David's Blog

On this page, I'll share my thoughts, and any articles or information I think are of interest.  Feel free to use the comments section to join in the discussion!


“would “rather swallow glass than issue a walk”

 

 

August 27, 2015

Pitching Backward

Casey Fien Makes No Sense

by Jeff Long 

Casey Fien is the quintessential Twins pitcher. To quote the 2015 BP Annual, Fien would “rather swallow glass than issue a walk”, a hallmark of the Twins’ oft-cited strike-throwing mentality. This year Fien has become an even greater caricature of himself by slicing his walk rate in half, and dropping his already low strikeout rate even further. Fien strikes out just 14% of opposing hitters, the sixth lowest rate among qualifying relievers, and walks a paltry 2% of opposing hitters, the second lowest rate in baseball.

Casey Fien walks nobody, strikes almost nobody out, and yet somehow doesn’t give up loud contact all that often. Casey Fien is everything that a stereotypical Twins pitcher should be, and nothing like a stereotypical reliever. Despite all of this Fien has been effective, posting an ERA+ of 117, and a FIP+ of 109. Over 48.2 IP this season, Fien has posted a very strong 2.36 DRA, nearly a full run better than his ERA.

***

Fien’s arsenal essentially consists of just two pitches. His four-seam fastball and cutter make up over 90 percent of his offerings, with a curveball accounting for another seven percent of Fien’s pitches. A sinker and change make up the balance, but Fien has only thrown 12 of those two pitches combined this season, so we’ll largely ignore them for the sake of understanding his approach.

  

Over 90% of Fien’s offerings fall within a fairly predictable range upon reaching the plate. In fact, the 23.4 square inches that Fien’s average four-seamers and cutters have fallen into this season is only slightly smaller than an iPad Mini screen. There is somewhat of a velocity differential between the two pitches—the four-seam fastball averages 93 mph while his cutter sits 88-89 mph on average—but we’re not talking about a huge difference here. Opposing hitters can pretty much sit fastball, knowing that the pitch they see is likely to be in a five mile-per-hour band, with fairly predictable movement. The curveball gives him a little bit of a different look, but with only seven percent of his pitches being breaking balls, it’s more of a show-me pitch than anything else.

Even though opposing hitters know what’s coming, Fien isn’t afraid to pound the zone to avoid costly walks. More than half of his pitchers (53.6 percent, to be exact) are in the strike zone—well above the MLB average of just under 48 percent. Fien also likes to get ahead, as one might expect, with nearly two-thirds of his first pitches going for strikes, again a well above-average figure. He may attack the zone, but that doesn’t mean that Fien is striking guys out. His sub five-per-nine strikeout rate falls in line with his below league average swinging strike rate of 8.4 percent.

The results are somewhat predictable. Opposing hitters swing at Fien’s offerings early and often. Those swings turn into contact, of one form or another, with his contact rate sitting four percentage points above the league average of 79 percent.

If I told you that Fien gives up a lot of contact, but is a successful reliever despite this, you might assume that he’s a groundball artist in the Zach Britton or Brad Ziegler mold. You would be wrong, but it’s a rational thought. In fact, Fien is a fly ball pitcher with roughly 1.3 fly balls for every ground ball given up. Despite his fly ball propensities, Fien’s 6.8% HR/FB ratio (9.1% career) means that he’s not constantly watching balls fly out of the stadium every time he pitches.

Once again, nothing about Casey Fien makes any sense.

***

As a lefty, you walk up to the plate with the Fien readies himself on the mound. You know that 90% of the pitches he throws are either four-seam fastballs or cutters, so you prepare yourself for a heater. Fien rears back and delivers, his right arm lurching towards home plate. The pitch is on its way toward the catcher’s mitt. You swing at the fastball as it hurdles towards the outside corner of the plate, hoping to lace the ball into left field. As you swing though, Fien’s 79 mph curveball darts under your barrel, catching the outside corner in the process.

Casey Fien makes no sense.

Fien loves to throw first-pitch, backdoor curveballs to left-handed hitters. In fact, he does this 35% of the time, far more often than he throws his cutter. Very few relievers have the need or requisite skill to pitch backwards, and yet here is Fien, throwing breaking balls to opposite-handed hitters on the first pitch of an at bat.

Somewhat more predictably, Fien likes to go to his four-seamer when behind against lefties, though he transitions to his cutter when ahead in the count or with two strikes.

Right-handed hitters have it a bit easier, but that’s simply because Fien is more of a two-pitch guy against same handed hitters. This is interesting and odd because typically breaking balls are used against same-handed hitters first and foremost, but Fien abandons his against righties.

 

Casey Fien makes no sense.

***

There’s common wisdom around baseball that if a pitcher wants to avoid giving up the long ball, they should avoid working up in the zone. While this truth is held in less and less esteem over recent years, it’s still somewhat surprising to find pitchers without dominant stuff who prefer to work up in the zone. If you’ve noticed a pattern here, and hopefully you have, that’s all the reason in the world to think that Fien does in fact like to work up in the zone.

Specifically, Fien works up in the zone with his four-seamer, while working more down with the cut fastball. Below is each of Fien’s three most used pitches in terms of where he locates them in the zone:

 

Two things jump off the screen immediately. The first is that Fien has pretty consistent usage patterns. By that I mean that each pitch has some very hot areas, and some very cold areas, with fairly clear distinctions between each. The second thing that jumps out at you is the discrepancy between pitches. The cutter is almost exclusively down in the zone. The curveball is nearly always on the arm-side for Fien, and typically down in the zone. The fastball is often up, and also often more on Fien’s glove-side portion of the zone.

If you look at the data, it’s not really clear why Fien doesn’t have an ERA over seven. He has some pretty extreme, yet consistent, tendencies that opposing hitters should be able to study and attack. He doesn’t have a ton of pitches to go to, and more often than not you can narrow it down to one of two pitches with near impunity. From a statistical standpoint, Fien is incredibly predictable.

The problem of course, is the refrain from above. The problem is that Casey Fien makes no sense. He pitches backwards, goes against conventional wisdom, and throws strange pitches at strange times. While Fien may be statistically predictable, attacking him in that way will make you go against everything your guy has ever told you as a hitter.

Fien plods along, confusingly successful. He does so not so much because his pitches are overpowering or because opposing hitters don’t know what’s coming. Fien is successful because he pits hitters’ heads against their gut feelings—and while they’re having an internal argument over what’s coming next, Fien pounds the zone, gets ahead, and generates defensive swings.

Casey Fien makes no sense; and that’s exactly why he’s able to fool Major League hitters.

http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=27333

 

"Similar to most other questions in sports, the answer is preparation. "

 

 

 

How rookies can budget their earnings in the ‘Ballers’ era

By Steven Goldstein

Published August 24, 2015,  

With HBO’s new hit series, “Ballers,” giving a glimpse of how rising NFL players often overextend themselves, one may ask how can a player make 16 paychecks, earned over an approximate four month period, stretch out over an entire year?

The answer is by budgeting.

At this time of year, NFL players have already completed OTAs and minicamps and are now in the midst of training camp. The focus right now is to stay healthy and make it onto the roster for week one of the NFL season. However, one very important matter on which some NFL players do not quite focus enough attention, rookie players in particular, is planning out a budget for the upcoming season and beyond.

Once the first paycheck comes in, rookies will look to go on a spending spree, which is most understandable. However, this is not a good strategy. 

During a recent visit to an NFL club, the team’s director of player engagement, who is also a former player, indicated that when he played, some of the veterans would not even consider socializing with the rookies as they just did not have the financial capacity to “keep up.” Which may lead one to ask, why?

Similar to most other questions in sports, the answer is preparation. Getting paid for the first time is a major event that many rookies are not often prepared to handle. Specifically, preparation and consideration needs to be made on how to “stretch” game-day paychecks over the months when the game checks are not coming in.

Recent news reports brought the topic to the forefront by illustrating the financial frugality of Ryan Broyles of the Detroit Lions, and his ability to set up his financial future. His financial planner advised Broyles to spend as he normally would over a few months period. Once he came up with his budget, he lived within his means and invested everything else. Now Broyles has secured his post-football monetary life.

Let’s look at a similar, hypothetical example:

INCOME

2015 minimum rookie salary

$435,000

Number of game checks over 166 duty days

16

Gross Amount per Paycheck

$27,187.50

A $27,187.50 paycheck may sound like a lot of salary to the average person, but gross is not net. Taxes, agent fees, union dues, 401(k), travel, rookie dinners, tax return fees, game-day tickets, workout clothing, massage therapy, gifts to loved ones (and sometimes not loved ones), entourages, two apartments, car payments, clothing and a plethora of other expenses will affect cash flow over the remaining 199 non-duty days. 

Therefore, the best time to plan for an efficient budget that maps out all necessities on a monthly basis and sets the game plan is now.

Kevin Peters of Equinox Financial advises more than 300 current and former NFL players and stresses to his clients that they should not even think about buying a house and/or a car until the player has had a chance to set up a proper cash flow budget by which to live.

Let’s return to our example:

INCOME

2015 minimum rookie salary

$435,000

EXPENSES

Federal and state taxes effective rate (45%)

$195,000

Agent fees

$13,000

401(k) 2015 and 2016

$36,000

SUBTOTAL

$191,000

 

ADDITIONAL EXPENSES TO FACTOR IN

Rookie dinner

$10,000

Therapies (massage and physical), gym membership, workout clothing

$5,000

Tax-free gifts – per person

$14,000

Annual apartment rentals

$30,000

Miscellaneous travel during offseason

$5,000

Game-day tickets

$5,000

NEW SUBTOTAL

$122,000

When all the above expenses are considered, our rookie player is now left with $122,000 for basic living expenses throughout the year, which is around $10,000 per month. The purchase of an expensive car or down payment on a home was not even factored in yet.

So the message here is: It is not what you make, but what you take home. 

Understanding monthly cash flow requirements, as Ryan Broyles figured out, is vital to a player’s future. Moreover, if our rookie sets aside savings and contributes to his retirement as part of the budget, and continues to stick to the game plan, he will be poised to not fumble away the opportunity for a successful future.

Once our rookie player learns how to properly budget he can now switch his focus and attention on building and expanding his business and branding opportunities. This can include endorsements, appearance fees, and residuals.  It can also lead to establishing foundations and camps to give back to the youth in neighborhoods where the athlete grew up. However, as with any venture, proper game planning and preparation are required for success.

Steven Goldstein (
sgoldstein@grassicpas.com), CPA, PFS, is a partner and the sports and entertainment practice leader at Grassi & Co.

http://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Journal/Issues/2015/08/24/Opinion/From-the-Field-of-Financial-Planning.aspx

 

"HALL OF FAMER OFF THE COURT"

 

 

 

 

TERENCE MOORE

August 26, 2015

A HALL OF FAMER OFF THE COURT

SMYRNA, Ga. -- Nike implored folks through commercials to be like Mike, but that was so 20th century. As for modern times, why can't more former and current athletes be like Dikembe?

Why can't everybody be like Dikembe?

 Well, for one, few people have been honored by five U.S. presidents. For another, nobody else has that voice. When Dikembe Mutombo speaks, the ground trembles, mostly because his bass-filled words rival those of James Earl Jones or even Moses --- you know, the Red Sea guy as opposed to Malone, the NBA's legendary rebounding machine.

You've also seen the commercials, Mutombo helping GEICO sell car insurance with that voice and his signature finger wagging. It's the same gesture he used after each of those shots he blocked during his 18 NBA seasons that contributed to his pending induction next month into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Whenever Mutombo laughs, everything shakes around his 7-foot-2 frame from all of that noise.

"Every day, somebody is doing the finger wagging at me, and even the pilot has done it when I get on planes," Mutombo said, from his long-time headquarters for philanthropy called the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation. Added Mutombo, still laughing about his commercial, "You don't know how many parents have come up to me to say, 'My children watch it over and over, and now, when Daddy asks them do to something, they do that finger to Daddy all the time.' They don't call it a finger wag. They only call it The Mutombo.

"No question, that commercial has taken me to a whole different level. One of the biggest things is, it has given me more visibility to young people who didn't know who Dikembe Mutombo was."

Actually, most folks should know who Mutombo was, along with who Mutombo is. In sum, he ranks among the most impressive people of our time. This goes beyond the voice, the finger wagging, the laughter and even the basketball immortality that comes from having your career on permanent display in Springfield, Mass. It also goes beyond the recently announced news that, on Sept. 1, Fulton County -- which includes the city of Atlanta, where Mutombo starred with the Hawks for five years -- will honor the four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year with his own day.

All of that lags behind this: I mean, how many folks just decide to build a $30 million hospital in the middle of a jungle?

Mutombo did, and six years later, his hospital is flourishing in the Congo, where he was born 49 years ago as one of 10 children. The hospital has gone from a yearly operating budget of $3.5 million to $8.2 million, and it is named after Biamba Marie Mutombo, Dikembe's late mother.

The whole thing makes sense. Before Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson had other ideas, Mutombo wished to return to his disease-ridden nation as a doctor when he left the Congo during the late 1980s for Washington, D.C., and the Hoyas. Now he is an unofficial physician, because he works in spirit through the real doctors at his hospital.

"I think I'm helping the Congo get to a brighter future," Mutombo said. "All over Africa, people are dying from stroke and from heart disease, because they can't afford to get to South Africa or to Europe. After my foundation built that hospital, the government has built two additional ones, which was great. We weren't trying to be the only institution providing health care. We were thinking from Day One that we wanted to be a model for so many people to follow us as an example, and I think we have accomplished that."

That ... and more.

Take, for instance, Mutombo's miracle as Global Ambassador of the Special Olympics. He was troubled two years ago when he discovered the Congo never had provided athletes for the event. So he flew back to his part of the African continent in search of youngsters with intelligence disability. Neither Congo government officials nor anybody else was helpful.

"They all claimed they couldn't find any young people with intelligence disability, but you have to understand that so many people in my country are ashamed when they discover somebody with it," Mutombo said. "They'll lock them in a room. They think the family is cursed to have a child like that. A father even killed the mother of his daughter, because the father thought it was the mother's fault for having a kid that was that way."

After one and a half years of searching, Mutombo found two boys and two girls between the ages of 14 and 16 in the Congo with intelligence disability. He bought them shoes and clothes. Then, after six months of training on soccer fields, he got them visas, and he paid for their flights ("They didn't even know where the airport was," Mutombo said) to the Special Olympics last month in Los Angeles. He walked with them down the red carpet at the start of the event, but he let them stand alone on the victory podium as winners of a gold, a silver and a bronze medal.

There's always more involving Mutombo, who may be the tallest superhero you'll ever see. A week before the Special Olympics, he was a keynote speaker at the International Business Forum in Ethiopia. "There were heads of states there, a bunch of CEOs. It was very cool," Mutombo said. "I never knew I would be spending my life sitting with so many world leaders discussing world problems like I've been doing now."

Then again, there was that time years ago, when President George W. Bush flew Mutombo to Washington for one of his State of the Union Addresses. As the big center with the bigger heart sat next to the First Lady in the House chamber, Bush saluted Mutombo in his speech.

Mutombo also continues as a world ambassador for the NBA. He went to a league event earlier this year in Cuba, and he will depart for another one in China the day after his ceremony involving Fulton County.

The bottom line: Michael Jordan still sells a lot of sneakers, but as a whole, he hasn't done anything close to what Mutombo has accomplished. The same goes for others, but there is at least one person trying to be like Dikembe: LeBron James. In between functioning as the NBA's best player, he is promising four-year scholarships to around 2,000 underprivileged kids to attend the University of Akron, located in his hometown. He also was outspoken during the civil unrest controversies, ranging from Trayvon Martin to Ferguson.

"LeBron actually has surprised me, especially with what he announced last week with the scholarships," Mutombo said. "It's amazing. I'm so proud of him, and we're all praying for him, because he is about to become another icon when it comes to making a difference in society."

Then Mutombo roared with more laughter. Here he was, applauding somebody who wouldn't speak to him for more than a decade. "He was angry with me, because I broke his nose during his rookie year," Mutombo said, referring to the 2003-04 NBA season. "I told him he should take me off his list of the people he said he would dunk on, and I told him that, if he tried to come close to the basket, I would knock him out."

Mutombo nearly did.

"But LeBron and I, we're cool now," Mutombo said, softly, suggesting that superheroes have to stick together.

 

 

“To be revered (and paid) as a god is strange enough, but the consecutive miracles of self-belief required to do the things that pro athletes do can't help but be warping and weird after enough repetitions. “

 

 

 

August 28, 2015 David Roth

DAVID ROTH'S WEAK IN REVIEW: CURT SCHILLING, RUSSELL WILSON, AND THE PROBLEM WITH CONFIDENCE

We're born weird, which is good. Or, more precisely, we're born as soft, stupendously incapable noise machines and gradually lengthen as we pass into a period spanning several years that's defined by the sort of free-associative disinhibition associated with mellower hallucinogens. Then we're emotionally 14 years old for like, twenty years, and, somewhere in there, a combination of negative reinforcement and the world's pressures turn us into humans. It is not efficient, nor is it especially pleasant in parts, but it is the best we've come up with after a few millennia. For the most part, it works.

There are exceptions to this rule, however, and they are fucking terrifying. People that act with the sort of stagy grandiosity that suggests they're being followed by invisible reality television cameras, say, or people whose approach to human interaction still stubbornly adheres to the cloak-and-dagger Stratego dynamics of middle school. Periodically you'll meet someone like this in real life, and it's never less than shocking. It's a wonder, given the way the world works on us (and works in general), that anyone can afford, or would even want, the luxury that having this sort of delusion represents. To be That Type of Person—to believe that you are always right, to see yourself as something like the main character in life on earth—is weird, of course, but it also seems lonesome and stressful and un-fun. It is a little bit easier to understand the impulse, though, when it comes from a professional athlete.

This week, it just kept coming from professional athletes. Curt Schilling, who was a great and gritty Major League pitcher and who is settling loudly into a second career as a curdled Facebook uncle, allowed an especially dank and not especially coherent Islamophobic meme to escape from his Facebook account and onto his Twitter feed. He was suspended by his current employers at ESPN, and apologized. He will absolutely do this sort of thing again, because he is Curt Schilling. And Curt Schilling is this way, and is the flailing vainglorious dipstick that he is, in part because he is That Type of Person.

He is hugely blessed, and the lightning in his right arm has made Schilling's life very different, and made Schilling himself very different, than they otherwise might have been. This has worked out well for him in some ways—he earned nearly $115 million as a baseball player, and enjoyed other advantages like having the state of Rhode Island mistake him for someone who deserved a $75 million business loan. His talent shaped his life, and more specifically shaped it into a bell curve of sorts: he leveraged his talent and became great, and then at some point the relationship shifted such that he was on the wrong side of it, and Curt Schilling just became kind of an asshole. Schilling is, as any athlete and many non-athletes claim to be, an authentically self-made man. It's just not much of a compliment in this case.

For those who have watched him ripen and bloat into the public figure he has become since retiring, there are several subsidiary curlicues of weirdness that define Curt Schilling. There is his enthusiastically enforced open-door policy to any reactionary egregiousness, and his deeply held sense of obligation to stick in his oar on any and all topics, presently under discussion or not. There is his blithe confidence and tween-y compulsion to overshare. (There's also his tremendous collection of Naziana, including a number of mint-condition SS uniforms, but let's assume that Schilling is one of the few collectors of Nazi doodads who doesn't use them as masturbatory aids and agree never again to revisit that particular image.)

Every loudmouthed bit of it seems to resolve to an unearned, unshakeable, and utterly unaccountable confidence, which we can reasonably assume has its roots in Schilling's talent. To see Curt Schilling in action—gleefully inveighing against entire religions and orientations and belief systems and worldviews, blithely believing that every bit of offense or outrage or hurt he causes is the result of someone else's ignorance or sissification or bad faith—is to see someone who, as the pitching coaches say, trusts his stuff. It's also the natural behavior of someone who has been trained never to question himself, and who spent so much of his life—including that period in which the rest of humanity is broken and remade by the world into actual people—being coddled and indulged and absolved and deferred to because of that magical right arm of his.

This is not necessarily a nice thing to do to a person. Fame on this level—and on the level of Russell Wilson, who recently shared his belief that the tricked-up bottled water he endorses gave him superhuman recovery powers—must be an intensely disorienting thing. To be revered (and paid) as a god is strange enough, but the consecutive miracles of self-belief required to do the things that pro athletes do can't help but be warping and weird after enough repetitions. If you are going to stand on a mound, stare in at Barry Bonds, and believe, in defiance of Barry Bonds and everything else, that you will strike him out, you need a self-belief that borders on unreason. It's unfair to judge Wilson on a few strange tweets and his increasingly rococo public religiosity, but there is some grounding reason under all that weirdness: if Wilson views himself as some sort of divinely chosen warrior-prophet—and he does appear to view himself that way—it's hard to say that the violent and impossible unreason of his workplace and job allows anything else.

The more professional sports metastasize into something bigger and crueler—the zero-sum, value-neutral cruelty of the market, as tragedy and farce, respectively—the more their obligations crowd out everything else. All that remains is a whole screaming spectrum of unreasonable demands. For fans, these games are fundamentally an excuse to be idiots during our time out of the office, but for the people who play them there is a different and deeper hazard. Curt Schilling, in the end, will always and only be Curt Schilling's fault, but he's an example of something more than off-the-rack Facebook dickholery. He is the shining diamond formed by the inimitable pressures of our huge games—a world within the world, where the prevailing pressure does not break its captives toward adulthood, but holds them tightly in place until every saleable miracle has been extracted, at which point it releases them, finished and unfinished, into a world that is so much bigger.

https://sports.vice.com/en_us/article/david-roths-weak-in-review-curt-schilling-russell-wilson-and-the-problem-with-confidence

 

“He’s experiencing a lot of these for the first time.”

 

Every day is a learning experience for young Mariner Ketel Marte

Originally published August 25, 2015 at 8:18 pm Updated August 25, 2015 at 8:32 pm

The 20-year-old shortstop faces something new nearly every game in the big leagues. This time, it was trying to figure out an ambidextrous pitcher.

By Ryan Divish 

Seattle Times staff reporter

For Ketel Marte, each day and each game with the Mariners since being recalled from Class AAA Tacoma on July 31 has brought new experiences and teachable moments.

At age 20 and in his first stint at the major-league level, Marte is learning about the difficulties of playing against the best in the world.

Even in his best games, he’s left with questions about certain situations and his successes.

“Every day there is something new for him,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He’s experiencing a lot of these for the first time.”

On Monday, Marte wasn’t alone among the Mariners when it came to the first-time experience of facing an ambidextrous pitcher.

In the fifth inning, Pat Venditte, 30, stepped to the mound, armed with his six-finger glove and the ability to throw with either his left or right arm.

He made his MLB debut in early June and had four scoreless relief appearances. An injury to his right arm placed him on the disabled list for an extended period and he was optioned to Class AAA Nashville. He was recalled Aug.15.

On Monday night, he threw two scoreless innings with a strikeout. He alternated between throwing right-handed or left-handed based on who was at bat.

Marte was confused as he prepared to bat in the seventh.

“I saw when he first went to the mound, he was throwing left-handed,” Marte said. “Then when he faced (Mike) Zunino, he threw right-handed. I was like, ‘I don’t know what’s going on here!’ ”

The situation became more odd when Marte finally came to bat. Since Marte’s a switch-hitter, by rule Venditte had to signal to the home-plate umpire which arm he planned to throw with. Venditte chose to throw right-handed against Marte, forcing him to bat from the left side. Marte had been warming up with a right-handed swing.

Marte grounded out to second. Asked which side he would have preferred, Marte said:

“Right hand is more natural for me. I think I have more power righty. I can hit homers more easily right-handed.”

Marte came into Tuesday hitting .311 (23 for 74).

http://www.seattletimes.com/sports/mariners/every-day-is-a-learning-experience-for-young-mariner-ketel-marte/