Forgive any typos. I'm trying to bust this out as quickly as I can just in case the Sox beat Toronto again.
Fan Graphs has a couple articles up that are worth checking out. I never read ESPN but apparently they held a franchise player draft recently that went over well. Fan Graphs, with appropriate accreditation has replicated that exercise with their writers. The picks reveal a lot about what the writers making the choices value, so it's worth checking out for that reason alone. From a Red Sox standpoint it's interesting because of the thirty players chosen only two Red Sox players were picked. Carl Crawford was picked seventh overall and Adrian Gonzalez went off the board sixteenth. As of this writing the Red Sox and Yankees have the best run differentials in baseball* (69 and 75, respectively) though only three players from those teams were picked by the Fan Graphs writers (Robinson Cano was the only Yankee selected). I'm not saying it was a mistake, but it's certainly notable. One could make a case for Jon Lester's selection or
*The Monster's own Patrick Sullivan, who's love of sheep can be seen clearly, noted that over the past fifty-three games the Red Sox have a +102 run differential. Which is, as the kids say, sick.
The other Fan Graphs article attempts to name the best rivalry in baseball. The obvious answer and the one you'd expect from a Red Sox blog is the Red Sox vs. the Yankees. There is something to that. A necessary ingredient to any good rivalry is that both teams must be good. Who cares about the Pirates/Astros whether there's 'bad blood' there or not? Similarly the Yankees/Orioles hasn't held much interest since the 1970's for obvious reasons despite the close proximity of the teams and the fact that they share a division. There must be something at stake or else people cease to care. For a decade the vast majority of Sox/Yanks games have had important implications. It follows that the teams have some of the better players in the game as well. The fact that ESPN and FOX are constantly hyping, promoting and broadcasting games between the two franchises has probably played into this a bit as well. In fact, all three of those aspects are interrelated to some extent.
The second biggest rivalry in the article is the Yankees/Mets which falls under the Yankees/Orioles rubric above. The Mets haven't always been the kind of laughingstock that makes you spit milk out your nose whether or not you've been drinking milk. They made the World Series eleven years ago, but I'm guessing this entry flashes some of the flaws in the writer's methodology. Why might the Mets/Yankees, despite playing each other all of six times a season and despite featuring one non-competitive team garner such enthusiasm? Could the fact that they're both from New York and therefore have very large fan bases that know how to use the internet have anything to do with it?
In a pay article, R.J. Anderson of Baseball Prospectus tries to explain the incredible season David Ortiz has had to date. He does an admirable job of running through the possibilities (first strike percentage, BABIP, etc.), but ultimately isn't able to pin Ortiz's resurgence on anything in particular. In fairness to Mr. Anderson, I'm not sure we can really explain what the difference is.
I'll give you an example. Your humble author plays in an adult league here in Portland. Prior to today's action I was 1-8 on the year. First at-bat today, I grounded back to the pitcher. Frustrated, I switched bats to a differently weighted friend's model. I also altered my stance by moving my legs further apart, and holding my hands up higher. Further I made a conscious effort to avoid unnecessary movement in the batter's box. In my second at bat, after a first pitch ball outside, I hit it on a line into the left field gap for a double. So, the question arises, why? Was it the new bat? Was it the new position of my legs, or eliminating unnecessary motion? Or was it that I just got a pitch I could hit and hit it?
Back to Ortiz. He is making some great contact this season. Anecdotally, many of his outs are hit on the barrel of the bat where the strongest contact is generated.* We can therefore look at the wonder that is pitch f/x to see what story it tells. We can look at any number of different numbers and Mr. Anderson does a good job of exploring the options but at a certain point, like in my example, there are just too many options and too much noise to come up with a concrete answer. We as analysts don't yet have the tools specific enough to parse all the known and unknown (starting to sound like Donald Rumsfeld here) variables which could be driving Ortiz's resurgent season. That shouldn't stop us from trying though.
*Rather than labeling all hits as "grounders" line drives and "Fly Balls" I hope pitch f/x or some newer system is able one day to see exactly where on the bat the batter hits the ball. That plus the trajectory of the bat and ball when contact is initiated will tell us more than shoehorning all contact into those three categories.
Finally, Tim Marchman has a wonderful exploration of Bill Veeck's legacy up over at Baseball Prospectus (this one's free) which I won't spoil it with my prose. In the media critic vein, he also has a short review-ish thing that looks at Bill Simmons' new vanity project for ESPN, Grantland.com. The whole thing sounds a bit like an on-line magazine featuring some big name writers. It's kind of a shame Simmons was the one ESPN chose to spearhead this project as I'd have loved to see what BP's Steven Goldman, Joe Sheehan or Marchman himself would have done with the money and the opportunity.