Daze of Future Passed

I swap sports magazines with my friend Z-bo. He subscribes to Sports Illustrated, while I get ESPN: The Magazine, just because it comes free with my online Insider sub. We save them up for 3-4 months and then trade, so by the time I get around to reading SI, it’s old news — which can be interesting in its own way.

From the “Hot/Not” box in SI’s June 11 issue:


“Oakland is laughably bad, having lost 10 of 11 and ranking 28th or worse in every major offensive statistic except HRs.”

When that was written, the A’s were 23-31. As of June 11, the date on the magazine, they were 26-35, a season-worst 9 games under .500; they were last in the division, 9 games behind Texas.

Flash forward: Starting June 12, they won 5 in a row, sparking a 27-9 run that led to a 68-33 close-out. They never lost 4 straight the rest of the way, and they averaged 5 runs per game for those last 101 contests.

Now, nobody foresaw such a turnaround. Still, whoever dubbed them “laughably bad” deserves a rookie hazing. Anyone who’s followed the big leagues closely for even a few years knows that neither a 23-31 record nor losing 10 of 11 is unusual. The record projects to 69-93; worse marks are posted every single year — five teams in 2012, three in 2011. And even a good team can lose 10 of 11: The Dodgers closed June on a 1-11 skid, blowing a 5-game division lead and falling to 43-36; they finished 86-76. Baltimore lost 9 of 11 from May into June, dropping from 1st place.


In a more personal vein, here’s the wrap to Joe Sheehan’s coverage of Johan‘s no-hitter:

“Santana has come through surgery with both the physical ability and the skill adjustments to be the Mets’ ace for the rest of his time in New York.”

Flash forward: [Sigh…] Johan made 10 starts after the no-no, going 3-7 with a [gulp] 8.27 ERA and .964 OPS. He went out for the year in August with back inflammation, leaving a trail of five straight starts yielding 6+ runs. Just once before had he ever given 6+ runs in even two straight starts.

I’m not really poking fun at Joe Sheehan; I’m sure my own remarks at the time were even more optimistic. But the lesson is: If a pitcher’s been out for a year after surgery, give him a full season before you predict his future.


Our last one is kind of intriguing. A poll of MLB players published in that June 11 issue asked:

“Who is the most overrated pitcher in the game?”
— The winner: 
C.J. Wilson.

I don’t know when the poll was done, but at press time Wilson had a 2.54 ERA, which he trimmed to 2.43 by the All-Star break. In 2011, he had a 2.94 ERA, 150 ERA+ and 206 strikeouts. And in 2010, his first year as a starter, he went 15-8, 3.35.


True, it only took 14% of the vote to “win” that survey, but it still surprised me.

Flash forward: Score one for the electorate. Wilson’s second half saw a 4-5 record and 5.54 ERA.

I’m just guessing, but maybe the voters were reacting to his new Angels contract (5 years, $75 million) — which some folks thought excessive at the time, though you’d hardly think so now — and/or his 2011 postseason (0-3 with a 5.79 ERA and no Quality Starts in 5 tries).


Daze of Future Passed — 42 Comments

    • b, I didn’t want to offend anyone who likes The Magazine — there must be some, right? — but yeah, I think it’s mostly awful. Style over substance.

      • I got a subscription as a gift for X-Mas last year and, yeah, the less said the better. This same person informed me this weekend during our belated X-Mas celebration that she’d re-upped my brother and I’s subscription for another year.

        I think you can imagine our faked response.(also, no offense to anyone who enjoys this publication.)

        • My buddy Z-bo has gotten his S.I. as a gift subscription for roughly 20 years now. So, if you *don’t* want to keep getting The Magazine, you might want to say something this year. :)

          • I think feelings would be hurt if something was said, so I’ll keep taking mine to my doctor’s office, which really seems the perfect setting for this rag.

          • Although I haven’t regularly read SI for probably 20 years at least there was a time when they had some pretty decent writers and even occasionally had some in-depth analysis of some of the more complicated issues surrounding sports.

            On the other hand all I have seen of ESPN was when a colleague at work would occasionally bring in his copy when he was done with it a few years ago plus maybe waiting to get my haircut or something. It was so choppy and over the top that after a couple of minutes of attempting to read it I would have a headache and find myself totally unable to concentrate or focus for several minutes afterwards. I have seen cartoons directed towards 3 and 4 year olds that had more respect for their intended audiences intelligence.

    • I begged ESPN asking to not send me the magazine. I get it automatically by having an “insider” account. I even offered to pay more money to not have the magazine sent to me. I’ve never read a single article in it. When it arrives every month, I take it from my mailbox, walk into my home, and chuck it straight into the trash. Lousy design, lousy articles.

  1. Kind of reminds one of comments on this site around that time on Konerko and a little earlier on Pujols. It’s a long season.

    • nsb, I certainly made some ga-ga observations about Konerko, who was hitting .399 on May 27 (and hit .254 the rest of the way). I hope that I don’t make many predictions or pronouncements, but even as observations, many do turn out “laughably bad.” :)

      Matter of fact, I recall something about a nondescript journeyman whom the Rays were foolishly using as their closer….

  2. I have to admit that fairly well along into the season I not only felt that would the A’s be bad but epically bad possibly even historically bad. Even thru much of their hot streak I believed it was just some sort of a fluke and that before the season was over that they would come crashing back down to reality.

    But even I knew that even after Santana threw his no-no that it was foolhardy to call him all the way back.

    • I guess I’d forgotten how much turnover there was on Oakland’s roster from 2011-12, especially in the lineup.

      2011 regulars (50+ games):
      C – Kurt Suzuki, traded
      1B – Conor Jackson, traded August 2011
      1B – Daric Barton, moved to bench
      2B – Jemile Weeks, retained (but he didn’t hit)
      SS – Cliff Pennington, retained (but he didn’t hit)
      3B – Scott Sizemore, retained (but missed entire year)
      LF – Josh Willingham, left as free agent
      CF – Coco Crisp, retained
      RF – David DeJesus, left as free agent
      DH – Hideki Matsui, left as free agent
      OF – Ryan Sweeney, traded in the Bailey-for-Reddick deal
      2B – Mark Ellis, traded June 2011


      • Not to mention that probably your most highly regarded everyday player (Suzuki) would put up an OPS+ of 49 when he still was with your team, that your most promising already-established young player (Weeks) would flop at the plate (OPS+ 70), that your once highly regarded not-quite-but-almost-a-rookie slugger (Carter) would hit .239. that your most successful reclamation project from the year before (McCarthy) would be lost to you for almost half of the season and that he would be replaced by a journeyman minor-league pitcher (Blackley) who last pitched in the majors- briefly and unsuccessfully- 5 years prior, that BRANDON INGE would eventually have been your answer at third base…

        …if I had know all that on top of what we were looking at going into the season you wouldn’t have had to even give me odds in order for me to bet that they would lose 120 games. Or worse.

  3. Apropos of prediction, has anyone read Nate Silver’s book? I’m about halfway through it now and it’s quite a good read. The section on baseball won’t be massively illuminating to anyone here, but it’s all interesting nevertheless.

  4. Since I sort of tweaked Joe Sheehan about Johan, I’d like to plug him for a line of thought that I find intriguing. This is from his newsletter, quoted by a couple of sources — I haven’t subscribed to him yet, but I might.

    Making a sort of analogy between steroids and amphetamines:

    “There were 40 300-inning [pitcher] seasons from 1931-1960. There were 37 from 1971-1980. There has not been one since then … The amphetamine era featured just as many statistical anomalies as did the steroid era, but there was no connection between the two reported. No one cared. Why that is the case is a topic for a book, I’d imagine, but you cannot defend the idea that steroids alone fundamentally changed the game’s statistics in a way that the previous generation’s drug of choice didn’t.”

    Any reviews of Sheehan’s newsletter would be welcome.

    • I like Sheehan and read this earlier today also, but doesn’t the 70s pitcher usage have a lot to do with a trend occurring across all of baseball and the fact that this particular decade featured a glut of Hall of Fame pitchers in their prime? Niekro, Carlton, Seaver, Perry, Jenkins, Catfish, Palmer, Blyleven, Sutton, Ryan, etc. You can quibble with my usage of “prime” and the particular years involved, but the point stands. And we haven’t even talked about Rick Reuschel, Wilbur Wood, Vida Blue, etc.

      I think drawing any sort of analogy between steroids and amphetamines remains a pretty weak argument.

      • Devil’s advocate reply: Do we know that those pitchers you cite didn’t use greenies?

        I haven’t actually formed an opinion on Sheehan’s thesis yet. And I think there are several factors in the high IP counts of the ’70s, including the fact that stars were making some serious coin for the first time (even before free agency) and owners tried to get their money’s worth.

        Also, of those 37 300-IP seasons:
        – 8 came from knuckleballers Niekro and Wood.
        – 4 came from Gaylord Perry, who threw greaseballs.
        – 5 were managed by Billy Martin, a notorious pumper of aces’ innings: Lolich ’71-’73, Fergie ’74, Catfish ’75 (he also had 299 in ’76 under Billy).
        – 2 came from Carlton, one of the first fitness freaks.

        I’m just thinking out loud here.

        • Reply to devil’s advocate: if Billy Martin had managed in the ’90s, would he have asked Andy Pettitte to pitch 300 innings?

          • Yes.

            Seriously, I think the question is would he be allowed to do that, or could he do that. When Martin managed in the 70s, teams were using a modified 4-man rotation, having a fifth starter available, but not always slotting the #5 as part of the regular rotation. The #1 pitchers (I’m talking guys like Catfish Hunter and Jim Palmer and Ferguson Jenkins) were going to start just about every 4th games, leading to 38-41 starts. Martin especially liked having one guy who he could count on to go out and have a complete game, even if he had to gut his way from innings 1-9.

            While we wouldn’t see that today, I don’t think starting that many games, or pitching 260+ innings is necessarily an issue. I believe pitchers could do that today, but they won’t get the chance because teams will never go back to four-man rotations. Much of the developing research on pitcher arm injuries centers around in-game fatigue, causing a pitcher’s mechanics to break down, resulting in arm injuries. It could all come down to one thrown pitch when the pitcher is fatigued.

            Someone like Catfish Hunter was a workhorse, but his innings ramped up in 1974, and even more so in 1975. In his final thirteen starts of 1975, Hunter had twelve complete games, including a ten-inning CG the final start of the year. (Hey, he has all Winter to rest up!) Hunter led the league in innings pitched at 328, the high-water mark of his career, and became the first pitcher in a generation to complete 30 games in a season and pitch over 300 innings. No pitcher has done that since, although Rick Langford on another Billy Martin/Art Fowler team did do a 290/28 five years later in 1980. Those 28 complete games were in 33 starts, so as Hunter did in 1975, when Langford took the mound, he was pretty much going to complete the game, regardless. There was no reason to push Hunter that hard down the stretch in 1975 beyond the fact that they could. They really didn’t know better, and he was the first big free agent. Hunter said himself, with the money he was being paid, he’d wash Mr. Steinbrenner’s car before each game if that’s what they wanted. The following spring, in 1976, there were comments about the loss of some velocity and Hunter having some arm issues. Yet he pitched another 300 innings. As said, I don’t think it was quite the volume of innings as it was that they pushed him a bit too hard at times when he was growing fatigued in a game. If they had simply pulling back on twenty or thirty innings as the season progressed and when he was tired it might have made a significant difference.

            So oddly, my point is someone like Hunter was pushed harder because of the money he was being paid. Today, a pitcher would be pulled back, perhaps too much, because of the money he’s being paid.

          • I don’t know, Mike. The last 300 IP season was by Steve Carlton in 1980. I don’t think we’ll ever see another unless something drastically shifts. Times have changed.

      • I agree, Jim. If the enhancement levels of amphetamines were near the enhancement levels of steroids (or higher) then they would still be a problem, considering that, unlike ‘roids, amphetamines were never really tracked down by the league.

  5. Question for other ESPN “Insiders”: As of a few weeks back, I find it impossible to post a comment without a Facebook account, which I don’t have and never will. Does this gibe with your experience?

    I’ve written to them twice asking them (a) to confirm that was their new policy (I always wonder if I’m just having some obscure technical difficulty), and (b) to explain it. They replied both times, but never answered either question.

    • JA, yes, your take is correct. They’ve been transitioning over from their own posting system to one integrated with FaceBook. While ESPN’s has been one of the more agressive implementations, it’s not unusual at all nowadays to try and comment on stories on different sites and be pushed to log in through FaceBook. I find the whole process offensive. For one, it will default to automatically posting your comment on your FaceBook wall, so everyone of your friends and business acquaintances will see it. Sometimes this is fine, sometimes it is not. Even worse, you need to remain signed in to your FaceBook account for the comment to remain on ESPN. So even if you had a FaceBook account and then wrote a thoughtful repsonse and then signed off of FaceBook (something you should always do for security reasons), the comment disappears and will only reappear when you sign back in.And you don’t have to still be on the ESPN site for this to happen. You could leave ESPN and come here to HHS, and then remember to sign out out of FaceBook, and your comment over at ESPN will instantly disappear. That’s because FaceBook, and also now ESPN, are tracking your every move across the Web. And in that, you now know the answer why publishers and media sites are partnering with FaceBook. It’s money made off of you.

      Another equally disturbing FaceBook trend is if you read an article on a site with a FaceBook affiliation, your friends might be notified you read the article if you’re not careful in properly selecting privacy settings and if you accidentally opt into this notification feature. A former girlfriend from years back connected with me (another odd trend) and she accidentally gave Yahoo and Facebook permission to notify all her FaceBook friends which articles she was reading. She’s a very serious business person to most, but on her personal side she reads some pretty frivolous junk as her way to unwind. She was unknowingly presenting a very skewed impression of herself, one that was not correct, yet she was unaware she had opted into this notification feature. Well, that is until I told her.

      Anyway, sorry if I turned this into a rant about FaceBook, but ESPN is just the latest example of how FaceBook and Mark Zuckerberg are monetizing your life at the expense of your privacy. I’m sure this is going to encourage you to join FaceBook right away!

      • Allow me to play devil’s advocate here (sort of):

        Actually, even if you log out of Facebook, they can still track you (unless you switch browsers or delete all cookies). Although this has been a rumor for a while, the company recently confirmed so to the Wall Street Journal: http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2011/09/26/facebook-defends-getting-data-from-logged-out-users/ So apparently, you might be just as well off staying logged in, since then at least your comments on ESPN and other FB-integrated sites stay up, although I don’t comment at FB-integrated sites .

        Also, I’m not sure what you mean by “monetizing your life”. Facebook costs nothing (and never will; they have about a gazillion advertisers due to all of those users).

        As for ESPN, although I am not paying for the so-called “Insider” subscription (damn finances… *insert digression here*), I due have a SportsNation profile which I maintain for fantasy purposes, although it is also capable of commenting on posts, even though I have never given ESPN (or any website) my Facebook information.

    • I’ve had this same problem on Joe Posnanski’s site. I can’t post a comment because I don’t have a Facebook or Twitter account.

  6. JA, I do the same thing. My neighbor gets SI (I haven’t had a subscription since I was a teen–I had a brief ESPN The Magazine subscription as an adult) and gives us all of the issues when she is done with them so I end up reading stories several months later.

    I noticed the very same thing about that Oakland article a month or so ago.

    • Fireworks, that’s funny!

      BTW, the next SI I read — from late May (I choose randomly) — had an article on Eric Hosmer, and especially wondering if KC would be able to sign him to a long-term deal covering his arbitration years.

      His agent, Boras, went over the top (I thought) in knocking the agents who let their young clients sign such deals.

      I couldn’t help wondering if their view changed at all after Hosmer’s crappy sophomore year.

      Boras has so many clients that it’s obviously in his self-interest to avoid those deals, because if half his guys stay healthy and productive until free agency, he comes out ahead. But the individual players take all the risk.

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