Author Archive

The Persnickety Atlanta Braves

As the Braves prepare to enter the Division Series, I want to return to two controversial incidents at the end of their regular season, when they embroiled themselves in two separate incidents when a batter admired his home run for far too long. First it was Jose Fernandez, the inspiring and amazing Rookie of the Year candidate, hitting his first home run in the majors; then it was Carlos Gomez, taking revenge for what he perceived to have been an intentional hit by pitch three months earlier. In both cases, Brian McCann got rather peeved. (He also got memed.)
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Andrelton and Andruw and Defense and Offense

Andrelton Simmons and Andruw Jones have a few things in common: they grew up in Curacao, they came up with the Atlanta Braves, they are superlative up-the-middle defenders with good power for their position but some other offensive flaws, and their names both start with “Andr.” I think that the final similarity between the two is this: they help demonstrate just how hard it is for many fans to intuit that one win on offense is equal to one win on defense.

For Simmons, this can be shown by his relative absence in conversations about the league MVP. This year, Simmons’s preternatural play at short has inspired any number of articles exploring whether he’s having the best defensive season ever. But even so, he hasn’t come in for much MVP consideration, which is a bit intuitively bizarre — if a player were having the best offensive season ever, there would be no question of MVP buzz.
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If Stealing Signs is “Part of the Game,” Why Do People Get Mad About It?

There was a tempest in a teapot during Monday’s Yankees-Orioles game. Between innings, Joe Girardi screamed that Oriole third base coach Bobby Dickerson was stealing signs. Buck Showalter screamed back at Girardi so heatedly that umpires had to restrain him. Girardi claimed that Dickerson was stealing pitch signs from Yankee catcher Austin Romine, and signaling them to Oriole hitters. Showalter took umbrage, and the next day, he told ESPN’s Mike Lupica that the Yankees “are actually one of the better teams” at stealing signs. Others don’t think it’s a big deal. Trying to steal signs is fair, Lou Piniella told ESPN in an interview. “It is part of the game,” he said. If another team tries to steal your signs, “You just switch them.”
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Paul Maholm and Greatness

Last night, Paul Maholm started the 238th game of his career, twirling six one-run innings on the way to a 3-2 Braves victory. You may not realize it — perhaps because you didn’t realize that he’s from Mississippi, or don’t spend a great deal of time thinking about Paul Maholm — but Paul Maholm has the fourth-most starts of anyone ever born in Mississippi. (Roy Oswalt is first, of course.) After nine seasons as a more or less slightly-below-average starting pitcher, it’s safe to say that Paul Maholm is one of the greatest baseball players in the history of his home state.
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The Most Dominant First-Place Finishes Ever

The 2013 Atlanta Braves have the best record in baseball, at 77-49, and the most commanding lead of any team in the majors. Atlanta leads the second-place Washington Nationals by 15 games, and if both teams maintain their current winning percentages — .611 and .492, respectively — the Braves would finish 99-63 while the Nationals finished 80-82, winning the division by 19 games. That would actually be extraordinarily rare. Since 1901, only 14 teams have ever finished in first by as many as 19 games. Read the rest of this entry »

Center Fielders on the Veterans Committee Bubble

On Wednesday, Jerry Crasnick posted a column at ESPN arguing that Carlos Beltran is worthy of the Hall of Fame. I wholeheartedly agree. But he has ample company in his era. How many of his peers are worthy of Cooperstown, and how many of them will make it?

Among players who have played the bulk of their careers since 1980, exactly 12 center fielders have amassed at least 44 WAR. Three of them are already in the Hall of Fame: Kirby Puckett, Andre Dawson, and Robin Yount (whom I’ll consider a centerfielder for my purposes). Here are the other nine:

Ken Griffey Jr. 77.4
Andruw Jones 67.8
Jim Edmonds 64.2
Carlos Beltran 63.9
Kenny Lofton 62.2
Mike Cameron 49.7
Ellis Burks 44.7
Dale Murphy 44.3
Bernie Williams 44.3

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Why Aren’t There More Muslims In Baseball?

To the best of my knowledge, there has only been one Muslim player in the history of major league baseball: Sam Khalifa, a Pirates backup shortstop who played 164 games in the 1980s before retiring following his father’s unexpected murder. (His Egyptian father, Rashad Khalifa, was a heterodox Muslim scholar in Tucson, Arizona, where Sam Khalifa grew up. Sam is now a baseball coach at his old high school, Sahuaro.)

Other American sports have featured well-known Muslims — Nigerian Hakeem Olajuwon and American Shareef Abdur-Raheem in the NBA; Americans Ahmad Rashad and Az-Zahir Hakim in the NFL; Lebanese-Canadian Nazem Kadri in the NHL; and of course, boxer Muhammad Ali has a claim to being the most famous American Muslim, period. (Incidentally, Ahmad Rashad was a student of Rashad Khalifa.) In baseball, meanwhile, while the majority of players have come from a Christian background, there have been members of many other religious minorities, both practicing and nonpracticing, like Ryan Braun (Jewish); Bryce Harper (Mormon); and Khalil Greene (Baha’i). (For that matter, back in 2009, when he was dating Kate Hudson, Alex Rodriguez considered converting to Buddhism.) So why haven’t there been more Muslims in baseball?
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The 2013 NL East, and Strong and Weak Divisions

Coming into the 2013 season, The National League East was supposed to be a competitive division. The Nationals won 98 games last year, the Braves won 94 and added two Upton brothers to their outfield, and while the Phillies had disappointed in 2012, it was possible to hope that a bounceback year from Roy Halladay would anchor a rotation that could hang with anybody. Instead, the Braves are 57-44 (a 91-win pace) and every other team in the division is under .500. As a matter of fact, it is extremely historically rare for so many teams in a division to finish the season below .500.
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Derek Lowe Says Farewell

Today, Derek Lowe announced he’s leaving baseball behind.

I’m officially no longer going to play the game… It’s still enjoyable, but the role I was having wasn’t fulfilling…

If you’re not playing, it’s completely self-explanatory. I’m not going to go to the Hall of Fame, so I don’t feel like I need to have a retirement speech. But I was able to play 17 years on some pretty cool teams and win a World Series. So, everyone’s got to stop playing at some point, and this is my time.

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Yasiel Puig, the Non-All-Star

I don’t often write these sort of unfocused think-pieces. (Well, I happen to think that I don’t, but many of my commenters undoubtedly disagree.) Anyway, I’m thinking about Yasiel Puig today. After an impressive, intensely hyped first month, the Dodger wunderkind lost to Freddie Freeman in the fans’ vote for the All-Star Game. (Of course, with injury replacements and so on, he still has a chance of making the team.) Yesterday, Jeff Sullivan wrote about what he’s done. I’m more interested in what he represents.

I’m a Braves fan, so the immediate grumbling comparison in much of the Braves blogosphere was Jeff Francoeur. Here’s a comparison of their first 35 games:

  PA R HR RBI BB/K slash BAbip
Francoeur 134 28 10 30 1/27 .362/.381/.700 .398
Puig 152 27 8 19 7/35 .394/.428/.634 .480

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