Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Seventh Inning

The bottom of the seventh inning was a disaster for the Mets last night. First of all, I seriously question why Noah Syndergaard started the inning in the first place. He had already thrown 101 pitches, it was the 7th inning, and Terry Collins had pretty much his entire bullpen at his disposal, having used only Clippard and Familia on Friday and with an off-day today. Granted, Syndergaard did strike out Yasmani Grandal, but Collins should have yanked him after the walk to Kike Hernandez. Instead, he let him face Utley, and that's where all the trouble started.

Despite Syndergaard's efforts to keep him on first base, Hernandez ended up stealing second base, and the now distracted and tired pitcher gave up a single to Utley. At which point Collins had no choice but to go to the bullpen. For the life of me, however, I can not understand why he went to Bartolo Colon. In a 1-run game, with runners on first and third and 1 out, what the Mets really needed was a strikeout. I don't care that Howie Kendrick was 2-for-22 against Colon; you don't put in a guy with 6.3 SO/9 who'd only made two relief appearances all year.

So no one should be surprised that Kendrick made contact. Daniel Murphy flipped the ball to Ruben Tejada at second base, at which point the game lost all sense of logic. While the run comes in to score, Utley barrels into Tejada as he is turning around to throw to first base. Utley is called out, and Tejada finds himself on the ground unable to get up.

As the delay continues for several minutes, Don Mattingly eventually comes out of the dugout to challenge the out-call at second base. (I seriously question whether the Dodgers would have challenged without this delay.) After review, Utley is called safe. (Which by the way wasn't really that clear of an overturn in my opinion.) This is inexplicable for several reasons. First, and most obviously, he never touched second base. The MLB's rationale that the umpire can award him the base because the call was wrong is total BS. Utley didn't miss second base because the umpire called him out; he never even made an attempt to touch second base because he knew he would be called out. That play at second base by Tejada, even if it wasn't technically a "neighborhood play", has pretty much always been called an out through baseball history. If Utley actually thought he had a chance to be safe he would have, you know, slid into second base. But he didn't. Plain and simple. Instead, Utley is essentially rewarded for taking out Tejada (note that Tejada never had an opportunity to attempt to tag Utley even if he didn't touch second base, while Utley went straight to the dugout even though he had ample opportunity to touch the bag.)

At the very least, Utley should have been called out, the game would have been tied, and the inning would have ended when Addison Reed got the next batter to fly out to left. But the inning continued, and the Dodgers ended up scoring three more runs (including one by Utley) to take a 5-2 lead. A completely deflated Mets team, who then learned that Ruben Tejada had broken his leg, had no chance after that.

And now, this morning, I see this rule:

"Rule 6.05 reads:
A batter is out when --
(m) A preceding runner shall, in the umpire's judgment, intentionally interfere with a fielder who is attempting to catch a thrown ball or to throw a ball in an attempt to complete any play:
Rule 6.05(m) Comment: The objective of this rule is to penalize the offensive team for deliberate, unwarranted, unsportsmanlike action by the runner in leaving the baseline for the obvious purpose of crashing the pivot man on a double play, rather than trying to reach the base. Obviously this is an umpire's judgment play."
and this one:
"Rule 7.09:
It is interference by a batter or a runner when --
(e) If, in the judgment of the umpire, a base runner willfully and deliberately interferes with a batted ball or a fielder in the act of fielding a batted ball with the obvious intent to break up a double play, the ball is dead. The umpire shall call the runner out for interference and also call out the batter-runner because of the action of his teammate. In no event may bases be run or runs scored because of such action by a runner."
Rules like these are designed to protect players from things like, I don't know, HAVING THEIR LEG BROKEN when someone leaves the baseline to break up a double play. Which is exactly what Utley did. He knew he was out at second, so he never even tried to reach second base. He "slid" (which is probably a generous term anyways) exceptionally late, when he was already parallel to the bag.

Clearly both of these rules should have applied. Take your pick. So, in reality, Utley should have been called out, Kendrick should have been called out, Hernandez should never have scored, and the game should have gone to the eighth inning with the Mets up 2-1.

And still, none of that would have changed the fact that Chase Utley broke Ruben Tejada's leg. Honestly, the worst part of this whole thing is that Utley didn't even have to do what he did. If he had just slid into second base, Kendrick almost certainly would have been safe anyway. Tejada would have had to make an essentially impossible throw to get him out at first base. And while Utley would have initially been called out, the Dodgers might still have challenged and gotten the call legitimately overturned. So the outcome would have been the same.
Except Ruben Tejada would not have a broken leg. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Greinke and Kershaw: An Historic Duo

The Los Angeles Dodgers clinched the NL West last night, behind a one-hit shutout by Clayton Kershaw. This caps what has been a simply incredible season for the Dodgers pitching duo of Kershaw and Zack Greinke. These two pitchers are the first pair of qualifying starters to post a 170 ERA+ for the same team since Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte on the 2005 Houston Astros, and just the eighth to do so since 1893 (including the 1907 Chicago Cubs, who had three pitchers accomplish this feat). They are also the first pair with 7+ WAR apiece since Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee for the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies, and the 18th since 1920. The last pair of Dodgers starters to do this was Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax in 1964. Even more impressively, they are the only pair in the modern era to ever post WHIPs of less than 0.900 (Henry Boyle and Charlie Sweeney of the 1884 St. Louis Maroons are the only others to pull this trick). 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Baseball Notes (9/28/2015)

  • The Arizona Diamondbacks have an historically good defense this season. They currently have four players with 15+ defensive runs saved: Ender Inciarte, Nick Ahmed, Paul Goldschmidt, and A.J. Pollock. Only three other teams have ever had four players with 15+ WAR Runs Fielding: the 2012 Atlanta Braves, 1989 St. Louis Cardinals, and 1973 Baltimore Orioles. The team is ranked first in Major League Baseball in fielding runs this year.
  • Jeff Francouer is not a very good baseball player. In fact, since the beginning of 2012 he has the worst Wins Above Replacement of any player in the Major Leagues at -5.0 (the next worst is Yuniesky Betancourt at -3.2). Frenchy's OPS+ is just 75 over that span, one of the worst among players with 1000+ plate appearances. Perhaps most surprisingly, he is ranked as one of the five worst defensive right fielders over the last four seasons. Apparently his vaunted arm cannot overcome his other liabilities as an outfielder. I would suggest that he take up pitching to help prolong his career, but his one attempt at that earlier this year did not go so well: he gave up three walks, a home run, and hit a batter while allowing two earned runs in two innings of work on June 16.
  • Jake Arrieta must really want to win the Cy Young Award. Since the beginning of August he is 10-0 with a 0.44 ERA in 11 starts. His ERA+ is now up to 215, joining Zack Greinke (228) with 200+ this season. The last time two pitchers in the same league had a 200 ERA+ was 1907, when Jack Pfiester and Carl Lundgren did so - as teammates on the Chicago Cubs. Greinke himself is set to become just the sixth pitcher ever to have two seasons with a 200 ERA+, joining the elite group of Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, and Roger Clemens.
  • Meanwhile, the AL Cy Young race is also down to just two contenders. Dallas Keuchel made a strong bid to solidify his position last night, allowing just one run over seven innings to pick up the win. It is remarkable just how similar Keuchel's numbers are to those of David Price, at least on the surface. Keuchel is 19-8 with 213 SO and a 2.47 ERA, while Price is 18-5 with 229 SO and a 2.45 ERA. However, Keuchel leads Price in WAR by a 7.3 to 6.0 margin. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Some Random Baseball Thoughts (9/23/2015)

  • Robinson Cano is going to be a Hall of Famer. His next hit will be his 2000th, becoming just the 25th second baseman to reach that plateau. He should be able to quickly move up both the lists for hits and RBI (he's closing in on 1000) among second basemen over the next few seasons. He's already 9th all time in home runs at the position, as well as 7th in OPS (3000+ PA). Lastly, his 55.2 career WAR already puts him in the company of other Hall of Fame second basemen, and I would expect he still has some good years left in him to add to that total.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Reggie Smith: A Hall of Fame Case

Reggie Smith is one of the most underrated players in baseball history. A seven-time all-star, Smith received just three votes when he appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot in 1988. An analysis of his career reveals that he deserved far more than that. Head below the fold to find out why.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

2002 AL Cy Young: Pedro Martinez vs. Derek Lowe

The 2002 American League Cy Young Award proved to be one of the most controversial votes in recent memory, as Oakland A's starting pitcher Barry Zito (23-5, 2.75 ERA) beat out Pedro Martinez (20-4, 2.26 ERA). However, the player who should have won the award may not be Pedro, but rather his teammate Derek Lowe. Head below the fold to find out why.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Breaking the Cycle of Cynical Manipulation

(Part 3 of a series; see Part 1 and Part 2)

"Presumably, one of the great general goals of education is the promotion of critical thinking. But despite all the lip service that educators devote to that goal, most students–including most 'honors students'–learn to avoid thinking critically about their schoolwork. They learn that their job in school is to get high marks on tests and that critical thinking only wastes time and interferes. To get a good grade, you need to figure out what the teacher wants you to say and then say it.... [T]ruth be told, the grading system, which is the chief motivator in our system of education, is a powerful force against honest debate and critical thinking in the classroom."
- Peter Gray, Ph.D.

“Modern education and knowledge is mainly about how to better dominate nature. It is never about how to live harmoniously with nature. Living well is all about keeping good relations with Mother Earth and not living by domination or extraction.”
- Victoria Tauli Corpuz

"We are shut up in schools for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a bellyful of words and do not know a thing. We cannot use our hands, our legs, our eyes, or our arms. We do not know an edible root in the woods. We cannot tell our course by the stars, nor the hour of the day by the sun. It is well if we can swim and skate. We are afraid of a horse, a cow, a dog, a cat, a spider."
- Henry David Thoreau

These three quotes serve as a pretty apt summary of the failings of modern education. Dr. Gray refers to it as "forced education", in which we incarcerate young people in what amount to prisons. I would more broadly argue that we live in a society of "cynical manipulation" (which I have previously written on) composed of two stages: grade slavery as youth, wage slavery as adults.

It has become clear to me over the past several months that what is taught in our schools and colleges is characterized by a severe disconnect from reality. There is an extraordinary lack of practicality in education. Most of what we learn in school is completely peripheral to our actual needs as human beings. In essence, education has created a "culture of dependency". By not learning how to directly obtain our basic needs for survival (i.e. food, fuel, clothing and shelter) we are forced to rely on institutions that do not have our interests as their focus. How else can we explain why, in a world that has never before seen so much material wealth, there are billions who do not have enough to eat, do not have clothes on their backs, and do not have roofs over their heads?

The institutions that I refer to are, broadly speaking, business and government. Although both purport to be serving the public good ("efficient distribution of resources", "protection of the general welfare"), in practice neither does. Instead, they serve as vehicles to increase the already concentrated wealth and power of the elites of society. They are able to do so through their manipulation of the forces of political socialization: the media, religion, and education. I believe that most people would agree that the media is largely controlled by corporations, and that religion often has a self-serving agenda of its own. However, I doubt that people realize just how vital of a role education plays in centralizing power in modern society.

Some reflection reveals that our educational system isn't terribly different from that envisioned by Plato, in which he sought to establish a ruling class of "philosopher-kings". Indeed, modern education serves as much to separate the wheat from the chaff as anything else. Education, along with voting and the free market, give the illusion of a democratic society, with its role cited as being the "great equalizer". What is usually failed to be pointed out is that those who come out at the top of the education system are the ones who started high up the ladder in the first place. Criteria used for college admissions generally favor those who come from wealthy families and live in wealthy school districts. Who you're connected to is often more important than how intelligent you actually are.

Furthermore, what is taught (and how) is highly elitist. Most history courses, for example, focus on the "great men", the kings, generals, presidents and captains of industry who made our world what it is today. This approach fails to acknowledge the contributions made by the oppressed classes of people in driving society forward, such as women, minorities, and the poor. In other words, history is taught from the "top-down", not from the "bottom-up". This furthers the idea that the average citizen is relatively powerless, and fails to challenge the notion that citizens' only duties are to vote, pay taxes, and obey the law.

I would thus propose that any fix to our supposedly "broken" schools would be to change what is taught in the first place. Currently there is a big push to emphasize the STEM subjects in schools: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. While they are undoubtedly important, putting them front and center is an unfortunate (though calculated) decision. All of these subjects are highly regimented, lacking the open-endedness and ambiguity that promotes independent critical thinking. In addition, it sends a message that "progress" is our ultimate goal, and that human suffering will end once we have bent nature far enough to our will. The consequences of this worldview, of course, are now the threats of global warming and climate change, nuclear annihilation, pandemic disease, and mass crop failures. All of these prospects have been caused by the so-called advances of human society.

A more appropriate education would instead focus on fostering genuine curiosity, creativity and critical thinking. Doing so would turn our young people into lifelong learners, who are able to direct their own education based on personal interest. Children in primary school should be exposed to art, music and theater, and encouraged to use play and interaction with the natural world as learning experiences. They should not be spending springtime sitting in classrooms preparing for and taking standardized tests.

Secondary school curricula would focus on more practical manners. Civics courses would educate young people on how they can participate in the democratic process, through a combination of bottom-up history lessons and directly exercising their own First Amendment rights. Courses in current events would be offered to allow them to engage critically in modern issues of foreign and domestic importance. Classes in personal economy would allow students to prepare for managing their own finances when they enter adulthood. Health classes would be improved and expanded, particularly in the fields of nutrition and sexual and mental health. Lastly, courses promoting sustainable practices, such as conservation and small-scale agriculture, would help prepare for the transformation in daily life that will be brought about by global warming and climate change. These would all be complemented by voluntary courses in literature, philosophy and the arts, for those who want to explore their creative passions. 

Colleges and universities would have their status as vocational schools strengthened. It is here that the next generation of teachers, doctors, scientists, engineers and the like will receive their training. These schools would place much more emphasis on field-learning and much less on classroom pedantry. The main difference, however, would be that the students entering these schools would be much better critical thinkers and, frankly, better human beings. They would be less focused on advancing their own careers and making money, and more focused on using their education to better the society around them.

The most pressing change needed above all, however, is the abolition of grading systems. They serve only to encourage unhealthy competition and to fit every student neatly into one statistic. A more beneficial system would be similar to a narrative evaluation, which would promote introspection on the part of the student and free the teacher from having to place everyone on a bell curve.

Our current "one size fits all" education system serves only to further centralize power into the hands of the few. The changes suggested above are necessary if we are to achieve the Jeffersonian vision of a democratic America.