Tuesday, June 26, 2007

On Topic

I haven't done an on-topic post in awhile, so here we go:

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Highlights from tonight's Baseball Tonight:

(After Troy Tulowitzki attempts to barehand a roller but lets it get by him)

John Kruk: That's a rookie mistake. He has to eat that ball there.

(After Ray Durham barehands a roller and gets the batter by an eyelash at first)

Eric Young: That was his ONLY chance, to barehand that ball. Great play.

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Edit: ESPN is on fire tonight. From NFL Live:

"There are 1600 players in the NFL, and it seems like we talk about the same five or six every day."

You don't say? I don't remember which host said this line, because his name is not Pacman Jones, Tank Johnson, or Michael Vick.

Fire John Kruk

John Kruk was on SportsCenter tonight. Why, you ask? Apparently he believes that hot dog eating champion Takeru Kobayashi is faking the arthritis in his jaw that will likely sideline him for this year's July 4th contest at Nathan's.

I don't have the exact transcript handy, but Kruk LOUDLY voiced his opinion that Kobayashi is not really hurt, but is "AFRAID of (rival) Joey Chestnut." This wasn't a Freudian slip or anything; Kruk went on and on about it, making Kobayashi out to be some gutless fraud.

This may be the most insulting thing I've ever seen or heard on ESPN. Kobayashi comes from Japan, where competitors in all sports are honorable and despise "dirty" plays. It's considered unsporting to intentionally walk a batter in an NPB game, but apparently Kruk thinks Kobayashi is willing to fake a serious injury rather than risk losing his hot dog eating title.

Really, why is John Kruk even being consulted on this issue? Does he have inside knowledge of the sport? Of jaw injuries? Of anything at all? No, no, and no. The real reason is illuminated by the man who spoke after Kruk, Dick Vitale. Vitale, like Kruk, is loud and grabs your attention with his voice even though he usually has nothing to add to the conversation, and in fact often subtracts from it. This is especially true when the subject is a competition Vitale, like Kruk, knows nothing about.

Once you boil it down, that's all Kruk really does, talk loudly. With his playing career over, Kruk's skill set boils down to:

- Being loud and obnoxious
- Contracting testicular cancer

Apparently ESPN has decided that testicular cancer doesn't sell ads. That's too bad, because if they taped over every Kruk piece with an informative video about the disease, many lives would be saved. Between those who get diagnosed early and those who choose not to kill themselves from having to hear Kruk talk all the time, you're talking about a great service to all mankind.

Fire this man now. Please.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Rockies Home/Road Splits

The Cubs/Rockies game is on TV, and the announcers are on about how Matt Holliday has proven to be a good hitter even outside Coors Field, as evidenced by his statistics.

First off, even though I understand that Holliday is a good hitter, it's ridiculous to insist that he isn't getting a huge benefit from his home park. He's hitting .404/.443/.669 at home and .305/.352/.493 on the road. Basically, he's Ty Cobb in Coors and Bernard Gilkey in away games.

I actually have a broader bone to pick. Often, especially when dealing with the Rockies, you'll deal with splits that look off for some reason. One common example is that a Rockies hitter will have a higher OPS in away games, "proving" that he doesn't need Coors to hit well. This is a fallacy.

Suppose you find that you can consistently hit a golf ball 200 yards at your local driving range. You decide that you'd like to see how far you can drive on the moon, so you build a space shuttle and head up there. In the lower-gravity environment with no air resistance, your average distance per drive is...200 yards.

Does this mean that you derived no benefits from the moon's generous environment? Absolutely not. The differences in gravity and air resistance affected you the same way they would anyone else; you just performed worse on the moon. It's the same thing in Coors. If a Rockies hitter has a higher road OPS than home OPS, it doesn't mean Coors didn't help him, it means that he hit worse at home than on the road. This is why we use standard park factors to compare hitters rather than doubling everyone's road numbers or using individual adjustments.

That brings me to a good rule of thumb. If someone on TV tries to use split statistics to explain anything, mute your TV immediately or suffer the consequences.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Milton Bradley

Milton Bradley was designated for assignment--cut, in layman's terms--by Oakland Thursday in a surprising move, leaving the A's without one of their top position players in the thick of a playoff race.

What do we make of this? Athletics Nation thinks this move is just bizarre enough that we should trust GM Billy Beane's judgment, because he's going against conventional wisdom. Of course, Beane has never been one to run with the crowd, preferring instead to stay one step ahead of them at all times.

That said, I can only remember one move Beane has made as that puzzled me as much as this one: his 2002 trade of Jeremy Giambi for journeyman John Mabry. Giambi was clearly a more valuable player than Mabry at the time; he was coming off a 2001 line of .283/.391/.450, and hitting .274/.390/.471 in 2002. Meanwhile, Mabry was a sub-.300 OBP waiting to happen at a key offensive position.

You may remember how this played out. Mabry raked in his first month as an Athletic, and Beane drew widespread praise for recognizing his "breakout potential." Mabry eventually settled back to his established level of production, while Giambi finished his Phillies career with a .973 OPS, not bad at all.

Only later was it revealed that Beane dealt Giambi just to get rid of him following a series of incidents on team flights, a story immortalized in Michael Lewis' Moneyball. All the analysts who tried to invent an explanation for the trade were wrong, and one hot month did not make John Mabry into the new Mark McGwire.

Back to Bradley. Like Giambi, he has a history of off-field (not to mention on-field) incidents. Did he commit another transgression, this one the straw that broke the camel's back? Did Beane just not want to waste space on the 40-man roster for a player who would miss a large part of the season with injuries? Was the outfield picture too crowded?

No one outside the Oakland organization knows for sure at this point. I can guarantee you one thing, though: If Kevin Melillo--the infielder who was called up to take Bradley's roster spot--gets off to a hot start in the bigs, Beane is going to be praised for this bold move, because results are all that really matter to some people.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Tejada and Streaks

The Orioles found a way to cheat the system Thursday, inserting Miguel Tejada into the lineup for the sole purpose of keeping his consecutive games streak alive. After he recorded a plate appearance, he was immediately removed from the game.

This sort of thing has happened before; it's well-documented that the Yankees went out of their way to prolong games to keep DiMaggio's streak alive, for example. Streaks aren't the only place where this chicanery occurs, either; George Brett's 1976 batting crown is one of history's many tainted titles. Baseball historians know to take everything with a grain of salt.

All that said, how can anyone think this behavior doesn't cheapen the streak? Tejada took advantage of being on a team that cared more about a stupid statistic than attempting to win the game. If Tejada's streak reaches the level of Gehrig's or Ripken's, it will be a shame that he had to do it this way.

It's hard to call baseball a team sport, because it's less about teamwork than a collection of individual achievement. Still, in the face of all the personal glory, sometimes it's easy to forget they keep score at all.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Kruk on Sammy

John Kruk just commented that the list of 600-homer hitters represents the five best offensive players of all time.

Um, what?

Ruth and Bonds, yes. The others, not a chance, although I would campaign for Hank and Willie in the top 20.

What about Sammy Sosa? Honestly, does any intelligent fan even think Sammy is one of the five best offensive players of his own era? It's not all that hard to name ten or fifteen guys from the past 20 years who were clearly more valuable at the plate.

Sosa is the proud owner of a .344 career on-base percentage against a league average of .339. Compare that to, say, Frank Thomas (.423), Edgar Martinez (.418), Manny Ramirez or Jim Thome (.410 each)--it's not even close. Chipper Jones, Gary Sheffield, Mark McGwire, Jeff Bagwell, A-Rod, Vlad; all of these guys have inarguably been better career hitters than Sosa.

Sammy did have one of the better five-year peaks of all time, but he was simply never a great hitter outside of that span, and his inability to get on base cost his teams dearly. It's odd that John Kruk, a light power hitter who lived on OBP, would fail to understand this. Then again, I've met Sherpas who have deeper insights into baseball than Kruk.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Jason Schmidt

Last offseason, the Dodgers signed Jason Schmidt to a three-year, $47 million contract. LA took the same approach they did with Rafael Furcal, trading a higher average annual value for a shorter deal.

The deal was generally praised by statheads, who were impressed that a marquee starting pitcher was locked up for only three years. I liked the deal as well, rating it just below Greg Maddux as the best starting pitcher signing of the winter. Of course, I also thought that the acquisition of Luis Gonzalez made sense. Hindsight...

Now, Schmidt is having serious arm issues, including a possible rotator cuff injury, and there is talk that his career may be over. If so, this will quickly descend from being one of the better signings of the winter to one of the worst contracts of all time. In light of this new information, should we re-evaluate the decision to sign Schmidt?

Probably not.

I didn't consider Schmidt a huge injury risk for a pitcher; he had made at least 29 starts for five straight years, and only once in the past ten years had he failed to take the mound 25 times. His mechanics and statistics didn't point to any major issues.

Of course, the Dodgers and Giants have access to far more information than I do. Though the Dodgers didn't know at the time what kind of contract Barry Zito would sign, it is telling that the Giants were willing to sign such an enormous deal for a durable pitcher rather than bring Schmidt back for far less money and years.

Perhaps the Dodgers' team doctors should have found something wrong with Schmidt's right arm, but it's more likely this is just another data point in the case for not signing marquee free-agent pitchers to big contracts.

With his move to the DL, Schmidt re-joins the rich list of Mike Hampton, A.J. Burnett, Chris Carpenter, B.J. Ryan, Pedro Martinez, et al, although he did miss Kevin Millwood, who recently returned to his job pitching terribly for the Rangers. If you look at a list of the biggest contracts ever given to pitchers, it's really stunning how little value is returned on the dollar.

As a Cubs fan, I have long lamented management's 1992 decision to sign Ryne Sandberg to a big contract and let Greg Maddux walk. Obviously this turned out to be the wrong move, but it's not hard at all to envision a parallel universe where Sandberg--who had been the more valuable player in the years leading up to 1992--ages gracefully, while Maddux develops chronic injury problems and never wins another Cy Young. Indeed, Maddux's superhuman ability to stay healthy (and his good luck in avoiding freak accidents) may be the most important reason he will someday be in the Hall Of Fame and the Jason Schmidts of the world will not.

A Tiger Can Change Its Stripes

The resemblance is just getting downright scary.

Ranks in MLB
Tigers
White Sox





AL Pennant









Team ERA
1st
4th
Team OPS
11th
16th
Def. Efficiency
2nd
2nd





Next Year








Team ERA
24th
21st
Team OPS
1st
3rd
Def. Efficiency
18th
11th

In 2006, the defending AL Champion White Sox switched things up, morphing from a pitching-and-defense team with a low team OBP to an offensive juggernaut led by the best 3-4-5 in baseball, featuring a huge breakout season from their right fielder and a big bounce-back year from their DH. Meanwhile, their once-dominant rotation and bullpen both took big steps backward.

Sound familiar? Fast forward a year, cut and paste the word "Tigers" in there, and you have a virtual carbon copy with no factual errors. Sure, there are some differences--the Tigers are getting better production from the front and back ends of their batting order, and they have suffered major injuries while the Sox did not--but overall, the song remains the same.

Should we be surprised? To an extent. Certainly, one should have predicted that the Tigers' pitching, defense, and hitting would each regress somewhat from last year's extremes. Their actual performance so far is a massive overcorrection, just as it was for last year's Pale Hose. The Tigers simply do not have MLB's best offense, nor do they have one of its ten worst pitching staffs. But an injury here, a fluke season there, and you get a completely different team, yet one that is still competitive.

Will this year's Tigers get back to the playoffs, unlike the 2006 Sox? Obviously we can't say for certain, but like the Sox, the Tigers are facing intense competition for both the Wild Card and division title. It'll be a fun one to watch.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Waving Home Prince

Today's very exciting Brewers-Twins game featured a bizarre play in the top of the ninth. With the Brewers down 9-7, Prince Fielder hit a high fly ball to center. Lew Ford lost sight of the ball, which dropped far away from where Ford was standing. Fielder motored around the bases and was waved home, beating the throw for an inside-the-park homer. The Brewers went on to tie the game, but lost it in the bottom half on a Justin Morneau walkoff homer.

As per the title of this blog, we're not interested in the outcome, but the decision process. Why was Prince Fielder waved home when his run meant nothing?

I touched on a similar play last month. Even though Jose Lopez was thrown out and Fielder was safe, sending Prince home was a far worse decision. After today's game, one of the Brewers higher-ups absolutely must go ask their third-base coach why he gave the windmill signal.

He'll probably spout off some rule of thumb about the outfielder not releasing the ball before the runner hit third, or something like that. So what? Fielder's run doesn't change the outcome of the game. Essentially, the only risk they take by leaving him on third is that a line drive is hit right to the base and Prince is doubled off, an extremely rare occurrence. Meanwhile, Fielder beat the throw by only a step; he could easily have been gunned down, crippling the Brewers' chances of winning.

Third-base coaches often have to make difficult decisions without enough time to properly analyze them, but there are some rules that should be burned permanently into their brains. "Never make the first out at third" is a reasonable but flawed maxim; if the runner has a 90% chance of making it to third safely, he should probably attempt to do so. On the other hand, "Never make the first out at home in the ninth when you trail by multiple runs," is basically always correct, yet we still see coaches taking stupid and needless risks.

What if the Twins had executed a great relay throw home and gotten Prince out? The Brewers then load the bases but fail to get any runs home, and everyone second-guesses the decision to send Fielder. Instead, the play makes the highlight reels and no one says a word. That shouldn't be the way important baseball decisions are scrutinized.

Broxton Bounce-Back

Jonathan Broxton's line since he stunk up the joint on June 7:

13 Batters faced
0 Baserunners
10 Strikeouts

Yikes.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Parity

Anyone else notice how the recent World Series combatants are holding up this year?

The Cardinals, White Sox, and Astros are all in the bottom seven of ESPN's power rankings. And BP's. AOL, Fox Sports, and SI.com are slightly nicer, but none of these teams escape the bottom ten in any of them.

If you just go by the stats, it's even worse. The teams rank 27th, 29th, and 30th in runs scored. The Cardinals rank last in the NL in run differential, 14 behind the Nationals. The White Sox are 29th in expected winning percentage, saved from the cellar by the 30th-ranked Cardinals. While you're perusing that last link, check out who sits at 30th in ESPN's RPI.

According to Baseball Prospectus, the Redbirds will make the playoffs just 1.56% of the time, and this figure is more than three times the chances of the Astros and Sox combined.

What about the Tigers, you say? Flip the switch on your time machine to "back," and watch how quickly they morph from AL champs to laughingstock, to the point where they have to eke out a living playing themselves on TV guest appearances.

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What's going on here? Three things, really:

- Baseball's playoff system has led to inferior league champions the past couple of years. You can believe that it's because of intangibles, or you can acknowledge that neither of the past two World Series champs was even the best team in its own division. (And let's not forget that the previous three Classics were all won by Wild Cards.)

- Variance has reared its ugly head. Every year, you're going to see some teams that have the inherent talent level of a .500 team, but finish with a very good or bad record when things don't break their way. The 2006 White Sox stayed very healthy and got some breakout seasons from their hitters; they won 90 games. The 2007 Cardinals have had ineffective pitchers and poor health; they're floundering.

- Parity is improving. For all the complaints cast at Bud Selig and the big-budget Yankees, life is pretty sweet outside the AL East. More teams are competitive deeper into the season, and every franchise--with the possible exception of the Nationals--can reasonably contend for a playoff berth in the next five years. As we've seen, once you're in, anyone can win.

I got pretty sick of the Braves winning all the time--2006 was the first year they missed the playoffs since I started watching baseball--but you have to be impressed with what they accomplished, because we're not going to see it again for awhile. That is, unless the Yankees shock the world this year and keep their streak alive.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Sportscenter Producers Probably Stink At Poker

Regular watchers of ESPN have noticed an annoying trend this season. SportsCenter's pre-commercial teasers regularly feature a montage of Barry Bonds crushing five balls, while the anchors ask "Did Barry go deep today? Find out next!" If a fan is dumb enough to fall for this, he's liable to stay up for 30 minutes only to find out that Bonds got the day off.

This ploy might ordinarily entice the viewer to stick around, but there's a problem. Whenever Bonds climbs one closer to Henry Aaron, it's front-page news, the very first thing you will see at the top of every hour on ESPN (and several times during that hour). Furthermore, there is a ticker at the bottom of the screen that, at five-minute intervals, specifically mentions whether or not Bonds went deep. In other words, the moment they ask whether Bonds homered tonight, an intelligent viewer instantly knows the answer is "no." The Bonds teasers not only are a waste of time, they also insult the intelligence of the audience.

In poker, this tip-off is known as a "tell." When you act differently when bluffing rather than betting a good hand, your opponents will notice and call your bluffs while folding to your value bets. The end result is that you lose a lot of money, or in ESPN's case, viewers.

So why do they persist with this strategy? Perhaps these teasers are aimed at an unsophisticated audience that doesn't understand their meaning and watches ESPN solely to see the effects of steroids firsthand. After all, you can get away with a tell if your opponents don't know what it means.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Ejections

In the first inning of tonight's Braves-Cubs game, Ted Lilly plunked Edgar Renteria, possibly in retaliation for Alfonso Soriano getting hit by a pitch to lead off yesterday's game. After Renteria was hit, home plate ump Jim Wolf appeared to issue warnings to both benches. When Lilly came to argue with Wolf, he was tossed from the game.

Though it's obviously impossible to determine Lilly's intentions, it certainly seems the beaning was done on purpose. Though many expected Andruw Jones to receive the retaliation, it makes more sense to hit Renteria with two outs and nobody on base rather than Jones to lead off an inning, because it is far less likely to lead to an Atlanta run.

Now, I'm not in favor of intentionally hitting anyone, even though it may be a necessary part of the game, as J.C. Bradbury argued in his book The Baseball Economist. However, if you have a system in place where pitchers are warned before receiving an ejection, then either warn the pitchers before the game or don't eject a pitcher for the first infraction.

When you have one set of rules in practice and decide to enforce another, bad things happen, like the Merkle Boner. I know that this is a judgment call, so MLB can't really standardize the rules, but they should still make an attempt.

Renteria then tried to steal second. As he slid in safely, it was fairly clear that he gave a forearm to Cubs second baseman Mike Fontenot. For this, Renteria went unpunished, although believers in poetic justice will note that he left the game later with a bruised hand.

At this point, a friend said to me, "There's going to be a fight before this game is over." I agreed; this was an action designed to escalate the situation, and I thought that was exactly what would happen. If the umpires were willing to eject Lilly without advance warning, why not Renteria as well? A hit by pitch should not have different standards from other plays.

Did Lilly's ejection cost the Cubs the game? It's impossible to tell, but certainly it hurt the Cubs' chances of winning, and it further taxed an already tired bullpen. The Cubs now go into their matchup with Houston tomorrow having thrown over 15 relief innings in the past two games.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Bob Brenly Is An Idiot

In the top of the first during tonight's Cubs/Braves game, Alfonso Soriano was hit by a pitch. A warning was issued to both pitchers that there wouldn't be any funny business. In the bottom half of the inning, Jason Marquis gave up a two-run homer to Andruw Jones.

After the ball flew over the centerfield fence, Cubs broadcaster Bob Brenly immediately mentioned how the umps were influencing the game. Apparently, Brenly wanted Marquis to bean Jones, both for retaliation and because Jones has historically done well against Marquis.

This is results-oriented analysis at its finest. I don't expect Brenly to realize that a batter's history against a pitcher means basically nothing, because he's a former major league manager, but certainly he should know that intentionally putting a batter on base is not the best way to protect a four-run lead.

Furthermore, is there really any question that this comment would not have been made had Jones grounded out weakly to short? And what if the next batter, Brian McCann, led off the second inning with a homer, scoring only one run instead of the three the Braves would have gotten after an intentional HBP?

I'll channel ex-Cubs color man Steve Stone for a moment: For all you youngsters out there, remember that when you're watching a game, don't trust anyone over 40.

Sticking With Broxton

In the Padres/Dodgers game Thursday night, LA entered the bottom of the ninth with a 5-1 lead. Jonathan Broxton, filling in for injured closer Takashi Saito, allowed eight of the nine batters he faced to reach base, allowing the Friars to pull off a stunning 6-5 comeback win.

Dodgers manager Grady Little has drawn criticism for bringing Broxton into the game and for leaving him in. One sports bettor even suggested the fix was on. This is silly; you can't intentionally hit a 99 mph fastball into a gap. Besides, as we know, a four-run lead is no lock; two teams have blown five-run cushions in the ninth this year. Broxton is not a bad pitcher; he simply had a very bad and unlucky inning. But did Little do the right thing by going to the big man for the entire bottom of the ninth?

I would argue that he did not, but not for the reason you might think. Using your closer with a four-run lead and the bases empty is completely frivolous, as I've argued before. Little should not have gone to his closer, at least not until a couple of hitters reached base and the Padres were mounting a serious threat. This is especially true for Broxton, who's on pace for over 80 appearances and certainly didn't need the work.

What about the decision to stick with Broxton through his rough inning? I think this was completely correct, assuming Saito was unavailable. After the Padres came charging back, the Dodgers needed to go with a pitcher who could get a couple of big strikeouts, and no one in their bullpen was a better bet to do that than Broxton.

Furthermore, it's not like the 290-pounder couldn't find the plate. Of the first eight batters Broxton faced, he struck out one, intentionally walked one, and allowed six balls in play, including five hits and an error. That's not a Tim Corcoran-style appearance, where the pitcher gave the game away. Broxton wasn't his usual dominant self, but his biggest sin was giving up a string of hits on balls in play, something a pitcher has little control over.

You can criticize Little for not pulling Pedro, but not for this one. Consider it payback for the best game of 2005.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Courtesy of the Cleveland Broadcast Team

(After Brandon Phillips attempts to fake out Grady Sizemore when Sizemore attempted to steal second on a flyout)

Commentator 1: "Now, you tell me what the difference is between that and Alex Rodriguez yelling at the infielder on a pop-up."

Commentator 2: "I think the difference is he's Alex Rodriguez, and this is Brandon Phillips."

I like these guys.

Irrelevant sidenote: Homer Bailey is a sellout for cutting his hair. I was hoping for a modern-day Danny Graves or Randy Johnson, and instead I get another corporate type.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Bullpen Variance

Brad Lidge's ERAs the last three years: 2.29, 5.28, 2.51.

Jose Valverde's: 2.44, 5.84, 3.24.

Neal Cotts from 2004-07: 5.65, 1.94, 5.17, 4.86.

It's time to stop paying so much attention to the ERA a pitcher puts up when he's only working 60 innings a year. That's too small a sample size to really glean anything from. If hitters were evaluated on that basis, Chris Shelton and Jack Cust would be first-ballot Hall of Famers.

Right now, the Chicago media are obsessed with the ineffectiveness of the White Sox bullpen. The Sox recently sent David Aardsma and Mike MacDougal to the minors to join the demoted Andrew Sisco. All have ERAs over 6.00 this year, as does Nick Masset.

MacDougal, I understand; he can't find the plate right now. Aardsma, on the other hand, is striking out well over a man per inning and more than two for every walk. If you can do that, you're good enough to pitch in the majors.

It's instructive to look at the White Sox bullpens over the past few years. GM Kenny Williams built a relatively inexpensive but effective bullpen for the 2005 season. Almost all their relievers stayed healthy and had career years, and the Pale Hose rode their performance to a World Championship.

In 2006, they brought back mostly the same crew, but the magic was gone. Cotts and Cliff Politte were ineffective, Dustin Hermanson got hurt, and Bobby Jenks was merely good rather than excellent. The bullpen was below average, and the Sox missed the playoffs despite scoring the third-most runs in the AL.

The 2007 bullpen features only one holdover from 2005 (Jenks) but was built the same way as in years past, through minor trades and promoting from within. The '07 pen has been a disaster, giving Ozzie Guillen constant fits.

Did Williams go from being a genius in 2005 to a flop in 2006-07? No. He had a good plan in place all three years; once it was a massive success and twice it blew up in his face. Is that really worse than hemorrhaging money on a mediocre bullpen, the way the Orioles did?

One month doesn't make Chris Shelton a Hall of Famer, and one year doesn't make Cliff Politte a great pitcher or David Aardsma a bad one. Everyone in Chicago would do well to remember that.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Revisiting A-Rod

I normally steer clear of controversial issues, for a few reasons:

- I hate debating against stubborn people, and nothing gets them started like a controversial issue.
- Strong opinions tend to make others like you less.
- As David Sklansky has written, a debate becomes controversial precisely because both sides have a good point. If this were not the case, one side would have already won the debate.

Anyway, I probably went too far with my post on A-Rod's distraction of the Blue Jays' defense. For one thing, I was not aware of the rule that a runner is not allowed to intentionally distract a fielder. (Primarily because SportsCenter never mentioned this.) When I played baseball as a youth, it was common for the runners and fielders to distract one another, and I just considered it part of the game. One coach actually encouraged us to shout out "pop up" when an opposing player attempted a steal. This usually confused the runner long enough for him to be thrown out.

I wasn't trying to defend A-Rod's actions, even if it may have seemed that way. The focus of my post was not on the legality of the action, but that ESPN spends way too much time analyzing everything that a New York Yankees superstar does. This is nothing new, of course; the majority of ESPN's coverage of steroid use in major pro sports focuses on an athlete who has never tested positive for a banned substance, while a convicted cheater gets put on the cover of ESPN Magazine.

In a world where people are more concerned with what Paris Hilton is wearing than the most recent Supreme Court ruling, it's hard to single out the world's largest sports network for catering to a crowd that thinks the Yankees are the only team in the league. But it's still too bad they can't focus on what's going on in Cleveland, or San Diego, or Phoenix. Those cities all have young, exciting squads that are right in the thick of the playoff hunt--unlike a certain Bronx-based team--but are flying under the radar right now.

If Cleveland meets Arizona in the World Series, it may be the lowest rated Fall Classic of all time, but it may also be the most exciting. If you've never heard of Chris Young, or Jhonny Peralta, or Orlando Hudson, learn their names now before you hear them in October.

Sexism in Sports Coverage?

ESPN is airing highlights from the college softball finals. In the tenth inning of a 0-0 game, an Arizona runner slid around the Tennessee catcher who was blocking the plate. She was ruled safe, and Arizona went on to win 1-0, tying the best-of-three final at one game apiece.

I don't usually find college softball interesting--how can anyone enjoy a game where 2/3 of the batters strike out?--but this clip was different, because it really, really, REALLY looks like the runner completely missed the plate on her slide. This was obviously a critical call in a championship game, and the ump may have gotten it wrong.

ESPN didn't see it that way, however. They aired the slide, praised the runner for her effort, and showed Arizona celebrating after their win. No mention was made of the controversial safe call. If this kind of thing happened in any important baseball game, let alone the World Series, everyone would be all over it. Just ask Don Denkinger.

Obviously ESPN's treatment is influenced by the fact that most of its audience simply doesn't care who won this game, but I can't help but think that the gender of the participants played a part.

However, that doesn't mean it was ESPN's fault. After all, when the call was made, we didn't see the players or coaches running out to scream and whine, kick dirt on the umps, or lob the resin bag like a hand grenade. Perhaps women are not only the fair sex, but the more mature one?