Saturday Notebook: Near Miss, Doctoring Baseballs, Complicated Stats, and Tons of GIF Action

Jim Rogash

Today's Saturday Notebook looks at a Florida sports reporter's near miss with a batting practice baseball (and why I think her photo is fake), the accusations towards Clay Buchholz of using illegal substances against the Blue Jays, why mainstream statistics like batting average and ERA are more complicated than we claim, and plenty of GIF clips from the past week.

    Good morning, all. I was working last Saturday's Twins game when I was walking through the service level. Essentially the basement level of Target Field, it's a very advantageous route to take from the usher break room to my normal post as it allows me to avoid most of the concourse traffic in between. It also allows me to walk past the bullpens, which normally doesn't pay off but occasionally does give a little gift of glimpsing a major leaguer as I go to and from my break, such as seeing Jon Rauch just as he was entering the bathroom and once "stalking" a Yankees reliever as he wandered from the bullpen around the floor.

    Last Saturday paid off again. I left the break room and was returning to work when I saw a Texas Rangers pitcher slowly walking around. As if the Rangers warmup jacket wasn't enough of a giveaway, the click-clack of his metal spikes on the concrete certainly was as he made a large circle about 15 feet from the wall that made up the ballpark's left field fence.

    I walked past him and I noticed that he had halted his circle and was now following me back to the bullpen. I walked through a doorway and figured I might as well get in a brief interaction, so I deliberately held the door and waited a couple minutes for him to catch up. He noticed I was holding the door for him and gave a meek smile and shook his head no, as in "Don't bother, I'm good."

    I smiled back and said, "Don't worry, I'm not in a hurry." He chuckled and said, "Neither am I!" I joined him in laughter as I followed up by saying "I could tell with you walking in circles back there," and then after letting him through the door, I left him by walking to the elevator.

    It was Emmy-winning stuff, wasn't it.

    Anyway, based on being taller than me, being white, and with a scruffy face, my immediate hunch was that I had just chatted with Michael Kirkman. Regardless, just to be sure I checked online once I got home that day. While perusing the Rangers roster, I realized that it wasn't Kirkman, but rather former St. Paul Saints pitcher Tanner Scheppers. It wasn't much, but it's always nice to chat a bit with a big leaguer and not make a total fool out of yourself.

    ----------------------------------------

    By the way, I don't know if anyone ever mentioned this, but virtually the entire Twinkie Town crew is on Twitter (minus roger13 from what I can tell right now). Just a heads up, I like to pretend I'm a color commentator and also post tons of Dick 'n' Bert snark during Twins games.

    Jesse Lund / Twinkie Town updates: @TwinkieTown

    Jon Marthaler: @jmarthaler

    myjah: @KirbysLeftEye

    Me: @BryzTwinkieTown

    fischean: @jessicann713

    RandBall's Stu: @RandBallsStu

    Steve Adams: @Adams_Steve

    Alex Kienholz: @Alex_Kienholz

    • First, it's Great Moments In Batting Practice. Fox Sports Florida reporter Kelly Nash - presumably doing the same job we see with Marnie Gellnar - was in Boston working on a "Inside The Rays" bit. Probably working on getting some info on the Red Sox or something for her story. Anyway, her family lives in Massachusetts and she wanted to send them some pictures of Fenway Park, so she went to work snapping photos around the ballpark atop the Green Monster. Even though her producer was calling out near-misses by home run balls, she braved a chance to get a picture of herself with the field in the background. After taking the photo, she went to text it to her family when she noticed that there was a ball that had just missed her head by inches! At least, that's what she claims. Count me in the camp that finds this claim a bit dubious. Why? Well, there's four main reasons for me. First, if this is batting practice, why is no one by 3rd base or in left field? Second, Nash should have heard the ball hit something if it really was that close to her. Third, if she's texting these pictures to her family, she's probably taking them with a cell phone and I think any cell phone camera would have made that baseball blurry instead of nearly still. Finally, if the producer was yelling at her to watch out on other home run balls that didn't hit her, shouldn't he have been warning her again during that particular shot? The whole story just doesn't feel right, much like this ridiculous Evan Longoria commercial from years ago that people claimed was real.
    • Last year, Rays pitcher Joel Peralta was accused in-game by Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson of having pine tar in his glove. Peralta was inspected and it turned out Johnson was correct, and Peralta was ejected and given a 10-game suspension for having an illegal substance in his glove. Considering Peralta and Johnson were together in Washington just a couple years prior, perhaps Johnson knew that Peralta had been doing this for years and waited for the right moment (i.e. when they faced each other in a game) to call him out. This season, we have former major leaguers Dirk Hayhurst and Jack Morris accusing Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz of using foreign substances during a game against the Blue Jays. First, there was Buchholz constantly running his hand through his hair, and second, his whole left arm was glistening with a substance that appeared to be more than just sweat. A lot of people accused Morris and Hayhurst of baseless accusations, especially noting that Hayhurst was a "career minor leaguer" and that both are announcers for a very disappointing Blue Jays team. Regardless, that didn't stop Hayhurst from doubling down later, saying once again that Buchholz was using something foreign... but that he also didn't mind. I mean, read this excerpt from Hayhurst's book Out of My League about the candy bag that contained more than candy:

    Then the real supplies came out: various goops and stick 'ems that some morally sensitive fans would call the use of cheating, while we in the business simply called having an edge. There was good old-fashioned pine tar, the granddaddy of all baseball grip agents that always seemed to leak and cake on everything it came into contact with no matter how well it was sealed. We had a tube of Firm Grip, a scientifically engineered knockoff of pine tar, except when you worked it into your fingers, the harder you pressed, the more grip you got. Firm Grip is also a lot easier to apply to those tight spots, like belt loops, hat bills, and the creases of your mitt without making a complete mess of yourself - that, and it doesn't make your fingers smell like a pine tree.

    There was shaving cream, specifically the gel stuff, which, when rubbed into the hands, makes the fingers slightly more tacky without turning them into flypaper-like pine tar or Firm Grip does. The effect of shaving cream doesn't last as long as the other two, and you can't store a dollop of it on your person in some secret place while pitching, but it should get you through an inning if applied right.

    Finally, there was Coppertone Sunscreen. When rubbed into the skin and mixed with sweat and rosin, this stuff actually forms an SPF-40-caliber Fixodent, which a crafty pitcher can mix on the fly. A touch to the wrist slightly below the mitt for some screen, a wipe of the back of the neck for some sweat, a pat of the rosin bag for the third component, and you'll have enough tack to make the ball hang from your fingertips. Everyone has their preferred method of adding a grip to a ball, but which one a pitcher chooses depends on his personal feel.

    That was when Hayhurst was pitching with the Padres, by the way. That excerpt sure makes it seem like far more pitchers are using illegal substances than we believe. Including Tim Hudson, who shockingly wasn't shy about revealing what he uses during games.


    • I am a huge proponent of sabermetrics and thus get a little annoyed and frustrated when people immediately dismiss them because they seem complicated and/or made-up. (I've already written about how complicated quarterback rating is in football and player efficiency rating was in basketball, despite the fact their usage is significantly higher than comparable stats in baseball.) Matt Snyder of CBS Sports points out that many stats we commonly use, such as batting average and RBIs, are far more complicated than we claim, and that their acceptance in the sport is due to them simply existing longer than WAR, UZR, and FIP. It's a great article that I feel really proves a point that many of us can be hypocritical at times when we start warring against other statistics.
    • We've approached the end, so here's some rapid-fire GIF action.
    1. This GIF of Yu Darvish with five of his pitches on display has been making the rounds lately. It really shows you how much the movement differs from his fastball to his sliders to his curveball. Oh, and that's not all, as this one labels the pitches, gives their velocities, and shows you where each pitch was caught by the catcher.
    2. Nobody denies Jason Giambi of first base.
    3. Albert Pujols was often lauded as a smart baserunner while with the Cardinals, but Yadier Molina shows off here by avoiding a double play.
    4. An "Unlikely Superheroes" bit on "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" once included "Delayed Reaction Man." Julio Borbon is Delayed Reaction Man as he unsuccessfully sells a hit-by-pitch.
    5. Former major league pitcher Bryan Bullington wasn't too pleased when a batter called time after he started his windup, so he went ahead and plunked the batter anyway.
    6. Finally, I once showed you Josh Reddick pieing teammate Brandon Moss after a victory, then pieing him again once Moss thought the abuse was over. Perhaps the A's are trying to make the pie-in-the-face more exciting, as Moss pied himself after their 19-inning victory. He still ended up getting hit by Reddick and then a Gatorade shower anyway.

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