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The Early Season, A Fake Conversation

Chris SaleYou know the best thing about Twitter? It’s that it can sometimes be such a cesspool that you forget about how awful sports talk radio is. And the best thing about not living in Boston, at least for me, is that I avoid Boston sports talk radio. As I type this, I’m sitting down to watch the Red Sox home opener. The World Champions are 3-8 and playing like one of the worst teams in baseball.

Just two weeks ago Bostonians believed they’d win 90+ games and have a legitimate shot to repeat as champs. Now, the sky is falling.

I write this post today because the sky isn’t falling. What you believe today should be roughly what you believed two weeks ago. So I’m going to share a fake conversation with a polite and naïve young fan who is trying to learn more about the game. (It’s my way of staying calm as I watch the game and putting off a Derek Jeter post that isn’t coming together as I’d like).

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Fan: I can’t believe it! The Red Sox are terrible this year!

Me: Well, they’re probably not terrible. Before they won their final game of the 2018 regular season, they had just finished a string of seven losses in eleven games. And things turned out just fine. Right?

Fan: I suppose, but this just feels different.

Me: It does?

Fan: Yeah, they’re terrible!

Me: Have you kept up with that diary, er, journal?

Fan: Yeah, why?

Me: Go back to last September 29. Tell me what you wrote.

Fan: It says, “The Indians hit two walk-offs in a row, and the Yankees beat us four straight. We have no hope in the playoffs.”

Me: And a month later?

Fan: “Four titles in fifteen years! I knew it all along.” So what?

Me: It’s just that these things happen. Don’t get too up or too down over eleven games. (Editor’s note: twelve).

Fan: But we can get excited about individual players, right? Cody Bellinger already has seven hone runs. In just eleven games!

Me: Sure, you can get excited, I suppose, but not too excited. Did you expect 33-35 home runs from him this year? I suspect you should feel like the over looks good, but you shouldn’t suddenly expect him to hit 70.

Fan: But he’s on pace of over 100!!

Me: Yeah, I love that he’s been hot at the start, and I really love that he’s making a lot more contact than he had in the past. However, you should think about different players who have had amazing 11-game stretches. That happens all the time.

Fan: So are you saying I should still only expect 33 homers?

Me: I don’t want to tell you how many he’s going to hit, at least not a specific number. The homers he’s hit still count. Some quick math might work like this: In a six-month baseball season, a guy who hits 33 homers will hit 5.5 per month. Let’s give him 5.5 for May through September. That’s 27.5. Add half a month for what’s left in April. That’s 2.75. Make it 3 since we’re not half way done. Then add the 7 he’s already hit. That’s 37.25. Call it 38 since I think you’ll like that number better.

Fan: I do.

Me: But be a little wary. Is there something you’ve seen from Bellinger in the season’s first eleven games that convinces you he’s a better player than you thought he was two weeks ago?

Fan: Yeah, his seven homers!

Me: No, that’s just a result. Has his process been different? Did he bulk up or slim down in the off-season? Did he undergo LASIK eye surgery? Did the Dodgers move their right field fence in 50 feet closer to the plate?

Fan: Okay, I think I get it. What about pitchers? Is it the same?

Me: Well, Marco Gonzales isn’t going to win 30 games.

Fan: Yeah, I know that, but what about someone like Chris Sale? His velocity is way down, and he’s been hit really hard so far.

Me: Has he? It seems to me his second start was pretty good, though you’re right that his strikeouts and velocity are both down.

Fan: So you think an 8.00 ERA is good?

Me: That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that when your ERA is made up of one start when you gave up seven runs in three innings, your ERA won’t look good for a while even if you’re pitching really well.

Fan: Yeah, but his velocity is down four miles per hour. That’s a big deal, right?

Me: If his velocity is down all year, yes, it’s likely a very big deal. I wouldn’t expect Sale to be among the league’s five or even ten best pitchers with velocity reduced by that much. But I’m not ready to say Sale’s velocity will be down.

Fan: Why not? If you can’t throw, you can’t throw.

Me: Well, sort of. But maybe Sale is a bit hurt. It’s not like he’s been the picture of health over the course of his career. You weren’t expecting much more than 170 innings this year, were you?

Fan: I guess not.

Me: Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Sale will be totally fine. And I’m not saying he won’t be. All I’m saying is that poor velocity or not, let’s not draw any conclusions about a drubbing and a start with a Game Score of 61, a number that topped ten of his starts from a year ago.

Fan: So how long before we should be concerned?

Me: If he heads to the DL in the next few starts, scratch everything that came before. If he doesn’t, I want 3-4 more starts before I’m really worried. The pessimist in me, however, might start getting antsy after today. (Editor’s note: Sale stunk again in his third start. I’m expecting a forthcoming DL stint).

Fan: Do you think Matt Moore is a lot better?

Me: No.

Fan: Do you think Tim Beckham is a lot better?

Me: No.

Fan: Do you think Matt Shoemaker is a lot better?

Me: No.

Fan: Do you think Domingo Santana is a lot better?

Me: You mean the same guy who hit 30 homers and posted a 126 OPS+ two years ago at age 24? Yeah, he might be really good.

Fan: How can you be sure of all of those things?

Me: I’m not sure at all. It’s just that it’s wiser to trust someone’s entire career rather than its last two weeks, even if those last two weeks were really great.

Fan: Okay, last question for today. I’m watching the Red Sox in their home opener too, and they’ve posted a poll asking if the World Series hangover is a real thing. Is it?

Me: While fans like me and you generally root for laundry (teams, no matter who’s playing for them), players aren’t laundry. They’re real people. You know who I’m sure won’t have a World Series hangover. Dustin Pedroia won’t. Neither will Colton Brewer or Tyler Thornburg.

I kind of expected to offer a bunch more names there, but no. This is generally the same team that won 119 games and the World Series in 2018. With that said, there’s no way in hell this team will experience a World Series hangover. Similarly, you won’t encounter a unicorn. Like unicorns, World Series hangovers don’t exist. It’s a term of magic that people who don’t want to, won’t, or simply can’t understand basic logic rely on to explain things that they can’t.

Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez will likely regress. The Sox will miss Craig Kimbrel as well as playoff Joe Kelly and Nathan Eovaldi. Plus, they weren’t really a 108-win team last season. If they win 15 fewer games, that’s still a pretty impressive campaign. A World Series hangover is what I experienced the morning of last October 29. It’s nto something teams ever experience.

Fan: 44% said it’s real.

Me: Of course they did…

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In other news, I feel terribly for Chris Davis. Sure, it’s hard to feel bad for someone making $161 million over the life of his contract, but that’s the fault of the Orioles, not Davis. I want to make a Ryan Howard comparison, which wouldn’t be so far off. But two things make that unfair. In defense of the Orioles, Davis was a little better than Howard. Meaning great offense, on the other hand, they signed Davis in 2016. They should have known better! Over the life of this contract thus far, Davis is hitting .199/.295/.389. They shouldn’t have predicted it would be this bad, but they should have known that a massive swing-and-miss guy with only two good seasons before age 30 wasn’t going to turn it around after age 30.

Still, he doesn’t deserve the hate he’s been getting. And nobody deserves to feel the way he must be feeling, no matter how much money they make.

Miller

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