On a Saturday came the final day of my wonderful, baseball and number-filled experience. I still got up as early as the day before to watch the sun rise, but this time I did some schoolwork instead of heading to the earliest panel.
Thus, the first panel of the day that I attended was International Baseball Landscape. It was moderated by Rob Neyer and the panel itself consisted of:
Leonte Landino, ESPN Deportes
Tyrone Brooks, Pittsburgh Pirates
Josh Rawtich, Arizona Diamondbacks
The discussion started with the World Baseball Classic. The panel saying that the goal of the WBC was to teach America about international baseball and to spark interest in other countries. Landino added that comparatively, other countries are way more excited for the WBC than in the US.
The conversation then shifted away from the WBC and moved to player development abroad. Brooks started off with saying that MLB players will start coming from China; Landino saying that Colombia is the next baseball frontier, which I then talked to him about after the panel ended. (For those of you who don’t know, I was born in Colombia, so this was exciting for me.) Another thing that was exciting to me was what Rawtich said next which was: If you can speak Spanish, you are four steps ahead of everyone else in terms of working with a baseball team, since there are so many Latin-American facets. The panel then ended with the state of two Caribbean baseball power houses. With regards to the Dominican Republic, Landino said that a setback nowadays is that players are too old at 17 or 18 years old. Brooks then said that the main problem with Puerto Rico is that with them being included in the MLB draft, they now have to compete with hundreds of US prospects without people looking for them as feverishly as before due to the lack of scouts in PR.
From there, I headed to a presentation: Quantifying the Consistency of Pitchers. The idea being, that consistency is always something that has been regarded as a positive thing for a pitcher, but there has never really been a way of ascribing a number to it. This is all I feel like explaining about that presentation.
After which, it was time for another lunch and panel on prospect analysis and evaluation. Moderated by Barry Bloom, of MLB.com, the panel consisted of a trio of technically-MLB.com people:
Mayo and Callis started off with saying that there has been an explosion of both information and the speed at which it travels, which has led to a different evaluational process with prospects, with Callis elaborating that the most important stat to look at first in that whole process (for both hitters and pitchers) is K/BB ratio.
Pleskoff’s contribution to the group was rattling off some names for the audience to remember going forward: Tim Cooney (who I wrote down as “Tom” in my notes), Jonathan Schoop (whose name I spelled “Scope”), Steven Matz (whose name I spelled “Maetz”), and Kris Bryant (whose name I spelled “Chris”).
While there were other things in this panel, that’s all I’ll include since these entries would be 7,000 words if I transcribed even half of the panels.
Next was the panel Telling Stories in the Age of Sabermetrics. This being put on by the sports website Sports on Earth and featuring its writers as both moderator and panelists. These were (starting withe the moderator): Steve Madden, Emma Span, Mike Trainer, and Howard Megdal.
I believe it was Steve Madden who started the panel by introducing Sports on Earth by saying that it was like Grantland in terms of how people viewed the content but more like the National in terms of getting content out as quickly as possible. He said that, “smart is better than loud,” saying that you need to be accurate and engaging but not intentionally sensational.
Emma Span gave some insight in interviewing players by saying that one should not construct yes-no questions, but the more broad and open-ended one’s questions are, the duller the response, so try to create context with the question that is specific and directed.
Howard Megdal related this to numbers by saying that numbers are very helpful in doing stories and can also be so with interviews. To elaborate, you should find player-specific information so they are engaged, because players can tune out a reporter very quickly. They are craftsmen, so if you take notice of what they are doing, they’re more likely to be engaged, with Span adding: Just because you can’t measure something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Span then capped off the panel by offering advice for writers looking to get into sports writing, specifically looking at the type of writers that might be in the audience for this particular panel. She said first that if can explore a niche, go for it but you should be able to write on a variety of topics. Target what you want to write about/see what you need to be able to write for that. She said that you should also just try and write as much as you can, but to err on the side of specificity. “I would stop before you take a job writing for a site about non-phosphorous metals.” Then giving some advice about critiquing things: Break things down into manageable chunks when voicing critiques in a way that doesn’t sound as critical. Megdal added to this idea by saying that one must approach things gingerly when whomever you are talking to is not doing well. When looking at the numbers, look not necessarily how good they are, but where there’s room for improvement.
And with that panel and Vince Gennaro leading the conference wrap-up:
my first ever SABR Analytics Conference. The actual wrap-up ended at 4:30, so I hung around the hotel a bit talking to some of the conference organizers. Then I went to the airport via Phoenix’s Minnesota-esque lightrail line and entertained myself by taking picture like this:
And this (even though it was technically from the airport tram):
My flight wasn’t until midnight, so for the moment I just took in the pretty sunset:
And the Phoenix skyline in said sunset:
After which I waited at my gate to get on a couple of flights that via Atlanta would see me landing in Washington DC at 8:00 AM:
While I’ve always kind of known which teams I like and which I don’t–although even those have changed throughout the years–I truly have never ranked the teams 1-30 as to which I like better than others. So that’s what I’m going to do right now. (Disclaimer: This is a list of how I order the teams in the offseason of 2013-14. While most of my decision in where to put a team in the rankings is based off of the franchise itself, some of it is based on who is on the team right now, so these rankings are subject to change over time.)
1. Minnesota Twins-
My story with the Twins is that I grew up a Yankees fan being from New York, but being that I look at things from a GM’s perspective, I thought that being Brian Cashman and having a $200-million payroll would be a pretty boring job creatively since he could essentially buy any player he wanted to. In thinking this, I thought of a team who had success but doing so with a reduced payroll that required teams to build their team in an innovative way on a much smaller budget. Being as it was the mid-2000s, the Twins was a natural choice seeing as they were a constant playoff team with one of the lowest budgets in baseball. Now don’t get me wrong; there’s a different challenge in being the GM of the Yankees: you’re never allowed to take a year off having success to rebuild your core/farm system, but I was entranced by the building of a successful major league team from a solid minor league core.
2. Washington Nationals-
In going to a ton of games at Nationals Park in 2011 I fell in love with the core of players that went 80-81 as well as the people who inhabited it. Ever since then, I have been a really big fan of the players that made up the core of the teams in the next two years. And because of me falling in love with the Nationals Park environment for whatever reason as well as the people who made it such a special place, I became a fan of the franchise as a whole.
3. Tampa Bay Rays-
Much like the Twins, the Rays endeared themselves to me by being a team that built their team intelligently–allowing them to achieve repeated success on a payroll that can’t compare to that of a larger market team.
4. San Francisco Giants-
The Giants is an interesting case because it started as simply a liking of a specific player: Tim Lincecum. However, as I kept up with Lincecum more and more as he began to turn from the Washington kid who could pitch insanely fast for his size to a household name, I grew to have a liking fro the other players on the Giants as well. I think having shared a hotel with the players in Milwaukee and having a mini-conversation with a couple of them as well as having a personal memory of what Brian Wilson was like pre-beard may have contributed to this connection to the team, though.
5. Texas Rangers-
I truly have no idea how the Rangers managed to climb my list so high. I used to not really be a fan of them in their team with the two Rodriguezes, but as they turned towards a team that relied more on pitching *in addition to* the offense the Rangers always seemed to have, I really liked the teams that they constructed around 2009-10.
6. New York Yankees-
While they have fallen down my list and I hate the franchise past the team itself, they still are my childhood team that I can’t help to root for.
7. Philadelphia Phillies-
While it was not the beginning of my fandom of them, this certainly sealed it for me. They’d be higher on the list for me, but Phillies fans.
8. Toronto Blue Jays-
Part of me always sympathized with our neighbors to the north. Even when the Expos were still a team, I liked the Blue Jays a lot and always secretly as a Yankee fan hoped they would surge up and break the norm of the AL East standings for a while in the early 2000s–which was:
2. Red Sox
3. Blue Jays
5. Devil Rays
I just really always wanted them to have success, and this translated to a fandom of the team when they played teams that weren’t my top-of-the-line favorite teams.
9. Milwaukee Brewers-
My liking of the Brewers began in around 2008 when CC Sabathia joined the team for half a season and did amazing with being in attendance for what should have been a no-hitter, (I might write about this/do a video for a “Blast From the Baseball Past” entry) but then I just had a fandom for the Fielder and Braun teams. My fandom for the team, though, has lessened the past couple of years for obvious reasons regarding one or more of the aforementioned players.
10. Oakland Athletics-
(See Tampa Rays.)
11. Cincinnati Reds-
I think this is kind of a fusion of many of the various teams I have talked about to this point. So in part it’s like the Rays where I liked that a solid major league team was built from the pooling of major league talent, but it is also a lot like the Giants since I really like Joey Votto as a player.
12. Atlanta Braves-
I think this is Nationals-esque in that I loved Turner Field and its atmosphere. I also liked the core and became much more of a fan because of people I have met that are passionate about the Braves. And I can say that the fact that Julio Teheran plays for them doesn’t hurt them at all.
13. Arizona Diamondbacks-
This is one of the teams that I honestly don’t know why I like more than most teams. I’ve just always liked Diamondbacks teams (after the 2001 season, that is.) Yeah, I don’t know.
14. Seattle Mariners-
This has been mostly the product of running into very nice baseball people who are fans of the Mariners. I’m also a fan of how good of a pitching team they have been despite being offensively anemic the past seasons.
15. Baltimore Orioles-
Similarly to the Mariners, I just know a ton of awesome baseball people that are Orioles fans. In addition to that, their stadium is my favorite in baseball. I would say that really the only reason they’re this far down the list is that some Orioles fans became obnoxious as they began to climb out of the AL East cellar.
16. Detroit Tigers-
I know that I’m supposed to hate the Tigers as a Twins fan, but the fact that we beat them in the game 163 we played them helps and I always admired the teams that had success more than most of the teams I am supposed to dislike.
17. Pittsburgh Pirater-
I can pretty safely say that if I weren’t a ballhawk, this team would be lower on the list, but because of the big ballhawk following in Pittsburgh, I have kept up and liked the Pirates and it was incredibly fun watching them have success for the first time in over two decades last season.
18. Miami Marlins-
Ah the Marlins. Those poor souls. I always had an affinity for them especially teams with the 30+ homer infields of Uggla, Ramirez, Cantu, and Jacobs. That said, Jeffrey Loria has made this a team that I can’t root for over half of the other teams. They remain a team that I’m intrigued by and want to root for, and they would skyrocket up this list if Loria ever sold them and kept them in Miami, but right now they’re just not a team I can really get behind.
19. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim-
I don’t know about this team. I want to like them in many respects, but they lost me when they started spending a bajillion dollars on free agents, trading for Vernon Wells, and then having success with not with their big free agent acquisitions but with the farm talent they had beforehand.
20. Colorado Rockies-
The Rockies are one of those teams I have a preference towards, but still in a kind of “eh” way. I’ve never disliked them really, but I’ve never really had any passion behind my support of them.
21. San Diego Padres-
I used to like them a lot more in the Trevor Hoffman era, but they’ve dropped a bit since then not necessarily because their lack of success but the players behind these teams. They just haven’t been groups of guys that I’d like to get behind.
22. Cleveland Indians-
Again, never disliked them but never really liked them.
23. Houston Astros-
I actually like the group of people in this team and could see myself liking a lot in the years to come. That said, they have made some pretty bad decisions in the past and it was not a shock that they were as bad of a team as they have been.
24. Kansas City Royals-
I actually like this franchise in terms of their ballpark and look, but then there are the people behind the scenes that ruin this team for me. At the ballpark, I have not heard many positive things about their ushers, and behind the franchise, I disagree on many things with the GM of the team, Dayton Moore. I think that the team could have been competing a long time ago had it not been for his guidance.
25. St. Louis Cardinals-
The main reason for them being this far down the list is the fact that their fans claim incorrectly that they are definitely the “best fans in baseball.” While I don’t think there is a no-doubt group of the best fans in baseball, if my experience with Cardinals fans in baseball has taught me anything, it is that while the Cardinals fan base may be in the top-10, they are definitely not the no-doubt best fans in baseball they claim to be.
26. Chicago White Sox-
I was a fan of the 2005 Astros and 2008 Twins. Enough said.
27. New York Mets-
They’re the Mets. I don’t know how many things I have admired about the Mets the past five years. If it’s any indication, the rendition of “Meet the Mets” that I have adopted begins:
Beat the Mets,
Beat the Mets,
Step right up and,
Sweep the Mets
28. Los Angeles Dodgers-
While I have kind of liked the players on the Dodgers for stretches, their recent acquisition by the Kasten-Johnson group and metamorphosis into baseball’s new Yankees has really turned me off to them. I have disliked them sans Vin Scully for a much longer time than just that, but that’s the most recent thing that provides a rational reason for disliking them.
29. Chicago Cubs-
I have never had any appeal to the Cubs, and I’m not particularly found of how Cubs fans overreact to prospects as well as how in-your-face Cubs fans I have interacted with have been about the most minor successes. Granted, it’s a conditioning that has come with being the fan of a team who last won a World Series when one’s great-grandparents were your age.
30. Boston Red Sox-
This is partially because I grew up a fan of the Yankees, but I also do like their stadium and the atmosphere of it. However, I can’t get over the attitude of their owner John Henry that many fans have adopted without realizing the absurdity of it of that the Yankees have a ridiculous advantage in terms of having a humongous payroll. The reason this argument infuriates me is because for the longest time, there was a gigantic gap in payroll between the Red Sox and the third largest payroll. Thus it was the rich crying poor in order to gain sympathy. The second reason is because the Steinbrenner family is actually a middle-of-the-pack ownership group in terms of wealth. The reason they invest so much money into the team is because they value winning. Therefore, if John Henry truly wanted to win, he could spend the extra money and win. The problem is that if he didn’t win with this extra money invested, he would be losing money. However, George Steinbrenner was taking the same risk when he invested his extra money; it was just that Steinbrenner’s Yankees did win every season and could thus keep spending. So what Henry did by calling out Steinbrenner and the Yankees was criticized him/them for doing what he didn’t have the guts to do with the Red Sox in order to give his fans the winning such a great fan base deserved. However, being the fans that they were, many Red Sox fans backed their owner without truly understanding what was behind these claims.
So those were my favorite teams. I am by no means “right” in any of my judgements. Picking a favorite team–or in my case *teams*–is something of complete subjectivity and can be done for any number of reasons. Also, the next entry is me making a new Observing Baseball Logo. I would actually like to make a clarification. So it’s actually not the logo itself–this:
But it would actually be me remaking the icon itself, which is this:
But besides that, keep voting for your favorite entries. I should mention that I’ll be doing various entries for Twinsfest, but you can vote for the stuff you want to see besides this on the poll below:
While I accidentally missed out on the first game of the series, I got to the gates of Nationals Park for the second game of their series with the Pirates, and look who was at the gate awaiting me:
Left to right, that would be:
2. Erik Jabs– The current mygameballs.com season leader with 446 baseballs this, who has also snagged 2,602 baseballs in his lifetime.
3. Rick Gold– A ballhawk/ employee of MLB.com who is slightly behind Erik in both baseball snagging categories I mentioned in his description.
Suffice to say, I was way out of my league, as is the case when most ballhawks are in the same ballpark as I am. For the first fifteen minutes, though, I was holding my own. Actually, I’m pretty sure I snagged three baseballs before either of them had snagged a single baseball.
Like I usually do for pitcher’s BP, I went to straight-away left:
Up to that point, the only pitcher Rick and I had never gotten a ball from that had been up in the majors for any considerable amount of time was Jordan Zimmerman. So when he was up, I relaxed a bit. Sure enough, though, he launched the furthest-hit ball I’ve seen him hit. Naturally, I was taken back by how far the ball was traveling, so I ran back up the steps. However, although the ball was hit hard and high by Zimmerman’s standards, by the time I had run into a row, I realized the ball was falling short, so I wasn’t able to catch the ball on the fly. Instead I watched it drop in front of me and picked it up for my first of the day:
I mean yeah I got the ball, but that misread had me feeling just absolutely awful about how the rest of the day was going to go. The next baseball, though, would have me feeling even worse. After the pitcher’s BP, all of us ballhawks did a musical chairs of sorts with the sections we were inhabiting. Said game of musical chairs ended with me in the Red Seats. There, I saw a ball get hit into the section of field between the Red Seats and right field seats. When I saw a Nationals player going to retrieve it, I ran over to the corner spot of the section. I reacted to him walking over so quickly, in fact, that I neglected to look at if there was anything in my way in the row of seating I was running through. Normally seats in stadiums flip up automatically when someone’s not sitting in them. One of the seats in this row, though, was the exception to that rule. Someone had sat in the seat earlier and it was left down. So as I ran through the row, I was taken out by said seat. The Nationals player was still walking, though; so I immediately got up from a fall that I would have otherwise taken my time in getting up from and asked this player if he could toss me the ball:
He wasn’t wearing his jersey at the time, but with the help of Erik Jabs, we figured out it was Ian Krol, since the only other lefty pitcher on the Nationals roster, I believe at the time, was Fernando Abad.
Us ballhawks then did our game of musical chairs once more, which had me in right field. There I got my third and final ball of the day when Gio Gonzalez overthrew these people and I picked it up to give it to them:
The other two ballhawks then went on to snag a combined 14 baseballs to my none. My only contribution to anyone’s stats from this point on revolved around this:
See, while I used to have a glove trick, it started becoming more trouble than it was worth, so I disassembled, and am thus currently without a retrieval device that is my own. So when I saw a ball go into the gap, I sent out this tweet warning the two other ballhawks:
Neither of them read it, but Erik was the first one to come over, so I pointed both out to him, and he reeled them in with his glove trick as I just stood off to his side and blocked the view of his string from the usher at the top of the section.
There was then another baseball that got dropped or hit in there, so while Erik was in the seats in straight-away left, I waved him over and he fished the ball out of the gap. And that was it. Erik and I went to the bullpen after BP, where he got a grounds crew guy to toss him a ball, and we watched Gerrit Cole warm up. But after that, he left to spend time with his family in Annapolis, and I watched the game in left field as I read this:
I still put my glove on for righties, but I was scheduled to take my driving test three days from this game, so I figured it would be a good time to actually start studying since I hadn’t at all previous to that point. And as bland as it can be for some people, Nationals Park is still a pretty great place to watch a baseball game:
Then again, I think I would talk differently sitting in the 400 level every game.
- 3 baseballs at this game (2 pictured because I gave 1 away)
Numbers 579-581 for my career:
- 135 Balls in 34 Games= 3.97 Balls Per Game
- 3 Balls x 32,976 Fans=98,928 Competition Factor
- 96 straight Games with at least 1 Ball
- 168 Balls in 38 Games at Nationals Park= 4.42 Balls Per Game
- 30 straight Games with at least 1 Ball at Nationals Park
- Time Spent On Game 2:58-11:00= 7 Hours 2 Minutes
Age as of November, 30, 2012: 20 (January, 25th, 2012)
Home Stadium: PNC Park
Home City: Pittsburgh, PA
Throws: Left (It’s really more of a “catches right” thing, because obviously one does not throw a ton while ballhawking, but no one says “catches right”, so yeah. Zac is actually one of the very few ballhawks who is left handed. The only other one who comes to mind is Alex Kopp.)
Total Baseballs as of November, 30, 2012: 434
In only his fourth year of ballhawking/snagging baseballs, we can see that Zac is on the steady upwards climb in terms of his ballhawking — still not having a season where he hasn’t improved his per-game average from the previous season. This is comes at no surprise to anyone who knows of Zac’s work ethic.
Yes, it’s very top heavy. Some may use this as a criticism of Zac, but what naysayers fail to recognize is that getting 37 or 29 baseballs from the same person requires something admirable in one shape or from. Getting that many baseballs from one person requires 1. A dedication to ballhawking long enough so that you could get that many baseballs from one player or coach without him recognizing you. or Zac’s approach: 2. Foster a good relationship with him so that he’ll toss you that many baseballs. Zac has his charity initiative (which you can read about if you click this sentence), so he brought it up with both Heberto “Herbie” Andrade and Euclides Rojas, and they feel as though they are doing good by tossing him baseballs — which they *are*. This might seem cheap, but Zac had to start the charity in the first place, and can you really look negatively on a person for starting a charity? At that point, I think you are just looking for reasons to dislike a person. In addition, he also fosters the relationship between Andrade and Rojas by speaking to them in Spanish. Learning Spanish, of course, not being something you just learn in a day.
Top-5 Locations of Snags:
The ballpark all of these snags should come as no surprise, since PNC Park is by far the park Zac has attended the most in his career as a ballhawk. However, the location of the balls he snags within PNC Park is very odd. Of the eight ballhawks on mygameballs.com who list PNC Park as their home stadium and have snagged more than 5 baseballs in 2012, Zac is the only one whose highest “snag location” isn’t the left field bleachers. While this makes sense, since left field is the place where the season ticket holders are restricted to in the first half-hour of the gates opening, it means that once the rest of the stadium opens, Zac –more so than anyone else — takes advantage of this fact and flees the left field bleachers. As one reader put it:
” … Zac [plays] a completely different strategy than all of the other PNC regulars. For God knows what reason, all of the other regulars seem to battle it out for BP homers in the LF bleachers. Those seats seem to get fairly packed out there. Meanwhile, every single game I’ve seen him at Zac ends up in the handicapped seating area (or seats right behind it) in the RF foul corner. I am 100% on board with this strategy. There is almost no competition, or very little. And it gives you great access to the visiting team’s pitchers — which actually results in a lot of the “competition” being autograph collectors. [Down] the RF line, you can scoop up foul grounders over the short fence. There is very little foul territory and it is very easy (and frequent) for foul balls to hop into the crowd. I have no clue why more [people] don’t go down there…”
Breakdown of baseballs year-by-year:
From this we can see that he has a pretty steady ratio of hit balls to thrown balls. While people — like with the people who threw him the most baseballs — might see the surplus of thrown balls when compared to hit balls as a negative, this again is not necessarily the case. Sure, hit balls may be worth more to some people, but they aren’t objectively harder to obtain or anything like that. Zac’s style has just lent itself more to snagging thrown balls. Along with going elsewhere besides the left field bleachers when the stadium opens-up, Zac also does his homework when it comes to the players so as to increase his odds of tossing out a nugget that gets a ball tossed to him. Additionally, he has one of the main attributes of a hit-ball ballhawk down: speed. So it’s not completely the case that he is unskilled at getting hit baseballs, but his ballhawking just doesn’t pan-out that way as to snag a ton of hit balls.
I’ve pretty much covered this. I could do something further on this with another ballhawk in future profiles (if I do others), but Zac has snagged a total of 10 baseballs outside of PNC Park, so it would be pretty redundant to do it here.
Those aren’t bad highs for a career 3.12 Balls Per Game; not bad at all. If you want to check them out, the links to his blog entries on those games, they can be found 1. Here, 2. Here, 3. Here, 4. Here, and 5. Here.
Finally, if you want to check-out Zac’s blog in general, it is:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Yes, it truly was a tale of two seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2011:
Casey McGehee, Rod Barajas, Clint Barmes, Erik Bedard, Ryota Igarashi (because he’s the only Major Leaguer I’ve played catch with), Nate McLouth, and Doug Slaten.
Paul Maholm, Joe Biemel, Ronny Cedeño, Ryan Doumit, Nelson Figueroa, Ross Ohlendorf, Chris Snyder, and Jose Veras.
Why?: The Pirates have had the most transactions of any team I have done a recap for (the total number of names is probably double that of the list of notable transactions. That said, they also don’t have the big names going back and forth so its kind of hard to account how much all of these little gains and losses will affect the team in the aggregate. Some of these additions might not even give the Pirates an extra win. I mean will Doug Slaten have much of an impact of the Pirates? Probably not. I’m not that sure of how these things will pan out in most predictions, much less so many of them.
Anywho, they did make some higher impact changes. Paul Maholm was a big part of their rotation that has left, and the acquisitions of Erik Bedard and Casey McGehee are sure to help the team have their first winning season of the last 20.
However, this grade could possibly and probably should be lower. The reason the grade isn’t where it most likely would be had I done this recap in a month is because two Pirates (Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick) are still on the free agent market and I have to leave the possibility open that they will return to the Pirates-even if they probably won’t. If both of those are on the “Notable Subtractions” list, my grade for the team is probably a half a grade lower, if not more.
Predicted Record Range: 79-84 wins. The NL Central is depleted, but this number will go down if Lee and/or Ludwick don’t re-sign.