Sunday, December 27, 2009

Baseball-Related Linkage

The fine folks over at The Dugout take us behind the scenes in the Jason Bay contract negotiations. (Note - The link does feature some semi-starred-out language).

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Spice Cabinet Is Trying To Kill Me

I spend a fair amount of time in my kitchen because, in my experience, that is where food comes from. As someone who enjoys eating both for the ability it allows me to continue my existence as well as for the flavor it can provide, I take this aspect of my life fairly seriously (Probably more seriously than I should, as I recently used a thermometer to take the internal temperature of a sweet roll as a means of determining doneness, which spell check does not think is a word). I take pride in whipping up tasty meals out of whatever I feel like buying at the store (As I also work at the store, these things are inevitably cheap), and really love the room of my house from which the food comes. So I was shocked when I recently discovered that my warm, fuzzy feelings are evidently not returned by that most crucial of cupboards, my spice cabinet.

As someone who is, technically, poor, I find myself often hit with sticker shock when I enter the spice aisle of a grocery store and find that .0056205032 ounces of bay leaves will cost me $41.85. This is why I buy my spices from the bulk section of the local Organic Hippy Co-Op, which allows me to fill a bag with however much of a particular spice I want, and then buy just that amount. Beyond helping me ensure that my spices are constantly fresh (Yes, they deteriorate with age), this saves me a not-insignificant amount of money. But occasionally I get spices at a regular store that does not smell of patchouli, which is why my spice cabinet is littered with small, frequently unmarked bags of Mystery Spices broken up by the occasional Enormous, Mostly Full, Clearly Labeled Jar. Most of the time it is fairly easy to determine which spices are in which bags, as most look different from one another, and in the rare cases that they are similar, well, no one's going to care too much if the basil is actually oregano (One exception: Do not confuse paprika with cayenne pepper. Ever). As a result of this system, my cabinet contains very few words. So the other day when I looked into the cabinet and saw the jar of coriander standing there like some kind of flavorful colossus, I was a bit startled to see that the side of the container read:


This is less than comforting, especially since none of my other containers or unmarked bags contain similar sentiments. On the upside, it does explain where the eerie glow in my kitchen comes from. Now, being a history major with an English minor, I am not too heavy on the sciences, and therefore am not entirely sure what the effects of radiation are, but I am reasonably certain that it is where Godzilla came from. Thank god that I am no longer in New York, because I am petrified of what might happen if a cockroach got into the cumin. And while this does eliminate the need for me to buy a nightlight (I now keep the garam masala next to the bed), I now spend most of my time wondering what the trade-off of good-tasting food v. decreased life expectancy is worth to me. I have yet to figure out the exact answer, as my thought process is fairly scattered due to the noise being emitted by the Geiger counter I placed next to the nutmeg (Which actually has a label, albeit one that identifies the bag's contents as 'nutmed'. Evidently I was tired). Such is the price of safety. In response to this alarming set of circumstances, I have composed my last will and testament, and would like to let each and every one of you know that I love you all equally, though some of you more than others. And if I am found dead, or glowing, or Godzillaing, be assured that the turmeric did it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Were You Aware Of It?

Hanukkah pronounced backwards is 'hakuna', famously used in Disney's The Lion King. There's a 'Jews control the mass media' conspiracy theory in here somewhere.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

John Lackey

Well, thanks to the Red Sox for waiting all of two hours or so to make my last post completely irrelevant. Mike Cameron, welcome aboard. Great to have you (Here's a fun question: Who has provided more Wins Above Replacement to his team over the last two years: Mike Cameron or Jason Bay?). John Lackey? Well, this one I'm a bit more concerned about.

One thing I won't deny is that the deal looks like it makes the team better for this year, as it makes the question marks the Sox have in the minors force their way onto the roster rather than being handed a spot, and with the guys the Sox have down on the farm, that sounds good to me. But this deal is a lot of risk to assume, especially for a team that has been as low-risk as the Sox in the past. 5 years for a pitcher is a heck of a commitment considering the high injury and attrition rates at the position, and Lackey has a checkered injury history the last two years, a glaring red flag considering those seasons follow 5 consecutive years of heavy workloads. Pitching-wise, Lackey is slightly ground ball-oriented, though essentially neutral in this regard. What he makes his money off of is his ability to strike out an above-average number of hitters while limiting his walks, making him a good starter. Which is why it concerns me that his ability to K batters is in a five-year decline.

Lackey's peak year was 2005, when he was legitimately Cy Young-caliber. Since then, with a graph line that points up a bit each year, batters make contact with 5% more of the pitches they swing at in the strike zone, and a whopping 20.4% of the pitches they swing at out of the zone. Lackey has gone from very hard to hit to essentially league-average (Or slightly worse than league-average) contact rates. For obvious reasons, this has led to his strikeout rate declining, as that is also in a five-year decline. Now, Lackey is what the old sportswriters call a 'Crafty veteran', and he hasn't let this go unnoticed. Rather, he seems to have changed his pitching style a bit in response to his increasing inability to obtain a swing-and-miss, upping his pitches thrown outside of the strike zone significantly last year. Unfortunately, as I just mentioned, batters have dramatically increased their contact rate against these pitches as well, and while the move undoubtedly helped Lackey's strikeout numbers a bit, it also led to an increase in his walk rate. Things like this scare me.

So what we have is an aging pitcher who has struggled with injuries, with a dwindling ability to strike out hitters, lacking the strong GB-tendencies that would make high contact rates acceptable. The fortunate bit is that so far Lackey has had a very gentle annual decline, and he was starting from a high talent level in the first place. But eventually there comes a point where a pitchers inability to put one past a hitter pushes that pitcher off a cliff completely (See Hernandez, Livan). I am not going to claim I know exactly where that point is, but each year John Lackey gets a bit closer to it (When he manages to stay on the field), and the Sox just committed to paying him until he's 35. As long as they aren't expecting an ace, they shouldn't be too disappointed, as with this rotation, Lackey is third-starter material at best. But I wouldn't be surprised if, by the end of 2010, Clay Buchholz has pushed Lackey down to fourth in the pecking order, and it's probably not getting better from there on out.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Interesting Non-Tendered Players

Big name free agents and blockbuster trades can wait. Yesterday was the deadline for teams to offer salary arbitration to those youngsters still under team control, with any- and everyone not receiving an offer heading into the free agent pool, which by my unofficial count seems to have 6,000,000 players in it at the moment. I tend to prefer the bargain-basement players to round out the roster, as you can often get good production from low-cost players on short-term deals, which gives you roster flexibility down the line (Always a good thing). So after flipping through the list of newly-available players, three especially stand out (Kelly Johnson was disqualified, as the fact that he hits from the left side of the plate outweighs his solid bat and positional flexibility on a team sporting lefties at both outfield corners), either due to the fact that I think they'd be a good fit for the team, or due to the fact that I keep hearing their names (This is only one of them). So let's take a look at the cheap players out there, the type Theo seems to love signing (Editor's note: This is not a criticism).

Firstly, let's start with Jonny Gomes. At this point, the Sox seem comfortable going into 2010 with a starting outfield of Hermida-Ellsbury-Drew, letting Jason Bay go wherever the money takes him. As an unathletic, all-bat corner outfielder in his thirties, no objections here to not re-signing him. The proposed OF, however, is all lefties. I would feel more comfortable picking up a right-handed bat to pair with the three fine gentlemen listed above. Enter Gomes, just cut loose by the Reds. Jonny has two glaring weaknesses, none of which are hitting left-handed pitching (.261/.341/.503 vs. lefties the last 3 years, which includes his trainwreck of a 2008). he can't hit a righty to save his life, but in this outfield, he wouldn't have to. His abnormal HR/FB spike in 2009 (22%, 15.7% career) will come back to earth a bit, but he's still a very useful bat to have. The glove, on the other hand, not so much. Gomes is something of a piece of furniture in the outfield. And we're not talking an end table with wheels here. We're talking 'Let's move the pull-out couch up the stairs!' furniture. He's worth -22.3 runs per 150 games in an outfield corner over his career, also known as the Manny Ramirez School of Defense (Feel free to sub in the name Jason Bay if you'd prefer). This is a significant wart. But as a player available on a cheap one-year deal who would ideally play in about 1/4 of the team's games, Gomes is worth the price. And yes, this essentially is the poor man's version of signing Mike Cameron, a move I support even more (In other things that might make some sense, trading for Krispie Young (A rumor I'm making up right now. I have heard less than nothing about this) would also serve the same purpose as signing Gomes, but without the execrable defense).

Next up we have Matt Capps, a surprise non-tender by the Pirates. Let's immediately dispense with the basic 'If a guy is being released by the Pirates, that's the end of the line' joke, as that's below even Shaughnessy to write (Full disclosure: I'm actually not sure if anything is below Shaughnessy after his recent idiotic column about Theo's 'Bridge year' quote. The man is a complete hysterical idiot). Until last year, Capps was the Pirates closer, and a very good one at that, posting an ERA of 2.28 in 2007, followed up with a 3.02 showing in 2008. Then last year the wheels fell off. Capps missed time with injuries, and the ERA jumped to 5.80, leading to his outright release. So what went wrong? Well, first and foremost, Capps wasn't anywhere near that good to begin with. He does one thing very well, and that is that he doesn't walk batters (Career 1.66 BB/9). However, his strikeout rate is extremely average, and his groundball rate is Wakefield-esque (6.89 K/9, 36.0% GB career). Strip out the luck caused by extremely low HR/FB rates in 2007 and 2008 and the extremely high rate posted last year, and we find that Capps has been essentially the same pitcher every year, with an expected ERA between 3.95 and 4.37 for each of the last four years, right around league-average for a relief pitcher. Considering he posted these numbers in the weak NL Central and is an injury risk, passing on Capps looks like the right move.

Finally, my favorite reclamation project pick-up: Chien-Mien Wang. One presumption out of the way first: I want the Sox to sign Adrian Beltre to play third base. Since the Sox seem to want to sign him too, this works out well (This topic will get its own post soon). This gives the Sox a defensive infield of Youkilis-Pedroia-Scutaro-Beltre, also known as The Best Defensive Infield in Baseball, and it's not even close. That's a Gold Glove-caliber player at each position. And what better way to make use of this quartet than by signing a pitcher with a career 57.5% ground ball rate (It's a rhetorical question)? Now, as with Gomes, there are caveats here. Wang has been hurt for just about two straight years, and was been shelled when he pitched last season. But that's not quite how I see it. In 2008 Wang was off to another season right off the assembly line until a fluke Lisfranc injury to his foot while running the bases in an interleague game ended his season. He came back in 2009 and got shelled, then was eventually shut down for shoulder surgery. Now, I don't have access to detailed medical records (And wouldn't know what do do with them if I did), but this sounds to me like the foot injury didn't heal properly, and as a result of Wang trying to pitch through it, he lost his effectiveness and injured his shoulder (By way of more concrete analysis, Wang's pitch mix changed a bit last year, as he threw his sinker 20% less, in exchange for a corresponding increase in his percentage of two-seam fastballs. When he threw it, his sinker had its customary drop. However, he lost 2.5 inches of horizontal movement on it, which may be a sign that he was unable to throw it properly after the foot injury, and seems as if it would certainly help batters square up on the pitch). If team doctors are willing to sign off on him being fully healthy, both in his shoulder and his foot, putting a ground-baller like Wang behind this infield on a one-year deal is a move with the potential to pay extremely high dividends, and fits nicely with Theo's running theme of injury-reclamation pitchers.

Are these the best free agents out there? Absolutely not. But these are three available players who should have low price tags, two of whom would be a nice fit for the Sox roster. Unfortunately, the third is the one whose name I've seen thrown around the most. However, as none of that name-slinging has been done by any front office sources, I have faith that the Sox can see right through Capps' deceptive numbers and focus instead on players who can and will help them more.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

And Now I Am One

Well, not me. This blog. I won't say how old I am in hopes that the flood of stupid teenyboppers who are certain to flock to this blog following Katy Perry-related searches will think I'm one of them, and give me a substantial portion of their parents' disposable income. So, congrats, blog. I'll hoist a beer in your honor. Thanks to Guest Informant for all the help over the year. And now, to commemorate this truly momentous achievement of not being dead, I'd like to highlight the things some noteworthy Americans accomplished at the ripe old age in question:

George Washington: Did not tell a lie. Also, could not talk.

Abraham Lincoln: Did not shave.

John Madden: Ate entire Turducken.

Gerald Ford: Bonked head on things.

Thomas Edison: Probably invented something.

Santa Claus: Yeah, he's American. Suck on that, other countries.

Joe Biden: Preparing for the office of the vice presidency, drooled on self.

Albert Einstein: Wait, was he German? Whatever.

There you have it. Congratulations on getting older, blog. I hope you weren't expecting anything nice. Or well-written. Now about that beer....

Friday, December 4, 2009

Modern Dance Review, Part Deux

I wasn't there. My bad. So instead, let's talk about cars.

You see, the reason for my nonattendance was the sudden inability of my car to do essential car things, such as going uphill, without stalling. As this same thing happened several months ago, the problem seems to lie within the fuel system, leading me to suspect the fuel pump. Which, considering the car has over 245,000 miles on it, might be worth more than the vehicle is. Good times. So an executive decision was made to load the car onto a trailer and take it to an automotive shop, where people with more sophisticated equipment than my socket wrench complete with two sockets (One of which is metric!) could examine it and determine the exact cause of its inability to move, something which was probably related to the glowing 'Check engine' light present on the dash. This plan was carried out, and the car removed from my driveway. So yesterday I heard the verdict: There is nothing wrong with the car. Apparently in an effort to fool the mechanics, the check engine light shut itself off in transit to the shop, and the stalling problem went away as well, even as the car was put through a 300-mile test over various terrains. So now I am going to go pick it back up, with no alterations made to it. This is somewhat less than comforting. Essentially, I feel as if I am living with an alcoholic housemate and have just been told by the Betty Ford clinic to just keep the door to the liquor cabinet closed and he'll be fine. I somehow doubt it, but I'll give it a try. If you see me by the side of the road with my thumb out, please pick me up.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


So, turns out it's hard to write a novel in a month. Who knew? I end National Novel Writing Month just shy of 10,000 words, less than 20% of the way to the goal. But I think that the novel I've begun is actually good, and something I will finish. And I've gotten better (I think) at setting aside some time each day to write, though that's gotten a bit harder as the days have gotten busier due to the continual jettisoning of parts by my faithful steed, which will now only run where gravity takes it (Which is not far, since the way out of the parking lot is uphill). Yay for buses!

Anyway, 2,147,483,647 words were written by the participants last month, and congratulations to all of them. In this sort of race against the clock, everyone can set aside personal competition and just write without regard to how their quality stacks up against that of others, which is presumably something of a liberating feeling, and something I did not manage to achieve. Which is why I bet my book-in-progress is better than theirs (collectively). With the pace I've set for myself, they'll get to find out this summer.

In unrelated news, I'm volunteering at Vermont Public Television tonight for what I presume is pledge drive assistance. I think this officially makes me a member of the liberal elite. Does the title come with a paycheck?