Relief from Short Relief

Not as in “relief from the burden of Short Relief.” More like, “Short Relief (at last) has provided me with some relief.” I am not a longtime reader of Baseball Prospectus the way people who truly have been reading Baseball Prospectus for a really long time casually sprinkle into digitally transmitted discourse that they are longtime readers of Baseball Prospectus, but I have been reading the site and its books and listening to its podcasts (or one of its former ones, anyway) for a few years and been a subscriber for the balance of that time, and there is no question that the temperament of the site has changed over that period. Since I have been reading it, BP has had three editors in chief: Ben Lindbergh, Sam Miller, and Aaron Gleeman, its current EIC. Miller, who now writes for ESPN, has a special ability to blend the analytical and the fanciful (perhaps “imaginative” is a better word here, though neither are correct), and, by outward appearances, was a judicious editor. Baseball writers everywhere usually write about baseball in serious tones, and Miller was a breath of fresh air in that regard, if a measured one. It’s good to have outlets for some less serious baseball writing too. There used to be a whole place for that, which was called NotGraphs, but it was terminated in late 2014. Thereafter, its postmortal spirit attempted to eke out a living in an even smaller corner of the web, but that campaign fizzled.

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Although Miller never misses an opportunity to credit Lindbergh, his former boss and collaborator on two significant projects who now writes for The Ringer, as the best in the business, it’s clear to me that it’s Miller who’s left a large impression on the current version of BP. Whimsy, once reserved for sidebar Hitlist one-liners and a few player comments in the BP Annual (not unusually in the form of a Simpsons reference) everyone raced to find, photograph, and post on social media web platform Twitter.com, now abounds– or, at least, attempts to abound– at BP. This is most visible in the daily Short Relief feature, a sort of refugee camp for NotGraphs alums that typically contains three essays, or maybe poems, or maybe just a picture, that effort and imitate toward the odd and purposefully absurd.

I never read every article every day at BP, but I’ve never read less of BP than I do now (Russell Carleton and Rob Mains are musts), and I very rarely read Short Relief. I’m glad a major baseball site is trying to resurrect NotGraphs, but this take just doesn’t hit me right. It feels very unessential and often forced. A lot of that probably is due to the fact that it’s an everyday feature. It’s really hard to produce original funny, silly, odd, unusual, quirky, or whatever content on a daily deadline. It’s even harder when you’re limited to one subject area. (There’s also the part about the site’s budget crunch and probably a little friction with the idea that BP is contributing resources to Short Relief rather than its core mission, which seems noticeably understaffed at the moment.)

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BUT. Today’s Short Relief I did read, and today’s Short Relief I did like. It contains two entries, both by former owners of NG bylines. The first, from David G. Temple, once the managing editor of TechGraphs, is a short story about baseball cards that really hit home for me, as anyone reading ALDLAND’s late-night tweets earlier this week might have guessed. The second, from Short Relief coordinator Patrick Dubuque, provides a short metacommentary on the Short Relief series itself that resonated in light of the above-transcribed feelings about the Short Relief series. I commend both to your screen and eyes.

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The Best Baseball Research of the Past Year

Once again, the Society for American Baseball Research has chosen fifteen (non-ALDLAND) finalists for awards in the areas of contemporary and historical baseball analysis and commentary, and they are holding a public vote to determine the winners.

My latest post at Banished to the Pen highlights each finalist and includes a link to cast your vote to help determine the winners.

Read the full post, which includes summaries of each of the fifteen nominated pieces; reveals my ballot; and includes some general comments on this year’s selections here.

The Best Baseball Research of the Past Year

Once again, the Society for American Baseball Research has chosen fifteen (non-ALDLAND) finalists for awards in the areas of contemporary and historical baseball analysis and commentary, and they are holding a public vote to determine the winners.

My latest post at Banished to the Pen highlights each finalist and includes a link to cast your vote.

As a preview, here are my summaries of my two favorite articles of the bunch:    Continue reading

The Ghost of Grantland Past

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ESPN reports:

Effective immediately we are suspending the publication of Grantland.  After careful consideration, we have decided to direct our time and energy going forward to projects that we believe will have a broader and more significant impact across our enterprise.

Grantland distinguished itself with quality writing, smart ideas, original thinking and fun.  We are grateful to those who made it so.  Bill Simmons was passionately committed to the site and proved to be an outstanding editor with a real eye for talent.  Thanks to all the other writers, editors and staff who worked very hard to create content with an identifiable sensibility and consistent intelligence and quality. We also extend our thanks to Chris Connelly who stepped in to help us maintain the site these past five months as he returns to his prior role.

Despite this change, the legacy of smart long-form sports story-telling and innovative short form video content will continue, finding a home on many of our other ESPN platforms.

Certainly not the Halloween surprise anyone who has enjoyed the talented collection of writing, podcasting, and video production that site has produced since it launched in 2011 wanted to see.

Baseball blogger proposes extremely traditional training tactics

cistuwarmyThe rapid seep of the internet across the biophysical landscape has allowed, in pooling pools of athletico-scriptology, the fomenting and indeed rise of a baseball-centric analytical community that fashions itself both advanced and numerological in both its substantive and aesthetic drapings, trappings, and driftings. The aforementioned pooling-facilitated rise occurred not within a vacuum chamber or bag or filter or hose but in the context and– the soon-to-be-mentioned contextualizers would announce– against the preexisting backdrop of an often-organized and, in the metaphorical and sometimes literal literal sense, gated or bound collection of Baseball Writers who, it must be noted, likely never anticipated being intransitively thrust in any respect, and much less being so thrust into a, and really, the, (readily accepted, it also must be noted) position of defending, together with the practically necessarily wholly inclusive and thus merged task of defining, both Traditional Baseball and the traditional mode of observing, considering, and understanding baseball. They awoke to find themselves Anti-Federalists, to put a probably only partially enjoyed-by-them historical frame around it. One cohort generally granted minimal time and nominal credit to the other, and vice versa, is the point.

And yet. If there is a commonality in individual operational course of dealing it is entrepreneurially this: the need to distinguish oneself. The terminology in the following sentence is positive rather than normative. From the linguistic vantage of the traditional-minded, those of the upstart class distinguished their output, and themselves thereby, progressively; inversely, retrograde. At the extremes, both vectors have their mortal/temporal/terrestrial limits, however: points at which, for example, the only way to be more progressive is to turn, perhaps suddenly, perhaps violently, retrograde– to adopt the most traditional of traditions as the vessel in which to carry forth your message still. And vice versa. (Perhaps.)

And so. We have arrived at the above-depicted depiction of the broadcasted baseball blogger. While this is not about him but about what he has done, it is maybe worth noting, or commenting or remarking upon, that he exists, or existed, among those on the unbound progressive fringe. The worth of such notation would ripen, if at all, in the lack of surprise that should accompany one who, having understood the foregoing, observes the indicia of another who has reached the terminus of his respective– if not universally respected, see supra— vector and made the only available subsequent move, here to an admittedly extreme degree.

There exist those individuals who postulate that, as the virtual world waxes, the corporeal world necessarily must wane and further wonder whether, as a consequence, the ostensibly beneficial activity features of the virtual world become diluted so as to require a severe return to the very most traditional (meaning “old”) corporeal traditions in order to affect anything meaningful, in actual terms. Here, the rarely depicted baseball blogger, in a joint venture with the United States Army,[1] brings forth a proposed plan of training and development in which those professional, as in full-time, baseball players not yet in the Major Leagues subject themselves to the complete, as in unbridled, brutality of military engagement in order to be evaluated and thereby prove their worth as those now capable of conducting Our Nation’s Pastime at its highest (unembargoed) level. War is good for this, he is saying.

 

[1] Sporting mascot: Black Knights.

The Best Baseball Research of the Past Year

With the Super Bowl in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to get ready for baseball season, and what better way to do that than to peruse some of the best baseball articles from the past year, as identified by the Society for American Baseball Research, which has chosen fifteen (non-ALDLAND) finalists for awards in the areas of contemporary and historical baseball analysis and commentary?

My latest post at Banished to the Pen highlights each finalist and includes a link to cast your vote to help determine the winners.

As a preview, here’s my summary of my favorite article of the bunch:

Jason Turbow, “The Essence of Velocity: The Pitching Theory That Could Revolutionize Baseball, If Only The Sport Would Embrace It,” SB Nation, June 18, 2014. Turbow profiled Perry Husband, a former player who reinvented himself as a pitching coach. Really, Husband is a pitching theorist, and he labeled his theory “Effective Velocity.” The basic notion is that what matters in terms of pitch speed variation is not the actual difference between the speed of pitches but the difference in speed as perceived by the batter. This is significant, because Husband determined that actual speed and batter-perceived speed diverge for pitches thrown in certain locations. In short, pitches up and in gain effective velocity, while pitches down and away lose effective velocity. For both situations, the difference between actual and effective velocity can be between one and five miles per hour. Husband also had a revelation about the hitting process: luck is a more prevalent factor in a batter making contact than generally assumed, and hitting success depended more on pitcher mistakes. According to Husband, success in hitting, to the extent it is subject to the batter’s control, is dependent upon the batter’s ability to adjust to pitch-speed variances, and most batters cannot handle an effective velocity spread of more than five miles per hour. The very best hitters, Husband said, might be able to handle an eight mile per hour effective velocity spread. Pitchers know they need to mix speeds, but when they throw pitches to the areas where they disadvantageously gain or lose effective velocity, they neutralize the effect of their speed mixing. The one problem for Husband? He couldn’t find any Major League teams to buy into his theory. Turbow’s article tracked Husband’s search for acceptance in engaging fashion.

Read about the other fourteen nominees, see my ballot, and cast your vote here.

Book Review: Up, Up, & Away

jonahkeriupup&awayJonah Keri has completed the keystone work of his young life with Up, Up, & Away: The Kid, The Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, Le Grand Orange, Youppi!, The Crazy Business of Baseball, & the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos. While Keri surely will continue to be one of the top baseball writers of this generation, he was born to write this book about his dearest baseball love.

The book tells the full story of the Expos franchise, beginning with pre-Expos baseball in Montreal, which included the minor league Montreal Royals, a team that counted Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente among its alumni, through the bitter end and the franchise’s departure to Washington, D.C. Readers learn about Montreal and the men who brought Major League Baseball to that city (and Canada) and administered it while it was there, but Up, Up, & Away really is a fan’s story of the talented characters who wore the red, white, and powder blue.

The Expos generally had two peaks in their thirty-five-year history. The first came in the early 1980s, Continue reading

Flying Tigers: Actually Mad Max

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Detroit starting pitcher Max Scherzer is the subject of this week’s Sports Illustrated cover story. The cover’s headline is “Mad Max’s $144 Million Bet,” and it asks whether Scherzer “Made a Dumb Wager on His Future.” Scherzer, who wanted all contract discussions to end by the time the season started regardless of whether he reached a new agreement with the Tigers, was not happy with the way SI framed the story about him, telling the Free Press he was “frustrated that they chose to put the contract stuff on the cover.” The reigning Cy Young Award winner elaborated:

When they approached us, [Tigers media relations] and I, we specifically asked not to make the story around the contract. … They assured us it wasn’t going to be like that. They chose a different route, and we felt like we were lied to and misled.

I didn’t want it to be about that. I’m a baseball player. I want to talk baseball. It’s frustrating when you get lied to about that.

The magazine responded that they knew Scherzer did not want to discuss his contract situation “in detail,” but stated that they did not make any promises about how they might present that subject in the context of the article.

The article itself (I’ll post a link once it’s available online) really does not spend much time on the contract issue at all. It’s mentioned roughly twice in the feature but never substantively analyzed. On the whole, the article actually is a nice profile of Max at an important stage of his career. It spends far more time discussing his analytical development at Missouri– the importance of the pitch following a 1-1 count, for example– and his development of a curveball with Detroit pitching coach Jeff Jones than it does his employment status and prospects.

The sensationalism of the cover’s “$144 Million Bet” language, described as a “dramatic $144 million offer” on the article’s introductory page, has the look of an editor’s efforts to boost general interest in the piece and the magazine as a whole. That introductory page asks, “What does [Scherzer] know that we don’t?” If that really was the question author Albert Chen was seeking to answer when he interviewed Max and wrote this article, he surely would have spent more time discussing broader matters of age, endurance, and pitcher decline than he did.

Those topics are there, of course, and so is the contract. It would be irresponsible not to include all of that in a Scherzer profile published this week. But Chen’s article doesn’t deliver on the sensational promises of his editor’s cover, and readers should be glad it doesn’t. They’ll learn a lot more about Scherzer in Chen’s article and have a more enjoyable time doing so than they would from a poorly sourced pot-stirring piece more suitable for ESPN First Take.     Continue reading

Socializing endurance athletics

The Wall Street Journal has a sports section, something that came along with, or at least greatly expanded following, News Corp.’s takeover of the paper in 2007. It’s sort of what you might expect: a mixed-bag of quality in writing and presentation with more emphasis on tennis and sailing than other sports pages. It features writing from some really smart, talented people like Jason Gay and, formerly, David Roth (of Classical fame and now in an expanded role at SB Nation), and we try to feature those smart articles on this site. Because the paper doesn’t have to uphold a reputation as a source for sports– the move to expand sports coverage appears to be aimed at increasing website clicks– its “sports writers” might be more likely to come to their sports articles with varying backgrounds and varying levels of commitment to the sports world. Once in a while, it even feels like the WSJ’s editorial board drops in on the sports section, and that’s the feeling I had when I read last week’s article about running.

A “generational battle is raging in endurance athletics,” the article announces. “Old-timers are suggesting that performance-related apathy [exists] among young amateur athletes,” which “helps explain why America hasn’t won an Olympic marathon medal since 2004,” among other things.

There are numbers that support the conclusion that “kids these days [are] just not very fast.” At this year’s Chicago Triathlon, for example, older runners, as a group, did better than younger runners. Younger American runners are not surpassing older ones in world competition.  Continue reading