Monthly Archives: July 2011

Statistically Significant

Earlier this week, I mentioned the AirHogs’ second baseman, David Espinosa, had dyed his hair and beard and created a FauxHawk just to change things up. Apparently, it’s working, even if the FauxHawk has recently collapsed.

Prior to his video-documented Just for Men treatment, David had hit 2 HRs in 259 at-bats. (He is leading the league in walks, so he tends to get on base without bothering to connect – he draws a walk every fourth plate appearance.) This week, he dyed his beard and hit 3 HRs in his next thirteen at-bats, including two in one game last night. How do we determine if the beard caused the home runs?

Prior to the beard and FauxHawk, David would hit a home run on average once every 130 plate appearances, if you simply divide his at-bats by home runs. After the beard, it is every 54 at-bats. This is the AB/HR rating in Sabermetrics, so I’m not the first one to consider this statistic important enough to calculate.

Sabermetrically, his AB/HR rating was 129.5 before Black Beard, and his new rating is 54.4. (The best current AB/HR rating on the team is 28, the lowest is 227.) While he only passed one person in the team rankings, he is much closer to some of the power hitters (a rather arbitrary term) on the team, at least by this ranking.

Ironically, my degree is in computer science and applied statistics, so I should be able to compute exactly how much of a change this is and how statistically significant this should be considered. Unfortunately, my degree is from 1982, so I don’t remember squat about statistics.

Still, from one home run every 130 plate appearances to one every 54 begs the question – what else is there to dye?

Hairy Moments

Sometimes, a team has a slump. It’s usually a number of unfortunate occurrences simultaneously. Luckily, there is a time-proven method to busting a slump.

All you do is change things up. The beauty of that statement is that “things” can be almost anything. However, it usually is follicle-related for some reason.

Last year, our (former) manager Pete Incaviglia had a rather impressive mustache and the promotions staff decided to hold Mustache Monday in its honor. Have a mustache, get a half-price ticket (I think – I have season tickets, so it didn’t really apply, although it was a good excuse to stop shaving for a month.) The AirHogs were in a slump coming up on the fated day, so Pete shaved his mustache off the day before Mustache Monday. I remember my wife asking “Why would he do that?” I said “Gotta change things up.” I was never really sure what that meant, but I had heard it at the ballpark a lot. Just before the Mustache Monday game started, my wife asked Pete, “Why did you shave?” He said “Gotta change things up.”

This year, it’s not shaving. The team is dying. Well, one of the team, anyway. We will soon have a second baseman with a jet black Fauxhawk. I know this because there is a series of videos documenting the preparation on Facebook. Ah, technology. (RIP Flip cameras.) You know what the posting before the videos says? “Gotta change things up.”

Maybe I should put the mustache back on. Gotta change things up.


[Update: Black Beard is 1-0. Apparently, a FauxHawk can hit a home run.]

You’re Outta Here!

There is an art to being thrown out of a baseball game. Before I started watching a lot of games at the park, I always thought it was pretty much the same – the umpire made a call, the manager came rushing out of the dugout to argue it, he got tossed. Now, I realize the real action is after the ejection, not before. First, the ejectee has a chance to make his case to remain in the game. This is usually replaced by a few choice comments about the umpire’s eyesight, upbringing or other attributes. Then, there is the walk of shame – at QTP, it’s all the way down the third base line, into the outfield to the far corner of the field to the gate to the clubhouse.

This walk can take quite a long time. Former AirHogs manager Pete Incaviglia would take a tremendous amount of time. It was his evening constitutional. Then, Pete would get so distracted thinking about what he had done (and I’m sure feeling remorse) that he would often leave the gate open. Unfortunately, the game could not proceed until the gate was closed. The umpires would tell the nearest AirHog to close the gate, but the players work for the manager, not the umpire. Eventually, someone would close the gate. Eventually.

There are actually rules about when someone can get tossed – theoretically, you can say anything about the call (“that was a horseshit call”, but not about the umpire (“you’re a horseshit ump.”) Ultimately, it’s the umpire’s decision, so like many decisions, ejections will be questioned, as in a couple of cases below.

Here are the three tosses from the past week and a half or so, two of which were in the same game  –

Ricky VanAsselberg, AirHogs manager. The plate umpire had a strike zone that moved more than a popcorn kernel in hot oil. The batters were swinging in defense, and our pitcher was getting really flustered. Ricky headed to the mound to calm the pitcher down. After the usual pause, the home plate umpire waddled up to the mound to break it up. Ricky kept talking. Then, Ricky started discussing something with the umpire. Then, the hook. I’ve meant to ask Ricky what he said, but I’m sure it was something about if the umpire knew how to keep a strike zone consistent, Ricky wouldn’t be out there wasting time trying to calm down his pitcher. I’m sure it was reasoned and polite. Although, he did get ejected, so I’m pretty sure the term “horseshit” was used somewhere in the calm and reasoned discussion.

Antagonizing the umpire – Ricky stormed off towards home plate, and kicked dirt all over it. It was covered. This I find pretty funny, but it’s been done before. Then, he headed to the dugout to dump his equipment and put someone else in charge, since he was leaving. While this was happening, the umpire brushed off home plate.

Umpire’s Fatal Error – Home plate is between the dugout and the walk of shame. So, Ricky covered home plate in dirt. Again. His catcher was snickering as the umpire bent down to clean it off. Again. That was hilarious.

Mike Conroy, Wichita Wingnuts outfielder. Mike played with the AirHogs before, so I’ve met him a few times. He’s a very passionate guy, so you just stay out of the way, expect the usual outburst every now and then, and nobody will get hurt. He was up to bat, took a third strike, and dropped an F-bomb. It was “slightly” loud, since I could hear it from my seat by the first base dugout. Here’s the interesting part – he wasn’t actually challenging the call. He wasn’t even upset at the umpire, he was upset at himself. Then, the hook. WTF? What is he getting thrown out about?

Antagonizing the umpire – If you tell Mike Conroy “You’re outta here!”, I’m pretty sure he hears “Please tell me how you feel about my officiating, since you are now out of the game and can speak freely. Also, if you have any questions about the legitimacy of my birth or my mother’s alleged former hourly occupation, please feel free to discuss those as well.”

Umpire’s Fatal Error – After Mike discussed the call to his satisfaction and was storming towards the dugout, the umpire called for three more balls. He was signaling the bat boy, but Mike was happy to oblige. A handful of baseballs came raining out of the dugout. As Mike headed down the walk of shame, the bat boy was trying to gather them all up, and was having problems because he was laughing. If you can make someone laugh after causing them work, that’s a pretty good ejection.

Brian Rose, Wichita Bench Coach – I would have never known why Brian was thrown out, but we had lunch with him the next day, and it was being discussed, so I have the quote. Brian is the last person I would have expected being thrown out of a ball game. He’s a bench coach – the voice of reason. Brian’s a calm guy. (He was the AirHogs’ bench coach before he moved to Wichita, so we’ve watched him on the field.) Still, a player had a called third strike (in the same game that had seen Mike tossed a few innings earlier), and the player questioned the call briefly, and then returned to the dugout. So, that was that, until the hook appeared. At first, I didn’t know who had been ejected. It turns out Brian had asked a very innocent question – “How many more of those are you going to get wrong?” Apparently, the umpire took offense. Ironically, this is probably a legitimate ejection, since Brian was questioning the umpire. (He was not alone in this, but you can’t do it out loud if you’re in uniform.)

Antagonizing the umpire – After he was ejected, I really don’t think Brian was antagonizing the umpire as much as blowing off steam after having the same crappy officiating for six days. If you are the bench manager of a team, living on the road while battling cancer (visit Brian’s page for more info), I really don’t think you need a 19-year old working home plate, especially when he’s apologized for blowing calls before. It’s bad for your stress levels. That said, I believe Brian heard basically the same quote as Mike when he was ejected, “Say, since you’re leaving us, what do you think of my officiating? Do you have any constructive criticism for me?”

Umpire’s Fatal Error – You ejected Brian? He’s the one person keeping managers from killing you in the parking lot. That is not going to win you many karma points, dude.

Walk-Up Songs

Most ball players have a walk-up song – that song that plays as a batter approaches the plate or a pitcher approaches the mound. In fact, through the wonders of Google, I found I was not alone in considering the topic. Luckily, that article is well-organized, which makes up for this one.

Some random thoughts, then, on walk-up songs.

When you’re at the ballpark, if you have an Android or iPhone, you can get a great app called SoundHound to help you figure out what the songs actually are, assuming (like me) you’re older than the players by a generation and have no idea what that racket is these kids are listening to these days.

I think everyone should have a walk-up song, even if you’re not a ball player. Can you imagine a librarian wander in between the shelves, while “Bleed It Out” blares over the speakers?

I want “Pictures of Matchstick Men” to start playing as I approach my computer in the mornings. I don’t know why that song came to mind, but the opening guitar riff would be a great walk-up. It would also scare the hell out of the dogs and the Spousal Unit, but that’s just a bonus.

Wouldn’t a walk-up song be an easy item to change if a hitter is slumping? The songs always seem constant throughout a season. Maybe it’s not your stance, maybe it’s not your swing. Maybe it’s just the wrong song. Perhaps Linkin Park would be a bit more motivating than Katy Perry, say. Of course, if you started changing walk-up songs regularly, this would require even more statistics – on-base percentage could be affected by the genre of the song, the sex of the singer and other musical variables.  Eventually, there would be a statistician dedicated to choosing the right song based on the pitcher, the number of men on base, the number of outs, and so forth. In retrospect, maybe one song is enough. Work through the slump.

It would be interesting to discover what the royalty structure is when the team plays the various songs in public – I assume the park just pays ASCAP or BMI (or both) a flat fee since there is music playing almost constantly during some games, but if you weren’t happy with your salary structure, you could pick a really expensive walk-up song and then laugh inwardly every time you went up to bat.

If you’re a struggling musician, you should consider writing and recording a really loud metal or rap song called “See that Ump? Kill that Mutha.” It would probably get a lot of playtime during the spring and summer months.

When the umpires come out before the game, they really should play “Three Blind Mice”, at least until someone records “See that Ump? Kill that Mutha.”

My favorite comment about walk-up songs was the night a woman sitting behind me mentioned loudly that the opposing team’s songs all seemed to be (how to put this delicately) a bit less than manly. They were playing the usual suspects – “Sexy Lady”, “She’s A Lady”, and so forth. I then overheard her date gently explaining to her that if you’re from out of town, the press box picks your song for you – nobody actually asked for “She’s A Lady” to boom out over the speakers as he approached the plate. Perhaps somewhere there is a player so masculine that playing “I Am Woman” would be seen as ironic as he strode to the plate, but I doubt it.

If  you chose the Star-Spangled Banner as your walk-up song, would the game start over every time you came up to bat?

The Humane Society of Baseball

As someone who has been involved in pet rescue for over ten years and an AirHogs season ticket holder for three, some of the parallels are striking.

Why are pets dumped at the shelter? The usual reasons (regardless of validity): “it’s not trained”, “it’s too expensive”, “it doesn’t get along with our other pets”, “we just don’t want it anymore”, “it bit me.” How many people-centric variations of these do ball players hear when they’re cut?

Once a pet is dumped or a player is released, the parallels continue. I think much as many people consider pound puppies “broken”, they also don’t take independent ball seriously.

This is a major marketing issue that independent ball has – people are not going because it’s “not pro ball”, but they’re not necessarily going to the majors, either. This means they really don’t like baseball, or they don’t want to bother going to see it live. Maybe it’s pricing – the majors cost too much to go regularly, and the minors don’t cost enough for people to take seriously.
Here’s a news flash – the independent-league players are paid (not much), but it’s pro ball. Also, in the minors, they’re trying to get out, so they’re trying to get noticed. I’ve always thought a lot of people in the majors are more concerned about their longevity than championships. Depending on their contracts, most are paid win or lose, so why risk injury?

So, you can spend a lot of money on major-league tickets just like you can spend a lot of money on a designer mutt. In both cases, it may not be worth the money. What if you get a heartworm-positive ill-bred dog? What if they’re Mets tickets?

The next time you want a real dog, visit your local rescue. The next time you want real baseball, find a minor-league or independent-league park near you.

Halfway there

The AirHogs are 34-16 at the halfway point. Since the season was extended to 100 games this year, there is no All-Star game, so the regular season continues.

If we were still playing a split season, the AirHogs would be in the playoffs, since they are dominating their division. (They have the best record in the league.) Without the split, they have to keep it up – which I think is a better situation. In the past, winning the first half seemed to take a lot of the fire out of a team.

So, the summer is half-over and the season is half-over. It’s time to get through another fifty games and into the playoffs.

Pass The Bucket

One of the interesting (charming?) traditions at QuikTrip Park is the passing of the bucket. There is actually a hand-out for new fans explaining the practice, since many have never seen it done before.

When an AirHog batter hits a home run or an AirHog pitcher tosses a three-up, three-down inning, the ushers wander the park and collect donations for the batter or the pitcher, respectively. On a good night, a player could probably bump his  salary, or at least cover his bar costs after the game. We know it’s important to the players, because if the press box forgets to announce it, they complain in the dugout. We’ve had to text the announcers or Tweet Ace Bacon to get it announced before. (This may be a bit crazy – we actually are asking that they come take money from us.)

The first season, the team only passed the bucket for home runs, but the pitchers must have complained, since after that, someone added 3-up, 3-down which is as close to a home run as you will find for pitchers.

I usually try to give $2 or $3 depending on the number of singles in my wallet, although I’ve given $5 or $10 for critical RBIs or pitching performances. Some of the players are still talking about the $20 somebody [my little brother] dropped in one night.

[A side benefit – you can have a load of singles in your wallet and your wife won’t ask where you’ve been.]

I was rather surprised that they didn’t pass the bucket in the Frontier League, since it’s basically the same level as the American Association – when one of the Lake Erie team hit a home run, I instinctively reached for my wallet, and then realized I was alone.

It’s not done in the affiliated minor leagues, which says the players are paid reasonably well. I guess.

That said, tt seems to me this is a great motivator for any baseball players, and it could be used on more levels of the sport.

Specifically, it occurred to me that if Derek Jeter hit a home run at Yankee Stadium, there would probably be 50,000 fans to pass a bucket around. (I looked it up just now and there are 52,325 seats.) So, figure a quarter of the people donate an average of $2 each – some of the people are cheering for the opposition, some are just cheap, some will ask if they take plastic. Still, that’s over thirteen thousand people donating to the home run buckets. That home run just made Mr. Jeter over twenty-six thousand dollars.

At that level of income, this could be quite a motivational tool. (Plus, I’d just like to see the usher tossing a roll of cash that big into the dugout for delivery!) It not only motivates the players, it could lower the salary cap. Owners? A plastic bucket costs $10. Figure you need 50 of them in Yankee Stadium. $500 bucks worth of buckets and training some ushers to wander around – which they are supposed to do anyway. Jeter hit 24 HRs in his best season, he hit 10 last year and he probably averages 15 or so. Wouldn’t you like to pay him $392K less because the fans are paying him directly? You could almost pay off your boat. Well, one of your boats.

Maybe the bucket needs to be called up to the big leagues.