Monday, September 29, 2014

The Baseball Story of Bret Saberhagen

This past week, Phil Hughes set an all-time record for strikeout-to-walk ratio for a season, breaking Bret Saberhagen's twenty-year-old record. That got me thinking about Bret Saberhagen, which led us here. Rock and roll.

It should be noted that, while advanced statistics support claims that Saberhagen was an exceptional pitcher, he doesn't have any actual connection to the term sabermetrics.

Immediate Dividends

Saberhagen was drafted straight out of Grover Cleveland High School in Reseda, California by the Kansas City Royals in 1982. He blew away hitters at single- and double-A in 1983, compiling a 16-7 record with a cumulative 2.55 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 27 starts. Unsurprisingly, Saberhagen broke camp with the major league ballclub in 1984.

Saberhagen was effective as a rookie as well. He went 10-11 with 3.48/1.10, and that WHIP is what's most impressive. Not many rookies are able to control innings as well as he did, and he did so with tremendous control and pitching to contact. He walked just 36 batters in 157.2 innings in his rookie season, a great rate for anyone and an amazing rate for such a young pitcher (he was 19 entering the season). As I mentioned at the beginning, that's kind of Saberhagen's thing, not walking guys.

Interestingly, Saberhagen didn't receive a single vote for Rookie of the Year. Granted, his numbers weren't tremendous, and the top two vote-getters absolutely deserved the lion's share: Alvin Davis won the ROY with .284-27-116, and Mark Langston finished second with 17-10, 3.40, and 204 strikeouts in 225 innings. But among the guys who managed to nab a single vote were Ron Romanick (12-12, 3.76, 87 K in 229.2 IP) and Saberhagen's teammate Mark Gubicza (10-14, 4.05, 111 K in 189.0 IP).

The only explanation I can think of is that innings pitched was a real barn-burner back in the early 80s. Although I don't think the innings disparity makes up for how much better Saberhagen was than Romanick and Gubicza, I'm okay with innings pitched getting a little more credit as a statistic. We talk all the time about the value of guys getting deep into games, giving their bullpens a break. Maybe we should acknowledge that effort in the raw statistics that give us that information.

Anywho, back to Sabes, who didn't let his lack of ROY votes get him down. Like, at all.

Winning, Winning, Winning

In 1985, Bret Saberhagen had a banner year. He started perfectly fine, with a record of 7-4 and an ERA of 3.23 through the end of June. But that's when he turned it on. Here's a list of amazing things that Saberhagen did in 17 starts from July 3rd through October 5th:
  • posted a win-loss record of 13-2
  • threw seven complete games, including a 10-inning game on August 19 against the Tigers
  • pitched into the ninth inning or beyond in 10 different games
  • walked two or fewer batters in every start
  • yielded an absurdly low .256 OBP to opposing batters

Oh, and the Royals went from two games over .500 to twenty games over .500, edging the California Angels (I just love typing that) by a single game for the AL West crown. Saberhagen had a rough series against the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS, going only 4.1 and 3.0 innings in his two starts, but the Royals were able to squeak into the World Series with George Brett basically willing them there.

Then, after dropping the first two games at home to the St. Louis Cardinals, Dick Howser gave the ball to Saberhagen, and Bret answered with a complete game one run, six-hit win. Then in game seven, under the brightest lights, Saberhagen posted another complete game, this time a shutout. His two masterpieces earned him the World Series MVP award; his dominance all season earned him the 1985 Cy Young Award.

From 1986-1988, Saberhagen had his share of ups and downs. He won 18 games in 1987, but then gave up more hits than anyone in the league in 1988.

Then in 1989, Saberhagen was brilliant. Once again he was phenomenal after the All-Star break. From July 14 on, he went 15-2, receiving the decision in every start. By the end of the year, he led the AL in...everything?
  • 23 wins
  • .793 winning percentage
  • 2.16 ERA
  • 12 complete games
  • 262.1 innings pitched
  • 0.96 WHIP
  • 4.49 K/BB ratio

He received 27 of 28 first place votes to win his second Cy Young Award (some crackhead gave Dave Stewart a vote).

Dethroned

The legacy of Bret Saberhagen, though, is inconsistency. He missed time in 1990 and 1991 with various ailments, though he did throw his only no-hitter in August of 1991, and the last no-hitter in Kansas City Royal history to date.

That offseason, Saberhagen's time with the Royals ended (get the "dethroned" title now?) as he was traded to the New York Mets along with Bill Pecota for Gregg Jefferies, Kevin McReynolds, and Keith Miller in a fierce collection of mostly irrelevant players. Saberhagen was solid for the Mets when he was able to stay healthy, maintaining his disdain for free passes. In 524.1 innings with New York, he issued just 77 total walks. In the strike-shortened 1994, he set the aforementioned previous record for best strikeout-to-walk ratio in a season at 11.00. But he also never managed more than 25 starts, again due to a variety of ailments, or perhaps just one big one that hadn't been detected yet...

Saberhagen was traded again in the middle of the 1995 season, this time to the playoff-bound Colorado Rockies, ruining fantasy owners everywhere. His ERA at the time of the trade was 3.35, but ballooned up to 4.18 in nine starts for the Rockies. Colorado still made the playoffs, but lost in the divisional round to the Braves. Saberhagen was no help, yielding six runs in 4 innings in his only start.

An Injury Unlike Any Other

Then, leading into 1996, Saberhagen found himself extremely bothered by an unresponsive shoulder injury. After multiple tests, he was found to have a torn anterior capsule in his pitching shoulder. Up to that point, surgery had been conducted to repair this injury exactly zero times. The reason you don't really hear about it is that the injury actually isn't often "successful." Among the folks who've had the surgery are a litany of "hey remember how good ____ was" names: Rich Harden, Mark Prior, Chien-Ming Wang, Johan Santana.

That said, Saberhagen actually recovered fairly well from the surgery. He missed all of the 1996 season and entered free agency. The Boston Red Sox signed him to a $500k contract for the year, and he missed most of the 1997 season as well, coming in for six starts starting in August. He wasn't impressive by any stretch (6.58 ERA, 1.54 WHIP), but the BoSox saw enough to keep him around, and it paid off handsomely. Over the next two seasons with Boston, he'd go 25-14 in 53 closely-monitored starts, and earning another award for his cabinet: 1998's Comeback Player of the Year.

Unfortunately, the year 2000 was not a new start for Saberhagen, as he encountered more shoulder problems and underwent another shoulder surgery. The Red Sox stood by him through it all, but this spelled the beginning of the end. Sabes made three starts for Boston in 2001, but it was clear he simply didn't have it, and he retired at the end of the season.

Of course, in those 15 innings, he didn't walk a batter.

Final Statistics
Career win-loss record: 167-117
Career ERA: 3.34
Career WHIP: 1.14
Career K/BB ratio: 3.64
Career complete games: 76
2 Cy Young Awards (1985, 1989)
1 World Series MVP Award (1985)
Career earnings: $47,688,230

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Blog About Blogs? That's So Meta

So a co-worker of mine asked me if I could talk to him about blogs, and I was kind of taken aback. I never really thought about having to explain what a blog is; I just started blogging. So, I was thinking, writing a blog about blogs and blogging could help me craft my blogs and better plan out future subjects. Here goes.

What is a blog?

If I were to answer this question as simply as possible, I think I would say that a blog is a sequence of articles, written by one person or a small group of people, generally about the same topic or group of topics. Outside of that, there's a lot of leeway with regards to what a blog can be. I would say they fall into three mostly distinct categories (I created these categories, so don't look for this breakdown on Wikipedia or in a textbook):

Personal Blogs

Personal blogs are just what they sound like. They're almost always written exclusively by a single person for their own personal interactions. A person can use this kind of blog to share their individual happenings with friends and family, including photos, videos, and news. These blogs usually don't make their way to public consciousness; they're more for your own relationships. It should be noted that Facebook has dramatically reduced the impetus for people to create personal blogs. It creates a digital bridge between you and your friends/family, reducing the need for people to visit your website to check in on your life.

By the way, the blog you're reading right now would mostly qualify as a personal blog.

Examples:
GoodPointJoe

Position Blogs

The personal blogs that have endured through the rise of Facebook are usually more appropriately classified as position blogs. These blogs address a particular topic or issue, such as fantasy football, jazz guitar, or animal rights. While they may be written by an individual, the posts generally don't vary in their subject matter. A hockey blog only talks about hockey. A movie blog only talks about movies. And so forth.

What sets a position blog apart from a commercial blog is that its creator's purpose is simply to generate the blog. While ESPN has a number of blogs, as does Yahoo, those blogs aren't built to sell products; they're built to sell themselves. Puck Daddy is a wonderful blog because it focuses on giving you copious amounts of hockey information and commentary. Yahoo benefits because the blog draws traffic, but the blog doesn't "sell" Yahoo to readers; it sells itself.

Examples:
Puck Daddy
Joystiq

Commercial Blogs

Commercial blogs aren't exactly what they sound like. They're not blogs that are commercialized, because even a personal blog can be commercialized. If you're extremely interesting and a gifted writer, you may be able to generate enough traffic to monetize your blog. And of course, Joystiq makes plenty of money from advertisements. But a commercial blog (by my recently created definition) is a blog that's put forward by a commercial entity to describe and advertise their services.

I may get in trouble with someone for saying this, but political campaigns' blogs would fall under this category as well. Their sole purpose is to "sell" their product, that product being their candidate. That's not a position; it's a sales pitch.

Examples:
The Apron (Home Depot blog)
Barack Obama's "Blog" (not written by the President)

So what can a blog do?

Well, a blog can do anything that communication can do. A blog is basically a passive newsletter; rather than shipping out monthly updates to select people, you post updates more regularly, and people read them at whatever pace they choose. For myself, this blog gives me a chance to share my ideas regarding sports, video games, card games, fantasy sports, social issues, and whatever else is on my mind. It may not be an income source for me, but I enjoy the writing.

For other entities, such as small businesses, a blog can be used to obtain and retain customers. Providing regular updates gives readers a sense of inclusion, and it always feels better to be informed about changes at a business. Additionally, a blog can be used to advertise special events or limited offers. Many companies, even larger chain companies such as restaurants and department stores, will offer "online only" deals as a way to both bring in customers and drive customers to their blog or online storefront. The worst thing that can happen to a company is to lose business simply because potential customers were unaware of their options.

I know this has read sort of like a homework assignment, and truthfully, that's kind of how I thought of it myself as I was writing it. But the framing is pretty blase, and I say with some confidence that this would get no higher than a C- in class, so at least it was poorly done homework. If you have any thoughts to add, throw them in the comments.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Next Rock Band




I saw an article this morning that saddened me a little bit. I've never been a big user of the Rock Band Network (which allowed for lesser-known songs to be added as downloadable content), but its closure today signifies another termination of the Rock Band experience that was so popular in the 00's. Now fans of the franchise are left hoping only that something beautiful is in the works, at least in someone's mind at Harmonix.

While there's been no talk about a new Rock Band game in development, there are rumors and sideways mentions that get me excited from time to time. I know I'm not the only one who wants it to happen. But Rock Band and Guitar Hero hit a massive wall with their final releases. Guitar Hero utterly saturated the market with disc after disc of basically just song packs. Rock Band, meanwhile, kind of went as far as they could with their model with Rock Band 3. RB also made literally trillions of dollars (not literally) on individual song purchases. When I load up my RB3, it tells me I have something like 220 extra songs. That's at least $300 of bonus money I put into the Rock Band franchise. So, while the genre fell off, clearly it had some horses, and I strongly believe that it's got the potential to reinvent itself and become an exciting a profitable franchise once again.

But that of course begs the question: what does the next rhythmic playalong game have to look like in order to be appealing to both old and new Rock Banders?

I wanted to at least figure out what I would hope for out of a new Rock Band game. So, what I'm going to do (or at least, what I'm setting out to do) is to boot up as many games in the series as I can find, play around with them for a while, and try to isolate features/aspects/nuances that helped or hurt each game. Then, I'll take that information and try to come up with new ideas and adjustments for what I would like to think could be the new apex in the genre, which I'll call Next Rock Band.

Additionally, if you've got any initial thoughts, or any feedback on any of my findings, please feel free to contribute. Nay, feel compelled to contribute.

That's all for now. I'll report back when I've got some data.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Reader Spike?

I don't regularly check the traffic on this site, but I couldn't help but notice a conspicuous spike in viewers recently. What exactly happened on September 5th?


As you can see, things came back down to earth shortly after; we're back to our regular 20-40 visitors per day. I'm glad you guys are still here at least.

How Can You Enjoy a Game You're So Unbelievably Bad At?

I'm talking, of course, about Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO for short). I am just really, really bad at it. Part of it is age; I'm no spring chicken anymore, so my reflexes aren't what they used to be...which is not to say they were ever particularly good. Additionally, most of my positive experience in first-person shooters has been in campaign form (Call of Duty, Halo, Borderlands, etc), which is way different from competitive gaming against other human players. You can usually game out AI, figuring out their tendencies, their weaknesses, and, more often than not, a gimmicky way to get past difficult points in the game.

Counter-Strike isn't like that. You're almost always playing against real life opponents with real life responses to everything that happens. Most of the time, they're people who play more games than me, are younger and quicker than me, and know more about the game's strategies than me. I lose more than I win, and I'm often at or near the bottom of the scoreboard. And yet, I enjoy the game. Why?

(Mostly) Good Matchmaking

While some of the game modes (Deathmatch, Arms Race, Casual) bring in all levels of players, CS:GO's competitive matchmaking queues emphasize competitive balance. There are 18 levels in all, listed below (I'm a Silver IV):


As you can see, I'm in the fourth group out of eighteen, so obviously I'm a below average player. But when I put myself into competitive matchmaking, I get matched up against players around my skill level. This makes for interesting, competitive matches, and that makes for a more enjoyable gaming experience.

It's not a perfect system, of course. If you queue up for only a single map, or only very uncommon maps, your queues will often take longer, and the longer your queue time, the more likely the system will put you into a game with players of more widely varied skill levels. They'd rather you play something than just sit in the queue all day. But overall, especially if you're interested in playing any of a few maps, competitive matchmaking is a great way to find similarly skilled players to play with and against.

You Get Better

I don't expect I'll ever reach even the second column above. I don't have the time or youth to be particularly good at the game. But I am unequivocally better than I was. Some stuff is simple enough that the instructions are enough to change your behavior:
  • Fire in short bursts
  • Grab guns at the end of a round
  • Aim for headshots
Some improvements require a little more instruction/experience, like good and bad usage of smokes, grenades, and flashbangs. And of course, learning each of the different guns and finding your own strengths and weaknesses goes a long way towards improving your play. The feeling of playing in games where I know the opponent is actually worse than me is great (albeit rare). And as you get better, you want to play more, which makes you better, etc etc.

The Drops

As much as I'd like to say the first two factors were equally important, the truth is the whole reason I got the game is because of the in-game item drops. A lot of these drops are nearly worthless (the number of nickel skins out there is insane), but some of them sell for a dollar or more. The fact that the game paid for itself within a few weeks was fantastic. Of course, now I've got an inventory worth probably $100, so Valve has gotten their share of my money. But I keep getting more drops, keep defraying whatever costs I incur from operations or investments or simply buying myself a neat-looking gun skin. While competitive matchmaking and my own personal improvement would keep me somewhat interested, it's the drops that will keep me interested in CS:GO for the foreseeable future.

The Professional Competitive Community

There's one more factor that's really drawn me in recently, and that's the explosion of professional CS:GO teams playing worldwide. In case you missed it, there was a huge event in August, ESL One Cologne 2014. Sixteen elite teams from all over the world competed for a $250,000 prize pool, and the event drew massive numbers of viewers on Twitch.tv. I was glued to my computer screen for a great deal of the event, and it reinforced what had been brewing in my mind for a while: I love watching experts play this game. The perfectly timed movements, the strategic use of grenades and flashbangs, and the absolutely insane "trigger speeds" they have is just incredible. If you haven't had a chance to watch two top-tier CS:GO teams clash, I highly recommend it.

So that's that, that's the deal with me and CS:GO. If you want to play with me, my name is GoodPointJoe on Steam. And as I said before, bear in mind I'm a silver IV. So it may be horrible playing with me, if you enjoy winning.

Top 500 Songs - Dave Matthews Band

This was always going to be the hardest of my band lists, because I like so many of DMB's songs, and have liked them so differently over...