November 12th, 2006 → 6:25 pm @ Seth Mnookin
In his Sunday “Baseball Notes” column, Murray Chass reports, “Daisuke Matsuzaka will bring [the gyroball] with him when he comes from Japan next season to make his major league debut. Matsuzaka, a 26-year-old right-hander, did not name the pitch, which is a special part of his repertory.” Chass then quotes Boras, Matsuzaka’s agent, as saying the gyroball is a pitch with “a little bit of backspin” that “kind of sits that and breaks late. It looks like a fastball but has a late break to it and it breaks down.â€šÃ„Ã¹
No, you’re not crazy: what Boras is describing really isn’t that different from a slider, and is also similar to a split-fingered fastball. In fact, Boras — and mouthpiece Murray — acknowledges as much: “Asked whose slider he might compare it to among major league pitchers, Boras mentioned Steve Carlton and Randy Johnson.”
Why all the fuss about a pitch that’s similar to a couple of well-known sliders? Does this warrant all this attention (or, for that matter, a headline on Chass’s item that reads, “Matsuzaka Has His Own Pitch”)?
No, it doesn’t…but the actual gyroball — a pitch (actually created by scientists) that is thrown so as to propel the baseball with sidespin similar to that of a bullet (or a football) — does. The Bigfoot-like gyro comes in as quick as a fastball, appears to be a hanging curve, and then has late-breaking horizontal action (on Friday, Slate posted a nice “Explainer” piece on the pitch; embedded within there is an interesting Popular Mechanics link).
Even if Chass had been able to get even the faintest specifics of the pitch right, he is, by almost every account, not correct in acting as if the gyroball is a pitch Matsuzaka can throw with any regularity…if he throws it at all. Matsuzaka himself has been cagey on the subject, at times claiming he can throw it, while at other times seeming to say the opposite (last spring, he told Yahoo! Sports’s Jeff Passan that he was still “trying to throw it”). Newsday‘s David Lennon has smart, well-reported piece on the whole thing. (Lennon quotes Bobby Valentine, who coaches the Chiba Lottle Marines: “I’ve heard about it all year. I’ve looked for it. I’ve looked for it on film. After he pitches, I’ve waited for players to start talking about the gyroball, and I’ve never heard anyone say it. You would think someone would mention it.”)
There is at least one (very knowledgeable) baseball writer who believes in the gyroball: Baseball Prospectus‘s Will Carroll, who calls Matsuzaka the “clear star” of the gyroball universe. If that’s true, and if the Sox do win the Matsuzaka sweepstakes, that could a problem in and off itself, because…
November 12th, 2006 → 6:25 pm @ Seth Mnookin
…because Carroll, in this 2004 piece, also discusses Matsuzaka’s elbow troubles in 2002 and 2003 and questions whether attemtps to throw the gyroball could be the cause: “Is this elbow problem the result of throwing the gyroball? Some flaw in double-spin theory? Itâ€šÃ„Ã´s hard to know. While much of the pitching research being done in Japan is on a par with that in America, research on pitch counts and pitcher workload has been ignored. Pitchers routinely throw 150 or more pitches and are asked to throw more in the bullpen after a poor performance. Matsuzaka is reported to have thrown more than 140 pitches ten times in 2002, just before his shoulder problems began. Worse, he had a legendary high-school start in which he pitched a complete game . . . and threw 249 pitches in 17 innings!”
Yeow. All those “I walked eighty miles to school uphill in both directions with no shoes in raging blizzards” types will scoff at this pansy-ass pitch-count talk, but 249 pitches? I did some perfunctory online searches and it seems as if Matsuzaka’s elbow was fine these last few years, and it’s not unusual for a pitcher to have some problems in his early twenties only to grow out of them by the time he’s 26 (Matsuzaka’s age now) or 27. But that’s certainly another good reason to be cautious.
October 23rd, 2006 → 10:28 am @ Seth Mnookin
Murray Chass has two stories in today’s paper; both grouchily take swipes at Bud Selig. His baseball column, as opposed to his baseball labor column, isn’t even on the Times’s main sports page. (Chass remains the only sports columnist not behind the Times Select wall.)
Instead of a full breakdown of the mystery that is Murray, we’ll just offer a couple of highlights from today’s entry, “In Postseason Full of Surprises, Rogers is the Biggest.”
Inre: The stupidity of World Series home-field advantage being determined by the winner of the All-Star game:
“The Boston Red Sox and the Chicago White Sox benefited the past two Octobers by winning the first two games at home, then taking the first two on the road to complete four-game sweeps.” Because playing on their home turf helped the Cards and the ‘Stros so much in those years.
On this year’s matchup:
“Despite their presence on the road, the Cardinals won the opener, becoming the first N.L. team to win a World Series game since the Marlins ended the 2003 Series in Game 6 against the Yankees. But the Cardinals squandered their unexpected advantage by losing Game 2 last night.” Let’s see: five more games, three of which are in St. Louis. Huh. It seems to me that the Cardinals actually seized home-field advantage by splitting in Detroit. But what do I know?
(If you’re wondering what the All-Star game and home field advantage have to do with Kenny Rogers…well, you’ve got me.)
October 18th, 2006 → 8:42 am @ Seth Mnookin
Ah, yes: the burden of getting back into the swing of doing “work” work. It allows time for that flurry of midnight-on-Sunday posts, but some weekdays are tougher…
Which doesn’t mean there’s not time for some thoughts and updates. (Drumroll, fanfare, etc).
* The Mets loss last night has Jayson Stark claiming that a Cardinals NLCS victory would make history: “When the calendar says it’s October and a team that won 83 games is on the verge of beating a team that won 97 games, that’s more than just an upset. It’s an upset that slips instantly into the realm of myth and legend.” I call bullshit. Wild-card teams have won the World Series three of the last four years. The Mets are missing their ace, their starter, and one of their starting outfielders. The Mets were favored, with most of the ‘experts’ giving them the series in six or seven games, but no one expected a route. Coming back from an 0-3 deficit? That’s history. Beating the Mets in a seven game season? If it happens, it’s a good story for another week or so, or until whichever NL team makes it gets its ass handed to them by the Tigers.
* In his ESPN.com Insider column, Buster Olney discusses what makes a successful manager. (It’s clearly more than simply winning 95 games. See Little, Grady.) Olney puts “Can he lead/does he engender respect” first, with in-game strategizing third (out of four). I’m with Buster on the lack of importance of in-game management, and I generally agree with the “can he lead” thing, although I think the single most important job a manager has is getting a bunch of rich, indulged, jealous, back-biting man-children to stay inspired during the course of an exhausting, numbing, 162-game season.
* For those of you actually interested in how the publishing industry wastes money, Monday’s Journal article (“Dream Scenario: In Era of Blockbuster Books, One Publisher Rolls the Dice”) is well worth reading. Unfortunately, it’s only available to online subscribers. It’s essentially a summary of how Holt managed to put all its eggs in an incredibly leaky basket; the most amazing thing about this article is that the book’s editor, who charitably can be said to have cost his company more than a million bucks, decided to cooperate with the reporter.
* And, of course, there’s good old Murray. The Chass-man has been on a roll this week; such a roll, in fact, that the mere thought of discussing each and every one of his articles makes me feel slightly ill. But here are some quick highlights:
In Monday’s column, Chass writes that while it’s “difficult to imagine a worse performance” than the one Steve Trachsel turned in on the mound for the Mets, the Elias Sports Bureau — Chass’s handy substitute for, you know, reporting — tells him that actually, some pitchers have fared worse in the playoffs.
Then, on Tuesday, Chass acknowledges he was wrong, but naturally he’s not to blame: “Although it said here yesterday that Trachselâ€šÃ„Ã´s outing wasnâ€šÃ„Ã´t the worst start in a postseason game, Elias Sports Bureau determined that by one measurement it was.”
Finally, in today’s Times, Chass helpfully explains that players want higher batting averages: “Going 2 for 17 means Wright is hitting .118. That beats .063 (1 for 16), but it is nevertheless a minuscule average…”
As always, Chass’s columns are free to the reader, unlike the paper’s other sports columnists…
October 16th, 2006 → 12:36 am @ Seth Mnookin
So many people are gushing over Oliver Perez’s 5.2 inning, 5-run outing last night in St. Louis you’d have thought Pedro hobbled out of the Mets’ clubhouse and pulled a Schilling. ESPN called Perez the game’s unsung hero because “he kept the game close — before the Mets’ offense exploded — and went deep enough to give the bullpen a much-needed break.”
Topping that, the Times‘s peerless Murray Chass* wrote, “Perez did not resemble Sandy Koufax or Mickey Lolich, but he did the job the Mets needed him to do in their 12-5 victory. Of such efforts heroes are made, in this case an unlikely hero.” Then, citing the Elias Sports Bureau (Chass’s favorite “source” — he’s cited Elias 17 times since the baseball season started), Chass wrote, “Perez, after all, had a 6.55 regular-season earned run average with the Pirates and the Mets, and that is the highest E.R.A. ever for a pitcher making a postseason start of any kind, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.” I’m pretty sure Elias doesn’t keep stats like this, but I bet it’s one of the only times a pitcher was called a hero after giving almost a run an inning and doing his best to give up a lead.
To wit: Perez gave up a run in the first, gave back a 2-1 Mets lead in the third, and, after the Mets scored three in the 5th, coughed up a home run to perpetual power threat David Eckstein in the Cardinals’ first at-bat in the bottom of the inning. (For those of you keeping track at home, Eckstein hit two home runs in 123 games this season…which, granted, is a bit off of his career-average of a four-bagger ever 31.5 games.) Before being yanked in the sixth, Perez gave up two more homers, although the Mets’ six-run explosion meant even Perez’s best efforts couldn’t bring the Cards back in the game. Context is everything, I guess. (Or, perhaps, in the world of sports reporting, reality is nothing.)
* Increasingly, the Times seems to feel that Chass is, well, peerless as well. Chass’s piece is nowhere to be found on the homepage for the paper’s sports section, and, in what increasingly appears to be a trend, Chass (unlike George Vecsey, Dave Anderson, or Harvey Araton) is the only one of today’s sports columnists who’s piece you can read without being a member of TimesSelect.
September 19th, 2006 → 11:24 am @ Seth Mnookin
Poor Murray Chass. The Red Sox aren’t playing the Yankees again this season, thereby depriving him of his favorite subject; that means that he’ll have to write completely nonsensical columns about other subjects.
Like the Mets! In today’s column, written the morning after the Mets clinched their first division championship since 1988, Chass manages to find a raincloud in the midst of the Champagne celebrations. “When is losing good for business?” Chass asks in the lead of his piece. “When the Mets are on the verge of clinching their first division title since 1988 and their fans buy tickets hoping to be at the game when they do.” The Mets, Chass claims, “sold more than 10,000 extra tickets for last night’s game at Shea Stadium because they had lost all three weekend games in Pittsburgh and still needed one victory to wrap up first place in the National League East.” (Chass actually implied the team might have considered losing some more games in order to sell some more tickets: “No one can blame the Mets for trying to make a few extra bucks.”)
Wow: 10,000 extra tickets. That is impressive. It also seems to have absolutely no relation to reality. Last night’s attendance was 46,729; in Chass-land, that means the Mets sell only around 36,000 tickets on nights when the team is not on the verge of clinching their division. In fact, in the entire second half of the season, the Mets’ home attendance has dipped below 45,000 only nine times, has been under 40,000 thrice, and under 35,000 only once (August 18 versus Colorado).
This completely made up piece of information transitions into an extended riff on the Mets’ problems with left-handed pitching (“Now that they are there, though, the Mets have to deal with a slice of reality. They have recently had trouble beating left-handed pitchers”) before explaining why the losses against lefthanders actually have nothing to do with the opposing teams’ starters (“According to Elias Sports Bureau, in the 25 games started by right-handers before last night, the Metsâ€šÃ„Ã´ starting pitchers had a 3.74 earned run average. … In the 19 games that left-handers started, the Metsâ€šÃ„Ã´ starting pitchers had a 7.18 E.R.A.”).
I think I finally have the formula down: Start out with an incorrect anecdote; awkwardly transition to a totally seperate subject; then explain why the reader should ignore everything just written about said seperate subject. (At least the Times seems to realize Chass isn’t going to lure new readers to the paper; under the paper’s Times Select program, some of the paper’s columnists are put behind a wall, necessitating on-line readers to pay for the columns separately. As you can see from the front of the Sports Section, Harvey Araton is one of those columnists today; Murray Chass is not.)
EDIT: Even Chass’s colleagues at the Times seem to be refuting his claims of 10,000 extra tickets being sold. As Jack Curry wrote in yesterday’s paper, the Mets had sold 40,000 tickets for Monday’s game as of Sunday night; it appears as if about 2,000 of these were sold after the Mets lost to the Pirates, which would mean the most ticket sales could have increased is 8,000. This, of course, doesn’t take into account Mets’ normal day-of-game sale numbers, which could be 500 or could be 8,000; we’ll never know, which isn’t surprising: the Times has a track record of not providing context when it’s needed to make sense of a story.
September 10th, 2006 → 10:31 am @ Seth Mnookin
Good old Murray Chass has a history of smacking sources when they dare not talk to him. Thankfully, that’s not usually the case in the rest of The New York Times.
Usually, but not always. In an article printed Thursday titled “Perils and Pleasures of a Walk Down Memory Lane,” a fluff piece explores people’s fascination with and attachment to their childhood homes. Former senator (and vice presidential candidate) John Edwards is writing a book on the subject; Edwards, deciding he didn’t have any desire (or obligation) to help the Times sell papers but he did have an obligation to his publisher to promote his book, decided he’d hold off on talking to the paper about his book until his it was actually published.
The nerve! In a completely gratuitious dig, Elizabeth Olson and Christopher Mason — because a story on childhood homes certainly needs more than one reporter — write, “Mr. Edwards declined to be interviewed further because he wants to save his remarks to coincide with his bookâ€šÃ„Ã´s publication in November.” Was there any need to include this sentence? Absolutely not — not a single reader would have read the story and wondered why, in a piece larded with anecdotes about Goldie Hawn breaking into her old home, there were only a couple of quotes from Edwards. But they’ll notice now that the Times thinks Edwards is being crassly commercial.