World War K Episode 3: Verland Before Time

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Episode 1: The History of the First Base War

Episode 2: And We Will Always Be Royals

The first day of the regular season brought the first major challenge for the new-look Kansas City Royals.  Their first opponents were the Detroit Tigers and the first pitcher they would face was Justin Verlander.  For years, Verlander had been one of the most formidable pitchers in the American League.  In 2011-2012, he was absolutely unhittable.  2013 saw the first signs of decline for the hard-throwing right-hander, but all but the most pessimistic fans thought he would bounce back to contend for a Cy Young.

In the original version of the timeline, before Strike-O-Matic and the robot masters changed everything, 2014 was a disappointment for Verlander.  His first-half ERA was almost a run and a half above his career numbers.  Even by the standards established in Detroit in the early 21st century, this was a disaster.  However, time travel changes everything.  While the robot masters had no particular interest in Verlander other than his eventual subjugation at their cold steel hand, their presence would disrupt the timeline across the board.  This would give him another shot at a successful 2014.  And Verlander wasn’t someone to bet on disappointing twice.

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World War K Episode 2: And We Will Always Be Royals

 

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Episode 1: The History of The First Base War

 

It is said that nothing worth doing is ever easy, and this is doubly true of time travel.  The fabric of the past resists change, not unlike a stubborn mule or the American South.  To move a human-sized pitching machine from the war-torn hell of the year 2099 to the slightly less war-torn hell of 2014 is a process with many steps, and there are numerous things that could go wrong.  It is thought that the power-crazed Artificial Intelligence K.I.R.K.G.I.B.S.O.N. actually sent back an army of robot masters to destroy baseball, and only the six most hardy even survived the trip.

When the aged Mike Trout programmed the Strike-O-Matic to go back to 2014 to stop the robot masters, he gave it a simple enough mission.  The Strike-O-Matic was instructed to find Mike Trout in the past and join the Angels to defeat the nefarious plans of K.I.R.K.G.I.B.S.O.N.  Unfortunately,  Strike-O-Matic’s memory was stored on a Chinese knockoff “Zandisk” solid state hard drive, which Trout had purchased on eBay.  This flash memory was poorly insulated from the terrible magnetic effects of time travel, and by the time Strike-O-Matic arrived in the year 2014, everything it had been programmed to do was corrupted.

The Strike-O-Matic only had a vague idea that he had to join forces with the best player in baseball and outplay some other robots, but everything else was lost to the corruption.  Ever resourceful, Strike-O-Matic turned to the resource that it assumed was the most reliable–networked crowdsourcing.  Strike-O-Matic didn’t understand that in 2014, the internet was only quasi-regulated and that people still thought “trolling” was fun.  Also, its irony meter had been destroyed by the massive influx of irony created during time travel, so it took the first response it received as the gospel truth.

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World War K: The History of the First Base War (MLB: The Show)

As we venture into the new century, several generations have known nothing but the Base Wars.  Robot versus robot.  Robot versus man.  Man versus man.  It is not news.  It is not history.  It is merely life.  For the young people of the year 2099, it is nothing to go to the ballpark and see a robot with tank treads for a leg attempt to decapitate a floating robot with a laser sword.  The cyber-checkpoints are routine, and the e-police are just another fixture on the street corner, twirling their e-batons and compiling their e-donuts.

There was a time before this neon mecha-hellscape.  Once, you could walk down the street without seeing the roving gangs of hobodroids, shaking down the robourgeoisie for their laser-rubles.  It was a simpler time, before the airs was filled with the scream of holodrones and we lived under the constant threat of quantum terrorism.  How did we get here?  And how will this end?  The answer to both of those questions is one and the same.  Because of time travel.

This is the history of the First and Last Base War.

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FIFA 14: 6.7 Billion People Can’t Be Wrong Part Three – All Clocked Up

Imagine a heated Cardinals/Brewers game in the bottom of the ninth inning at Miller Park.  The Cardinals have a one run lead.  Trevor Rosenthal is on the mound.  There are two outs and probably at least one runner on base, given Rosenthal’s recent tightrope act.  After six tense pitches, Rosenthal finally pushes a 98 mph fastball past Ryan Braun for the strikeout.  The crowd goes silent, but before the Cardinals can celebrate the win over their division rivals, the home plate umpire stands up and raises a finger to the sky, indicating that the game will go on for one more inning.  With three more outs, and now Seth Maness or a tired Trevor Rosenthal, the Brewers come back to with the game in the bottom of the tenth even though the Cardinals were leading at the end of the ninth.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?  Like a dystopian nightmare or the fever dream of a power-mad C.B. Bucknor.  But something like that happens at the end of both halves of a soccer match.  See, time doesn’t stop in soccer.  It’s not like basketball, where points and fouls and out-of-bounds halts the game.  Or like American football, where some things pause the clock (incomplete pass, touchdown) and others don’t (ball carrier tackled within the field of play).  In soccer, the clock keeps ticking away.  Then, at the end of each half the referee adds a number of minutes that he believes represents the time lost to events that paused the flow of the game.

Only getting one minute at the end of a 4-0 blowout isn’t such a big deal for my opponents, but if they game had been close then people probably would have died in whatever city FCV represents.

As anyone who watched the US team in the World Cup can tell you, the decision about how much time to add to the half is where the system starts to break down for someone who isn’t regularly exposed to it.  In the US/Portugal game, the second half of the game ended with the US leading by 2-1 and the referees added five minutes to the half–just long enough to allow Portugal to tie the game and prevent the United States from automatically advancing to the knockout round.  And in the latest US/Belgium game, one a single minute was added at the end of extra time, which didn’t give a surging U.S. much of a chance to put together one last attack to tie.  Naturally, US fans who aren’t accustomed to this method of  timekeeping were furious about both decisions.  It seemed arbitrary and, well, it is.

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Craig Paquette: A Look Back

On July 31, 1999, the St. Louis Cardinals traded Shawon Dunston to the New York Mets for Craig Paquette, a 30 year old corner infielder who had spent the entire season in the Mets’ AAA Norfolk affiliate.  When it happened, everyone assumed the trade was done as a favor to Dunston.  The Cardinals were a .500 team, 11 games back in the division, with a depleted pitching staff that didn’t have much hopes of making the playoffs in the single Wild Card era.  The Mets were competing for their division and were 20 games over .500 at the end of July.  Dunston was a veteran and a favorite of the Cardinals’ front office who had spent the majority of his career on the Cubs and played in exactly one playoff series at the age of 36.  He even returned to the Cardinals as a free agent at the end of the season.

Craig Paquette was just supposed to be the piece going the other way–a place-holder in what was essentially a giveaway.  Paquette had spent his career shuttling between the minors and the majors, never making much of an impression.  He had one season, 1996, in which he came close to full time play.  Even then, he was mostly used as a utility player, splitting time between 1b, 3b, and RF.  Throughout the rest of his career, he’d been a part time player at best and now it seemed as if the Major Leagues had given up on him.  In 1998, he appeared in only seven games in the majors, then spent the entirety of 1999 until the trade in Norfolk.  On July 31, he had an OBP of .298 in AAA at the age of 30.  Who the hell would want Craig Paquette?

As it turns out, Tony La Russa wanted Craig Paquette.  La Russa had managed Paquette back in Oakland, where Paquette had spent his first few seasons.  During their time together, Paquette put up a .217/.243/.382 line over 763 plate appearances and three seasons.  And apparently La Russa hadn’t had enough of him. Paquette was in the lineup at RF on August 3, 1999 and promptly hit a double and a HR in his first Major League game of the season.

Over the next three seasons, Paquette would be something of an enigma for the Cardinals.  He had some of the most atrocious on-base skills of any position player I’ve seen and his glove was bad everywhere but first base.  Nevertheless, he got consistent playing time through 2001, when at the age of 32 he finally put up what felt like a decent season, hitting .282/.326/.465.  That still wasn’t great for his defensive profile, but it was good enough to earn him a deal worth almost five million dollars from the Detroit Tigers, after which he reverted back to a pumpkin and fell so far below replacement value that every replacement value player suffered from vertigo.

I will admit that I hated Craig Paquette.  At the time, I was vehemently opposed to Tony La Russa.  Despite the fact that he’d helped bring in Mark McGwire, one of my favorite players of all time, La Russa’s managing style irritated the hell out of a fifteen year old kid who had just discovered Bill James and spent a fucked up amount of time posting on rec.sports.baseball.  La Russa’s love of veterans, closers, and short-sighted match-ups infuriated me.  It would be years before I figured out that La Russa was actually better than most managers about the things I hated.  My distaste for La Russa seeped over onto Paquette, who was clearly one of La Russa’s “guys.”  Paquette stayed on the team and kept getting at bats despite his terrible OBP (which I thought was the most important thing in the world) and his less-than-impressive glove.

Now I realize how spoiled I was.

Craig Paquette wasn’t really that bad a of a player for the Cardinals.  Over his three seasons with the team, he hit .267/.309/.461, which is nothing to write home about.  But that .770 OPS would be second on the 2014 Cards, behind only Matt Adams.

There is an obvious caveat, of course, which is that comparing numbers from this season to those from 1999-2001 is like comparing apples to juiced oranges. Baseball-Reference tries to normalize for era and translates that .770 OPS to a 93 OPS+, which suddenly doesn’t seem so hot. But it’s still far better than any of the bench players the Cardinals have relied upon over the last couple years. Right now, I’d be thrilled with a slugging-heavy 93 OPS+ off the bench, and a .770 OPS would be starting and batting fifth.

Paquette isn’t the only name I suddenly find myself re-evaluating. The La Russa era Cardinals were rarely lacking in decent, if not inspiring, players off the bench. Lugo.  Felipe Lopez. Miles. Luna. Brian Barton. Spiezio. Mabry. Hell, the aforementioned Dunston fits too. I’m sure I whined and complained when I saw these names in the starting lineup, but they are all a hell of a lot better than the bench guys we’ve run out over the last two seasons. What I wouldn’t give to swap out Shane Robinson for So Taguchi, or Daniel Descalso for Nick Punto.

Sure, there were plenty of mistakes.  Joe Thurston hit better than anyone on our bench now (which is a damning statement considering his OPS was .645) but he got so lost on the basepaths that he was once found roaming East St. Louis, dehydrated and malnourished, five days after he hit a ground rule double. Wilson Delgado can only be evaluated once I have the results of a DNA test that will prove my theory about him and Daniel Descalso.  And remember the time the Cardinals traded a real, useful player for Pedro Feliz?

Still, something has changed. Either other teams have gotten better at picking out the wheat from the DFA and AAA chaff, or the Cardinals have gotten worse. The bench was a huge weak spot last season, and really the only black mark against Mozeliak’s recent record (Matheny hiring notwithstanding).

Until we’ve got a bench that can offer a little pop, I will just have to look back fondly on Craig Paquette.  Damn, that’s depressing.

 

 

FIFA 14: 6.7 Billion People Can’t Be Wrong Part Two: The Yellow Card of Carcosa

Part One: I Have No Idea What I Am Doing

So my first few seconds of playing FIFA 14 were rather embarrassing.  As soon as I got the ball, I kicked it into the crowd and turned it over.  Needless to say, fans of the Moscow Cool Soccer Kids were not impressed.  I quickly realized that I couldn’t just start up a game and mash buttons to beat the AI.  This wasn’t a fighting game.  I had to know what all the buttons actually did.  Fortunately, FIFA 14 does actually include a controller diagram in the menus.  Considering the lack of an instruction manual or a tutorial, I was a little afraid that I would even have to learn the controls through context cues.

FIFA 14 spells it "defence".  That's pretty fuckin' precious.

FIFA 14 spells it “defence”. That’s pretty fuckin’ precious.

Most of the controls in FIFA 14 were self-explanatory enough that I could play the game without feeling completely incompetent.  I didn’t know why there were two kinds of passes, or why you would ever use the one that kicks the ball into the air where just about anyone can pick it off.  “Contain” on defense didn’t make much sense to me, especially in the context of “teammate contain”, unless there was some system in the game for your teammates flying off the handle and getting thrown out of the game.  But the only controls I really needed to play the game at first were as follows: X to pass, circle to shoot, R2 to spring, L2 to slow down and corner, and square to slide tackle.  That was enough to get me through my first few exhibition games.  Or, as they are called in soccer, “friendlies.”

Of course I should qualify what I mean when I say that I “got through” the games.  I played them.  I finished them.  Two ended 0-0.  I lost the next 1-0.  I didn’t score once.  And the culprit, as far as I am concerned?

THESE BASTARDS

THESE BASTARDS

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Pete Kozma Is Here and He Makes the Team Better. Yes, Really.

I’m not going to say that I’m Pete Kozma’s biggest hater, because it might not be true. As far as I know, Kozma may have crippled a classmate with a baseball bat in high school fight and gotten away with it because he was on the baseball team. That guy, if he exists, probably dislikes Pete Kozma more than me, though I doubt he exists because Pete Kozma couldn’t do that kind of damage with a baseball bat.

Even if I’m not Kozma’s biggest hater, I have made an extensive record of my criticism. Which is going to make what I’m about to write all the more shocking: bringing up Kozma was the right move and will actually improve the team.

Now, I certainly don’t like the circumstances of Kozma’s return. He shouldn’t be on the roster because two starting pitchers got hurt, but he should be on the roster. And not because he’s good. I’m never going to say that Kozma is good.

In 2013, Kozma hit .217/.275/.273, which is actually a bit worse than I expected because I thought he’d hit a few more HR and at least pull his SLG above his OBP. It was an atrocious year with the bat that silenced all his boosters and left him stranded in AAA. However, Kozma showed remarkable growth with the glove, especially for a player who had lost his position on the defensive spectrum just one year earlier to Ryan Jackson. I don’t think he was as good as, say, fangraphs which put him as 4th in UZR/150, but he had more range than he showed early in his minor league career and he wasn’t nearly as boneheaded as Tyler Greene.

Nothing in Kozma’s 2014 at AAA shows that he’s learned how to hit. A .234/.341/.372 slash line might indicate some improvement with his batting eye but comes with a hell of a small sample size warning. So what has changed? Why am I happy to see Kozma in the majors when I couldn’t wait for him to be gone last year? Well, it’s all about the other options.

Before Kolten Wong, who himself was struggling through a sore shoulder, went on the DL, the Cardinals had two infield bats on the bench. Mark Ellis is hitting .193/.280/.220 and Daniel Descalso is hitting a putrid .176/.233/.221. These are numbers that would even make 2013 Kozma shake his head.

Now one of those two mis the starter. Maybe they’re in a platoon. It doesn’t really matter, because the result is the same. They are barely outslugging the Cards pitchers (.210) in over 200 PAs. Ellis could shake off the relentless encroachment of old age and return to form. But Descalso has never been good. Never this bad, but never good.  Most importantly, Descalso can’t play shortstop. Mike Matheny thinks he can, but he’s wrong and the experiments have to end.

Right now, Pete Kozma is a more useful player than Daniel Descalso. He might even be more useful than Mark Ellis. He’s probably also better to have around than Shane Robinson as well, since they have the same noodle bat but Kozma can give Peralta some rest. When Wong comes back, or when the pitching staff gets so thoroughly strafed in Colorado that we need a thirteenth arm, Descalso should be the one on his way out, not Kozma.

Until Ellis shows he’s not dead or Greg Garcia proves himself or Mo makes a trade, Pete Kozma is probably the best bench infielder the Cardinals have. Which makes me want to curl up in the fetal position and dream of Nick Punto.