Friday, January 30, 2009

Breakfast of Champions, a.k.a. I Wish This Post Was Louder

Every morning the alarm on my cell phone goes off and I swat at it with a minimum of fine motor control. Which means it's a really good idea that I keep a glass of water right next to the phone. But that is not my point. Each morning I go through these motions loosely related to waking up, right up until I make the coffee. After that, I actually have an idea of what is happening around me. This means it is time to make breakfast. As I work at 9 am on weekdays, my first meal is usually not some kind of lavish affair. I typically find myself sipping the day's first cup of sweet, sweet life-giving nectar over a bowl of hot oatmeal. Why oatmeal? Two reasons:

1) It's good preparation for when I'm older and have no teeth. While the rest of you will be struggling to gnaw your Crunchberries™, their sharp edges cutting into your porous, toothless gums, I will be slurping down my oatmeal like only someone with years of practice eating it can.

2) I'm relieved by the writing on the side of the box reassuring me that I have made a choice that is part of a heart-healthy diet.

This used to confuse me. Considering that oatmeal is basically grain served in hot water, the fact that it could actually contain health benefits was slightly beyond my comprehension. Then it hit me: Oatmeal is a breakfast food. Therefore, its health benefits are being compared to those of bacon. Now don't get me wrong. I love bacon. But I could drink a cup of pure mercury and it would still be healthy when compared to a breakfast featuring slabbed pig (Let us only hope that the all-powerful Hg (THAT MEANS MERCURY) Lobbying Industry does not get word of this idea). But beyond just the miraculous, cure-all oatmeal panacea, my breakfast also contains brown sugar (Dried cranberries too. They taste nice). Which, if you read the slogan on the box, you will learn is "Sugar: The natural sweetener".

I'll pause here to let that sink in. Reread it if you want. I certainly did.

What exactly do you suppose they rejected for slogans before settling on that one? "Sugar: It'll rot your teeth". Or maybe "Sugar: The stuff that isn't bitter". Or "Sugar: It kind of looks like cocaine if you squint". But the natural sweetener? Really? Were people getting it confused with Nutrasweet™? Or are there people out there who believe sugar was concocted in a lab during a thunderstorm? And why does sugar even need a slogan? Is there really someone out there thinking "Hmmmmmmm........ I could use an indeterminate sweetener of some kind. Let's look at the box. Whoa! Just nutrition facts?!? Forget this one."? No. No there is not (It was a rhetorical question). The whole thing is absolutely ridiculous. Which really leaves us with only one possible conclusion: With how much I can get worked up over this, it's probably good that I start the day with a bowl of heart-healthy oatmeal.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Adventures In Anal Rententiveness

I'm sure most of you out there have, at one point or another, watched a bad movie. Odds are good it starred Eddie Murphy (Post-cocaine version). And that you did not enjoy the experience. But what of the elusive beast, the good bad movie? Here I am speaking of a movie which, while you watch it, is recognized as terrible by the brain, yet you remain enthralled. It is probable that alcoholic beverages of some kind are involved in this process. After many backbreaking seconds of hard research, I have determined some of the primary common characteristics shared by these lovable tragedies: 1) A terrible plot brought to fruition by actors and actresses who seem unaware of the stench emitting from the script. And 2) Way more special effects than are necessary. I am proud to say that I have in my possession a movie that succeeds admirably on both these counts. Behold, in all its glory:

It used to be called Dragon Wars, but after getting the bill
for the special effects they couldn't afford the extra letters.

A movie like this does not come along every day. It is a badly written, overproduced cinematic travesty, and deserves all the attention that should be foisted on films of its ilk. Which is why I shall now, whenever the mood strikes me, break it down scene by scene on this very blog. This is either the greatest idea ever, or the worst (I lean towards the first. The Official Girlfriend made a face that I presume indicates disagreement when I mentioned this idea to her). There is no middle ground. I would recommend drinking heavily while reading the recaps, as it might help get you in the right frame of mind. At the very least, this should be better than the actual movie.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Joba To The 'Pen?

It's in the news, so let's give it a quick discussion. The Yankees just re-signed Andy Pettite, which seems to give them a surplus of starting pitchers. Therefore, rumors are flying fast that uber-stud young 'un Joba Chamberlain will be taking his absolutely ridiculous fastball-slider combo back to the bullpen. This is a bad idea by the Yankees for several reasons, the most important of which is that 200>70. If Joba starts, we can pencil him in for 200 innings (This is nowhere near correct. It is, in fact, fairly wrong. At least for this year. But I think we can all agree that we like big, round numbers. Except for Cindi, who doesn't like any numbers). As a reliever, 70. For very obvious reasons, it is in the Yankees' best interest to give one of their best pitchers as many innings as possible. The only thing that could make moving him to the bullpen a good idea is leverage index. This is the idea that relievers pitch in high-pressure spots (At least the good ones do. David Aardsma does not), which are worth more than a regular inning. Okay, let's go with it. The highest-leverage reliever is the team's closer. Last year, the average closer entered the game with a leverage index of 1.8. This makes Joba's 70 innings as a reliever worth 126 starter innings. Still not close. To bump Joba's value over the 200 inning mark, he would have to enter games almost exclusively with the bases loaded. And, as a Red Sox fan, if the Yankees want to get themselves in that situation enough times for Joba to earn his keep out of the bullpen, that's fine with me.

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button

Warning: This is going to contain spoilers. Probably quite a few of them (I don't really know. I'm writing this disclaimer before the actual review). You should still read it, because it's WAY shorter than the movie. Also better.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has been nominated for something along the lines of 968,000 Academy Awards this year. It is also not technically a good movie. Don't get me wrong. It tries hard, and has a very interesting premise (If you really haven't been paying attention (Not to what I've written so far. To other sources. Which pale in comparison to me), said premise is that the titular character is born at the end of his life and ages backwards). Unfortunately, it fails to translate these into an entertaining (Or thought-provoking) film. And unlike the film, I will start at the beginning. Maybe (Probably not).

As has been pointed out to me, it is hard to encapsulate an entire life in a film, which is the ambitious undertaking David Fincher (Director of Fight Club and Seven, among others) has tried here. However, he totally undercuts his efforts in this regard with the framework he gives the story. Rather than just telling the story straight-up, he has chosen to have it related through a diary (That of the titular character), being read to a dying elderly woman in the hospital by her daughter. This adds absolutely nothing to the film, and wastes at least a half-hour that could have been better-spent with relevant characters. Anytime the film cuts back to the hospital it is jarring, as this breaks up the storyline and returns the viewer to two characters whom there is absolutely nothing to care about. Sooner or later you inevitably begin to root for the death of the older woman, as that might end these scenes forever. And did I mention that these are set in a hospital in New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina bears down? No? Well, it's okay because this setting is never used for anything at all and is completely irrelevant. The only possible reason for choosing it is a thought process resembling that is the following: "Hmmmmmm. Hurricane Katrina was sad. Many people died, and/or lost their homes and possessions. We're making a sad, serious film. Maybe if we tie it to Katrina in some thoroughly irrelevant way, we'll get some kind of spillover sadness. Brilliant!" And the having it set up around an older woman's memories? Yeah, Titanic won lots of Oscars. Therefore we shall ape it's style. This is absolutely atrocious filmmaking, and nearly unforgivable. And we haven't even gotten to the film itself yet (I refuse to consider this extraneous garbage a part of the film, even though it takes up nearly 20% of the running time (All numbers based solely on personal estimates/guesses))! Oh boy (This is such an officially-written review right here. I tell you)!

Moving on to the actual central narrative of the film (Ideally without giving away all that much), we find that it centers around two characters who, conveniently enough, are love interests for each other. And the movie attempts to use the fact that they are aging in seperate directions to make the point that nothing stays the same (It gets rather heavy-handed in trying to hammer this home occasionally), but the joke here that Fincher isn't in on is that he does not really characterize either Blanchett or Pitt, meaning that we are stuck staring at these static, unchanging people as the backgrounds spin around them. The only real interesting possibility that we are left with, as the film plods along toward the conclusion, is that we have a chance to see someone offer up their answer to the eternal question posed so well through music at the end of (Certainly not this film) Rushmore; namely, I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger. However, determined to not even leave us on this potentially minimally-satisfyling result, Fincher cheats the audience one final time by giving Pitt's character approximately 3 minutes of screen time for the last 20 years of his life, during most of which he has been struck with Alzheimer's.

So what are we left with? The movie itself seems to think it is dealing with deep, eternal questions, but instead it leaves the viewer with more than they started with. By way of example, throughout the film, set primarily in the city of New Orleans, some of the characters often go to sit and watch the sun rise outside a house next to a large body of water out in the country, with no other dwellings in sight. No one ever mentions this place when they are not there. Where is it, and where did it come from? Who knows? Certainly not the moviegoer, left fighting various limbs falling asleep by this point of the movie. There is no real style to the movie. Fincher often attempts to portray it as a period piece, and in large part succeeds visually. As the decades pass, the film follows the general style of Hollywood portrayal of each. However, touching on everything really does not count as coming up with something distinctive, and it feels like a mess of a stylistic mish-mash/mismatch. The actors and actresses seem like they are trying, but the static characters offer nothing to care about. The script tries to provoke thought, but only arouses ire. For a movie that tries so hard to be Important, what Benjamin Button achieves in the end is only to be both interminable and intolerable.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Tit For Tat

As any of you who enjoy baseball already know, Keith Law is one of the lead baseball analysts for ESPN. However, beyond this he also has a personal blog on which he writes about (primarily) literature and food/cooking. Putting this all together, he's kind of like me. But successful. Anyway, his list of the top 100 prospects in baseball came out today, and is pretty much a must-read here in the dark days until Spring Training. So get on that.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mike Versus the Fine Arts: My Night In Baltimore

Firstly, let's deal with the title of this post. That's right, I live in New York City and go to Baltimore for my exposure to the arts. If any of you want to stop reading now, I don't really blame you. For those of you still here, last weekend I packed up a bag of random things (65% of the weight of which was composed of books) and took the Chinatown bus down to the B-More, which is eternally beloved by BOB (And yes, I do realize Cindi is the only person who will understand that). A few words on the Chinatown bus(es): It is great. Many of these buses have sprung up making routes around the East Coast in direct competition to Greyhound, whose incompetence is legendary in my personal brain. These companies typically charge $35 for a round-trip ticket to the city of your choosing, and then after you pay this ridiculously low fee the bus goes directly to your city. Express. They actually get you there when they are supposed to. This is awesome. All you have to deal with is the knowledge that they are probably smuggling crack or weapons-grade plutonium or Charles Manson or something in the cargo hold. But for a $35 ticket anywhere on the East Coast, I'll try to smuggle Charles Manson across the border on a Big Wheel® while smoking crack. I'm not proud.

The purpose for this excursion was to attend a dance-based extravaganzical evening entitled 'Singing the Body Electric,' organized by a friend who shall remain nameless for no good reason unless I forget and type her name out (I've now finished writing this, and not mentioning names did not at all work. Unfortunately, my delete key is malfunctioning. Her name is Cindi L'Abbe). So I attended. Now, I know some people out there know many things about dance. I happen to be one of them, as there was this one time in college I consumed a substantial number of root beers, which affected my mood and/or fine motor control to the point that I found myself swaying in what was presumably a rhythmic fashion (I can't remember) to music that did not technically exist outside of my own head. Armed with this formidable background, I got a beer (Oatmeal stout, brewed in Maryland. Fairly impressive) at the bar (Yes! They had a bar at the dance show! Awesome!) while the dancers warmed up backstage. Once I and the rest of the audience (Okay, just me (Further note: The place was packed. Not bad)) were suitably warmed up, the lights went out, revealing the three randomly-placed pieces of glowing tape onstage. I like shiny objects. Then the lights came back on and the dancing commenced.

A little bit of structure here (About the dancing. There's no hope left for this post). The evening was arranged in two acts of six dances apiece, with an intermission between the two and six different people handling the choreography (It's a bit like the book of Revelation with a different favorite number). The music was a mix of canned and live, with one original composition (More on that later) (Unless I forget). The dancers generally worked with a single choreographer, allowing for minimal time spent setting up. Which was nice, because it meant the show moved right along. I would have felt weird about walking in front of everyone to rebeer during a dance.

Now, I suspect a lot of people have a preconceived notion of dance as some sort of pretty means of expression through movement. This is not the case when Cindi is choreographing. Her dances can best be described as ugly. This is not to say they are not watchable. Far from it. Just that they will not be mistaken for a revival of Swan Lake anytime soon. Cindi's style of choreography has much less in common with Tchaikovsky than with Compton's Most Wanted, in that you go pop pop pop and watch the sucker hit the floor. Act 1 featured a trio of choreographers providing two pieces, with Cindi starting things off with a new piece featuring original music from the generically-named David Ross. Quite frankly, I find myself having a hard time remembering specifics from this dance. There were some excellent visuals, including a wonderful image that sticks with me of Cindi hoisting a fellow dancer on her back while she (not Cindi (while we're on the subject, what was her name exactly?)) continued to make leg motions akin to pedalling a bicycle; as well as several hops, which are rapidly becoming a sort of signature move. Trying to focus on the music, the dancing and my beer proved a bit much; and I am left with more a series of dreamlike images than anything concrete. As the piece is entitled Wake Me When It's Over, this may have been the point all along.

From this entertaining beginning we rapidly went south. Now, let me first state that my opinion of dancing offers little more than random whims in terms of actual opinions and analysis. I come from a background much more of music than of movement, and a poor choice of audio can ruin a piece for me quicker than any on-stage stumbles. Disclaimer done, the two dances choreographed by Reggie Cole were somewhere between bad and awful. Don't get me wrong. Reggie seemed like a wonderful dancer, and has absolutely phenomenal body control (and, I have been told, is one of the most surprisingly married men out there. Yeah dancer stereotypes!). He is awesomely graceful on stage. And I wish he would stick to dancing at others' direction. It's possible his placement in the program did him a disservice, as following the intellectually challenging first piece with a puff piece that would not be out of place on So You Think You Can Dance© was a bit more than jarring. Factor in that he chose to assault the audience's ears with some unholy combination of Herbie Hancock and Annie Lennox and this rapidly became unforgivable. His second work was set to the strains of what sounded like an Evanesence knock-off and ended with both dancers making the shape of the cross onstage. Nothing to see here, folks.

In between these two was a dance that I recall liking at the time, but in my memory it is reduced to the opening 45 seconds being repeatedly run. This involved two dancers offstage running out towards each other, doing a sort of do-si-do and returning to where they came from behind the curtain. I spent most of the time this was happening thinking about how awesome it would be if they ran into each other (intentionally), fell down and then lay in the middle of the stage for a minute or two as the music continued to play. This is why it is a good thing that I am not a choreographer (other ideas I had: dancing on bubble wrap and dancing while wearing velcro™, with the audience throwing things at the dancers in an attempt to get them to stick). There was a Cindi-choreographed trifecta of duets, complete with couples who progressively liked each other less and fun with plastic props. Also, somewhere along the line there was a sixth dance. I know because the program tells me.

Moving along in a strictly linear fashion, we (collectively) reached Act 2 after an intermission. this consisted of six dances, among which were Reggie redeeming himself a bit by taking my suggestion from earlier and just dancing twice, and one other bit that sticks out. Now, let me state that I wish to do this [searching for perfect word] thing full justice, so I shall hereby report only facts.

Fact: An upright piano was wheeled onstage, with two cymbals and a bell sitting on it.
Fact: A vocalist came out next to the piano.
Fact: Two dancers came out and sat in rocking chairs, facing each other.
Fact: I thought this writing format would be a lot more fun than it is.
Fact: The vocalist then sang single words from nursery rhymes repeatedly. When she finished, the pianist would play while the dancers ran about the stage.
Fact: Sometimes the cymbals would be crashed to emphasize an especially dramatic point.
Fact: This point was nearly always "London Bridge is falling down."
Fact: I will never have to watch this again in my entire life. And am not overly saddened by this.

The final dance also happened to be the best of the night, Cindi's dance spinoff of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. I'm not even going to attempt any sort of summary here, as I feel incapable of doing it justice (Also, this got really long sometime when I wasn't paying attention. I feel like Joe Posnanski right now). So this will have to suffice: I have used a lot of colons in this post. Also, Cindi manages to dissect the internal workings of Raskolnikov well enough that I feel I alomst know his character just as well from the dance as I do from reading the book, and with quite a bit of time saved (wish I'd known about this dance before I read the book (THAT IS A LIE)). The night's performance ended as one always should, with a pile of bodies freshly strewn across the stage (Actual quote from later in the night: "We love performing that one because if we slip and fall it looks like part of the dance"). And really, isn't that what dancing is all about? No, I'm really asking. I have no idea.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Coming Attractions

This sentence, and many others, will be contained within the next post, which is a review of a dance performance:

I like shiny objects.

So stick around!

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Tale of Two Cities

The problem with writing about a work that has been canonized by every single person to ever pick up a pencil (8th graders being forced to read the book in question by their cruel taskmaster/teacher excepted) is, of course, the obvious one: What can I possibly say about this book that Vladimir Nabokov has not? In the case of the novel in question, probably nothing. Therefore, if you are overly familiar with Nabokov's feelings on Dickens, you should probably skip to a post about the weather or the optimal length of dreadlocks w/r/t acceleration at each position in baseball, and the corresponding amounts players should tip their barber (or whatever). Unless you desire to read the same thing multiple times, only more poorly articulated the second time around (Though I wish to note that I am far ahead of Nabokov in the ever-important field of Bleak House analysis, as I am willing to state that which he never dared: Don't bother reading Bleak House. Seriously. It's an overstuffed, underformed mess). If this is the case, feel free to read along with the other functionally illiterate person or two who is still going here. Anway, with whatever I wrote as the first sentence (finally) being back in mind, my current intention is to keep this brief. That probably will not happen. Let's have a paragraph break.

A Tale of Two Cities has been covered everywhere from Princeton University to the fine television program Wishbone™, all of which seem to have the idea that it is one of the finest piece of writing ever produced in the English language. And they are correct. Dicken's prose and storytelling are at their absolute apex here, and the book is poignant and fully-formed, packed with interesting characters and a plot that moves along as quickly as the ever-present footsteps signalling the beginning of the French Revolution. The only caveat worth mentioning is that this is a work of Victorian english, meaning it is overly wordy and descriptive by default (Though still less digressive than this blog post. Also Tom Jones). However, none of the novel is extraneous. As opposed to some of his other works (God I hated Bleak House (Though nothing is worse than the titular character in Oliver Twist)), in ATOTC he ties every one of these seemingly unnecessary sidenotes back around into a plot that picks up just as much steam as the historical element it revolves around as the pages turn. It begins with one of the absolute iconic opening sentences in literature, and closes with one also matched by few works (Hello A Farewell To Arms!). If anyone knows of another work that achieves both these things, I would love to read it.

Despite this praise, the novel is not flawless. Dickens is often a moralist to a fault, and his continual slamming of the Revolutionary methods and aims draws thin as the book moves on. This, as most of his works, was written as a serial novel, and it is possible to pick out the various cliffhangers he ended various sections on as you read it (Perhaps this does not bother you personally, but I am a reader who comes off feeling slightly used if a writer feels it is necessary to resort to cliffhangers to keep me reading). These are small faults compared to the last seven paragraphs. In these, Dickens the Moralist runs amock, to the point of nearly destroying what should be the climactic finish of a masterpiece. The damage is contained by the thoroughly wonderful closing line, but it is still an unfortunate black mark against a virtually flawless novel, which gets marked down from perfect to brilliant as a result. If you haven't read it yet, stop reading this and go track down a copy. Or at least a DVD of Wishbone™.

Back To Business

Been hectic in these parts. That's the only (weak) excuse that's forthcoming. Let's do this.

Monday, January 12, 2009

I Have A Follower

Does that make this some kind of a cult?

God I hope so.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Red Sox Increase Their Insurance Premiums

Quite a week for the Red Sox. After being very quiet on the signings front all offseason, the Sox threw their hat in the ring by picking up 5 players in the last seven days, four of whom have major injury questions. I'd like to take a moment to welcome back Mark Kotsay, the rock of the group. Mark, it's great to have you and your defensive flexibility back on the roster, and despite the fact that you struggle to hit your weight, knowing that you are our 5th outfielder and will prevent the Sox from being forced to call up Jon Van Every and his remarkable 41% strikeout percentage (Though he also comes with a .263 ISO. He's like a lefthanded Mark Reynolds, only swinging harder. To be fair to Van Every, reports are that he has a good glove in CF, as opposed to Reynolds' routine battles with Canseco-itis) should the plague befall the starting outfield. And considering that, with another of the recent transactions the Sox have hired Rocco Baldelli and his mitochondrial disorder to back up JD 'Iron Horse' Drew on the green grass, the 5th outfielder seeing serious time this year is a very real possibility. And while Kotsay will hardly light the world on fire, knowing that he can back up all three outfield spots and play first, allowing Youk to slide to third when Lowell needs a break (Or if he gets injured again) will certainly help me sleep slightly better at night (UZR does show Kotsay as being borderline-abysmal in CF last year, while showing him as below-average the previous three. If push comes to shove, I'm rooting for last year to be a sample-size fluke). Baldelli is an enormous risk/reward signing, as he could be an absolute steal if he's healthy (Witness his .213 ISO last year), but has a downside of being able to play nothing more than DH for 30 games a year. With minimal money and years being invested in him, this seems like a wise investment by a front office rapidly becoming known for making them (Julio Lugo excepted).

But the more interesting signings are the three pitchers. John Smoltz, Brad Penny and Takashi Saito all were inked this week, and all have been exceptional in the past. The deals are all minimal years and dollars. The reason Theo and co. were able to make this happen is as follows (in order): Shoulder surgery (With irreparable damage found), shoulder surgery, torn elbow tendon with experimental non-surgery treatment. Projecting all three pitchers to bounce back ranges somewhere between wildly optimistic and downright reckless. However, projecting 50 innings each out of Penny and Smoltz and 30 more from Saito at about 80% of the past level of performance from each seems reasonable (Obviously I don't think each hits exactly these numbers. But 130 innings out of the trio seems reasonable). This makes Smoltz/Penny a good fifth starter behind the front four of Beckett, Lester, Matsuzaka and Methuselah. However, this puts additional stress on the bullpen to cover the additional innings a fully healthy fifth starter would put up, as well as covering for the projected 20 or so a healthy reliever would pitch over Saito. Tom Tango has done research showing that modern relievers are actually underworked, and their performance does not suffer when their workload is increased. Being a statistically-savvy front office, odds are the Sox are familiar with this work. Perhaps they are planning to implement it. Or they may plan on having some players on the 40-man roster ride the AAA shuttle a bit to keep fresh arms in the 'pen. Or (And this is my favorite possibility), perhaps minor league starter, major league swingman Justin Masterson (Also known as The Angel of Death to right-handed batters) will take on the role of an old school super-reliever, being called on to pitch multiple innings and throwing 120-130 on the season. Either way, the Sox appear to have the flexibility to make this work, and the possibility of any of these pitchers regaining his old form makes these gambles well worth taking, especially as they give the team present flexibility without sacrificing future roster slots which could be better used on young players coming up through the farm system (Buchholz, Bowden and Bard would be the three names at the top of the list).

The most important thing these signings do with regards to the three recently-parentheticalized players is allow the Sox to trade one or two of them to help fill the only positional need the team had going into the offseason, catcher. Miguel Montero is the name being tossed around most at the moment, and would probably come at a slightly lower rate than the most-discussed option (And yeah, I'm about to go there), meaning we would still have Buchholz around to fill in with the big league club should things go wrong (Yes Sox fans, I know some of you have soured on Clay after a season that can only be described as disappointing. However, he is still definitely our top pitching prospect. Deal with it). However, last year Michael Bowden was the MiLB pitcher of the year, and he seems ready to fill the role of emergency fifth starter, a role Masterson could back him up in should he bomb (And both are at least better options than Paul Byrd). This means Buchholz, good as he may become, can be made available for the right piece. And that piece is Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The Rangers have been holding out for him all winter, and now he can be spared. Yes, it hurts to give up a potential future #1 starter like Clay (And there are few true #1s in the majors right now), but frankly a trade is probably going to have to hurt a bit if you want to get something in return (I make no claims of having any idea why the White Sox are reportedly trying to trade for Michael Young, a below-average MLB shortstop making $60 million over the net five years). Salty has held his own against MLB pitching since the age of 21 with excellent power potential, and a good walk rate. If the Rangers will throw in a young power arm with Salty (Wilfredo Boscan, come on down!), then this is a trade that will shore up the Sox roster for the upcoming season, in what should be an absolutely ridiculous three team race in the brutal AL East. There are a couple other things these potential offseason moves bring up questions about, but I'll get into those in a day or two.

Monday, January 5, 2009


The first paragraph of that last post could also be called 'Why the Tigers trading for Edwin Jackson was a bad idea'.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Defense and Manny Ramirez (In the Same Sentence)

The New Year has come and gone, and the sometimes lovable, sometimes frustrating goofball who happens to double as one of the five best right-handed hitters in the history of baseball remains unemployed. As opposed to the still-controversial lack of contract offers to baseball's home run king last offseason, there are no cries of collusion amongst owners where Manny Ramirez is concerned. Rather, Manny simply appears to have misplayed a weak hand into becoming a free agent at the worst possible time. Beyond the economic downturn that seems to have all MLB teams not nicknamed the Yankees hesitant to sign ballplayers to large contracts, most franchises not named the Phillies seem to be realizing how much monetary value defense has for them. The best current example of this is the Rays. Returning basically the same, seemingly-inept pitching staff from 2007, Tampa went from allowing the most runs in the American League to allowing the second-fewest. While it is only right to attribute some of this improvement to their pitching staff, a large portion of the credit must go to the defense. They went from allowing -54.2 more runs than an MLB-average franchise defensively in 2007 to being 70.2 runs above average this season, quite the improvement in terms of tracking down shots hit into the gaps (As a sidenote, I believe the fielding runs rate is something along the lines of 0.8 runs per play, but I can't for the life of me remember or find the conversions right now). But this does not tell the whole story. While it measures the runs a team has saved with the leather, it does not take into effect what these catches do about the runners already on base. In 2007, Rays pitchers had a strand rate of 66.8% (This seems fairly self-explanatory, but strand rate is the percentage of runners who reach base but do not go on to score a run). In 2008 this increased to 74%, much of which can be attributed to balls that would have been RBI doubles the previous season now being turned into outs. Over the course of the season, 1,875 players reached base against the Rays via a walk or a hit, meaning that this 7.2% increase in strand rate kept 134 runs from scoring. And this is where Manny enters the picture.

Beyond entering the free agent market during a recession, as well as at the same time as four other players who do the exact same things Manny does, albeit not quite as well (The job description from here on out shall be referred to as 'Defensively-Challenged Slugger'. These players (Pat Burrell, Adam Dunn, Raul Ibanez and Bobby Abreu, for those of you keeping score at home (If we expand the player pool to include DHs (The position all these players should probably be stuck at), Jason Giambi needs to be included as well)) are all corner outfielders by trade). If we use Tom Tango's positional conversion chart, the value of these four players to their future employers actually increases if they leave their glove behind and DH. You have to REALLY suck at fielding for that to happen. And Manny is regarded by most fielding statistics (And evaluations) as being the worst of this bunch, giving back a substantial portion of the offensive lead he has over his job competitors with his putrid leather. Add in that teams (Again, non-Phillies division (If I get bored, I'll pile on about the Ibanez signing sometime. But not today. Today I'll stick to snide references to it)) have begun to understand the dollars that should be attached to a player's defense, and Manny is up against as perfect a storm as anyone who employs Scott Boras can be. But Manny's defense may actually be undervalued. Brian Cartwright at Statistically Speaking made an attempt to accommodate for the odd shape of Fenway Park by examining the Retrosheet data from 2003-2006 and found that non-home-run fly balls to left field, balls that fall in for hits 17.1 percent of the time at other parks, were scored as hits 31.3 percent of the time at Fenway. I'd recommend reading his piece for the actual results and the gory details (You can find the article here), but Manny's D is nowhere near as bad as it's typically believed to be (Worst left fielder in the new analysis: Raul Ibanez. Alright, I'll stop now. Maybe). The Green Monster actually has caused a substantial portion of his seeming ineptitude (That it has likely helped his offense as well is a subject outside this post's purview). Because of this and the depressed price the market seems likely to force on him, Manny may actually be an outright steal for the next few years. With the caveat here being history, which may be scaring off more teams than his glove.

You see, eight months ago Manny was signed to a contract that had become a relative bargain, a club option for each of the next two years at $20 million per (A bargain by baseball standards, people). Manny decided that he no longer wished to play for the team he was bound to by this contract, and staged a ridiculously impressive push for a trade consisting of sitting out games for no reason whatsoever, feuding with the team about this, and shoving a man well past 50 in the employ of the team to the ground. If you are the general manager of a baseball team and sign Manny Ramirez to a deal good for your club, what will happen when he realizes it? This is the risk associated with employing the dreadlocked wonder, not his defense. But as many teams (Presumably) use more traditional defensive measurements than park-adjusted play-by-play data, Manny is looking at quite a lengthy winter with those two black marks against him. Scott Boras has long been regarded as some sort of Satanic superagent, and he's going to have to use all his demonic minions and/or powers to get the deal that this time (For once) his client actually deserves.

Also, Raul Ibanez's baseball skills are vastly overrated.

Friday, January 2, 2009


I have heard the hue and cry of the unwashed masses, and I am here to clarify the previous public service announcement. This is not a correction, as everything I write is indisputably correct. Rather, there was one type of precipitation I missed before. Hail. If you are outside during an indeterminate storm and find yourself thinking, "This is cold and tickly, like a puppy's nose," then that is snow. If you instead are thinking, "Ow! [Grapefruit segments]!" that is hail, in which case an umbrella is allowed.