Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Notes from the Notebook: Scattered Thoughts from the Long Weekend

After a long weekend of reflection and scribbling the most profoundly obscure, yet thoroughly sagacious baseball insights into our Moleskin notebook, we scanned the pages, ran them through optical character recognition software, and six hours later, we gave up. (Our teachers were right: We really do have atrocious handwriting.)

Instead of those momentous thoughts, we offer the vague whims that came to us just now. Enjoy.

The Ongoing Epic History of Brett Lawrie
We live in an age where baseball is increasingly appreciated through the analysis of various and sundry points of data. (Which is totally fine. We get that thing. We don't judge. Some of our best friends are stat heads.)

But in the midst of all that poring over columns of numbers and arguing as to the validity of the your numbers over ours and fretting over which version of the stat you're about to quote is the one that is de rigeur this week...well, there's something refreshing about sitting back and viscerally appreciating the sight of Brett Lawrie playing baseball.

It's not just that Lawrie plays with intensity (which he does), or seems to legitimately love what he's doing. It's not the dirt on his jersey or the blood on his pants, or his somewhat local provenance. The thing that's so awe inspiring about Lawrie is the simple fact that he plays the game well. Extraordinarily well.

There are things that he does on the diamond or at the plate which are just so impressive to watch that it legitimately reminds you of why you like the game in the first place. For instance: Seeing the 21 year-old let pitches that break just out of the zone float by without a flinch leaves us astonished. These are pitches that entice swings out of successful veterans with a decade of experience under their belt, but because someone in the Jays front office told Lawrie at some point to be more selective, he just figured it out and did it. This is to say nothing of his defence, which seemed shakey when he first arrived in Toronto. But a bit of presumably well-received instruction, and now we're reaching for superlatives and to remember who has ever patrolled the hot corner for the Blue Jays as skillfully as he has.

It takes effort to turn down the noise of the chatter about value and free agents and September callups and men in white and next year's rotation and compensatory picks and, well...all of it. We're grateful that Brett Lawrie has shown up to occasionally wow us with the game he's crafted for himself. It makes us feel 21 again.

Red Sox Pitching Torture
Between Josh Beckett's interminable dull-eyed stare into the catcher's groin and the infuriatingly protracted time that Jonathan Papelbon takes to throw the ball, we're amazed that anyone can even pretend to enjoy watching the Red Sox.

Sure, we get that there's an abiding affection for the team that's held by New Englanders or some of you kids out in the Maritimes. But you can't tell us that you enjoy watching the games. It's just such an onerous demand on your patience to sit and watch Papelbon take 24 minutes to throw 27 pitches. Who has that sort of time all summer long?

A four-hour game that ends with a single run being scored just baffles us, and should frankly be more of a concern to the MLB's brain trust. There are rules in place to guard against these sorts of excesses, and the league shouldn't be waiting until sometime after a Red Sox/Yankees ALCS where every game lasts well beyond 1 a.m. to do something about it. It's contrary to the best interests of the game.

As we joked on Twitter: Whichever player decides to charge the mound in the middle of one of Papelbon's endless ponderings will instantly become national hero.

(Apparently, we weren't alone in our antipathy, as NESN Red Sox analyst Dennis Eckersley called the display "sickening to watch" according to a tweet from ESPN Boston's Gordon Edes.)

Lind Provides Bitter Relief
The end of that endless 10th inning came on three wild and ugly swings from Adam Lind. The strikeout only served to further our opinion that he should slide down (way down) the Jays lineup soon for the good of the team. The Jays may not be "playing for something" at this point, but that doesn't mean that they should continue to undermine their offence by waiting for the ghost of a chance that Lind's 2009 form will return.

After returning from a back injury in June, Lind put up two solid weeks of walloping the Royals, Orioles and Reds. But from his OPS apex of 1.019 at the start of play on June 18th, his performance has plummeted, with his OPS sitting at .745 through September 3rd. In the intervening time, Lind has put up a .199 batting average to go with a .241 on base and .322 slugging. He's struck out 57 times in those 287 plate appearances, while drawing just 14 walks.

Perhaps most shocking of all is that Lind hit just six doubles in that time, which is one fewer than the number of times he's hit into a double play. Over the full course of the season, he's hit 24 homers, but that number only serves to obscure just what a feeble offensive season this has been for Lind, given that he's managed barely half as many doubles (13). (In case you're wondering, Lyle Overbay has 18 doubles through his horrible season with Pittsburgh and Arizona.)

It could be that the back troubles that landed Lind on the DL in the first place have nagged at him all year long, and perhaps when he is healthy and rested at the beginning of next Spring, he'll rebound nicely. If there is some injury that is impeding him from playing the game to his fullest, the Jays might be willing to show some patience and see him through part of the remaining three years on his contract. What they should not do is continue to subvert the achievements of the others in the lineup but waiting for those tarnished skills to suddenly reappear this season. It isn't happening.

Three Happy Thoughts!
So that your pallet isn't offended with the acidity of any of the observations above, we leave you with three happier notions to brighten your day:

1) Henderson Alvarez faced the most fearsome offensive lineup in baseball and walked away unscathed. Moreover, the hard sink and movement on his pitches left some pretty impressive hitters looking like statues cast to convey befuddled apprehension.

2) Five of the Blue Jays' minor league affiliates made the postseason this year. Vince Lombardi said that "winning is a habit". It's nice to think that some future Jays are developing that habit early on in their careers.

3) Dustin McGowan is back, and he brought his lambchops with him. It's nice to see him, and we look forward to seeing him pitch again.


William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

Excellent and enjoyable post. That success in the minor leagues speaks well of the Blue Jays. I like where this team is going even though that bodes ominously for my favorite team.

Garold said...

I really, really, hope McGowan gets a standing ovation when he enters the game. He deserves it.

The Ack said...

"there's something refreshing about sitting back and viscerally appreciating the sight of Brett Lawrie playing baseball."

More and more, this is where my headspace is. At the risk of becoming "one of them dinosaurs", I'm finding that statistical analysis overload, while not "ruining" the game for me, has become distracting at best.

Sometimes a dude just wants to watch a guy play baseball and really get after it... fWAR and UZR be damned.

(now I'll retreat and allow the mocking to begin....)

Anonymous said...

I find watching Brett Lawrie play makes me feel every bit of my 42 years, and not all like I'm 21 again.

Particularly, it brings home the fact that there was nothing I did at the age of 21 as well as he plays baseball. That's a bucket full of cold water in the face on a holiday Monday afternoon, let me tell you.

But I do so love to watch him play baseball...

Keith72 said...

Agreed on all points. Lawrie's exuberance is just plain infectious--in a good way.

Lind's inability to recognize pitches and take a walk has lead this team to have 2 major needs in the off season: 1- a bat that can hit clean up and protect Bautista
2- another starting pitcher preferably someone to slot in behind Romero and before Morrow. Not that these guys grow on trees. I can see Molina pushing Cecil as early as mid 2012