Thursday, November 21, 2013

Bill Simmons started watching the 2013 Red Sox in August, and hey, what do you know, a championship! Time to write about them like he had been paying attention all season (Part 2)

Bill was in the middle of telling us how 79-year-old Bill Russell tires easily.  But don't worry, Red Sox fans, you'll be hearing about your team soon enough.  Just need to account for the fact that Bill doesn't know jack fucking dick about baseball and is a huge fairweather Red Sox fan.  Once he gets done telling his story about an athlete from the sport he actually follows, he'll get around to you.

We walked into his library, which was practically sinking under all the books and pictures.

We walked into his kitchen, which was practically sinking under all the pans and dishes.  We walked into his bedroom, which was practically sinking due to the really big bed.  We walked into his basement, and over there, in the left corner, you could see the way the room was sinking into the foundation of the house.  

Fucking terrible writing.

To describe Russell as "well read" would be an understatement. 

There's the mealy-mouthed racism we were waiting for!  I know I was on pins and needles.  He reads books!  Doesn't that surprise you?  And he's SO well spoken.  He's not one of them.

During a bathroom break earlier, I had sneaked in there to peruse his books — if only because you can learn a lot from someone just by their books — 

1) We all know the only reason Simmons was looking was because he desperately hoped that Russell owned a copy of The Book of Basketball
2) Insert joke about what books are in Simmons's house here (I was going to go with Dr. Seuss, but I'm sure you can do better)

and noticed my own basketball tome, which Russell had allegedly read and enjoyed. 


The condition of the book made it seem like someone had read it, so maybe he did. 

Maybe he lent it to Larry Bird, and Bird read it!  Did you know Bird respected Russell and once told a crowd that Russell was good at basketball?  Just another classic Larry Legend moment.

Without him knowing, I signed one of the pages inside and carefully placed it back in the same spot. Now I was pretending that I had never seen his library before.

What an asshole.

"Here, look at this," Bill Russell said.

I hope Russell did the "You've got something on your shirt VWOOP gotcha!" move.

He handed me a framed photo of himself and Obama — taken two years earlier in 2010, when Obama had invited Russell to the White House, given him the Presidential Medal of Freedom and urged the city of Boston to build a statue for him. 

I can't think of a better example of a plea destined to fall upon deaf ears.

"Isn't that something?" he asked me, beaming proudly, looking like me after my daughter 


crushes one of her soccer games. Only Obama gets Bill Russell to geek out. 

Terrible writing.

He loved everything about that day. Once upon a time, Russell had given speeches telling his fellow African Americans to keep their eyes on the prize, to never let anyone define them, or keep them down, or tell them they couldn't do something. He wanted them to believe that they didn't have a ceiling, that 40 or 50 years later, one of them could even be president. He made that point in more than one speech. 

Specific examples?  Research?  Context?  Not here, reader.  You're in Grantland now.

Now it was 2012 … and Bill Russell was holding a photo of him and President Barack Obama. Isn't that something? Yes. That's something.

Terrible writing.

We spent the next hour sitting at his kitchen table, with Russell telling us story after story. He kept bringing up his late wife, his third one, who had passed away a few years earlier. It became more and more obvious that he hadn't recovered yet. 

From all of that brutal standing he had to do earlier.

I found myself worrying about him. He's not alone all the time, right? People come to visit him, right? Russell talked about his various road trips, 

Terrible writing.

how sometimes he just packs a bag, climbs into his car and goes. He drives to Los Angeles, Chicago, wherever. He loves driving. Sometimes he'll bring a friend to keep him company.

This is somehow even less interesting than the part of the article I covered in my last post.

Eventually, we started talking about Boston again. I had a good handle on Russell at this point. You get one chance with him and that's that. It's a theme that kept coming up all day. Boston had already used up that one chance, as well as about seven other ones. 

Terrible writing.

How much bitterness did Russell have toward Boston? When the Celtics retired his number in 1972, he skipped the ceremony. No-showed it. Who does that? He made the same point over and over again: His loyalties lay with his Celtics teammates, and Red Auerbach, and Walter Brown. Not the fans, and definitely not the city. He didn't care if he ever went back. Or so he claimed.

Remember that part about him not showing up for his own number retirement ceremony?  Seems pretty legit.  HAHA BUT JOKE'S ON YOU, BILL RUSSELL, YOU WERE LURED BACK AFTER THE PRESIDENT TOLD THE CITY TO MAKE AMENDS AND THEN THEY BUILT YOU A STATUE.  YOUR CONVICTIONS AREN'T SO STRONG AFTER ALL!  This just goes to prove that racism doesn't exist in Boston.

I didn't totally believe him. Deep down, he cares. I think he does, anyway.

Terrible writing.

But that statue was going up whether Bill Russell showed up or not. The city needed it as much as he did. 

I'm pretty sure the city needed it way more than he did, given the way it treated him.

The mayor kept pressuring him, cajoling him, practically begging him to return. Same for Steve Pagliuca, one of the current owners of the Celtics (and one of the people responsible for making the statue happen). Same for Russell's daughter, Karen, and everyone else who Russell trusts in his life. Eventually, the great Bill Russell caved. He agreed to come back to Boston.

The ceremony will happen two days after the Red Sox won another World Series. Russell returns to a different city in every respect. 

Terrible writing.  Every respect?  Every last one?

The Big Dig finished nearly a decade ago, opening up downtown and even extinguishing some of the suffocating traffic.

Traffic Bill probably didn't have to deal with that much, considering he left in 1969.

It's a much happier city now, with a recent run of championships killing off the "woe is us" mentality that had become an identity of sorts (both locally and nationally). 

You know when else they had a run of championships?  In the 1960s, when Russell was there.  I'm not sure he would really have been aware of the insufferable woe is us vibe that permeated the place during the 80s and 90s.

Boston fans don't expect the worst anymore. 


During the late innings of Game 2 of the ALCS against Detroit, when it looked like the Red Sox offense had a giant salad fork sticking out of it, I found it fascinating that everyone at Fenway kept waiting for the boys to improbably rally even before that improbable rally happened.

Can you believe the stadium didn't just empty out because it was 5-1 in the 7th inning of a playoff game?  Those fans who stuck around in their $400 seats are literally amazing heroes.  And they didn't just stick around--they stuck around AND hoped their team would win, and then the team did exactly that.  It's the most astonishing human accomplishment I have ever heard of, other than the moon landing (if we assume the moon landing actually happened).

Holy dog balls, the self-importance of the fans of this city can barely be described.

It was that kind of season. A different dude with a different beard seemed to come through every time we needed it. Coming off an unhappy 2011 ending (that's an understatement) 


That's one of my favorite nights of sports ever, and my favorite team was most certainly not involved in any of the action or fun.

and a catastrophic 2012 season, 


the owners and GM Ben Cherington smartly shifted gears and emphasized chemistry over everything else. 

Ah, chemistry.  The favorite worthless narrative of shithead sportswriters everywhere.  If the Red Sox had the exact same group of players who all had the exact same amount of fun, but lost to Tampa in the ALDS, then the problem would have been NOT ENOUGH TEAM CHEMISTRY.  Meanwhile I'm sure their title had nothing to do with their awesome pitching staff and surprisingly potent lineup.  Nah, it was just that the players really liked high fiving each other.

They gravitated toward likable guys who could handle playing in Boston, even severely overpaying one of the league's best teammates (Shane Victorino) 

No one has ever said that about Victorino prior to this October.  Suddenly he has a good playoffs for a championship team and he's Mr. Chemistry.  Sportswriters are the dumbest fucking people on the planet.

because he made more sense for this plan than just about anyone else. Victorino's at-bat music ended up being the rallying cry for 2013: Every time he came up at Fenway, you could hear the first notes of a Bob Marley song, followed by Marley singing, "Don't worry … about a thing," and then 35,000 fans screaming, "CUZ EVERY LITTLE THING … IS GONNA BE ALL RIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!"

Percentage this had to do with Boston's title: fucking Z fucking E fucking R fucking fuckity fuck fuck O.

That's all you needed to know about the 2013 Red Sox. 

What he means here, and in everything that follows, is "This is pretty much all I know about the 2013 Red Sox, because I didn't pay attention to them until August.  Hey did you know Bill Russell likes Eggo waffles?  His freezer is full of them."

For the first four months, nobody expected them to win the World Series — 

You're right, they were only in first place on May 1, June 1, and July 1 (best record in the AL at that time), but I agree--the 2013 Red Sox were truly the little engine that could.  With their scant $158MM payroll (4th highest in baseball) and loads of on-field success throughout the season, who could have seen a deep playoff run coming?

we were just happy to have a likable Red Sox team again. 


Go eat a fucking knife, Bill.  You're the worst.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Bill Simmons started watching the 2013 Red Sox in August, and hey, what do you know, a championship! Time to write about them like he had been paying attention all season (Part 1)

This article is actually an expose on Big Papi, rather than the 2013 Red Sox as a whole.  But they're one and the same for our (OW-UH) purposes.  And since Bill couldn't be bothered to watch the 2012 Red Sox after it became clear by early summer that they were not going to be the Best Team Ever, nor was he able to stomach the 2013 Red Sox until most of the way through the season when it became clear they would make the playoffs, he begins with 4,000 words about something exactly like Big Papi and the Red Sox: Bill Russell.

Tomorrow afternoon in Boston, Massachusetts, the great Bill Russell finally gets his own statue.

I'm just going to get this out of the way early and not go back to it (unless Bill does something really super terrible later on): Boston is a racist city that actively disliked Russell while he was leading the Celtics to like 12 championships in 13 years or whatever it was.  Racism.  Boston.  Potato.  Poe-tah-toe.  It still makes me laugh even though it's so sad.  But I don't want to go back to the well for that kind of joke 50 times throughout the course of this post, so that'll be it for now.

Details were scarce until recently. We know the statue will be unveiled in City Hall Plaza, that it stands about eight feet tall, that a talented local artist named Ann Hirsch created it.


We know President Obama passed through Boston on Wednesday and caught an early glimpse. We know Russell and his family will attend the ceremony — no small feat, because Russell is wired like a Sicilian mafia boss. He remembers every slight, every offense, every ill word, everything. Boston let him down for good a long time ago.

At least Bill acknowledges it.

He gave up on Boston. Gave up on the city. Gave up on the people. Bill Russell has spent the past four decades living in Seattle, on Mercer Island, about as far from Boston as you can get without falling into the Pacific Ocean.

When I spent the day with Russell last November, 


he maintained that he didn't care about Boston anymore. 

I think moving to Seattle is a pretty good hint that he's not bluffing.

Little clues throughout our conversation said otherwise. He remembered everyone mistakenly assuming that a budding Celtics dynasty would come to a halt in 1963, when Bob Cousy retired, as if the Cooz was the reason for those first six titles. He remembered playing more than one Game 7 in a Boston Garden that was only 70 percent full, and he definitely remembered Bobby Orr's Bruins selling out games in December and January. He remembered the reaction after Red Auerbach named Russell as his coaching successor, as if nobody could believe that a black guy — a black guy — could tell a bunch of white people what to do. He remembered the idiots who wrecked his new house, destroyed his trophies and defecated on his walls, because how would anyone ever forget something like that? He definitely remembered how Boston fans deified Larry Bird, how they put him on a pedestal for winning eight fewer titles than Russell did.

It seems Bill is trying to get into a semantics argument and say that "still being really angry at a city that never appreciated his greatness because of his skin color" is different than not caring.  You and I, since we have brains, know that you can be furious about something but not really, truly care about it.  You can just leave it behind and let it fade away.  Which sounds exactly like what Russell was doing, except that it's harder for him to forget all those things than it is for you and I to forget that the coach cut us from the 9th grade baseball team, because 1) as Bill just said, Russell is wired like a crazy person and 2) he was disrespected because of the way he was born; you and I were disrespected (read: told by the universe to give up) because we sucked at baseball.

These moments kept coming up, and they kept coming up, and by the end of it, I just assumed that Bill Russell would never return to Boston. That he would live the rest of his life and die in Seattle, and that would be it. 

And all they had to do to lure him back for a few days was PUT UP A FUCKING STATUE OF HIM.  What a faker that Russell is--always pretending like he was deeply hurt by racism!

We spent the first chunk of our interview in Russell's basement, with the six-time MVP standing in front of his trophy case and telling stories about everything inside it. A few months earlier, he had undergone a heart procedure and was still recovering from it. Someone close to him warned us, "Make sure he doesn't stand for too long — he's still a little weak."  Like a dummy, I became so enthralled with our conversation that I kept him standing for 90 solid minutes. 

Riveting journalism.  "I interviewed Bill Russell.  He was standing.  Someone told me to make sure he didn't stand too much.  Later, we sat."

I can remember exactly where we were — the left corner of his basement,

I FEEL LIKE I'M THERE!  Also, what the fuck is the "left corner" of a room?  Is Russell's house in a side scrolling video game?

at the tail end of a wall covered with framed photos, magazine covers and newspaper clippings. Russell had framed a Boston Herald article from June 1986, right after Bird won his third title — the summer when Larry Legend could have announced that he was walking across the Charles River and 50,000 locals would have scurried down there to witness it — 


when many believed that Bird was the greatest basketball player ever. 

I said I wouldn't do more racism jokes.  I said I wouldn't do more racism jokes.  /grits teeth

You know who disagreed with that argument? Larry Joe Bird. He maintained that Bill Russell was the best, that the 11 rings spoke for themselves. The headline of the piece said something like "Bird: Russell Still the Best." If you think it doesn't mean anything that Russell framed this article and put it in his basement, then you don't know anything about Bill Russell.

And since you've never met him and stood with him for a medium amount of time, you definitely don't know him like I do!  Hey did I mention I got to meet Bird at one point too?

And as we were talking about it, suddenly, his eyes went blank.


I was standing there looking up at Russell — remember, he towers over me by eight inches — 

Still more beautiful and expository writing.  Bill Russell is tall.  Also a nice humblebrag tucked in there; just so you know, Bill is over six feet.  AND HE PLAYS PICKUP BASKETBALL STILL HIS KIDS ARE CRAZY KOBE BRYANT USED STEROIDS EFF YOU MODE!

waiting for his next sentence to come. We had a camera crew watching us from a few feet away, along with a few other selected guests. 

Peter King was there, for some reason, asking Russell what his favorite Sam Adams seasonal was.

I thought Russell had dramatically paused before his next point, eventually realizing that he couldn't get his next breath. I can still see his face — dark and weathered, white beard, whiskers popping from the sides like snowflakes. I can still see his blank eyes. I remember panicking about 1.8 seconds before anyone else started to panic. Oh my god. We killed Bill Russell. Someone frantically pulled over a tall stool. We urged him to sit down. Russell asked for a minute. We stood there in silence, watching one of the greatest athletes who ever lived now struggling to breathe. Someone gave him a bottle of water and that helped.

Bill Russell is 79.  Everyone knows this (NO ONE DENIES IT!).  This is not even slightly interesting, and I would be shocked if Bill wasn't embellishing the amount of drama in the moment.  The guy is old; old people get tired just from watching TV, let alone talking.  Please, continue this riveting tale.  What happened next?  Did you continue the interview?

We decided to change locations, moving upstairs into Russell's living room, 

So, how about David Ortiz and those 2013 Red Sox?  What a playoff run.

where we had arranged one of those traditional interview setups with two chairs facing each other. Russell made his way up the stairs — slowly, painstakingly, to the point where you could feel every step — 

Copy and paste my analysis from above.  Also, that's truly horrendous writing.

before finding his chair and sitting down. The camera crew hustled to turn on the lights and set everything else up, 

And to turn on their cameras and set up the sound and stuff!  It was neat!  This is turning into a long-winded 2nd grader's story about a trip to the zoo, only less interesting.

and now Russell and I were just looking at each other. I was concerned. Really, really concerned. Russell was staring at me with glassy eyes. He was in another place. Just concentrating on his breaths. 


The room was dead silent, like a church, with everyone else fretting and talking in hushed-beyond-hushed tones. His friend Charlie kept telling us, "He's fine, just give him a minute, he's fine."

And then … BOOM! Bill Russell was fine. He sprang back to life. "I'm OK," he said, unleashing his trademark laugh, and I can still feel my own heart racing happily after he said it. 

I considered doing that thing that I often do with TMQ writing where I cut a paragraph off midsentence and fast forward to the next point, but I wanted to firmly establish for you how horrendous this article is.  So far, in like 1500 words, we have 1) learned that Simmons did an interview with Bill Russell 2) learned that one part of the interview involved Larry Bird praising Bill (what a shock that that made it into the article) and 3) had Simmons tell us what walking around a house with a 79 year old is like.  Jesus H.

We spent the next 90 minutes talking about his life. The interview ended and everyone shook hands. 

But what about Charlie?  You can't just bring in a new character and then leave us hanging!

Our crew started packing up. I sat down at Russell's kitchen table with my friend Hirschy, the biggest basketball fan I know, 

And we agreed that the Thunder at 7/1 to win the title this year is WAY TOO HIGH.  THANKS FOR THE FREE MONEY, VEGAS.

as well as someone who had helped arrange the entire day. This wasn't just one of the highlights of our careers; this was one of the highlights of our lives. We were trying to act like adults. We were trying to remain professional. 

Just take about 5 semesters of high school level English composition classes and you might get there one day.

We were fighting off the urge to repeatedly high-five each other while screaming "YES!!!!" and "WE DID IT!" A three-hour hang in Bill Russell's house? With Russell talking about anything and everything?

We thought he'd schedule the interview, invite us in, and then only want to talk about NASCAR!

"Where's Bill?"

Russell's voice.

"Where's Bill?"



I stood up.

"Come here. I want to show you something," Bill Russell said.

"It's the door.  Beat it, you fucking moron."

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Jonah Keri shits out a worthless 2013 retrospective, part 2 of 2

Before we get started, earlier today Deadspin informed me that Scott Miller and Danny Knobler were fired by CBS Sportsline.  Cue up the Nelson Muntz laugh, especially for Knobler (Miller wasn't THAT bad, although he certainly was bad), but mostly, be angry that Heyman remains employed.  Fuck that guy with a blender.

Now for the rest of Keri's groundbreaking opus regarding how baseball teams should be constructed and managed.

3. Having no weaknesses can be just as effective as being loaded with multiple stars.

Which team wins--Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Rickey Henderson and twenty two high school players?  Or 25 above average MLB players?  THE ANSWER MAY SURPRISE YOU.  Buckle your seatbelts and get ready for some fascinating analysis.

The A's have turned this idea into an art form. Josh Donaldson enjoyed a big breakout season in 2013. Otherwise, this was a team that relied on contributions from a wide array of players, all the way down to the bottom of their lineup, the back of their rotation, relief middlemen, and key guys off the bench. 

The Astros and Marlins, meanwhile, actually used no relief middlemen (who the hell came up with that term?) or key guys off the bench.  They just ran out the same 9 guys for 162 straight games.

After two decades of losing seasons, the Pirates finally broke through, rolling all the way to the playoffs. 

Did they do it because of Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and a dominant bullpen?  No, of course not.  CLINT BARMES WAS THE KEY.  (Side note: Clint Barmes appeared in 108 games and had 330 PAs.  He OPS+ed 58.  Clearly, the Pirates had no superstars or weaknesses.)

Though Andrew McCutchen will likely take home NL MVP honors soon, the Buccos succeeded largely on the strength of diversified talent. They got solid contributions from their nos. 3 through 5 starters (Gerrit Cole, Jeff Locke, and Charlie Morton), from the bottom of their lineup (Jordy Mercer, once he grabbed the starting shortstop job), 

Fair enough, Barmes eventually lost his job.  But still, even if we allow for the fact that I'm picking nits and the Pirates actually were a very well-balanced team, holy Jesus on a pogo stick, no fucking shit not having any weaknesses can be as good as having some superstars to go with a bunch of terrible players.  I'm a Rockies fan.  I get it.  So does everyone else who knows anything about baseball.

and from several relievers beyond the closer and primary setup man (Justin Wilson and Tony Watson chief among them). With the trade deadline approaching, there were some wildly ambitious calls for a blockbuster move. Instead, Pittsburgh filled out its roster with useful complementary parts: Byrd to plug a hole in the outfield (he was great), and a past-prime but still functional Justin Morneau to help at first base (he hit for zero power but did at least post a .370 on-base percentage in 25 games).

I'm not going to point out the fact that the Pirates lost in the first round, as did the A's (for like the 7th time in their last 8 playoff appearances), because that's a doucheball thing to do.  Nevertheless, recent anecdotal evidence suggests that if the goal is not just to make the playoffs but to succeed once you get there, you might want some superstars like David Ortiz, Jon Lester, Buster Posey, Matt Cain, Albert Pujols, Adam Wainwright, etc.

Lest you think this is only a worthwhile strategy for low-payroll teams, remember the mockery the Red Sox went through when they devoted their offseason energy to acquiring players like Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp, and Uehara, and the results they got from these complementary players.

That's the worst anecdotal support for a bad argument I've ever read.  
1) The Red Sox already had a bunch of stars which is why it made sense to surround them with complimentary guys 
2) Victorino, Napoli and Uehara are hardly "complimentary guys," each would play a significant roles on any team in MLB 
3) What mockery did the Red Sox go through for signing those guys?  I sure didn't read about it 
4) Jonah Keri is a twat

4. Keep an eye on the minors.

No fucking way.  Again, beyond those three quick words, sarcasm escapes me.  I can't even respond to that in greater detail.

As productive as in-season trades can be for some aggressive teams, the ideal scenario is to promote from within and have rookies shine. 

More of Jonah Keri's patented, trademarked, top secret team building tips:
1) Be sure to have both pitchers AND hitters
2) Guys who were good in high school and college tend to be good as pros
3) It's easier for guys to catch the ball when using gloves, make sure all fielders are using them

The Cardinals 

Oh fucking hell.  Not this narrative again.  HERPA DERP CARDINALS BEST RUN TEAM IN BASEBALL DO THINGS THE RIGHT WAY (as if such a thing exists) HOME GROWN PLAYERS LOW PAYROLL (they're in the top 10 or close to it every year) NONE OF THIS FANCY FREE AGENT NONSENSE.  But yeah, I'm sure Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday (technically a trade, but they still had to resign him on the open market while he was shopping around) have nothing to do with their success during the past several seasons.  That's only, you know, two of their three best hitters.  Go back to 2011 and you've got Holliday and Lance Berkman, another free agent.  BUT BUT BUT YADI  Kill yourself, imaginary Cardinals fan talking in all caps in my head. 

rode great hitting with runners in scoring position and big contributions from veteran stars like Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, and Adam Wainwright in their pennant-winning campaign. But they probably don't make the World Series (or maybe even come close) without huge contributions from their rookies: 

This is true of like, every championship team ever.  Yes, they got huge contributions from established players.  BUT ALSO THERE WERE SOME YOUNG GUYS HOW NOVEL.  Can you name a recent championship or EVEN playoff team that DIDN'T get help from a variety of experienced and young players?  Christ, even the 2009 Yankees, with a payroll of a jillion dollars and an average age of like 35, had 23 year old Phil Hughes, 24 year old Melky Cabrera and 23 year old Joba Chamberlain playing significant roles.

If you're looking for teams that might outperform expectations next year, scan the high minors of their farm systems for major league–ready talent. 

This is like a tip you would read in a baseball video game instruction booklet.  "To improve your team try to trade with other teams for some of their young stars."  No fucking way, really?  Look for major league ready talent in the high minors as an indicator of future success?  You don't say.  Got any tips as to how I could more effectively drive my car?  Should I insert the key into the ignition before pushing the gas pedal?

5. Don't overreact to a bad season.

This is the only one of his five points that has any level of nuance.  And it's still fucking moronic.

Last Sox reference: 


If a talented team can play poorly enough to lose 93 games, then come back the next season and win it all, that bodes well for some of 2013's biggest disappointments. Everyone in the world loved the Nationals heading into this season. But Washington disappointed thanks to subpar seasons by multiple players. 

I don't mind the Nationals, but they disappointed because their 2012 was lucky as hell.  Look at that roster--how did it win 96 games?  They're not as bad as they were in 2013, but they sure as fuck aren't as good as they were in 2012.  That's an 86 win team right there if I've ever seen one.  A rotation that's good at the top but has no depth.  A so-so bullpen, featuring really only one shutdown guy (Clippard).  A lineup that should be good if everyone stays healthy, but which will never come close to staying healthy, because Ramos, Zimmerman, Harper and Werth are hurt all the time.  Let's not get carried away about the potential of the 2014 Nats.  They'll probably miss the playoffs again.

Adam LaRoche's power dipped dramatically, 

He's 33 and was never that good in the first place.

Wilson Ramos missed half the year 

Who could have seen that coming, what with his 238 GP in 4 MLB seasons?

(and Kurt Suzuki stunk in his stead), Bryce Harper missed 44 games, Danny Espinosa was awful, and the bullpen ran into trouble frequently. Think of the Nats' 2013 season as a bad result among a range of outcomes for a young and very talented team. And expect them to be right back in the playoff hunt in 2014, with a great trio of starting pitchers, a balanced lineup, and better luck than they had this year.

Oops, nevermind, let's get carried away and assume those problems with rotational depth, the so-so bullpen, and the injury-prone players will just solve themselves.  I don't know what their team BABIP or BABIP allowed was, but if we want to talk about luck from another angle, they actually outperformed their pythag wins by two last year.

The Jays can't claim the recent success the Nats had in 2012. 

Oh my God, this team again.  TORONTO BLUE JAYS, 2012-2013 OFFSEASON CHAMPS.  Wait, wasn't one of his points from this very article (in my last point) that we shouldn't get carried away with that kind of thing?  I forgot, the Blue Jays are the darling of every hipster baseball writer, so now we get to hear about how they're sure to turn things around in 2014 after somehow failing to win the AL East in 2013, as every Jonah Keri in the world told us they would last year.

In fact, with the Pirates making the playoffs this year, Toronto now owns the second-longest playoff drought in baseball, behind only the 28-years-and-counting Royals. But there were some good reasons for the baseball world to get excited about the Jays this year, even if 2013 ended with a last-place finish in the AL East. 

It didn't just end with that.  It also consisted of that throughout pretty much all of April, May, June, July, August and September.  It was kind of a running theme.  They sucked.  Badly.  Thoroughly.  Deeply.

Granted, the starting pitching sucked, the defense sucked, and Jose Reyes missed a big chunk of the season as everyone figured. But Toronto had a bunch of terrible players suck up tons of playing time this year, which in a twisted way bodes well for 2014. Replace the replacement-level performances of Melky Cabrera, J.P. Arencibia, Emilio Bonifacio, and Maicer Izturis with even average production and that alone could spur a charge back to contention. 

Just get a new catcher, second baseman, left fielder and shortstop (to play during the 120 games when Reyes is hurt)!  Just like that!  That'll fix those starting pitching woes!

As we wrote back in August: 

Oh good, a dash of Will Leitch-esque-ian first person plural.  Thank you so much.

"It's entirely possible that the Jays are a pretty good team hiding inside a terrible season."

I hope they lose 130 games next year.

We'll have to wait a while to see how it all plays out. 

Oh, will we?  Can't we just go down to the mall and buy a time machine to speed things up?

In the meantime, get ready for another hectic Hot Stove season, then for new contenders and new stars to emerge next year. Just 104 days until pitchers and catchers report. Can't wait.

Can't wait for Jonah Keri to hopefully one day go the way of Miller and Knobler.  I can only dream.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Jonah Keri shits out a worthless 2013 retrospective, part 1 of 2

The last time I dumped on Jonah Keri, the post only generated one comment (albeit a very good one), so I'm not sure if he's not a good target for this blog because he's usually not too shitty or if no one is/was reading the blog (or both).  But I'm about to do it again because this article is truly worthless.  It is a spectacular demonstration of unilluminating analysis.  It parrots a bunch of the stupidest "how to build a team" cliches in sports.  It should not exist, and you will feel dumber for having read the parts of it I copy and paste here.  The topic: What did we learn from the 2013 MLB season?

1. Winning the Hot Stove championship guarantees nothing.

This is so dumb as to not warrant a sarcastic response.

Every winter, teams scramble to make trades and splashy free-agent signings. When it's all over, we media know-it-alls tally everything up, then declare with breathtaking confidence who won and who lost. The problem is, we're doing it wrong. Signing the highest-priced free agent is great, but it might not get you far if you neglect other roster weaknesses to get there.

My god.  It's like a Malcolm Gladwell essay ("SOMETIMES PEOPLE DO STUFF AND BECAUSE THEY DO STUFF OTHER STUFF HAPPENS"), but even stupider.

The 2013 Angels were a perfect example of this phenomenon. 

If care about baseball at all and needed Jonah to tell you about this topic, either generally or as it pertains to the 2013 Angels, you obviously lied when you confirmed to me in my imagination at the beginning of the sentence that you care about baseball at all.  Please stop lying.

2. Bargain hunting can and does often pay off.

This one if fun if you imagine Billy Beane nodding to himself and stroking his chin while reading it.

Francisco Liriano. Russell Martin. Bartolo Colon. James Loney. Koji Uehara. Marlon Byrd. 

All of these guys (except Martin) are, in one way or another, flawed players who didn't command much salary in 2013 for good reason.  They vastly outperformed their pay, because that is a thing that happens in any labor market from time to time.  There were also dozens of bargain bin signings/flyers taken on players that seemed to be close to done in MLB in 2013 that didn't work out at all.  But go on, hit us with the ex post facto analysis that shows that obviously all of these guys were due to break out.

The list of low-priced free agents who delivered big returns for their teams in 2013 is a long one. Each of these players was acquired cheaply because he had a perceived defect. 

Actual defect.

The Pirates got Martin cheap because he hit just .211 in 2012 — even though he bopped 21 homers, played his usual strong defense, and was just 29 years old. 

They didn't get him that cheap--he's on a 2 year $15MM deal.  That's probably close to market value for a decent catcher.  He bopped 21 homers in 2012, but he did so in Yankee Stadium.  And his .211 BA came with a .311 OBP, which isn't horrible for a catcher, but isn't exactly good either.

Loney hit a catastrophic .249/.293/.336 in 2012, but he was just 28 years old, played excellent defense, and had put up some decent offensive seasons, albeit without the power you'd hope for from a slugging-heavy position like first base. 

Loney's 2012 was a dumpster fire.  First base defense isn't that important.  His last offensive season before 2013 that could be fairly characterized as "good" for a 1B was 2007.  He might have cracked the "decent" threshold in 2011, but you'd have to stretch the definition to get him there.  By all reasonable estimation he looked like a guy who should have been out of professional baseball by now.  The Rays probably overpaid him when they offered him $2MM for 2013 (unless it was not guaranteed until he made the roster out of spring training or something).

Liriano and Uehara had injury histories, though both had shown flashes of dominance when healthy enough to stay on the field. 

Liriano was utterly horrendous in 2009, 2011 and 2012.  As of last winter, he wasn't as close to being out of baseball as Loney was, but he was in the neighborhood.  Uehara is actually somewhat like Martin--a guy who, on a 2 year $9.5MM deal, wasn't really a scrap heap find.  He was being paid elite setup guy money; instead, he ended up being an elite closer, because elite setup guys and elite closers have exactly the same skillset. 

Byrd and Colon came with PED suspensions on their records (in Colon's case, one that hadn't yet ended), but Byrd was only a couple years removed from being a four-win player, and Colon actually pitched decently in 2012.

Byrd was bad in 2011 and utterly horrendous in 2012 (when he also picked up a PED suspension).  He is closer to 40 years old than he is to 30.  There was no reason on earth to believe that he would be able to be a contributing MLB player in 2013, which is probably why he ended up with the Mets to start the season.  Unlike Loney, I don't think he was overpaid ($700,000), but seriously, to say that teams should have seen his resurgence coming because he "was only a couple years removed from being a four win player" is fucking stupid.  Colon, on the other hand, was the best signing on this list--I'm surprised he didn't get more than $3MM after being above average in 2011 and 2012.  But also, he's old as fuck and wasn't in MLB in 2010.  So I suppose those things might have been red flags that kept some teams away from him.  In any case, maybe he just wanted to stay in Oakland and the team told him this was the best they could do in terms of salary.

Colon and Uehara were freaks, pitching abnormally well given their age (Colon 40, Uehara 38). But Martin, Liriano, and Loney in particular fit the profile well: players who'd performed well earlier in their careers who were still in their twenties and thus still had decent potential for bounce-back seasons. 

And yet, somehow, every single year there are dozens of guys who fit that profile who get signed to "fuck it, let's take a flyer on the guy and see if he has anything left" contracts and completely fizzle out and disappear.  It's almost like signing bargain bin guys is crapshoot, and this year the Pirates and Rays got lucky while the Rangers (Joakim Soria) and the Indians (Mark Reynolds) got unlucky.  Almost.

Plenty of old biases remain alive and well. Prince Fielder can fetch $214 million because there will always be someone willing to (over)pay for home runs and RBIs. 

Look, I agree that Prince's contract is bad and will likely be one of the worst in baseball within a few years, but he's not just getting paid for home runs and RBIs.  He had a down year in 2013 but from 2009-2012 his OBP exceeded .400 every season.  If you put me in charge of an MLB team with a league average financial/payroll outlook and told me that, for the upcoming season, I could sign January 2012 Prince to his contract or sign January 2013 James Loney to his contract, I'm going with 2012 Prince unless the team I'm in charge of is horrible/rebuilding.  2012 Loney was almost indescribably bad.  I'd figure out a way to make Prince's contract work.  Loney (the version available to me in this hypothetical) doesn't even look like an MLB player anymore.  Good for the Rays for revitalizing him, and who knows if they signed him based on the assumption that their hitting coach could fix an identifiable problem in his swing, but this is classic ex post facto smartest guy in the room stuff.

Meanwhile, defense remains underrated, 

It also remains extremely difficult to quantifiably analyze, particularly when it comes to WAR.  BBR has Loney at -0.2 dWAR and Fielder at -2.2 dWAR in 2013.  I know Fielder has the range of a traffic cone, but I have a hard time believing that there were 2 wins worth of difference in their defensive performances.

batting average overrated — to name just two misguided stances. 

Was this article written in 2003?  Who the fuck doesn't think batting average is a crappy stat at this point?  

We haven't had time to go through this year's free-agent crop yet. But if you want to find the bargains of 2014, look for under-30 players who play good defense, are coming off ugly seasons by traditional metrics, and have some history of strong performance two or three years ago.

Loney OBPed .293 in 2012.  Byrd OBPed .243 (not a typo).  It's not like either was some Scott Hatteberg diamond in the rough who was obviously a good player as long as you were willing to look past antiquated traditional stats.  They were awful.  Yes, signing scrap heap guys is always a good idea because teams need depth guys and occasionally a scrap heap guy turns back into a contributor.  But to say that guys like Loney, Byrd and Liriano were obvious candidates to have the 2013s they did is completely fucking disingenuous.  Shut up, Jonah Keri.  Go fuck yourself.

Tune in later in the week for the exciting conclusion, in which, among other things, Jonah will explain to us that 2013 taught us to "keep an eye on the minors."  I can't believe I don't need an Insider subscription to read this article!  Has anyone showed it to Ruben Amaro Jr. yet?