Pollen Jam

In 1969, Frank Zappa began recording material that eventually would coalesce into the 1974 album Apostrophe (‘), which would eventually be certified gold and peak at number ten on the Billboard charts. In April of 1968, Frank Zappa made an unannounced tour stop in Atlanta. His then-rare professional visit to the city provided the inspiration for the album’s opening track, which is this week’s Jam:

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Zappa plays Zappa and you can too

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Frank Zappa is one of the greatest and most interesting musicians America has produced. From 1966 until he died in 1993, he released dozens of albums bending various musical genres around his acerbic wit. FZ’s M.O., as I understand it, basically was to trick people into consuming high art by dressing it up as low art. His bands were one part orchestra, one part Foley studio, and one part rock & roll outfit. Creating the appearance of radical spontaneity on stage or in the recording studio merely was a crowning achievement of what undoubtedly was a very organized process. Zappa may have held extreme political views, but he was no anarchist. In light of the complexity of the music and the number of people it took to make it, everything– even kazoo honks and beach ball bounces– had to be carefully composed, or the project wouldn’t work. Was radical spontaneity involved in the initial generation of the ideas the songs would convey? Surely, and that’s what made these songs exciting and (attractively) dangerous to fans: even though the execution of these concepts necessarily was an orderly process, it still was Frank at the helm, and the audience didn’t know how far he would push the limits or if he’d steer them entirely off the rails.

All of that is what makes it a little bit difficult to digest what Dweezil Zappa is up to. Continue reading

Baseball Notes: The Crux of the Statistical Biscuit

baseball notes

The purpose of the interrupted Baseball Notes series is to highlight just-below-the-surface baseball topics for the purpose of deepening the enjoyment of the game for casual fans like you and me.

In the interest of achieving that casual purpose, this series generally will avoid advanced statistical concepts. One need not grasp the depths of wRC+ or xFIP to enjoy baseball, of course, or even to think about the give-and-take between baseball traditionalists, who eschew advanced statistics, and the sabermetricians, who live by them.

Moneyball famously highlighted this debate, such as it is, and it arose in the 2012 season around the American League MVP race between Miguel Cabrera (the eventual winner, and the traditional favorite) and Mike Trout, and again last season in the context of commentator Brian Kenny’s “Kill the Win” campaign against ascribing significant meaning to pitchers’ win-loss records.

The reason this “debate”– the “eye test,” wins, and batting average versus WAR et al.– isn’t really a debate is because the two sides have different descriptive goals. In short, the traditional group is concerned with what has happened, while the sabermetric group is concerned with what will happen. The former statically tallies the game’s basic value points, while the latter is out to better understand the past in order to predict the future. The basic stats on the back of a player’s baseball card aim to tell you what he did in prior seasons; the advanced statistics on Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference, or in Baseball Prospectus aim to tell you something about what he’ll do next year based on a deeper understanding of what he did in prior seasons.

The previous paragraph represents an oversimplification, and probably a gross one, but I think it accurately highlights the basic, if slight, misalignment of initial points of view from the two main groups of people talking about how we talk about baseball today.

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