Author Archive

On Mistakes and Baseball’s Long Memory

This is Kate Preusser’s fourth and final piece as part of her month-long residency. It has been a pleasure to host her work! Missed her previous posts? You can read them here. Listen to her appearance on FanGraphs Audio here.

“What other sport not only kept a stat as cruel as the error, but posted it on the scoreboard for everyone to see?”

–Chad Harbach, The Art of Fielding

On paper, it looks like Jurickson Profar had a successful WBC stint for Team Netherlands. He batted .464 during the team’s run through the Classic, with five doubles, four RBIs, and a home run — this while also playing a passable center field, a position at which he’s never recorded a start as a professional.

But Profar’s sterling performance will be overshadowed — for him, at least — by a baserunning blunder made in the first inning of an elimination game against Puerto Rico. Andrelton Simmons led off that game with a single. Xander Bogaerts was hit by a pitch right after that. When Profar followed with another single, it could have potentially loaded the bases for the Dutch. Could have, except that Simmons had just gotten picked off trying to steal third against Yadier Molina — because, I don’t know, maybe he didn’t recognize one of the best defensive catchers in the world with his blond hair?

But back to the Profar single. Even after accounting for Simmons’ caught stealing, that single still put the Dutch in a good position, with two runners on base and just the one out. The advantage didn’t last long, however. After rounding first, Profar used the opportunity to gesture towards the Netherlands crowd — an admittedly smaller contingent than Puerto Rico’s — and was slow getting back to the bag. Yadier Molina, a tiger who has the reflexes of a cobra that’s also a member of MENSA, threw him out. Which, of course he did! Yadier Molina likes throwing people out in the same way you and I like breathing. And of course Profar was celebrating his base hit, because people celebrating base hits is what makes the WBC so delightful. As an event, it’s like NES Super Punch-Out but with actual live humans doing the taunting.

There are multiple angles of the sequence in question. Here are two of them:

The Netherlands would still go on to score that inning thanks to Wladimir Balentien’s two-run homer, but it’s hard not to note that it could have been a grand slam. Profar certainly isn’t failing to note that. As he told the Orange County Register: “I just want to put this loss on myself… I made that mistake. I think we paid for it.”

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The Present Imperfect

This is Kate Preusser’s third piece as part of her month-long residency. Read her previous posts here. Listen to her appearance on FanGraphs Audio here.

When Benji Gonzalez, a 27-year-old non-roster invitee for the Twins, poked a single into right field to break up a perfect game being thrown by the Rays’ pitching staff one week into spring training, I admit to sighing in relief. No need for asterisks, then. No need for the arguments about whether a perfect game thrown by multiple pitchers counts as much as one thrown by a single pitcher. No reminders that spring training doesn’t count and that this technically wouldn’t go down in the record books as a perfect game.

Of course, spring training doesn’t count, but the white whale of a perfect game, even in spring training, even thrown by multiple pitchers, is such a compelling figure in baseball that discussion of it would have been inevitable — and made more inevitable, perhaps, by the fact that baseball fans haven’t seen a perfect game, spring training or otherwise, in five years.

There has already been one recorded spring-training perfect game — a Red Sox win over the Blue Jays in the year 2000, featuring starting pitcher Pedro Martinez. Pedro would go on to have a complicated relationship with the perfect game and the no-hitter, coming close but never quite getting there. The role he played in the perfect spring-training game is rarely noted. Once more for the folks in the back: spring training doesn’t count. Even Rays pitcher Danny Farquhar thought they were playing shuffleboard:

“It was probably two outs into my first inning when I realized we had a perfect game,” Farquhar said. “I’m like, ‘Wow, we have a lot of points, and they have zero points. I’m going to try and not mess this up.'”

The eloquent Lord Farquhar receives partial credit for this response. The Rays — whose 17-run offensive onslaught managed to so confound all involved parties that even Farquhar himself didn’t realize it was a perfect game until he was two-thirds deep in his own inning — did indeed have a lot of points. The Twins, however, didn’t just have zero points, they had perfectly zero points, and the Rays staff was hurtling toward rarefied air in the baseball sphere, even if this achievement would have to ride in a little sidecar or sit at a table in the back near the kitchen.

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Man’s Search for Meaning in Spring Training

This is Kate Preusser’s second piece as part of her month-long residency.

It’s no secret that there’s considerable overlap between bookish types and baseball fans, all tucked cozily in the center of that particular Venn diagram. Distance readers have an inborn patience for the nine-inning drama of a baseball game. These are a people who understand the three-act structure, exposition leading to rising action leading to the climactic moment; this past World Series, in fact, felt a little like the baseball gods had taken a Khan Academy class on Aristotle’s Poetics.

But there’s a narrative that most serious baseball fans have come to reject, and that’s the one of spring training. Every year there seem to be pieces poking fun at the cliches of spring training — Best shape of his life! Swing mechanics change! Learning a new pitch/grip/arcane religious philosophy! LASIK! — and those pieces exist because these cliches persist, so much so that poking fun at spring-training cliches is now itself a form of cliche.

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The New Brazilian Flamethrower

This is Kate Preusser’s first piece as part of her month-long residency.

In Molloy, Samuel Beckett tells us: “There is a little of everything, apparently, in nature, and freaks are common.”

Thyago Vieira is a freak. I mean this in the nicest, but also the meanest, way. The Mariners prospect and Brazilian native has been turning heads across the league after blazing through the California League and the AFL this past year, victimizing hitters with his triple-digit fastball and newfound slider and just generally looking like a Brazilian golem looming atop the mound with his cold stare and imposing stature. And that’s before he throws 104 at you. Vieira is officially listed at 6-foot-2, but his height is often given offhand by manager Scott Servais or GM Jerry Dipoto as 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4. The average Brazilian male, meanwhile, is 5-foot-7. There is a little of everything in nature but, as the fifth-most populous nation in the world, a lot of everything in Brazil.

Perhaps part of the height inflation is Vieira’s frame. He’s listed at 220 pounds but looks bigger than that in person, with a Bunyan-esque lower half fueled by daily workouts and a newfound love of American food like the Cheesecake Factory. Having grown up with a single mother who often gave up her own meals so Thyago and his brother could eat, his love of Instagramming his food with heart and praise hands and cake emojis comes into clearer focus.

I first became interested in Vieira last year, when he moved into a closer role with the Bakersfield Blaze, the Mariners’ Low-A team. His picture showed a kid with a big, easy smile and thick black-framed glasses, a la Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn. Unfortunately, his command had also emulated Charlie Sheen’s character, leading Vieira to have been stuck in the Mariners’ system since he was drafted in 2011, never making it past A-ball. Brazilian prospects, maybe more so than any other group, are raw, lacking the kind of resources teams pour into talent powerhouses like Venezuela or the Dominican Republic.

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