Categories
Books Podcasts

The MVP Machine (Review for The Slow Reader)

Yesterday I finally released the review I wrote / recorded for The MVP Machine (by Ben Lindburgh and Travis Sawchik). The audio and un-revised transcripts are below! I also decided to paste the show notes because I made a few revisions on the fly while recording, and didn’t include podcast list or music notes in the written version.

My review of The MVP Machine, a book that covers the latest evolution of player development in Major League Baseball; the book is written by Travis Sawchik and Ben Lindburgh.

Podcasts mentioned in the episode: * Pr0ductive Outs

Music used in this episode: * “Baseball” by Guglielmo Brunelli – Jamendo

Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/stephen_g

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/2474979-stephen-gower

Welcome to the Slow Reader – a podcast about books. I’m Steve and in today’s episode I am reviewing The MVP Machine by Ben Lindbergh & Travis Sawchik. 

About the book  

Publish date: June 4, 2019  

Back of the book summary:  

Move over, Moneyball — a cutting-edge look at major league baseball’s next revolution: the high-tech quest to build better players. 
 
As bestselling authors Ben Lindbergh and Travis Sawchik reveal in The MVP Machine, the Moneyball era is over. Fifteen years after Michael Lewis brought the Oakland Athletics’ groundbreaking team-building strategies to light, every front office takes a data-driven approach to evaluating players, and the league’s smarter teams no longer have a huge advantage in valuing past performance. 
 
Lindbergh and Sawchik’s behind-the-scenes reporting reveals: 
 
How the 2017 Astros and 2018 Red Sox used cutting-edge technology to win the World Series 
How undersized afterthoughts José Altuve and Mookie Betts became big sluggers and MVPs 
How polarizing pitcher Trevor Bauer made himself a Cy Young contender 
How new analytical tools have overturned traditional pitching and hitting techniques 
How a wave of young talent is making MLB both better than ever and arguably worse to watch 
Instead of out-drafting, out-signing, and out-trading their rivals, baseball’s best minds have turned to out-developing opponents, gaining greater edges than ever by perfecting prospects and eking extra runs out of older athletes who were once written off. Lindbergh and Sawchik take us inside the transformation of former fringe hitters into home-run kings, show how washed-up pitchers have emerged as aces, and document how coaching and scouting are being turned upside down. The MVP Machine charts the future of a sport and offers a lesson that goes beyond baseball: Success stems not from focusing on finished products, but from making the most of untapped potential. 

So I hope you’ve at least gathered from the book summary that this is a book about Baseball. The last books about Baseball that I’ve read – that I can remember off the top of my head – include The Only Rule is It Has To Work (also co-authored by Ben Lindbergh), Moneyball, and books by Jonah Keri: The Extra 2% (a book covering the Tampa Bay Rays) and Up, Up, and Away!, a book about the Montreal Expos. There may be more that I’m leaving off the list, but I feel these are the most relevant anyway. 

Moneyball is probably the one book that is mentioned the most throughout MVP Machine. With good reason, I think – because “moneyball” is also the term most quoted for what the Oakland A’s popularized in the early 2000’s when they couldn’t compete with the payrolls of teams like the Yankees or the Red Sox. But the advantage moneyball provided – which was, in essence, about finding undervalued players and getting the most out of them – is no longer there because most teams have latched onto the analytics revolution.  

The Extra 2%, on the other hand, was about how teams could squeeze extra value out of what they had to work with – and not just about finding undervalued talent – as well as properly managing your assets. The negative connotation around The Extra 2% is that the Rays are known for being notoriously cheap and stretching dollars in the guise of being “revolutionary”. If you combine the content of Moneyball and The Extra 2% though, that’s kind of what you get with The MVP Machine.  

Before I go any further, however… 

My Reading Timeline 
 

I began reading this October 28 2019, and finished reading it December 17, 2019. In total, this meant it took me just over 1 and a half months (50 days) to read the book. I should point out that I had a break between November 17th and December 14th when my library loan ended, and I also had to stop to read a new book (Warlight, which I covered back in December). 

Unfortunately, I can’t provide any detailed statistics because my reading took place between a physical book and an eBook, so with different formats it’s tough to figure out what my stats were.  

My Review 

Since this is a non-fiction book, and I’m writing this review almost a month removed from actually finishing it, I thought I would just go with a more straight-forward review. I didn’t really have any questions leading into reading the book; I knew more or less what it was about and I was very interested in the content. I’m not a huge baseball watcher – I mean, I like baseball, I just don’t devote a lot of time to it as some people do. I also don’t read a lot of articles about baseball, though I try to keep up to date with a handful of baseball podcasts (my list at the end of this episode).  

With that said, I was peripherally aware of some of the “real life” content of this book. What I mean by that is I did read some articles here and there talking about players changing their swings, trying different things. For example, I remember reading about J.D. Martinez of the Boston Red Sox talking about how he started to swing up at the ball a few years back; in general, that’s what I’m hearing – a lot of players are trying to put the ball in the air these days more than anything else, which is partly what’s leading to an increase in Home Runs. 

What I’m getting at here is that I have not been unaware of the idea presented in this book: that professional baseball players are actively trying to improve upon their talent. What was new to me was the history of all of this, dating back to names like Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers; or the extent to which some teams and some individual players (like Cleveland’s Trevor Bauer) are going to go about these improvements. 

One thing I particularly enjoyed about this book was that it wasn’t just a bunch of charts and numbers thrown in my face. There was some narrative involved, and authors Lindbergh and Sawchik did a fairly good job of preventing the material from coming across as boring. Surprisingly, I really enjoyed the passages where the authors would describe a specific at-bat, one pitch at a time. In theory, that sounds like something that could be really boring: first pitch – swinging strike, fastball. Second pitch – Ball, outside. And so on. But they were able to put me in the time and place of the game they were describing. Maybe this is just something that I found interesting and others didn’t, but it definitely worked for me. 

What this also did for me was get me excited about baseball again. For a little bit, other than following the local indy ball team the Ottawa Champions, I haven’t really been following baseball all that closely. I still don’t know what players are on what team right now, as there’s been a lot of movement in this year’s off-season; but reading The MVP Machine has me excited to watch some regular season ball (although I suppose it helps that we just got a big 4K TV over the Christmas holidays). 

So, to sum up, I had a great time reading The MVP Machine. I learned a lot of different things that weren’t just related to baseball – I’ll expand on that in a little bit – and the information was not presented in a dry manner in any way. I felt that part in particular was very important, as presenting statistics can be potentially very boring.  

So What Did I Learn? 

Obviously, I learned about how many baseball teams – and specifically individual players such as Trevor Bauer – are embracing growth mindsets and trying to improve their talent rather than just “finding good players”. The main thing that I got out of it is that baseball teams all are using advanced analytics to find great players for less money; because of that, the advantage that teams like the Oakland Athletics enjoyed for a few years is gone. The new advantage is in player development when teams realized that their players were capable of so much more.  

But I also learned that a lot of what baseball teams and management are doing is incredibly similar to things that I learned last year participating in a new people leader course. I already mentioned “growth mindset” – that’s a huge term bandied about lately. I’m struggling a little to remember everything I read and wanted to mention, but suffice it to say that you could give this book to anyone aspiring to improve themselves in their career – any career – and they would get some good information out of it. You could really take out the specific statistical mentions related to baseball and you’d still get a great book. 

I should also mention that while I was reading this book, details of the Houston Astros cheating scandal were starting to trickle out (and as I type this review, the rulings from Major League Baseball have since been handed out). Interestingly, I read the chapters about Houston before a lot of the information came out. The picture I got of the Houston management was not pretty and I decided fairly quickly that this is not a front office I would want to work for if I had my pick of teams.  

I can’t say that there’s a team that was presented in the book that I would put at the top of my list, but it’s good to know that I can recognize the kind of work environment that I absolutely want to avoid. Just because it’s something semi-glamourous like working in sports doesn’t make it a fantastic place. 

Wrapping Up 

I think this is a great book that helps to cover off some of what is going on in the world of Baseball in terms of player development and a bit of insight into how players move throughout organizations. It also touches on some of the history of the game (which was really neat – it was especially fun to learn that Branch Rickey was famous for more than just employing Jackie Robinson). If you also get a chance to see some of the behind-the-scenes material, which includes a short commentary audio track where the authors talk about the book, I recommend doing that as well. 

Pop Culture 

I am slowly making my way through The Mandalorian. We were waiting until we got a new big-screen TV to get the most out of the show, which we did around Christmas. It’s a great show so far, and we’re only two episodes into it. Other than that, I’ve been taking a bit of a break from consuming content. I’m starting to get myself back into things so in future episodes I’m sure I’ll have something new to talk about. 

Thanks for listening to The Slow Reader – next episode I will review the Star Wars novel Master and Apprentice. Spoiler alert: I liked it. It’s probably going to be another short one though, because I finished reading it after Christmas but before New Year’s. I’ll share some thoughts about The Rise of Skywalker in that episode too. See you next time! 

Categories
Goals

Timing

Recently I posted about some goals I had and one of them was to fix my swing for softball. I think in my head I had some ideas about changing my mechanics and maybe swinging up at the ball, or something like that. In my head I was going to hit home runs, probably.

I didn’t put any thought or practice to this other than just going up to the plate and start swinging.  I went to one practice a couple of Fridays ago, and that’s where I started to work on it.  My first step to everything was to just ease into swinging – I haven’t swung a bat all Fall/Winter, and judging by how sore I’ve been the last week, my muscles are geared toward curling, not softball (and especially not running).  This part was easy – I think I would score 100% on “taking it easy” in the first practice.

But the results weren’t great.  Mostly a lot of weak hits, a lot of opposite field, a lot of foul balls.  Fast forward to the first two games and I hit a heck of a lot of little ground ball dribblers.  I couldn’t tell you for sure but it felt like I was either just on top or just below the ball with the bat.  I definitely wasn’t making solid contact.

We had another practice this past Saturday.  I came in with a specific focus: I needed to fix my swing.  I spent a bit of time watching everyone else hit, until finally I took my turn up to bat.  I know you should always practice the way you want to play, but since I wanted to hit a lot of balls, I was going to swing at everything.  In a game, I probably want to avoid the “bad” pitches, but I’m also not going to get nearly as many pitches as I would in practice.

Making the decision to swing at everything was my first step to fixing my swing.  The second step was again to just ease into it – I wasn’t concerned about how far I was hitting the ball, I just wanted to make solid contact.  I made sure to take some practice swings, remaining cognizant of my wrist positioning and keeping the bat level, and not “swooping” it up.

When I first got to the plate, I had a sudden realization: I was waiting too long to start my swing.  For two seasons I’ve been going opposite field, and had many weak grounders (because I was on top of the ball, usually).  All because I was swinging late.  With that in mind – and the decision that I was swinging at everything – I just started my swing a little earlier than I had been, and not waiting on it to see where it would end up across the plate.

And I was hitting everything.  Solid contact across the board.  Some hits were a little shorter than others – probably due to the height of the ball across the plate more than anything.  But I had some real good, solid line drives.  I hit to the fence (including the top of the fence), to the warning track.  You name it.  No home runs but I wasn’t worried about that.  I was also pulling everything again, something I hadn’t done in a long time.

I was really excited after my at-bat.  At the time of writing I haven’t played yet – I will add an update before posting though.  I’m not sure how I’m going to approach the in-game situation – I don’t necessarily want to swing at everything.  But I know at least that I can’t decide too late for my swings.


Game update:

I think I hit 3/6 or something like that across two games.  I didn’t have everything going too well in the first game, but the second game was a marked improvement.  My last hit in the 2nd game was a grounder up the right side because I decided too late to start my swing.  However – I would rather be able to change which side I hit based on timing, rather than making it obvious and shifting my body.

All in all, a good week of softball!

Categories
Baseball

2018: Meme Season

There seem to be a lot of memes being generated early in this 2018 season for the Blue Jays.  The latest came from last night’s 7-1 win over the Orioles:

“What are you gonna do now, Buck?”

Categories
Baseball

The Week That Was: Mar 29-Apr 4

This Week’s Motivational Picture

First of all, it’s pretty crazy to try and think about regular season baseball happening in March.  Sure, it’s the end of March, and it’s basically April, but it’s still March.  Rest assured though, by 2020 they’ll have corrected this when opening day is once again in April (thanks, Wikipedia!).  Of course this isn’t the first time opening day has been in March, but it’s just so rare that it seems wrong in some way. 

Nevertheless, after a week’s worth of games, we have some standings to look at.  Boston leads the AL East with a 5-1 record, followed by New York at 4-2, and Toronto at 4-3.  There are apparently two other teams in the division but they don’t matter.  Yet.  I’m a bit surprised that Boston has such a big lead – at least I was, until I looked at their first 6 opponents.  They had the Rays, followed by the Marlins (and then today, April 5th, they have the Rays again).  Luckily they will have to face the Yankees, which I think will be a split between the two teams. 

Back to the Jays – they are at least 1 game ahead of where I expected them to be.  I thought they might be at the .500 mark, but they pounded their way above .500 and even enjoyed a 4-game win streak (which included a split vs the Yankees).  So I’m happy with that. 

Honestly, a split vs the Yankees is probably the best result they could have hoped for.  And then they won the series against the White Sox, another plus.  April is looking like a tough month for the Blue Jays, and I think they’ll come out of it in good shape as long as they win 2 out of 3 vs the likes of Baltimore and Texas.  Tread water against the better teams and then move on from there. 

The good news is that on the off day, they are 0.5 back of the wild card spot.  If the Jays can keep up their pace it’s going to be a very tight race all year.

Categories
Sports

Examining My Issue with Sports Narratives

One of my biggest pet peeves when consuming sports (watching/reading/listening) is the tendency to insert seemingly meaningless statistics to create some sort of narrative.

The Record Narrative

The most annoying offender of the sports narrative for me is The Record.  You know what I mean – “This team is 2 and 25 when playing on a Wednesday night in a non-leap year.”  I exaggerate, but I feel it’s necessary to establish that these are the kind of records that annoy me.

I find it particularly meaningless to learn that my favourite sports team has a losing record in a particular building.  When announcers pull up these statistics, they are pulling statistics for the team ALL-TIME.   Since the players on any given team tend to fluctuate a lot year-to-year, knowing the all-time organization record makes no difference.

A record I just heard today (I’m typing this a week early) on the Senators pre-game show was that all-time, no Senators team has won a playoff series after losing 2 games in a row in the series.  Remember this statistic – they are 0-15.  It’ll be relevant later.  But this is the kind of statistic I find irrelevant; the 2017 Senators team – other than a few key players – have virtually nothing connecting them to those past playoff teams.  So why bother bringing it up?

Individual Performance – Hockey vs Baseball

One area I will be OK with lifetime statistics is baseball.  Specifically, individual records from players.  In baseball, it is actually statistically relevant that a specific player has success (or lack thereof) in a stadium.  This is because baseball stadiums tend to have individual characteristics of their own that can influence game outcomes (if you don’t believe me, I’d start with looking up home run totals in American League East ballparks compared to the rest of the league).

But this comes up from time to time in hockey.  Statistically I feel like it’s not relevant.  A goalie’s life-time record in a particular arena doesn’t seem like it matters.  Hockey arenas, while different in terms of their outside looks and seating layout, all have the same dimensions on the ice.  Unlike in baseball, where outfield fences and field configurations are different from park to park.

You could argue that sometimes the building environment (i.e. the fans) have influence on a player’s mental composure, but I don’t think that effect is as big as people make it out to be.

The Counter-Argument

Remember that 0-15 record I mentioned earlier?  Along with that statistic, I heard a good counter-argument for providing this kind of information.  The radio host mentioned that he mentions these things for context.  The argument is that if the team were to lose 2 in a row, and still win the series, then it becomes a significant milestone in the organization’s history.

It isn’t being brought up to be statistically relevant – the host acknowledges that a previous team record where very few – if any – players were actually present for the established record.

I only partially buy into this argument.  What is the importance of this context?  Is it to temper expectations from fans listening to sports radio?  Is it really important to say that it’s a big deal that this team is defying past history?  I’m not sure.  But I can appreciate acknowledging that a current team is doing something that previous iterations were unable to do before.

The Utterly Pointless Narratives

Overall, I could probably get behind all of the above.  But one thing is for sure – I have no time for the time-filling statistics like the exaggeration I mentioned to start the article.  Thankfully, most of the good commentators I pay attention to don’t either (albeit in an ironic and non-serious context it’s perfectly acceptable).

What are your biggest pet peeves when it comes to sports commentating?

Categories
Movies

Top Baseball Movies

The World Baseball Classic has officially started, and Spring Training has been underway for weeks now.  I can’t think of a better time to talk about my personal top baseball movies.

Other than being about baseball, there’s no real criteria for how I’ve ranked these.  They range from comedy to drama, and the genre doesn’t really affect how much I like the film.

Moneyball

I read the book well before the movie was announced; I think I wasn’t the only one just a little bit skeptical of whether or not an adaptation would be successful.  A lot of liberties were taken to be sure, but the movie works.  The characters are great and visually, it looks gorgeous.  You can’t help but be romantic about baseball.

Major League I & II

I watched these out of order, first seeing Major League II with my brother in a hotel room when it came on TV.  I understood none of the jokes that weren’t obvious, but years later I re-watch both of these films often.

Field of Dreams

You could probably group this one thematically with Moneyball if you were planning a baseball movie marathon.  Everyone remembers “If you build it, they will come” and it’s pretty much a movie being entirely romantic about baseball.

A League of Their Own

“There’s no crying in baseball!”  Another one I watched as a kid, and another one where some of the jokes went over my head.  A fantastic telling of the women that played baseball during the war.  Did not realize until much later in life that Bill Pullman (aka Lone Star) was in this film.

Angels in the Outfield

I’ve watched this movie countless times, and even today it holds up.  I recently discovered that there was actually an earlier black & white film of the same name that centered around the Pittsburgh Pirates.  I have yet to track it down, but would love to watch it.

42

I’ve got a few issues with this movie, but overall I think it’s great.  The actors buy in 100%, except for Harrison Ford, who buys in 120%.

Trouble With the Curve

This isn’t the greatest movie on the list, but has its charm.  Clint Eastwood plays an aging baseball scout going on One Last Road Trip with his daughter.  Justin Timberlake is also in this for some reason?  The funny thing about this movie is that it feels like a direct response from the baseball scouting world against Moneyball, where the villains of the movie rely solely on computer data and analysis instead of the good old eye test.

Mr. Baseball

I watched this one recently – I’d never seen it, even though we had it recorded on VHS.  I thought it was a really great “clash of cultures” film that happened to be about baseball.

Bull Durham

I think I’ve only watched this once, but it’s definitely a good film.  I need to mark this one down for a re-watch.

Rookie of the Year

The prevailing memory of this baseball movie for me is renting it (on VHS, remember, I’m 33) for a sleepover party when I was 9 or 10.  Daniel Stern gets his shot at putting in 120% in this one.  Hot ice!

Basketball

Not technically a baseball movie in the literal sense, it is however a spiritual baseball movie.  From the creators of South Park, this is a great one to watch that picks on some of the weirder aspects of sports.

Bad News Bears(remake)

This remake wasn’t all that great – it was basically Billy Bob Thornton picking up his Bad Santa role and plopping it into the timeless kids movie classic.  But for what it is, it’s not bad.  It earns a spot on my list, if only because I watched it.

 

What’s your favourite baseball movie?  Or sports movie in general?  

 

 

Categories
Baseball

A Beautiful Weekend

When last I wrote, the Jays were heading into what was looked at as a pivotal series.  It was May 2nd, and the Jays were starting fresh after taking a series against Tampa Bay.  The Jays were 12-14, which was at the very least reverse of what was expected going into April.  It wouldn’t surprise me if most fans were expecting to be 24-2 at the start of May.

The Jays ended up winning that series, but that’s where the fun stopped.  After a fantastic opening game against LA, the Jays went on to lose 8 of their next 11 games – including a 5-game losing streak (oh, and there was a bench-clearing brawl in Texas, too).  The sky was falling, and fans were pushing the panic button as if they were waiting for an elevator car that just won’t come.  That was a terrible simile, but you didn’t pay to read this, did you?

But a trip to Minnesota brought a change to the lineup – Bautista leading off?  What sorcery is this?  But it seemed to work – since May 18th, the Jays have gone 7-3.  At the time of publication (Top of the 9th, vs the Yankees), this brings their record for May to 15-11, two outs away from making it 16-11.

The offense is starting to heat up – there’s no questioning that.  The starting pitching faltered a little in the middle of the month, and the bullpen is still terrible.  I even heard talk today of moving Sanchez to the bullpen (please don’t do that if we’re not bringing a better starter).

But what I wanted to highlight was a fantastic series vs the Red Sox, May 27 – 29.  I was lucky enough to be able to witness the game on May 28th, which was a walk-off 10-9 win.  Why was I lucky?  I didn’t get the game Ortiz sat out.  Bautista served his suspension the night before.  I got to see Big Papi hit one over the fence mere feet away, and the Blue Jays still won the game.  I saw a rare (this season anyway) Russel Martin home run.  I saw an absolutely fantastic walk-off single and celebration by Devon Travis.

But I think the best thing I saw?  Bautista’s reaction to the fans in front of me who were trying to get his attention.  I was setting in 113 DR so had a great view of both Jose and Mookie Betts.  While the fans in front of me were unsuccessful in getting Mookie’s attention, Jose delivered some excellent fan service.  Oh sure, he waved a few times – I’m sure that’s not the first time he’s done that.  But what I’ll remember from Saturday was this one moment in the late stages of the game.

Our section was filled mostly with Jays fans – a few Red Sox fans peppered here and there.  But it was the row of (presumably) drunk fans that were the most vocal; this one fan in particular was calling out Jose to hit a grand slam, constantly and boisterously.  Then, with perfect timing – as per usual Jose Bautista – he turned to our section, and made the most fantastic Jose hand motion I’ve ever seen and likely not caught on any camera: the drinky drinky motion.

Thank you for a memorable afternoon, Jose.

Categories
Baseball

The Bat, Flipped

I don’t think there was a single bigger moment in 2015 than the infamous Bat Flip.  The biggest proof of that is that I can say “bat flip” and you probably know what I’m referring to.  For that reason, I think the series starting tonight vs the Texas Rangers is likely the most anticipated meeting of the year so far – the return of 2015’s ALDS opponent to the Rogers Centre.

But the team hosting the series is very different from the one that won the ALDS last year.  Or is it?

While it’s only been one month, the 2016 Jays are playing sub-.500 baseball.  For April they went 11-14, scoring 95 runs while allowing 102.  In the 2015 ALDS & ALCS, the Jays had a record of 5-6, scoring 52 runs and allowing 57 runs.  Doing some very rough extrapolating, the 2015 playoff Jays over 25 games would have a record of about 11-14, with 118 Runs For and 130 Runs against.

For those of you doing the math, their actual RF/RA differential this year is -7, and the theoretical 25 game record above is -12.  Pretty similar!

I’m not suggesting that it’s time to panic, or pack it in.  At only 26 games into the season, with a 12-14 record, it’s far from over.  I have to wonder though…at what point do we accept the team’s real record?  Last year, the Jays had a poor first two months – both below .500, and didn’t turn it around until June when they went on their first 11-game winning streak of the year.  Even then, July was a losing month.  It wasn’t until August when they really took off.

I guess what I’m suggesting here is that you can’t assume the Blue Jays are going to continue to be as bad as they are this year, but you also can’t assume they’re going to be as good as they were at the end of last year.  However, their 2015 playoff record pretty well matches what they put together in April of this year.

I think the Jays need to look at their bullpen options, as that’s been the real issue, but it’s hard to not want to wait it out a bit longer to see if some of the struggling players (read: the entire team outside of the starting pitching staff) pick up their play and start playing to their potential.

Categories
Baseball

An Overly Pessimistic Blue Jays Season Preview and A Note on Expectations

Great Expectations…

With Spring Training just around the corner, we’re going to be hit with a barrage of season previews, predicting the course of how the regular season and playoffs will unfold. Naturally, these spoiler-happy reporters totally ruin the next 6 months, making actually watching the games completely superfluous.

I move to outlaw these predictions, or at least re-brand them to what they are: Expectations. We all expect the Orioles, Red Sox and Yankees to take a step back, we all expect the St. Louis Cardinals to be a model of consistency, we all expect the Miami Marlins to overhaul their roster every three years, we all expect the Washington Nationals to be a World Series Contender, etc. With the exception of the Marlins, we can’t say with 100% certainty that these predictions will come true.

Now onto An Overly Pessimistic Blue Jays Season Preview:

Broad Strokes

In the course of about 30 days, Alex Anthopoulos overhauled the Jays roster, bringing in Melky Cabrera, Josh Johnson, Mark Buerhle, R.A. Dickey, Jose Rey–OK fuck this, I’m too lazy to write down ALL the names that AA acquired. Long story short, he got a lot of dudes who can play baseball good, so indeed, expectations have been raised.

But let’s be realistic, if you count the Orioles, there are 4 other teams in the AL East, who all play 162 games with the goal of winning the division. They’re not just going to throw up their arms and hand Toronto the division. In fact you could argue that the Rays are the favourite to win the division. They still have solid starting pitching and Evan Longoria, plus they have about five or six years worth of experience that have translated into actual results on the field. They’ve made the AL East a legitimate three horse race.

Don’t discount the Yankees. They probably have the best starting rotation in the East, plus they’ll be getting a full year from Mariano Rivera. Derek Jeter had a solid year last year AND A-Rod will only play half the season at best.

And you never know, maybe John Farrell will bore his roster to death with his minutia and ramblings about pressuring the pitching staff by stealing bases and they’ll actually concentrate on baseball. GM Ben Cherington seems to be taking a page out of the Dodgers handbook*, signing replacement level players, seemingly believing they possess magical powers that will enable them to become good at baseball again.

Also, do discount the Orioles.

* Note: Which GM’s strategy will he plagiarize next year? I’m crossing my fingers for Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers.

PECOTA is Bullshit, Trust PHONI

Pessimistic
Hunches based
On
No
Insight

So, I’ve calibrated my spreadsheets to ensure that my PHONI forecasting system is operating on maximum efficiency. Let’s get on with pessimistic player previews:

Starting Pitchers:


Mark “Pit” Buehrle – He will live up to his billing as an average, middle of the rotation pitcher. Naturally, casual Jays fans will demand that he be traded for Vernon Wells, citing Wells’ intangibles and leadership, hoping that he’ll convince his best buddy and perennial MVP candidate Michael Young to join him in T.O.

R.A. Dickey – Last week John Gibbons announced that Dickey will be the opening day pitcher. Too bad he doesn’t realize that AL batters will figure out that R.A. doesn’t actually throw a formidable knuckleball. It turns out that he was just a pitcher facing terrible players in the National League.

Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison – They will discover that their Tommy John surgeries were unsuccessful and decide to surgically combine their pitching arms together into one powerful bionic arm. This will raise debates on the ethics of performance-enhancing-bionic-arms.

Josh Johnson – Johnson will suffer the fate of “The Curse of the Johnson”*, playing great in April and May, only to fade into irrelevance during the gruelling climate controlled summer months in the Rogers Centre.

*It’s a proven fact – anyone on the Jays roster with the last name “Johnson” has been affected by the curse. Look at the track record: Kelly Johnson.

Brandon Morrow – In a fit of jealous rage over his success, Ricky Romero will recreate the denouement of the classic film “Celtic Pride” and kidnap Brandon Morrow, in the hopes that this will help his beloved Boston Celtics win the NBA Championship.

Ricky Romero – Will create a scandal when Brandon Morrow and Damon Wayons are discovered bound and gagged in his basement. His subsequent arrest will eventually lead to a baseball themed remake of “The Longest Yard”.

Relief Pitchers:


Brett Cecil – Three years from now, we realize that we unknowingly witnessed the beginning of the “wearing athletic prescription glasses” trend, popularized by future hipsters. Horace Grant will become an uber-prophet to said hipsters.

Steve Delabar – Will have an OK season. Future prediction: following his retirement, Delabar will open a chain of restaurants called “DeLaBar” – a “De La Soul” themed bar and grill. The house specialty will be the “Steaks is High” – a porterhouse steak brushed with weed butter.

Casey Janssen – Breathes a sigh of relief and has a solid season, narrowly avoiding “The Curse of the Johnson” by only a few letters.
Brad Lincoln – Will do something good in a game, newspapers will compare him to other Lincoln, using clever pun.
Darren Oliver – Something something, Jeff Frye.
Esmil Rogers – Will add another “S” to his name to make it Essmil, so as not to confuse Buck Martinez while calling play by play.

Sergio Santos – Will discover the truth of the “Closer Myth“, and promptly vanish into thin air.

Actual Players:

J.P. Arencibia – J.P.’s season split will be 500/20/480 – as in 500 at bats, 20 homeruns and 480 strikeouts. Old school reporters will praise his power numbers.

Jose Bautista – Will pen an autobiography entitled “All ‘Bout-ista”.

Emilio Bonifacio – Will change his name to “Charlie Sheen”.

Melky Cabrera – Reporters will discover that Melky Cabrera is actually 53 years old. In unrelated news, Albert Pujols refuses to play Sunday night games as it interferes with Murder, She Wrote reruns.

Rajai Davis – Will get buried in freak sunflower seed shell avalanche.
Mark DeRosa – Has odd clause in contract – to be paid only in masticated sunflower seeds.
Edwin Encarnacion – will raise his other elbow and make “vroom! whoosh!” noises while running the bases, pretending to be an airplane.
Maicer Izturis – Hopefully will be the backup 2nd basemen, so I don’t have to worry about correctly spelling his name on a regular basis.

Brett Lawrie – Doctors will discover that Brett Lawrie is colour blind, explaining the reason why he runs through so many red lights on the base path.

Adam Lind – Will have decent power and batting numbers and put together a solid offensive* season.

*Oops sorry, typo! I meant to say that Lind will have an offensive season, as in it’s offensive that he’s regularly put on the field in the first place.

Colby Rasmus – Rasmus’ Dad will notice a hole in his swing, but sit tight and not interfere with his son’s career at all.

Jose Reyes – Will miss the first half of the season due to horrific smiling injury.

Bonus Predictions:

Jays fans will boo Yunel Escobar, but cheer for mayor Rob Ford when he throws the ceremonial first pitch. The Baltimore Orioles will offer Ford a professional tryout.

Damian Cox will find a way to compare baseball to hockey.

The Boston Celtics will win the NBA Championship

Reporters will overlook the rising number of performance-enhancing-bionic-arms, preferring to revel in the timeless glory of the great game of baseball.

World Series Prediction: Houston Astros vs. Arizona Diamondbacks, with the DB’s emerging* as champions

*NOTE: No homefield advantage was awarded due to the All-Star game resulting in irrelevance.

Categories
Baseball

An Open Letter to Mark Buehrle and Damien Cox

Dear Mark,

First off, welcome to Canada! I just wanted to fill you in on a few things about our country. We love our hockey (you’ll notice that some folks inexplicably have an affinity for the Toronto Maple Leafs), beer (but you probably knew that already) and hockey (c’mon Gary let’s get this season started already!). Popular music exported from our country can basically be described as a literal embarrassment of riches: Nickelback, Avril Lavigne, Justin Bieber, Celine Dion, Michael Buble and the Tragically Hip (though thankfully, they haven’t caught on south of the border). 
But let me get back to hockey, or the lack thereof, for just a sec. Please, please, please ignore everything that Damien Cox says. To put it plainly, he’s a hack and he represents the uneducated, knee-jerk reacting Blue Jays fans who’ve deified Cito Gaston. With no hockey to “write” about, he needs to justify his paycheque somehow, so he’s directed his misinformed scorn towards you. 
In order to save you the effort, let me come to your defence. If the Ontario pit bull ban is overturned, in no way will it reflect negatively on you or the Toronto Blue Jays. Apparently Cox feels that owning a Labrador and Golden retriever makes him an expert on pit bulls. It’s absolute bullshit that he feels the right to get on his high horse and vilify your family before you’ve even set foot in our country. 
Vilify the owners who train their pit bulls to be aggressive, in fact, vilify all people who want to turn their pets into weapons. It’s unfortunate that this sort of person exists, even though the vast majority of pit bull owners are nice folks who train their dog in a loving, family environment. 
Overturning Ontario’s pit bull ban isn’t going to be easy. It’ll take lots of education and enlightenment in order to change peoples minds. If you and your wife are successful, you’ll be viewed in a positive light by the vast majority of your city, province and country. Also, it’ll give you the chance to adopt a pretty cool nickname – Mark “Pit” Buerhle.
Sincerely,
The Blue Jays Luddite 
PS – Sorry for not updating the blog in a while. Last season was getting waaaaay too depressing…