Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Off Night Viewing

Hey there Fackers. Once again, sorry for the slow drip of content here today. We're now approaching night three of four Yankee baseball-less nights, so at least we'll have something to talk about again soon. As for me, I've been fairly well tied up at the office today.

The company that employs me was purchased by a British corporation fifteen months ago, just like on Mad Men. The Board of Directors is coming across the pond to meet at our office for the next two days (though I'm not sure how they're traveling, we've worked out a one if by land, two if by sea signaling system). Everyone here has been a bit on edge getting things prepared for the meetings. I'm just hopeful that ours here go better than when the Brits came to visit on Mad Men (jump to the 1:40 mark).

Speaking of television, here are a few options to get you through another night without baseball:

  • College Football: #5 Boise State at Tulsa, ESPN 8 PM. The other undefeated Broncos will likely have to stay that way if they expect a trip to a BCS game. This is the first of back-to-back games away from the blue field. Tulsa is 4-1, with their only loss being a 45-0 drubbing against then #2 Oklahoma. This is the first of back-to-back Wendesday night ESPN games for the Golden Hurricanes. Boise State opened the season with a weeknight game on ESPN and someone got punched in the face, so this could be fun.

    I spent most of last Saturday at the office getting ready for this week, so I didn't catch much college football. Being at the office did give me access to ESPN360 though, so I was able watch BC get completely destroyed by Virginia Tech while I worked - talk about adding insult to injury. I'm looking forward to watching tonight on an actual television, from the comfort of my own couch, with a few frosty cold ones.

  • World Cup Qualifying: USA vs. Costa Rica, ESPN2 7:30 PM. The U.S. has already punched their ticket South Africa for next year's World Cup, so this one isn't of much consequence to them. Costa Rica on the other hand is still trying to hold off Honduras for the third and final guaranteed CONCACAF berth, so they have something to play for. A win clinches that berth for them, a tie and a Honduras win against El Savador tonight forces a tie for the spot.

    The U.S. will be without striker (and former BC Eagle) Charlie Davies, who was involved in a horrific one car accident early yesterday morning. Davis required five hours of emergency surgery and will likely miss the World Cup as a result. He was one of the lucky ones; one of the car's passengers did not survive the crash.

  • NHL: Kings at Rangers, MSG 7 PM. I haven't yet watched too much hockey this year, but I'll try to catch a bit of this one. New Ranger (and former BC Eagle) Brian Boyle will face his former team in this one. The guy is 6'7" without skates on. The Kings feature Rob Scuderi who played for the Stanley Cup Champion Penguins last year, and the National Champion BC Eagles in 2001. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick is a local guy and attended the same prep school as former Ranger (and former BC Eagle) Brian Leetch. The Rangers have a defenseman named Dan Girardi, but I've yet to hear anyone in the NYC media make some sort of poorly conceived connection to the Yankee skipper.

  • Yankees Classics: 1976 ALCS Game 5, YES 7 PM. The Chris Chambliss game.

  • Lastly, the second episode of the new season of South Park airs on Comedy Central at 10 PM. This one's apparently about Butters, who happens to be my favorite character.
That's it for us tonight. See you in the A.M. In honor of the British coming, here's a little Paul Revere.

Rounding Up Some ALCS Previews

Since the Yankees didn't know who they were playing until the day before the ALDS started, there weren't too many comprehensive previews written for the series. For the ALCS, quite the opposite is true.

We aren't going to do anything specific in preparation for the series just yet, but for those of you who are jonesing for some info, we've taken the liberty of rounding a whole bunch of them from the many corners of the interwebs:

Looking to buy tickets? They won't be cheap.

River Ave. Blues examines the managers, the starting rotations and the Yankees' roster.

Tyler Kepner runs down the Angels' various ways of winning and notes that this diversity is what helps them win so often.

Dayn Perry of Baseball Prospectus (over at FOX Sports) thinks this could be one for the ages.

Rob Neyer breaks down the Angels perceived strength on the basepaths and concludes that the bulk of it doesn't come from swiping bags. Don't worry, Joe Girardi has a plan to deal with their speed. Carson Cistulli wonders how fast Bobby Abreu really is.

Mike Vaccaro of the Post writes of Mike Scioscia's torturous ways.

Dave Allen at FanGraphs projects how Jered Weaver might fare at Yankee Stadium in Game 2. Dave Cameron (also at FanGraphs) looks at the first three starting pitching match-ups and expects both teams to use a 3 man rotation, which would allow the Yanks to start three lefties at the Stadium.

Pending Pinstripes lays out the schedule and gives the Yanks about a 2 in 3 chance of winning.

Steve Goldman from The Pinstriped Bible quickly notes the differences between the Twins and Angels and assures us that the Halos will be a tougher match-up.

Steve Piloti of the Newark Star-Ledger gives us 5 reasons to worry.
Is that enough for you?

Joba's Workouts

Not the first name that comes to mind when you think of ESPN The Magazine's "Body Issue" but they have a quick video of Mr. Chamberlain doing some running around the Oakland Coliseum as part of his training regiment. There's also a picture and a quick blurb of you go here and click on number 4.

I'm with Joba on this one. When I go running, I always try to mix up the terrain and scenery to keep it interesting. When I lived on the Upper West Side I would hit up The Ramble in Central Park while everyone else ran the prescribed loops that encircled it. Likewise, why run laps in the outfield when the stands in every park are unique? It gives you the freedom to alter the route as you go, the downside is that pretty much impossible to keep track of how far you've ran. But I think we can agree that any amount of running is an improvement over this Joba.

Closer Implosions

Good morning, Fackers. We began yesterday talking about Huston Street's blown save and how it fit into a trend of closers not being able to lock it down so far this postseason. Aside from the aforementioned meltdowns by Jonathan Papelbon, Joe Nathan and Ryan Franklin, other shutdown late inning relievers like Phil Hughes and Ryan Madson stumbled as well.

These late inning offense outbursts, couple with the long layover before the League Championships Series begin have swung a huge amount off attention towards the closer role and have fans of various allegiances doing a fair bit of hand wringing.

It's not just the fans though. David Pinto, a former chief researcher for Baseball Tonight whose Twitter moniker is "@StatsGuru" thinks Joel Sherman might be somehow jinxing the Yankees with this column, entitled "Rivera Gives Yankees Edge In October". Pinto says:
After watching Nathan, Papelbon, Street and Franklin get lit up, Joel Sherman really shouldn’t write this headline.
Pinto's own headline is "Bad Time To Put Your Faith In Closers", implying that they rise and fall in relation to each other as if they are some sort of commodity. That would be like saying that the LCSes are going to be terribly umpired even if Phil Cuzzi and C.B. Bucknor are watching at home. Anyone feel comfortable making that prediction? I don't think I have to remind a "Stats Guru" that a rash of bad performances by someone's peers doesn't make them anymore likely to mess up themselves.

Tom Verducci over at attempts to unlock the mysteries of October in a single column, entitled: "Here's why it's so hard to close out a game in October". Intriguing, yes? What secrets has Tom uncovered? How long must it have taken him to research countless postseasons to find the relevant trends? Enlighten us with you timeless findings, Mr. Verducci! [emphasis mine]
Take all the closers this postseason [...and] look at what they did in their 18 ninth-inning appearances of the Division Series, and compare that to the major league average ninth inning -- not just those thrown by closers -- for the 2009 season.
Wait, what??!?! Where do we even start with this statistical atrocity?

First and most obviously, he looks at one round of the Divisional Series with a robust sample size of 18 innings (or an average of just over 2 per pitcher) and tell us why "it's so hard to close out a game in October"? That's not even a good method of comparing data for this year, let alone postseason play in general. Apparently Dane Cook was right, there really is "ONLY ONE OCTOBER!!".

Secondly, why the Major League average 9th inning? If you wanted to find out what is unique about closing out games in October, it would probably be wise to compare that to closing out games in other months of the year, don't you think?

With this shoddy methodology, Verducci's main conclusions, aside from pressure which he mentions briefly, are that hitters have better scouting reports which they can only really pay attention during the postseason and batters have a more "intense focus".

But baseball is a zero sum game. So pitchers have better scouting reports and a more intense focus, too, right?

I'll grant Verducci the point that it is harder to close out games in October, but I think he's forgoing Occam's Razor in a major way here. Maybe closers' arms are a little bit worn out when the postseason rolls around, but does it really come down to much more than pressure and facing better offensive teams?

Did you see Joe Nathan's face when he was on the mound on Friday night? He looked like he was heading through US Customs with a kilo of cocaine in his suitcase, except even a tweaked out drug mule wouldn't have been doing that thing with his lips.

It's easy to dismiss pressure as a contributing factor during the regular season. Closers are built to handle the stress of closing down games and do it all the time, but rarely is there anything more on the line. Once the playoffs roll around, a blown save doesn't just cost you a game, it could very well cost your team their season. It's human nature to feel that pressure - we all do it as fans, just watching it on TV.

If it really was scouting reports and batter's focus, would Mariano Rivera have an 0.74 ERA in the postseason, almost exactly 1/3 of his regular season mark despite facing better competition and averaging more innings per appearance? I think not.

Mariano Rivera isn't perfect, but he's a lot better at dealing with pressure than any other closer remaining in the postseason, so Joel Sherman and Burt Blyleven don't think twice about the titles to their columns even though a bunch of lesser closers lost their shit in the LDSes.

There's no guarantee that Mo gets through this postseason perfectly. In fact, he already failed to clean up for Phil Hughes in Game 2, allowing an RBI single to Denard Span. But he came back out the next inning and got three outs. And he popped up on the mound in Game 3 in Minnesota to break Joe Mauer's bat like stale loaf of bread in the 8th inning and lock down the save in the 9th.

Saying that he gives the Yankees the edge isn't going to somehow jinx him, because there are no such thing as jinxes. He's the best postseason pitcher of all-time by a mile and if someone gets the best of him it's because nobody's perfect.