to throw out the speedy Ellsbury, slipped, sprawling on his chest. The ball, with little resistance, came to a rest, just inches fair, and Lowrie scored what would be the deciding run.

Of course, they should send that ball to Dry Storeroom Number 1. It's not a typical Ellsbury hit, but it's an archetype, an exemplar, the official example of an Ellsbury cheap shot, helped along its slow slow path by the threat of speed. As such, it is the example against which all others are to be compared.

Towards that end, in Sunday's game, Ellsbury came to bat in the 2nd inning against Halladay, with another runner on third, and again with 2 out. Again, Ellsbury's bat managed to absorb virtually all the ball's energy, nudging a 90 mph pitch just a couple feet away. Yet the crowd didn't groan with disappointment, but roared in anticipation, naturally comparing this with the previous day's exemplar. But this particular hit just wasn't crappy enough, and for those of you scoring at home, it went down as your classic ground out to catcher, to retire the side.

Oh right. Just 1 game out.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Brain in a Bat

It's hard to teach an intro to philosophy class without doing Descartes' search for the foundations of knowledge, which has him doubting everything including even the existence of the world outside his own mind, which he does by hypothesising an 'evil genius' who is manipulating his perceptions and tricking him into thinking the external world exists, but even if this skeptical scenario were so, the search ends happily because Descartes finally cannot doubt that he is in fact doubting, and as he's there to do all this doubting, and doubting is a species of thinking, he must, therefore, exist... but this semester I'm managing to pull it off. It's off the syllabus!

Why? If for no other reason, I'm sick of telling people its like The Matrix.

Or so I thought. Because now with no outlet for my 'what's really real?' shpiel, and because Thursday was an off-day, you're stuck with the following.

I sometimes play an antiquated baseball video game- High Heat Baseball 2004. Curt Schilling on the D'backs on the cover. I own no X station or whatever the kids use to simulate reality these days. No, it's a PC game. Apparently, these are virtually obsolete. The company that makes High Heat- 3DO- no longer exists (but did it ever really? Ooooh. Think about that.) And because no upgrade is available, I still use an old sputtering operating system because I'm afraid an upgrade will be incompatible with the game.

But that's neither here nor there. Which of course leaves it nowhere to be, which is to say, it doesn't exist. Or does it really? (See, I just have to get this stuff out of my system somehow.)

Anywho, the 2004 High Heat game has a 2003 roster (but being the active GM that I am, I've made a few tweaks.) So "I'm" the Sox, naturally, and I'm down 4-1 in the top of the 9th to Cleveland, Mark Wohlers of all people on the mound (I thought he was long gone by '03 too.) 2 down. Things look grim. But Varitek, in the number 7 slot, gets on. I'd long since traded Nomar because he kept popping up, and watching his feet move around in the box was distracting, so I picked up Jose Vizcaino to play short. He normally bats 8th. But Billy Mueller is on the DL, so I've moved up Vizcaino to the 2 slot- he's hitting a robust .320- and I've called up Shea Hillenbrand from his banishment to AAA to play third and bat 8th. But now in the 9th, and because he's an f-word, I pinch hit with Jeremy Giambi, who promptly slams a triple off the center field fence, 4-2. Next up is Timlin in the pitcher's spot- yeah, in this alternate reality, there's no DH- so I send up Trot to pinch hit- both these lefties were on the bench, by the way, as Sabathia started for the Tribe. And Trot laces a double off Wohlers. Still two out, tying run on second, the lineup turns over for Damon, who singles to right to tie the game! I ended up winning in extras, Scott Williamson coming in for the save.

When philosophers update Descartes' thought-experiment about the evil genius who tricks the mind into believing in the reality of the simulacrum external world, they talk of a mad neuroscientist keeping a brain in a vat, stimulating it with electrodes to simulate an external world that doesn't really exist. (Or does it? No.) These examples are terrifying, for, among other reasons, they stipulate an utter lack of control; one is held captive to the whims of some omnipotent and unknowable force, and any sense of control over one's life is entirely illusory.

But when do I have more control? When I watch a "real" Sox game on TV, or when I can manipulate the video game Sox on my computer? And doesn't that control make it "more real"?

No. It doesn't.

Thanks for reading. Maybe next semester I'll put Descartes back on the syllabus, and you won't have to suffer through this again.

Also, when I lose to the Yankees in the video game, I get absolutely furious. It takes me awhile afterwards to calm down. Doesn't the strength of my emotion make it real, as in "I just know it to be true in my heart'?

No. It doesn't.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Tampararily Resting... [ugh]

1-1 after 3 innings, 1-1 after 13 innings, a 4-2 loss in 14. Tension so thick you could cut it with a cliche.

What a couple of games. If you have to do anything, you have to hand it to Tampa. A gutsy team, they.

Such baseball games are so plump and juicy, meaning just oozes out. The universe in cleats. This time, though, there's just so much to say, and I'm just too tired to say it. Regroup, revamp, revitalize. In the meantime, I'll take my 5 game lead in the Wild Card race, and my deficit in the division of fewer games behind than games we have left against the Rays (2.5 and 3), and be begrudgingly satisfied.

Yup, folks, I'm phoning this one in. In lieu of whatever I'd say if I wasn't so phoning, may I recommend the most interesting and profound article I've read on politics and morality in a while, or perhaps a report on a study on the psychological and economic benefits of being a sports fan, with Bostony examples?

Bonus points if you use the theories of one to explain the other.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Logical Fallacy of the Week: Says Me

It won't be until the next generation of Sox fans that the Schopenhauerian pessimism and anxiety that comprised the Sox fan identity before '04 will really be cured.

But as a positive, self-affirming, Stuart Smalley step in the here and now, to combat the scars, I'm simply going to assert that the Sox will win the division, sweep Chicago in the ALDS, beat Anaheim in 6 in the ALCS, and then win another world series title against whoever that quadruple A league throws to us lions.

And I'm going to go all zealot on this one. I'm going to say providing evidence and argument in favor of this conclusion is to concede and sew seeds of secular humanist doubt, and that real faith is just saying something and deciding it's true. Yup, I'm committing the fallacy of assertion here- that I say it, I say, is an argument for its truth.

Of course there are reasons for doubt. The Sox only scored 3 runs against Tampa's, what, number 4 starter? The pen's put the 'argh' in 'inconsistent' all year, and obviously the coin has landed heads for Anaheim in our recent head to head.

But I won't put my critical period pre-rings pre- everyday sellout psychology as a basis for worrying about the future; I'll emphasize Lester's nastiness, his season high 9 ks, his beautiful sequences, like getting a called strike two on a backdoor curve in the 2nd to Navarro, and then dropping the slider in the inside dirt, inducing a meager half swing that died and went to limbo, or a fastball for a called strike on the inside corner to Baldelli leading off the 5th, followed by a cutter further in on the hands, off the plate and on Baldelli, chopping him down as he hacked, and then freezing Rhode Island's Own on a paint job, 93 mph outside corner at the knees.

Yeah, all that instead of the 1-0 fastball Lester grooved to Pena with 2 on and 1 out, as the tying run in the 6th, that Pena just got under and skied to center, or that Perez' scorcher to lead off the 8th was caught at short, that Zobrist missed a dong by about the length of the word 'dong' two batters later, and that Pena's double that knocked Lester out of the game bounced into the stands, saving a run, or that Francona doesn't trust Okacarmen in tight spots and had Lester start the 8th already having thrown 105 pitches, ultimately tossing 119 before going to Papelbon.

No, all that con stuff is for ol' timey Sox fans, and that pro and con stuff in general is for rational people. Funk dat. I don't care about bases of inferences, only bases and outs. Sox all the way. Woo. I believe it, therefore its true.

So there.