About Matt Seybold

Matt teaches at The University of Alabama. Roll Tide. He specializes in American Literature and Rhetorical Economics. Fate chose for him the peculiar perdition of rooting for the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Torched History of Brandon McCarthy

If you’ve played fantasy baseball for any significant portion of the past ten years, you’ve probably owned Brandon McCarthy at some point. He’s one of those pitchers (Rich Harden and A.J. Burnett also come to mind) who has never had a superlative season, has rarely performed at much above replacement level; yet he possesses such apparent “potential,” and flashes it with just enough regularity, that among any group of 10-12 baseball fans, there’s bound to be somebody who’s enamored with him.

Even in 2014 there have been such glimpses, though it has been thus far, at least superficially, the worst season (.231 WPCT, 5.01 ERA) of McCarthy’s underwhelming career. Yet, few 3-10 pitchers from cellar-dwelling teams have racked up twelve strikeouts in a start or thrown eight innings of two-hit ball against a potent lineup. McCarthy lost his first five decisions, as well as ten of his first eleven, yet amidst all that, he put together one stretch of 19 innings with a 1.42 ERA and 11.4 K/9 and another stretch of 18 innings with a 1.00 ERA and 10.0 K/9. Between those two stretches, the White Sox torched him for seven earned runs in three and a third.

McCarthy began his career as a much-heralded 21-year-old prospect on the South Side. During the White Sox serendipitous 2005 Championship season, McCarthy, who dominated Spring Training, was the source of constant “should they or shouldn’t they” speculation on Chicago sports radio. Think Phil Hughes circa 2007. Yet, befitting the comparison, the White Sox spent two years bouncing McCarthy back and forth between AAA, the major-league rotation, and the bullpen. Seemingly incapable of committing to him, the Sox made him the centerpiece of a trade for John Danks prior to the ’07 season.

McCarthy’s four seasons in Texas were filled with misfortune, both on and off the field. He joined a stable of young pitching prospects (C. J. Wilson, Derek Holland, Edison Volquez, Matt Harrison, Tommy Hunter, Scott Feldman, Neftali Feliz) competing for only a few spots on the MLB roster. Many had better pedigrees and more familiarity with the Rangers coaching staff. McCarthy continued to bounce around, his main weakness, a propensity for the long ball, being exacerbated by the Rangers home park. Even when he put together a quality stretch, an injury would sideline him and by the time he returned, another pitcher would be entrenched in the rotation. Injuries eventually forced him to miss the entirety of 2010, after which he entered free agency.

Still, he was just 26 years old, he had shown his characteristic flashes of brilliance, even while pitching in unfriendly confines. McCarthy was a prototypical low-risk, high-reward target for Billy Beane and the Athletics, who signed him for 2 years and $5 Million. He outperformed his salary by about 500%. Between 2011 and 2012 McCarthy made 43 starts, compiled a 3.29 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and a 4.0 K/BB rate. Unfortunately, a gruesome comebacker ended his season in September of 2012 and, though he helped the A’s make the playoffs, McCarthy still has yet to register a postseason inning.

After reestablishing his value in Oakland, McCarthy signed his current deal (2 yr., $18 Mil.) with the D-Backs, perhaps unwisely returning to a bandbox ballpark. That said, his poor record and ERA is quite misleading. His FIP has remained consistent over the last three seasons (always between 3.75 and 3.79) and, in 2014, he has the best strikeout rate of his career (7.6 K/9) and second-best K/BB (4.65). Most importantly, considering the Yankees needs, he has not missed a start and has logged 6+ IP twelve times.

At 30 years old, it may be hard to imagine McCarthy every equalling or eclipsing his relatively modest peak in Oakland, but a return to anything near that level would make him easily the Yankees #2 starter. Continue reading The Torched History of Brandon McCarthy

Is the AL Beast in decline?

For the last decade, the AL East has been the unrivaled “best division in baseball.” In 2008, free-spending perennial contenders in New York and Boston were shocked when Tampa Bay, long a punchline, won the division, breaking a ten-year stretch of either the Yankees or Red Sox finishing first. Only once during that decade did the other not finish second. Since then, Tampa has picked up another divisional crown, as well as two Wild Cards, and has never finished below .500. The two juggernauts have continued to rattle off 85-95 win seasons (save for putrid 2012 Sox), and more recently, the Orioles have joined the fray. Even the Jays consistent mediocrity (between 73 and 87 wins in every season since 2004) help make The Beast host of many a harrowing road trip for teams from the West Coast, Midwest, and National League.

Run differentials and divisional winning percentages from the past seven seasons tell the tale:

  • 2013: +222 (1st), .534 (1st)
  • 2012: +123 (2nd), .519 (2nd)
  • 2011: +271 (1st), .528 (1st)
  • 2010: +248 (1st), .532 (1st)
  • 2009: +239 (1st), .520 (2nd)
  • 2008: +333 (1st), .538 (1st)
  • 2007: +180 (1st), .504 (3rd)

But the Beast’s reign of terror may be coming to an end…or at least an interlude.

As of the start of games on Monday, no team in the division has a positive run differential and the overall differential (-35) is worse than every division except the NL West (-43). The Beast is the only division which has less than two teams above .500.

Perhaps more worrisome than these early returns is the rash of injuries, particularly to pitchers, which has exposed a lack of depth, even for the division’s creme de la creme. This week the Yankees must once again turn to Vidal Nuno (6.59 ERA), the Rays will rely upon 35-year-old Erik Bedard (7.45 ERA) and rookie Jake Odorizzi (6.52 ERA), and the Blue Jays will debate whether to replace reclamation project Dustin McGowan (6.88 ERA). Yankees fans are all to aware of similar issues which plague the lineup.

Every MLB team deals with injuries to key players. One reason the AL East has remained a powerhouse over the last decade is that these teams have excelled at compensating for such injuries. The Red Sox have done it by building a deep bench, getting the most out of platoon players and career minor leaguers. The Yankees have generally filled gaps with in-season acquisitions. The Rays seem to have an endless stockpile of major-league ready prospects. Perhaps each of these teams will again manage to get excellent production out of patchwork rosters for the next several months. However, the early returns are not encouraging and there seem to be no obvious readymade solutions. Continue reading Is the AL Beast in decline?

How good could the 2015 infield really be?

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The objections to signing Stephen Drew (and even to trading for the likes of Nick Franklin) are founded on a fear of precluding future opportunities. This is a legitimate concern. The structure of the CBA has long dictated that franchises spend according to the arbitrary makeup of each free agent class, rather than the makeup of the league as a whole. In recent years, those classes have included fewer elite players and thus teams frequently pay premiums on the most volatile veterans.

Drew now finds himself in a class more or less by himself, courted by a number of contenders which have pressing needs in the infield. It is a formula for inflation and Yankees fans are right to by wary. That said, the objection to Drew must be supported by a preference for reasonable alternatives. Derek Jeter will retire in October…November at the latest. On the current roster, his successor is either an unremarkable 27-year-old rookie or a 31-year-old defensive replacement whose career OPS ranks 1,257th out of the 1,302 players who have at least 2,600 PA during the integration era.

And Jeter’s is not the only vacancy the Yankees will need to fill in 2015.

The criticisms of Drew are applicable to most every infielder in the impending free agent class. Many have fixated upon J. J. Hardy, because Manny Machado is presumably Baltimore’s shortstop of the future. There are only three everyday shortstops in the majors who are older than Hardy: Jeter, Jimmy Rollins, and Alexei Ramirez. Since joining the AL in 2009, Hardy has an OBP of .302. His productivity is entirely tied to his ability to hit for power and his defensive acumen. These skills don’t age particularly well.

Like Hardy, Asdrubal Cabrera will likely cede his position to a blue chipper, Francisco Lindor, in 2015. Cabrera is a two-time All-Star who doesn’t turn 29 until November. He’s a switch-hitter who produces from both sides and is capable of double-digit homers and steals. Sounds good, right? But there is a worrisome trend worth watching in 2014…

Cabrera Decline

Obviously, it’s premature to judge this year’s numbers. Maybe he can break the pattern. But if this proves to be Cabrera’s third consecutive season of noticeable decline, would you be confident giving him the 3-4 year deal he’ll likely demand? Is he a safer bet than Drew?

The best free agent infielder of 2015 is Hanley Ramirez. That is, if the free-wheeling Dodgers allow him to become a free agent. Given their recent track record, LA probably won’t hesitate to give HanRam a nine-figure deal, assuming he gives them anything near the 1.040 OPS he posted in 2013. If they let him walk, it will likely be because he’s 31 and missed extended time in three out of four years, which should spell caution for the Yanks as well. They already have a stable of brittle thirty-somethings.

This is not a campaign for Stephen Drew. Depending on price, his liabilities may equal or exceed those of Hardy, Cabrera, Ramirez, etc. My point, rather, is that no magical solution to the Yankees apparent infield problems awaits them if they merely grin and bear it until the offseason.

Maybe, by December, the Blue Jays will be looking to unload Jose Reyes, who will be a 32-years-old with a history of leg injuries. Maybe the Rangers will be fed up with Elvis Andrus, whose development seems to have stalled, and who is owed $108 Million through 2022. Maybe the Cubs will clear out Starlin Castro to make room for Javier Baez, but probably only if he again fails to live up to the promise of his first three seasons. Maybe 31-year-old Jed Lowrie will be coming off the first two seasons of his career in which he played more than 97 games.

Unless the Yankees believe a more established, productive long-term solution like Andrus and Castro is guaranteed to be available this winter, they may be best served by trying to acquire a young, low-risk player like Franklin, Didi Gregorius, Charlie Culberson, or Tyler Pastornicky. Such a player could be useful in a utility role in 2014, benefit from being Jeter’s caddy, and could become a building block for the new era.

These are the kind of risks which are necessary to compete nor that more teams have more money and more intelligent front offices. The best teams gamble on younger players, not only so they can benefit from their prime production, but also just to have the opportunity to sign them to fiscally sound contracts.

There was a time when contenders could be built largely, if not exclusively, through free agency. That time has passed. We’ve entered an era in which players, especially elite players, rarely, if ever, enter free agency until they are declining. By objecting to Drew, Yankees fans (and the Yankees front office) are essentially acknowledging this. Few free agents are much better, relative to their positions, than Drew is. The problem is, Yankees fans are also always already promised a championship. Championships are not won with Dean Anna playing everyday. The Yankees most heralded infield prospects are at least two years from contributing. We’re going to have to find some middle ground. Continue reading How good could the 2015 infield really be?

Infield Trade Targets?

The rash of injuries to Yankees infielders has led to rampant Stephen Drew speculation and the requisite denials. “Drew Day” is probably six weeks away regardless, as Scott Boras, having overplayed his hand this winter, has a new opportunity to create a sellers market once Drew’s draft compensation expires in June. Moreover, the timetable for signing a free agent, likely measured in weeks, isn’t exactly conducive to the Yankees pressing need. Players acquired via trade, on the other hand, may be available in as little as 24 hours. While pursuing this course of action probably depends on today and tomorrow’s injury updates, here are what I believe to be some realistic options. None of these players are world-beaters, but they are proven major-leaguers whose skill sets make them amenable not only filling current gaps, but being valuable in various roles throughout the season.

Nick Franklin – 2B/SS – Seattle Mariners

Franklin’s youth (23) and pre-arbitration status make him an asset of considerable value and a somewhat unlikely trade chip. However, rumors circulated this spring that Seattle was looking to deal whomever lost the competition for the starting shortstop job. Brad Miller won and is having a decent start, with 3 HR in his first 12 games. Franklin, meanwhile, has clearly outgrown AAA (1.207 OPS this year, .912 in 2013). Franklin displays very good power for his position, and slightly above average speed, defense, and plate discipline. His rookie season featured modest production (.225/.303/.382, 1.9 bWAR, 102 GP) in the unfriendly confines of Safeco Field, but his power should play better elsewhere (8 of his 12 HR came on the road). Moreover, as a switch-hitter with experience at both middle-infield positions, he would give Girardi flexibility either in the starting lineup or coming of the bench.

DRAWBACKS: It’s a minor flaw, but Franklin’s power is primarily from the right side, so he’s not a perfect match for YS3. More importantly, because he’s an inexpensive young player with upside, the cost will be steep, probably including one of the Yankees top 10, if not top 5 prospects.

Rickie Weeks – 2B – Milwaukee Brewers

This is clearly the classic Cashman move. After two subpar seasons, Weeks has fallen out of favor in Milwaukee. Despite a strong Spring Training, the Brewers handed their starting job to an underwhelming prospect, Scooter Gennett. They would likely jump at the opportunity to unload the potentially bitter ex-cornerstone and the $10 Million or so remaining on his contract. Weeks may be rejuvenated by a new situation and, at 31, there’s no reason to believe he has nothing left in the tank. Unlike the other players on this list, Weeks is capable of carrying a team during his hot streaks. He possesses premium power for his position, as well as excellent plate discipline.

DRAWBACKS: Weeks should only be considered as a permanent starting 2B if Brian Roberts proves unequal to the task. He’s been a starter his whole career. He has never played another position and he is one hit since 2007 as a pinch-hitter. Also, for the past two seasons, Weeks has been a putrid defender. This was not the case during his prime. Perhaps, as with his offense, some of this might be attributed to ambivalence as the Brewers slipped from contender to bottom-feeder. One might surmise than, like Alfonso Soriano, Weeks needs to play in meaningful games again. One might also surmise that, like Vernon Wells, he’s toast.

Cliff Pennington – 2B/SS – Arizona Diamondbacks

While some speculation has been directed towards Didi Gregorius, who lost the D-Backs starting shortstop competition this spring to Chris Owings, I think Gregorius’s potential is limited if he isn’t the everyday shortstop, which can’t happen in New York until 2015. The Yankees might, however, be interested in another member of Arizona’s infield rotation. After three years as Oakland’s everyday shortstop, the switch-hitting defensive whiz, Pennington, is recasting himself as a utility infielder. In relatively small samples at second and third, Pennington has continued to flash the leather. Committing to a player like Pennington isn’t about scoring runs, but rather preventing them, and thus also protecting a starting rotation which has clearly been effected by the porous infield in these early weeks. Pennington doesn’t have as much offensive upside as the other players on this list, but he does have patience (4.02 P/PA for career), which fits the Yankee approach, and he doesn’t become a free agent until 2016, so he could be a cost-effective part of next year’s in flux infield as well.

DRAWBACKS: He’s 29 and his offensive production hasn’t improved a lick, despite four full seasons in the majors. At this point, his career aspiration is to become Nick Punto.
Continue reading Infield Trade Targets?

The Elephant Seal Paradox

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In the first chapter of The Darwin Economy, Cornell economist Robert Frank uses Charles Darwin’s analysis of elephant seal populations to explain the difference between the beneficent forces of healthy competition and the disastrous repercussions of blind self-interest. Darwin found that the primary determinant for mating privileges among male elephant seals was shear size. When two males quarreled over a harem, the larger one usually won. However, that same girth also made seals attractive to predators. The bigger the seal, the more likely he was to be eaten by a shark. Thus, Darwin postulated, elephant seals were actually selecting themselves into extinction. As the species grew larger, the population of males to reach mating age grew smaller. Natural selection, but not rational selection.

The lesson of the elephant seal, according to Frank, applies to the “invisible hand” of free enterprise as well. While markets are supposed to channel self-interest for the common good, sometimes what benefits the individual comes at the expense of the community, even the expense of civilization itself. Frank credits Adam Smith with understanding this caveat better than many contemporary economists. While Smith generally favored laissez faire, he conceded the necessity of vigilant government intervention in industries that became overrun with “bloated seals.” Frank suggests, of course, that contemporary finance has suffered such a fate. Radically unequal distributions of wealth lead to inefficient markets, which function as a breeding ground for a diminishing population of overweight, oversexed seals.

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I believe the elephant seal paradox also has a baseball correlative. In December of 2012, in response to Dan Rosenheck’s skeptical critique of Marvin Miller’s legacy for The Economist, I surmised that income inequalities in professional baseball mimicked those of the United States as a whole. In the intervening months I have been slowly gathering and analyzing salary data from the past several decades to test this hypothesis and its implications. Over the course of the season, taking the masthead quite literally, I’ll be presenting some of my findings. The potentially groundbreaking Miguel Cabrera contract provides me with an opportunity to offer a little prequel.

This is not a diatribe on “greedy” players. What criticisms I have, I’d lay at the doorstep of the commissioner’s office, MLBPA negotiators, and, to a slightly lesser extent, player agents. While the analogy may be unflattering, Cabrera and the other players we might label “bloated seals” bear little responsibility for creating the inefficient system in which they are the arbitrary beneficiaries.

When the MLBPA and agents applaud a deal like Cabrera’s or Clayton Kershaw‘s, they frequently cite it as evidence that players (labor) are demanding their due share of MLB’s ever-increasing revenue. This narrative is compelling when you consider only elite earners. The top 3-5% of salaries in MLB have trended consistently upward both in total dollars and as a percentage of total payroll. However, consideration of the other 95% of major-leaguers (not to mention thousands of unrepresented professionals in the farm systems) paints a different picture, one of stagnation, particularly on franchises which employ one or more players in that elite class. For example, if you ignore the 3-4 Yankees who make upwards of $20 Mil. annually, both the mean and median salaries of Yankees with major-league contracts has actually declined in every season since 2009, and that’s without adjusting for inflation.

Income stagnation for the overwhelming majority of the American workforce, even during the boom years of the ’90s and early ’00s is one of the most troublesome aspects of the Great Recession. In baseball, I see a surprising analogue. Although the revenue growth of MLB is, by all accounts, very healthy, only a small cross-section of player salaries trend upward accordingly. The earning potential of the vast majority of players has changed very little over the course of the last decade. This disparity seems even more inefficient when you consider the almost inevitably declining productivity of the wealthiest players:

% of Yankees WAR / % of Total Payroll (Players Earning $20 Mil.+)
2009: 28% / 37%
2010: 30% / 49%
2011: 25% / 39%
2012: 18% / 38%
2013: 0.7% / 43%

Consider the inversion of these figures as well. In 2013, the players responsible for 99.3% of the Yankees production earned only 57% of the payroll and were paid on average about $1 Million less than analogous players from the 2009 club. This structure, shared by many, but not all MLB teams, rewards a few players more for doing less as they age, while most players struggle to earn what their productivity justifies, even during their prime seasons. In the Yankees case, the average rostered player with a salary under $20 Mil. produced 1.44 WAR in 2013 and earned about $4.5 Mil. Considering each Win Above Replacement was worth about $5.2 Million in 2013, the average Yankee was underpaid by about $3 Mil. (or about 66% of his actual salary).

I recognize that the $20 Mil. plateau is arbitrary (although it roughly distinguishes the upper 2.5% of MLB salaries in 2013) and the Yankees situation is not necessarily representative. However, although the disparities might not prove to be as extreme, the evidence I’ve collected thus far suggest such inequities are consistent throughout the league.

Obviously, fully rectifying this disparity requires a new CBA. It requires the MLBPA to reform its mission. And it likely requires the majority of professional baseball players to recognize that their personal interests are not always aligned with those of their agents or their union, at least as currently comprised. Strangely enough, the majority of player interests are probably more closely aligned with those of management. A more equal distribution of salaries not only offers better financial stability and incentives to more athletes, but also reduces the risk of any one contract, gives GMs more payroll flexibility, and likely creating a more competitive market for the vast majority of free agents. Continue reading The Elephant Seal Paradox

Tempering Expectations For Tanaka

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Brian Cashman made some carefully worded and much publicized statements about Masahiro Tanaka earlier this week. Among other things, he characterized Tanaka’s upside as a “#3 starter.” One can reasonably conclude that Cashman’s declarations were designed to temper expectations, relieve pressure, and perhaps even implicitly acknowledge the potential competitive advantage of pitching in the middle of the rotation.

Cashman also pointed to several oft-overlooked factors which make the transition from the Nippon League to MLB challenging. As has been widely observed due to the publicity surrounding Tanaka’s exceptionally long postseason outings in 2013, Japanese starters throw more pitches per outing, but they also pitch less often. The strike zone is called substantially larger in Nippon, so more contact is encouraged, lineups have fewer power hitters, and a greater premium is placed on defensive ability. Even the ball is different, slightly smaller.

It seems logical that Cashman and Yankees fans expect some growing pains during Tanaka’s rookie season (as you would with any rookie). Previous high-profile Japanese starting pitchers have almost uniformly been adversely effected by their transition to MLB. Here is a graph of average monthly Game Scores (a Bill James invention featured at Baseball-Reference.com) for Yu Darvish, Hiroki Kuroda, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hisashi Iwakuma, and Hideo Nomo during their first seasons in America.

Japanese Imports Year 1As you can see, performance is all over the map, even for pitchers who had relatively successful opening campaigns (only Nomo had a truly great year). Every one of these pitchers had an average Game Score under 60 during their first month as a starter in the United States. Several sunk even lower at various points during the season, but every pitcher also posted a 12-15 point jump during an equal stretch later in the year. It may be interesting to note that three pitchers – Darvish, Dice-K, and Nomo – followed relatively similar patterns through August, after which they diverged dramatically for the final month. One might surmise the each responded differently to another distinct difference between NPB and MLB: the longer season. Continue reading Tempering Expectations For Tanaka

Does the order of the starting rotation matter? Or “Second is the best.”

One of the popular talking points in the wake of the Masahiro Tanaka signing has been the ideal order of the Yankees rotation. The question of how Joe Girardi will line up Tanaka, C.C. Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Ivan Nova has been an object of speculation not only on talk radio, but even amongst the more sabermetrically inclined, including here at IIATMS. I was surprised by the intensity of interest in this topic because for quite some time I have been operating under the assumption that the order of the rotation does not really matter. At some point, I tallied this an established baseball truth. However, when I attempted to figure out why I was persuaded of this belief, I came up empty. (If anybody does know of a comprehensive study on this subject, please make reference to it in the comments.)

So, I began doing some analysis myself. Those who argue about the order of the rotation premise that argument on two primary assumptions. First, pitchers at the top of the rotation get more starts. And, second, pitchers at the top of the rotation face tougher competition. I was most interested in this second assumption, which I wanted to analyze from two perspectives. First, in terms of intent: Do top of the rotation starters consistently face other pitchers at the top of the rotation? Second, in terms of results: Regardless of how they “rank,” do top-of-the-rotation starters actually face competition that performs better?

The findings that follow are by no means comprehensive. To get truly convincing answers to these questions, a larger sample would be preferable, as would assessment based on more advanced metrics (for instance, FIP). But, alas, that requires time and resources I don’t have. My cursory attempt does suggest it may be a project worth pursuing, because my results, though inconclusive, are intriguing. Continue reading Does the order of the starting rotation matter? Or “Second is the best.”

Is Distribution of Wealth a Problem for MLBPA?

On Monday, Dan Rosenheck of The Economist responded to the “predictably hagiographic” coverage of Marvin Miller’s death by outlining  what he calls the “mixed legacy” of the founder and longtime leader of the MLBPA. No doubt several of Rosenheck’s points are imminently debatable, as should be expected. His is, after all, a contrarian position. During the early stages of Miller’s tenure he was up against the only federally-sanctioned monopoly in American history. It was difficult to perfect MLB’s compensatory system when the compensators had grown accustomed to having no system at all. In the latter stages Miller chose to prioritize relevant privacy issues over the long term maximization of revenue, as Rosenheck would’ve preferred. Union negotiators are frequently tasked with a precarious balancing act. Certainly, Miller, like any man in his position, made some difficult rationalizations and, inevitably, evaluators of Miller’s legacy from both camps will be victims of their own hindsight biases.

That said, the centerpiece of Rosenheck’s argument is extremely compelling. The system of free agency which is “often cited as Mr. Miller’s crowning achievement,” though it “maximised total wages…also created a grossly unfair dichotomy among the players between the haves and the have-nots.” The majority of professional baseball players, youngsters toiling in the minor leagues, “are effectively still bound by the old reserve clause” which Curt Flood famously described as means of re-legalizing slavery. Many are quick to dismiss the economic challenges facing professional athletes. The “well-paid slave” is obviously an oxymoron. But underlying Rosenheck’s argument is evidence that the baseball player’s plight may be more familiar to many Americans than they suspect. In the wake of the Occupy movement and the Obama-Romney election most IIATMS readers are probably accustomed to seeing graphs like this one:

What follows is an analogous chart for professional baseball:
(Click “view full post” to read more)

Continue reading Is Distribution of Wealth a Problem for MLBPA?

Losing v. Loss: Postseason Pariahs, Viral Anxiety, & Behavioral Sabermetrics

It was meme of the month: even before they lost, the Yankees were lost. They were lost without Derek Jeter. Nick Swisher looked lost at the plate. Curtis Granderson appeared to have lost his eyesight. Robinson Cano had lost his mojo. Joe Girardi lost his father. According to Donald Trump at least, A-Rod “didn’t have a clue.” The Yankees offensive collapse was historic and, as such, inspired hyperbole. “Lostness” was the metaphor of choice, not only on Twitter and the message boards, but, increasingly, in mainstream outlets like the New York Post, New York Magazine, and ESPN. Will Leitch’s conclusion following Game Three of the ALCS included a line which took the trope to its inevitable extreme: “They look lost; they look like they’re carrying their bats upside down.”

Especially at the lunatic fringe, as represented by Trump’s typically opportunist rant, the implication was clear: What the team was suffering was more than just a slump. It testified to some greater, probably moral, failing.

(click “view full post” to read more) Continue reading Losing v. Loss: Postseason Pariahs, Viral Anxiety, & Behavioral Sabermetrics