December 2010

Angels 2010 Top 10 – No I Don’t Mean This List Satirically

With only one day left in 2010, I believe it is customary to make a top 10 or some other sort of retrospective list. I don’t recall any actual written rule to this effect in the Big Book of Blogging Rules, wherever that may be, but it hey, the end of the year just cries out for such things, doesn’t it? So why buck tradition? If finding 10 things in this season of all seasons that make me happy to be an Angels fan makes me the unrepentant Pollyanna of Angels baseball, well, I did choose the handle Blithescribe after all *big grin*. In no particular order, here are my personal 10 favorite things about Angels baseball in 2010:

Jered Weaver - Angels fans were all so very worried about who could step up and fill the ace’s shoes with Lackey headed for the Red Sox. That seems so wonderfully silly now! I actually wasn’t that worried. I didn’t know he would step up so fully this season, but I did remember that post season game against the Yankees in 2009 when Weaver became the 8th inning set up man in a moment of need and he came in looking like a steely eyed gunslinger and sat them down one, two, three. I remember standing up and cheering in my living room and thinking future ace. And to be the AL strikeout leader in 2010, icing on the cake! Now let’s get this man some run support in 2011 shall we.

Signing Dan Haren - This was one of those, really, we got him? Way to go Reagins! moments. A second ace to add to the rotation, he was an absolute pleasure to watch in 2010 and finished his partial season here with a 2.87 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP. I hope that these stats are indicative of what we can expect to see in 2011. The fact that we happened to be there for his first (Where he took the Youk line drive to the pitching arm, ouch!) and second starts made this extra fun for me.

7/31 and 8/1 against the Rangers - Both were absolute, bare knuckled brawls of a game, the Angels were in top form, and we had tickets to both for our anniversary – this lady demands diamonds on such occasions, natch ;) The Rangers won the first game, but the second was Weaver vs. Cliff Lee, the Angels pulled it off and it was quite possibly the best game I have seen from a stadium.

Players Doing What’s Best for the Team - Torii moving to right field so the Angels could bring Bourjos into center; Napoli taking over first base and doing a darned good job at it really, after Kendry’s injury when he hadn’t played first base since the minors; both were selfless, team spirited moves and, to my mind, damn clutch.

The Month of June - Instead of crumpling in the aftermath of Kendry’s season ending injury, the team cowboyed up and played like, well, like the Angels for the month of June and it was a beautiful thing to see…and then they crumpled. Would that the June play had lasted the rest of the year.

Peter Bourjos - It was such a breath of fresh air to watch this young bundle of talent and enthusiasm move up to the majors. And you’ve all heard it hundreds of time by now, but oh my God is this kid fast. In the games we attended alone I saw him rob four homeruns and turn two sure thing out bloopers to the short stop into a base hits. And he’s smart on the bases and out in the field too. He’s not perfect. He’s definitely a rookie so there were a few issues, primarily with his offense but he seemed to be improving by small increments with each at bat and I for one really look forward to watching him blossom into a full blown All Star in 2011.

Getting to See the Rookie Call-Ups in Action - While it would have been better if the Angles were in contention for a post season and the rookie call-ups mostly sat on the bench, the way things worked out it was a lot of fun to be there at the Big A for to see so many of their firsts – Conger, Trumbo and Romine’s first at bats, their first turns on defense. As with Bourjos, it was a bright spot to see so much youthful enthusiasm on the field, and I think we’ll be seeing Conger and Romine again, Conger quite soon.

16 Games! – My husband and I managed to go to 16 games this year. We typically watch between 100 and 130 of the games in some fashion, mostly on TV but this is the first time we’ve made it to the Big A, which is oh so much better, for so many. No, this is not earth shattering for Angels baseball as a whole, but it was a big deal in terms of my personal fan experience.

The Growth of the Friday Night Ritual - this is another one that would only matter in my house. A good bottle of wine, a gourmet dinner from our own kitchen and Angels baseball became what we called the Friday Night Ritual. It’s fun, companionable, affordable and this year we grew to love it to the point where we turned down all other invitations…’tis such a fine, fine line between the fanatic and fan!

Personal Firsts - Kendry’s exhibition game grand slam against the Dodgers was the first grand slam my husband had ever seen live at a stadium – he didn’t go to as many Dodger games as I did as a kid ;). This was the first year I timed the tickets such that I got to see Weaver pitch at the stadium and honestly, you can’t really appreciate the sheer amount of ground this 6′ 7″ talented stork of a man covers and the deceptiveness of his delivery until you’ve seen it at the game. The first time either of us was there for an entire series – the last homestand against the A’s, many, many thanks to D for his generosity in just handing my husband the season tickets, this game and so many others. And the list goes on…

Suffice to say, yes it was a dismal season. But there were bright spots and enjoyable times for me at least and I for one am ready to call clean cup move down and see what the 2011 season brings…ideally Adrian Beltre but, if not, I am still eager to see what the Angels can do.

I Am Not a Number, I Am a Human Being: More Offseason Musings on Stats

I really like baseball, but I’m not a stat head. Talking about baseball outside of the blogs, I hear a lot of people add this qualifier when they talk about being a fan. Of course, then most of them go on to remark on the statistics in some way – commenting on a particular player’s batting average, or their team’s Ace’s ERA for example. At first glance, this appears to be a contradiction.

Personally, I can no longer get away with the but I’m not a stat geek qualifier without my husband affectionately mocking me…just because I have been known to describe increased individually weighted segmentation in metrics for everything from corporate annual goals to Weight Watcher points as moving from a straight batting average to OPS. Is that any reason I ask you? Yeah, don’t answer that.

Suffice to say, I do love the stats. I think they’re a lot of fun and one important way to assess a player. However, the things I like the most about particular players cannot be described by stats – drive, hustle, work ethic, being a team player, guts, strategy, intelligence and the player trait that’s most important to me: is the guy clutch? So I would argue that I’m not a stat head either.

I think the reason for the seeming disconnect here is a problem with language. What most of us, myself included, mean when we say I’m not a stat head is that I’m not a person who values the numbers more than the human drama on the field, I don’t think that stats trump what you know with your eyes and your gut. And this is all well and good right up until we self professed non stat heads try to explain the ways in which a player we like exhibits the qualities we do admire – the guts, the hustle, the clutch. Once you’ve said it, how do you explain it? You either start describing a litany of specific feats of prowess during a game or you try to quantify these unquantifiable qualities with the only measure you have available, the stats. This is a conundrum only baseball could produce – even when you are absolutely not a stat head, you still embrace the statistics.

* * * * *

That said, has anyone else noticed how much adding in the sabermetric stats make baseball stats look an awful lot like D&D and other roleplaying game stats?

Ichiro Suzuki: 4E, 7A, +4.5 WAR, +15.6 UZR
D&D Character: 17 STR mod +1, 14 DEX, -2 AC

I’m not entirely convinced this is coincidental. Many of the sabermaticians who came up with these stats were Ivy League math majors, after all. The fact that every time I read one of the more detailed free agent analyses I find myself thinking things like “It looks like a homerun? I don’t think so. My 18 UZR Carl Crawford casts magic missile. Role one D20 to see if your spell was successful,” however, must be entirely coincidental. Clearly I am not someone who would know anything about such things from their youth ;)

Michael Lewis, Moneyball and Team Chemistry

My father-in-law discovered Michael Lewis this Christmas. One relative gave him The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, Lewis’ new book on the mortgage meltdown and my husband and I loaned him Liar’s Poker, Lewis’ first book about his early career as a Wall Street bond trader in the 1980’s. He’s really enjoying The Big Short and we got into a huge discussion about both books and all things Michael Lewis over the weekend. And, of course, you can’t talk about Michael Lewis without talking about Moneyball, or at least I can’t.

My father-in-law is as much of a numbers geek as I am. I hooked him on the idea of reading Moneyball with my descriptions of the newer sabermetric stats and Lewis’ comparison of the analysis of certain key pieces of a baseball player’s skill set to the derivatives trade market. However, while I also appreciated these aspects of Moneyball when I read the book, they are not the reason it is one of my favorite baseball books. No, what grabbed my attention were the strong but unintentional arguments Michael Lewis made on the way to arguing his main points: namely that personalities, clubhouse/teammate chemistry and other intangibles that stats cannot measure are every bit as important as those skills the stats can measure and that being a passionate baseball fan sometimes causes you to defy logic and reason. If this doesn’t sound like the Moneyball you read or have heard about, check my logic here:

In talking about on base percentage, slugging percentage and other at the time undervalued stats Lewis dedicates a entire chapter each to A’s acquisitions Jeremy Brown, Scott Hatteberg and Chad Bradford. Each player exhibited one or more sabermetrically valuable skills while lacking many of the qualities that Major League Baseball placed a high value on. In the course of outlining the different ways this situation made each player a brilliant bargain for Billy Beane’s larger vision for the A’s an entirely different argument emerges. In telling their stories, Lewis’ also describes a crucial unexpected personal element that helps each player achieve success. Brown, for example, is a talented hitter who suffers from the fragile psychology of the chronically picked on kid. In Lewis’ telling, once Brown makes the first jump away from the A’s rookie team, he is on the verge of crumpling from a lack of confidence when his friend, the much more socially adept Nick Swisher, gives him the encouragement he needs, a sympathetic ear and a one-man cheerleading squad in the dugout.

Scott Hatteberg’s story is my favorite. A former catcher with a damaged elbow that destroyed his throwing arm, Hatteberg’s high on base percentage brings him to the attention of the A’s who want to retrain him as a first baseman. What the A’s have no way of knowing is how much Hatteberg’s love for baseball is built around the chats and personal interactions he had with the opposing teams’ batters when he used to catch. What I took from Lewis’s argument is that, more than the desire to excel at baseball again, it was the realization that he could have that same level of personal interaction and possibly even longer conversations with opposing players as a first baseman that gave Hatteberg the drive he needed to learn the challenging new position.

Hatteberg’s personality becomes a real asset when Chad Bradford begins pitching for the A’s. Lewis describes Bradford almost crumpling under the pressure of past manager’s reactions to his quirky submarine pitching style until Hatteberg gives him a timely confidence boost by sharing the hitters shocked and impressed reactions to the pitches when they reach first base. I assume that Lewis’ point in sharing these stories is that they are great stories which bring a compelling personal element to the book. But after reading them, I for one can’t imagine any of the players functioning in the way Beane felt their stats indicated they would perform if the intangible qualities in the player and/or their teammates weren’t there right along with the tangible ones. I know this is not what Lewis intended to argue at all, but the argument is there nevertheless and largely, I think, becuase you can’t escape the importance the human element plays in baseball no matter how you crunch the numbers.

As to the unintentional argument about the passion of baseball fans, one of Moneyball‘s biggest controversies is the perception that Lewis argues in favor of new sabermetric stats hands down over traditional stats. This isn’t Lewis’ original argument at all. He starts out by saying that sabermetrics allows managers to pick and choose undervalued skills, the skills that can give a less wealthy team the most talent for their limited dollars. His central premise is not that a team with relatively unlimited resources should prize these undervalued skills over traditionally valued skills…but it sure doesn’t sound that way by the time you get to the draft scenes in the middle of the book. Lewis begins to praise the skill sets the A’s have chosen to focus on to a greater and greater degree as the book progresses. He brings things back around to his central point by the end but seems unaware of the degree to which he strayed from it in the middle…and, understandably, it is the points where Lewis strays that the book’s detractors fixate on. Why the discrepancy? I think Lewis’ own obviously growing enthusiasm and occasional downright giddiness in describing his subject tells the whole story. By the end of his research, Michael Lewis has evolved from an interested but unbiased researcher into passionate baseball fan. And who among us really sounds logical and reasonable once we start talking about our team and their chances in any given season?

As much I appreciated Lewis’ sabermetrics history and analysis of the new stats, to me the combination of his intentional and unintentional arguments cuts right to the heart of baseball. The stats are important. The stats give you an amazing amount of crucial information. The newer stats give you even more. But the stats can never and will never tell you the whole story. I hope my father-in-law asks to borrow Moneyball soon. I want to discuss this with him and see if he thinks it compares to gut instinct vs. in depth market analysis on the stock market.

And to All on MLBlogs, a Good Night!

I would like to wish a very Merry Christmas, the happiest of holidays and best wishes for the New Year to all of you out there in the blogosphere, readers and writers alike!

So, taking a glance around the blogs, it appears that writing a parody of The Night Before Christmas isn’t exactly the most original idea I’ve ever had…as I probably should have suspected in community of writers, LOL. You all make me smile, a lot. Anyway, here are my lines to add to the chorus:

T’was the night before Christmas, when all through the house,
Only Blithescribe was stirring with laptop and mouse.
The stockings were draped from the bookshelves with care,
Because we don’t have a real chimney, so we hang them there.

In the armchair I nestled, snuggled with pillows and cats,
Perusing MLBlogs for new posts and great stats.
While my husband lay sleeping, on the couch by the tree,
Because really, hands down, he’s much smarter than me.

When outside our house, there arose such a clatter,
That I ran to the door to see what was the matter.
And what did I see on our porch clear as day?
Would you believe it was Santa with reindeer and sleigh?

“Only seven reindeer, Santa? Is one of them late?
I could be mistaken, but I’ve read you use eight.”
“Oh, that. Minor accident in Arkansas, you see.
He’s still on my good list, but no presents for Cliff Lee!”

Shocked and surprised, I invited Santa inside.
“I thought you were a myth. Clearly somebody lied.”
He smiled, “I get that a lot and, yet, I am here.”
“So, cookies and milk? Or can I get you a beer?”

While I got the drinks, Santa skimmed through the blogs,
And my husband remained on the couch sawing logs.
“Hot Stove is insane this year,” Santa said with a smirk.
“On Crawford, on Lee, on Soriano and Werth?

Seven years is too crazy for me to understand.”
So Santa Claus is real and a big baseball fan!
After beer and bourbon, Santa’s a right jolly old elf,
So I poured a glass of Maker’s Mark for myself.

“Thank you,” Santa said, “for the drinks and good rest.
This gets harder every time, I have to confess.
So little girl, what can Santa give you this year?”
That would have sounded dirty were it not meant with good cheer.

“Well you’re a little late Santa” I said, quite bereft.
“I wanted bats for the Angels and Crawford in left.”
“Carl Crawford, you say? Yeah, I’m sorry about him.”
“Santa, say it ain’t so! You gave Crawford to them.”

Santa pulled up his sleeve with a sheepish little grin,
To reveal a B-shaped tattoo, right there on his skin.
“Dustin left us for baseball. I couldn’t help myself.
North Polers stick together. I root for the elf”

That explains everything! Santa’s a Red Sox fan.
Well they do have red stockings and cute toy sized stands.
“Okay, Angels season tickets would simply be heaven.
One pair? Home side field box? Say section 111?”

He had a broad face and a round little belly,
That shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly.
“That’s hilarious Blithescribe,” he laughed as he stood.
“Seriously, lady? You think you’ve been that good?”

Instead he gave me books. Fourteen all in a stack,
Two for each week ’til my birthday, just like in years back!
I giggled like a child and clapped my hands with glee.
Books were always the best present underneath the tree.

Then Santa had to leave, with more countries still to go,
I hugged him thank you, as he headed out our door.
And I heard him exclaim as he leapt from our porch,
Merry Christmas to all, only 51 days ’til pitchers and catchers report!

Baseball Reminiscences: Dodger Bat Girl

Christmas is but two days away. My sister and her fiancé will start their drive in from Las Vegas this evening and my husband and I will be celebrating with my side of the family tomorrow night. This time of year always beings so many great memories bubbling to the surface – holidays past, time spent with family, childhood fun. Between starting this blog, enjoying all of your blogs and pumping or shaking my fist over the various offseason rumors, baseball is very much on my brain right now and playing an even larger role in those memories than usual. And for me childhood baseball memories mean memories of the Dodgers…

In 1988 my sister got to be the Dodger’s honorary bat girl for a day. To be honest, I actually liked this a lot better than if I was the bat girl myself – I got to tag along and meet everyone with her, but I didn’t have to stand near the plate on the field in front of everyone and have my face on the Jumbotron. I would be okay with it now, but at that age I was painfully shy. This was a very special day and the Dodgers organization were wonderful hosts. In those days, they picked a bat boy and bat girl for every game but you wouldn’t have known it from the amount of individual attention they lavished on my sister, of course, but also on the whole family.

Our guide took us to meet then manager Tommy Lasorda who was warm and friendly and cracked jokes about the players. He asked if there was any player we would specifically like to meet and we both really wanted to meet Orel Hershiser. But that was not to be. Lasorda explained that Hershiser was pitching that game and he really didn’t like to be bothered with anything outside of the game once he got to the field. I remember we were disappointed but also understood. Who wants to bother their favorite pitcher if it might keep him from pitching at his best? Our second choice was Mike Scioscia, another family favorite. My sister and I both have a huge soft spot for catchers. She was a softball catcher. For me it’s more of an admiration for players who both play and manage on the field, combining athletic skills with the strategy side of baseball. Scioscia was an absolute sweetheart. He signed baseballs for both of us, chatted with everyone and even had my sister show him her eight year old’s catcher’s crouch when he found out what position she played. He was a really great guy and I remember thinking that he must have daughters because he knew just how to talk to us not down to us.

After that a young assistant, who I think was a ball boy, who had been standing with Lasorda came back up to us and handed my sister a baseball obviously newly signed by Orel Hershiser. Wow! He had gone to the bullpen to get it for her. In my youth, I was appreciative but the enormity of this gesture didn’t occur to me – this kid, who probably wasn’t that much older than me, had to disturb the Bulldog before a game to get the autographed baseball. I truly appreciate it now. I wonder what he said to him? Did he just hand him the baseball and hope he would sign it? Did he make a joke about demanding fans? Or did he tell him there were two little girls who knew all the Dodgers by name, number and stats, who thought he was just fantastic (my sister even wore his number 55 in softball) and would treasure a signed ball? Whatever he said, it worked and meant a lot to us. Players who are inclined to do such things must do them all the time and probably don’t remember each individual good deed, but I will always remember that and think extra fondly of both Hershiser and the ball boy, wherever he is. This weekend I will have to ask my sister if she remembers this…and if she still has the ball.

Later we got to tour the press box. At the time my sister wanted to be a female Vin Scully when she grew up and I wanted to be a news reporter so it was neat to see all the audio equipment and watch some of the reporters prep for the game. Vin Scully himself was there, but he was well into his game prep and, understandably, could not be disturbed. Still he looked up from his work to smile and wave at us as we toured the booth which was awfully nice. Instead, we met another one of the Dodgers broadcasters. I looked up, and up, and up some more and there was Don Drysdale with a friendly smile, extending his huge hand to envelope first my sister’s and then mine in a welcoming handshake. He would have dwarfed me at my adult height, and I am a tall woman. As a little girl, he seemed like a friendly giant…well he was in his civilian attitude. I know from history that batters who faced him probably would not have described him as friendly on the mound. Don Drysdale would consider an intentional walk a waste of three pitches. If he wants to put you on base, he can hit you with one pitch. I adore this quote, usually attributed to Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon. It’s quintessential baseball in the great “bad” old days. Drysdale was also a lot better at answering a bunch of questions from excited little girls than his reputation might have led you to expect. I actually shed a few tears years later when he died, remembering how kind and hospitable he was.

We had excellent seats that night in the field boxes and I remember enjoying the game but cannot for the life of me recollect any additional details about it. Getting to go behind the scenes and meet some of our favorite players and the people who worked with them, however? Those details I will remember forever.

Sports Radio GaGa

The Sports Lodge, our Orange and Los Angeles County morning sports radio show (broadcast from KLAA out of Angels stadium, for full disclosure) turned the daily One on One segment over to the listeners today. This is a semiweekly occurrence, as host Roger Lodge sees fit, where a usually divisive question is posed and listeners ad invited to call the show and weigh in. Today’s question was prompted by Arte Moreno’s comments to the Los Angeles Times that if he increased the Angles offers for high end free agents to the levels other teams have paid, it would necessitate raising ticket prices and he is unwilling to do that. So, Lodge’s question to the listeners: Would you rather raise ticket prices, land a big name free agent like an Adrian Beltre and have a real shot at being championship team? Or, keep ticket prices the same as they are right now and watch the same below .500 result you watched last year?

I wish I was able to hear the listeners responses but my car has the wimpiest antenna known to man and, per its usual, it refused to pick up am radio from the point in my commute when Lodge finished his funny Devil’s advocate spiel until moments before I pulled into the parking lot at work. Gee, thanks car. Had I a chance to call in I would have teased Lodge about the question itself (which was probably part of why he phrased it that way, truth be told) which I think was based on three pieces of false logic:

1) The 2010 Angels were a bad, sub .500 team that cannot improve without a big name free agency signing. Last year was bad, really bad. But all that bad was the result of bad performances, not a bad team (an important nuance to my way of thinking) and more than a little bad luck on top of it. Bad performances from otherwise good players, even season long bad performances, can improve. With bad players, this would be far less likely. Can this season’s bad performances improve without outside help? Yes! If the entire roster had just batted at their normal batting averages this season, for one thing, we would have won a lot of the games we lost this year. Will performances improve without outside help? God I hope so. There are no guarantees, but it doesn’t seem too farfetched to expect most of the players to return to playing to their normal capability, which would be a big improvement. And we get Kendry back, which is another improvement in and of itself and mitigates the bad luck factor.

2) Small changes addressing specific problems will not do anything to improve that situation. I think we need a few more changes to address additional weak spots on the team, of course, but one of our bigger problems last year was the Arson Squad Bullpen part deux. Signing Downs and Takahashi will definitely improve that situation and, while I don’t think this is the entire fix by a long shot, it’s an important improvement all the same.

3) A single big name free agency signing can turn a bad sub .500 team into a championship team. I had the most issues with this question premise. I do not believe that one player can elevate a truly poor team into a great team. Does anyone really think that with the Jayson Werth signing the Nationals are going to take the NL East next year? No, but for a team like the Red Sox who were so close, but not close enough last year, signing Carl Crawford might make enough of a difference to justify the expense.

I see the Angles, playing at the level the current roster is capable of playing at, as being a lot closer to the Red Sox example than to the Nationals example and, in that sense, I think a big name free agency signing could definitely help us rise back to the level of championship team. But I take issue with the idea that without such a signing, nothing else matters and we’re back to a below .500 performance in 2011.

So . What are your thoughts on the possibilities of a single big name free agent turning a bad team around? Or on my musings on bad team vs. bad performances as it relates to the Angels or just in general?

* * * * *

And on the Adrian Beltre front? Well, it’s the Angels rumor mill hokey pokey – We put the right bid in, we pulled it right back out, wait we put a new bid in, no we threw the whole thing out. The rumor mill hokey pokey sure turns stuff all around. Darned if anyone knows who really knows what it’s all about. ;)

Strange Things Are Afoot at the Big A

Friday, in an interview with the L.A. Times, Angels Owner Arte Moreno stated that the Angles had made a quote, unquote significant offer to Adrian Beltre. In the article (linked above) the Times speculates that the offer was in the vicinity of 5 years and $70 million and was likely to be the Angels final offer. This was such an uncharacteristic statement from anyone in the Angels notoriously tight lipped front office, let alone from Moreno, that I’ve been waiting with interest to see what if anything came of this announcement over the weekend. When I read between the lines – always a dangerous and unscientific pastime but, seriously, who can resist? – I think Moreno is saying the Angels don’t expect to be able to land Beltre but, he’s aware that a vocal percentage of the fanbase perceives the front office as being overly passive and bungling the deal with Carl Crawford and he wants to avoid incurring that same perception with Beltre.

Sure enough, today there is talk that Beltre rejected that supposedly final Angles offer and that’s likely to be the end of that…of course talk is just talk until contracts are actually signed and a lot of the talk this hot stove season has been dead wrong. Carl Crawford? Cliff Lee? Need I say more? But in this case the predictions and rumors interest me far less than the fact that Moreno said anything at all in the middle of the negotiations. I think that fans’ anger and frustration is getting to him and, I would imagine, to the rest of the front office as well, especially in light of the money is no object promises for change Moreno made at the end of last season. Well, good…maybe…depending on the front office’s response. Frustrated action good. Frustrated kneejerk reaction, bad.

Note that I speak of the fans’ anger and frustration in the third person. Me? I’m not thrilled with the way the offseason has gone so far but I’m also not crying gloom and doom just yet, apart from a few shocked sarcastic comments as each new development broke, of course. Kendry coming back to all reports as good as new is a big deal and already an improvement over last year. His is an impressive bat and often shields and inspires other bats in the lineup. The deals the Angels have made this off season have strengthened the Bullpen which was a major issue last year. Do I want more? Of course? Would I feel better about next season if we had an additional big bat or two or a new younger guy in left field? Very much so. Would I feel better if we could resolve the strange platoon of partial skill sets at third base? Double hell yeah on that one. But if Beltre is out of the picture, who is left who would be a good fit? And if the answer is no one just yet, I’m far from ready to give up on the whole 2011 season in December 2010, thank you very much. Which brings me to the rest of the weirdness seemingly swirling around the Big A…

There is a lot of new discussion about the Angles going after Scott Podsednik or Johnny Damon if they can’t land Adrian Beltre. More typically, none of it is from the front office this time, so who knows how true any of it is. But I don’t like the idea of either player for us really. Nothing against either one, but we already have two left fielders in their 30’s with good gloves but slowing feet and diminishing range, and Abreu can also bat leadoff and/or be the DH. I would like the Angels to use Juan Rivera a lot less but it doesn’t seem like either Podsednik or Damon would be that much of an improvement. True, we do need a DH now, but I prefer the idea of looking for some more speed in left field (and on the base paths) and moving Bobby into the DH role rather than platooning or replacing him with someone with basically the same pros and cons. Who is the answer? Darned if I know. Luckily, I only have to comment on the outcome of the decisions. I don’t actually have to make them.

Sweet Predictions

Christmas is just around the corner and at my house that means we’ve been making candy for three days…yes, even while it’s raining cats and dogs. What can I say? We’re brave and we’ve been getting more than passable results by adjusting the times and temperatures slightly. Anyway, watching and swirling pot after napalm like pot of boiling sugar and butter, waiting for that magic second when it achieves optimum caramel color and that heavenly smell begins to permeate the room, a mere second and a half at most before it begins to burn, gives one a lot of time to think…Maybe it’s just the sugar rush talking, but it occurs to me that building a winning baseball team, one that can make it to the postseason and win the World Series, bears some resemblance to the process I have just repeated many times in the last several days.

Candy making is both an exact and an inexact science. You have a set list of ingredients, precise ratios for those ingredients and highly specific directions to follow with regards to cooking times, stirring procedures and temperatures. Follow the recipe exactly and you get a winning result every single time…except when you don’t. Slight changes in humidity, the freshness of the ingredients, water quality, a nick in your pan, all can lead to bad results – poor consistency, candy that won’t harden or goes straight to the burned stage. And Lord help you if a sugar crystal drops into the mix at the wrong moment! And the best part? You can’t predict the degree to which any of these things will matter or even if they will matter at all until the moment you are making the candy. Sometimes cooking it longer will combat the high humidity of a heavy rainstorm. Other times, even slightly raised humidity is impossible to overcome.

Everyone knows the ingredients needed for a winning baseball team – a great starting rotation, a reliable bullpen complete with an effective closer, hot bats, a high OPS and fantastic gloves and arms on defense. But what is the perfect ratio? Theories abound – great starters that go deep make a reliable bullpen less necessary, you can have adequate pitching as long as you have a team of hitters, you can have low OPS as long as you have a killer starting rotation, and so on. But for every theory you will find plenty of World Series Winning examples to contradict it. I would argue that team chemistry can play a huge rule in determining which teams make it to the postseason, but others would disagree and teams with lousy chemistry have certainly managed to achieve that feat before (the 2002 Giants, for example).

And this is before you even get to all of the external factors – the other teams’ abilities, ownership/financial issues, heck, even the weather. Apparently rain affects everything! And what about injuries, that greatest and most hated of all equalizers? Sometimes injuries have little effect (In 2010? The Rangers.), other times there is no hope for team recovery without the injured player (In 2010? The Angels.) or in light of a cascade of injuries (In 2010? The Red Sox.).

My point is simply this, we can guess predict the outcome of a season all we want but it is impossible to really know until we get there. There are just entirely too many variables. In light of recent acquisitions, the prevailing theory is that the Phillies and the Red Sox are certain to meet up in the World Series. I’m not saying it’s not possible. Both have the makings of frightening opponents next year and some years the more popular predictions do come to pass. Other years, you have a World Series matchup between the Giants and the Rangers. And who were some of the favored predictions last year? Well, the Philllies and the Mariners come to mind…With an off season that’s already been full of surprises, the one prediction I feel certain of is that the 2011 season will be anything but dull.

Meanwhile, I sit here nibbling on a piece of near perfect pine nut brittle that should, by all rights, have failed to become brittle…purely for quality control purposes I assure you ;)

Of Mixed Fan Base Families, December Birthdays and Mickey Mouse

Families certainly bring about the weird and wonderful in life, especially where birthdays are concerned and especially around the holidays. This is how I found myself yesterday afternoon running to UPS to ship a very California, Angels inspired, Red Sox fan item from Los Angeles County to Boston. You can go back and read that again if you want but, trust me, you read it correctly the first time. Allow me to back up and explain.

Our nephew Henry is a very new diehard Red Sox fan. He’s only turning six this week, so the very new part can be forgiven. The Red Sox part really isn’t his fault either. There are undeniable environmental factors involved. Growing up in the Boston area, the cards really were stacked against him turning out any other way…or at least these are the jokes I tell my sister-in-law, his mother. She’s a somewhat casual Yankees fan married to a far less casual Red Sox fan and these comments made her laugh a lot. (Yes, on my side of the family we have Dodgers and Giants fans – and a few rogue Royals fans – occasionally coinciding within the same immediate family group. On my husband’s side of the family we have the same thing with the Yankees and the Red Sox. And my husband and I are the odd folks out wherever we go. When the trash talk starts it can occasionally get epic, but it doesn’t start nearly as often as you might think.).

When Henry and his family came out to California for their summer visit, he came to dinner wearing an obviously well loved Clay Buchholz shirt. My husband and I were the height of cool in his book when we told him we’d seen Buchholz pitch. The Red Sox are the best team ever, he proclaimed. So I asked him to tell me about the Red Sox and why they were his favorite team. Henry got an extremely thoughtful look on his face and seemed to consider my question very carefully. Then he broke out in a huge grin.

Because Big Papi can hit the ball so far, Aunt Kristen. I mean really, really far. And this year we killed the Angels!

At this last comment, my sister-in-law looked mortified. But between her expression and our nephew’s literally bouncing up and down enthusiasm, my husband and I could not help but laugh. Those are very good reasons, Henry, I told him in between giggles.

Hey, he’s five (just shy of six now), he’s starting to love baseball and he’s passionate about his favorite team. What could be cuter? Other than his favorite team having a halo in their logo, I mean. So for his birthday, we sent Henry this Red Sox Mickey (shown here sitting next to his, in my opinion, much better looking cousin Angels Mickey):

All Star Mickies for Blog 100_1032.jpg

Buying Red Sox Mickey for our nephew was really funny. They still have the All Star Game Mickeys (36 different kinds – one painted to represent each team as well as an AL Mickey, an NL Mickey and 4 different All Star Mickeys) for sale at the Big A so we went to buy one after a game. The saleskid looked really surprised at my request after taking in our Angels gear and kind of sputtered, But, but that’s the ugliest Mickey of all of them! As he handed me the box.

I decided to have a little fun with him. Really, you think so? But the red and blue are such great colors don’t you think? And look, he’s got an adorable little Wally the Green Monster right here on his foot!

At this point, Saleskid kind of short circuited. He did that goldfish out of water thing where the mouth just opens and closes without actually making any noise as he tried to think of something nice to say about the Mickey, the customer being always right and all that. So we laughed and let him off the hook by explaining about the Red Sox fan nephew’s birthday.

Saleskid’s response? You guys are awfully accepting. Best Aunt and Uncle ever.

Hopefully Henry agrees.

Apparently Those Mid-Season All GM Diplomacy Tournaments Paid Off

First the Nationals, then the Red Sox and now, apparently, the Phillies have pulled off a completely unexpected out of left field, or in this case the Bullpen, deal. Cliff Lee. Wow. All this time, I thought that the secret unnamed suitor was sort of a joke, part of the general circus atmosphere and most likely the Nationals anyway, but it was serious. I think we now know the reason Cliff Lee has been off hunting deer all this time – he couldn’t trust himself not to break out in a big Fooled You! grin…much like Carl Crawford, apparently. (Tony Reagins, I take back most of my griping about you, on the Crawford issue at least.)

Yeah, so there I was, diligently writing my company’s newsletter (Yes. Still. At just shy of midnight. Why do you ask?), enjoying a lovely glass of port (Mitchella Vineyards Riportella III – tawny, brandied cherries, slightly spicy, absolutely gorgeous – and, yes, de rigueur when one is still writing one’s company newsletter at just shy of midnight), when on a whim I decided to glance at a few of the MLBlogs until the latest fit of I-don’t-really-want-to-be-writing-about-HR-issues-at-this-hour-on-my-own-time-thank-you-very-much spawned stuck-ness passed. And, much like Wednesday evening, I was left briefly wondering if I didn’t somehow check out The Onion by mistake. Nope, no joke. Lee’s a Phillie, again. (So, Yogi, gotta ask. Would that be déjà vu all over again or just plain ordinary déjà vu?)

I’d be lying if I said I was sorry the Angels won’t have to face Lee in 2011 unless all parties involved have an excellent post season run…and, with Tony Reagins’ latest announcement that having a full season with Kendry Morales and Dan Haren in addition to the two pitchers he has acquired is the equivalent of pulling off four free agency signings, the early odds on the Angels achieving this feat aren’t looking as good as I had hoped. Sorry Tony, I still really have to disagree with you on that one. But I digress (Yes, I am on my second glass of port, why do you ask? LOL!)…

I do offer my sincere condolences to my friends on MLBlogs, especially the Yankees and Rangers fans, who were hoping their team would snag Cliff Lee. We all know what it is to root really hard for our guys and what it is to be extremely disappointed when they don’t get what we most want them have. As one sometime, and recently oft, disappointed fan to another, I feel your pain. To borrow loosely the wisdom according to Scarlett O’Hara, that greatest of all pragmatists, Tomorrow is another day. You can stand it then. And later there will be small satisfaction in knowing that you won’t have to face him unless it’s in the post season either.

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