Friday, February 29, 2008

Best Shape: One Last Time

Actually, I had not planned to post another "best shape" roundup, but then my sister cleverly goaded me into it with one of her typically slow developing, yet well worth the read anecdotes from Germany.

Away we go!

Joba Chamberlain:
Saying that he believes he is in the best shape of his life, Chamberlain focused his offseason workouts on dropping body fat and strengthening his body's core, putting special attention on his legs to generate power and drive.
Yadier Molina:
Molina enters the season recovered, trim and singularly focused on the Gold Glove that went to Dodgers catcher Russell Martin, who started 42 more games than Molina last year. The off-season was designed to put him in the best shape of his career, he said, and now he's ready to show it with the Cardinals.
Russ Adams:
Buried on the depth chart of the Jays roster is former shortstop/second baseman Russ Adams. The first-round pick in 2002 was an everyday player in 2005, but has since bounced between the minors and the bigs. He's in arguably the best shape of his career, and has impressed his coaches during batting practice and in the batting cages. Jays manager John Gibbons admits it will be hard to "find a home for (Adams)," which is why the 27-year-old will see some time in the outfield during spring training.
Eddie Kunz:
After signing with the Mets last July, [Kunz] joined Class A Brooklyn, pitching in 12 games, before going to the Arizona Fall League to refine his changeup. All that pitching wore him out, and he returned home to Portland exhausted. Soon, he resumed training with the Oregon State team, losing 15 pounds, to put him around 250, and is in what he called the best shape of his life.
I'm sure there are more, but I can't spend all day trolling local papers, so I just get what Google News brings me. I'm sure my faithful readers won't mind too much, seeing as how you: don't care.

Also, since I mused last time about how journalists swallow this standard line (with hook and sinker), I thought I'd give some props to some brave skeptics out there.

Tom Verducci:
Joba Chamberlain is only 22 years old and has thrown just 24 innings in his major league career. Javy Lopez is 37 and has caught 1,351 major league games. What might these two players possibly have in common, considering the tremendous gap in age and workload? Both of them are in the best shape of their lives. Don't believe it? Just ask them, not to mention just about every other player in any camp this season who gladly helps a desperate beat writer knock another non-news day off the spring training calendar.
That's the opening paragraph to his column on the top ten spring training falsehoods.

Childs Walker:
That said, spring training is not an entirely helpful exercise for fantasy purposes. The swarms of reporters in Florida and Arizona don't have much to write about some days, so out come the tales of veterans who reported in the best shape of their lives and youngsters with as many tools as Mickey Mantle. There's always some obscure dude who hits .800 with four homers in the first two weeks and suddenly seems like a viable fantasy pick.
There were spring training games played today, and since tomorrow is March, this will be our final roundup.

But who cares?

Baseball's back!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Daily "Best Shape" Roundup

Who else is in the best shape of their career?

Jeff Bennett:
Bennett has dropped more than 50 pounds in the last seven months, reporting to spring training in probably the best shape of his life and giving himself a legitimate chance to claim a job in the Atlanta Braves' high-profile rotation.
Russell Martin:
"Yep, no question," [Martin] replied when asked if he was in the best shape of his life. "I feel stronger, faster. I feel athletic. I feel balanced, I feel strong in the right places."
Ryan Doumit:
Doumit admits being overweight contributed to his poor health history. Thanks to a strict offseason diet and workout routine, he reported to camp in what he said is the best shape of his life.
Paul McNaulty:
To ensure that wouldn't happen again, McAnulty dedicated himself to getting in the best shape of his career in the offseason. He worked out three times a day -- that's right, three times a day -- six days a week, an arduous mix of weight training, conditioning, riding the stationary bike and, of course, hitting, at his home in Oxnard, Calif.
Kevin Millwood:
Kevin Millwood threw out of the stretch for the first time Monday and he said he was feeling good after his second bullpen session of the spring. "Both of my hamstrings were tight after running, but that was everybody," he joked. Millwood went on the disabled list twice last season with a hamstring injury. "I think I'm in the best shape of my life," he said.
Dioner Navarro:
“I’m in the best shape of my life,” Navarro said. “But hopefully what I did will pay off and help me get through the regular season.”
Why do I get such a kick out of these quotes? I think it's because they're silly from two different perspectives.

First, the players are so outrageously optimistic heading into the new year. Yeah, it's what makes sports so great, but it also is just another bullet point in the list of things that demonstrate why we need objective analysis: there's just no way that every player who says "I'm in the best shape of my life" really is. Or, perhaps, even if they are, there's no way it will translate into superior performance. That it's always brought out in spring training as reason for optimism despite the dubious nature and ignominious history of the quote is amusing.

(Side note: the above also applies to every veteran who shows up and says something like: "We got a good team. We have good guys here, talented guys. If we do the things that we're supposed to do, we're gonna be real good." Yeah, sure. Now how likely is this?)

(Side side note: the best part about the vets talking about doing the right things is that they never mean working the count, hitting for power, striking batters out, and walking few opponents. No, they always mean bunting, hitting and running, stealing, and the ever nebulous "fundamentals." Seriously, I think hitting home runs is pretty damn fundamental, but I digress (from my digression withing a digression). Your team will not score if it can run and bunt, but has no one on base and don't hit homers. Don't tell the Giants, though.)

Second, the fact that sports writers parrot the line so completely without ever bothering to acknowledge the ubiquitousness of the quote is almost astonishing. If you're a writer, and a player says that to you, and you want to use it in your article, how can you not mention the unlikelihood of the truthfulness of that statement? The apparent lack of awareness on the part of Joe Media Man is also amusing.

And just think: position players haven't even reported yet!

Saturday, February 16, 2008


Lookout Landing has an even more comprehensive look at this year's "best shape" parade of quotes than I've been able to collect. Some of them are borderline, but most of them are gold. Have all my efforts been for naught?

Never fear, faithful reader, I will press on in spite if this fairly significant pwning. My hat is off to this gentleman.

Hi, my name is Chad Cordero...

...and I'm in the best shape of my life.
Closer Chad Cordero was working out on Friday, and said he is in the best shape of his life, having lost 10 pounds during the offseason. He hopes that losing the weight will help him keep his stamina throughout the season.
Keep 'em coming, boys!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Ray King, come on down!

You're the next contestant on "Best Shape of His Life!"
Reliever Ray King arrived in camp in the best shape of his life. He lost 23 pounds and hardly has a gut. King decided to stay away from junk food and sodas and start working out with son. He said instead of going to In-N-Out Burger, King ate salmon instead.
Oh, man... baseball is back!

Putting the nail in the steroid coffin

Many people don't remember this, but back in the mid 90's, when everyone was gearing up for someone to break Maris' home run record, the most common theory for the large increase in home run rates was that the ball was juiced, not hitters.

Unfortunately, especially for those who prefer things like "research" and "science" over speculation, once steroid-mania hit, that theory died a quick death. That death was premature.

There's is a growing body of evidence that there have been substantial and significant changes in the baseball used by MLB. Today, Tom Tango adds his observation to the mix, concluding that while expansion and changing ballparks do not explain the increase in home run rate, a changing baseball appears to account for nearly all of the change.

This meshes quite well with the findings of other researchers, who have claimed that there has been a physical change to the ball itself.

Steroids, unlike HGH, increase physical strength, no doubt about it. However, the link between steroid use and baseball performance is tenuous at best.

This is why the steroid issue frustrates me so greatly. The whole issue has become nothing more than a soap box for old writers and old commentators and old players to break out that old saw about how players used be tougher and smarter and more competitive. This has been going on since baseball began.

Yet, we don't consider any of the other possible explanations for the increase in home run rate. I'm not saying steroid use didn't have some effect on that rate. I'm saying we don't know what that effect is. The best available evidence is that the effect, if any, has been small.

There has never been a period in baseball that could be analyzed apart from the context of the era itself. If you want to look at unadjusted statistics, you must accept that they will always be tainted by context, regardless of the cause of that context. If you look at adjusted statistics, the reason for the context is irrelevant. The day that the majority of baseball fans realize this will be a great day indeed.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

It's cool to just hand New England teams championships before playing a single game, right?

It is? Cool. Just checking. See, everyone seems to be handing the Red Sox the 2008 World Series before spring training really gets under way. Normally, I would be opposed to this, but I guess it's safe to assume that teams from New England will seal the deal, especially this Red Sox team.

I mean this is the same teams that outscored the New York Yankees by -101 runs last year. That's a lot by which to outscore the next best team in the league! Plus, last year, the Yanks had three exciting young pitchers to eat up some of the innings that will now have to go to AAAA scrubs. They're gonna allow way more runs this year.

It's even more of a slam dunk when you figure that the Sox creamed the Yanks by winning eight of the eighteen head-to-head contests with their main rivals. That's impressive. Furthermore, they got stronger as the year went on, adding -12.5 games to their lead over New York from May 29th until the end of the year.

And as if they needed anymore help, the Sox will have a healthy Curt Schilling right from the start in 2008.

Yup, the Sox are obviously the best team in baseball this year. Who could even possibly think to hope of maybe dreaming to someday pretend to almost imagine to challenge the glimmer of the shadow of the Platonic form of the little toe of these Boston Red Sox?

Spring training is here!

What more really needs to be said?

Baseball is back!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Spring training is almost here! (Part 4)

It was subtle, but not even a slightly different take on inthebestshapeofhiscareer can escape my watchful eye:
"I feel more alive more than any other year," said Crawford, who plans on getting organic meals shipped to him throughout the season. "This new regimen, it's been having me feeling like I have more energy."
Congrats, Carl!

Spring training tomorrow!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

HGH: Useless

The evidence continues to mount that Human Growth Hormone has no performance enhancing effect on athletes. Will the media finally stop bitching about it? Only if misguided, self-righteous tirades stop selling newspapers!

(As is increasingly the case, hat tip to BBTF.)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Writers, please be consistent

As the Roger Clemens steroid saga gets stranger and stranger, I have one simple request for all sports writers out there: please be consistent.

Already, we are seeing rumblings about how Clemens' vigorous defense is embarrassing and makes him look bad. This from the same people who believe that not vigorously defending yourself is proof that you are guilty.

Look, you can't go around telling athletes that they must sue their accusers if they are innocent and then condemn them for doing just that. A little consistency is all I ask.

Note: The stories linked her came from Buster Olney's ESPN blog. Every day, Buster provides a near exhaustive laundry list of stories from the print media, along with some of his own observations. It's a great resource, but you have to pay for it. Today, he shares a wonderful story about his encounter with Deion Sanders when Deion was in the minors and Buster was a young reporter. For Buster, sharing this story is a rite of spring. It's another indication that for us, like Carl Crawford, spring training is almost here! If you have an ESPN Insider subscription, it's well worth the read.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008