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B Strong

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B Strong

Posted on 23 April 2013 by Nick Schaeflein

In the last week it was a proud time to be a baseball fan. There was no milestones reached, no must see plays, or terrific stat lines to wow over but there was something deeper that happened. The events that happened last week in the city of Boston were tragic. In the matter of minutes a tradition in the streets of Bean Town became a nightmare. The silver lining however, is that the great game of baseball and a great city became one and showed true beauty during a difficult time with honor and class.


Growing up, my dad traveled a lot to Boston for work and I always associated that with the baseball team there. Not knowing any better, throughout the years I became a fan of the Red Sox. I have had the privilege to walk the streets of Boston where the marathon is held and watching the events last Monday hit home in a way. In addition, having a cousin currently preparing to run the Chicago Marathon made it strike another cord as well.

Last Monday was to be a special day in the city of Boston. It was Patriots Day in the city. The day is a holiday where fans take in a day game at Fenway and also celebrate Marathon Monday with the running of the Boston Marathon. In Major League Baseball as well April 15th was the annual celebration of Jackie Robinson Day across the league. Celebrating those two historical events, who would dream up anything but a festive day? But then a mere forty five minutes after the Red Sox won a ball game in walk off fashion, the earth shook with a moment in time that will now be linked to Patriots Day history forever.

If there is one city and one franchise that could rally around a tragedy like this it would be Boston and the Red Sox. That type of mentality is in their core as Bostonians. They are a tough, hard nose city. The Red Sox themselves have guys that are true leaders and role models that would not tarnish this tragedy. Guys like Dustin Pedroia, Ryan Dempster, and David Ortiz are community guys that will help shoulder the pain of a city and lead a city as one. They will bear that cross and honor the city through the healing process.

The following day, it was fitting the Red Sox played a game in Cleveland where in the opposite dugout was former manager Terry Francona and a few former teammates. It was as if the game of baseball created a chance for brethrens to come together in a time of grievance. Also during their short time in Cleveland, Jon Lester made a start on the same mound where in 2007 he made his comeback from beating cancer. On the field it was a three game sweep in the win column for the Red Sox, but much deeper it was a group of guys forced into leading an example for a city and rallying together to overcome pain.

Around the league as well, support was displayed for Boston. Ballparks and cities united and rivalries were put to the side. To name a few, in New York and Chicago they played Neil Diamonds’ Sweet Caroline which is a Fenway Park mantra. Ben Revere of the Phillies showed remembrance on his glove. For a few moments in time, Red Sox Nation was supported across the whole nation. It was later discovered as well that in the marathon was the brother of former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein who was unharmed. The Red Sox are a group that has a knack of sticking with you. It goes to show that while you may be able to take them out of Boston, the ties to Boston will always remain.

Over the weekend, the Red Sox returned home to Boston. They came home to cheers of unity and a nation banding together. Fittingly, it also marked the return and season debut of fan favorite David Ortiz. Big Papi wasted little time collecting a few hits, but also providing a touching pre game speech as well for the crowd. There are no stats to prove it, but that Saturday afternoon ballgame in April could be one of the biggest moments in Fenway Park lore.

In the city limits, Patriots Day will no longer be just for remembering the battles of Lexington and Concord, but also for the tragic events of 2013. Sox Nation will do their part in honoring the fallen. They will help ease the pain, but they will also never forget. As always, Sox Nation will B Strong.


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Posted on 15 February 2013 by Nick Schaeflein

A little bit about me. I am 28, born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago.  Growing up in Chicago, I have had the privilege of having two professional baseball teams right in my backyard to follow all season long. To set the record straight, I am a big supporter of the Chicago Cubs. (The finger pointing and laughing can begin.) Coming from a Cub family, they are the team I grew up with, and they are the team on my credit card. As a side note, it is so much fun using that thing at the South Side park for the in game hot dogs and drinks.

Cubs Wrigley Facelift Baseball

Obviously, I have never seen a Chicago Cubs World Series Championship. Putting it gently, it has been a really long time since they have won one. Instead of looking at 100 plus years without a title, Cub fans need to look at it like celebrating birthdays. We all reach that age where we just do not want to count the numbers anymore. But it will happen eventually, honest. The reason being quite simply is summed up by the word Theology.

I have a t-shirt that reads Theology: The field of study and analysis to build a world championship baseball team at Clark and Addison. It is in honor of the current Team President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein. Mr. Epstein is entering his second season on the North Side. Season number one was not always the prettiest on the surface, but the way Theo works, you always have to look deeper. I have followed Theo since his early days in Boston. In the end, he brought the Red Sox two championships, and before he vanishes, he will raise a banner at the Friendly Confines as well, and that is not just crazy talk. Theo is a baseball Jedi ninja.

The 2012 Cub’s season was not the best. They flirted with setting the record for most losses in a season by a Cubs team, and if it were not for the Houston Astros, things could have been a lot worse. Sadly, the Astros are gone now. But the true season was never about wins and losses; it was about building a plan and foundation for the next few years. It was the start of a culture makeover. That type of talk is foreign around these parts. The Cubs have never really had a great farm system. Theo and his crew are changing that. They are using words like develop and growing talent. Jed Hoyer is a good General Manager. Dale Sveum is a good baseball guy, and on down the line the culture is changing.

While the Cubs the last two seasons have not signed the big time Free Agent, like an Albert Pujols, or Josh Hamilton they have made some ninja moves that are helping the process along. Last season they made a trade for first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo will be a star, and has a great chance at starting the All-Star game this July. This year, they nearly had Anibal Sanchez, but instead signed starting pitcher Edwin Jackson. Having a pitching background myself, Jackson has a make up about him that is solid. Yes, he will have a few stinkers but he will also have games that will make him look awesome. Jackson will be a phenomenal compliment to pitchers Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija.

In addition, Ninja Theo made a great draft pick in outfielder Albert Almora and signed another young outfielder out of Cuba Jorge Soler. The two kids crushed the ball in their first year in the organization. The next division championship the Wrigley faithful will celebrate will have the starting outfield of Soler, Almora, and Brett Jackson which is very promising.

All of a sudden, the Cubs have actual young talent. The prospect list looks very good, and this will all compliment the arguable face of the team, shortstop Starlin Castro. Castro is a young Derek Jeter just scratching the surface of his prime. I just ask that he is in that Cubbie blue for the next decade or more.

I was at the 2012 Cubs Convention when Theo was first introduced. I got goose bumps hearing the overcrowded room chant Theo, Theo. While, Epstein has a history of making head scratching trades and signings, he also gives a city and Cub faithful a bounce in their step and belief. While the product on the field ultimately will decide wins and losses, changes are being made to the ballpark and surroundings as well. Wrigleyville has proposed renovations that will make it seem like the park is actually in the 21st century.

By no means will the Cubs be confused with the 1961 Yankees or even the 2004 Red Sox but they will be better. If healthy, they will be in the hunt for one of the 2013 wild card spots. On the horizon, if the plan continues on course they will be contending for much more. The future is promising on the North Side of Chicago. Theo Epstein is changing a culture one calculated move at a time. It is a very difficult thing to have, but Cub Nation needs to have a few more summers of patients and let Theo work his ninja magic.

Patience is a virtue, and it will pay off soon for the Friendly Confines. Spread the word, within the next few summers, Cub fans will have one heck of a birthday bash!

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How Do You Spell Relief, Jim Johnson?

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How Do You Spell Relief, Jim Johnson?

Posted on 07 October 2012 by Will Emerson

Jim Johnson eclipsed the 50 save mark this season and, as the only reliever in the majors to do so in 2012, also led the majors in saves. Now, 50 saves in a season is impressive to some degree, no? No. Well, yes, to some degree I suppose. It is really not quite as black and white as that. I mean, sure, JJ is only the eleventh reliever to do this in the span of baseball history, which should account for something, maybe? Now, of course adding the “in the span of baseball history” is what someone could use to make JJ’s feat all the more impressive, however, the specialist that is a baseball team’s closer did not really exist for the entire span of baseball history, and the stat itself was not even counted until 1969. As for the ten other relievers to do that, well they have all come in the last 22 years and, actually, six of those have been in the last decade, so it is getting slightly less exclusive.

Now JJ does join some good company on the 50 save season list. Mariano Rivera, Eric Gagne, Dennis Eckersley, Trevor Hoffman and John Smoltz to name a few. Of course Rod Beck, Randy Myers and Bobby Thigpen also adorn this list. Now the fact that, in theory, there are let’s say 15 closers who remain in the closer role for a full season every year, makes people think that the exclusivity of this club, means it is quite an accomplishment and should be spoken of as such. Basically it does not happen often and no reliever has been able to do it twice in their careers, therefore it is considered a great season and you could form an argument that way for all of these guys’ and now, for Jim Johnson’s season.

All year, and really still, no one really seems to know how the Orioles have been winning like they have. They outplayed their Pythagorean record (projected record based on runs scored and given up) by eleven games. Eleven! The next highest number of games of above their Pythagorean win-loss total were the Reds and Giants, both by six. When you look at the Orioles roster, their numbers, or really anything, it defies the odds. Not only did they play above their heads this season, but are headed to the ALDS and almost won the AL East, for crying out loud! Baseball pundits and afficianados scoured box scores and articles on the Os to see if they could find something, one thing, that could explain how in the heck they were getting the job done and all of sudden, BOOM! Sorry if I scared you there with the caps lock, but I was trying to be dramatic. So, BOOM! The Orioles are very good in one-run games, so it had to be the bullpen, of which Jim Johnson is the king!

With a 29-9 record in one-run games, no team in the majors was better than the Orioles in that department. So this is when everyone started jumping on the Jim Johnson praise committee. Now, I am not looking to trash JJ by any means, he had a very good season, but the way people are talking it is as if he has pitched one of the greatest relief seasons ever. I have even seen some writers and bloggers go as far as to say Johnson is deserving of a Cy Young vote, which I find to be a bit ludicrous. Just because he had 51 saves? Of the ten other 50 save seasons, only two won the Cy Young award. Now I understand that saying JJ deserves a vote, is not the same as saying he should win the award, but I still think even a Cy Young vote is a stretch. Closers in general, at least in my opinion, need to do a lot to garner Cy Young consideration.

Yes a closer does tend to come in a lot of high leverage, big time pressure, situations, which is why their role is considered so important for a team. The fact is many are just basing their praise of Jim Johnson primarily on that one counting stat, the save. Sure, that is really the stat for closers, and you cannot fault JJ for that, but is that really the best indicator of a closer? Yeah, I know what some of you are thinking, “How could saves, the main closer statistic, not be the biggest factor tied to a closer evaluation?” Well, I’ll tell ya, the stat itself is majorly flawed and, really, can you sit there and tell me Jim Johnson is actually a top five closer, just because he had more saves than anyone?

Yes Johnson had 51 saves, we have established this. This is an accomplishment, sure. But how great is it, really? First off, for a closer to get saves, they need opportunities. The Orioles used their bullpen a lot for a team that made the playoffs. In fact no other AL team used their bullpen more than the Os this season and of the other AL Playoff teams only the Yankees used more relievers than the league average and as a team, only the Reds and Brewers had more save opportunities than the Orioles. But we are looking at Jim Johnson, right? Right! So back to the 51 saves. How any other relievers, in the majors this season, even had 50 save opportunites? One. Fernando Rodney and he had 50 exactly. So no other team even gave a closer a chance to get 51 saves. Is that an accomplishment? That the Orioles rarely blew opponents out and Buck Showalter taxed their bullpen like nobody’s business? And hey, again, I am not trouncing on Jim Johnson, cause that is certainly not his fault and it is a testament to something that he did get all these opportunities, but should he get Cy Young vote for that? I think not. Then there is the other flaw in the saves statistic. The fact that there all different kinds of saves.

Protecting a 3-run lead or 1-run lead, still lands you a save. Obviously one is a bit more difficult than the other, but when all is said and done, they count the same. Now, actually this is where you could make the strongest case for JJ. He was 18-18 protecting 1-run leads, so, you know, pretty good. He was actually much worse when protecting larger leads. In 8 of those 36 other save opportunities he allowed at least one run to score, before shutting the door. Now, some will say, yeah, but he had the runs to spare and yeah, that is true, but does that make him an elite closer? Does that make his 2012 season great? Johnson’s season was just as unpredictable as that of his team’s and this is definitely why he is being so lauded as strong closer. But how strong is he really?

JJ does not strike out a ton of batters, which is very rare for a major league closer. His 5.37 K/9 is the worst amongst closers with ten or more save opportunities this season and he could quite possibly be the first closer in major league history to have 30 plus saves and have less strikeouts than saves. Now sure, that is not that big of thing if he is getting the job done and that number 51 shows that he has been. But generally in high leverage situations, you do not want the ball being put in play so much, especially when your team has the third worst UZR in the American League and the fifth worst UZR in the majors. But couple this with the fact the he walks almost two batters per nine innings and you have a K/BB rate that is not even amongst the top 60 for eligible relievers. To me, it seems like JJ cold be living on borrowed time with his success this season. Now you could say, “Oh yeah, but his ERA and WHIP were very good.” Okay, well let’s explore that.

His 2.49 ERA and 1.02 WHIP are darned good, that is for darned sure. These numbers were so good, that he was eleventh, amongst major league relievers who had ten or more save opportunities this season, in both categories. His ERA was also helped by a strong finish (.38 ERA since the end of July), but through the end of July his ERA was 3.63, which is not impressive for a guy you need to dominate and shut down the opposing team. So, even if you want to say he had good season numbers, it is safe to say that he was not that way all season. His ERA in July, by the way, was over 11. Ouch. His ERA also, of course, does not count the inhertited runners he would allow to score. JJ was not brought into the game much with men on base and probably with good reason. Of the eight runners Johnson inherited this season, he allowed six, yes SIX, to score! Now it’s a small sample size, that is definitely true, but by comparison, Fernando Rodney, who in my mind was far and away the best closer in the AL, allowed just two of his 18 inherited runners to cross the plate. And you have to think Buck Showalter may need Johnson to come in with guys on base in the playoffs and that could get dicey, certainly exposing the flaws in his closer.

So really, I have to say again, this is not to attack Jim Johnson in any way, shape or form. The point here was that everyone needs to slow their proverbial rolls, when discussing his body of work this season. What the Orioles have done is amazing, because it was completely unexpected and unexplainable, and the same can be said of Jim Johnson’s 51 saves if you want to look at it that way. Let us all just take a step back and put this in perspective though. Other than actual number of saves, for instance, Fernando Rodney has been vastly better than Jim Johnson, but without passing the 50 save mark or his team making the playoffs, Fernando will have to sit and watch all the praise being bestowed on JJ. Johnson deserves a kudos and a tip of the cap for sure, but let’s stop there and realize that his 2012 season is not quite as special or dominant as we’d all like to believe.

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Point and Grunt Baseball: If NASA Ran MLB

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Point and Grunt Baseball: If NASA Ran MLB

Posted on 06 August 2012 by Dennis Lawson

Mars Rover “Curiosity”

Admit it.  You stayed up to watch the Mars rover, Mars Curiosity, land on the red planet.  To heck with the physical and emotional repercussions of starting Monday sleep deprived.  When NASA has a $2.5 billion rover tweeting its trip across the solar system, those TPS reports can wait.  After all, we are talking must-see tv writ large.  In baseball terms most people may understand, NASA just threw a baseball hundreds of millions of miles at home plate which happens to be just 96 miles wide, and the rocket surgeons placed the ball right on the 3rd base corner of the plate.  St-eeee-rike.

Of course, the plate happened to be moving at something like 24.077 km/s, and takes 779.96 days to orbit the sun, but we will take what we can get.  Hitting a moving target makes the rover project a bit more like the feat of throwing a called strike with Bob Davidson or Joe West behind the dish.  Nibbling on the edge won’t do.  The rover had to be throw right down the pipe with the universe’s largest 12-6 uncle Charlie.  If the geniuses at NASA can do all this with a 1-ton rover, just imagine what they could do for MLB.

Consider that a NASA project team possesses the collective intellectual firepower to prepare for thousands of potential eventualities, and they delivered a robust, polished, and highly technical final product to spec.  Bud Selig has trouble figuring out how to get 15 teams in each league.  Put NASA in charge, and consider the possibilities.

  • Maybe the NASA baseball engineers can explain to Terry Francona, Orel Hershiser, and Dan Shulman of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball team that Vince Coleman did NOT play for the 1982 World Series champion Cardinals.  Coleman actually began his MLB career almost 3 years later.  This would not be such an egregious mistake, but Coleman was a contemporary of Hershiser who played from 1983-2000.
  • Perhaps the “official review” of a potential home run ball could just involve a quick look on the jumbotron.  Carlos Beltran hit one on Saturday night that clearly hit beyond the outfield wall and came back into the field of play.  Unfortunately, the umpires were probably the last 4 people in the stadium to make this determination.  The important thing to remember in this instance?  The closes umpire to the play waddled in the direction of the ball with all the intensity of Jonathan Broxton leaving a buffet.  Tectonic plates and glaciers move with greater rapidity.  So, instead of getting the call on the field correct, the umpires all gathered together to huddle en masse around a monitor to determine whether or not Beltran would get to complete the most time-consuming trip around the bases all season.
  • Again, let the folks at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have a shot at getting baseball players to leave smokeless tobacco in the clubhouse.  After all, the banning tobacco advertising on television basically gets circumvented when kids see baseball players put a pinch/wad between their respective cheeks and gums.  Free advertising without all the fuss of dealing with a marketing campaign is like giving the tobacco giants a free pass to kid world.  Smokeless tobacco products are banned from stadiums for the peasantry, so maybe a JPL scientist can explain the rationale of allowing players on the field to use the infield as a giant spittoon.  Maybe the answer involves Tang in non-soluble form as a substitute.
  • While the telemetry and pre-flight people are working on the devil in the details, maybe someone good with remote audio/video equipment can work with MLB on eliminating televised full-frontal crotch grabs, the “dirt cam”, and microphones attached to players, coaches, and bases.  Some things need not be seen and heard by all.  Leave something to the imagination, please.

Then again, it probably makes far too much sense to put the nerds and geeks in charge of baseball.  Besides, we would not want the 5th tiebreaker for the 2nd wild card to come down to a game of “rock, paper, scissors, lizard, Spock”.

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What Fanbase Deserves The BFIB Designation?

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What Fanbase Deserves The BFIB Designation?

Posted on 12 June 2012 by Dennis Lawson

Best Fans In Baseball Award

I put forth this question for serious consideration.  What fan base really constitutes the “best fans in baseball”?  Moreover, what criteria determine how good a fan base really is?  While not quite as important as searching for alternate realities in the theoretical multiverse, this issue deserves just as much attention (totally hyperbole).  After all, there are bragging rights at stake, and bragging rights among fan groups are the end all be all of sports (ok, not really, but please play along).

Before delving too deeply into this issue, please consider for a moment that the issue simply does not come down to one of quantity.  The quality of fans and the ardor with which they cheer deserve consideration.  Not every small or medium market team can fill a stadium to capacity every night, and some large market teams should not be held to the high volume expectation, either.  Large market teams typically compete with other sports for the money being spent on sports entertainment, and that budget can only stretch so far.

Ignore the lunatic fringe.  That includes the people who tailgate in their neighbor’s driveway, paint themselves, or decorate their cars and homes with tacky, cheap team stickers, license plate brackets, pennants, and the occasional voodoo doll.  No fan base deserves bonus points for having a small contingent that may or may not be too emotionally invested in a baseball team for the “sane/not sane” litmus test.

Try not to be too swayed by long-suffering fans who raise the “we still show up at games” flag at every opportunity.  Sure, the Cubs fans have some legitimate stake there, but they also get to watch home games in one of baseball’s most historic parks.  Maybe the quirks of Wrigley do not appeal to everyone, but filling Wrigley in a city with 2 teams is not quite the same as filling old Yankee Stadium in a city with 2 teams.

Finally, baseball’s recency effect forces me to look back for at least 10 years of data to make an informed decision.  The Giants are in the midst of a string of sellout crowds, but that string started right at the end of 2010 as the team closed in on the playoffs.  Continuing such a string after a team wins a World Series should not be a great cause for celebration, because the attendance history implies that the previously empty seats may be filled by bandwagon fans.  Before you think that my bias is showing, you should know that I put the members of Cardinal Nation in this group as well.  It is not that I consider many Cardinal fans altogether new to the bandwagon, but attendance did drop off last year enough that the team fell below 3.1M.  Besides, the recent rash of incidents involving fans running onto the field at Busch makes it difficult to truly make a case for the Cardinals.  The BFIB do not field jump, and they certainly do not do it for the sake of streaking as the result of “losing a bet”.

Maybe the BFIB title goes to Braves fans, despite the “BARVES” movement that has become so trendy with the kids these days.  Then again, that Tomahawk Chop thing needs to go the way of the Dodo.  What about the Cubs fans?  Do they get credit for supporting a team during yet another rebuild, or is the Steve Bartman wound still too fresh?  The Red Sox faithful pay ridiculous sums to attend games at Fenway, and they do so in potentially the most parking-challenged city in MLB.  Then again, one might argue that recent successes and acclimation to the cost of living in Beantown offset the fervor required to find their way to the Green Monster.

Every team’s fan base has a claim to the title.  Who really deserves it, though?

Maybe the real answer is everybody, because we are all baseball fans deep down.   Team affiliation might just be the equivalent of hair color within the species.  Perhaps the title should be “BFAIB” for “Best Fans Are In Baseball”, because we follow 162 games a season plus playoffs (hopefully).  Best of all, we are all united by a love of a grand old game, and that makes us all winners.



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