In the 1980s, tape manufacturer Memorex ran a series of commercials that dared the customer to tell the difference between live television or live audio and recordings taped on Memorex tapes. The tagline was "Is it live, or is it Memorex?" Today we ask that same question of teams, players, scouts, and managers.
Let's begin with the Houston Astros. They're 50-48, two games back in a crowded but mediocre NL Central. I think it's safe to say no one expected them to have a winning record this far into the season, and yet here they are, at least on paper legitimate contenders. No so fast, you're saying, Nick's playoff odds report only gives them a 4% chance of making the playoffs. Even adding a +3 WAR player would only bump them up to 13%. BPro is slightly more sanguine on their chances (9%), and Coolstandings even more so (14%). Even still, those are pretty slim odds. And things only get worse when you consider that their best player, Lance Berkman, has just hit the 15-day DL with a left calf strain. So we have to ask, is it live, or is it Memorex?
Writing for Fangraphs, RJ says Memorex:
Truth is, I’m not sure how they got to this point. Matthew showed them as the luckiest team in baseball recently and I think the shoe fits. They have top heavy talent. On offense four players are worth 2+ WAR and Carlos Lee/Ivan Rodriguez are worth 1+. After that, only two other batters over a half a win. Same can be said for their pitching staff. Two starters over two wins, one starter with a win, a reliever in Chris Sampson who is quite good, Russ Ortiz doing swingman duties, and that’s it. Those are your players with 0.5+ WAR.
Pretty damning, right? Well, leave it to the Crawfish Boxes to take issue with RJ's characterization:
15 days of no Lance Berkman somehow sinks the Astros in an NL Central in which even Matt Holliday to the Cardinals isn't enough to shake things up significantly? Maybe the Astros not legitimate playoff contenders in other divisions, but does that make them not good relative to their divisional peers? So perhaps "good" needs a stronger definition for this thesis to be more acceptable.
They go on to point out that in the latest Poor Man's Projected Standings the winner of the NL Central averaged 84 wins. So what do you think? The Houston Astros: is it live, or is it Memorex?
What about the Los Angeles de Los Angeles de Anaheim? According to the playoff odds, they've got an 83% shot at the playoffs, but did they get there more by virtue of luck than skill (even if, as they say, it's better to be lucky than good)? Matthew Carruth called them the sixth luckiest team in baseball two weeks ago. Halos Heaven has apparently noticed a trend of sabermatricians calling the Angels lucky, and is fed up about it:
The Angels have had so much crappy luck with their offense that it created the expectation of continued suckitude. This year is different not because we are suddenly incredibly lucky, but because, for ONCE, we actually got some things to break the other way on the offensive side. The truth is that offensively over the past few years we've had some of the crappiest luck imaginable, to the point that even just breaking even appears lucky. One area in particular is this particularly true: Our offensive prospects.
While wishcasting about prospects only to watch them underperform top expectations doesn't strike me as bad luck, neither does the possibility that players like Kendry Morales, Maicer Izturis and Brandon Wood have finally put it together strike me as overwhelmingly good luck. So, baseball fans, is it live, or is it Memorex?
For a team to be lucky requires many individual players to be lucky. But one individual player being lucky does not a lucky team make. Case in point? The Kansas City Royals and their erstwhile first overall pick Luke Hochevar, who on Saturday struck out 13 batters and walked none. It was an impressive feat, to be sure. But does it mean that Hochevar, at the age of 25, is now finally firing on all cylinders? Joe Posnanski reminds us of the Bill James speculation that any player who has a 15K/0BB game is destined to be a good major league pitcher. But what about 13K/0BB?
Well, that’s a significantly bigger group. Since 1954, 75 different pitchers have done it. That’s a list that includes Jason Bere and Greg Maddux, Jim Merritt and Bob Gibson, Turk Farrell, Gary Peters, Bobby Bolin, Joe Cowley and Terry Mulholland, but also Don Drysdale, Jim Bunning, Ron Guidry, Bert Blyleven and Tom Seaver.
Aaron Gleeman remembered the same Jamesism. But rather than just look at one start, he expands the horizon to Hochevar's last two, a stretch in which he has pitched 13 innings with 22 strikeouts and no walks. This makes the company significantly more select:
Randy Johnson (x2) Rich Harden Oliver Perez
Pedro Martinez (x2) Dan Haren Steve Renko
Curt Schilling (x2) LUKE HOCHEVAR Nolan Ryan
Erik Bedard Fergie Jenkins Ray Sadecki
Kevin Brown Jon Lieber Johan Santana
Steve Carlton Jim Merritt Mike Scott
Roger Clemens Terry Mulholland Ben Sheets
Bob Gibson Mike Mussina James Shields
Dwight Gooden Roy Oswalt David Wells
Aaron Harang Camilo Pascual
They're not all good, but it's certainly a better list of comparables than you would've gotten if you had asked me about Hochevar a month ago. Hardball Cooperative's Jeff Parker is similarly impressed:
Though KC is sitting in last place, they are 8-4 overall in games started by Hochevar. That is an encouraging sign because an emerging Hochevar, paired with Greinke, makes the future a little less painful for Royals fans.
So, Luke Hochevar, is it live, or is it Memorex?
There have been a lot of pixels burned tossing around conjecture about the significance of Team X sending a scout to watch Player Y lately. At Raise the Jolly Roger, Brian McElhinny uses the Greek rhetorical technique of apophasis when it comes to these news reports:
I really don’t like when the trade deadline approaches and a rumor starts because a certain team had a scout in attendance to look at a certain player. In my opinion, it really doesn’t make any sense at all. First of all, there are scouts at every game for all kinds of reasons. Second of all, how stupid would some team have to be to base a trade on one game’s (or even one series’) performance?
Of course, having denied that the information is useful, he dives into a evaluation of which teams were scouting which Pirates. You hear a lot of these kinds of reports, and I have to say I think they're pretty much worthless. But what do you think, are they live, or are they Memorex?
I can't think of a managerial decision that was as stupid or as stubbornly long-lasting this season as Joe Torre's intransigence in batting Matt Kemp eighth. It appears that Dodger fans' can take a deep breath, as Torre has relented and begun batting Kemp fifth:
Matt Kemp is batting fifth today, but here's a bit from Vincent Bonsignore of the Daily News on Joe Torre's rationale for often batting him eighth:
... "I put him eighth because I thought I'd seen enough to know that he could handle it," Torre said. "Certainly it's not any kind of lack of confidence in his ability. It's just the opposite, actually. You have to feel comfortable about someone hitting eighth."
Really? Because I feel pretty uncomfortable with Kemp batting behind Mark Loretta. What do you think? Is Torre's latest change of heart live, or is it Memorex?
Finally, the question of whether young pitchers ought to throw breaking balls is a perennial hot-button topic. The New York Times has revisited the topic today:
"I don’t think throwing curveballs at any age is the factor that is going to lead to an injury," said Glenn Fleisig, the chairman of research at the American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham, Ala.
But citing limitations of the study, Dr. Andrews is unconvinced:
"It may do more harm than good — quote me on that," Andrews said during an interview in his Birmingham clinic. He fears that parents and coaches may interpret the findings improperly, as a license to teach kids to throw too many curves or begin when they are too young. "There are still some unknown questions," he said.
BPro's injury expert, @injuryexpert, says the problem isn't curves per se, but rather usage and improper form. What do you think? Young pitchers throwing curveballs--is it live, or is it Memorex? I think I finally confused myself with that metaphor, so that means it's time for some lighter fare.
Just to prove that I will link to any well-written piece about Vin Scully (I'M CRAZY! I'LL DO IT!), check out this piece in the LA Times:
So, even though it was mid-November in New England, Scully left his coat, hat and gloves in his hotel room, preferring to be unencumbered when he got to the dance.
"It was cold," Scully says during a recent interview at Dodger Stadium, "but I thought -- naively, dumbly -- 'I'm going to be working for a network; I'll have a big booth.' "
Instead, he arrived at Fenway Park to discover that he would be calling the game from the roof, exposed to the elements.
"I'm looking for a booth, and there is no booth," Scully says. "There's an engineer with a card table and his little dials for volume, a microphone and about 50 yards of cable. That's it."
But don't you for one second think I'd let you get away without listening to the greatest song ever to sample those Memorex commercials. I'm referring, of course, to the peerless Run DMC, and their classic "Is It Live?"