Saying Goodbye: Matt Garza

Certain things are worth breaking out of self-imposed blogging hiatuses for, and the dealing of Matt Garza to the Rangers by the Cubs is one of them.

If I have one regret in the departure of Mr. Garza, it isn’t in losing a cool guy, or a quality pitcher (although those things are worth consideration, because he certainly fits into both categories). No… 99.9% of my sadness is based on the reality that we never learned whether Matt Garza was a man, or a muppet. A muppet of a man? Or a very manly muppet?

I would rather have this question answered than whether the chicken or the egg came first. I would rather have this mystery solved than to have determined (once and for all) whether the glass is half full, or half empty.

Alas, it is not to be. And so I must wish the enigmatic character that is Matt Garza adieu with a heavy heart.

If there is one thing I DO know, it’s that the following farewell song has never been dedicated to a more deserving or more appropriate recipient.

So long, Mr. Garza.

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For the love of Craig Biggio

I have long had a borderline irrational admiration for Craig Biggio. He played for the Astros. He spent a lot of years making Cubs pitchers suffer. I shouldn’t like him, but I do. Can’t help it. I am inherently susceptible to rooting for sparkplug-type players, and Craig Biggio was certainly one of the sparkpluggiest sparkplugs in the history of the game.

With this in mind, you can imagine my displeasure upon learning that Mr. Biggio was not granted entrance into baseball’s Hall of Fame on Wednesday. Oh, I know he’ll get in eventually. But he deserved it on the first go. I can only surmise that none of the voters ever looked at the backside of one of his baseball cards.

I feel about as strongly on this subject as one could. Why? If you must know, it’s Bill James’ fault.

In 2001, The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract was published. I consider this book to be the finest ever written on the subject of baseball. If this book says it, I will take it as the gospel truth. Which maybe isn’t a good thing, but that is a subject for another day.

In his Abstract, Bill James gives us a list of the 100 greatest baseball players of all time (up to that point. Which was 2001. Which you know already if you’ve been paying attention). Bill ranks Craig Biggio as the 35th greatest ballplayer in history. This is well ahead of many, many others who were shoo-in first-round hall-of-famers, and a few others who definitely will be, when their time comes (*cough-Maddux-cough-Griffey-coughcough*).

Rather than further barrage you with enumerations detailing my fondness for Mr. Biggio, I will leave you with a taste of what Bill James has to say about him. It is much more betterer.

Craig Biggio in 1997 was hit by 34 pitches, while grounding into zero double plays. Both of these figures were historic. He was the fifth player ever to play a full season without grounding into a double play, and missed the major league record for most plate appearance without grounding into a double play by only four. The 34 HBP was the highest total in the National League in 26 years, the second-highest of the twentieth century.

I have always linked these two stats together, long before Biggio, as “little stats.” There are half a dozen batting stats that get left out of USA Today, and left off baseball cards, because they’re not generally significant. The stats include sacrifice hits, sac flies, and intentional walks, but GIDP and hit batsmen are the most important of the group, the two which are most likely to change the way a player should be evaluated.

I have long wanted to make up a stat to summarize the impact of these categories, a “Little Stat Summary”, if you will. I have never actually created the formula, because I have already polluted the sport with quite a number of statistical inventions, and I’m afraid of slipping to a lower rung of the inferno if I make up any more. No, seriously, the reason I’ve never written such a formula is that it’s not clear what we would be measuring. For a statistic to have value, it has to be meaningful with reference to something other than it’s own formula.

Anyway, Biggio has the best “little stats” of any player in baseball history, this being one of the reasons that he has been tremendously underrated. If you compare him to, let’s say, Jim Rice in 1984, Biggio has a hidden advantage of 69 extra times on base, since he was hit by pitches 33 more times (34 to 1) and beat the throw to first on a double play attempt 36 more times (0 to 36). Those little stats that get left out of USA Today, in this comparison, have an impact roughly equivalent to 100 points of batting average.

Life Is Sad

The only problem with the fact that baseball is awesome is that sometimes it isn’t. Case in point: this year’s divisional playoff series. Underdog lovers everywhere were united in excitement at the number of unlikely contending teams. Such a variety of desirable match-ups! Such potential! We could have had, like, the Mona Lisa of playoff pictures.

But then, just like that, all such dreams were gone.

Oakland? Out of it. No mo’ moneyball.

O’s? Schmos.

Nationals? Defeated the Cardinals like Dewey defeated Truman.

It is a reminder to us all… sometimes, life is sad. As a Cubs fan, I don’t feel I really needed this particular memo. And, let me tell you. Being handed it by smug St. Louis loyalists ain’t helping much.

To those of my readers who are actually fans of the aforementioned clubs, you have my sincerest sympathies. I know how you feel, and then some. You are welcome to join me in the waiting-til-next-year queue. There is plenty of room.

I guess now all I can say is Go Tigers, but it is with very little enthusiasm.

I think it would be more fitting to close with: Here’s to 2013. May it be kinder to us all.

Wildcard Wednesday: Of Ziegler, Fifi, and the Capitol Building

It has been a good while (literally, almost the entire summer, I believe) since the last Wildcard Wednesday post. Clearly it is time for a wee resurrection.

First, I have for you a tidbit that I would have shared weeks ago if I had been on the ball. Yahoo Sports puts out a list of fun, quirky MLB stat facts every year. This season’s edition included a fascinating bit about Arizona reliever Brad Ziegler, an alumni of my beloved New Market Rebels, and you must know by now that all such alums are huge favorites around here. I like to brag on their successes, which is why I must share what Jeff Passan had to say about Brad’s achievements this year.

As great as his relief peers’ accomplishments may be, what Brad Ziegler is doing this season is a hundred times more unfathomable.

The 32-year-old Ziegler already is something of a freak as an Arizona Diamondbacks relief pitcher. He’s a pure sidearmer whose fastball floats in around 86 mph, the eighth-slowest among pitchers with at least 50 innings. To make up for his lack of velocity, Ziegler sinks the sucker like the Lusitania, sinks it so hard that he makes opposing hitters turn into Jeter.

Ziegler’s flyball rate this season is 6.9 percent. That is not a misprint. Ziegler has thrown 712 pitches this season. Hitters have lifted 10 of those as flyballs. Nobody has popped out. Nobody has hit a home run. Nobody can do much with a Brad Ziegler sinker.

The previous low flyball rate also was owned by Ziegler – and it was 13.4 percent, nearly double. Ziegler, as you might imagine, also is on pace to set a groundball-rate record at 72.9 percent, a smidgen better than Jonny Venters’ 72.5 percent last year. That makes another record he’s close to doubling: groundball-to-flyball ratio, where his 10.5 will top Venters and Cla Meredith’s 5.29.

Cool, right?

And now for the traditional Wildcard Wednesday stuff…

Today’s Birthdays:Gio Gonzalez, Jim Abbott, Joe Maddon, Joe Morgan (booo!), Duke Snider, and my grandma. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, GRANDMA!!! (And baseball guys).

On a less joyous note, these guys both kicked the bucket today: Jimi Hendrix (1970) and Frank Morgan (known best as the Wizard from The Wizard of Oz, 1949)

As for 9/19’s other historical occurrences:

-Cornerstone of the Capitol building is laid in Washington DC (1793)

I like the Capitol Building.

-The first US-made locomotive is outrun by a horse near Baltimore, MD (1830)
-The New York Times is born (1851)
-Phillies pitcher Chick Fraser no-hits the Cubs (1903)
-Major League Baseball sees its first black umpire (1972)
-Hurrican Fifi hits Honduras, killing 5,000 (1974). I’m sorry guys, I know this is really sad and serious, but I just can’t help thinking… who names a hurricane “Fifi”?
-Joe Kittinger completes the first solo balloon crossing of the Atlantic (1984)
-A 500 lb. Hershey’s Kiss is displayed in Times Square (1990). Sadly, I could find no pictures. Only this:

Disappointing, I know.

-Atlanta is chosed to host the 1996 summer Olympics (1990).

So, between that giant chocolate kiss and the Olympic selection, I’d say September 19th was a good day for America in 1990.

Have a great rest of the day/week, guys.

Darwin Barney: Defender of the Universe

We can all agree that 2012 hasn’t exactly been the most memorable season for Cubs Nation. But, as I am fond of often expounding, even the stinky years have their highlights.

Actually, calling Darwin Barney a “highlight” for the 2012 Cubs somehow doesn’t seem quite good enough. Seeing as how he has a whole highlight reel of sparkling defensive plays to his credit. And seeing as how, you know, he just set a National League single-season record for consecutive errorless innings by a second baseman.

On behalf of Cubs fans everywhere, I’d like to offer a big fat congratulations to Darwin on his achievement. I’m going to go ahead and go on record right now and say that if he doesn’t win the Gold Glove this year, I will be quite cross.

Yay, Darwin!!!!!!

Ron Santo: HoF Entree, HoPIL Oustee

The Hall of People I Like, or HoPIL (see the page here), has been an installment at The Fair Base Ballist since February of 2011. For my uninformed readers, it is a page I created in which to enshrine ballplayers of whom I am fond, and who are either active and not members of the Chicago Cubs, or inactive and not members of Baseball’s Hall of Fame.

The rules of the HoPIL disqualify current Cubs (because I pretty much love them all, so what would the point be?) and HoF inductees (because they have been publicly acknowledged as special and don’t need me anymore). Should a member of the HoPIL eventually fail to meet these requirements, they are to be cast out of it with much joy and dancing.

It is indeed with much joy and dancing, and with a little tear in my eye that I officially oust Ron Santo from the HoPIL today. As he is now enshrined forever in the halls of Cooperstown, he cannot belong to my silly institution any longer. The expulsion could not be more richly deserved by anyone.

Congratulations, Ronnie. We’ll love you always.

Cubs players honored Ron yesterday by clicking their heels as they took the field in St. Louis. You can see the video of their tribute here.

 

 

 

Wildcard Wednesday: All Star Edition

How happy for me that it’s Wednesday, and that I’m not forced to present my random thoughts and observations from last evening’s All Star Game in an organized manner!
Giant blowout: NL routs AL 8-0 in All-Star game

The National League won for the third year in a row, and they did it in convincing fashion. No one who did not possess omniscient knowledge would have predicted the American League lads getting trounced 8-0. Before the game started, I told my brother that I thought the AL would win, that they had the better team. He agreed, adding that if the NL did pull it out, it would only be if the contest were a low-scoring affair (2-1, or 3-2).

All this only goes to further prove that sage utterance of Yogi Berra, “In baseball, you don’t know nothing.”

***

Seeing Double?: I was quite struck by this photograph of Ryan Braun.

The bulging eyes… the chop-licking… the wild expression. It definitely reminds me of something, and I’m still not 100% sure what, but I think it might be this:

Shoes: A number of the All Stars last night were arrayed with the most ostentatious footwear I have ever seen on a baseball diamond. Bryce Harper, for instance, was sporting spikes of gold. I imagine if any of them had clicked their heels together three times, they might have ended up in Kansas.See if I don’t start calling the Nats’ rookie phenom “Goldenboy” from here on.

Oopsy Daisy: Bryce Harper, besides being flashily shod, got everyone’s attention by losing a fly ball in the night sky. It dropped several feet behind him. It might sound unkind, but I was really happy over this miscue. Landing in the MLB All Star Game at the tender young age of 19 isn’t going to do Mr. Harper’s ego any favors. I like to think that the embarrassing play might have tempered the effects just a smidgin.

Boo Birds: Robinson Cano found himself the recipient of more choruses of boos last night. Even though he was playing for the very team that the majority of the crowd was presumably rooting for… I can’t help wondering if they really thought that through. It is also amusing that some of the same folks who derided the KC faithful for their classlessness in booing Mr. Cano applauded their “classy” move of giving Chipper Jones a standing ovation.

Injustice!: Rafael Furcal remained in the game through 7 innings before Starlin Castro, the only other shortstop, was given a chance. But I’m sure it had nothing to do with Tony LaRussa being biased or anything. No, not at all. *Rolls Eyes*

FOX Broadcast: As tedious as ever.

Cubbies: It never seems to matter how boring the All Star festivities are, or how unlistenable the broadcast is, or how bad a year the Cubs are having. I am always happy and excited and proud to see the Cubs representatives at the Midsummer Classic.
Aren’t they darling?