Thursday, May 22, 2008

My Posting (And Lack Thereof)

Actual footage of my afternoon by my hired sketch artist

Though I'd be surprised if anyone who used to read my shit regularly still comes here anymore (judging by my Google Analytics account, most people come here by searching for an image of a fat guy in front of a computer), I'd like to first apologize for my lack of posting and then apologize for the fact that this will likely continue through at least August and likely through October. Sorry.

Here's the deal: I've begun studying for the NY Bar. And though I originally thought this would lead to a month vacation before I really needed to get my shit together, the Bar course I'm taking (rhymes with Marbury) is a fucking BEAR and requires almost constant attention. It's like I've acquired a newborn. I'm up earlier than I was when I was working I go to bed later, I wake up to screaming at night (my own) and I'm eating soft foods. It's fucking brutal. It's because of this study shit that I'll be forced to effectively "take off" the next couple of months. What that means for anyone still reading is that I'll probably only be able to post twice-ish a week and one of those may be everyone's favorite "Song of The Week". The reason I've been posting those (and I know people don't like them) is because it's really easy to post them and for some reason when I kill a solo bottle of wine I feel like posting them. I'll try and stop.

Lastly, I'll try and keep posting things that really grind my gears as I have time to and hopefully by the time August rolls around I'll be back in the swing of things. And lastly lastly, I'm sorry if you searched for "Grady Sizemore's Cock" and instead got this post.

Baseball Replay Would Be Great But The MLB Is Right To Tread Cautiously

Opening the door for replay review of home runs could neuter the entire roll of the umpire.

I am in favor of using all available technology to improve the outcome of sporting events. With the advent of HD television and the amount of cameras at gamesm, the proper outcome of any controversial situation can be determined in less than a minute via video replay. Add that to the explosion of multilayered media "reporting" on such games, and it's not as though the missed call will go unreported or uncommented on. In this day and age, a bad call is learned of on TV a minute after it happens and opinions as to the impact of the call will be read by thousands within an hour. Before the players are off the field, the controversy will be in full bloom. So it seems absurd that with such an easy fix available and so much unnecessary criticism avoidable, why the fuck doesn't the MLB simply fix the problem and allow video review of home runs and foul balls? The answers are several.

The first point here is that this situation is different than football. Way different. In football, review is ONLY available for "non-discretionary" calls like out of bounds and fumbles and whatnot. Review is NOT available for plays where refs determine if a player impeded the progress of another player so much as to constitute holding or made contact sufficient for a pass interference call.

With baseball, NONE OF THE CALLS ARE DISCRETIONARY (except maybe a balk or check swing). If you hand over the ability to call home runs and foul balls to video replay, there is very little rational way to justify not handing over every decision to replay (major argument against being "tradition").

Here's the slippery slope trajectory: let's say we give replay the ability decide whether controverial home runs are actually home runs. This means determining whether or not they went over the wall, were interfereed with, or hit or went behind the foul poul. That's great. But what do we do about balls down the line that clearly land on or inside the line but are called foul (or vice versa). If we are going to change calls on home runs, why can't we change the call on fair and foul balls? The answer the MLB will give is that determining fair and foul balls on routine hits doesn't generally have as drastic an impact on the games as getting right the home run call. But that distinction is completely arbitrary. The correct call on a double down the line in a bases loaded situation could have much greater ramifications and importance than either Delgado or A-Rod's missed home runs, neither of which had any impact on the outcome of the game. The same rationale for getting right the home run call should and would apply to fair and foul balls. It would take 10 seconds to figure out and would be conslusively determined through the aid of video replay. This makes sense. If we can get it right with ease, why not?

So what then about a catch versus a trap? Or a tag versus missed tag? How about a base runner beating out a play at first? Or a base runner leaving early on a tag play. All of these calls are NON-DISCRETIONARY. The rule definitions are clear and the umps have no discretion to subjectively decide whether the play should go one way or the other. The ball is either caught or it's not and the player is either tagged or he is not.

In all of these situations the outcome of a game could (and has) come down to the improper call (think Don Denkinger. Why not allow the play be correctly called? It would probably come up at most once or twice a game and could be reviewed as quickly as a tennis replay. It would not impact the game's flow other than to allow the correct call to be made and thus to quell the pending outrage. If you can justify allowing home runs and foul balls to be corrected via replay because they can be conclusively determined and the affect on the game is meaningful, why can't you do the same for these other correctible calls (see where we're going here)?

But what everyone is really trying to avoid is allowing an automatic or computerized strike zone. It has become obligatory that when commenting about replay you must also say "well of course we don't want replay of balls and strikes." Well, why the fuck not? The same justification for replaying a home run via video replay applies for accurate determination of balls and strikes via computer. The decision of whether the pitch is a ball or strike is NOT TO THE DISCRETION of the the ump. There's a rule (a clear one at that): "The strike zone is a three dimensional right angle pentagonal. The bottom starts at the hollow of the batter's knees and the top is at a midpoint between the batter's belt and shoulders. If any part of a pitched ball intersects any portion of this zone, the ball is in the strike zone and should be ruled as a strike (unless hit.)" If the ball travels through that plane, it's a fucking strike no matter if you're Greg Maddux, Greg Smith or Gheorghe Muresan. If the technology is not available at present to accurately determine a strike for different heights and body types, eventually it will be available. So at that point, why not use it? The question isn't worth asking because at least in my lifetime that change will never happen.

The reason, I guess, is that for the same reason that parks are different sizes and there's a DH in one league and not in the other is that baseball is great for a lot of reasons and some of that is due to a tradition of "unwritten rules" and human error (for lack of a better phrase) that makes baseball beautifully imperfect. Baseball rewards great players in a way that other players are not rewarded in other sports.

Tom Brady is not going to get a non-discretionary call called his way because he is Tom Brady (unless you count the tuck rule, though that was correctly called and he wasn't really Tom Brady at the time) in the way that Mo Rivera will get an outside corner or Tony Gwynn never struck out looking because no umpire in their right mind would call a close pitch a third strike on Tony Gwynn; he's Tony Fuckin Gwynn for fuck's sake and his eye is better than theirs!

While the game would develop a level of consistency unmet in the current scheme--a scheme that can be unbearably frustrating when assholes like Rick Reed or Hunter Wendelstedt are behind the plate--that consistency wouldn't make the game any better. In my opinion, it would actually make the game worse (much worse) because the game is in part built on that tradition of "earning" the outside corners are earning a close walk through years of proving yourself as a player. There's a certain frustrating beauty to a tight/wide strike zone and seeing how professional players react to it. It's not perfect in terms of "getting it right" but it's a perfectly enjoyable part of the game.

I think where I was intending to go with this was merely to point out how easily the simple position of approving replay for home runs could quickly turn into an all-robot umpiring team. I'm not 100% sure where I stand on this because I am very uncomfortable with allowing the introduction of replay due to the "slippery slope" effect of its implementation. It's just as easy to make the argument for review of home runs as it is to make the argument for review of almost ANY call in the majors. So while the idiot public (myself included) and the MORE idiotic hysterical opinion media (Mike & Mike, Michael Kay & dozens of others) are screaming to the high hills for replay to be used because of recent issues, the MLB is right to be cautious. Though it may seem absurd today, reviewing home runs is a hop and skip up the slippery slope from putting Johnny 5* behind the plate. And clearly we don't want that.

*I'd highly recommend checking out that link. I won't ruin it, but if you haven't listened to the "Short Circuit" soundtrack in awhile or you weren't around for the phenomenon that was "El DeBarge," this will provide a refresher course.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Smittblog Song Of The Week

The song is "Bra" by the 70's funk band Cymande (pronounced Sah-mahn-day). If you think you recognize it you are either are De La Soul fan (the song was sampled in De La Soul's "Change in Speak" from the 3 Feet High & Rising Album) or you remember it from the club scene in the Spikke Lee joint 25th Hour when a young and severely fucked up Anna Paquin is trying to seduce a not-so-young (or hip) Philip Seymour Hoffman (Paquin's high school teacher in the film) at Monty's going away party at the Russian DUMBO club. For my money the second best scene of the film (clearly the mirror scene is the best scene for its pure balls) , especially the part when Hoffman leaves the bathroom after cheddarballing with Paquin and realizing he fucked up. Great scene, great song, great Hoffman. Not much more you need in a film for my money.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeouch, Forbesy!

Reporter Ryan McGeeney was merely standing on the field of competition and attempting to shoot photos of the shot put when he felt something on his leg. Well that "thing" turned out to be a javelin. Somehow, rather than freak out and scream like a girl (as I would have reacted), McGeeney hit the ground and took the above picture with javelin-in-leg. He later described the resulting feeling as "kind of tight feeling in the skin where I could say, 'oh yeah, it went through me,' but it wasn't real painful." Wasn't real painful...? Unless you get your jollies from receiving root canals our ritual ballhair burning, a javelin through the knee is f'n painful. I don't care who you think you are, Ry guy.

Sure Lester Was Great, But How About Varitek?

Tek is often the subject of unverifiable media ballwashing about his ability to "call a game." We may finally have a stat that suggests this ballwashing may be justified.

It is almost impossible to prove that one catcher behind the plate calling a game gives you an advantage over another. You could probably do a study using the same pitchers and the same opponents with different catchers and compare those pitchers' results (compare Posada to the Molina-Moeller combo, for instance), but the intervening factors are too many to prove with any reliability that the results were dependent on the catcher's ability to call the correct game. Despite this truth, you would have a tough time getting through any nationally televised Red Sox game without hearing an announcer laud Jason Varitek for his ability to "handle a pitching staff" and "call a game." They often cite his preparation and tireless work ethic as evidence of this ability as if no other catcher in the league prepares as much as he does (while it's possible that this is true, it's unverifiable at worst and unlikely at best). And while we may never have statistical proof that Jason Varitek is any better at calling a game than say Greg Zaun, there is one stat after tonight's Jon Lester no hitter that should make you step aand say, "huh."

If you watched SportsCenter, you are aware that Jason Varitek is the first catcher since 1900 to catch 4 no hitters. A remarkable achievement and unbelievable statistic given how much luck is involved in throwing no hitters. Since Varitek has entered the league, there have been 15 no hitters thrown and Jason Varitek has caught 4 of them. It's truly amazing that he's been a part of so many no hitters in his career but it does not prove that Varitek is any better at calling a game than anyone else any more than the fact that Virgil Trucks threw two no hitters in the same season is not evidence that he was one of the best pitchers of all-time (let alone the best pitcher in 1952). But this stat may mean something: Jason Varitek has not only caught 4 no hitters but he was 7 outs from catching 7 no hitters(5 no hitters and 2 perfect games)!

Last year he was one out away with Schilling's 8 & 2/3rds of perfect game against the A's, he was 3 outs away from a Wakefield no hitter in 2001 and missed a Pedro perfecto against the Rays in 2000 by another three outs. A break here or there and he not only leads the history of the majors in catching no hitters, he is doubling up the next closest guy. Not only that, but since 2000 there have only been 9 no hitters broken up in the 9th inning and Jason Varitek has caught 3 of those. Of the 24 no hitters or near no hitters since 2000, Jason Varitek has caught 7 of those game. Now that's statistically significant.

Maybe all this about Tek knowing what he's doing is more than mere announcer ballwashing afterall.