Simpson’s Paradox, a Mindblowing Statistical Gotcha

Even for mathematically minded folks, statistics can be hard to grasp. Take statistical paradoxes for example: Simpson’s Paradox is a real mind-boggler. Ryan Anderson explains this paradox in a recent issue of Why is this interesting?

It’s simple to describe, yet it still stops me in my tracks when I see it in the wild. The paradox is that a measurable effect on a large population disappears, or even reverses when that population is split into subgroups. The cause of these results is almost always a material change in the denominators from one period to the next.

Showing is easier than telling with paradoxes, so here is a classic example: In 1995 and 1996, David Justice had a higher batting average than Derek Jeter in each year. However, Jeter had a higher cumulative batting average over those two years.

It’s true; look:

Anderson continues:

How does this work? Jeter’s 1996 stats accounted for over 92% of his total performance over the two years, as he was 20 years old and only called up to the major league for a few games in 1995. Meanwhile, Justice’s 1996 stats were only 25% of his total performance due to a separated shoulder he suffered barely two months into the season. So while Justice performed better on smaller sample size, Jeter’s 183 hits in 1996 were the strongest signal for overall performance.

Read the rest of the piece; he goes on to connect statistical paradoxes to efforts to mislead people about the pandemic and vaccine effectiveness.

Update: A pair of videos on Simpson’s Paradox, in case you need some more explanation or examples.

(thx, @JunieGrrl)

‘Private Choices Have Public Consequences’

This is a very good and bracing essay from David Roth for Defector about a certain type of knee-jerk libertarian response to the pandemic in the US.

In place of any actually ennobling liberty or more fundamental freedom, contemporary American life mostly offers choices. But since most of these are not really choices at all in any meaningful way, it might be more accurate to say that we’re offered selection. The choice between paying for health insurance and running up six figures of non-dischargeable debt because you got sick, for instance, is honestly less a choice than a hostage situation. But because the second outcome is still extremely possible even if you choose to pay for health insurance, it’s more correct to say that the choice is already made, and that the decision is more about choosing from an array of variously insufficient and predatory options the one whose name or price or risk you like most. Sometimes there isn’t even that, and the choice is a binary one between something and nothing. None of this is really what anyone would choose, but these ugly individuated choices are what we get.

And then:

The broader complacent and unreasoned acceptance that props up our otherwise untenable status quo is shot through all these facile “it’s a private matter and a personal choice” formulations; if you have accepted that mostly useless choices between dreary outcomes are all you could ever get as a citizen in the wealthiest and most powerful country on earth, then you have also accepted that these choices are actually very important, and that making them is the thing makes you free. None of these personal choices actually make anything better for the person making them. In the case of the vaccine, those choices have devastating downstream impacts for all the people who glance off the choice-maker as they carve their personal hero’s journeys through the world. None of this matters as much as the idea that the choice is theirs to make.

Topps Marks 70 Years of Baseball Cards with Special Artist-Designed Cards

In 1951, Topps released their first set of baseball cards, hoping to entice people into buying their chewing gum. Instead, they created a sports collectable industry that’s still going strong 70 years later. To celebrate the anniversary, “artists and creatives around the globe are revisiting and reimagining 70 years of iconic baseball card designs” as part of Project70.

They’re releasing a few cards at a time for a limited time — you can find the current selection in the Topps online store. I’ve included three of my favorites above: 1976 Mike Trout by Fucci, 1953 Rickey Henderson by Pose, and 1983 Roberto Clemente by Sean Wotherspoon.

Question: Since the case is now part of the collectable being sold, do you have to put the whole thing in a bigger case to preserve its overall mint condition? Where does this end? (via print)

Players Lead Sports Strike to Put Focus on Racial Injustice

Four years to the day after Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem of an NFL preseason game to protest the oppression of Black people in the United States, the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play their NBA playoff game and set off an NBA-wide strike, as well as strikes by teams in the WNBA, MLB, and MLS. They were reacting to the attempted murder of Jacob Blake by a Kenosha police officer on Sunday and the subsequent inaction by officials to take any disiplinary action against the officer.

The shooting prompted numerous N.B.A. players and coaches to express frustration and anger that the various measures they have been taking for weeks to support the Black Lives Matter movement, such as kneeling during the national anthem and wearing jerseys bearing social justice messages, were having little impact. Some also began to question, as the Nets’ star guard Kyrie Irving did in June before the 2019-20 season resumed, whether providing entertainment through basketball was actually diverting public attention away from the broader social justice movement.

Fueled by that frustration, Milwaukee’s players stunned league officials by organizing Wednesday’s boycott, a walkout that had virtually no precedent in N.B.A. history.

Milwaukee’s George Hill gave a glimpse of the Bucks’ mind-set on Monday when he openly questioned whether the league’s return had successfully amplified the players’ messaging.

“We shouldn’t have even come to this damn place to be honest,” Hill said. “I think coming here just took all the focal points off what the issues are.”

Former NBA player Kenny Smith walked off the set of TNT’s Inside the NBA in solidarity with the players.

As a reminder, here’s what Kaepernick said after kneeling four years ago:

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

You can see why the players believe that little has been done to address this state of affairs — there’s definitely more awareness now, but substantive change is not happening.

Update: A previous version of this post referred to the players’ walkout as a boycott (following the Times’ language). While boycott is technically accurate, it is generally used to refer to consumers withholding their purchase power as a protest. Strike is a more exact word to use in a situation where workers are withholding their labor (even though the players are not demanding concessions from their employers), so I updated the post to reflect that. (thx, david)

It would have been Opening Day for baseball here in the US. Since we’re without the actual thing due to COVID-19, Ken Burns asked PBS to allow people to stream his 18-hour documentary series on baseball from 1994 for free (US & Canada). Here’s part one:

(via open culture)

Designing the Baseball Stadium of the Future

I really enjoyed this piece by architect Scott Hines on how he would design the next generation of baseball stadiums. He starts by talking about greater community buy-in:

Fans want to feel that the club has bought into them, and a bolder model of fan engagement could give them a real stake in the club’s success. One of the most promising recent trends in North American sports is the way soccer clubs are emulating their European counterparts by developing dedicated supporters’ groups. These independent organizations drive enthusiasm and energy in the ballpark, and make sure seats stay filled.

Instead of just acknowledging and tolerating the supporter group model, we’re going to encourage and codify it in the park’s architecture by giving over control of entire sections of the ballpark to fans. Rather than design the seating sections and concourse as a finished product, we’ll offer it up as a framework for fan-driven organizations to introduce their own visions.

This bit about better integrating stadiums into the fabric of the city particularly caught my eye:

We’re going to take a different approach: we’re throwing open the gates, and offering the stadium up to the street. Instead of simply using design touches to emulate surrounding buildings, we’ll erase the distinction between stadium and surround, and put the backs of those supporters’ sections towards the street. We can’t have cars on a concourse, so a series of pedestrianized streets — like those that have been successfully implemented in urban developments like Las Vegas’s Fremont Street, Kansas City’s Power and Light District, or Louisville’s Fourth Street Live — can place the park smack-dab in the middle of a vibrant, multi-use entertainment district, developed with the same open-handed, community-led process as the park itself.

Will some people be able to catch a glimpse of the game without buying a seat? Sure. The club can make money back by leasing land to the businesses drawn in by that activity. And on slow game days, the district can support the ballpark by bringing in people who might decide to catch a couple innings over a beer after dinner at a nearby restaurant. When the ballpark is bursting at the seams for a playoff game? The crowd can flow through the entire district, expanding the ballpark’s capacity greatly.

If you do a Cmd-F on the piece however, you’ll discover that “parking” or “public transportation” is not mentioned anywhere. If you’re trying to smartly weave a stadium into a city, how people get there is a huge consideration. Massive parking lots and gameday traffic tend to disrupt sleek architectural plans and neighborhoodish feeling while many cities don’t have the public transportation infrastructure to support getting a majority of fans to the game without a car.

Neil and Buzz Barely Got Out of the Infield

With the 50th anniversary of the first crewed landing on the Moon fast approaching, I thought I’d share one of my favorite views of the Moon walk, a map of where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon, superimposed over a baseball field (bigger). The Lunar Module is parked on the pitcher’s mound and you can see where the two astronauts walked, set up cameras, collected samples, and did experiments.

This map easily illustrates something you don’t get from watching video of the Moon walk: just how close the astronauts stayed to the LM and how small an area they covered during their 2 and 1/2 hours on the surface. The crew had spent 75+ hours flying 234,000 miles to the Moon and when they finally got out onto the surface, they barely left the infield! On his longest walk, Armstrong ventured into center field about 200 feet from the mound, not even far enough to reach the warning track in most major league parks. In fact, the length of Armstrong’s walk fell far short of the 363-foot length of the Saturn V rocket that carried him to the Moon and all of their activity could fit neatly into a soccer pitch (bigger):

Astronauts on subsequent missions ventured much further. The Apollo 12 crew ventured 600 feet from the LM on their second walk of the mission. The Apollo 14 crew walked almost a mile. After the Lunar Rover entered the mix, excursions up to 7 miles during EVAs that lasted for more than 7 hours at a time became common.

The transformative power of boredom

After bouncing out of the minor leagues in the US, Eric Thames found himself playing in a second-tier professional league in South Korea. Not knowing the language and with few other Americans on the team, Thames spent a lot of time by himself, bored. Applying himself, he started working on his approach to the game, his swing, and his patience.

He began to remedy the poor habits, the swinging-at-everything approach that had exiled him to the minors in 2013 and then the second-best pro league in Asia in 2014. With language still a barrier to working with his Dinos coaches and teammates, Thames arrived at his improved process alone. He began a practice of visualization, of imagining a pitch of a certain type, in a certain location, approaching home plate. He would balance a tablet on a counter or tabletop in his apartment and watch video of pitches, trying to decide whether to swing or lay off of them in real time with bat in hand.

“I kind of like swallowed my pride and said ‘Hey, I really want to get on base,’” Thames said.

He employed the same visualization practice behind the batting cage while teammates took swings. And he does the same practice now in the on-deck circle of major-league games, in his hotel on the road, or in pre-game cage work.

The breakout happened in 2015, his second season in South Korea. He walked (103) more than he struck out (91) and posted a .497 on-base mark and 1.288 OPS. He smashed 47 home runs.

His hard work continues to pay off. This year, Thames is back in the US, playing for the Milwaukee Brewers in the major leagues. He leads the NL in home runs, is 5th in OBP, 4th in OBPS, and 7th in walks. (thx, avi)

What if Barry Bonds had played without a baseball bat?

Barry Bonds was a ridiculously good baseball player. In this installment of the highly entertaining Chart Party series, Jon Bois answers a very hypothetical question: What if, during his monster 2004 season, Bonds had gone to the plate without a bat? This is super entertaining if you’re any kind of a baseball fan and the end result is really shocking. (via @caseyjohnston)

Tabitha Soren documented in photos what happened after Moneyball

Tabitha Soren, who you may remember as a reporter for MTV News, has for the past number of years been working as a photographer. One of her projects began more than 13 years ago as she accompanied her husband Michael Lewis on his visits to the Oakland A’s while working on Moneyball. After the book was published, Soren kept returning to photograph the up-and-coming players Lewis had profiled, following their careers as they either made it in the big leagues or didn’t.

Since then, she has followed the players through their baseball lives, an alternate reality of long bus rides, on-field injuries, friendships and marriages entered and exited, constant motion, and very hard work, often for very little return. Some of the subjects, like Nick Swisher and Joe Blanton, have gone on to become well-known, respected players at the highest level of the game. Some left baseball to pursue other lines of work, such as selling insurance and coal mining. Others have struggled with poverty and even homelessness.

The culmination of the project was a gallery show called Fantasy Life, which is now being released as a book.

Living legend Vin Scully retires

Another fine example of the Great Span: Vin Scully is retiring after 67 seasons as the play-by-play announcer for the LA Dodgers. Scully started the job in 1950, when the Dodgers still hailed from Brooklyn and Connie Mack still managed the A’s:

It is amazing to contemplate that he joined the Dodgers only three years after Jackie Robinson did, and was in the booth for the first ballgame Mickey Mantle ever played in New York. It is startling to realize the on-air audition he had — and didn’t pass — to become John Madden’s TV partner was 35 years ago this month. It is mind-bending to consider that he has not just been on 22 of the 94 annual radio and television World Series broadcasts ever, but been alive for 87 of them. It is goose-bumpy to recognize that the season he began broadcasting major league games, Connie Mack was still the manager of the Philadelphia Athletics (Mack had become A’s manager in 1901 and we’ve just passed the 130th anniversary of Mack’s debut as a major league catcher).

Mack was born during the Civil War, played his first game in 1886, competed against the likes of Cap Anson and Cy Young, and had been a retired player & full-time manager for four years before an 18-year-old Ty Cobb made his major league debut. (via df)

The Larcenous Curtis Granderson and His Fabulous Metropolitans

Ahhhh! Dan Barry of The NY Times went all olde tymey in his recap of game four of the NLCS between the Cubs and Mets, sorry, Metropolitans.

The Metropolitans — also known as the “Mets” — sent six safely across the plate before the third inning, mostly as a result of the derring-do of their Bunyanesque first-sacker, Lucas Duda. The mighty Californian smote a home run and a double to tally five of those six runs before the Cubs seemed to comprehend that a game concerning their possible erasure from the 2015 field was well underway.

The ignominious rout of the valiant but overmatched hometown squad turned the deafening cheers of the Chicago multitudes into plaintive keens, for now their agonizing wait for another championship — the last in 1908, during the presidency of the rough-riding Theodore Roosevelt — must continue.

I say! Capital stuff, old chap.

A recent Saturday night in NYC

Astronaut Scott Kelly, who is spending a continuous year in space,1 tweeted out a photo by fellow ISS resident Oleg Kononenko of NYC on Saturday night.

Of the many possibilities, I’d like to point out just three interesting things.

1. Times Square! And not just that, but the whole of central Midtown is now lit up like a Christmas tree from 34th Street to Central Park.

2. The bright spot of light in the upper right corner of the image above is Citi Field. The photo must have been taken during Game 1 of the NLCS between the Mets and the Cubs. The Mets won that game 4-2. #LGM!

3. You’ll notice that the streetlights in much of the city are orange. But in the bottom right corner, in Brooklyn, you can see the future. NYC is currently replacing all of the orange-glowing sodium vapor streetlights with blue-glowing LED lights that are longer lasting and more energy efficient. But they are also brighter and some are already complaining about the harsh blue light.

The new LEDs may be environmentally sensitive, but they are also optically harsh.

“The old lights made everybody look bad,” said Christopher Stoddard, an architect, who lives at the corner of Fuller Place. “But these are so cold and blue, it’s like ‘Night of the Living Dead’ out there.”

“We’re all for saving energy,” his wife, Aida Stoddard, also an architect, said, “but the city can do so much better.”

A few blocks away, Rose Gallitelli taped up black garbage bags on her bedroom windows so that she could sleep. “They’re the heavy-duty kind,” she said.

The lighting refit is scheduled to be completed in two years. The city will look different when it’s done, in real life, on Instagram, and in film. (via @ginatrapani)

Update: Photographer Pari Dukovic has a shot of one of the old sodium vapor street lamps in the New Yorker this week.

1. Scott also recently broke the American record for the most days spent in space. Today marks his 386th day in space.

Bill Murray owns a baseball team

Bill Murray is a co-owner of the Charleston RiverDogs, a Class A minor league team in the South Atlantic League. His official title is “Director of Fun.” In 2012, Amy Nelson and an SBNation video team went down to interview Murray for his induction into that league’s hall of fame.

(“But wait, Tim, this was three years ago.” Well, I missed it until today, when it was revealed that Murray has actually seen the little video. And now I have seen it, and like all things Bill Murray touches, it is a goddamn delight. Enjoy.)

From Grantland’s 30 for 30 Shorts series, a short film on former major league catcher Mackey Sasser and how he lost the ability to throw the ball back to the pitcher.

[I took the video out because someone at ESPN/Grantland is idiot enough to think that, by default, videos embedded on 3rd-party sites should autoplay. Really? REALLY!? Go here to watch instead.]

I remember Sasser (I had his rookie card) but had kinda stopped paying attention to baseball by the time his throwing problem started; I had no idea it was so bad. The video of him trying to throw is painful to watch. According to the therapists we see working with Sasser in the video, unresolved mental trauma (say, from childhood) builds up and leaves the person unable to resolve something as seemingly trivial as a small problem throwing a ball back to the pitcher. I’ve read and written a lot about this sort of thing over the years.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Greg Maddux

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Greg Maddux is not really a story about Greg Maddux. Or sports. It’s about Jeremy Collins’ friend Jason Kenney, demons, self-control, determination, friendship, competitiveness, and loss.

Jason kept a picture of Maddux above his desk in our dorm room at Young Harris College in the north Georgia mountains. A beautiful athlete, the best on campus, Jason played only intramurals and spent serious time at his desk. A physics workhorse and calculus whiz, he kept Maddux’s image at eye-level.

Shuffling and pardoning down the aisle to our seats, Jason stopped and squeezed my shoulder. “Look,” he said.

Maddux strode toward home, hurling the ball through the night.

It’s 2014. I’m thirty-seven. My wife and daughter are both asleep. I’m a thousand miles from the stadium-turned-parking-lot. On YouTube, Kenny Lofton of the American League Champion Cleveland Indians looks at the first pitch for a ball. Inside, low. I don’t remember the call. I remember all of us standing, holding our breath. Then I remember light. Thousands of lights. Waves of tiny diamonds. The whole stadium flashing and Jason, who would die five months later on the side of a south Georgia highway, leaning into my ear and whispering, “Maddux.”

Great, great story. As Tom Junod remarked on Twitter, “Every once in a while, a writer throws everything he’s got into a story. This is one of those stories.”

Jeter swings, baby!

Love this New York Times visualization of how many times Derek Jeter has swung a bat during his career. This is like Powers of Ten, but with Derek Jeter bat swings.

I give this feature my full endorsement

Erik Malinowski takes a baseball commercial that used to air late nights on ESPN in the ’90s and ’00s, and uses it to trace the effect of technology on sports.

“He was the first guy I ever knew who used video as a training device in baseball,” says Shawn Pender, a former minor-league player who would appear in several of Emanski’s instructional videos. “There just wasn’t anyone else who was doing what he did.”

It’s also something of a detective story, since its subject Tom Emanski has virtually fallen off the face of the earth:

Fred McGriff is surely correct that nearly two decades of video sales — first through TV and radio and now solely through the internet — made Emanski a very wealthy man, but this perception has led to some rather outlandish internet rumors.

According to one, the Internal Revenue Service investigated Emanski in 2003 for unpaid taxes and, in doing so, somehow disclosed his estimated net worth at around \$75 million. There’s no public record of such an investigation ever having taken place or been disclosed, and an IRS spokesman for the Florida office would say only that the agency is “not permitted to discuss a particular or specific taxpayer’s tax matter or their taxes based on federal disclosure regulations and federal law.”

A short history of the high five

For the latest installment of Grantland’s 30 for 30 short documentary series, a story on the genesis of the high five and what happened to one of its inventors. This video is chock full of amazing vintage footage of awkward high fives. [Weird aside: The sound on this video is only coming out of the left channel. Is that a subtle homage to the one-handed gesture or a sound mixing boner?]

The hidden message in the old Milwaukee Brewers logo

Somehow I lived in WI for the first 17 years of my life, was a Brewers fan for many of those years, and never realized the old Brewers logo contained the letters “m” and “b” hidden in the ball and glove.

Wow. If your mind is blowing right now too, there’s a Facebook group we can join together: Best Day of My Life: When I Realized the Brewers Logo Was a Ball and Glove AND the Letters M and B. (via kathryn yu)

ps. If you’ve somehow missed the hidden arrow in the FedEx logo, here you go. Best kind of natural high there is.

Moneyball 2.0

After Michael Lewis wrote Moneyball in 2003 about the Oakland A’s, their general manager Billy Beane, and his then-unorthodox and supposedly superior managerial strategy, a curious thing happened: the A’s didn’t do that well. They went to the playoffs only twice between 2003 and 2011 and finished under .500 four times. Teams like the Red Sox, who adopted Beane’s strategies with the punch of a much larger payroll, did much better during those years.

But Beane hung in there and has figured out how to beat the big boys again, with two first place in 2012 & 2013 and the best record in the majors this year so far. Will Leitch explains how.

First, don’t spend a lot on a little; spend a little on a lot.

The emotional through-line of Moneyball is Beane learning from his experience as a failed prospect and applying it to today’s game. The idea: Scouts were wrong about him, and therefore they’ll be wrong about tons of guys. Only trust the numbers.

That was an oversimplification, but distrusting the ability of human beings to predict the future has been the centerpiece of the A’s current run. This time, though, the A’s aren’t just doubting the scouts; they’re also skeptical that statistical analysis can reliably predict the future (or that their analysis could reliably predict it better than their competitors). Instead, Beane and his front office have bought in bulk: They’ve brought in as many guys as possible and seen who performed. They weren’t looking for something that no one else saw: They amassed bodies, pitted them against one another, were open to anything, and just looked to see who emerged. Roger Ebert once wrote that the muse visits during the act of creation, rather than before. The A’s have made it a philosophy to just try out as many people as possible — cheap, interchangeable ones — and pluck out the best.

Remembering Tony Gwynn

Former MLB player Tony Gwynn passed away the other day. Cancer. He was only 54. Gwynn was one of my favorite players as a kid…I’ve always liked the players who hit for average and rarely struck out. Rarely got to see him play because I lived in American League country, so I knew him mainly through his statistics and baseball cards. These pieces by Jay Caspian Kang, Buster Olney, and Bob Nightengale are all worth reading to hear about Gwynn’s humanity and cerebral approach to the game, but Keith Olbermann’s heartfelt eulogy was my favorite piece in the wake of Gwynn’s death.

Holding on to the blank pages

A short profile of writer/editor Roger Angell, still coming in to work most days at The New Yorker at age 93:

Angell saw Babe Ruth in his prime, but he never writes sentimentally about baseball, a sport that has inspired many sports-writers to produce reams of awful, faux-poetic prose. His habit of telling it straight is what makes his nine books hold up and keeps him relevant today. “I don’t go for nostalgia,” he says. “I try not to. It’s so easy to sentimentalize the good old days, but I don’t ever do that. I’m aware that things have changed, but I try not to go there. It’s very easy, and you get sort of a mental diabetes. All that goo. I am a foe of goo, maybe too much so.”

Angell’s extended essay “This Old Man” offers an extended dose of that lucidity.

Here in my tenth decade, I can testify that the downside of great age is the room it provides for rotten news. Living long means enough already. When Harry [Angell’s fox terrier] died, Carol and I couldn’t stop weeping; we sat in the bathroom with his retrieved body on a mat between us, the light-brown patches on his back and the near-black of his ears still darkened by the rain, and passed a Kleenex box back and forth between us. Not all the tears were for him. Two months earlier, a beautiful daughter of mine, my oldest child, had ended her life, and the oceanic force and mystery of that event had not left full space for tears. Now we could cry without reserve, weep together for Harry and Callie and ourselves. Harry cut us loose.

Anyone who’s been writing for a long time has tools they like and come to depend on; one of Angell’s is a discontinued Mead three-subject notebook:

The best notebook in the world. David Remnick and I talk about how you can’t get anything to replace the Mead notebook, which is unavailable now. They take ink perfectly. There is a great flow. All the other notebooks are coated with something so your pen slides along.

“In recent years, when he goes on reporting trips,” Angell’s interviewer notes, “he has resorted to making use of old Mead notebooks that still have blank pages.”

Baseball fandom map of the United States

From the NY Times’ new site, The Upshot, a bunch of maps showing the borders of baseball team fandom, with close-ups of various dividing lines: the Munson-Nixon Line, The Molitor Line, The Reagan-Nixon Line, and the Morgan-Ripken Line.

The NYC and Bay Area maps are so sad…the Mets and A’s get no love. (via @atotalmonet)

What if baseball moved to a 16-game season?

Joe Posnanski thinks about how baseball would change if MLB moved to a 16-game schedule like the the NFL. I love stuff like this.

4. Baseball would become dramatically more violent.

I’m not 100% certain of this, of course. But I am probably 75% certain. Right now, we don’t tend to think of baseball as a contact sport. There IS contact — plays at the plate, double-play meetings at second base, the occasional hit-by pitch and ensuing bench-clear — but it’s mostly tangential to the game. Football, meanwhile, is violent at its core. Or anyway, that’s what we think now.

Except — baseball was extremely violent in its early days. And I think that if the game was played just once a week, if you faced each team only once or twice a season, if every game was critical, there would be a lot more violence in baseball. Collisions at the plate would be intensified. Nobody would concede the double play without really taking out the fielder. Pitchers would be much more likely to send message pitches. And I think you would probably find violence where there is none right now.

(via mr)

MLB player quits baseball for creative writing

Adrian Cárdenas, formerly a player for the Chicago Cubs, quit baseball to pursue an education in creative writing and philosophy.

I wish I had looked up more often, even at the cost some of my success. The American dream didn’t tell me that an experience only matters if I acknowledge it, that losing yourself in the game is a good way to lose what makes life meaningful. When you’re standing at the plate and you hit a sharp foul ball to the backstop, the spot on the bat that made contact gets hot; the American dream forgot to tell me to step back and enjoy the smell of burnt wood.

The art of stealing bases

Baseball has changed significantly since the mid-eighties base stealing heyday of Vince Coleman, Ricky Henderson, Tim Raines, and Willie “Mays” Hayes. Beginning in the mid-90s, steroids and sluggers shifted the game away from speed and defense towards home runs, which resulted in a significant reduction in the number of stolen bases. Since 2003, however, stolen bases have been making a comeback and while the numbers aren’t approaching the base stealing glory of the mid-eighties, we’re getting closer to the base stealing diminished glory of the mid-nineties. Jonah Keri uses hard g gifs in his baseball writing as well as anyone, and here’s a gif driven conversation with Coco Crisp about the art of base stealing.

With that in mind, I set out to find one of those master thieves and have him walk us through every step of the base-stealing process. Oakland’s Coco Crisp was happy to oblige. Poring over a series of videos one early morning in Phoenix, Crisp described the cues he picks up from individual pitchers and the weaknesses he can exploit. Moreover, he explained how a player entering his 12th major league season can be a better base stealer now than when he was younger and much faster. Crisp’s career high in single-season steals came in his age-31 season in 2011, when he swiped 49. Despite nagging injury troubles, Crisp has been ludicrously efficient on the base paths over the past three years, stealing 120 bases and getting caught just 16 times (88.2 percent success rate).

Ok, it’s no NFL bad lip reading but this fake commentary by a British broadcaster of a baseball game is still pretty hilarious.

He runs in to bowl…Mork and Mindy, that’s going for six! No! Caught by the chap in the pajamas with the glove that makes everything easier. And they all scuttle off for a nap.

The WTF pitch

Angels pitcher Robert Coello’s unique pitch has knuckleball movement but is thrown with a fastball grip & pitching motion and has a bit more speed on it than a typical knuckleball. His catchers and opposing hitters call it the WTF pitch.

Physicist Alan Nathan, a professor at the University of Illinois who studies baseball and has a particular interest in the knuckleball, hadn’t ever seen a pitch like Coello’s. His preliminary theory on the pitch: His thumb on the underside of the ball exerts backspin, counteracting the tumbling effect his top fingers put on the ball and balancing the torque so perfectly that the pitch has a knuckleball effect with superior speed (around 80 mph).

Be sure to wait for the slow motion at the end of the video.

Miguel Cabrera’s fantastic plate coverage

Earlier this spring, Drew Sheppard created a layered animated GIF of Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish’s pitching delivery. This type of GIF has become something of a meme on baseball sites. The latest to get the layered GIF treatment is Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera hit for the Triple Crown last year (led the league in batting average, RBIs, and home runs) and is trying to do it again this year. Sheppard put together this GIF to show “Cabrera’s impressive all fields hitting and ability to cover the full strike zone with power”:

As the image plainly shows, Cabrera can launch home runs from anywhere…even a pitch that’s almost a foot off the plate. Are they showing this stuff on SportsCenter yet? Can only be a matter of time. (thx, david)