Friday, January 25, 2008


Every Good Friday Deserves Links

It's Friday, and why use your brain when you can just throw some links around and comment on other people's work? To wit...

--Chris at Bay City Ball provides a neat breakdown of Barry Zito's hugely disappointing 2007 season using Pitchf/x data. The coolest part? Rob Neyer linked to the article on his ESPN blog, which is pretty awesome.

For the layman, Pitchf/x is a means of tracking the flight path and velocity of every pitch thrown by a pitcher on the season. It can give us an approximate idea of how well a pitcher's pitches are breaking, how often batters are swinging and missing, and the location of each pitch relative to the strike zone, among other things. Unfortunately, not every ballpark utilizes the technology, so, as the article acknowledges, this is sort of an incomplete sample, but for the sake of quick and dirty analysis, it'll do just fine.

So, does Pitchf/x predict any improvement from Zito in '08? Does it provide any sort of justification for my purchase of a Zito jersey last spring, when I was six beers deep at Mays Field with a pocket full of twenties just begging me to do something stupid with them? Well, read the BCB article and judge for yourself, but I'd have to say no.

It seems that the reason that Zito can still get batters out (somewhat) is that his fastball, even with its precipitous drop in miles per hour, has so much separation in velocity from his curveball (which is still a plus-plus pitch), that hitters still have a tough time picking his offerings up. With that said, Zito's walk rate continues to be unacceptable and that, combined with decreasing velocity and strikeout rates, never portends good times.

Anyway, the article is the first in a series over at BCB, and I'm very interested to see what Pitchf/x has to say about Noah Lowry and his magic act last year.

--Speaking of Zito and Rob Neyer, Neyer talks about a deal the Twins are proposing to Johan Santana in relation to the Zito contract, and finds the time to rip all over the Giants some more. Salt on the wound, my friends, salt on the friggin' wound.

--The Tampa Bay Rays (is it me or does that new, exorcised name just not ring true?) have signed former Giants sinkerballing reliever Scott Munter to a minor league deal. Munter was one curiosity that I'm glad we don't have to deal with anymore. He had one legitimate major league pitch, his sinker, which was nigh-impossible to hit in the air. So the idea, then, was that in tight spots with runners on and less than two out, the team could bring in Munter and his sinker and, voila, inning-ending double play.

It was a great plan, except for the wee problem that Munter had no control whatsoever and would instead exacerbate the problem by walking everybody and their mom's dog. He had a decent run in limited action in 2005, but his K:BB ratio was horrible and it caught up to him in a bad way in 2006. Eventually everybody realized that no matter how great your one freak pitch may be, you still have to strike some batters out with it (Munter struck out just 14 batters in 58 AAA innings last year...egads!) and so off he went into the wilderness of non-tendered-dom.

I'd say that this is probably the last we'll hear of Munter, but given the Giants' history of bad luck in letting go of young relievers (think Joe Nathan, Scott Linebrink, Jeremy Accardo), it wouldn't surprise me to see Munter somehow turn into a halfway-decent reliever.

--Speaking of ex-Giant relievers, David Aardsma was DFA'd by the White Sox the other day, and I'm going to start the campaign right now for the Giants to grab him. Aardsma, a former Giants number one pick, was traded to the Cubs along with Jerome Williams in 2005 for LaTroy Hawkins in one of the most idiotic trades of Brian Sabean's tenure. He was okay with the Cubs in 2006, but flamed out after being traded to the White Sox.

Since the Giants should be in rebuild mode and should be looking for any good arms they can find on the cheap, I think Aardsma would be a great pickup, if only to see if Dave Righetti can get hold of him and work some magic. Aardsma's undoing last year was his control, but he still struck out more than a batter an inning, and that indicates the stuff is still there. If he can get his control problems ironed out then there's a pretty good pitcher lurking there. Remember, guys like Feliz Rodriguez and John Johnstone were sucky relievers who had lost their way, then they came to the Giants and turned it around. It could happen.

The White Sox have another couple of days to trade Aardsma or else he becomes a free agent. I think the Giants would do well to take a flyer on him if he slips through, not that they should have given up on him so easily in the first place.

--Joe Posnanski's wonderful The Soul of Baseball was named as the best baseball book of 2007. I just did get the book this past Christmas, and I can say that it is easily one of my favorite baseball books, right behind Lords of the Realm and Fantasyland. What makes it so great, in my opinion, is that it tells wonderful baseball stories and revels in the greatness of the game while never, not for one second, presenting the players and those involved in the game as anything more than simple human beings, as flawed and rife with self-doubt as the rest of us.

I think a lot of baseball writers fall into the trap of presenting baseball history, which is long and rich, with a sort of whimsy or mysticism, and then begin to deify their old heroes as if these players were pure souls who could do nothing wrong. I find that crap unreadable. It's why I find books like Moneyball and Lords of the Realm so fascinating, and books like Shoeless Joe so interminable. I enjoy books that cut through the bullshit and present baseball for what it is: a cutthroat industry with a long, crooked history.

What is great about Posnanski's book is that it doesn't deny any of that, and yet it still provides us with the sense of wonder that we felt as little kids when watching baseball. The book's subject, Buck O'Neil (one of the game's great personalities and ambassadors) tells one great story after another, about how much he loved the game, about how baseball was his life, about how he played for so little, and he never, ever wanders into treacle territory. He tells wonderful stories, stories that inspire, and it never turns into one of those mushy ruminations on how baseball is America or some other gobbledegook. It's a great read, and highly recommended even for the non-baseball fans amongst you.

--TGIF vid. Modest Mouse, one of the best contemporary bands around, and my favorite song of theirs. The sound quality sucks, but it's the best I could find, so apologies in advance.

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I don't think we'll hear from Munter again, but how about Niekro? In Houston (who can play him) in that bandbox? He just might hit 320 with 300 ABs. Wouldn't that drive us crazy?
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