Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Before The Music Dies

Here at Fack Youk, we take a special pride in melding music with sports. Way back before the season started, I used to label music posts as [Non-Sports] but almost immediately after April rolled around I began dropping musical YouTube clips to help express the anxiousness of waiting for meaningful baseball to be played and by the third game had come up with our signature style of previews which attempt to pair a song with a theme leading into each game. It can be a struggle sometimes, so not every combo is like peanut butter and jelly, but we do our best.

Perhaps out musical tastes don't exactly jive with yours, but one thing that you can count on (especially when Matt writes the previews) is that the song and band choices will be a little off the beaten path. Perhaps it's something old, or fairly new, or something so obscure that we couldn't even find it on YouTube, but it's almost never mainstream. By definition, that means that fewer of you are going to know the songs, but it also means that it's more likely that we are opening you up to something you've never heard before.

Matt and I are clearly both hardcore music enthusiasts and a big reason for that level of appreciation is that, at a certain point, we realized that there was more to music than MTV and the radio.

As such, we would like to extend our highest level of recommendation to the documentary below called "Before the Music Dies". It's a fascinating exploration into how the corporatization of the music business and the search for hit singles has made it almost impossible for unique new artists to come into their own through the traditional channels of record labels and radio airplay. In short, it helps to explain why radio is so redundant regardless of where you go and contemporary popular music is generally so shitty.

At the same time, it looks at the advent of the internet and file sharing and how those things have undermined the way consumers are force-fed popular music through a limited number of mediums. In the post-Napster landscape, consumers are free to explore what they like through YouTube, MySpace, BitTorrent and countless other alternatives to Clear Channel radio stations and MTV. The only problem is that the revenue streams have yet to catch up and while this is bad for the labels, it's worse for the artists.

The film features musicians and bands that we have talked about on this blog such as Les Paul, Eric Clapton, The North Mississippi All Stars, Widespread Panic, Doyle Bramhall II along with many others. If you've got an hour and a half to kill tonight or some other time when the Yanks aren't on, this is a great way to spend it. Either way, we'll be back tomorrow.

*I first saw this movie via the blog Pigeons and Planes which provides a steady stream of downloadable new music from a whole bunch of genres. Highly recommended as well.

Afternoon Videos And Links

There's probably going to be more links than usual this week simply because it's probably better to find the best of other people's work than force ourselves to write something shitty, so here's what we've got for you this afternoon:
- You've gotta click through for this one, but you can see Joe Girardi and William Rhoden of the New York Times talking about the similarities between the strategies of playing chess and managing a baseball team (hint: there aren't that many). I don't really know what to take from this, but they play a game of speed chess on the field at Yankee Stadium with Rhianna blaring in the background and Girardi mistakenly thinks you get 5 mintues for every move.

- Below, Rick Peterson breaks down the Yankees top three starters' pitch repertoires (not that interesting). But at the 3:00 mark talks some "biomechanics" and gets into the nuts and bolts of the pitching motion at a depth that you won't find anywhere this side of Baseball Intellect. (via Jason)

- Sticking some some pitching specifics, Mike from RAB takes a comprehensive look at Phil Hughes' use of his curveball throughout the season and lack thereof in the ALDS.

- Joel Sherman isn't the first person to speculate about Joba Chamberlain taking Phil Hughes' place in the 8th inning when the ALCS rolls around, but he's probably the most respected. Here's the main problem with that theory: Joba wasn't great in the ALDS either, he just got pulled before he could do any damage. Hughes is still far and away the better option.

- Yesterday, Sherman said that the Yankees, using their own defensive metrics, believed that they improved defensively at every position besides left field and catcher from 2008. Today, Beyond the Box score busted out one of their fancy new UZR visualizations for the Yankees and despite those supposed gains, it still doesn't look too pretty.

- Emma Span from Bronx Banter was on Jeopardy last night. I didn't read that post yet because I DVR'd but haven't watched the episode. So don't ruin it for me if you have, thanks.

- The Arizona Fall League is underway and Pending Pinstripes runs down the top prospects playing out West including Ian Kennedy, Mike Dunn, Austin Romine and Zach Kroenke.

Run Differentials, Luck, And Correcting Statistical Improbabilities

Yesterday, Jay detailed some of the reasons why he wasn't too keen on the possibility of facing the Red Sox in the ALCS. I had reasons of my own for not wanting that match up. Aside from the way that the local and national media would beat the story into the ground, and the usual onslaught of rarely entertaining and often unintelligent anonymous comments we'd see here, I had a more rational concern about facing Boston.

Back in June, as the Yankees entered their third series of the season against the Sox at 0-5, we wrote a series of previews about how the Yankees were due for a win. The Yankees came up empty in that set as well, falling to 0-8 against Boston in 2009. While some of the aforementioned anonymous commenters took that as an opportunity to have some fun at our expense, I still took some solace in the fact that if the Yankees and Red Sox were truly evenly matched teams - as I thought they were - then the odds were in favor of them having a nice turnaround over the remainder of the season series.

Sure enough, over the next two months the Yankees finally put to rest the issues that intermittently beset them during the early portions of the season. When they met the Sox again in early August, we knew the Yanks were still due, and it started a 8-1 head-to-head run to finish the season series at 9-9, with 101 runs scored and 99 runs allowed. In short, the two teams were about as dead even as possible, meaning were they to meet again, probability would favor neither. It would be starting from square one, only this time it would be decided over a relatively short best of seven series rather than eighteen games. There wouldn't be enough opportunity this time for short term statistical improbabilities to correct themselves over the long term.

Yet probability doesn't always win out. In stark contrast to the universe evening out in the season series between the Yankees and Red Sox, is the absurdly good fortune that smiled upon the Yankees in their ten meetings with the Twins this year.

The Yankees and Twins began their season series in mid-May with a four game wraparound series. The Yankees had already amassed two of their fifteen regular season walkoff wins, but it was during this series that the walkoff win started to become a hallmark of the 2009 season. In the series opener, Brett Gardner delivered an inside-the-park home run, and Melky delivered his second walkoff hit of the season, giving the Yanks a one run win. On Saturday, in just his eighth game of the season and his second at the new Yankee Stadium, Alex Rodriguez delivered his second big home run of the season. This time it was an extra inning walkoff, giving the Yankees a two run victory and making A-Rod the first Yankee to get pied on the season. On Sunday, Johnny Damon delivered an extra inning walkoff HR of his own, the third straight Yankee walkoff in the series, for another one run victory. On Monday, I made my debut at Fack Youk in the morning, shot down to the Stadium for the game, and watched the Yankees squeak out another one run win, this time without the drama of a walkoff. Despite a run differential of just five, the Yankees had a four game sweep for themselves.

The two teams met again in the Metrodome following Fourth of July Weekend. The first game would be the most lopsided affair in the season series. Behind CC Sabathia, the Yankees won by eight runs, representing 50% of the final run differential for the season series. The second game was another one run victory, and then Yankees swept the season series with a two run victory in the season finale.

All told, the Yankees went 7-0 against the Twins, with 41 runs scored and 25 runs allowed. Using the more accurate 1.83 exponent, those numbers predict a pythagorean record of 5-2. Instead they went 7-0. The Yankees swept seven from the Twins in 2003 as well, but outscored them 49 to 13 that year, predicting a pythagorean record of approximately 6.4-0.6. That is, in the same amount of games the Yankees had about 1.4 more wins of luck this year compared to that year.

That luck against the Twins continued into the ALDS of course. Not just with Phil Cuzzi's blown call, or with the baserunning gaffes from Carlos Gomez and Nick Punto, but in the numbers as well. The Yankees swept the series with a nine run differential. With only a three game sample size the numbers aren't at all reliable, but they still indicate that the Yankees got about a half win worth of luck in the series.

On a more specific level, the Yankees entered the bottom of the ninth Friday with just a 10.5% win expectancy. They were facing the best closer in the league that doesn't answer to "Mo". And the ever-unclutch A-Rod managed to tie it up. In the top of the eleventh, they faced a bases loaded, no one out jam, giving the Twins a run expectancy of about 2.28 runs. Instead, despite a screaming line drive off the bat of Delmon Young, they came away with none, and the Yankees walked off one more time.

Ten games. Ten wins. Five of them by a single run, two more by just two runs. An average margin of victory of just 2.5 runs; 1.9 runs removing the eight run victory in July. Four walkoff wins, three of them consecutively, the final three in extra innings. The Twins led in seven of the games, scoring first each time. Yet they didn't amass a single, solitary victory.

As I pointed out yesterday, the Twins were a relatively weak playoff team. Luck or no luck, the 2009 Yankees should take a five game series from the 2009 Twins nine times out of ten. But the Twins are still a good team, and it's highly improbable that any team, even one as good as the Yankees, should take ten straight games from them by such slim margins. That said, I'm relieved that if and when the Twins luck against the Yanks levels out, it'll be happening in the 2010 regular season rather than the 2009 post-season.

Three Dead Days (And Problems With Replay)

Good morning, Fackers. Last night Huston Street joined Ryan Franklin, Joe Nathan and Jonathan Papelbon among the club of closers who gagged games in this year's LDSes, and alongside Paps did so in a game that would have kept the series alive. Praise be to Mo.

In the process, Street allowed the Phillies to clinch their second straight berth in the NLDS, setting up a rematch of last year between the Phils and the Dodgers. This ended the first round of the playoffs in a record-tying and brutally efficient 13 games.

Not that there weren't some surprises (The Cardinals and Red Sox getting swept) and dramatic games during the Divison Series (last night's seesaw affair, Game 3 at Fenway, Games 2 & 3 of the Yanks & Twins and the Holliday game in Chavez Ravine), but now we are left with the equivalent of a second All-Star break during the span of a week and a half.

Is the answer expanding the Division Series to 7 games? Matt from Circling the Bases thinks so. I wrote a "Commissioner for a Day" post from IIATMS way back in January and this was the one change that I said I would institute. It creates some new problems with the length of the season and creates a wider variance between a 4 game sweep and a 7 game series, possibly leading to more down time for teams that sweep, but if you cut out any off days that aren't necessary for travel, it wouldn't be that much of an issue. Maybe two games would need to be played at the same time on occasion, but the additional games would create more opportunities for revenue than there were to begin with.

Anyway, as it is, there will be nearly three full blank days between the final out last night and the first pitch of the NLCS on Thursday. Even worse, the ALCS doesn't start until Friday night, giving us Yanks fans an entire work week to twiddle our thumbs and talk about things other than our favorite team participating in actual baseball games. (I suppose it could be worse. At least we're not Red Sox fans... ZING!)

One of those things that's sure to be talked about this week is instant replay. We were on top of it after Game 1 of the Red Sox series, but the topic really exploded after Phil Cuzzi's call on Friday and has been a hot button issue ever since, with more and more bad calls beginning to stack up.

Yesterday, Ken Rosenthal talked to Grandpa Selig and (surprise!) he doesn't want to look into expanding instant replay, citing the same dumb arguments ("the human element is vital to baseball") that have always been made but never made actual sense. (It's vital to baseball to get calls wrong?) He deemed the mistakes that took place during the Division Series "controversial", which amusingly implies that there were multiple ways in which they could have been interpreted.

Ol' Bud also had this to say with respect to replay:
We need to do a little work, clean up some things. But do I think we need more replay? No. Baseball is not the kind of game that can have interminable delays.
Once again, replay doesn't have to take forever. If you adpot a moronic red flag challenge system instead of having an additional replay umpire in every stadium or at least a consolidated replay review center somewhere, it wouldn't take that long. This isn't about time.

And despite what cranky Uncle Bud tells you, baseball is pretty much the only game that can and does have interminable delays. Sort of like the 3 (or in the Yanks and Angels' case 5) days between live action we are facing right now. Kind of like the never-ending commercial breaks on TBS. Within games, we allow pitchers to warm up indefinitely when replacing an injured player. We wait hours for storms pass and play to resume. We allow managers to use an unlimited amount pitchers in one inning. At one point during the Yanks game on Friday, there were four mound conferences in the span of six pitches. A baseball game can theoretically continue forever so long as the score remains tied because there is no clock.

You want to talk about legitimate issues with instituting replay? Here's one via Baseball Think Factory:
How the heck would replay work on fair/foul calls down either line? Sure the Mauer hit went into the stands and was a groundrule double, so its obvious where he would have ended up if the call were correct, but how often does that happen?
The same issue would apply to balls that were incorrectly deemed caught or trapped in the outfield. Would the umpires have to figure out where the runners would have ended up if the ball in fact hit the ground first? What if the ball was ruled a hit but was actually caught and one of the runners was far enough off the bag where he'd have been easily doubled up?

The cleanest way to settle it would be to give the batter first and have each runner advance one base. Or if it was actually a catch, call the batter out and have the runners return to their bases. But in the first scenario, there's still a good chance that the batter is getting screwed out of a double or possibly and RBI in the transaction. In the second, a baserunner could get away with a huge mistake. You can bet that managers are going to be out there arguing their cases and wasting our collective time if they are on the short end of either of those. We're still not "getting the call right" which is what the proponents of replay (like myself) are fighting in the name of anyway.

Unfortunately, it's not going to be as easy as having the guy upstairs simply and neatly dispose of erroneous calls after they happen. More unfortunately though, we are fans of a game in which our commissioner doesn't have the same level of insight into the game of the first poster on a comment thread discussing his quotes.

You get the feeling that if this was David Stern or Roger Goodell (each of whom hasn't been afraid to institute changes to their respective leagues - like Stern lengthening the Division Series in the NBA Playoffs), they'd be the ones pointing out the technical issues - whether it was them or someone on their staff who realized it. But it's Bud Selig, who is clinging to to the memories he has of watching Christy Mathewson and Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown engage in their first legendary duel at the Polo Grounds back in 1904, when he was only 35 years old. And because of the extension he gave himself, we're stuck with this asshole through 2012!

This Bud's for you! (And you and you and you...)