I decided to celebrate finishing a conference paper by taking in yesterday’s Mariners game. It was a sort of throwback to 2001, as Ichiro! made a home run-saving catch (in left, which took some getting used to) and got 2 hits. The second moved Ichiro! past the total Cap Anson was traditionally credited with, as was noted at the ballpark. It’s actually probably a lower number but we can celebrate it anyway because Cap Anson can eat shit. It wasn’t cheap, either — Tito decided to break a butterfly on a wheel by bringing in Andrew Miller to face him but after being made to look ridiculous earlier in the AB he fought off a 2-strike pitch and lined it up the middle. Like old times.
- Jonah on Le Grand Orange. In addition to being an icon in two cities has was a terrific player.
- See also Jonah’s annual over/under column, which I also really enjoy. The Royals having their window slammed shut, filled with concrete, and then the house blown up is unfortunate, but unlike the Tigers and Blue Jays they made the most of it when they had it.
- Speaking of Mariners and lists, Robinson Cano and Edgar Martinez now have the same number of doubles. Edgar will be going to Cooperstown next year and deserves it, but Cano has been an even better player. He’s comfortably one of the ten best 2B ever, and is still a good hitter (although I suspect he’ll have to move to DH before too long.)
- Shohei Ohtani was decent if not overwhelming in his debut today.I will be curious to see how his career develops. You sometimes here the argument that Babe Ruth is indisputably the greatest player ever because he was a great pitcher in addition to being arguably the most dominant hitter ever. But I think this argument is exactly wrong. The fact that Ruth could be a full-time pitcher until age 22 (over 300 innings twice!) and still pitch a lot until age 24 and then immediately become the best player in the game when he finally became a full-time OF at age 25 is actually an argument against Ruth, because it reveals how inferior the competition he faced was. (And not just baseball Jim Crow, although that was important. With the free minors, primitive scouting, and low levels of competitive balance major league talent was not nearly as efficiently identified and developed as it was in the 50s and 60s, let alone now.) There’s no way in hell Mike Trout could be a pitcher until age 25 and then immediately be the best player in baseball — every year he wasn’t refining position-specific skills he’d fall further and further behind. That’s not to say that there isn’t an argument for Ruth as greatest ever, but the idea that the case is dispositive is absurd. There are also perfectly credible arguments that Mays and Aaron and Bonds — very dominant players in longer careers against far superior competition — were better.
- For similar reasons, Roger Clemens has a reasonable case as the best pitcher ever. One fundamental misunderstanding about Clemens, created by a failure to adjust stats for the huge-hitting 90s and by the reliance on a metric (W-L records) that is nearly worthless in a single season, is that his career was in serious decline when he went to Toronto and if not for STEROIDS he might not even be a Hall of Famer. This is complete bullshit. In 1995 he was hurt and had an off year. But he was the second best starter in the AL in 1994, behind a near-Hall of Famer having a career year in Cone and ahead of another inner-circle Hall of Famer in Johnson. And was at worst the second-best starter in the AL in 1996, and I personally would have voted for Clemens for the CY Young over Hentgen (who did throw more innings but with lower K rates and a significantly higher FIP.) He took a leap forward in 1997 that may well have been PED related, although since he showed significant decline after joining the Yankees how much they mattered is questionable. But the idea that it was steroids that made Roger Clemens one of the greatest pitchers ever is deeply silly. Like Bonds, he was the greatest of his generation before 1997.
- This deserves an independent post I’ll hopefully get to, but Ben Lingberg’s article about Sherri Nichols is awesome.
- Lindberg’s article about radical defensive shifts is also outstanding. It’s actually kind of remarkable how quickly radical defensive shifts have gone from an innovation derided by purists to near-universal acceptance. Part of this is that all organizations take analytics seriously, and part of it is the competitive balance issue we discussed earlier — teams just can’t afford to lose the number of runs you’d be leaving on the table if you kept a traditional defense in a league that was playing your hitters based on where they hit the ball, and the costs of the strategy would be much more visible than they would have been even ten years ago. As I said after the Super Bowl, I’ll be very interested to see whether NFL teams copy the Eagles, who succeeded by playing the percentages over the horrified shrieks of Cris Collinsworth, or whether a lot of teams will still stick with McCarthyism just as they’ve bizarrely refused to emulate Belichick.
- If commenting MVP Howard agrees, I’ll make our annual Planned Parenthood reverse-hedge bet that the Yankess will win, bizarre as I find their decision to fire a successful manager coming off an outstanding season with [checks notes] ESPN’s Sunday color guy. (Cashman’s only criterion seems to have been finding a manager who would get the least amount of credit if the Yankees win possible.) And I also have to thank Howard for getting me Nicole Mitchell’s Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds and Vijay Iyer’s Far From Over, both extraordinary records, plus the latter reclaims the title from Frank Stallone. As Erik says, we’re always extremely grateful to get stuff from the wish list.