Small My Nose? Why Magnificent, My Nose!

In case you missed it, Ryan Howard hit a home run. Against a left-handed reliever. To put the Phillies ahead against the Mets in the top of the 9th inning. It was awesome. It did this to the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

The reaction from Mets fans, however, was less than warm. Thanks to the official Twitter account of The Good Phight, it has come to our attention that not only are Mets fans generally (and justifiably) upset at The Big Piece himself, but more specifically at his notoriously large nose. The level of discourse, however, has been disappointing–not much beyond hurling expletives at Ryan Howard and declaring his nose to be big.

Boy, a bunch of uncreative, boorish villains making obvious and dull comments about a hero’s large nose? I feel like I’ve seen this one before.

Ah, yes! That’s right. So this is the part where Ryan Howard takes up the challenge:

What? How? You accuse me of absurdity? Small my nose? Why magnificent, my nose! You pug, you knob, you button-head, know that I glory in this nose of mine, for a great nose indicates a great man: Genial, courteous, intellectual, virile, courageous as I am and such as you poor wretch will never dare to be even in imagination. 

 Of course, in the play, Cyrano de Bergerac finds the man who says his nose is “rather large,” coins several more clever insults, then challenges the man to a duel and stabs him to death while composing a poem.

So because Howard is not here to defend his own nasal integrity, allow me to play the surrogate Cryano to Mets fans’ Vicomte de Valvert. Here are twenty better insults about Ryan Howard’s nose.

  1. Spatial: Ryan Howard’s nose is bigger than Jon Rauch.
  2. Aesthetic: Ryan Howard’s nose is uglier than Jon Rauch’s tattoos.
  3. Narcotic: Dwight Gooden would have died long ago if his nose were as big as Ryan Howard’s.
  4. Financial: Fred Wilpon would have spotted Ryan Howard the cash for a rhinoplasty, but then Bernie Madoff came along.
  5. Rhetorical: I betcha Ryan Howard’s nose expels more hot air than Mike Francesca.
  6. Zoological: Between Ryan Howard’s nose and David Wright‘s ears, we’re halfway to building an anteater.
  7. Biomechanical: Ryan Howard’s nose is so big Oliver Perez could hit it with a baseball.
  8. Lovesick: Ryan Howard’s nose is as big as the hole Jose Reyes left in the Mets’ infield.
  9. Comparative: Sure, that home run was out of Citi Field. It wouldn’t’ve been out of Ryan Howard’s nose.
  10. Literary: Ryan Howard must have said the Mets were good an awful lot.
  11. Anatomical: Ryan Howard’s nose is longer than Daryl Strawberry’s neck.
  12. Regretful: Bobby Bonilla’s contract is almost as sad as Ryan Howard’s nose.
  13. Analytical: Ryan Howard’s nose is so fat, even Steve Phillips wouldn’t have traded Kevin Appier for him.
  14. Romantic: Ryan Howard’s nose is so ugly, even Jeromy Burnitz wouldn’t have talked to it at a bar.
  15. Respiratory: Jon Niese could have just swapped.
  16. Facial: Ryan Howard couldn’t have a beard like R.A. Dickey‘s–there’s just not enough room left on his face.
  17. Aromatic: The Mets stink. Ryan Howard was the first to know.
  18. Athletic: What’s the only thing that runs worse than Ryan Howard’s nose? Jason Bay.
  19. Sabermetric: Ryan Howard’s nose’s fWAR is higher than Johan Santana‘s this season.
  20. Inquisitive: Someone ask Ryan Howard’s nose what it feels like to be a bigger waste of space than Omar Minaya.

Go Phillies. Screw the Mets. Go read Cyrano de Bergerac. Or watch Roxanne. But seriously, screw the Mets.

Mike Trout and False Equivalence

I love it when I wake up and The Internet, or at least that very small, strange, baseball-related corner of The Internet that I inhabit, has chosen a topic of discussion for the day. I got online this morning to see that today’s topic du jour was whether or not thinking Miguel Cabrera‘s potential Triple Crown run made him a better AL MVP candidate than Mike Trout makes you an idiot.

I want to focus on the position taken by ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick in this debate, because he makes several points that, purposely and otherwise, speak volumes

 

 

 

Caveats:

  • I’ve always respected Crasnick a great deal as a writer, and because of that, I feel like I can discuss what he said honestly without implying that I don’t like him.
  • I’m picking out four tweets–there’s more context here, and I’m eliminating a lot of nuance from this argument for simplicity’s sake.
  • Crasnick was just the first person I picked out–I could have commented on any number of other writers.

Okay, now for my thoughts:

  • Trout deserves to win, and I’ve yet to see a convincing argument to the contrary. Bill from The Platoon Advantage wrote astutely on that topic this morning. I believe the evidence for Trout is so overwhelming that I do question anyone who thinks otherwise.
  • Could there be more civility from the statistically inclined? Yes. Absolutely. NBC’s Aaron Gleeman objected immediately to Crasnick’s characterization of Trout supporters, and frankly, I think he overshot the mark. Gleeman is not just a blogger but one of the founding fathers of internet baseball writing, but he’s got the legitimacy of a major media outlet behind him. I’ll admit that I had to go back to last Friday’s Crash Bag, the only place I’ve written about Trout, to make sure I hadn’t done exactly what Crasnick accused (not me in particular, but people like) me of doing. When you’ve got nothing but your prose to make you stand out, you can easily overcook your rhetoric.
  • The combination of the Fifth-Column Blogger Ethic, Youthful Bravado and training in mathematics, statistics, philosophy or social science is a volatile one. That describes not only me but a large segment of the latest wave of sports bloggers: we’re sure we’re right and we’ve got no qualms about telling you so. It’s the same patricidal instinct that fuels revolutions. We’ve got to make sure it doesn’t make us impolite.
  • Mainstream writers are getting better at understanding advanced stats. I don’t know if we appreciate this enough, but in less than a decade we’ve gone from complete innumeracy to WAR, BABIP and FIP being mainstream. If there’s a way to applaud this progress without 1) being patronizing and 2) stunting faster progress by praising foot-dragging incrementalism, we should.
  • I wish there were a shorthand for questioning someone’s methods or understanding without questioning his mental fortitude. There’s a difference, but there’s no one word for “Your argument is specious and/or unfounded.”

Here’s where I do have to criticize Crasnick:

You can’t do that. I don’t think he meant it like this, but “Just Saying” is one step above “You can’t disprove it” or “Coincidence? I Think Not” on the snake oil salesman scale. If you’re just trying to stir the pot with an argument that you know to be faulty, just to get people excited, you’re not an idiot or a moron, you’re a troll. Now there are two kinds of trolls: the ones who bait people into exposing their own ignorance (there may be no better example of this than Yahoo!’s Ryan Lambert, though we in Philadelphia Sports Internet are no stranger to this type of troll ourselves) and the ones who just try to piss people off. I don’t think this is what Crasnick meant to do with his statement about September OPS, but that was the effect. And while his larger point about the civility of discourse is right, I do take issue with his dropping the “Just Saying” line, then hiding behind that particular shield.

Which brings me to my main point: there are multiple viewpoints on every issue. This does not mean that there are multiple valid viewpoints on every issue, or that every viewpoint should be treated with equal weight. This is known as false equivalence, and it’s my biggest beef with mainstream journalism. We’re being suffocated by the fetishization of even-handedness, and we’re only now starting to realize that it’s a problem. This extends beyond sports to politics and culture in general, but I think Bill would be more comfortable with my limiting the scope of the discussion to baseball.

You can claim that Cabrera is more valuable than Trout. I’ll disagree, and with a mountain of empirical evidence on my side, I don’t have to consider your argument as legitimate unless your empirical evidence beats my empirical evidence. My responsibility is to consider your argument in good faith and treat you with civility until your behavior warrants a different reaction. I am not responsible for acting like your evidence is as good as mine when it’s not.

From a Phillies-centered perspective, that’s where the Monkfish stuff came from. I have overwhelming mathematical evidence that the Phillies aren’t going to make the playoffs. If you’re going to talk me off of that evidence, you’re going to have to come up with something better than “Stop being a stick-in-the-mud.” I have overwhelming empirical evidence that Darin Ruf will not be a good major leaguer. If you’re going to talk me off of that viewpoint, you’re going to have to come up with something more compelling than “I think you’re wrong.”

Not every argument is so one-sided as Trout/Cabrera, and it’s possible that reasonable, intelligent people can look at evidence and draw different conclusions–I’d argue that most baseball arguments end up in this bucket. And when people don’t get the evidence, it’s our job to educate them if they want to be educated. Jerry Crasnick is right–there’s no need to be an asshole when you think somone’s wrong. But let’s not fall into the trap of believing that different perspectives are equally valid.

The Reincarnation of Jimmy Rollins

Jimmy Rollins died for his own sins on August 30 when he was pulled in the seventh inning of the series finale against the New York Mets. Rollins failed, for the second time that month, to hustle down the line on what he considered to be a routine out. The second time Rollins failed to hustle, he popped up in front of home plate, but Mets catcher Josh Thole couldn’t hold on and Rollins was able to reach first base safely. If he had been hustling under the assumption that a dropped pop-up was a possibility, he could have been on second base. After the inning, Charlie Manuel removed Rollins from the game, punishing the franchise shortstop for his repeat offense.

Rollins had a .710 OPS after that game. In the 17 games since, his OPS has risen 36 points thanks to 23 hits in 80 plate appearances, including six home runs and six stolen bases. That is the easy correlation, to trace Rollins’ hot streak back to the point at which he became Philadelphia’s pariah. The truth is, though, that Rollins’ rebirth occurred much earlier in the season.

The shortstop carried a sub-.600 OPS through most of May, hitting his effective low point on May 26 when his 201 trips to the plate yielded a .561 OPS. TV and radio talking heads declared the three-year $33 million contract, finalized in ink back in December, a failure. Freddy Galvis, 11 years Rollins’ junior, had captured the collective attention of the city with clutch hitting and flashy defense. Fans dreamed up scenarios where the Phillies could move Rollins to a West coast team like the Oakland Athletics or San Francisco Giants. Despite his falling stock, Rollins finished up the month strong, and from there, there was no turning back.

Since the end of May, Rollins has posted an .820 OPS with 19 home runs and 20 stolen bases. Despite his age and recent injury troubles, he has looked more like the 2007 NL MVP award winner than the washed-up, overpaid shortstop that had found his way into the lineup every day in the first two months of the 2012 season. Rollins’ .351 wOBA since June 1 is the fourth-best among all Major League shortstops, trailing only Ian Desmond (.395), Erick Aybar (.369), and Jose Reyes (.352). Rollins has the most home runs of the bunch as his 19 exceeds Desmond’s 15. His 25 doubles is tied for the most, and his five triples are the fourth-most.

Rollins’ transformation has occurred on both sides of the plate. Through the end of May, Rollins hit for a .186 wOBA as a right-handed hitter and a .294 wOBA as a lefty. Since June 1, Rollins has a .318 wOBA as a right-hander and .365 as a lefty. The following heat maps illustrate the difference much better than words:

ISO stands for isolated power, a statistic that subtracts batting average from slugging percentage to get a better measure of a hitter’s power. As you can easily see, Rollins is hitting for a lot more power lately and it has some relationship with better plate discipline against left-handed pitching.

Through May, Rollins had struck out in 22 percent of his plate appearances against lefties and drew walks in only two percent. Since June 1, those percentages have respectively shrunk and ballooned to 10 percent each. You can see Rollins’ shift to swing at pitches closer to the middle of the plate as well:

More specifically, you can see the difference in pitches Rollins has swung and missed at:

Most of Rollins’ whiffs recently have been over the plate as opposed to up and away.

Another interesting development has been the return of his power, which has almost exclusively come from the left side. 18 of Rollins’ 21 homers have been against right-handed pitching, including 16 since June 1. Ten of those 16 home runs have come on fastballs, and pitchers have been hitting the middle of the plate with more frequency lately.

As an additional piece of trivia, Rollins has averaged 21 additional feet on his fly balls since June 1, going from 248 feet to 269. You can see the difference in his hit charts (last use of illustrations!):

This is a lot to digest, so to sum it up briefly, Rollins has had better plate discipline and shown a lot more power since the start of June, particularly as a left-handed batter. It’s unknown exactly why this change occurred towards the end of May, whether it was simply random or a conscious change in approach, but the Phillies are very happy that Rollins caught fire. When he’s hitting like a top-five shortstop, his not running out a routine pop-up looks insignificant by comparison.

Looking across baseball and getting a sense of the dearth of quality shortstops will give you a better perspective on Rollins’ 2012 season. Along with the much-improved offense, he has continued to add value with above-average defense and smart, aggressive base running. The three-year, $33 million contract looked to be, at one point, a gigantic mistake but now appears to be arguably the best thing the Phillies did in the off-season. The tenured shortstop who turns 34 years old in November still has plenty left in the tank and plenty left to give the Phillies in the next two years.