Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Whole 42 Letters: MVP Debate Edition

Baseball playoffs are upon us. Our preview of the playoffs is coming up soon (hopefully, later today). Looks like you can take my homer prediction of the Brewers to win the World Series straight to the bank.

Your letters:

Does Miguel Cabrera get the MVP now that he's won the Triple Crown?



This question was sent to me in future tense, but I didn't get around to writing the answers until after Cabrera had already clinched the Triple Crown. Kudos to Miguel Cabrera, who's been the Pujols to Pujols' Bonds the last few years (i.e. the clear-cut second best hitter in baseball). The Triple Crown is an incredible achievement, last accomplished by Carl Yastzremski in 1967, but Miguel Cabrera does not deserve the MVP. Make no mistake about it: Cabrera will win the MVP, but Mike Trout deserves it. 

Obviously, Cabrera beat Trout in three statistical categories, which vary in importance (I would say in descending order: home runs, average, RBI), but those are three pretty arbitrary statistics to base an MVP on. Cabrera outslugged Trout, but Trout had a higher OBP (whose marginal gains are more important than slugging). These three old school stats point to Cabrera's season offensively, but they don't take into account three things: defense, baserunning, and context. Trout played top-5 defense in centerfield, while Miguel Cabrera admirably moved to third base and was mediocre. The two positions are roughly equal in terms of value, so this is definitely in Trout's favor. Mike Trout also stole 49 bases while only being caught 5 times, a ludicrous 91% success rate for someone that steals that often. On the other hand Cabrera has stolen 33 bases in his entire career (caught 18 times). Last, context matters in two ways. First, Trout plays in a much more difficult hitters park than Cabrera, so his OPS+ is actually higher despite a lower OPS. Second, Cabrera has a sizable lead in RBI because he had more guys on base, but he also led the league with 28 double plays (Trout had only 7). Average, home runs and RBI all tell us something, but they don't tell us who the best player in the AL was this year.

Some people will say that Cabrera deserves the MVP because his team made the playoffs while Trout's didn't. That's ludicrous for two reasons. First, the Angels won more games than the Tigers, but the Tigers play in a crappy division, which they barely won. Second, Trout was called up when his team was 6-12. From that point on, the Angels had the best record in baseball. And yes, Cabrera hit out of his mind the last month while Trout "merely" hit 289/400/500 with 7 steals after September 1, but we're evaluating the whole season, not just one month. It won't be the most egregious MVP of all time (I think we have to give that to Juan Gonzalez in 1998) and Cabrera definitely deserves to win one sometime, but not this year against this competition.

Trout's WAR is 10.4. Cabrera's is 6.9. Are we really having this argument?

It's a war on WAR. Get it?

I've noticed that men's fashion designers have introduced formfitting suit jackets that look too tight when buttoned. What happened to the good, old American way of creating tight suit jackets by overeating?

I can blame European designers for this, right? Fuck Europe. As a person with broad shoulders and really short arms, I hate this.

Who is the best movie bad guy?

I've spent a lot of time (read: about 5 minutes) thinking about why this question is so difficult to answer, and I realized it's because almost all bad guys are really one-note characters. Heroes are generally given some depth so that the end of the movie can be both about their personal redemption and saving the day (think Bruce Willis in Die Hard), but villains are generally presented as nothing but villainous, presumably so we have no qualms rooting for their demise. One of the best examples I can think of in this mold would be Scar from Lion King. I'm being totally serious, by the way. That movie totally nails it. Heath Ledger's Joker from The Dark Knight would be a pretty good choice, but it's hard to disentangle our response to that performance from the tragic end of his life.

The problem is those morally unambiguous villains are a dime a dozen, just that some are played better than others. Instead, I'd go the route where the protagonist (or at least main arc) of the movie is based on a person we should find morally reprehensible. The best three examples in my mind are Michael Corleone in the Godfather I and II (I don't think Coppola ever made a third, right guys? RIGHT?!), Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, and my answer to this question: Darth Vader in Star Wars Episodes IV-VI (I don't think George Lucas ever went back and made Episodes I-III, right guys? RIGHT?!). You get awesome depictions of evil in each character but also some real depth and pathos at the end of their stories.

So the real NFL referees returned last week, and still a bunch of calls were blown. Why is officiating so difficult in the NFL -- and for that matter the NBA? Any thoughts on how to improve it? And what do you think of the NBA's new anti-flopping rule?

I think officiating is difficult because the biggest, strongest, fastest and most competitive guys in the world are playing pretty chaotic games and we leave it to 65 year-old men in decent shape to police them. I don't really have any thoughts on how to improve it, other than to suggest we have real accountability on the part of the officials. If a player can be fined retroactively for endangering another player, then an official should be fined for missing the hit or missing a call.

As for the anti-flopping rule, I love it. I love that David Stern was able to piss off the players union yet again, but also seem sympathetic because flopping really was getting to be a problem. As in, I love soccer but admit that the constant flopping detracts from the sport, and I really don't want basketball to be soccer. I would have also been happy if the refs could assign technicals in real time (a la soccer with yellow cards) to players that flop egregiously. This is really a win-win though, because it should lead to less flopping and more instances where we can hate on refereeing.

I read an interview in which Bob Dylan said he was a big fan of Derek Jeter. Does that knowledge have any effect on how you view either man?

Dylan's an iconoclastic contrarian and a lover of old-timey Americana, so this doesn't surprise me at all. Doesn't make this hurt any less, though. If he were "advanced" (© Chuck Klosterman), he would have picked A-Rod.

Why aren't there more knuckleball pitchers?

It's apparently really hard to throw a knuckleball well, but I think the dearth of knuckleballers is more along the lines of why no one will shoot free throws underhand. It may be effective, but there's also a stigma against it. 

The other reason may be that very few high school (and then minor league) catchers would be good enough to catch a good knuckleballer, and so it's really only a pitch a guy can go to later in his life, usually after exhausting his options as a non-knuckleballer. Also, I remember John Smoltz once busted out a knuckleball and it was awesome. The guy's a kid out there.

Now, I know you're short... but could you beat this guy in 1-on-1?



Probably not. The only hope would be that I goad him into shooting long by not playing press and his shot goes cold. I think I could hold my own offensively (no way he blocks my shot), but I'm too inconsistent a shooter to have a real chance.

You get to fix three everyday annoyances, these changes can't be something implausibly grand (like getting rid of all traffic) but there is a considerable amount of power here at your disposal. What three things would you change?

The first is I would standardize shower handles (dials?) and make sure that all showers had a comfortable hot-but-not-too-hot setting that was easy to find. Too many showers are impossible to operate if you've never used them before and move from cold to blistering hot in about three millimeters. 

I'm trying to keep these as just petty annoyances, but I really wish people would observe proper protocol getting on and off buses and trains. There's always some asshole who tries to get on while people are still filing off leading to a CLUSTERFUCK. Also, if there's an elderly person or a mom with kids, just give up your seat. Don't be an asshole.

Last, let's make jars easier to open. When I want salsa I don't want to have to break into Fort Knox.

I'm assuming that stopping people from ever talking about Tim Tebow ever again is too much to ask, right? Or could I just add annoyances to Rick Reilly's day? That would feel great, though it would probably result in the worst column of all time.


What's the most disgusting thing you've ever had to clean up?  I can think of at least 3 instances when I had to clean up either vomit, overflowing toilet water, or baby poop, and of those, I think I'm leaning toward the vomit as the most disgusting. Thoughts?  By the way, I think I'm swayed by the fact that I've been thrown up on twice.

One time, my dog got into a bunch of chocolate - we're talking like a whole box of chocolates - and wasn't looking too hot, so my mom wisely suggested that I walk her (not saying she knew what was coming, but I have my suspicions). Well about halfway around the block, Coco (ironic that's her name) started looking visibly ill. She proceeded to barf up probably a gallon of light brown vomit, flecked with aluminum foil. See below for a good approximation.


Well, all I had with me was a Walgreens bag and that clearly wasn't going to do it. So I practically dragged the dog home and got her some water, which I left in a bowl OUTSIDE, and then got a garbage bag and a roll of paper towel and cleaned that whole mess up. I went through the entire roll. It was disgusting.

Other than that, my last night in Europe when I studied abroad I was talked into drinking absinthe and wound up throwing up in my bed. It wasn't THAT terrible because I could just throw out my sheets but it sure wasn't the greatest feeling.

I've noticed that the word "tremendous" is primarily used as an adjective by the over-60 crowd, as in "Oh, that sunset was just tremendous".  Have you ever used "tremendous" in a statement, or are you waiting 40 years to work it into your vocabulary?

I never thought about it, but I don't get to use "tremendous" much at all. Gay guys have also taken "fabulous" to the point where I won't use it under any circumstances. My go-to is "fantastic." Or cursing a lot.

Winter will be upon us soon.  As a Wisconsinite who has lived through some pretty awful winter weather, would you care if you ever saw snow again?

I'm not some idiot who likes sports that include snow, but I do like to have a little snow like once a year so I can sled and throw snowballs and such. However, I'd be happy to live in a climate that didn't have snow. Last winter, Boston only got one snowfall (outside of the freak pseudo-blizzard in October) and I loved it. It was warm enough not to need 3 layers and I didn't track snow/mud everywhere I walked. There's no way that's happening again this year, and I'm already depressed at the thought.

Anyway, thanks for all the questions. Tune in next week, when Sean answers what's on your collective minds.

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