MLB and Doublethink

In his book Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell coined the term “doublethink”, which is “the act of simultaneously accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct”.

Recently, the Phillies joined the numerous other teams in baseball that have participated in the anti-bullying campaign, which is aimed at LGBT youth in America. You can watch the video below:

Throughout most of the season, Michael Stutes has been on the receiving end of a rookie hazing ritual. As he goes to the bullpen before the start of a game, he must walk with a pink backpack carrying nourishing goodies for his ‘pen mates, seen below:

Doesn’t this seem hypocritical to anyone else? The Phillies participate in the campaign and also allow their players to pull a prank that marginalizes a player’s masculinity by associating it with a feminine color? Dan Savage thinks so:

Yeah, yeah: I’m playing the role model card. But when pink backbacks and feather boas trickle down to Little League and high school teams, as they inevitably will (if they haven’t already), boys who have yet develop the ability to laugh this kind of teasing off—boys who aren’t as secure in their sexualities and masculinities as these professional athletes are—will be subjected to the same humiliating treatment. For boys who are still going through puberty, for boys who are still developing a sense of what it means to be a man, for boys who have yet to realize that they get to define manhood for themselves, being called a girl or a fag can be devastating. And while it may be rookie relievers who come in for this playful teasing in the major leagues, on high school and Little League teams it’s going to be those boys who are already under suspicion for being queer—boys who are perceived to be sissies—who are going to be abused.

To the Phillies, and any other forward-thinking MLB teams, put the kibosh on the pink backpack prank. It’s not as harmless as you think.

(Tip of the cap to Rob Neyer, who directed me to the Savage article in his Friday Filberts.)

Best Rotation of All Time?

Back in February, in an article I wrote for ESPN, I pondered the historical possibilities for the 2011 Phillies starting rotation. Last year, the four aces each finished the season with at least four Wins Above Replacement per Baseball Reference. Cliff Lee, of course, spent his time between Seattle and Texas while Roy Oswalt played with Houston and Philadelphia. With all four in the same starting rotation in 2011, though, they had the potential to become the third starting rotation with four pitchers posting individual seasons with four or more WAR.

How have they fared thus far in 2011? Roy Halladay has 6.2 rWAR; Lee, 6.1; Cole Hamels, 5.2. Due to time missed due to injury, Oswalt is only at 1.3. In nearly as many innings, though (about 110), Vance Worley is at 2.5. While the Phillies didn’t quite meet the stringent criteria used in my article from February, I still think you can make an argument that the starting rotation rivals that of the 1991 and ’97 Atlanta Braves.

In 1991, Tom Glavine posted 7.4 rWAR, followed by John Smoltz at 4.7, Steve Avery at 4.5, and Charlie Liebrandt at 4.3. In 1997, Greg Maddux led the way at 7.3, followed by Glavine at 5.0, Smoltz at 4.5, and Denny Neagle at 4.1. As yet, no Phillie is better than the Braves’ best starter in either year, but their #2 and 3 starters rate better.

On average, the Braves rotations were about a fifth of a win (0.2) better than the ’11 Phillies but if you combine Oswalt and Worley’s contributions (only about 20 innings more than Halladay has pitched), then the Phillies’ rotation comes out on top slightly, on average.

Going by defense-independent metrics, the Phillies sprint ahead. Their top three starters each have a strikeout-to-walk ratio at 4.0 or greater. All of the ’91 Braves’ starters were below 3.0. In ’97, Maddux had an amazing K/BB approaching 9.0, but Smoltz and Neagle were below 4.0. Per FanGraphs, this year’s squad has a 2.93 FIP, which is lower than the ’97 Braves (3.30) and ’91 Braves (3.55) by a significant margin. The 1971 Baltimore Orioles’ starting rotation, which had four — four! — 20-game winners, had a collective FIP of 3.60.

There is no way to definitively prove that one starting rotation was better than another, but the deeper you go with Sabermetrics, the more the 2011 Phillies’ rotation looks like the greatest of all time. With three starts left apiece, the Phillies’ starters still have time to move further and further ahead, and you know the Braves, Brewers, and Diamondbacks are watching, paralyzed in fear.