Warning: what follows is very nearly about baseball.
December 2, 2010 9:20 PM   Subscribe

"In order to renew my Fangraphs membership, every six months, Dave Cameron flies out to meet me in an unmarked parking garage in Washington DC, where I swear a blood oath by candlelight on a stack of Necronomicons never to write anything complimentary about Derek Jeter’s mobility or range. Cameron’s post about Jeter yesterday was faithful to our sworn mission. The awful secret of Derek Jeter’s fifth Gold Glove requires a little background in a few of the more esoteric domains of human knowledge. This may be the most important blog post I ever write; if it is the last, dear readers, only you will know the truth." Sure, FanGraphs appears to be a geeky site for baseball stat-heads who live in their mothers’ basements, crunch numbers whilst sipping Diet Dr. Pepper, and invent silly acronyms instead of dating girls. But FanGraphs bloggers quite firmly embrace their own nerdiness – even going so far as to create NERD, the stat, which rates the “watchability” of a team. Furthermore, they so often blend humor, politics, literature, and philosophy into their writings that to shun the site is to deprive yourself of fascinating, scrumptious nuggets of surprisingly accessible, occasionally math-heavy, and nearly always well-written baseball geekery. Would you like to know if better players have more Twitter followers? Wondered, Is The DH Dying? Derek Jeter cheated... so what? How about a lengthy meditation on baseball and the science of happiness?

Though much of the site requires at least a grounding in the world of advanced statistical analysis - FanGraphs has pioneered a number of influential statistics of its own concoction, after all - it is a place where readers can get lost in the minutiae of the game, pontificate on the place of baseball (and sport) in society, and revel in the joy and beauty of baseball through a lens of numbers.

Why not read about:

- A Critique Of Peter Bourjos’ MLB.com Highlight Reel. The grainy resolution of the video makes it impossible to regard “Basket Catch” as anything but what it is: the early work of a talented, but immature, highlight-maker. By that criteria, however, it’s a success. Even in this first effort, we see a theme that will recur throughout Bourjos’ corpus — namely, his ability to make the difficult appear effortless.
- Proust Probably Wasn't A Baseball Nerd. Were you to comb the annals of world literature in search of little nancy boys, you’d probably be hard-pressed to find anyone nancier than the very nancy Marcel Proust. In the first part of his Swann’s Way (itself only the first of the seven volume Remembrance of Things Past), we see little Prousty: crying at length for his mommy, describing breathlessly the winding paths about his family’s summer home, and (if memory serves) sending away for any number of American Girl dolls. Nancy, indeed.
- Seattle’s Championship Banner. I pose this question to Mariner fans: would you trade that 116 win season for a World Series title? And to fans of the Phillies: would you trade your world title for a 116 win season? Both sides likely reply no. In part because familiarity breeds comfort and most people hate change.
- The old curmudgeons are right: Baseball nicknames useta be way better. If you’re anything like me, you despise the dearth of imagination in the nickname-industrial complex, which nowadays requires that every nicknameless athlete be referred to by their first initial and the first three letters of their last name.
- The Gambler & The Investor: Two Models Of Fandom. Leo’s was a good assessment of how I, too, had approached my baseball fandom — less as an innocent pastime and more as a psychological instrument.
- The Hedonic Value Of Victories And Attending Games. If the goal of attending a game is to enjoy oneself, and we get the most enjoyment from attending victories, then why wouldn’t people regularly attend more games where victory is in higher likelihood?
- Baseball In 3D A Neat Novelty, But Not Quite There Yet.
- The Most Convoluted Statistic: ERA.
- Who were the five most perfectly average players in 2010?
- Why We Watch. Why do we watch? Or, more specifically: all things being equal, what compels us to watch one game and not another?
- "Those are the little things that I don’t think you can see in the boxscore, ever." That’s what Mike Lowell said. Actually, we can put it in. This is what the win expectancy matrix was set up for.
- Should You Boycott The Diamondbacks?
- Which pitchers took the most – and least – time between pitches?
- The Luckiest Man Alive. In a few hours, Livan Hernandez will take the hill against the Mets, and he will look to continue one of the luckiest runs in the history of major league baseball.
- The Little Eckstein That Could. One of the things I remember loving about baseball as I grew up, learning the intricacies of the game, was that a batter who struck out four times in a game was referred to as wearing The Golden Sombrero.
- On Boringness: Soccer Vs. Baseball.
- How Stephen Strasburg broke FanGraph’s NERD stat.
- Who is the most predictable pitcher ever?
- TV blackouts really suck.
- Collin Ballester: The Man, The Myth The Moustache.
- The Most Delusional Man On The Planet. Gary Matthews Jr is not a good baseball player. He’s also completely unaware of this.
- The Long Hello: Some Notes On Luck. Warning: what follows is very nearly about baseball.
- Cody Ross in San Francisco: Nihilism? One of Friedrich Nietzsche’s many frequently quoted lines comes from a posthumously published notebook: “Nihilism stands at the door: whence comes this uncanniest of all guests?” Whatever one makes of this in relation to Nietzsche’s thoughts on modernity, etc., the occasional gloss on the translation of “uncanniest” as “most unwelcome” brings to mind nothing more (for me, at least) than the Giants acquisition of Cody Ross.
- The Worst Baserunning Play Of The Year.
- What You Talk About When You Talk About Live Chats.
- The Dead Who Walk Among Us. A zombie, you see, isn’t just any bad player who just keeps getting jobs for no reason. To be Undead, one must once have had life.
- Harvard Research Study: Baseball Players Are Getting Fatter (But The Study Doesn’t Mention Steroids).
- King Of The Little Things 2009 We often hear that certain hitters “just do the little things” to help their team win. Can these things be quantified?
- Fuentes Debunking Saves Singlehandedly. If you ever need to convince someone of the uselessness of the save statistic, make them watch Brian Fuentes pitch. Fuentes leads the major leagues with 41 saves, and is simultaneously on the verge of losing his job.
- From The Department Of Advanced Statistickery. Stat: Douche Factor. For Short: DF. What it measures: Probable douchey-ness of a player, expressed as a percentage from 0% (very probably NOT a douche) to 100% (almost definitely a douche).
posted by ORthey (30 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
What is a "DH?"
posted by bz at 9:29 PM on December 2, 2010

If you had clicked that link you would have found the answer.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 9:35 PM on December 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Dave Cameron also runs the terrific U.S.S. Mariner.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 9:38 PM on December 2, 2010

And England!

Seriously, sweet post clearly full of links to get us through the icy offseason to the darling buds of Spring Training.

posted by chavenet at 10:09 PM on December 2, 2010

I love baseball. One of America's great contributions to culture. Fun to watch on TV or listen to on the radio on the entire investment-of-attention spectrum (from background noise to 100% focus), still affordable to attend, rewarding or cathartic to become emotionally involved in at no real risk, a pleasure to discuss and even argue about, and--obviously--entirely open to total obsession. Not to mention fun to play.

On a whim, I bought a few single baseball cards last month and I surprised myself at how joyful they made me feel. So cheap! So cool! So nerdy! I immediately purchased a bunch to give as supplementary gifts to my baseball fan friends, and so far they all seem to like them more than the primary gifts they received. All in their little collector's sleeves and everything!

Let the uninitiated take note: the Japanese seem to adore the sport, which is as powerful an endorsement for something's being awesome as anyone should need.
posted by millions at 10:19 PM on December 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

Yeah, Dave Cameron, well.. he's no Jeff Sullivan, but..
posted by setanor at 11:38 PM on December 2, 2010

Nominated for best post of December.
posted by sfts2 at 12:39 AM on December 3, 2010

Is this where we post our vote for best post? Because, god damn.
posted by dead cousin ted at 1:16 AM on December 3, 2010

Baseball: We are going to keep paying these guys until our sample size is large enough! When is the sample size going to be large enough? NEVER! Mooohahahahaha!
posted by Several Unnamed Sources at 4:45 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

What is a "DH?"

This may not be the post for you.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:03 AM on December 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, is this an AL-only message board? Because I'm a keeper.
posted by yerfatma at 6:23 AM on December 3, 2010

I love how baseball is almost as much about math as it is about hitting things with other things and running around in circles. One of the few sports which is truly nerd-friendly. And yet so absurdly manly, with nary a trace of idiotic "gangsta" behavior!

I also love how not-surprised I am by the Twitter follower analysis. There's something extremely reassuring about baseball fandom. I really can't explain why.
posted by SMPA at 6:42 AM on December 3, 2010

"DH" is an abomination before God. I'm pretty sure it's in Leviticus near the part about the shrimp.
Awesome post; have already forwarded around to some non-mefite sport fans.
posted by pointystick at 6:43 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Jeter ...Jeter ...

Oh - you mean the next Red Sox shortstop?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:48 AM on December 3, 2010

This is great stuff -- thank you, thank you.

The nickname link was lots of fun, and reminded me of my favorite baseball nickname. In the thirties and forties, the Phillies had a pitcher named Hugh Mulcahy. He wasn't a bad pitcher -- he hung around for twelve years, with a little help from World War II -- but the Phillies were a very bad team, and so Mulcahy lost a lot of games. In 1940, he went 13-22; and this with a perfectly respectable 3.60 ERA. Radio announcers got very used to ending their broadcasts with things like this:

"For the Giants, two runs, five hits and no errors. For the Phillies, no runs, two hits and two errors. Winning pitcher, Hubbell. Losing pitcher, Mulcahy. And now, a word from our sponsors."

And so poor, misbegotten Hugh became "Losing Pitcher Mulcahy".
posted by steambadger at 7:16 AM on December 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Even as a proud Yankee fan, I say Remington's explanation of Jeter's Gold Glove is probably the most likely one I've come across.

And Kirth, I may hate the Red Sox, but I rarely underestimate the savvy of their ownership. John Henry and pals would have to be on PCP to even consider paying him the money he's looking for. Even a scenario where they just tried to punish the Yankees by driving the cost up wouldn't work, given how transparent it would be.
posted by jalexei at 9:11 AM on December 3, 2010

What is a "DH?"
posted by bz at 9:29 PM on December 2 [+] [!]

Something that appears to be a baseball player but is actually something else. See also: fool's gold, hawk moth caterpillars and American League pitchers.
posted by snottydick at 9:23 AM on December 3, 2010

The DH was the best thing to happen to baseball until sabermetrics came along there I said it.
posted by wemayfreeze at 9:29 AM on December 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

Epic post. Of the quality that keeps MeFi on top of the WWW heap.
posted by electricsandwich138 at 9:33 AM on December 3, 2010

The DH was the best thing to happen to baseball until sabermetrics came along there I said it.

posted by steambadger at 9:36 AM on December 3, 2010

Serious, serious beanplating here. I've been a committed fantasy manager for 15+ years now, and I can't really fathom this level of fan.

Also, wops, really? No thanks.

If the goal of attending a game is to enjoy oneself, and we get the most enjoyment from attending victories, then why wouldn’t people regularly attend more games where victory is in higher likelihood?

I think about this one a lot (also when is it appropriate to leave a blowout game, as either a winning or losing fan?) I don't think fans want to see victories, they want to see significant victories. Victories over your archrival are better than victories over the Nationals; and victories where you come back from 6-0 are better than victories where you win 12-0.

That's the great thing about baseball. You never know when you are about to see something historically unique (unassisted triple play, etc.)
posted by mrgrimm at 10:48 AM on December 3, 2010

I hope the DH is dying. If you play a sport, you play. You play, you hit, it's that simple. Maybe it makes for better pitchers, but I'd rather have better players. Otherwise, why not just have separate teams/squads for offense and defense? Which, honestly, would be the stupidest thing any sport could do.
posted by Eideteker at 10:51 AM on December 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have a lot of love and appreciation for the CONCEPT of pitchers batting for themselves. It really sounds nice, and in theory, it's great. The problem is, pitchers can't hit. They just can't. I wish I could dig up the article, but even most of the supposedly great hitting pitchers are really only great in the context of other pitchers; on their own, they're below replacement-level. At least nowadays; it's clear than in days of yore there were some truly great ones.

But the game has changed. I'm just never that excited to watch Barry Zito stand up to the plate holding the bat as if it were made of poison but duct taped to his hands. As much as I kind of hate to admit it, I kind of like the DH rule.

I feel dirty.
posted by ORthey at 11:34 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

The pitcher is one batter out of nine. He hits once every two or three innings. Both teams have to plan their strategies around his at bats -- and not just when the time comes to make a double switch. It's part of the game; and one of the great things about baseball is that each game is a complete narrative, rather than just a series of repetitive power moves.

And then, every once in a while, the pitcher comes through.
posted by steambadger at 12:33 PM on December 3, 2010

I'm with ORThey. The idea of pitchers hitting is great, but in practice it's an easy out, a rally killer, some awkward swings and, occasionally, some awkward baserunning. Though they sometimes surprise, it's never something you can manage with, it's always something to manage around.

It's like, hey, come out to the yard and see the best in the game! Except sometimes, when it's embarrassing.

Pitching has become so specialized that there are no good hitting pitchers. It becomes a tradeoff: do you have a good all-around player who can pitch and hit well enough, or do you have a great pitcher that can't hit for shit. The managers and players and stats and everyone everywhere has come down firmly on the side of great pitching, lousy hitting. In that light pitchers hitting feels vestigial, something that the sport has grown out of but that hangs around because it's hard to move on, or maybe because it's fun to have differences between the National and American (which is true).
posted by wemayfreeze at 1:15 PM on December 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yup, but as steambadger says, that's part of the game. We didn't have the DH in Little League, and somehow we survived. Sure, you can argue it's not the same thing, but you can also argue it's better.
posted by Eideteker at 1:40 PM on December 3, 2010

I'm not vehemently pro-DH or anti-DH. If it were my druthers, I'd get rid of it. But I'm pretty sure the majority of fans feel differently these days.

Pitching has become so specialized that there are no good hitting pitchers.

Well, there was Micah Owings, but it seems like he's slipped in recent years.

Rick Ankiel was a great hitting pitcher. He just had problems with the pitching part.

I hope the DH is dying.

Nah, it's not even remotely possible. The players union would never let it happen, and the owners wouldn't want to either.

The Designated-Hitter Rule in Baseball as a Natural Experiment (PDF; Google QuickView)

The Etiology of Public Support for the Designated Hitter Rule (PDF; Google QuickView)

It turns out that Republicans, indepedents, and older people dislike the DH more than Democrats and younger people ("each additional year of age decreases support for the rule by roughly 1.3 percent"!). The times they will not be changing back.

That last PDF link is pretty fun reading.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:49 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

But just saying something is "part of the game" is not a good reason to keep it around. A lot of things were once part of the game, but as it changed, they became bygones. Walks used to be 8 balls. There were no gloves for a time. The mound's height has changed. We now have instant replay for home runs and may get it for more. The sacrifice fly rule has changed several times. Foul balls used to not be strikes. Realignment. Interleague.

The point is, there's no point in keeping rules just for the sake of keeping them. Baseball is so different now than it was 50 years ago, what with specialized pitching and new training techniques and practices and new equipment (just to name a few), that sticking with outdated rules doesn't make much sense. Pitchers no long spend much time practicing their hitting; most relief pitchers never hit ever. Does that mean that a closer is the pitching equivalent of a DH? And what about football, which is extremely specialized in its positions? Does specialization make for a poorer sport?

I'll admit there is a joy to watching the occasional pitcher hit a home run, or watching a longtime American Leaguer get his first at-bat. But those joys, to me, are far outweighed by the relentlessness of the "automatic out" that is most pitcher ABs.
posted by ORthey at 1:56 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

My wife and I traveled to Chicago in 2003 to watch the Yankees play the Cubs, and seeing Yankee pitcher David Wells stroke a double in the Friendly Confines was pretty awesome (and watching him chug around the base path was HI-larious) - but 99 times out of a hundred, no thanks.

I also think the mythology of it being harder/more cerebral to manage in the NL because of the pitcher hitting is overblown. More often than not, the decision to pull a pitcher is made FOR an NL manager just by where the batting order happens to be. Assuming someone isn't getting shelled, AL manangers need to make an educated guess as to how many pitches and batters is enough.
posted by jalexei at 6:43 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, wops, really? No thanks.

Totally agree. That's why I vote Republican. And I vote DH. You can all enjoy watching pitchers hit; celebrating the one Mike Hampton every 10 years or so must be wonderful.
posted by yerfatma at 7:03 PM on December 3, 2010

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