Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Archive for February, 2013

The better the pitcher … the smaller the strike zone?

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I'm surprised Chapman has ever had a strike called... Photo via wiki/flickr SD Dirk

Thanks to Rob Neyer, who pointed out this interesting study done at BaseballAnalytics.org by writer David Golebiewski, which showed how the faster the fastball, the LESS likely it was to be called a strike for “in-zone” pitches.  And its a significant margin (see the link for the percentages): a guy who throws 86-88mph gets nearly 10% more called strikes within the zone than a guy who throws 98mph.

That’s amazing.

The called-strike rate is also larger for out-of-zone strikes for softer-tossing pitchers, by about a 5% margin.  And to further add insult to injury, the missed strikes are more prevalent to left-handed hitters than to righies.

Both Neyer and Golebiewski imply that the reason for this phenomena is physical limitations in the Umpire, who struggles to “see” a 98mph fastball and thus misses it.  This leads (in comments sections) to inevitable calls for automated strike zones and the use of pitch f/x instead of humans.

I have a possible different theory; one that any of us that play amateur baseball can readily attest to; I believe that in the amateur game (whether it be little league or adult amateurs) a guy who throws harder is naturally given a smaller zone, while a softer-tossing guy generally gets a larger zone.  Not because the umps can’t see the ball, but because umps make the assumption that velocity equates with talent, and thus give the softer-tossing guy more benefit of the doubt when it comes to the strike zone.

Thoughts?  Maybe Mike Rizzo shouldn’t be spending as much time filling his rotation with power arms, if they have smaller strike zones as a result.  Or, more to the point, maybe this is all the argument we need to give Henry Rodriguez his walking papers.

Written by Todd Boss

February 28th, 2013 at 11:37 am

Great article about PED usage from a former player

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Posted yesterday 2/26/13 at BaseballProspectus.com from former player Eric Knott, who had a couple of cups of coffee over an 11 year professional career, including a stint with Montreal in 2003.

I’ve read some people who have claimed that “there’s no definitive proof that Steroids help baseball players.”  But I scoff at those claims; time and again we’re reading missives from former players brave enough to speak out who talk of utility infielders suddenly hitting 15 homers, and of middling relief pitchers suddenly adding 5mph to their fastballs and rocketing up the farm systems.

Knott’s article is no different.  You can claim stories like his and others are just coincidence, but it doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to connect the dots between steroid use, leading to increased strength and muscle mass, leading to increased power or velocity.

Also interesting is Knott’s take on “greenies” versus his opinions on Steroid use.  Clearly he differentiates between these two drugs despite both now being considered “performance enhancing.”

A good read.

Written by Todd Boss

February 27th, 2013 at 2:55 pm

Observations of Nats from early televised ST games

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Carlos Rivero looks like a valuable utility guy so far this spring. Photo Brad Barr/US Presswire via bleacherreport.com

I have to admit, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the two Nats spring training games that managed to find their way to MLB Network TV thus far (NatsJournal live blogs for the 2/23 game here and 2/25 game here).  Not so much because we got to see Harper, Strasburg and Gonzalez … we all know what these guys can do.  No; I’m interested in seeing the young guys, the guys who we rarely get to see play.  This year’s spring training is a week longer, meaning that there’s going to be an awful lot of playing time devoted to these AA and AAA guys who got spring training invites, and that’s many more looks at the likes of Matt Skole, Chris Marrero, and Carlos Rivero.

It is also good to see some of these arm prospects that we’ve been hearing so much about, and it has been instructive to see some of the minor league veterans invited to spring training.  Some observations on our guys (arms then bats):

  • Stephen Strasburg‘s first 7 pitches on 2/23/13; all fastballs, all 96-97.  Clearly he was working on his spots.  I’m not sure he threw a change-up the entire outing.  As is always the case in spring training, guys work on pitches, work on location, and stats are meaningless.  He gave up a wind-aided homer to a guy who’s hit like 1 his entire career; no cause for concern.
  • Gio Gonzalez was amped up; he over threw his fastball in the first and (if you believe the broadcast) reached 97 in the second.  He struggled with his release point clearly.  However, his curve looked in mid-season form, breaking sharply and serving as a nice out pitch against the few regulars that the Mets did bat on 2/25/13.
  • Bill Bray looked, well, awful.  His mechanics were always odd-looking, but he got hit hard by the Mets lineup of rag-tag regulars.  Not a good start for Bray’s spring.
  • Cole Kimball back on the hill …. where was his fastball?  It generally was coming in 90-91.  That’s clearly a step back from 2011, when he was averaging 93 and peaking at 95.8.  Lets hope this is Kimball working himself in slowly and not a permament velocity loss from his shoulder surgery.  Either way, he’s not going to displace his RHP competitors for the bullpen spots unless he can hump it up a bit more.
  • Pat McCoy was scheduled to throw 2/23, and I would really have liked to see him, but the Mets were ahead in the 9th and didn’t need to bat.  I’m convinced that McCoy could be a sleeper candidate for a left-handed specialist in this organization, if the cattle-call of guys we’ve signed to ML deals falls through.
  • Ross Ohlendorf put in two clean innings, but I don’t like what I see from him necessarily.   Not a lot of velocity (90-91) but a big guy (6’4″) who gets downward plane on his fastball.  But he just seems very “hittable.”  His numbers from the last two years in the majors show it; ERAs of 8.15 and 7.77 in 18 starts.  Not good.
  • Nathan Karns: the beat reporters raved about his performance overall; 2 innings, 3 Ks against a MLB-heavy part of the Mets order.  It was great to finally see Karns throw; he has easy arm action, runs the ball in 94-95, and spotted the ball on the corners well.  What I didn’t see was anything resembling a quality second pitch.  He attempted a number of sliders (I’m guessing sliders; they were generally 84-86, which would be a very hard curve) and he couldn’t get over-top of them at all.  He did throw one particular breaking pitch that was sharp and nasty.  I didn’t see anything resembling a 3rd or 4th pitch though.  Is he destined for the bullpen?  That’s not the worst thing in the world; to be the next Ryan Mattheus, a hard-throwing 7th inning right hander.

Now for thoughts on our minor league hitters:

  • Eury Perez is, well, really fast.  If he turns out to be anything close to a servicable hitter, he’s got leadoff/center fielder written all over him.  The question could become; which speedy CF prospect do we hope for more; Perez or Brian Goodwin?  Denard Span‘s contract has a convenient option for 2015, just about the time that Goodwin is likely ready for the majors on a full-time basis.  Of course, that being said Perez is further along than Goodwin (who likely starts 2013 at AA).  Goodwin has power to go with his speed, while Perez seems to have very little power.  Which would you prefer to be the longer-term CF solution?
  • I like Matt Skole; sweet swing, not overpowered by facing MLB pitching.  It makes you wonder about scouting sometimes; how come guys like Skole and Tyler Moore get no love from scouts?  Its like a 30-home run minor league guy is somehow a liability.  Of course, Skole’s problem is the same as Anthony Rendon‘s; positional blockage at 3B.  Yes Skole was playing low-A as a college junior when he hit 27 homers … but if you’ve seen Hagertown’s stadium, you know its a monster park to hit balls out of.  27 homers is no mean feat down there.   I’ll be curious to see if Skole can hit with that kind of power at High-A or AA (wherever he starts 2013).
  • Chris Marrero has looked pretty good, making good solid contact a number of times.  I don’t like his haircut though :-).
  • Carlos Rivero is impressing me; he’s playing the outfield (after having played first SS and then 3B in the minors).  He has good hands, is a big guy, and seems like he can be a servicable backup utility guy who can fill in at any corner.  He’d be more flexible Moore or Chad Tracy in this respect (when judging our projected utility guys) but of course needs to show he can hit at the same levels.  Still, he is likely to be a numbers game victim unless someone like Bernadina gets hurt this spring.

Ask Boswell 2/25/13 Edition

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When is Anthony Rendon going to be ready for the Majors? Photo Nats Official via espn.com

With the first couple of Spring Training games in the books, its fitting that Tom Boswell did a Monday morning chat on 2/25/13.

Here’s how I’d have responded to the Baseball-specific questions he took.  As always, questions are edited for clarity and I write here before reading his response so as not to “color” my answer.

Q: Given that the Nats know almost every player making the roster out of Spring Training, do the players/coaches approach the 6 weeks differently?

A: Good question; I was taking with someone about this exact topic this weekend.  The 25-man roster is essentially already solidifed; perhaps the only question remaining is whether or not Henry Rodriguez makes it onto the team or does the team carry a second lefty reliever (Bill Bray?).  So I think the answer has to do with looking more at the AAA talent, looking at minor league FA signings like Micah Owings and Chris Snyder to see if they’re going to be better options than the guys we already had slated at AAA.  And the coaching staff gets to look at up-and-coming guys like Anthony Rendon, Zach Walters, and the like.  Boswell reiterates what I said here, naming other ML signings of interest like Chris Young, but also says that this ST has a lot of “wasted time.”

Q: I’ve spent the offseason reading Ball Four to help get my baseball fix. Do you have a sense about how different things are now?

A: It has been a while since I read Jim Bouton‘s seminal baseball book Ball Four.   But the season he chronicles (1969) happened before a number of rather important moments in Baseball history.  Expansion, divisional play, the Designated Hitter, the aftermath of the Curtis Flood and Andy Messersmith decisions (aka, Free Agency) and of course the massive increase of money in the game (both from a revenue stand point and from a player salary stand point).  One thing that seems certain to have changed; players can now earn enough in a season to be set financially for life.  And, the players union’s power is now such that players have the upper hand in a lot of negotiations with the league and the owners when it comes to labor unions.  Boswell notes that managers, coaches and GMs are far “smarter” now than they were in the Bouton era.

Q: How the Nats will do at the gate this year?

A: The season ticket base is back to where it was in 2005 apparently, broaching 20,000 season tickets.  The team averaged 29,269 fans last year.  Clearly the attendance seems set to rise significantly.   I think they’ll average 35,000 a night if they continue to be a first-place club.  Boswell agrees, noting that the team also has a couple of very marketable stars to help with attendance.

Q: Other than obvious injuries, are there any things that can happen in the first quarter of the year that you would find to be troubling?

A: I’d be troubled if Danny Espinosa started off slow.  I’d also be concerned if we saw significant regression out of our WBC participants Gio Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler, confirming my fears.  But the most important factor may be the performance of Dan Haren: is he the 2012 Haren or the 2009 Haren?  If he approaches 2009 version, this team may be set for the season.  Boswell notes they have a tough early schedule, that winning 98 games is tough, and that we should be patient.

Q: Gio Gonzalez; did he or didn’t he?

A: I think the prevailing opinion in the sport now seems to be that he did NOT take or receive PEDs from the Miami clinic, and that he was an unfortunate bystander.  His passing a surprise PED test given two days after the scandal seems to have also bolstered his case.   Boswell agrees.

Q: Are the Nats a 98 win team again, or was last year a fluke?

A: Barring a significant injury in the rotation, I think the Nats are easily a 98-win team and perhaps better in 2013.  Statistical WAR “proof” offered in this space back in January, and that was before the LaRoche re-signing and the Soriano pickup, both of which marginally should improve the team a few wins.  Most national pundits that I’ve read think the same thing, that this team could win 103 games.  The various estimator stats out there (Zips, Pecota, etc)  the team much closer to 90 wins, but those predictors are by and large incredibly conservative.  Boswell also says it comes down to health of the rotation.

Q: How would you rate the Nats starting rotation, spot by spot, compared to the rest of the Major Leagues?

A: Spot by Spot, its hard not to think that each of our guys are each at least in the top 5 by position in the league.  Drawing from my Rotational Rankings post from January 7th, 2013, I’d say that:

  • Strasburg is clearly among the best arms in the game (in the discussion along with Verlander, Kershaw, and Hernandez).  He’s not as accomplished as this group of course, but his talent is unquestionable.
  • Gonzalez matches up as a top 5 number two starter (other candidates: Greinke, Hamels, Lincecum or Cain, depending on who you think SF’s “ace” is).
  • Zimmermann is traditionally underrated but is at least a top 5 number three starter (along with Scherzer, Johnson/Morrow, Bumgarner, Lee and Moore).
  • Haren on potential could be the best number four starter in the game, though Buehrle, Miley, and Lynn could also fit in here.
  • Detwiler is often mentioned as being the best number five starter out there, and its hard to find competitors (best options: Zito, Romero, Garcia, and whoever Oakland and St. Louis settle upon for their #5 starters).

Boswell seems worried that these five guys can handle the workload all year, only really trusting Gonzalez in terms of repeatability.

Q: What future do you see for Anthony Rendon, and when will he debut in the majors?

A: I have been of the belief that Zimmerman should move to 1B for Rendon at some point.  But with LaRoche signed for two years, that won’t happen for a while (2 years, perhaps 3 if we pick up his 2015 option).  So now i’m starting to come around to the the possibility of Rendon pushing someone else off their position.  The most likely candidate seems to be Espinosa at 2B.  Despite having Lombardozzi on the 25-man, Rendon is a higher-potential player.  If Espinosa starts slow, and Rendon starts fast, I could see Rendon getting called up in June and starting to get reps at 2nd while Espinosa goes on the DL for his shoulder.  Otherwise, a Sept 1 call-up seems in order.  Boswell predicts a post-all star game call-up.

Q: Is there any way the Nats can stop Detwiler and Gio from pitching in that baseball ‘classic’? I see a disaster waiting to happen. Luis Ayala was never the same after getting hurt pitching in that thing.

A: There’s no way legally the team can prevent either guy from pitching, since neither suffered any injuries in 2012.  And yes I agree (as discussed in this space on 2/11/13) this is bad news for the Nats.  Washington has never had a pitcher play in the WBC who didn’t regress badly, and the stats seem to show that most every pitcher who does participate in the WBC pitches poorly the next two seasons (links in my post).   Boswell says cross your fingers.

Q: Do you think Bryce has it in him to be National League mvp?

A: Yes I do.  MVP voting generally starts with the “Best Player” on the “Best Teams” and creates a short list from there.  It is why it is relatively easy to predict the MVPs.  If Washington is the best team in the league and makes the playoffs again, and Bryce Harper has a break out season, it won’t be hard to see him getting serious MVP consideration.  Now, let me also say that a “Harper for MVP” prediction is NOT the same as predicting that Harper is set to become the best player in the game.  That’s not what the MVP measures.  If the question was, “Is Harper set to become the best player in the National League” i’d then say, “No, he’s a few years away from that distinction.”  Boswell thinks it may be a bit early.

Q: How many wins per year would you estimate a a stellar defense adds to a teams win total over the course of a season?

A: I’m sure there’s a good statistical answer for this, based on the percentage of WAR added by defense.  But it seems like a very difficult answer to come by.  Boswell says “a few.”

Q: Any reason to think he’s NOT going to be the GM for a long time?  Because I can’t think of many others who have done as good a job in all of baseball.

A: I can see no reason for Rizzo not to be the GM for at least the next 4 years.  His next big challenge will be dealing with the inevitable payroll demands of Harper and Strasburg (both of whom project to be $25M players) while also keeping a competitive team on the field.   2017 could be an interesting year for this team; Strasburg projects to hit Free Agency that year, and Harper should be in his 4th arbitration year.  They already have Zimmerman and Werth at $14M and $21M respectively in the 2017 year, with possibly another $40-$45M out the door to keep Harper and Strasburg.  They better start working on the farm system again.  Boswell didn’t really answer the question, just mentioned how Rizzo’s options have yet to be picked up.

Q: How is Ramos looking thus far? 100%? Suzuki is a professional and seems to be a good guy, do you get a feel for how well he and Ramos interact? How great would it be to generate some power/runs from the catcher spot this year.

A: I’ve been assuming that the catcher job is Suzuki‘s to lose for now; its still early but no word has come out negatively on Ramos‘ recovery.  Either way, yes it would be nice to get some production out of the #8 hole.  Suzuki was pretty good after he came over here, but Ramos healthy was a middle-of-the-order bat.  Boswell suggests that Ramos stop blocking the plate.

Q: If Rendon tears it up after September call-up, what does the Nats 2014 infield look like?

A: Wow; hard not to say Rendon replaces Espinosa like-for-like right now.  But, just as Desmond broke out in his 3rd full time season, so could Espinosa.  It could make for a log jam.  Lets hope for the best, hope for a rebound Espinosa season and a good-problem-to-have situation of having to trade a strength to make way for another strength.  Boswell has no idea where Rendon will play if he merits a call-up.

Q: I think the Nats, and Danny Espinosa are whistling past the graveyard if they think a completely torn left rotator cuff will not seriously affect Danny’s play. Your take?

A: A fair assessment.  I too believe a torn rotator cuff absolutely has to be affecting his swing, especially from the right side.  I think Espinosa should have gotten the thing surgically repaired in the off-season.  I wonder how much the team knew of the injury, because when it was reported in the off-season it sure seemed like a surprise.  Boswell says its a concern and that Espinosa should take more days off.

Q: Is McCatty working with Strasburg on correcting his inverted W delivery? Strasburg also has footstrike issues, as he tends to plant his foot and then whip his arm, which puts a ton of strain on his shoulder. I’m concerned if he doesn’t correct this, his shoulder will give out this season or next. Are the Nats worried about this? Are they working on cleaning up his delivery at all?

A: I’m beginning to think that this whole “Inverted W” thing is a bunch of BS.  Keith Law stated as much when prompted in a chat recently; he says that the problem with the Inverted W theory is that its difficult to “state” with authority that certain pitchers do or don’t have the phenomena.  And its true; if you see some shots of Strasburg he has it, in others his arms are more bent behind his back.  Its the same with Gio Gonzalez (I can show you stills of him landing with his arms clearly in an “inverted W” position and you don’t hear anyone talking about Gonzalez’s mechanics.   The leading inverted-W site on the internet (Chris O’Leary‘s page linked here) uses an opportunisitic example set of pitchers with that motion, but I can find plenty of examples of guys who have similar mechanics but zero soft-tissue injury history (on the Nats two quick examples are Drew Storen and Craig Stammen).  Meanwhile one of his examples was John Smoltz … who only threw 3400 MLB innings in his career and basically didn’t miss a start until he was 32.  Not the best example of proof that his mechanics were somehow “awful.”  I think the entire phenomenon is an observation of coincidence, that pitchers get injuries all the time no matter what their mechanics, and that we need to move onwards.  Wow; Boswell thinks exactly what i think; these proofs are nonesense.

Academy Awards (plus others) for Baseball Movies

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(Editor’s note: another article that I essentially wrote in Feb of 2011 but never got around to publishing; this has been a good couple of weeks of cleaning out the drafts).

Right around the time of the Academy Awards in 2011, Jim Caple wrote a fun pre-2011 Oscar review of historical baseball movies from an Academy Award perspective (where he picked the 6 major Academy Awards for baseball movies).  Caple’s awards for the “major” Oscar nominations were:

  • Best Picture: “Bull Durham
  • Best Director: Barry Levinson for “The Natural
  • Best Actor: Walter Matthau from “Bad News Bears
  • Best Actress: Susan Sarandon from “Bull Durham
  • Best Supporting Actor: Vic Morrow from “Bad News Bears
  • Best Supporting Actress: Madonna from “A League of their Own

(Other interesting movie links related to baseball I’ve stored over the years: Caple subsequently wrote a Moneyball review in September of 2012, and SBNation posted a list of the Greatest Baseball Movie Lines in history around the same time.  Here’s a recent link 50 Fun facts about sports movies that includes some Baseball trivia, and here’s a list of the Top Grossing Baseball movies of all time; the leader isn’t that surprising).

Being a fan of baseball movies myself, I’d quibble with some of Caple’s winners ( you have to see his list of “nominations” to really argue) but the article is a great read.  And it got me thinking: what other “Award Categories” for Baseball movies make sense to debate?

Here’s my Categories, and here’s a great list of baseball-themed movies to choose from.  Its a bit dated but gets most of the major films you need.   I fully admit that I have not seen every single baseball-related movie in the history of Hollywood, so feel free to debate the nominees that I’ve selected below.


Best Baseball Action Depicted

Nominations: Bull Durham, Major League, The Natural, Eight Men Out, 61*

Discussion: Eight Men Out was a fantastic period piece and did a great job.  Major League was a baseball movie for sure, but wasn’t nearly as good in terms of action as Bull DurhamBilly Crystal‘s pet project 61* did a great job as well.  I loved The Natural, its old-time baseball stadium shots, and the old school uniforms.  This is a tough call, but the winner goes to the one movie among all of these that was actually directed by a former minor league ball player. Winner: Bull Durham.  (Note: I considered and didn’t use Moneyball because of the actual footage intermixed in, and the general lack of baseball action in the movie).


Best Actor as a passable Baseball Player

Nominations: Kevin Costner (any of his several baseball movies), Robert Redford (The Natural), Randy Quaid (The Rookie), Thomas Jane (61*), Charlie Sheen (Major League), Dennis Haysburt (Major League), Jon Cusack (Eight Men Out), Ray Liotta (Field of Dreams).

Discussion: I nominate Liotta only because of the fact that Shoeless Joe Jackson batted lefty and Liotta spent months learning how to hit lefty for the role, only to have the director discard his abilities.   Similarly, Jon Cusack learned how to hit lefty and several of the baseball action scenes depict him swinging and hitting baseballs for long drives.  Quaid did an admirable job as Jim Morris and is quite an athlete, but did a far superior job as a quarterback in “Any Given Sunday.”

Dennis Haysburt deserves special mention by creating his iconic character, Pedro Ceranno.  He looked realistic at the plate and running the bases.  Redford was clearly a player, talking in the past of how he fashioned his game after fellow San Diego native Ted Williams, and his baseball scenes both hitting and pitching in the Natural are fantastic.  He comes in a close third.

The award comes down to Costner and Sheen.  Sheen (per his IMDB page) was a baseball pitcher in high school and could throw mid-80s naturally.  He looks great on the mound.  But for me, the fact that Costner could legitimately switch hit, played a convincing catcher throughout Bull Durham and a pitcher in For the Love of the Game give him the award.  Winner: Kevin Costner.


Worst Actor attempting to pass as a Baseball Player

Nominations: Tommy Lee Jones (Cobb), Tom Berenger (Major League), Tom Selleck (Mr. Baseball), Gary Cooper (Lou Gehrig), Tim Robbins (Bull Durham), John Goodman (The Babe), Brendan Frasor (The Scout).  Wesley Snipes (The Fan or Major League).

Discussion: Apparently actors love to do sports movies, because they all think they can, you know, play sports well.  Every guy who used to play pick up basketball thinks they can do “White Men Can’t Jump” and every guy who played little league thinks they can be in “Bull Durham.” I list a number of guys here, all of whom struggled in some way or another to appear athletic in a baseball movie.  In all fairness, most of these guys did decently well.  Berenger was in a tough spot, appearing as a catcher who threw like a girl.  Robbins did a pretty good job and was athletic enough to pass.  But the winner is most likely Gary Cooper, who apparently was so un-athletic that they gave up having him appear to be lefty, let alone make him look like Lou Gehrig.  This topic recently appeared again in some popular baseball blogs, with the researcher doing some pretty in-depth analysis to determine if this is actually a hollywood myth.  In any case, the Winner is Gary Cooper.


Best Movie Coach/Manager

Nominations: James Gammon (Lou from “Major League“), Tom Hanks (Jimmy Dugan from “A League of their Own“), Trey Wilson (Joe Riggens from “Bull Durham“), Wilford Brimley (Pop Fisher from “The Natural“), Walter Matthau (Bad News Bears), Philip Seymore Hoffman (Art Howe in “Moneyball”).

Discussion: A great set of character actors and performances here.  Lou from Major League has some memorable lines but wasn’t much of an acting job.  From a purely acting/role preparation perspective its hard to argue with Tom Hanks’ portrayal of the legendary Jimmie Foxx.  Pop Fisher was a good ole grandfather but didn’t exactly test the range of Wilford Brimely.  Hoffman is a fantastic actor in his own right, but by all accounts Art Howe isn’t even remotely like the character he played.

Walter Matthau probably put in the best pure acting job.  But the late Trey Wilson’s fantastic portrayal of the manager of the Durham Bulls, including his interaction with Crash Davis, his shower scene speech and his fighting with the umpires were legendary.  Winner: Trey Wilson.


Best Biopic of a player

Nominations: Cobb, Pride of the Yankees, Hustle, The Babe, The Rookie

Discussion: Honestly I didn’t really care for any of these movies that much.  The most recent of them (The Rookie) was interesting but not really that well done frankly.  Dennis Quaid was just a hair too old for the role and isn’t that good of an actor.  The Babe and Cobb were the two best shots, but both were such bad movies that one cannot pick them as the winner.  I think sentimentality dictates the winner here.  Winner: Pride of the Yankees.


Best Representation of Actual Baseball Events

Nominations: Eight Men Out, Soul of the Game, 61*, The Perfect Game

Winner: Eight Men Out. Doesn’t romanticize the events, presents them relatively slant-free.  I liked 61* in this respect, but Billy Crystal didn’t have the budget he really needed to compete with the excellent period piece about the Black Sox scandal.


Best Baseball Movie to trick your Wife into seeing

Nominations: How Do You Know, Fever Pitch, Summer Catch

Winner: Fever Pitch, but do you really want to see any of these movies?


Best Baseball Movie to take your kids to see

Nominations: Rookie of the Year, Angels in the Outfield, Little Big League, Air Bud: 7th Inning Fetch, The Sandlot

Winner: Air Bud 7th Inning Fetch.  Any movie where a dog gets to play baseball is a winner in my book.


Creepiest Baseball Movie to see

Nominations: The Bad News Bears, The Fan

Discussion: I put in the “Bad News Bears” as slightly “creepy” since our ideals of parenting, racial relations and what-not have changed so much since this movie was made.  So there are many parts that will make you cringe.

Winner: The Fan:  Robert DeNiro plays an obsessed fan of SF Giants outfielder Wesley Snipes.  This wins almost by default, since I can think of no other thriller/suspense baseball films.


Worst Baseball Movie

Nominations: Major League III Back to the Minors, Hustle, The Benchwarmers, Hardball

Discussion: There’s some pretty bad movies in here.  But nothing was as insufferable as the third edition of the Major League franchise.  It was bad enough that they made the second edition, with Omar Epps badly attempting to recreate Wesley Snipes‘ character.  But it went downhill in the third; the writing was bad, and all the leading stars from the first two installments declined to participate, leaving Corbin Bernsen and Dennis Haysbert as the last remaining characters from the original.  Winner: Major League III.


Best Drama

Nominations: The Natural, Bang the Drum Slowly, Field of Dreams, Pride of the Yankees, Moneyball

Discussion: Moneyball is the late entry here, garnering several Academy Award nominations and getting major Academy street cred by virtue of being written by Aaron Sorkin. I’m a sucker for old school tear-jerkers like the rest of them, meaning that Bang The Drum Slowly gets a nod.  Field of Dreams doesn’t hold up as much for me (though I fully admit I cannot watch the last scene without crying).  Up until Moneyball’s release, the winner for me was the excellent The Natural, despite its modified ending from the classic novel of the same name.  Winner: Moneyball.


Best Comedy

Nominations: Major League, Bull Durham, A League of their Own, Mr. 3000, The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings

Discussion: There’s three very quality finalists here, if I may immediately cut the Bernie Mac vehecile Mr. 3000 and the obscure Bingo movie.  Lets talk about them one by one.

A League of their Own depended on the slapstick sexual references from Madonna for its comedy most of the time, with thinly-veiled references to her nude portrait book or the fact that “most of america has seen her naked.”  Major League was a great comedy and had a great setup.  But for me nothing matches the subtleties and quality of the writing in Bull Durham.  Winner: Bull Durham


I KNOW this will generate discussion and disagreement.  Feel free to chime in with your thoughts.

Washington is a “Football” town; what’s yours?

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(Editor’s Note: I first started writing this post in May of 2011, came back to it in August of 2012.  Suddenly in Feb of 2013 this whole post got “scooped” by Craig Calcaterra on HardballTalk.   Don’t you hate it when a post you’ve had in draft mode forever is essentially duplicated while you sit on it?   At least it gave me some reason to finish it and finally publish it).

In early 2011, After watching a re-run of “Four Days in October” of the fantastic 30-for-30 series I got to thinking about the “leading” sports obsession, per city, around the country.  There were numerous shots of the town of Boston, its fans, the bars, etc, and one clearly got the impression that Boston is a “Baseball town.”  This got me thinking: what is the Leading Sport in every pro town in America?

(coincidentally,  if you’re also a fan of the 30-for-30 series, I posted a review and ranking of all 30 original episodes in December 2010.  ESPN’s 30 for 30 site also has a ranking page where, after you vote, you can see the results.  I put in my own rankings on the Dec 2010 post, which I may re-publish at some point).

Here in Washington, clearly we are a Football town.  The Redskins are king; every local sports radio show dedicates large portions of its programming to the Redskins in season or out, because that’s what draws.  The other pro teams in town are of only passing interest to casual fans, are mostly followed by die-hards (like me and the Nationals of course), but if they have a run of success (as with the Capitals now and the Nationals in the first half of 2005 or in 2012) then suddenly they’re popular.  But Football will always be king here.  Some local sportswriters have mentioned the Jayson Werth walk-off in game 4 of last year’s NLDS as the moment that “Washington became a baseball town,” but I just don’t see it.

How about the other major sports towns in America?  I took every town that has 2 or more pro franchises (since obviously, if you live in Jacksonville with only one major franchise, the answer is usually pretty clear) and put my thoughts down.  Feel free to debate, criticize, or tell me I don’t know what i’m talking about.  The towns are listed by category, in descending market size.

Four (or more) Sports towns

1. New York: Baseball.  Despite having so many sports choices, I think the history and continued dominance of the Yankees makes NYC primarily a baseball town.  That’s not to say that a city of 8 million people doesn’t support its football, basketball or hockey teams, but none of the other NY-based franchises have consistently been as good or in the news as much as the Yankees.

2. Los Angeles: Basketball.  As with the Yankees of New York, the Lakers status as one of the marquee franchises (if not THE marquee franchise) of the NBA makes this a basketball town first and foremost.  The Dodgers have 50+ years of history in the town, but the Lakers rule.  Note; of all its major city counterparts, Los Angeles is also the closest to a “college town” that you’ll see.  USC and UCLA both have major sports programs, the area hosts the Rose Bowl every year, and other lesser sports schools such as Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine, and Long Beach State all have had their moments in various college sports.

3. Chicago: Baseball (but open for debate).  The Baseball history is obvious, with both teams having 100+ years of history and the Cubs being one of the marquee franchises in the sport.  The Bulls clearly made the town a Basketball town for a sustained period of time, but I don’t get the impression they’ve supplanted the Cubs.  The Blackhawks are an Original Six hockey team, and the Chicago Bears have been around since the beginning of organized professional football (In fact, they won the first NFL championship in 1933).  So there’s a ton of sports history in this town.  But do the other sports supplant the baseball culture?

4. Philadelphia: Football.  The Phillies have re-made themselves into a dominant force in Baseball over the past few years (2012 notwithstanding), but nothing stokes the fire of Pennsylvanians as much as the E-A-G-L-E-S.

5. Dallas/Fort Worth: Football.  Can’t get much more important to a town’s psyche than the Cowboys.  Even if the Mavericks win a title and the Rangers make the World Series.

6. Miami: Football by attrition.  The South Florida populace is so irritated with Jeffrey Loria that they’ll probably never be baseball diehards.  The Heat?  LeBron is johnny-come-lately.  Hockey?  In a town where it never gets below 60?  Can’t see it.  In fact, Miami may really be the most apathetic sports town out there.  The rise of the U of Miami football team helped, but that fad has passed and Miami football barely draws any more.  I don’t think you’d really say that the town is crazy over its Dolphins, but is it crazy about any of its teams?

7. Washington: Football.  The Redskins rule (as discussed above), and the other teams are only of passing interest if they’re winning (which, in the Wizards case, hasn’t happened since the late 70s).

8. Detroit: Hockey.  The Red Wings are an institution, and they don’t call Detroit “Hockey Town, USA” for nothing.  The Tigers were a laughingstock for years, the Pistons had a slight run of glory under Isaiah Thomas, and the Lions are in the midst of a horrible period.  Even with Detroit’s run of glory in the past decade, the Red Wings keep on rolling.

9. Boston: Baseball. The hold the Red Sox have on the psyche of New Englanders in general is legendary.  Boston’s other teams have had sustained runs of greatness lately, and of course the Celtics rival the Lakers in terms of legendary franchises.  But if you have to pick one team I still think its the Red Sox.

10. Atlanta: Football, I think.  The Braves made the playoffs 15 straight years but the team couldn’t sell out its playoff games.  I don’t think the town really cares about its hockey or basketball teams that much (in fact, the Hockey team moved to Winnipeg).  How about the Falcons?  Does the rise and fall of the Falcons drive sports talk in Atlanta?  Perhaps the presence of Georgia Tech and SEC football makes the town more apathetic about its Pro teams.

11. Phoenix: Debatable as well.  I’d guess Basketball as being the longest tenured professional team in Arizona.  But, a number of teams now have spring training in Arizona and the Diamondbacks have a relatively recent World Series victory.  The Arizona football team may have made a run to the 2009 Super Bowl but Arizona didn’t even have a football team for a number of years with the Rams relocation.

12. Minneapolis: Has to be Football.  The Twins are contenders now but it wasn’t too long ago that the team was in supposed danger of contraction (thanks to their penny-pinching billionaire owner Jim Pohlad and his father).  The basketball team is a punchline in the league.  One of the few major northern/cold weather cities would be a natural for Hockey, but the North Stars left town and I had to look up the current pro hockey team’s franchise name.  The Vikings current stadium is in dis-repair, and there’s rumors that the team may move from the area (perhaps to Los Angeles to continue a trend the Lakers started in 1960).  There’s a voter backlash against paying for billion dollar properties that serve only to further enrich billionaire NFL owners, so the natural move for the Vikings may be to move out of town.  Which is a shame for football diehards in the Twin Cities area.

13. Denver: Football.  They only got baseball and hockey within the past 20 years, and i’m pretty sure the Nuggets don’t outweigh the successful Broncos.

Three Sport Towns

1. Houston:  I’d say Football, if only because its Texas (where football rules) and because the baseball team has a history of underperforming.  Houston is definitely a destination spot for NBA players (tax purposes, warm-weather city) but does it out-shine the Texans?  Clearly it isn’t the Astros, who may lose 115 games this year.

2. Toronto: Hockey.  One of the original 6 NHL franchises, a troubled basketball squad and the general dissatisfaction in Canada re: professional baseball since the strike.

3. Oakland: Football. Raider-nation is psychotic.  The A’s lack of expenditure and outright politicking to move to San Jose has soured the community on baseball to the point where large swaths of the outfield are tarped over during regular season games.  Golden State has reached the playoffs once in the past 18 years.

4. St. Louis: Baseball.  Perhaps Football, with the run-and-gun Rams and the incredible noise they generate in their indoor stadium. But St. Louis has the 2nd most successful baseball franchise in the sport (in terms of World Series victories) and a continual line of success.

5. Pittsburgh: Football.  No one can trump the Steelers, not even the owned-by-team-legend Penguins.  In most other cities this would be a hockey town.

6. Tampa Bay: Football.  Despite a recent run of success, the Rays barely draw (though have great TV ratings).  The Lightning are a great team … but I can’t see such a warm weather city really dedicating itself to a cold-weather sport.  So by default we have Football.

7. Cleveland: Football. The moving of the original Browns franchise was one of the true tragedies of sports relocation; a beloved team that was well supported picking up and moving.  So controversial was the move that the city was allowed to keep its name and almost immediately an expansion team was “invented” to give back to the city.

8. Milwaukee: Football, if you count Green Bay as being in the Milwaukee Market.  And I do, which may or may not be considered “correct” in the opinion of Wisconsin natives.

Two Sport Towns: these towns are either-or, and mostly football wins.

1. San Francisco: Football.  Despite all the history with the Giants, going to 49ers games reinforces the notion that the Bay Area loves its football.  This is the single city for which I disagree with Calcaterra, perhaps because I’ve seen 49er games and, well, they’re just as crazy as Raider fans.

2. Seattle: Football. Seahawks games are notorious for being amongst the loudest in the league despite an open-air stadium.  The Mariners have some history of success, and a great following, but don’t out-weigh the Football team.

3. San Diego: Football again; the baseball team doesn’t really draw and this beautiful-weather city doesn’t like to commit to spending its sunny evenings at baseball games.  Of course, it would help if their owner would open up his pocketbook once in a while.

4. Baltimore: Football. It was a travesty when the Colts left town, but the team has embraced its Ravens.  The Orioles had their shot to take over the town during the no-football period, and it looked as if they just might.  With one of the crown jewel stadiums in the league they shot to the top of the baseball world (for a time in the mid 90s it was Baltimore with the highest payroll in the league, not the Yankees).  Unfortunately owner Angelos has run the team into the ground, and the changing baseball market forces now mean that Baltimore is destined to be a 2nd tier team for the extended future.

5. Cincinnati: Baseball.  Both pro teams (Reds and Bengals) have respected histories and long line of success.  And yet both teams have struggled as of late.  The Reds have 3 World Series victories since 1940 but none since a shock win in 1990, and its been a long time since the Big Red Machine was in effect.  But the Bengals have never won a superbowl and havn’t even reached it since 1988.   By virtue of the Reds recent run of success I’ll go with Baseball.

6. Kansas City: Football all the way.  The Royals may look dangerous this season, but they’ve lost an entire generation of fans to ineptitude.  Meanwhile the Chiefs are an original AFL landmark and make Arrowhead one of the best home field advantages in the league.

7. Indianapolis: Arguable.  Indiana is the heart of Basketball middle-america, the home of Hoosiers and major basketball pride in the high schools and colleges.  So are the Pacers the leading sports interest?  Not with the sustained success of the Colts football team, led by possible best-ever player Peyton Manning.  But Manning is gone, and I think Basketball is still king.

8. Charlotte: none?  Charlotte is home to the Panthers and to the Bobcats.  Because of the college-basketball crazy state of North Carolina, one would think that Basketball would be king.  But the new franchise has one playoff appearance in its history and seems to be going backwards under new owner Michael Jordan (at least in the opinion of basketball pundits and observers).  The Old franchise was so abhorred due to owner’s George Shinn’s personal conduct that the community more or less boycotted the games, forcing their move to New Orleans.  Meanwhile are the Panthers the hot name in town either?  They’ve made one super bowl appearance but finished last year 2-14.  I’m going with Basketball just by default.

9. New Orleans: Football!  With an exclamation point; the “Who-Dat” Saints have always been the soul of this sports-town.  2010’s Super Bowl victory was just icing on the cake.  The basketball team shouldn’t have been moved there to begin with, and struggled so badly that the league bought out Shinn’s interest in order to keep them (for whatever reason) in New Orleans.  (Perhaps a move to Seattle is in the cards?)

10. Nashville: Football. The Predators are never going to out-live the pull of the Titans.

11. Buffalo: Tough one.  I’d go Football if only because the city still holds on to its great run of super bowl appearances, except that the team is playing “home games” in Toronto every year.  The hockey team has never won the league but has been a pretty strong lately, so I’m going with a Hockey town.


Summary by sport:

  • Football: 20
  • Baseball: 5
  • Basketball: 4
  • Hockey: 3

Thoughts?  Feedback?  Do you think I have some of these cities mid-pegged?

Written by Todd Boss

February 21st, 2013 at 10:39 am

Why do baseball players constantly have “Visa Issues?”

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Why do foriegn players constantly have Visa issues? Photo Elsa/Getty Images via nydailynews.com

(Editor’s note: I thought I published this when Soriano’s Visa issues came out before)

Welcome to spring training!  And along with a slew of “he’s in the best shape of his life” comments around the game, there’s the inevitable “Delayed by Visa Issue” stories.  Including, as it turns out our own Rafael Soriano.

Ok, here’s what I don’t get.  It isn’t as if the Report Date to spring training is a surprise to these guys.  It’s pretty well publicized months in advance.  How is it that every year, year after year, there’s Visa issues??  Why can’t these guys get their acts together and get these things handled in a timely manner?

A bit of googling finds this 2011 New  York Times reporter (Dave Seminara) who asked and answered some of the same questions I have.   But in nearly every case of a delay, the conclusion seems to either be ethical issues (delays due to brushes with the law) or paper work issues (badly filled out paperwork).  Neither looks good for the player frankly.  If you know you’re going to be delayed, then why not start the process early?

More reading apparently shows that getting paperwork done in a timely manner in the Dominican Republic (where the large majority of foreign-born players reside) is impossible, and that most of these delay issues are not necessarily the fault of the player.  Fair enough.

(side note: read this NY Times article; did you know that Rangers hurler Alexi Ogando was banned from entering the US for 5 years as part of a Human Trafficking charge?  I didn’t.  That’ll explain some serious Visa delays)

Written by Todd Boss

February 18th, 2013 at 10:03 am

Henry Rodriguez still isn’t healthy?

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Be prepared for another dubious DL trip for Rodriguez. Photo Keith Allison via wiki/flickr

Sometimes its the smallest of items that catch your eye.   In Washington Times’ beat reporter Amanda Comak‘s 2/12/13 spring training report, she posted this little snippet:

Right-hander Henry Rodriguez, who had a bone spur and a chip removed from his throwing elbow last August, arrived in camp on Tuesday. Rodriguez has been rehabbing all winter and he said that while he feels good to this point, his rehab is not finished. It will be interesting to see just how much he’s able to do during spring training.

Rodriguez’s rehab isn’t finished?  We’re 6 weeks away from Opening Day.  He had this surgery in August, nearly 7 months ago.  It was characterized as a “clean-up” surgery, not a “repair” surgery.  What is going on?

The team already has too many right handed relievers for spots.  Rodriguez has zero options, so he’s either on the 25-man roster, on the DL or out the door via waivers (and you know someone would pick him up; there’s a lot of really bad teams with thin bullpens out there right now).

Be prepared for another 2011-esque situation where the team stashes him on the DL out of spring training so as to give him yet another lifeline on this team.  This topic came up recently in the comments, so for reference purposes he was put on the 15-day DL trip on 3/28/11, and I posted about this topic twice in March of 2011, on 3/23/11 when he got “shelved” to work on his mechanics and then again on 3/28/11 when his official DL-trip reason was “neck spasms,” despite not one single report of any neck issues the entirety of the spring.

I’ve made no secret of my frustrations with Rodriguez, both in his up-and-down performance and in the method of his acquisition.  This little snippet of news gave me yet another reason to potentially be frustrated with him.

However, this future DL trip may open up an opportunity for one of the handful of left handed relievers the team has signed on minor league deals with spring training invites.  It seems almost reminiscent of Jim Bowden‘s 2008 pitching staff cattle calls, the lengths to which the team has pursued possibly LOOGY’s this off-season.  I see no other reason for all these signings (just off the top of my head, Bill Bray, Fernando Abad, Bobby Bramhall, Brandon Mann, Sean West and Will Ohman) unless the team really wants to break camp with a second left-handed reliever.  A second left-handed reliever means only 5 right-handed relievers, and those spots seem to be taken at the moment by Soriano, Storen, Clippard, Stammen and Mattheus barring injury.

Why is Toradol “ok” but Steroids and HGH “bad?”

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Did Papelbon inadvertantly open up a whole new PED angle? Photo Keith Allison via wikipedia/flickr

The latest salvo in the “Questionable Performance Enhancing Drug” storyline in today’s professional baseball landscape was this interesting statement from Jonathan Papelbon last week;  he and other Boston teammates frequently were injected with the drug Toradol by team doctors when they were feeling “run-down” or overly fatigued in order to get a quick pick-me-up for a game.  Apparently Toradol had the effect of giving players a four hour window of feeling “pretty damn good” and it was used by a portion of the Boston clubhouse.  Its also in use in many other clubhouses (though apparently not in Philadelphia, who told Papelbon his Toradol days were over).

Ok, how is Toradol not a Performance Enhancing Drug?  It certainly seems to qualify based on WADA’s “Three Criteria” for PEDs:

  1. The capacity to enhance performance (clearly, as discussed by Papelbon)
  2. Use can result in negative health consequences (absolutely; Jon Lester suffered some of them and had a serious internal bleeding issue, and now Boston is reportedly reviewing its use of the drug)
  3. Violate the spirit of sports. (opinion based .. but after reading what Toradol can do, how can you NOT argue that its use violates the “spirit of sports?”)

(2/15/13 update: The Red Sox trainer who administered all this Toradol apparently “flouted” state laws by doing so, as reported by Passan, who is all over this case.)

By the way, WADA adds a drug to its banned list if it qualifies for TWO of the above three categories (hence the addition of things like “Deer Antler Spray” despite it having no known side effects, since it clearly seems to violate the spirit clause).

This leads me to my larger question: Why is Toradol, and as a side effect Steriods and HGH “bad” but the use of Cortisone, Toradol considered “ok” in terms of usage?   What do Cortisone shots do?  They enable a player to play through pain that otherwise may keep him out.  Uh … isn’t that the definition of a “performance enhancing” substance??   Our own Ryan Zimmerman clearly benefitted from cortisone shots in 2012; his before/after splits are pretty distinct and obvious.   Cortisone itself also fits the 3 WADA principles; it enhances performance, it has side-effects that many doctors are quite worried about, and I’m sure some would agree it changes the “spirit of the game” in some ways.

If your answer involves something along the lines of “PEDs are banned because they’re illegal” then I’ll counter with this: Steroid’s aren’t illegal; they’re just controlled.  But so is Cortisone; you can’t just inject yourself with the stuff without a doctor’s order.  And so is Toradol; you can’t go into your local supermarket and buy injectable Toradol.   And so is HGH: ask yourself why most elderly persons keep bottles of the stuff on their bed-side table?  Even something like a B-12 shot raises some issues; lots of players get B-12 shots and swear by the natural effect it has, but as with Toradol I’m pretty sure you can’t just get injectable B-12 and administer it yourself.  Even though B-12 is naturally occuring, in order to naturally consume the amounts of B-12 being injected you’d likely have to eat a bushel of clams (or some other high B-12 food) every day.

Honestly I may have the biggest issue with the classification of HGH as a PED, when you think about what HGH is (a naturally occuring growth hormone that is generates solely to help the body heal itself after an injury or illness) and then think about what Cortisone accomplishes for athletes.  So its “ok” to take a Cortisone shot that treats inflammation from an injury/strain so that you can go out and play better … but its NOT ok to take a naturally occuring suppliment to help with the same issue??  The only reason adults don’t heal as fast as kids is precisely because our natural HGH generation slows as we age … and doctors prescribe HGH to help the elderly heal from illnesses and injuries all the time.  Isn’t this inconsistent?

And all the above just talks about various medications.  Lets talk about the in-vogue plasma-replacement treatments that Kobe Bryant popularized and which have now been done by others, including Alex Rodriguez and Bartolo Colon. In this op-ed piece from Jeff Passan from Dec 2011, he discusses the blurry line between PEDs and legitimate surgical procedures.  The article has a very in-depth description of the A-Rod procedure and raises the question as to what defines a Performance Enhancing Drug?   If blood doping is illegal, how is a procedure that filters out platelets and re-injects them to targeted spots legal?  Colon was out of the game in 2010, got the procedure and suddenly is a 116 ERA+ pitcher in 2013; isn’t this concerning?

Passan takes things one step further, comparing the healing effects of HGH with these new treatments that A-Rod and Colon got and makes a very good point; these new-fangled surgical procedures absolutely qualify for WADA’s 3 criteria.  Passan has also asked the same questions I’m asking in a June 2006 article that started about HGH but ended with this same general question.  And he makes very good points about cortisone, HGH, Testosterone and even Tylenol usage.  Its worth a read.

Here’s another question: why is it “ok” to have performance-enhancing surgical procedures (Lasik surgery, Tommy John surgery, or any manner of surgery involving transplanted ligaments or tendons) but it is NOT ok to use drugs that have the same general effect?   If I can take a pill that gives me 20-10 vision, which enables me to see the baseball better and become a better hitter, would that be considered a PED?  I’m pretty sure … but yet people go get laser surgery and can get their eyes fixed to this level of quality any day of the week.  Perhaps this is a ridiculous example but my point stands; whether or not your performance is enhanced by virtue of a bottle or by the knife, aren’t these valid questions?  We’re starting to hear of psychotic parents of teen-aged pitchers actually getting “preventative” Tommy John surgery done, knowing that most pitchers who have the surgery see improvement in certain aspects of their game (since the Ulnar Ligament connector is actually strengthened in this surgery over how it grows naturally).  Is this … ethical?

And then there’s this interesting point, which was proposed on a BS Report podcast done between Bill Simmons and Chuck Klosterman last week.  If HGH is considered a PED, and HGH’s sole purpose in life is to help people get better after being sick … then why aren’t classes of anti-biotics such as Amoxicillin also considered PEDs?  What is the difference?   Klosterman then made the additional (scary) point that PED usage and testing may all be for naught eventually; Genetic testing and DNA manipulation may get to the point where there can BE no test to find out whether someone’s been genetically manipulated in order to be a superior athlete.  Testing has been trailing the science for years in professional sports … it may eventually be rendered completely moot.  Of course, taken the the ridiculous extreme, do we really want a slew of genetically engineered super-athletes competing for our enjoyment?  Why not just invent a bunch of robots to play these games?

Food for thought.  I know we’ve discussed some of these topics here before but do you worry about the inconsistencies in professional sports PED policies?  I’m not sure I have an easy solution, but I will say that the classifications of drugs seems arbitrary in some cases.

Gonzalez to play in WBC: why this is really Bad News for the Nats

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Gonzalez decides rolls the dice with his 2013 performance. Photo via Wikipedia/Flickr from user muohace_dc

Word came out over the weekend that suddenly embattled Nats pitcher Gio Gonzalez has accepted an invitation to play for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, replacing Kris Medlen (who is anticipating having a child right around the same time).

Why is this bad news for the team?

Simply put: there’s a really bad track record for Pitchers who throw in the WBC the subsequent season, both league-wide and especially with the Nats.

Speaking just about the Nats first: Here’s a quick table showing the before and after ERA and ERA+ figures for the five Nationals pitchers who played in the first two iterations of the WBC (the “before” year is the season leading up to the WBC, while the “after” year shows performance in the season following the WBC):

WBC Yr Pitcher Name ERA before ERA After ERA+ before ERA+ after
2006 Luis Ayala 2.66 inj 153 inj
2006 Chad Cordero 1.82 3.19 225 134
2006 Gary Majewski 2.93 4.61 139 96
2009 Joel Hanrahan 3.95 4.78 109 89
2009 Saul Rivera 3.96 6.1 109 70

As you can see; every single one of our pitchers was either injured or regressed (mostly significantly) after playing in the WBC.  Ayala’s injury cost him the entire 2006 season.  I talked about this discovered phenomenon back in November, 2012 when trying to predict who may participate in the WBC (and where I actually predicted that Gonzalez would play, though the rest of my team USA predictions were wrong).

But this is just our team’s experiences.  How about Baseball wide?  MLB has endeavored itself to argue that participation in the WBC does not lead to an increase in injuries amongst its players and especially pitchers.  But we’re not talking about injuries here; we’re talking about performance.   Here are two very well done studies that show the negative impact of pitching in the WBC:

  1. This July 2010 study on Fangraphs
  2. This Feb 2013 study from BaseballPress.com

The BaseballPress one shows some of the same numbers I’ve shown above, but conducts the analysis across every pitcher who participated in both WBCs.  And the results are pretty evident; across the board on average pitchers regressed both in the year of the WBC and in the year after.  Plain and simple.

It isn’t hard to figure out why these guys regress; playing in the WBC interupts the decades-old Spring Training plans for getting a starting pitcher ready for a season by slowly bringing him along in terms of innings and pitch counts.  And, suddenly exposing both starters and relievers to high-leverage situations in February/March that they aren’t ready for either physically or mentally puts undue stress on these guys that (as we have seen) manifests itself later on down the road.

In the comments section of another post, someone asked what would stop the Nats from steamrolling to the World Series this year.  I answered “rotation injuries” and “bad luck in the playoffs.”  Well, now thanks to Gonzalez we can add two more items: PED suspensions and WBC regression.

Written by Todd Boss

February 11th, 2013 at 9:45 am