Monday’s Seven Casual Contemplations

Welcome to the new, hopefully, weekly segment on Painting the Black. It is my goal to start your work week off right with random thoughts, ideas, rants and ramblings from the week that was in the world of sports. Exclusive to Painting the Black, here are your Monday Morning Casual Contemplations…

April is Undoubtedly the Best Sports Month

I used to believe that April and October were essentially equal in the best sports month department. I have now officially changed my mind. There is simply no comparison to the month of April. While October features playoff baseball and the new beginnings of the NBA and NHL seasons, the month of April contains all those things flipped around, but so much more. The Masters start the real golf season off right as we saw one of the most exciting Master’s of all time with big Bubba gettin ‘er done. But on top of that, everyone’s favourite bullshit season, the NFL draft is arguably the best football day of the year.

Yeah, April trumps the competition.

Liberal Strike Zones

I’ll never understand why so many umpires choose to give such liberal strike zones. The plate is there for a reason yet umpires are always giving 2 or 3 inches off the edges. This isn’t anything new to baseball but it is something that should change. The MLB is having enough problems with teams inability to score runs and it doesn’t help that umpires continually call strikes that hitters simply can’t reach in this steroid-less, nasty off-speed, hard throwing age of baseball.

It always rubbed me the wrong way that star players in any sport get the benefit of the calls. They are already the best and do not deserve an even bigger advantage. Greg Maddux is the pitcher that immediately comes to mind whenever I see star pitchers get the benefit of the doubt on calls outside the zone. Expanding the strike zone beyond its predisposed limits makes great pitchers like Maddux virtually unhittable. All this ‘they have earned it’ stuff is really just a bunch of garbage

Why the MLB puts up with this is beyond me. Like the NHL, they are losing ground on the NFL and NBA and a simple fix for more runs would be to tell umpires to call strikes within the strike zone. Who is running this league? Gary Bettman?

I don’t get it.

Pujols Struggling

The choice to sign a player on the wrong side of 30 to a double-digit year contract doesn’t really ever strike me as the brightest idea.
Now, of course it would be moronic to deem Albert Pujols’ 10 year contract a failure after 21 homerless games but the decision making behind the signing was questionable prior to the signing. The fact that his age is still an unknown and that he already was on the decline last season, despite his great second half, were not good indicators for his success over the next decade.

Missing Colour in the NHL

The amount of high quality colour commentators in the world of professional sports is few and far between but each sport seems to have at least 1 or 2 guys that qualify as elite. Except for hockey that is. Watching the NHL playoffs this year has brought this to my attention again.

CBC’s lead guy, Craig Simpson, suffers from a severe case of lack of insightful analysis and appears to be ignorantly blissful to all the head shots, hooking, holding and other problems that are hurting the game of hockey. Although Pierre McGuire knows his stuff well for the most part, there is a sense of arrogance to his general lack of likeability from NBC’s new top colour man.

It’s frustrating that, out of all the former players and front office men, they can’t find one guy to be the voice of authority for the NHL. The game experience really becomes a lot less enjoyable without that dynamic tandem up in the booth.

Steve Nash to Miami?

I keep hearing about Steve Nash to Miami and how this is the ideal destination for the 2-time NBA Most Valuable Player to win a championship. Sure, Miami would give Nash arguably the best opportunity to finally get that elusive ring but that’s about all it will do for him. The ring isn’t everything for Steve Nash. There’s a reason why he hasn’t demanded a trade out of Phoenix. He likes it there. He likes playing in a system that he is comfortable with and, more importantly, where he is the focal point.

Nash dominates the ball but that wouldn’t be the case with Dwayne Wade and Lebron James. I can guarantee you that Steve Nash doesn’t want that. Miami and Steve Nash makes about as much sense as cheeseburgers on a pizza. What, Pizza Hut did that?

Welp, anything is possible I guess.

Classy Bruins Fans. Very Classy.

Not that you probably need it but here’s another reason to hate Boston sports fans and it’s not a good one. Following Washington Capitals African-Canadian forward Joel Ward’s game 7 overtime game winning goal, a barrage of racially filled hate flooded the twitterverse directed at Ward by the defeated Bruins fans. It’s a classless display. I realize that it is only a small portion of the Bruins fans and by no means represents their entire fan base, but the fact that there were enough people to use the dreaded N-word in this defamatory manner to make a story out of it is pathetic.

The double-edged sword nature of twitter rears its ugly head again as its lack of any sort of filter allows emotionally charged individuals to vent their frustrations before they have any chance to properly collect their thoughts. Twitter is fascinating in that regard because it shows people in their most uninhibited state, without the masks that they put on for society each and every day. It’s almost like alcohol in that your true persona and feelings come out whether you like it or not. Now, I’m not naive enough to believe this could not have happened to another city’s fan base but, at the same time, it is by no means a shocker that the city of Boston is the culprit.

Good on Joel Ward for playing the story down though and not making this out to be something more than it has to be.

Jose Bautista, ah, Struggling

Like Pujols, Bautista is mired in a prolonged slump, which seems to concern me a lot more than the rest of Blue Jays nation. Sure, Jose Bautista has hit the most home runs in the Majors in the past 2 seasons, had a slash line of .302/.447/.608 in 2011 and WAR’d an outstanding 8.5 last season. However, those inflated numbers were due in large part to his torrid April and May. Yeah, I know his OPS was still .896 after the all-star break last year but he hasn’t ever looked like the same player since last May. A lot of his walks were because of his inability to put the ball in play even as pitchers shied away from him less and less with the realization that he wasn’t Barry Bonds anymore.

Enter 2012, where Bautista is slashing a terrible .187/.337/.333. While it would be absurd to say that Jose Bautista cannot become close to a shadow of his former self, I think it’s starting to become evident that his post all-star break numbers are a better indication of what we’re going to see from him in the future. As a Blue Jays fan, I want to be wrong (kind of). I was wrong in the summer of 2010 when I told the Blue Jays not to re-sign Bautista. Being wrong doesn’t hurt nearly as much as seeing Bautista pop out or foul back good pitch after good pitch.

It doesn’t look as though it is merely a matter of finding his timing anymore. He still has the power but something is seriously wrong. Maybe this is a case of coming to a conclusion a little bit too quickly but this feeling has been churning in my stomach since last June and, as of right now, it isn’t going anywhere.

Don’t Turn Off the Game, Ever

I think I turned the Clippers-Grizzlies game when Memphis was up by 21 points with about a minute left in the 3rd quarter. Bad idea.

By now you probably know how the story turns out. Fairy tale for the Clippers, horror story for the Grizzlies and yada, yada, yada. Nevermind the awesomeness of the comeback in itself. This is just another one of those “if you put it in a movie you wouldn’t believe it” moments that play such a big part in making sports so fascinating to society. I realize I didn’t actually watch this comeback but these are the times when I feel sorry for people who don’t watch sports. Those guys are missing out.

Bonus (Shameless?) Contemplation!

I was thinking that you might want to check me out on twitter and then give me a follow @paintstheblack if you like what you’re seeing. Maybe before you do that, don’t leave the website and subscribe to the blog either through the email subscription in the right hand corner or with the RSS feed so you can have immediate access to the latest articles on Painting the Black. Sweet, I know.

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Finding a Balance Between Sabermetrics and Purity

Moneyball is out today. Sabermetrician’s rejoice!

Now, the simplest of baseball fans can learn all about what makes the science of baseball the only way to look at baseball. Logic and reason. There is no other way, right?

Wrong.

We need to find a balance to combine the views of the sabermetricians and baseball purists of the world. Neither is necessarily wrong but neither is necessarily right either. However, both sides are too stubborn to give in to each other.

The sabermetricians are ruining the game and the purists are backward thinking Neanderthals.

The debate is never-ending.

I like to think of it this way:

The sabermetrician’s are the atheist’s of our world. There is no reasoning with them. They contend that it is impossible to argue with logic and reason yet it is impossible to reason with them.

The baseball purists are the religious fanatics. They are stuck in their ways, unwilling to adapt to the changing times and the piles of evidence staring them in the face.

There is no give and take from either side. Only give. What both parties fail to realize is that they are more similar to each other than they could ever imagine. Putting aside the contrasting views, their stubborn and narrow-minded nature is very much the same. If they could just realize how similar they are, maybe a happy medium could be found.

Alas, this is a dream that, unlike Martin Luther King’s, will probably never come to fruition.

If things keep going the way they are then the die-hard sabermetrician’s could ruin the game of the baseball for the rest of us. It’s not simply taking the fun out of the game like Jason Whitlock suggested recently. Although, that is part of it.

Like a good Jehovah’s Witness, the sabermetrician must spread the word of the WAR to anyone and everyone, whether they want to hear it or not. Moneyball is perfect because it’s like knocking on the entire countries door.

Free promotion anyone?

The problem with sabermetrician’s, on top of taking the art out of baseball, is that their science is hardly flawless. Despite being a science that has been developed in the last decade, their word is law. WAR is the end all and tell all of statistics. It doesn’t matter what we see with our eyes because they have their WAR, OBP, OPS, wOPA and BABIP’s.

It’s nice to have these stats but we have to take them with a grain of salt. The sabermetricians don’t.

Unlike the baseball purists, I feel that these stats do add a lot to the game. They give us another dimension and a better understanding of the game. We can’t discount the fact that these formulas should have merit.

The purists are right to a certain extent though in saying that we need to keep the artful and subjective aspect of baseball intact. Not everything can be quantified contrary to the script of the sabermetrician’s bible.

The little nuances of the game only to be seen with human eyes that are thrown out the window when it comes to sabermetrics, can’t be ignored. The thing I’ve found in life is that the atheists can’t get pleasure out of the little things in life. Sabremetric diehards are the same. They don’t get as much pleasure out of the subjectiveness of life and sports because in their eyes it isn’t logical. Everything must be filled with reason. Not what you see with your eyes, but what you see on paper. Something that can be quantified.

Not everything can be calculated

Using fun as the sole reason for discounting advanced statistics is just giving more ammunition to the sabermetrician’s argument. It may be true, but when used alone it is a bit of a juvenile and unintelligent argument. The logical and reasonable sabermetrician will jump all over it.

And we can’t have that now, can we?

Personally, it is hard for me to believe that we can put a single number on a player and say that he is so many wins better than another. The sabermetrician’s think so. But what happens in a decade or 25 years if and when a new, possibly better method for measuring players comes out? The fact that we already have two websites (Baseball Reference and Fan Graphs) giving us two different formula’s for statistics like WAR should already be a flashing yellow light that indicates proceed with caution.

It’s not as simple as the statistics that they are giving us.

Jose Bautista is not the American League MVP this season. Dustin Parkes, one of my two favourite Blue Jay writers, is all over the debate. However, he is one of those atheists. There’s no arguing with him. In fact, he took down Jason Whitlock’s article yesterday.

Jose Bautista isn’t the American League MVP for the reason that a baseball purist would give. He plays on a losing team, that shouldn’t matter. He barely has over 100 RBI’s, that shouldn’t matter.

The reason should be that Jose Bautista has been abysmal in the second half. At least, comparatively to his fabulous April and May.

On paper, Jose Bautista’s WAR, OBP and OPS for the entire season are off the charts. His current .301/.444/1.056 line combined with an 8.3 wins above replacement have made everyone around the league take notice.

His .249/.408/.880 line post-all star break isn’t quite as impressive.

But something that can’t be quantified but should have been noticed by even the most casual fan is the difference in the pitches Jose Bautista has seen since his beast mode setting has been disabled. Compared to April and May, when Bautista wasn’t getting a thing thrown his way, pitchers have been willing to challenge him.

The thing is, post all-star break, Bautista hasn’t connected at a rate that has scared pitchers in nearly the same way. Bautista’s plus .400 OBP hasn’t been a product of his play but rather more a product of his good eye and his inability to connect on pitches in the strike zone, thus allowing him to see more pitches at the plate. Pitchers are still cautious but they aren’t assuming the fetal position like they did when Jose Bautista stepped in the batter’s box during the first two months of the season.

BABIP can’t tell me how hard Jose Bautista is hitting the ball. WAR can’t tell me that Jose Bautista hasn’t looked like an MVP since the end of May. The inflated numbers that he produced prior to the all-star break have skewed his 162 game totals. His value has no doubt still been immense to his team but it hasn’t been MVP worthy by any means.

The short is, sabermetrics do not tell the whole story. No matter what the sabermetrician’s try to tell us.

Sports, much like life, are subjective. In life, the money, the job, the family, the status, all the things that we can measure, never give us the entire picture.

As I said above though, advanced statistics can and are helping us. My eyes have been opened over the last year to the value that these stats offer. Yours should be too.

For both the sabermetrician’s and purists, it’s time for the blinders to come off. You don’t have to be friends but try to get along at least.

It may be a fools dream but it is a dream that, if fulfilled, would change the world of baseball for the better.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. Also, follow me on twitter @paintstheblack and I will happily return the favour.

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ESPN Investigates Spydome: Fair or Foul?

ESPN reporter Amy Nelson (above) might have some explaining to do.

ESPN: The Magazine looks as though they have recruited the spy kids to investigate the “suspicious” activity of a mysterious white man in the stands of the Toronto Blue Jays home stadium. At least, I’d hope the investigating was done by kids because the kind of logic portrayed in the ESPN article yesterday could only be considered sensible if it had come from the computer of an elementary school student.

ESPN reporters Amy Nelson and Peter Keating are reporting that the Toronto Blue Jays have been stealing signs from the outfield bleachers of the Rogers Centre. Apparently, a white man perched in the out there has been relaying signals using hand motions to the Toronto hitters.

Nelson and Keating have back up their claim with anecdotes from a few unnamed sources as well as carefully selected stats, mostly from the supposedly unbelievably successful 2010 season. Some guys on the unnamed (now named Chicago White Sox) team had seen a man making the motions in the stands as far back as 2009.

Wow, the evidence is overwhelming.

The argument presented in the ESPN article is flawed in a manner that would be expected out of the average person. You would think that the worldwide leader in sports would be smarter than the average person.

As the saying goes, stats are for losers.

The stats presented as clear-cut evidence in the article are hardly that. The selectively chosen stats are clearly picked out by the writers to fit the ultimate conclusion of the piece.

Luckily, due to the mass media of our modern world the excess of statistics discounted by Amy Nelson and Peter Keating are readily available for us.

Dustin Parkes over at his blog “Getting Blanked” gives a great run down of the many flaws to the ESPN allegations. A must-read for anyone remotely interested in the topic.

At his press conference, Alex Anthopoulos gives some real smart answers to the accusations. The answers make you realize why he’s such a good GM. Why didn’t ESPN go over game footage to find the man in white? Why didn’t they talk to any managers, league officials etc.? The list goes on.

What many people have also failed to bring up is the style of hitting implemented in the 2010 season by Cito Gaston and hitting coach Dwayne Murphy. The ESPN article points out the very high percentage (48.9) of pitches swung at by Toronto hitters that lead to the league leading 257 home runs hit.

However, there is no mention anywhere of the swing big or go home approach of Cito Gaston and his staff. Not many people outside of the Blue Jay loop are probably aware of that but for claims this outrageous I would have thought that the homework done by ESPN wouldn’t be so strikingly similar to a 12 year olds math homework finished 5 minutes before class started.

ESPN also attempts to use the substantial differences in the home and away OPS’ of Escobar, Bautista, Wells, Lind and Hill to prove a point. However, Nelson and Keating do not cite the far superior road average and OPS’ of John Buck and Edwin Encarnacion, who’s OPS in 2010 was more than .200 points higher on the road.

Moreover, ignoring the Justin Verlander no-hitter at the Rogers Centre is just another one of the many overlooked pieces of evidence from the crew over at ESPN.

A high school psychology student could tell you that these claims are based on the very common human error of confirmation bias – defined as a tendency for people to favour information that confirms their preconceptions or hypotheses regardless of whether the information is true.

It’s a pathetic display by ESPN to publish such a poorly constructed article for the purpose of generating buzz and page views.

Using Vernon Wells’.552 OPS with the Los Angeles Angels at home in 2011 is hardly evidence that connects the Blue Jays with sign stealing. Personally, I would connect his brutal home OPS to have something to do with that average that sits at .210. But hey, that’s just me.

Vernon Wells’ OPS at home was a whopping .276 points higher in 2006. I guess they were stealing signs back then too, eh?

The excessive quantity of circumstantial evidence in the article doesn’t include the possibility of a simple anomaly in an oddly successful power numbers season for the Blue Jays, which can be explained to certain a degree by the Cito Gaston effect as mentioned above.

On top of all this, the writers of the article don’t seem to realize that even if their claims are true, the Toronto Blue Jays organization must be really bad at cheating. Maybe they even hired the same people who helped investigate the allegations because their home record is 28-27 while their road record is 30-30.

I mean, it must have taken some kind of genius in the Blue Jay organization to come up with the idea to cheat with a team that is in no position to compete for a post-season spot.

Good thing the brains at ESPN figured out that 4th place mediocrity in the AL East and stealing signs from the outfield bleachers go hand in hand.

It’s comforting to see that Nelson and Keating finish their article with such a decisive conclusion:

“By themselves, these numbers are circumstantial evidence. Unsupported by data, the four players’ accounts might describe a scheme of uncertain impact. And without proper context, the Yankees’ decision to mask their signs could be chalked up to paranoia. But together, the numbers, the stories and the actions indicate one certainty: Every pitch to a Blue Jay in Toronto is worth watching.”

I’m hearing now that the National Enquirer is embarrassed by the lack of integrity exhibited by ESPN.

Now that’s sad.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. Also, follow me on twitter @paintstheblack and I will happily return the favour.

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What to do with Jose Bautista?

Jose Bautista has pounded out a franchise record 48 home runs so far this season.

It is only human nature to be in awe of remarkable happenings that don’t come around too often. Has anyone ever seen Halley’s Comet? Well that comes around maybe every 75 years. The type of season that Jose Bautista has had this year with the Toronto Blue Jays may not quite compare to the sight of Halley’s Comet, but it is no less short of spectacular.

In one season Jose Bautista has gone from journeyman utility player to Major League home run king. His rise to fame has been quite a sight to watch day in and day out, but it begs the question, can Bautista duplicate his performance next season when all eyes will be on him to perform?

The Toronto Blue Jays have played better than anyone expected prior to the start of the season. This season was supposed to be a rebuilding year and after the departure of Roy Halladay all hope was lost. However, for some reason the Jays started to crank out the home runs faster than Usain Bolt’s 100 meter sprint. The burst has come from a number of unlikely sources including John Buck, current Braves shortstop Alex Gonzalez, and of course Jose Bautista. The home runs haven’t dried up and the Jays continue to lead the Major Leagues in total home runs while posting a record of 74-73 to date in the very competitive AL East division.

The Blue Jays are going to be seeing higher expectations amongst fans next year with all the young talent that is a part of the organization. The rotation looks to be set with the return of their top four starters who have proven their worth in Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil, Brandon Morrow and Shaun Marcum, plus Kyle Drabek who was the key piece in the Roy Halladay trade should be ready for the big show by next year. Big things are also going to be expected from young catcher J.P. Arencibia, shortstop Yunel Escobar, outfielder Travis Snider as well as “veterans” Aaron Hill, and Adam Lind.

For a team that is going so young it is very difficult to see where Jose Bautista fits into the scheme of things. It is without a doubt that Jose Bautista is going to want, and in my mind deserves a multi-year deal. However, for a player that has never posted more than 16 home runs in a season prior to this year and hasn’t once batted above .254, you have to wonder if it would really be a good idea for the Blue Jays to bring Jose Bautista back.

On the one hand there is the school of thought that now that Bautista has finally been given the opportunity to be an everyday player he has shown his true ability. Or you could be thinking that this is just a fluke year. Somewhat like Adrian Beltre’s final season in LA, before he signed on with the Mariners in 2005, in which he batted a whopping .334 while banging out 46 home runs. Except, I think (with no hard evidence to back it up) that that had something to do with steroids and Bautista is most likely not a steroid case in this day and age.

I lean more towards the school of thought that this season has been a one-hit wonder kind of thing. I guess that’s what most people think considering no one traded for the hot hitting Bautista at the trade deadline. Moreover, when it comes to the Blue Jays situation I think it is even more evident that they really don’t need Jose Bautista even if he can guarantee a couple more solid but not spectacular seasons.

Travis Snider has shown some serious star potential in his time in the Majors

For starters, the ridiculous contract of Vernon Wells doesn’t expire until 2014, and no team is willing or stupid enough to take that contract off of the Blue Jays’ hands. Secondly, the Jays have young players who are or soon going to be ready to make the jump to everyday starter. Travis Snider, who is supposed to be the franchise’s outfielder of the future is a right fielder (Jose Bautista’s position) although he can play all positions in the outfield. Also, the Jays traded first baseman Brett Wallace during the season for 20-year-old outfielder Anthony Gose.

Jose Bautista would be a great guy to hold the fort either in the outfielder or the infield while some of these young guys develop, but after this remarkable season you would think the price would be a little steep for a 30-year-old one-hit wonder. Furthermore, Bautista is going to be an everyday player but in the coming years the choice for the Jays to either play their future or their present, the choice is going to have to be the future, which leaves Bautista expendable.

Of course, it would be hard for the Jays to turn their back on a player who in 57 games since the all-star break has hit .300 with 23 home runs and 55 runs batted in, while also breaking the franchise record for home runs in a single season with 48 last night.

Yes, it would be difficult for the Jays to turn away Bautista and that’s why I think they won’t. However, if they do decide to bring him back I don’t think it will be the right choice. Just the fact that he doesn’t fit into their long-term plans and that he hasn’t actually proven anything over the course of his career makes you wonder what he can do after the age of 30.

Added onto all that is that Jose Bautista doesn’t have the typical physical build of a true home run hitter as he as listed at an even 6 feet and 195 pounds. Just another reason to think that he won’t be able to duplicate any of the magic that we have seen from this season.

It should also be noted that he has an OPS of just under .1000 and has been walked a whopping 93 times during the season. He has a cannon for an arm and plays solid defence.

Someone is bound to take a chance on Jose Bautista and as happy as I am to have been able to watch Jose Bautista throughout the 2010 season, I can’t help but be a sceptic and think that this is something we aren’t going to see from him again. With that being said I think it would be a good idea for someone to take on Jose Bautista for a reasonable price, but under the Blue Jays current situation it would be best for the Blue Jays to let this birdie fly from the nest.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. I’m now on twitter follow me @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favour.

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