Archive for August, 2015

Ostensibly Clean

August 31, 2015

This morning at breakfast I invented a baseball concept I’m provisionally calling the small ball ‘tricycle’ (aka ‘little cycle’).  Huh?  Whaaa?  Here’s whaaa: Baseball players have long been celebrated for their batting prowess, one aspect of which is the relatively infrequent accomplishment of ‘hitting for the cycle’: recording a single, double, triple and home run in the same game.  Getting those four hits in that specific order (what we might call the ‘straight flush cycle’) is truly rare.  Because of its mathematical simplicity –one, two, three, four–  the cycle will never go out of fashion.  However, under major league baseball’s drug-testing regime in the post-Bonds/McGuire/Canseco era, the emphasis on brute force offense that relies on moonshot home runs has somewhat moderated.  Instead, many in the sport have been celebrating the virtues of small ball –the practice of scoring runs by methodical accumulation of incremental, minor offensive plays that advance runners from base to base, batter after batter. Scoring one run at a time, one after another, instead of all at once.

Gaedel

Small ball is an offensive strategy in which the batting team emphasizes placing runners on base and then advancing them into scoring position for a run in a deliberate, methodical way. Small ball is a contrast to a style sometimes called the “big inning”, where batters focus more on … getting extra-base hits and home runs. The big inning strategy may produce many innings with [numerous] strikeouts and flyouts, but occasionally results in innings with several runs scored.

And yet … despite striking advances in data-driven baseball analysis, small ball aficionados (and legions of sportswriter/ broadcast propagandists) are still lacking a pithy catchphrase that succinctly encapsulates the apotheosis of individual batting performance in the small ball era.  Statistical measures such as on-base percentage, RISP and (more recently) exit velocity just don’t do enough to evoke the spirit of the game-within-the-game that makes baseball so appealing to its fans.  So, as a public service, I herewith propose the ‘tricycle‘  –not because it has merely three components, but instead as an symbol of smallness.  Alternatively, focusing on the four (or more) little wheels that make it go, we might choose to call this concept ‘the little red wagon‘.  Whatever.  In this context, I’m gonna claim copyright to both terms right now.

What’s more important than the name is what counts as an element of the tricycle, the (extremely) minor batting feats that incrementally contribute to a demonstration of small ball prowess.  Here are my candidates, ranked in descending order of the batter’s actual agency in the outcome:

  • bunt single/ infield hit
  • walk
  • reach base on error/ strikeout + passed ball
  • hit by pitch
  • catcher’s interference

Remember: we’re looking to recognize individual batting “prowess” with this metric.  Note that each of these plays results in the batter reaching base, thus advancing the incremental goals of small ball while also directly rewarding the batter himself with an opportunity to score in subsequent play.  A mere sacrifice fly or bunt thus wouldn’t qualify for inclusion in the tricycle because these plays result in an out and the batter’s return to the bench.

OK, so these are the components.  How does the tricycle work?  Simple: any batter who reaches base by a combination of any four of these plays in the same game would be deemed to have hit for the tricycle.  All five?  Wow.  The mind boggles.  The guy should probably go directly to the Hall of Fame.  Or be named honorary president-for-life of the Elias Sports Bureau.  Just sayin’.

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Cure For Hiccups

August 24, 2015

Joint military exercises.  Mine accident.  Accusation … and subsequent denial of ‘slanderous concoctions.’ Leaflet balloons and loudspeaker propaganda. Incoming artillery.  Counterfire.  Bellicose rhetoric. Buildup of forces on both sides of the border. Calls for restraint by anxious allies. Protracted high-level dialog at the traditional village location.

Panmunjom-arama

It’s another sweltering August in Korea, and very few people in the Western Hemisphere seem to actually care.

What does it all mean?  How did we get to the brink of peninsular war this time?  Is there a link to China’s devalued yuan?  Did Kim Jong-un lose most of his People’s Democratic Plunder in the Shanghai stock market?

Perhaps not.  In my view, Korea’s August 4 DMZ mine blast (and subsequent saber-rattling) may have been indirectly triggered by the purge of DPRK Army chief Hyon Yong Chol earlier this year.  The hypothesis: North Korean special operations troops loyal to Hyon planted mines in the DMZ in an attempt to destabilize the Kim clique by provoking a military crisis with the ‘Park Geun-hye puppet gang’ (South Korea).

The reasoning:  In North Korea, it’s definitely not safe to directly protest the removal of a superior in the patriarchal hierarchy. But one can’t be readily criticized for striking the imperialist stooges in the Silla Kingdom –after all, that’s exactly what the Great Leader commands on just about any given day.  So, from this perspective, a tactically successful military provocation that is strategically inconvenient for Kim Jong-un might constitute the 21st century equivalent of a grassroots petition to the imperial court for redress of an injustice.  A cry for help, as it were.

But what sort of a cry for help?  And to whom is this plea directed?  Perhaps not to Kim Jong-un. It’s just remotely possible that some segments of the North Korean military are actually begging to be invaded by their brother warriors in the south, asking to be liberated from the insatiably bloodthirsty, parasitic Kim dynasty.  They must truly be desperate:  things could get ugly when the collaborationist Saenuri gang discovers how little remains to be stolen north of the 38th Parallel.

For now, Koguryo warriors will have to bear the unbearable and ‘eat bitterness’: Park Geun-hye has proven willing to settle for an expression of ‘regret’ rather than an outright apology, so there will be no war tomorrow.  Maybe next time.  It’s a scenario that bears watching: North Korea’s military deliberately starts a war that it intends to lose, in order to ensure regime change that it believes can be accomplished no other way.