Tag Archives: bad analogies

2015 NBA Playoff Preview: Eastern Conference, Round 1

Listen. Listen. Listen. That’s how I’ve been taught to get people’s attention—just repeating the word listen. Are you listening?

It’s been a while since I’ve written basketball things, but, like, it’s NBA basketball season 2.0, the never-ending, highlight-manufacturing, circus show that ends the never-ending, highlight-manufacturing, circus show that is the NBA season in a burning blaze of glory. And I should have plenty in the tank so to speak, since I haven’t exactly availed of the aforementioned idiomatic tank in a veritable long ass time.

Atlanta Hawks (1) v. Brooklyn Nets (8)

Alright, so Kyle Korver narrowly missed being the only dude ever to make the 90-50-50 club (with a paltry 89.8 FT%, 49.2 3PT%, 48.7 FG%), but let’s be honest and admit that back in November, this was what we, the basketball elite, and Hawks fans from Macedonia to Decatur were positive was going to be the most memorable thing the Hawks did this year.

Yet somehow Coach Mike Budenholzer has orchestrated a magical season, turning a watery (pretty muddy water at that) lineup into a fine, 60-win vintage with notes of juniper berry that finish with savory, peppery undertones (read: Coach Bud is Jesus, which makes Greg Popovich God). Four of the starters made the All-Star game, only the seventh time in the history of the NBA. Collectively, they balance the 10th best offense that assists the second highest total in the NBA with the 5th best defense—all without anyone averaging more than 17 points or 33 minutes per game (both: Paul Millsap).

The Hawks have given us shades of the Spurs-East, and at times have been the most entertaining team to watch in the NBA (sorry I’m not sorry, Steve Kerr). This has been in large part due to the revelation Al Horford has been, putting up numbers not unlike The Big Fundamental Tim Duncan, himself.

               Player A: 18.0p, 8.4r, 3.8a, 1.5b, 53.8fg%, 21.4 PER, 8.7 WS

               Player B: 17.3p, 11.4r, 3.7a, 2.4b, 51.2fg%, 22.6 PER, 9.6 WS

Hold the suspense. Horford is Player A. Let’s keep in mind, Horford played only 29 games last season and 11 games two seasons before that.

Lastly, in your NBA playoff bacchanalia that I’ve been assured other people do as well and is a perfectly normal ass thing to do in celebration of the greatest sports event ever, don’t’ forget to pour one out for Thabo.

PREDICTION: Give me the broom. Give me the broom. *sung to Biggie’s “Give Me the Loot.” Hawks sweep.

Toronto Raptors (4) v. Washington Wizards (5)

This will be the second most intriguing matchup in the East. 2 things to watch out for besides the backcourt battle:

  1. Toronto GM Masai Ujiri launching another f-bomb in a pre-playoff game hype train spinning off a geopolitical beef with Paul Pierce that may or may not include POTUS, launch codes, and chants of Buck the FlueJays till infinite.
  2. What banal and innocuous hygiene tool will DRAKE! turn into one of the most brilliant marketing schemes of the year? What could possibly be better than lint rollers? Floss? Toenail clippers (wait, Steve Ballmer, did we just stumble into something together?!)? Hair curlers? Those tiny paper cups that fancy people keep in a dispenser for rinsing mouthwash? Indentured servants? Lest we forget, since DRAKE! officially partnered with the Raptors organization as “Trill Ass Global Skrilla Ambassador” or T.A.G.S.A., they have gone from a 34-win team that hadn’t made the playoffs in 5 years to one of the best teams in the shitty Eastern Conference to get bounced in the first round.

PREDICTION: Toronto will make it to the second round for the first time since 2001 and for only their second time in franchise history. It will take all 7 games, a whole goddamn country’s sheer force of will, and a Jimmy Brooks type effort.

 

Cleveland Cavaliers (2) v. Boston Celtics (7)

Kyrie Irving has never played in a playoff game before. Neither has Kevin Love. The Celtics are surging. Brad Stevens is a wiz. All true statements. There’s also this:

Oof, harumph, and bazinga. Lebron James in the playoffs has averaged 28.0p, 6.4a, 8.4r on a crazy 48.2 fg% in an inhuman 42.7 playoff minutes per game. 2013 Finals, Game 6:

2008 First Round, Game 1 (LBJ first career playoff game):

2013 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 7:

2013 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 1:

2009 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 2:

2014 Finals:

He may just eat your babies:

PREDICTION: Cavs in 5.

 

Chicago Bulls (3) v. Milwaukee Bucks (6)

This matchup is super duper fun times for basketball wonks. The Bulls find themselves in a rare position where they’re facing a statistically superior defense come playoff time (although marginally so)—97.4 pts Bucks allowed per game v. 97.8 Bulls allow. Oddly, the Bucks score precisely the amount of points the Bulls allow—97.8. Jason Kidd has turned this band of long-armed avatars into the 8th best defense in the league with the most steals per game (9.6), all while sharing the ball at the 7th best clip with 23.6 assists per game. Unfortunately, the hustle J Kidd has inculcated into his young shapeshifters come at the cost of rebounds. They rank 24th in the rebounds while the Bulls tally the 3rd best rebounding rate in the NBA. Have I mentioned the Bucks height yet though? The starters come in averaging 6’9”, of which they’ll need every inch to corral Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler, while staving off a deep and talented Bulls front court. The major storyline for the Bulls: emergence and resurgence.

Pau Gasol playing like it’s 2005, bumping Lil Wayne on his 512 GB iPod Shuffle on the way to a cool 18.5p on an alarming 49.5 fg% and even more alarming 46.2 3pt%—oh yeah, and there’s the career high in rebounding (11.8).

Nikola Mirotic making the case for Rookie of the Year and James (Harden) Beard Award honors averaging 20.8p, 7.6r on 44.1 fg% in just 30.8 mpg in March.

Jimmy Butler emerging as a go to offensive player in addition to the nightly guard-the-best-perimiter-player role he’s so dutifully filled the last few years; in addition to resurging this past month, following a few weeks of a bona fide injury scare.

Taj Gibson also coming back from injury in the last month to put up solid double-double-esque numbers.

Joakim Noah finally moving the floor like the 20something he is, running the floor, getting those assist numbers up from 3.5 in January to 7.2 in March.

Derrick Rose suiting up at all.

PREDICTION: Jason Kidd will find a way to get fined sans spilling drinks (though he’ll undoubtedly think about it), and it’ll be the most entertaining defensive slugfest you’ve ever seen. Bulls in 6

 

Doodads and Knickknacks

 

MVP for Lebron

Lebron James is a phenomenal basketball player and deserves the MVP award.

From a statistical standpoint, he scores more than Steph Curry but less than Harden. He assists more than Harden, but less than Curry. He outrebounds them all. He has the highest field goal percentage on the highest attempts. He is without a doubt the best defender of the group.

Then there’s the how-valuable-is-he-to-the-team wrinkle that gives blowhards like Colin Cowherd the leeway to say stupid shit on airwaves like Russell Westbrook is the second coming of Shaft and White Jesus.

But ultimately, I think it comes down to this: the Cavs we’re looking at now didn’t exist 12 months ago. The coach is new. Two of the three best players are new, and only four players remain from last season’s roster. Whereas the Golden State Warriors are effectively the same team. Even the Houston Rockets’ continued core brain trust of Kevin McHale, James Harden, Dwight Howard and those three other dudes that were also on the roster last season positively impacted this season’s record. If continuity establishes trust, which is the bedrock of the game within the game, the turnover and new environments must be considered. That James could perform comparably to Curry and Harden in brand new (old) conditions, points to his deservingness.

I tried to start this section with something like “Stephen Curry and James Harden have had prodigious years…” I really did try, and they totally have. But fuck that. I get it. Nobody likes to see the same person win everything for forever. But the shear amount of articles I get bombarded with about the closeness of this MVP race that don’t actually go into the argument for Lebron James is an insult. We only get Lebron for like another 5 years. Maybe. He deserves all of it. Everything.

Pitchforks for Michael Jordan

I had the good fortune of stumbling onto the below beauty of a quote from the G.O.A.T., His Royal Airness Michael Jordan. In a 2010 interview with CNBC, Jordan prophesized, “Ultimately, if you can say that I’m a bad owner and we’re winning championships, I can live with that. But if we’re not making the playoffs and we’re spending and losing money, then I have to look in the mirror and say maybe I’m not taking the necessary steps to doing what it takes to run an organization.” If by some miracle, MJ ever happened upon this paragraph (he won’t), I want to maintain a semblance of respect and dignity (a first), so I won’t say the thing I really want to say (also a first). I wouldn’t venture to say eat crow, but maybe the lackluster performance as owner is having disastrous effects on the legacy of MJ? Pish posh and thimbles and stuff. We love you anyway, you gambling, self-aggrandizing, conceited, arrogant, bald, beautiful old-ladykiller, you.

Bitterness and Glee Reign, Man

Last night, Shawn Kemp hosted a party in celebration of the Thunder missing the playoffs. It was amazing. Or at least, I think it was. I have kids and was building a bunk bed from IKEA while everyone was getting turnt at Neumos. Thank god for Twitter:

The Crossover: Greetings from Earth, Basketball is the Best I Ever Had

A product of thoughtful consideration (and content quotas!), I’ve begun email exchanges with a variety of luminaries across a range of professions and interests (this is hardly true). There is something to be said, however, about the implications of form qua blog and the enacting of discourse, but I won’t say it because it’s mostly doodoo. Academic and grounded in…something, but doodoo nonetheless. With that resounding endorsement, I present to you: The Crossover.

Shea Hurley:

Dujie,

Please respond to this email having something interesting to say about basketball. I’m a little bored. You’re probably not: congrats once again.

Michelle and me went to Leavenworth last weekend and climbed a proper mountain so it’s safe to say my ankle is mostly healed. I talked to your mom at the wedding, she said you felt at fault. I said you weren’t but that it was fine you going on thinking you were. So it goes.

Dujie Tahat:

I do feel at fault. You’d never played basketball really before and I should have warned you sooner that an ankle injury was inevitable if you didn’t get any basketball shoes. Unfortunately, yours was much, much worse than most (almost grotesquely so), and your subsequent employment was dependent on your physical prowess (not all of us can be 6’4”, a sinewy 215 and have a perfectly symmetrical face—so fuck you love you!) . Also, that was just one of the worst-sounding, -looking, gut-bending injuries I’ve ever been on a basketball court to witness. That definitely added to the guilt (for your stupid affinity for Tom Brady):

I’m over it now.

On this topic though, I have been meaning to ask you a question: what it was like to fall in love with basketball?

Yes. Love.

I’ve spent nearly as far back as I can remember playing basketball and can’t remember what it was like in the early years/months. Of course, over that time, I’ve fallen out of favor with the game, and subsequently, recommitted myself. Even then, there’s a rush when I lace up for the first time in a long time. The distinct tightness and traction of basketball shoes, a mishandled dribble, the first swish, when muscle memory takes over, even the pennies and compression shorts— it’s thrilling.

In those moments, during games, I find myself in complete ambivalence–one of those truly unsettling moments where you’re equally culpable to opposing forces. One the one hand, I am reorienting myself to the logistics of the game: positioning, spacing, assessing my side’s needs and focusing on those (i.e. rebounding, shooting, etc. (not et cetera: those are actually the only two things on a basketball court I can actually do)). On the other hand, I fight to get in “the zone”—which is already a losing battle I think because the sensation has always felt more like finding “the zone.” As if I had drunkenly, haphazardly and accidently stumbled into that state of mind that I’d characterize by a sharp dullness, or a sluggish honing.

It is a strange position to be in—rediscovering something you know so well—holding both these necessarily contradicting thoughts in a singular mind, in a singular body, in a singular game.  One requires thought and analysis; while the other demands near-blankness.

xoxo

 SR:

My affinity for Tom Brady—the great protagonist of the American Dream—is childish, sure, but it is not stupid. Lupe Fiasco is stupid, so were running shoes and I should have known that much without needing to be told.

As for love and basketball, I’m a little hesitant to throw love around while talking about a sport so new to me. But there was definitely something pseudo-romantic going on. Playing basketball had the same kinds of insecurities as a new love. I knew I was going to have to stop for a long time very soon and I was reminded always that it was a risky way to get in shape. If basketball was a love interest it was a fem fatal minx. I was infatuated, I had everything to lose, and I knew that at any moment it could expose me as a klutz and a fraud. I just didn’t think it would be so dramatic, or have such severe consequences when it happened.

Generally speaking, it is a bad situation to be in when your employment is dependent on your physical condition. Sometimes the job is worth it—it seemed like it was to me—most of the time it’s probably not.

As it turns out the premier rappel and jump bases in the country are both on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest here in Washington. I asked one of the older hotshot guys why he never jumped and he told me to put a 100lbs pack on and jump off my house. That was why, he said. Needless to say aerially delivered fire-fighters get hurt constantly. A jumper a few years ago, seeing the rocks ahead of him, threw up in his flight helmet before breaking both his legs on impact. The point here is that an injury was likely all along, so no worries; I’d rather beef it in the gym in front of ten people than in the wilderness in front of, like, no one at all.

Anyway, back to basketball. They say if you’re new to something it is best not to be nervous when doing it and visa-versa, when you are skilled at something the nerves can heighten your senses and are generally good for performance. This was the pendulum swing I found myself moving through and I felt much more natural, even in the zone, while I was able to think less. Thinking less, of course, I can’t do consciously. When I was thinking more it was about what a big rube I must look like, with my tall socks, ticking-bomb shoes and general lack of basketball paraphernalia. Or maybe a ruse instead of a rube, like a big, cruel trick in the form of a rangy, althletic-looking body who you could be pretty sure played at least JV in high school but who was really completely inexperienced and (initially) completely unskilled. Brick, sorry. That’s the punch-line and the joke’s on you, teammates.

I only wish I found the game sooner.

stay dreamy

DT:

Lupe Fiasco is not stupid. He’s a God. Toe shoes are stupid. I mean for Christ’s sake, wear regular fucking shoes! Or go barefoot! Mostly just pick one—stop trying to do both!

Also Tom Brady is not, I repeat not, the Nick Carraway of the American Dream—way more like Gatsby, or our 21st century version:

I mean, sure, seventh round pick, career back up, turned his one opportunity into multiple MVPs and Lombardi trophies, but whatever: the dude benefitted from the most effective pro football system since Vince Lombardi’s 1960s patented “Our endzone is that way, idiot!” offense.

Tommy Boi went to private school, went to football camps led by former Atlanta Falcon (and ArenaBowl Champion!) Anthony Graziani and grew up in San Mateo, California, among the top 25 wealthiest counties in the U.S. (just under $83,000 per capita), and the third wealthiest in California. There’s only one paradigm in the American Dream that his ascendency captures: MORE!

(Also, thanks Wikipedia for not failing to prove my point. This time.)

As far as basketball goes, I hadn’t meant love in a romantic sense. An initial pass makes that seem way too limiting, but I think you might be onto something.

Upon further review, I realized that I recently married a woman I’ve been on and off with for six years. Our relationship bears many of the characteristics of the relationship I have with basketball: there’s a definitive muscle memory to our motions, reading and reacting, learned instinct, a general machinery and lines that dictates the parameters but that wouldn’t mean a thing without the sheer joy of improvisation and cooperative freeplay.

There is one undeniable difference though: primarily that all sport ends.

I don’t believe that any human relationship ends—especially one that bears love. It just changes form.

To that end, when does basketball end? Surely, Basketball does not.

I get great joy from watching—marveling, really—at professional basketball players whose whole livelihood, whose whole identity and techne are contingent on what their bodies can do, a physical limit. To them, basketball never ends. They are the closest thing there is to the embodiment of Basketball. And yet, their’s is a precarious agreement with fate. Their very existence is all a gamble, a tightrope walk. Thousands of jumpshots, rebounds and crossovers a season, not to mention practice, conditioning, playing with the kids, each an opportunity to cripple these giants of the game.

I mean, can you imagine, these guys as fragile?

I’ve said it before, you need to watch Hoop Dreams. Not only will it keep warm your fire for the hardwood, but it’s just a great fucking movie. It changed the way documentaries were made thereafter. I bring it up though because what could be harder than your employment relying on your physical ability? Probably that the only opportunity you’ll ever have at any social mobility relying on your body.

To preempt some of your certain criticism: Yes. It’s not fair. Big picture, it’s a social condition that needs to be addressed.

The fire fighter that jumps out of a helicopter with a 100lbs strapped to their back into a blazing wildfire is perhaps the perfect metaphor for those kids. They’re the elite of the elite, playing men, acting like men when they’re probably only still boys, carrying their families and communities on the shoulders into a situation that will almost certainly eat them alive.

One of the kids Hoop Dreams follows, William Gates, suffered from a debilitating knee injury just as he was turning on in high school and college scouts were starting to pay attention. In fact, he had gotten into private school on a basketball scholarship. He never made it. He got swallowed by the fire.

I was never that elite of an athlete at anything to merit that kind of attention or even fancy. We were poor but, my parents insisted on education as my way up the ladder. I guess in many ways I’ve been tremendously lucky. It almost seems like a crime to insist that I, too, had and hold onto my own Hoop Dreams.

xoxo

SH:

Fine Dujie,

Tom Brady went to private school in San Mateo. But any descent parents would send their kid to a school that good if they could, if only to buddy-up with the crowd. And I should hope that when hardworking parents succeed in supplying their children with this quality of upbringing they do not resent the child as you seemingly resent the adult for what he got. So what if he went to private school in San Mateo? Tommy Jr. didn’t have say in the matter. This is to judge the son by the sins of the father (which—tsk-tsk—is anti-enlightenment and un-American) and frankly a sin I think you would readily commit.

But say (as you do) that Brady’s rich and lazy, embezzling, glitterati parents managed to jostle him into the lowest tier of a public university’s football program. Let’s give him the debts and credits starting there. Remember when he got to Michigan he was a timorous figure in the long shadow of Brian Griese, was 7th on the depth chart and seeing a psychiatrist for anxiety. He had to claw for the starting job at Michigan and for his spot in the pros. As a football player, it doesn’t seem like he was given much of anything besides talent, a pure apprehension of failure and a work ethic to channel it. These characteristics, thank you for noticing also, do evoke shades of Jay Gatsby.

“The Child is the father of the Man” as Wordsworth put it, probably holds true for both figures. I imagine the newly invented penniless Jay Gatsby looked out at the copper-kahuna, Dan Cody from the shores of Lake Superior much the same way the young Tom Brady Jr. regarded Joe Montana from the aisles of Candlestick Park.

The difference of course is that Brady does not come from piss-pot North Dakota. He did get his Daisy: the far-flung, sylphlike wonder of femininity Gisele Bündchen, and hasn’t yet suffered tragic decline and demise by the careless lies of careless people. Not to get too far ahead of myself though, he does play for the NFL, and with Junior Sau in mind, he might shoot himself in the chest before it is all over.

As for Lupe, I wouldn’t want it thought that I set myself up (and what a set-up it would be) so I will be short: He has paranoid delusions about the government of the United States, which is pitiable in its way, but also annoying because of his swollen following of credulous discontents who will take a junk-theory over the facts in plain view, if only to distinguish themselves from the presumed naiveté of cow-eyed parents and classmates and I guess whoever else.

~ ~ ~

Long break here. Work sleep work sleep work.

~ ~ ~

At age ten, I was deposed of my spot—middle back row—on class-picture day because I wasn’t any longer the tallest kid in class. It hurt then like no bad grade ever had or could. I feel a pathetic now remembering it, but I was young, and regarding at least my height, I grew up. Priorities, anxieties and pressures all changed. Problems might have arose if they didn’t, and games are a good example because maintaining skill at them becomes increasingly less practical as time goes by.

I’m not like William Gates (is the irony of that name addressed in Hoop Dreams?), who might have turned fragile athleticism into a career (i.e. a person for whom the game is practical). That was made clear to me early on. Time to go? Okay then, won’t have to tell me twice. The problem is with people hanging around after they should have left like drink-spilling old men at college bars: It’s just not going to happen these people and they’re the only ones who can’t see it.

Gates is exactly the kind of cautionary, all-eggs-in-one-imploded-basket-tale that 17 year-olds are hard wired to ignore in lieu of stories of guys who made it. If you can dream and not make dreams your master… If only. Outliers is bunk by the way.

Speaking of practicality and dreams and the boy being the father of the man, the image of the adult offered by the NBA—by pro sports in general—is not in the least bit practical. It provides a select few, a pre-selected few even—because DNA transcription is really more important here than anything that might follow—a chance to be rich and eccentric and idolized while it strings everybody else along.  Right now there is a guy just down the way on a barstool lamenting his wretched heap of a life to some poor stranger all because, he says, coach wouldn’t put him in, or his knee went out, or Ms. Bitch English teacher failed him out of eligibility. You’ll notice that when you chance upon this tedious foe (you have, and you will again and again and again) he is reliably incapable of prompting your sympathy.

The owners of the NBA—here I invite you to pause and muse with me on the oatmeal colored folds and gathers of Donald Sterling’s collapsing face—are nothing if not shrewd capitalists. Having an underclass of snowflake-or-bust kids who are made to think their endeavors on the court, or the field are more likely to repay their efforts than what they do in the classroom is agreeable; friendly; face-sucking, hand-under-shirt, over-bra simpatico to the status quo. The status quo being, of course, that the kids are without skills or footing and people like Sterling (who has excess money in almost exact proportion to excess skin) go on selling them hoop dreams. Dreams which are, to borrow a phrase nothing but net.

As I realize there is a Macklemore song about this I fill with self-loathing.

Talk to me

Shea

DT:

You did a whole thing there where you grew up and became a cynical old curmudgeon in the span of your last five ‘graphs. Good for you!

I’m going to try and keep this under 3000 words because I turn into a pumpkin after that.

Very quickly on Tom Brady: I would send my kids to private school. I hope to. But let’s not amplify the narrative. His ascendancy is limited to football—which, frankly, isn’t a mountain he could climb without coming from an upper-class, white, privileged family. I take no offense to his unlikely (sports) myth. As a fan of sport, I cannot help but to admire it. I do take offense to calling it the American Dream, and him the main character of it. America is no longer just a sea of pretty white boys (bad news for you). The American Dream connotes there is no alternative. His life wasn’t on the line and neither was the socio-economic outcome of his children. With or without football, Tommy Jr. probably would have still been rich, and his kids would still have their trust funds.

191 words to go.

The Brady discussion seems the perfect digression for the irony of William Gates’ name.

You are unassailably right about how the NBA is structured and capitalism in general. It sucks to be a Plebian. It’d be way cooler to wear a toga and admire little boys. But it sucks much less to be a Pleb that has mastered—or at least gets the daily opportunity to master—a craft as endlessly surprising and infinite as basketball.

Gates is a cautionary tale. There are a dozen of him for every Jimmy Butler. But you can’t blame people for doing what they’re good at, and hoping to achieve the highest form of success doing it. Anyone who can commit to that, seems to me, is the true “protagonist of the American Dream.” Failure is part of the equation. Much less talked about (makes a less inspiring poster), but completely necessary.

I know you’ve probably got some cheeky rebuttal, but this email exchange is my thing, so you’re going to have to hold onto it until next time.

xoxo

The Steroid-era and the appreciation of good pitching

It occurs to me that there are not quite as many Major League Baseball fans as once there were in our once proud nation. Some say that the game has lost its luster in the relative offensive doldrums that have followed the otherwise ridiculous steroid-era, where 40 HRs in a season was commonplace and any rube with a television could tune in and “oooh” and “ahh” at the superhuman feats of strength on zoo-like display daily.

What we have figured out subsequent to the steroid-era is that those superhuman feats were in fact….superhuman. As in, those people were doing things human beings were not actually supposed to be doing, because they were doing things that human beings in a professional athletic setting are LITERALLY not supposed to be doing i.e. shooting human growth hormone into each other’s asses like it was going out of style.

In many ways, this is something to lament. The game of baseball was at the core of my upbringing. My relationship with my father growing up was largely predicated upon going to baseball games, watching games on TV, and otherwise talking about what was happening in the offseason when baseball was away for a few months. Say what you will about whether or not this was a healthy way to bond with one’s father- but it worked for us, and continues to do so.

Baseball has a certain mystique to it that many in our generation fail to appreciate- and I think this lack of nuanced understanding is as much a symptom of the plain, unexamined brutishness of the steroid-era as it is a product of the growing popularity of the NFL/NBA. I think most ardent baseball fans can readily relate to this. Most friends I have had are more or less completely uninterested in baseball, readily offering up the lazy adjective “boring” when defending their lack of aforementioned interest. Aside from being completely fucking un-American, this sort of critique of the game is less a critique of the sport itself and more a revelation of a lack of understanding for its most important aspect: pitching.

Good pitching is a fine wine- it is meant to be enjoyed casually, slowly, with that certain air of sophistication that comes with the appreciation of something fine. There is an intentionality to pitching that makes the truly great pitchers seem more akin to artists than athletes; completely in control, the great ones take a sport like baseball and transform it into an overt testament to the skill of the individual.

Power hitting, conversely, is a group of people butt-chugging box-wine in a public place as blacked-out onlookers cheer on in guttural, animalistic tones, spittle and dip-spit flying from their mouths as they exhort their compatriots to greater acts of depravity. Every white shirt within a mile is stained pink and there isn’t a woman in sight. Sometimes, bikes are involved.

Breathe the free air again my friend

The one requires effort and understanding from the audience. A truly great pitching performance is boring to those without the patience to sit back in a recumbent pose and appreciate that the dominant suppression of offense can be every bit as impressive and enjoyable as the satisfaction one sees when runs are put on the board. The other solicits the edge-of-your-seat excitement that people have come to expect from sports, to the extent that exhibitions of skill have become instead exhibitions of physical freak-shows.

Casual fans of baseball have seen so much of the freak-show, that their pallets have been dulled to the appreciation of some of the finer aspects of the game. Headlines have reported that offense has been suppressed league-wide and the articles subsumed under these headlines have then connoted that this is somehow a symptom of an ill, rather than the result of some brilliant young pitchers who have come to the Major Leagues wise beyond their years, having labored ceaselessly to become artisans rather than mere laborers, pitchers rather than mere “throwers.”

Tonight we get the opportunity to watch a true professional pitcher at work in Hisashi Iwakuma. For those who like pitching, Iwakuma is a joy to watch.

Despite a relatively flat, hittable fastball, Iwakuma hits his spots and then wipes hitters out with a splitter that is one of the best pitches in baseball. For those familiar with the Mariners, Felix Hernandez’ changeup is a reasonable analogue. 

Iwakuma’s split is anywhere from 84-88MPH with great late bite. It is the pitch that allows his entire repertoire to function. Fans of the Yankees have recently had the opportunity to watch Masahiro Tanaka obliterate hitters over in the AL East with a similar pitch. The Split is presently en vogue in Major League Baseball and it is hard to deny its effectiveness. To the batter’s eye, the pitch shows similar rotation to the fastball until it dives sharply downward with some additional arm-side run. In Iwakuma’s case, the pitch dives away from lefties and down towards the back foot of righties.

The pitch has limited platoon splits, and even the threat of it causes hitters to let fastballs in the zone by for easy strikes early in counts. By mixing the pitches with professionalism and deception, guys like Iwakuma can make opposing lineups extremely uncomfortable, forcing some bad swings and misses as well as freezing more immature hitters with otherwise hittable fastballs.

So, if you have a friend who thinks baseball is boring- have them watch a game where Iwakuma is pitching and force them to look up from their fucking smart phones while he is on the mound. It is impossible to make someone love the game if they grew up completely uninterested by it, but at the very least it should be possible for them to appreciate a professional who has honed his craft to be the best at what he does. This isn’t weight-room bullshit. This is smart pitching by a normal, kind of skinny guy from Japan who has made millions of dollars through tireless effort honing his craft.

If that isn’t worth watching, there is always Franzia.

 

 

 

 

The Seattle Mariners, reclaimers of optimism

The Mariners recently decided to take 3 of 4 games from the Oakland A’s. They wrapped the series with a completely unnecessary doubleheader yesterday brought on by a situation earlier in the year where Oakland’s poverty literally leaked on to the field of play, turning it into a Swamp of Sadness-equivalent and resulting in several of the Mariners’ ponies losing the will to live, languishing in the muck adrift in their own sense of desperate apathy, the faint call to carry on muted through the mufflers of their own helplessness until they were utterly submerged.

 

Yesterday’s doubleheader played itself out in about the oddest way imaginable. The Mariners picked up a win in the first game, going to extras following a weird start by Felix Hernandez in which we didn’t appear to have any of his pitches working. Felix surrendered eleven hits and 3 runs, yet the Mariners, behind a couple well-timed dingers by team strongmen Hart and Zunino managed to make it out alive from a game where Yoervis fucking Medina was credited for the win. Oddness.

 

The second game saw a resurgent Erasmo Ramirez return briefly from AAA in order to turn in possibly his most serviceable effort of the season, going 6 innings and allowing only 2 earned runs in the process. The problem in this second game was offense, which seems to hardly be surprising when the lineup includes the corpse of Brad Miller, Willie Bloomquist, John Buck, Cole Gillespie and Stefen Romero. I understand we want righties in the lineup but you need to have quality right handed hitters for this to make sense. If I want beer but don’t have any beer I don’t start fermenting my own urine. The Mariners are fermenting their own urine. It smells like Bloomquist’s grit.

 

A big positive to come out of the 1st of these two games is James Jones’ play in center field. The guy looks infinitely superior to anybody else the Mariners have wheeled out there since Franklin Gutierrez was patrolling center. He made a fantastic diving catch in the seventh inning and made a few excellent plays in the early innings besides. His routes look rather…sober…compared to those we have become accustomed to with Abe Almonte scurrying about. To cap it all off he flashed a plus throwing arm and was able to reach base a few times as well.

 

I still have no fucking clue why McClendon went ahead and slotted him in the 2 hole for his first start in the Major Leagues, but I am willing to suspend my disbelief if the guy continues to play well because frankly, the Mariners need good defensive outfielders to man center and if he can make the tiniest bit of noise at the plate and on the base paths I think he could be a valuable addition moving forward. The tools are there, if the polish can come with it on the job, then welcome to the squad Mr. Jones.

 

The Mariners are heading home following a road trip that took them to a game above .500 where they will be taking on the Kansas City Royals who presently mirror the M’s location around the mythical .500 line. Royals fans probably expected more from their squad moving into 2014—they experienced one of their better seasons in recent memory last year and have been posturing as though gripped by a win-now mindset as evidenced by their (probably idiotic) trade of former No.1 prospect in all of baseball, Will Myers, for serviceable former Rays’ starter James Shields.

 

The trade reeked of the same desperation-spunk surrounding the Mariners’ trade for disgruntled Canadian injury-enthusiast Erik Bedard in which we gave up Adam Jones, now a perennial All-Star for the Orioles and emerged no closer to “winning now” than we had been before, with the added caveat of lacking even the “winning then” that perhaps Jones could have helped with.

 

In that sense—I feel for the Royals’ fan base as a similarly afflicted bunch. The Royals also have several home grown positional prospects-turned-regulars who have taken forever to develop and often developed into something that rested well below their perceived ceilings as prospects. Eric Hosmer never became really as cool as he seemed, Alex Gordon didn’t figure it out until he was like 26, etc.

 

I suppose both of those players are better than their Mariners’ counterparts in Smoak and Ackley, but regardless, the results have not been there with a similar organizational approach.

 

So hey Royals, throw us a bone here. We can’t both make it to the playoffs can we? And you had George Brett once! Your franchise has even won/been to the World Series before!

 

At this point, as a Mariners fan, it is cool to even be able to care still. I have seen optimism dwindle so much faster than it has this season and for the team to remain afloat at this point in time is a revelation. I look forward to going home and seeing the Mariners play baseball and I have been able to do this for more than a month. I think this is what it must feel like to be a fan of a team that is good. I like the feeling. It makes it easier to sleep at night and it saves me money on liquor.

 

Go Mariners.

James Jones, Michael Saunders, Abraham Almonte and the Mariners changing up the outfield situation

The Mariners went ahead and blissfully released their fans from the Sisyphean self-flagellation brought on by having to watch Abraham Almonte handle leadoff responsibilities for the month of April. Almonte struggled in spring training but had caught the eye of Manager Lloyd McClendon for reasons that seemed somewhat unknown but in light of recent events are actually probably a little more known.

Almonte is a player who is too unrefined at this point in his career to figure things out at the Major League level. That being said, Lloyd McClendon has been around the game a long time, and despite what ivory tower-bound writers immersed in statistics and data may want to believe, there is some value in experience and the old-fashioned eye test. This is a game played by humans. Other humans have to look at said humans and make decisions based on a number of factors including past statistical performance as well as potential room for growth and improvement. Almonte was a player who had not been great in the Minor Leagues for long, but he had played well there for a while. He was also a player with whom it could be easy to fall in love with as a Manager like McClendon presented with a roster otherwise devoid of any traditional center fielders.

The Mariners have done 1 of the 2 things that many fans have been calling for. They have freed Michael Saunders from his concrete-bound aviary and allowed him to soar in an expanded role as a leadoff man. I have always liked Saunders (It is not hard to become infatuated with Saunders’ raw tools and potential) and many believed that his disastrous stretch during last year’s campaign was as much a result of a kamikaze condor-dive into an outfield fence than a sign of mediocrity or true regression from his 2012 campaign that saw him break out for a 2.5 WAR season that could have actually been closer to 4 WAR had his defense in centerfield not counted against him (although then he would have lost the weighted value WAR gives to players out in center field that is much lower in the corners, which is why Trout’s value this year is already so high despite the fact that his offensive numbers pace to be more or less the same and perhaps a tad worse. WAR as a catchall stat is weird like this because it is super convenient but the internal numbers are actually pretty fucking confusing).

Which brings us to our next point and the reason why Jones’ call-up was somewhat of an inevitability.

It is regarded by many (certainly defensive statistics indicate this) that Michael Saunders will never be more than a slightly below-average defender in centerfield. These same defensive metrics, however, consistently point to him being excellent in right. Looking at last year’s Rtot/yr (the number of runs above or below average a player is worth per 1200 innings), Saunders in centerfield sat at -18 runs, in left he was at -24 runs and in right he ditched that negative number bullshit and went straight up to 9 runs above average.

This means in pretty basic terms that, if we trust the way defensive metrics are taken over at baseballreference.com than we can assume that a year of condor-action over in right field is a 27 run defensive swing over a year of Saunders out in center (provided an at-least-adequate defensive replacement is taking over in center). Despite what many believe, the people who work in the Mariners’ organization are not idiots. Wealthy people do not like to hire idiots, and I can say with a fair degree of certainty that the people making these decisions are probably a hell of a lot more qualified than I am. If I can spot this, they have probably already spotted it, circled it in red and subsequently paid an intern sub-minimum-wage to make a fucking PowerPoint out of it to present at a conference.

So yeah, the same team that allowed Raul Ibanez, Michael Morse and Jason Bay to share outfield duties AT THE SAME FUCKING TIME, actually had a fairly decent reason to keep Saunders out of center. Almonte has one loud tool and that is his ridiculous speed. Speed profiles well in center and they felt for a time that Almonte’s offense as well as his defensive approach in the field could improve quickly enough in the Major Leagues to turn that speed into value out in the field and at the top of the order.

That didn’t happen.

Almonte’s struggles at the plate this season were catastrophic. He led the league in strikeouts with 39 in the month of April- this despite being a leadoff hitter whose sole purpose is to put the ball in play and use his aforementioned speed to get on base and subsequently be a chubby pain-in-the-ass running hither and thither to the detriment of non-Mariners nationwide. You can’t get on base if you strike out. You also can’t steal first base. This isn’t ‘nam, you can tell because of all the fucking rules.

This all leads one to believe that though the Mariners believe in Saunders at the top of the order, they may not also believe in him as a defensive centerfielder. The logic eventually leads us straight to James Jones who can absolutely fucking fly down the line and out in the field. In the few innings I have seen of him in Spring Training and in a few Rainiers’ games, he doesn’t take the same “Leonardo DiCaprio on Quaaludes” routes that made Almonte such an adventure out in center, either. It is true that Jones has actually logged more time in the corners than he has in center during his minor league career– but it is also true that he has more or less always been an outfielder. He looks like an outfielder. He quacks like an outfielder. The quacking will ensure that he and Ackley have a solid rapport in the field. Gone are the days of the all-second-base Mariners’ outfield. Two of our outfielders are outfielders now. Hooray for small miracles.

So basically what we have is a Frankenstein’s monster comprised of Condor’s bat sewed horrifically to the center-field-defense of James Jones, murmuring “kill me” as Lloyd cackles maniacally. Another way to put it is we have swapped in Jones to provide defense, allowed Saunders an expanded offensive roll and perhaps incidentally cut out some at-bats for Ackley and/or Romero. I don’t mind this horribly, as I still expect to see Condor patrolling Center every now and again. It isn’t his best position, but it is hardly a disaster and I think at this point even if Saunders does not continue to hit .400 as he has been doing the past couple of weeks, he has shown enough to warrant everyday inclusion in the lineup.

This also probably spells a bit of doom for Logan Morrison in the outfield. That shouldn’t bother anybody. If Morrison plays, he should be playing at DH or first base anyway. 2 cents provided.

Worst comes to worse, we have a shiny new fast player to care about for a couple of weeks until he develops Krohn’s disease, can’t hit, or swan dives down a flight of stairs into his wife’s face.

Welcome back to the squad, Mr. Jones.

 

Kyle Seager and the streakiness inherent in hitting the ball in the air all of the damn time

Joey strokes the Seager boner of the Mariners’ early season confusion-orgy.

This is a necessary post to remind us all of why we love Kyle Seager.

Less sitting, more hitting.

Mariners’ fans are familiar with Kyle Seager. He has been a lone bright spot on a team that has had very few bright spots over the past few years. If you consider an average, productive, worth-having major league position player to be worth roughly 3.0 WAR, then Kyle Seager is the lone Mariner to qualify as a productive everyday Major Leaguer on this club for the past 2 seasons. This is pretty unfortunate, given how 3.0 WAR is kind of the low-end cutoff for this degree of productivity and most teams have a few of these sorts of players if not 5 or 6 of them.

The Mariners have Robinson Cano and Corey Hart now. This is cool and something that makes watching the mariners a tiny bit less depressing than it was the past couple of years. These are veteran players with proven track records who have been more or less the same guy throughout their careers and are now firmly operating within their prime years. The Mariners have had veterans before, but these veterans either had not been good players for a few years (Ibanez), or were simply never good players to begin with (Morse). It can be pretty depressing watching a team that is riddled with question marks. It is more depressing watching a team entirely comprised of question marks. The term “riddled” is used to describe some surface filled with a bajillion holes and thusly rendered into something resembling Swiss cheese. A lot of teams have had this Swiss-cheese consistency. The Mariners the past few years haven’t even really had any cheese at all which makes the term “riddle” not even really work. The no-cheese Mariners, some would call them (Nobody would ever call them that).

But there is more cheese here than meets the eye! Kyle Seager exists. He is the tiniest of morsels remaining after a drunk-five-year-old-with-a-hole-puncher-esque onslaught of inconsistency. And he isn’t even that consistent within his own consistency. That was a silly sentence. How can a player be consistently inconsistent? The term I would use: streaky.

Imagine if you will a coin. A coin when flipped has (basically) a 50% outcome of being either heads or tails. Let us then assign a positive outcome to one of these events. In the case of heads, you get 1 dollar. In the case of tails, somebody changes the channel at your apartment to the Hallmark Channel and then subsequently shatters your remote control. It’s all about the O.

Bad analogy do-over. Kyle Seager has been a player who can look terrible for stretches, but whose numbers have in our recent experience eventually trended towards a certain, predictable result over the course of an entire season’s worth of ups and downs. We have recently been provided some empirical evidence to support this claim. Kyle Seager spent the first two weeks of this year being absolutely terrible. Prior to this last week, Seager was arguably the most maddeningly awful player in the Mariners’ lineup. Yet, we as fans have come to expect Seager to be a solid contributor. How can these two outcomes coexist within the same paradigm and both be true? Streakiness. Seager is not alone in his up and down ways. Just look at Mike Zunino…

But what about Seager’s play results in this kind of streakiness? It is easy to assign a certain nebulous, platonic understanding of streakiness to a player without looking deeper into the player’s skillset to determine if there is perhaps, an underlying manner of playing the game that can result in this day-to-day inconsistency.

“Kyle is just hot right now” people might say. If those people were talking about Kyle Seager the way people talk about Hansel in Zoolander.

I believe that in Kyle Seager’s case there is a rhyme and perhaps a reason to his streakiness. Kyle Seager is a flyball hitter. Kyle Seager is also almost strictly speaking a dead-pull hitter. This year, there has been a record-setting pace for the number of infield shifting being done around the league. Teams are no longer simply shifting for big, obvious dead-pull guys in the traditional mold of a David Ortiz or Prince Fielder. Teams are noticing that little guys can be one-trick ponies too. Kyle Seager is one such player that could see more shifts in his future.

Let’s look at a Kyle Seager spray chart courtesy of baseballsavant.com. I have went ahead and filtered out the groundballs for a clearer picture into what I am looking for with Seager’s game.

Kyle Seager spray chart leftandright flies

Bingo bango bongo. As we can see, Seager’s success comes when he pulls the ball. Period. There is really no other interpretation to be drawn here. Seager is a dead-pull flyball hitter who shows impressive power to the pull side which the eyeball test validates by noting one of the more beautifully classic lefty uppercuts that I have seen in a while– let alone by a player in Mariners’ blue.

There is an upside and a downside to this kind of hitter and that is fairly easy to qualify. Fly ball hitters’ success is governed by the quality of their contact more so than a player who sprays the ball around and hits groundballs with more frequency. A guy like Cano is going to hit for a higher average and a higher BABIP than Seager because Cano is primarily a line drive hitter. If Cano misses a pitch, he may send a soft, broken-bat line drive into shallow center for a single. If Seager just misses a pitch, he is going to most likely be serving up lazy fly balls to right. When Cano hits the ball the other way, he is likely to get a few more singles as soft line drives drop down in front of the left fielder. When Seager hits the ball the other way, he loses distance and with it some of the success his pull-side power grants him, again, serving up lazy flyballs to the outfielder.

Players can change over the course of their careers, and Seager has several years of good baseball ahead of him. All indications point to Seager carrying the success he has had into the future- but if his style of hitting remains static he will likely remain prone to cold spells when his flies aren’t leaving the yard or crashing into fences.

This doesn’t bother me at all. We have seen what happens when Seager is squaring pitches up. Seager has carried the Mariners to 3 victories in the past 5 games. No player exists in a vacuum, and credit should be given to the guys who got on base in front of him in both of his go-ahead blasts this past week. That being said somebody has to sack up and hit the ball hard to drive those guys in. That guy has been Kyle Seager. The Mariners would do well to capitalize on this stretch, as it should be clear to everyone with eyeballs and the gumption necessary to sit down and watch the Mariners play baseball that when Kyle Seager plays well this team is astronomically superior to when he is mired in one of his slumps.

At the end of the year, Kyle Seager’s numbers will look good. They won’t reflect the AL player-of-the-week numbers he put up this past week. They don’t have to. As long as the hot stretches properly balance out the (hopefully shortened) slumps, the aggregate total will be a solid, above-average major leaguer. The Mariners don’t have many of those. We should all be grateful that he graces us with his presence. We should be doubly grateful that he seems to be superbestpals with Justin Smoak. If we were to get rid of Smoak would Seager’s production dip? Is Smoak required for moral support in order for Seager to continue to be productive? Would Smoak have to start for this to work, or could he be maintained in a symbolic role? This is something to be monitored moving forward, as I delve into the depths of their relationship via anonymous sources and idle social media speculation.

In the meantime, here’s hoping that Seager is doused with frigid Gatorade more often in the coming weeks. Sorry boss.

Umbrella!