The Mockingbird

Backpedal, Baby

with 8 comments

Ok, the Brattain lovefest is over on the MockingBird. I for one have a pretty serious chip on my shoulder when it comes to the guy. Not for any of his stuff on the Hardball Times which is pretty thoughtful, but for this article from sympatico sports, which is not only philosophically flawed but has some serious logic problems.

Obviously I wasn’t the only one who had problems with it because now he’s backpedaling. But this comes short of the complete apology and retraction that would stop me from foaming at the mouth…

1) I get the idea he says he was trying for. Unsettled pitchers and defence. Announcers remind me of it every time someone takes more than a two step lead off first base. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t exist. More balls go through the infield but batters also suffer with baserunners on the move.

We don’t have Rickey Henderson on this team anyway. (It seems Toronto fans and writers are going to be referencing him for the next century as what the team needs after he stole 7 bases in the 1989 ALCS. Does anyone remember that what really killed us was he hit .400 and had an OBP of .600?!) What pitcher is going to lose his cool with Johnny Mac dancing off first?

Anyway, this was mentioned NOWHERE in the first article. It’s all about “productive outs” and “a coherent plan” for manufacturing runs and how they Jays were leaving runners out there. Nowhere is pressure or predictability even hinted at.

2) He constantly cherrypicks stats down to the point where they have no relevance whatsoever and then presents them overdramatically. For example, in his latest article he says:

An extra run squeezed out here and there can be huge. This year, 21 of the Jays 64 losses came in games where the pitching staff held opponents to four runs or less. They lost 11 of those 21 games by one run and the other five by two runs…If the Jays managed to go 6-5 in these 11 one-run losses, they’d be a half-game back of the Yankees and in the thick of the wild card hunt.

True…if we found a way to win substantially more 1 run games then we would be in contention for the wildcard. But we weren’t bad at winning 1 run games, and there is no evidence that being able to win them at a higher rate is anything other than luck. If there was some proven way to “squeeze out a run here and there” that would be amazing. If there was some way to sprinkle these runs over one all our 1 run losses, that would be INCREDIBLE. But there isn’t and no team can.

This is about as useful a suggestion as saying that the Jays underperforming their projection because they win too many blowout games, so they should “save some of those runs” for close games.

Another example of mangling stats is in his first article:

In the 20 aforementioned at bats where the Jays were first and second nobody out, the Jays grounded into 10 double plays.


Oh my god! The Jays GIDP almost HALF the time!!! Why wouldn’t they bunt?! Oh, wait. But those are just the at-bats where the Jays were 1st and 2nd with nobody out and didn’t score. So obviously a significant numbers of times that happened because a double play happened. Do they Jays GIDP more than your normal team? No. If they bunted every time they were 1st and 2nd with nobody out would they score more runs? No. Have they bunted less that your average team this year? Well, not really. But I digress, back to the backpedal…

3) He said a LOT more than the Jays need to be more “unpredictable” in his first article. Some highlights:

The Jays bat .215/.283/.299 with men on first and second (regardless of number of outs) and he still insists of letting hitters hack away rather than moving runners up 90 feet.

So instead of giving up a productive out and having runners and second and third with one out (and a team that hits .267/.337/.414 in that situation), instead Gibbons gives the opposition two unproductive outs at no cost. The Jays end up with a man on third/two out—a situation where the Jays bat a “Royce-tastic” .226/.325/.356.

Both these quotes imply that the Jays should implement a strategy where they bunt runners over to bases that when they are occupied their team hits for a better average. I don’t even know what to say, I’m just sputtering something about sample size and that being a ridiculous way to understand baseball and try to run a team. Can you imagine? “Well, the Jays need some runs, but as a team they’re hitting much better with runners on second and third and two outs instead of first and second with one out, so Rios is squaring around…”

His lack of understanding what is going on with his team’s offence and refusing to rectify it has turned a potential playoff team into (barring a miracle) an also-ran.

I think this is the part that most people who don’t hate small ball as much as I do went ape over. Brattain started his article with a lot of bluster and cute writing about the team being “royally plucked” and implied that they should have been a contender. That probably appeals to a lot of emotional fans because this season was such a disappointment, and maybe it’s true- but for other reasons…there is NOTHING that you could strategy wise to have made this year’s offence anything but abysmal. It doesn’t matter if the point is “productive outs” or “unpredictability”, neither of them have such a huge impact as not getting on base and not hitting home runs like the Jays have done this year.

Often in the National League, runners on first and second—nobody out, or man on second (nobody out) requires a bunt to move base runner(s) over.

Just while I’m at it…this is received wisdom. The NL doesn’t really bunt much more except for their pitchers these days- about 3 times a year per team.

Anyway, I think I’m done. Just to prove I’m not just a bitter blog writer lashing out at the Ivory Tower of Hardball times writers, I agree with one point Brattain made:

If you have two men on, none out and John McDonald (an accomplished bunter) is up to bat, the defence has to decide what to do. Anticipating a bunt, they start shifting the infielders once the pitcher throws; if McDonald swings away, then the ground ball is that much harder to field and may become a base hit. Or if they’re drawn in, they have less time to react. Conversely, if they play back for the double play and he lays down a good enough bunt, then he might be able to leg it out for a hit.

I think it’s true that having the infield in at the corners or whatever might raise McDonalds average, but would be hard to detect in a stat. And if he legs out a hit through the bunt when it was really a sacrifice first, that doesn’t show up. And runners on first and second with nobody out is one of the situations (due to the possible sac fly coming and getting out of the DP) where a sacrifice bunt significantly increases the chance of scoring one run. But on the other hand, Mac is already second in the league with 11 bunts, so what’s to complain about?


Written by halejon

September 10, 2007 at 9:04 pm

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8 Responses

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  1. Oh, I forgot something last night (which I‘m trying to forget: 6-2? Please), I am not an advocate of small ball neither am I of the walk/wait for the three run bomb mindset. I just want an offense to score at least one more run than the other team and I am not fussy about how they go about doing that. I am also not in favour of an approach where the Jays score 4, 2, 4, 2, 1, 2, 2 runs over their last six games. Had the Jays been getting these results with a different offensive philosophy I would’ve written that a different approach was needed on that score as well.

    For the record, I stand fully behind the first article I wrote and make no retractions or apologies on that point. The Jays are currently 13th in the AL in runs scored and, 12th/13th/9th in BA/OBP/SLG. I’m not so beholden to a philosophy that I’m going to stick with it when the results speak loud and clear that it’s costing ballgames.

    A final point: I don’t mind constructive criticism–in fact I welcome it. I have learned much from the feedback I’ve gotten on blogs and in e-mails and I’m grateful for all of it. I don’t think I’d be writing for pay without the efforts of many many knowledgeable baseball fans who have added to my education in all matters baseball.

    Having said that, I think while some of your criticisms had merit I also think some of it was unfair. While I defend your right to blog about my articles (which I will always consider an honour and high compliment regardless of the nature of the blog post) you criticized my points in isolation. What I mean is this: You didn’t take the time to analyze my comments contextually. You regularly read my Blue Jays columns/Whine Cellar on the Hardball Times but didn’t use that as a lens to examine what I wrote on Sympatico-MSN to understand where I was coming from. Had you done that, you would’ve realized that I have only one approach to the game of baseball: Do whatever it takes to win. If something isn’t broke don’t fix it, but if it is broke–then do something about it. Had the Jays been playing small ball and scoring 4, 2, 4, 2, 1, 2, 2 runs over their last six games then my Sympatico-MSN column would be criticizing Gibbons for not realizing that what he was doing wasn’t working.

    It would’ve been nice had you dropped me a line and asked “When you wrote X did you mean Y?” You have access to my e-mail address on the Hardball Times site. Or you could’ve prefaced your posts with: “If he meant X then he has lost it.” I’m a big fan of bloggers and hope one day to see the blogosphere get the acceptance they deserve as part of the baseball writing community. However for that to happen requires that bloggers be accountable for what they write and do the same homework those in the mainstream do (or should do).

    This is a good blog. I’ve gotten some constructive feedback from it and I hope it won’t be the last time I receive it; however I would like the criticism to be, well … constructive, and for that to happen, it might not hurt to ask for clarification on something I have written before you rip it to shreds–it’ll give your postings that much more credibility and weight.

    Keep up the great work!

    “GO Jays GO!”

    Best Regards


    John Brattain

    September 15, 2007 at 11:47 am

  2. “and scoring 4, 2, 4, 2, 1, 2, 2 runs over their last *seven* games.” Dear God, that’s what I get for writing before I have had my morning carafe of coffee.

    Silly fingers. Somewhere my grade 11 math teacher is laughing.

    Best Regards


    John Brattain

    September 15, 2007 at 12:23 pm

  3. Again, I would argue that there’s no strategy or tactic in the world that is going to make a terrible AVG/OBP/SLG team a good one, or score more runs than teams that are better in those categories.

    Yes, the team right now couldn’t score on an empty net, but that doesn’t mean that there’s anything a manager can do about that, or that not trying strategies that don’t work is being stubborn. It sucks, but if a team just can’t hit, there’s no magic offensive formula- just ask teams that can’t hit year after year.

    Unless we’re talking about a change in coaching that could affect their performances, like taking more pitches or the ever popular “not trying to hit home runs”, there’s just no replacement for guys like Overbay and Wells getting anywhere near as many hits as they did last year.

    I totally agree I ripped you out of context. Pretty much gave you zero credit for dozens of insightful columns. But that doesn’t make one doozy of an article any less open for criticism, and I did preface it by saying that you’re usually “pretty thoughtful”. That’s what you get for being an authority- you’re only as good as your last rant! ☺

    But I strongly disagree with your view of the blogosphere. I think the true strength of bloggers is we are like King Lear’s fool- able to criticize the established authority (you) without worrying about being taken particularly seriously.

    It’s our job as bloggers job to fly off the handle and tell you when you’re being stupid by screaming it at the top of our voices. Evidently you’re particularly responsive and accountable, but that’s not something that individuals can or should rely on before criticizing something that is widely distributed. That’s why people read blogs- they can count on an opinion unfiltered by the restraints of language or decorum imposed by being in the mainstream, and I don’t think toning that down would lead to any more authority. It is a different kind of credibility but carries no less weight. And I have done my homework on you- that’s why I expressed surprise (and some possible chemical or psychological explanations) at you writing an article that I consider absolutely out to lunch.

    Also, as I mentioned in my follow up, I do have a hard time reading that first column as anything other than a call to give up outs to score runs by way of the sacrifice. But O.K. – let me ask you. Do you really believe that the current plan of refusing to do so has cost the team a significant number of runs over the season, and if so, how many wins could they have translated into?


    September 16, 2007 at 8:53 am

  4. And hey, hopefully my blind praise did count for something.


    September 17, 2007 at 1:51 pm

  5. Hey Jon:

    Just so you know, I’m going to expand on this in my Hardball Times column this week. That way, you can get a blog post or two dissecting what I wrote if you want. I’m going to provide a link to yours and “Maldonado Over Everything” in it along with a plug–that way folks can check out what you wrote after they read my THT column (BTW: M.O.E. raked me over the coals pretty good too but we ended up having a fun discussion about it).

    I hope that’s O.K. I’d like to drive some traffic your way because I’ve really enjoyed reading your stuff/insights and I’ve bookmarked it for future reference.

    Your points on blogs are spot on. What I meant about acceptance of the blogosphere wasn’t that you can “become mainstream,” but rather being given the same access that the mainstream media has. You can still call out the mainstream media but at the same time, access does have its privileges. For me, the biggest is watching batting practice up close; you develop a real appreciation for how difficult the act of hitting really is and you can learn a lot by listening to the batting coach taking some players through their paces.

    Same for pitchers throwing on the side.

    To give you an example of how great access can be, read this on Cito Gaston:

    Anyway, barring a catastrophe, my column will run this Friday. I’m going to add a notation in the column to check your blog a few days after it runs for any counterpoints you may have (as will I *g*).

    I did enjoy the blasts you sent my way–the worst thing that can happen to a writer is for it to stir absolutely no emotion. Ennui is a killer. Even getting ripped stirs interest and controversy and that is the goal of mainstream and blogger alike. So feel free to use your wit if you respond to it–I don’t mind put downs as long as they’re creative and funny…heck, it’s how guys talk among themselves. I’m a big boy and insults only bother me if they’re directed at my family.

    Folks write best when they feel free to express themselves without inhibition and I don’t want to cramp your style because it’s really good.

    Best Regards


    John Brattain

    September 17, 2007 at 9:00 pm

  6. Ah, great. I wish I’d done a better job and been less offensive now. I just read MOE’s dissection and your replies- very good material. Anyway, thanks and kudos for actually responding to criticism from us hacks and turning it into something positive.

    Oh, for sure…heck, that’s why I’m that ornery when someone with a press pass does so much as misuse a semi-colon. I would give my left kidney for the sort of tidbits that are swept up in the clubhouse at the end of the day. Bloggers can get the same generic quotes, stats, and official releases these days, but the minutae of what actually goes on is much more interesting, especially in baseball. The fact that Vernon hit the ball better for a couple weeks is boring. The fact that Overbay told him what was wrong because he’s a big nerd, obsessed with watching tape to the point that he’ll watch other players’ when he can’t swing a bat is awesome.

    That was a great article. Dan, a.k.a Mulliniks, a.k.a your #1 fan, posted it in the commentsway back when the Jays were winning multiple games in a row.

    Well, I’m sure I’ll have something to say, but it’s a lot harder to be outright abusive to a “big media” source of commentary when it stops by to chat. Expect a downgrade to mild sarcasm- possibly laced with bitter irony. 😉




    September 17, 2007 at 10:31 pm

  7. […] has started his own blog. No longer willing to write watered-down summaries for the masses and be ripped by internet hacks, he has thrown his hat into the ring, quickly establishing his street cred with […]

  8. […] was mostly railing at real sports journalists instead of all pitch f/x all the time, and I wrote a couple of scathing articles about his bunt fetish. To my incredible surprise and embarrassment, he came […]

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