Book Review – Watching Baseball Smarter

We haven’t discussed any good baseball literature recently so I thought it was about time to play a little catch-up. And honestly, considering the book I’m highlighting today, it’s definitely catch-up because it’s not a new book – it’s not even this author’s most recent book! But it helps to do this one first before we get a chance to do the new one. And it’s somehow self-serving to highlight the work of another baseball blogger.

Of course, it’s not Zack Hample’s first book either but this is the first one that piqued my interest. Watching Baseball Smarter, A professional Fan’s Guide for Beginners, Semi-experts, and Deeply Serious Geeks actually came out in 2007. He has a brand new one out this year so we’ll cover that soon – but back to the subject.

“The batter bloops the ball toward the Bermuda Triangle. The outfielders run in. The infielders run out. Everybody’s looking up. The center fielder yells, ‘I got it!’ but his words get drowned out by 55,437 shrieking fans and a jet flying overhead. Doesn’t matter. The Dominican second baseman and Japanese Shortstop don’t speak much English anyway. Best-case scenario: no one gets hurt.”

That should sound entertainingly familiar to Twins fans – ironically this was written 5 years before we acquired Nishioka. That being said, it’s a quick read with something new for everyone no matter what their level of baseball knowledge is.

If you’re a writer yourself or even an English geek/avid reader, you’ll struggle a bit with the … informality… with which Zack treats the accepted rules of grammar. However, the baseball information is solid and presented in a way that is easy to grasp.

For example, he goes position by position and describes the strategies of thought necessary for each player on each play. I guarantee that you WILL learn something you didn’t already know when reading through this section. It’s a lot of fun to think about the game you’re watching in a bit more in-depth way. A lot of us understand these things instinctively if we’ve been watching baseball for awhile but have never thought about putting it into words – unless of course you have a significant other or a kid who doesn’t know as much about the game as you do and frequently asks you to explain something… This is an EXCELLENT book to give them. Trust me, nothing is worse than trying to watch a pivotal moment in a game and trying to find the words to describe what’s happening when your brain is metaphorically holding its breath.

I do have my issues with Zack which I would happy be to take up with him over a beer or something like all good bloggers enjoy. For all his understanding of position players, he clearly has little respect and far less understanding for the Pitcher’s role – something perhaps an average fan wouldn’t pick up on but this pitching geek certainly did. But I chalk that up to the natural inclination of a guy who prioritizes hitting and sees pitching as the subtle antagonist in his goal for catching as many foul/home run balls as he can (the subject of his FIRST book).  It was still an enjoyable read for the most part and I hope you’ll give it a shot!

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Keep your dial tuned to Knuckleballs for an upcoming review of Zack’s new book, The Baseball. I’m not sure how long it will take us to get there but it’s on the list!

If anyone else out there has read EITHER of these two books, we’d appreciate your feedback and impressions.

GameChat – Indians @ Twins #3, 1:10pm, FSN & am1500

Happy Easter everyone. I’ll be spending the day with family and won’t be around for the game and I assume a number of others will be, as well, but we’ll put up the GameChat for anyone who has the opportunity to come and enjoy the game as the Twins go for what I suppose would constitute a “sweep”, right?

INDIANS @ TWINS
Sizemore, CF Span, CF
Cabrera, A, SS Repko, LF
Choo, RF Kubel, RF
Santana, C, 1B Morneau, 1B
Hafner, DH Cuddyer, 2B
Cabrera, O, 2B Thome, DH
Brantley, LF Valencia, 3B
Marson, C Butera, C
Hannahan, 3B Casilla, A, SS
Carrasco, C, P Pavano, P

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Cleveland 0 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 0 3 8 1
Minnesota 0 0 2 0 0 0 2 0 x 4 10 0

two brooms for a two game sweep!

Not having actually seen the game myself, all I can do is say, “HEY, we’ve got us a winning streak… AND a sweeeeeeep!” That’s three games in a row AND our guys are now not only just four games behind the AL Central leading Tribe, they’re also a nice looking 1.5 games ahead of the BitchSox in the standings! That’s right, Ozzie’s crew is down there in last place (where they rightfully belong).

I’d love to write an insightful summary of today’s game, but since I didn’t see a single pitch of it, about all I can do is go by the box score and media reports. It looks like ‘Stache had one iffy inning as Carl and the Twins benefited from an overturned HR in the 3rd. Other than that, Pavano must have done a good job of keeping the Indians at bay. Jim Hoey and Jose Mijares combined to work the Twins out of a mini-jam in the 8th and Matt Capps did his best Joe Nathan imitation, allowing some drama in the 9th before recording his 4th save.

Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel had similar hitting lines, both going two for three with a walk, and both recording a two-run double, to account for all four team RBI. That, one would think, would make for a pretty tight race for Boyfriend of the Day, but clearly Kubel had the better timing (his double accounting for the go-ahead runs in the 7th inning) as a glance at the log of the GameChat shows a clear preference for Kuuuuube as today’s BOD!

– JC

Jason Kubel

GameChat – Indians @ Twins #2, 12:10pm, FSN am1500

I’m sure last night’s rainout inconvenienced about 40,000 people who planned on attending the game, not to mention everyone who was hoping to watch it, but it also seems to have bought Justin Morneau just enough extra time to work his way back off the sick bed and in to the line up! Now let’s just hope he doesn’t take too long to get his game together.

INDIANS @ TWINS
Sizemore, CF Span, CF
Cabrera, A, SS Repko, LF
Choo, RF Kubel, RF
Santana, C, C Morneau, 1B
Hafner, DH Cuddyer, 2B
Cabrera, O, 2B Thome, DH
Brantley, LF Valencia, 3B
LaPorta, 1B Butera, C
Hannahan, 3B Casilla, A, SS
Carmona, F, P Duensing, P

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Cleveland 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 2 0 3 6 0
Minnesota 0 0 3 0 3 2 2 0 x 10 13 0

I don’t really believe in “statement games”, especially in April. That said, after the slow start the Twins have had and the way Cleveland has racked up wins this month, there’s something to be said for going out in the first head-to-head match up of the season and announcing loud and clear that if the Indians are going to be more than pretenders in the race for the AL Central championship, they’re going to have to go through Minnesota to get there. I think that was communicated clearly today.

I think our guys liked that unscheduled off day on Friday! Ten runs!! That’s the kind of thing we were hoping to see out of this line up! The Twins got two hits each out of Lexi, Denard, the Jasons (Repko and Kubel) and Justin, as well! In fact, Doc came through with a 2-run single immediately after the Tribe intentionally walked Kubel with runners on 2nd and 3rd. That’ll teach ‘em! Danny ValenSEEYA went yard for the second time this season. So much offense from so many contributors that a full dessert buffet for all is probably called for.

It was also good to see Joe Nathan come on to pitch the 9th inning, throw the ball up in the 93 mph range, strike out two hitters during a 1-2-3 inning AND get the kind of standing, stomping, cheering crowd support that a guy who has worked his butt off for the Twins and their fans for so long deserves. Well done, Joe and well done Twins fans!

But, as strange as it may seem on a day when the bats finally woke up, today’s Boyfriend of the Day has to be a pitcher. Brian Duensing flat out owned the Indians hitters, giving up only one run in seven innings. He gave up only 5 hits and walked just one, while striking out three. A very efficient day, throwing only 90 pitches. Keep it up, Brian!

Brian Duensing

GameChat – Indians @ Twins, 7:10 pm, FSN & am1500

This weather sucks.. I’m hoping that the rain/drizzle/$^#$ that is falling right now decides to take a break but quite honestly, even then it will still be cold and damp.  Mother Nature seems to be about as motivated as I am right now..

The flu is still causing lineup thinning – think they make a Rogaine product for that? – so it should be an adventure to see how the game goes – if it goes.

Cleveland @ Minnesota
Sizemore, CF Span, CF
Cabrera, A, SS Repko, LF
Choo, RF Kubel, RF
Santana, C, C Cuddyer, 1B
Hafner, DH Thome, DH
Cabrera, O, 2B Valencia, 3B
Brantley, LF Hughes, L, 2B
LaPorta, 1B Butera, C
Hannahan, 3B Casilla, A, SS
Carmona, F, P Duensing, P

Rainout. Might turn out to be a bit of a break for the Twins. It sounds like Justin Morneau is starting to feel better and could be available for spot duty this weekend and Delmon Young’s BP went well so he may avoid a DL trip, too. It will really be nice to get these guys back on the field.

 

Call It The Knuckleballs Playoff Plan

Don’t look now, but Major League Baseball may finally be listening to me. Commissioner Bud Selig told the Associated Press this week that the owners favor expansion of the playoffs to 10 teams with the two wild card teams in each league playing a one-game, win or go home, play in game. This is exactly what I wrote in support of back in September!

Yes, I realize that it wasn’t my idea originally and I was just adding my voice in support of Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci. But as I mentioned in my post, Selig’s reaction to Verducci’s proposal was far from supportive. Clearly, he and the other owners later read MY eloquent and convincing argument and changed their minds.

The players and managers, understandably, prefer a best of three series for the wild card teams in any expanded system. Of course they don’t like the idea of playing 162 games only to face a single elimination game. That’s a ton of pressure for that game. But you know what, that’s the beauty of this idea… they don’t HAVE to face that situation. They could, instead, win their dang division!

And let’s be honest, the last thing that MLB needs is to lengthen the overall playoff timeline by the number of days it would take to fit in a “best of three” series, which would obviously require allowing for travel time, in addition to the three games themselves. You also do not want to have the six division champions sitting around for at least five days while the wild cards play games.

But the most compelling reason to adopt the single-game play-in approach is to reinsert meaning in to the race to win division championships. If two teams are coming down to the final week with a shot at winning their division, there should be absolutely no doubt that those teams are going to go all out to win that title. No manager should be in a situation where he can weigh potential match ups and determine whether he even wants his team to put in the effort to win their division (see: Yankees, New York, 2010).

Wouldn't it be great to have this kind of MLB excitement at least TWICE every year? (AP Photo)

A one-game play in would give a clear advantage to division champions over wild card teams and that’s the way it should be. It would also create real excitement for Major League Baseball with what amounts to at least two “game 163″ contests every season (there could be more, of course, since it’s still possible to have teams tie for playoff spots). ESPN would have been downright giddy last year at the prospect of showing a Yankee-RedSox wild card game (assuming, of course, that the Yankees wouldn’t have actually put some effort in to winning the AL East instead of coasting the last week) and Padres fans would have at least been able to see their team have one playoff game and perhaps more, instead of seeing their surprising club slump their way out of the playoff hunt.

I have never attended a sporting event with more electricity and drama than the Twins/Tigers game 163 in 2009 and with this proposal, MLB can guarantee at least two games every post season with “game seven” drama. From the league’s and the fan’s perspective, it’s a no-brainer.

Folks, I am SO enthused about the prospect of MLB adopting this playoff approach next year that, if Bud Selig can pull off implementing it, I’m going to have to back off of some of my criticism of him as Commissioner. Now, granted, if the owners had just replaced Bud with me a year or two ago, we’d already have this system in place, but better late than never.

Then again, I do still have the whole blackout issue to hold against Selig.

~You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant~

– JC

GameChat – Twins @ Orioles #4, 6:05, FSN am1500

OK boys and girls, let’s think positive and try to get a split out of this series so the guys come home to Target Field with some momentum!

TWINS @ ORIOLES
Span, CF   Roberts, B, 2B
Casilla, A, SS   Markakis, RF
Kubel, RF   Lee, D, 1B
Cuddyer, 1B   Guerrero, DH
Thome, DH   Scott, LF
Valencia, 3B   Jones, A, CF
Hughes, L, 2B   Reynolds, M, 3B
Butera, C   Wieters, C
Repko, LF   Andino, SS
Baker, S, P   Guthrie, P

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 3 9 0
Baltimore 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 7 0

Hey that was a WIN!

Sure, the Twins only scored 3 runs… but two of those runs were on HOME RUNS! Yes… you read that right… the Twins hit TWO HOME RUNS… in one game! Michael Cuddyer hit his second home run in as many games. If he keeps up that pace he’ll hit… um… well a LOT more home runs! Baked goods for Cuddy!

Jim Thome mashed another tater, too! And he added a second ribbie with a single to drive Alexi Casilla in from second base. I believe we awarded a keg of the Minnesota microbrew of his choice to Jimmers.

But the consensus Boyfriend of the Day is tonight’s starting pitcher, Scott Baker. Baker K’d nine Orioles in his seven innings of shutout work, while giving up only four hits and one walk. This quite honestly was the kind of pitching performance this team needed as it tries to get a few guys healthy enough to get back in the lineup. Congratulations Scotty… you are the Knuckleballs BOD!

Scott Baker

Let It Be

Copyright: (whoever keeps me from getting sued)

~When I find myself in times of trouble…~

I’m channeling my inner Beatle today, I guess.

I tend to do that when I get stressed, especially over things that are totally out of my control. Like now, for instance.

Everyone is frustrated over the Twins’ lousy start to the 2011 season. Our instinct is to reach for answers… for things that could be done to fix the multitude of problems besetting the team. We lash out at the manager, the GM, the hitters, the pitchers… if only they would do their jobs better, the wins would come. As fans, we can’t DO anything, really… except lament the situation. Of course, different people lament in different ways.

If only there was something we could DO… any little thing… that might at least make us feel better, even if it provided little or no actual value to the team itself.

That is what I have done and I invite you to do so, as well.

Who among us didn’t have a mother who gave us some version of the, “Eat your liver… there are starving children in Africa who would love to have the kind of food we put on your plate,” speech?

Yes, folks, that’s how bad things have become. I’m not only channeling John Lennon, but my mother, as well.

But like the guy who lays down a bunt to break out of a slump, I’ll use whatever means is necessary to come up with a way to make me feel better about these times of trouble and today that means looking around to find someone who is worse off than we, as Twins fans, are.

And believe it or not, things COULD be worse.

Look out west… there’s a team out there that’s not only lost more games than they’ve won, but now they seem to have lost their owner, as well! The Dodger players only got their last paychecks because their owner got a personal loan from FOX and now it looks like they’re going to get Bud Selig’s “representative” running their team. That makes dropping a couple of games to the Orioles seem pretty inconsequential, by comparison.

The Mets and Mariners actually have worse records than the Twins do. But in their cases, their records pretty much reflect what fans’ expectations of those teams are. They aren’t even giving their fans some semblance of early season hope like the Royals are. As bad as things may seem in Twinsville, I wouldn’t change places with a Mets or Mariners fan at the moment.

And, better yet, as if just to make sure his buddy Ron Gardenhire doesn’t become overwrought with depression over the Twins early start, Ozzie Guillen has guided his southside boys to a seven game losing streak. Yes, for all the miserable results the Twins have had, they are still just one game behind the White Sox in the standings. And, unlike the Twins, the Sox haven’t called up half their AAA team just in order to field enough players to avoid a forfeit. Sure, they’d like to see Jake Peavy healthy again (has he ever been healthy since the Sox traded for him?), but that’s nothing compared to the guys who are MIA for the Twins. As Twins fans, we can look forward to the day when Nishioka’s leg heals, Nathan regains his arm strength, Slowey’s arm doesn’t hurt any more, Mauer’s legs regain some strength and Morneau & Young can stay off the toilet long enough to play a baseball game.

If you’re a BitchSox fan, what can you possibly look forward to besides another desperate (and ultimately futile) July trade by your GM?

One thing you notice if you follow teams during spring training like I have the last few years is that every team loses about ¾ of their road games. That’s because teams generally trot out a lineup consisting of 2-3 regulars (none of them “stars”) with the remainder consisting of guys destined to spend most, if not all, of the season at AAA or below.

Check the lineups Gardy is putting out there in Baltimore this week and you’ll see that’s pretty much what he’s stuck with having to do. He’s running spring training road line ups up against the Birds and hoping to win a game or two just by accident.

But at least he can look at the injury report (or in the bathroom) and see that better days are ahead… he will get better players back on the field at some point. Ozzie and all those poor BitchSox fans would love to be able to look ahead and see half a dozen better players returning to the lineup in the future.

And if that’s not enough to give you hope for a better tomorrow, then keep in mind that at least Bud Selig isn’t taking over your team.

So, for now… let’s just chill and let all those negative waves leave our bodies as we sing together…

~Let it be… let it be… let it be, yeah, let it be… whisper words of wisdom… let it beeeee~

– JC

GameChat – Twins @ Orioles #3, 6:05pm, FSN & am1500

THIS is an ‘interesting’ lineup.. and I mean that in the fullest Minnesota sense of the word. Morneau & Delmon are still unavailable to play tonight so you have this lineup (really? Repko as the 2 hitter?) and we have Casilla & Butera on the bench.. I have no words – and that’s bad for a blogger. All I can think of to say is this: It has to be better than last night right? How’s that for positive thinking?

Minnesota @ Baltimore
Span, CF Roberts, B, 2B
Repko, LF Markakis, RF
Kubel, RF Lee, D, 1B
Cuddyer, 1B Guerrero, DH
Thome, DH Scott, LF
Valencia, 3B Jones, A, CF
Hughes, L, 2B Reynolds, M, 3B
Holm, C Wieters, C
Tolbert, SS Andino, SS
Blackburn, P Britton, Z, P

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 0 1 0 0 0 2 0 1 0 4 7 0
Baltimore 0 4 1 0 0 0 0 0 x 5 8 0

This is starting to get really, really old.

After that rough second inning, Nick Blackburn did well. Then again, you don’t get to just throw out your worst inning in Big Boy League. The bats, again, were pretty silent, but when you look up and down at this line up, I’m not sure what else you would expect.

Things, they gotta change.

– JC

GameChat – Twins @ Orioles #2, 6:05 pm, FSN & am1500

Alright, I have determined that the clubhouse staff needs to put away the snack tables and/or the boys have to quit double-dipping in the guacamole.  The stomach flu is continuing it’s route through the lockerroom. Morneau is still down for the count and now Delmon is experiencing flu-like symptoms. The result is that we get to see Luke Hughes play 1B tonight… that should be interesting.

We’re also having some weather issues in Baltimore.  Right now, we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to squeeze a game in but be prepared for some delay in game play at some point. I think it’s a situation of hope for the best but be prepared for the worst. If at any point we find ourselves waiting for the game, I would encourage you to try your hand at the haiku contest we have going for Mauer’s birthday! See the previous post for details!

Minnesota @ Baltimore
Span, CF   Roberts, B, 2B
Tolbert, 2B   Markakis, RF
Kubel, LF   Lee, D, 1B
Thome, DH   Guerrero, DH
Cuddyer, RF   Scott, LF
Valencia, 3B   Jones, A, CF
Hughes, L, 1B   Reynolds, M, 3B
Butera, C   Wieters, C
Casilla, A, SS   Andino, SS
  Pavano, P     Arrieta, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 6 1
Baltimore 0 3 0 1 4 0 0 3 x 11 13 0

 

There are really no other words for it… that SUCKED. :(

WIN Twins tix by Wishing Joe Mauer a Happy Birthday!

 Almost everyone in Twins Territory knows by now that it’s Joe Mauer’s 28th birthday today.  Something about being a hometown boy makes his birthday close to a state holiday.

In celebration of the day, we here at Knuckleballs are giving away a pair of tickets to next Tuesday nights game, April 26th, against the Tampa Bay Rays.  We will be drawing names at the conclusion of tonight’s game.  The way to enter the drawing is to submit your best birthday haiku for Joe.  Anyone who submits a haiku in the comment section of this post is automatically included AND multiple entries are accepted.  The entries will be numbered drawn at random.

Rules for acceptable Haiku:

  • Only three lines, totaling 17 syllables throughout
  • The first line must be only 5 syllables
  • The second line must be comprised of 7 syllables
  • The third line must be 5 syllables like the first
  • Punctuation and capitalization rules are up to the poet, and need not follow rigid rules used in structuring sentences
  • Haiku does not have to rhyme, in fact many times it does not rhyme at all
  • Some haiku can include the repetition of words or sounds
  • haiku poetry typically discusses subjects from the natural world, including seasons, months, animals, insects, and even the smallest elements of nature, down to a blade of grass or a drop of dew

Again – this should be a birthday greeting for Joe Mauer so that should also be included in whatever creative way you can manage!  Have fun everyone!

And the winner is Haiku #1 from AW! (yes, I literally put them in a bowl and drew one out). Here’s the winning poem:

Happy Birthday, Joe.
Body slowing, legs are weak.
Getting old not fun.

AW, please email JimCrikket ASAP with your mailing address so that he can put the tickets in the mail to you.  Congratulations! If, for any reason, you are unable to attend the game, please let us know.