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The Acuña Ascension

Hi, Ken and Dan here. Since there is so much talk on the twitters regarding the ascension of the Holy One, Ronald Acuña Jr., we thought we would sit down and share some reasonable thoughts for why the Braves might choose to wait on promoting the young phenom. The following is our completely reasonable analysis of why the Braves organization might make different decisions regarding “He who will save us”.

Dan: It is no secret that the Atlanta Braves will, at some point, promote their 20-year-old phenom Ronald Acuña in 2018. There was even thoughts of him possibly making the Braves opening day roster coming out of spring. While I think those thoughts were more hopes than realistic expectations, based on how Acuña, Jr. performed in 2017, it gave inclinations as to what he could do on a baseball field.

However, his ascension through the ranks of minor league baseball in 2017 was unprecedented, even for a top prospect. There’s no question Atlanta could use his skills in the lineup and in the field; but do they need him right now?

As the 2018 spring season opened, there was controversy on when Atlanta would in-fact, promote Acuña. As fans, most of us think we understand the business side of things well enough. We knew in order to maintain control of Acuña for an extra year, the Braves would start him in Gwinnett and possibly bring him up no sooner than this week. But a few wrenches have thwarted his possible mid-April call-up.

Those wrenches? Preston Tucker and Ronald Acuña. Preston Tucker has gotten off to a decent start. Ronald Acuña has not.

Ken: A few extra weeks for other teams to look at Preston Tucker and possibly decide he deserves a big league chance (worth trading some real prospect capital for) before the Braves are forced to evaluate the option of trading him away, is certainly defensible.

Dan: So far in this early 2018 season, as of 16th April 2018, Acuña has 36 PAs yielding 33 ABs. In those 33 At-Bats, he is 5 for 33 that include 4 singles and one double. He has 2 runs scored and zero RBI. In those 33 PAs he’s drawn 3 BBs. This slow start looks like this in slash form: .152/.222/.182/.404. Not exactly tearing it up early on.

He has an ISO of .030, a .238 BABIP, a .198 wOBA, and 18 wRC+. In 36 PAs he has struck out 12 times. He struck out only 48 times in AAA last year in 243 PAs. In 2017 his K% was 19.8%. In 2018 so far, it’s 33.3% in 33 PAs. In 2017, that a K for approximately every 5 PAs and in 2018, a K in every 2.7 ABs.

Is it too early to panic? Probably.

Now there are reports coming out, that because of not only this slow start, but also the play of Preston Tucker, that it has given the Braves some time to think. And while they are thinking, the Super-2 status conversation is churning.

Ken: Those are great thoughts and statistics Dan, and I believe certainly have played into the Braves reasoning. However, I’m going to take a strictly cynical approach to might thoughts on the Braves dealings. I think they are keeping him down because they hate looking like liars. Do you remember the vitriol that the Chicago Cubs received when they kept down, the obviously ready, Kris Bryant? I do. The national news crucified the Cubs for manipulating service time, which is against the rules of the MLB CBA. Bryant (amongst others) filed grievances with the MLBPA against the Cubs, as Jeff Passan wrote here.

Why would keeping Acuña down look like the Braves were lying? Let’s not kid ourselves, the primary reason he’s being held down is to do exactly what they aren’t supposed to do, manipulate his service time. But because that is illegal and the Braves are coming off of a winter that featured the harshest penalties in MLB history against a baseball franchise, they truly can’t afford to look like cheaters. If they sent Acuña Jr down to “€œwork on some things” as they have stated, then bringing him up in the middle of a terrible start looks like outright lying. Acuña has struggled to find his timing at AAA and has struck out far too often in his first few games. If he had started hot, I doubt we are having this discussion or writing this article, and I would assume he would be starting today for the Atlanta Braves.

Dan: New Braves GM, Alex Anthopoulos, has gone on record saying he would have not progressed Acuña through the minor league system so swiftly, which leads me to believe, by the way, that we won’t see that same progression rate for Christian Pache. I believe, right now, there are fans on either side of the fence on Acuña right now. I don’t feel any of them think Acuña won’t get promoted this year, but I think there are contingents that are realizing mid-April may not be the best time to bring him up.

Ken: Of course there is another contingent that has decided that the Braves are the trashiest organization that they have ever seen and that there is a personal vendetta out against Acuña Jr, for some unknown reason, and that they are out to stiff fans and the young phenom destined to save the organization. Some fans have insinuated that this is a way to pad attendance numbers and create multiple weeks of expectant fans buying pre-sales to see Acuña at his first game. While it certainly is possible, that doesn’t seem to fit with just about anything else the front office has done since Alex Anthopoulos has taken over, so I for one choose the benefit of the doubt. Why not just call him up and pack all the games if you are truly only doing this for a few extra ticket sales? That would be the penultimate example of obscene pettiness and feels like the ramblings of conspiracy theorists aka: impatient fans.

Dan: Let’s look at few numbers for a minute. Ronald Acuña, Jr. played at three levels of minor league baseball in 2017. He dominated every level, that’s apparent. However, I think his domination in 2017 was more about inconsistency, rather than a sustained display of consistent dominance.

Let me explain:

I don’t want to focus too much on stats here. What I want to do, is look at one number and one column: Games played.

  • High-A: Florida Fire Frogs – 28 games played
  • Double-A: Mississippi Braves – 57 games played
  • Triple-A: Gwinnet Braves – 54 games played

Acuña has not been in one place long enough to find a routine or establish himself. Routines are a big part of the game. You hear it all the time from pitchers. When talking about, or analyzing Ronald Acuña’€™s 2017 and his early 2018, you have to remember that he played at three levels last year. All completely different levels in any regard. There was hardly any time for either Acuña or the league for that matter, to adequately acclimate. This slow start in 2018 could be showing not only Braves, but also Acuña that maybe, he isn’t quite ready. He’s close, really close, but just not there yet.

Ken: That’s certainly one way to look at it, and I think the argument you are making is exactly the argument that the Braves front office will use, should Acuña and his agent choose to file a grievance for service time manipulation. That being said, Mike Trout, Ken Griffey, Andruw Jones, Bo Jackson, Frank Thomas, Trevor Bauer, and Kirby Puckett didn’t have any trouble shooting through the minors and making a big league team while finding their routines and rhythms. Heck, Bob Horner is one of many who skipped the minors all together, and he hit a homer in his very first at bat. As to struggling, after being called up, even Mike Trout struggled a bit to make the major league adjustment, but I don’t think anyone was complaining about it.

But to your point Dan, it wasn’t that long ago that a large contingent of fans were freaking out about Dansby Swanson having a down year after being called up “too early”. Yet another reason that the Braves can use to validate their decision to keep him down. They don’t need the next ‘face of the franchise’ to struggle, the way many of even the biggest stars do, and once again be facing the persistent allegations of fans who believe they moved “too fast”.

The truth is, Dan isn’t wrong at all, but I think the reverse argument can weigh just as heavily. Get the kid up, he proved in the spring he was ready, there is no reason to wait… unless you’re worried about the organization taking a shot from national writers when their reputation is already in the mud.

Dan: I’m not saying Acuña won’t make his debut this year, but I think there is some merit to him never really getting settled at any level last year long enough, to really know how he’d respond to any adversity. Acuña will be a superstar in this game, and for all intents and purposes, he may already be there. If he wants to make this Atlanta ball club, though, in 2018, he probably needs to prove that he can sustain his productivity for an extended amount of time.

Ken: By an extended amount of time, I’m thinking 3-5 days.

Dan: I mean, have we really seen enough to know how he would handle a slump yet? Pitching at the MLB level is nothing at all like the pitching in the minors, even at AAA. If he has trouble responding to the likes of International League pitching, how will he respond to the Scherzer’s, deGrom’s, Strasburg’s, and even Kershaw’s of Major League Baseball?

Ken: Some things are worth learning on the fly. My guess is that he will be set to get a nice taste of Scherzer, Strasburg, DeGrom, and Syndergaard before 2 more weeks are up. So for all those worried enjoy the anticipation. Think of it like Tantric sex. The longer you wait the better it’ll be… or something like that.

Dan: I think the Braves have a lot of legitimate reasons to wait if they want to use them.

Ken: I think you’re absolutely right, and for a club who’s previous regime left it with a ‘€œdamned spot’ that won’t easily wash away, some good rationale and a little patience are wise moves to make before throwing your name into the national headlines as the bad guy again. It’s nothing to do with their faith in Ronald Acuña Jr., his performance, or spite for fans. As the Godfather said, “It’s just business.”

The truth is Dan and I both think he’s ready, we’re just trying to help you Knuckleheads realize there is more than one way to look at it, and it might be worth a deep breath. Share this junk with your friends.

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“Come on Meat”: Bull Durham’s 30th Anniversary

“Relax, all right? Don’t try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they’re fascist. Throw some ground balls – it’s more democratic … So relax! Let’s have some fun out here! This game’s fun, OK? Fun goddamnit”.

“Come on, Rook. Show us that million-dollar arm, ’cause I got a good idea about that five-cent head of yours”.

The Film

If you’re like me, you know all too well where these famous lines come from. If you’re not like me, you should still know where they come from. However, I won’t hold that against you. Instead, I’ll just educate y’all a little.

These lines are two of my favorite quotes from the movie Bull Durham. The character that made them famous? Crash Davis. Kevin Costner’s Crash was the “player to be named later”; the veteran journeyman, career minor leaguer, that spent 21 days in the show once. Davis was brought in to mentor the young rookie phenom, Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh, played by Tim Robbins.

This much most of you probably know, but did you know that, as far as I can tell or find out, Crash Davis is the only fictional character to have his number retired by a minor league baseball team? It’s true. On July 4th, 2008, during the film’s 20th anniversary, Kevin Costner’s band Modern West performed for the Durham Bulls. It was to that point, only the second number that Durham had ever retired. The first was Joe Morgan (18) … Yes, that Joe Morgan.

Since then, two managers and one player have had their numbers retired. Managers Bill Evers (20) and Charlie Montoyo (25), and some SS who goes by the name of Chipper (10). Of course, as with all Major and Minor League teams, Jackie Robinson’s number 42 is retired as well.

2018, marks the 30 year anniversary since the movie’s release in theaters.

Costner’s character Davis eventually leaves Durham after Nuke gets called up to the show. At one point in the movie, it’s revealed that Crash needs only a handful of home runs, and he’ll be the all-time minor league home run champ. After he leaves Durham, he winds up joining the Asheville Tourists, hits his “dinger” and goes back to Durham to retire. Because of the 30-year anniversary, Asheville will also paying homage to the classic film. They will wear replica uniforms from the movie this summer at one of their home games.

The History

You may be wondering, “Yeah, so what? What’s this got to do with the Braves? Isn’t this a Braves site?” As it happens to be, Bull Durham was released in 1988 (I was 9, by the way). In 1988, the Braves minor league affiliates were all clustered together. Richmond, VA was home to the Triple-A team, Greenville, SC was home to the Double-A squad, and they had three Single-A level teams. The Burlington Braves, the Sumter Braves, and the Durham Bulls. So, in essence, this was a movie about the Braves, and the team Nuke gets called up to, is the Atlanta Braves. The Bulls became the AAA affiliate of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays when they expanded into the league.

The cool part to me is the number retirement itself. Crash Davis wore the number 8 in the film for Durham. So, if you have ever been to a Durham Bulls game, and saw a number 8 on the wall, you now know why. Another bit of fun information about the Bulls was the big giant mechanical bull behind right field. That bull was only intended to be a prop for the movie. However, fans loved it so much, the team decided to keep it as a permanent attraction. Bull Durham was filmed in Durham at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, also known as DAP. And the road game scenes were shot in the surrounding triangle of ballparks.

The Durham Bulls served as Atlanta’s Class A and/or the Class-A Advanced organization from 1980 to 1997. Since then, Atlanta has had the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, Lynchburg Hillcats, Carolina Mudcats, and now, the Florida Fire Frogs.

The Fun

Bull Durham had some of the best lines and monologues in cinema. One, in particular, I can’t leave here. NSFW Rules do apply, we are a family show after all. However, as I wrap up this little tribute to the wonderful Ron Shelton classic, I’d like to leave you with a few more of my favorite lines from the film.

Crash: “This son of a bitch is throwing a two-hit shutout. He’s shaking me off. You believe that shit? Charlie, here comes the deuce. And when you speak of me, speak well”.

Crash: “Your shower shoes have fungus on them. You’ll never make it to the bigs with fungus on your shower shoes. Think classy, you’ll be classy. If you win 20 in the show, you can let the fungus grow back and the press’ll think you’re colorful. Until you win 20 in the show, however, it means you are a slob”.

Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: “How come you don’t like me”?
Crash: “Because you don’t respect yourself, which is your problem. But you don’t respect the game, and that’s my problem. You got a gift”.

Crash: You just got lesson number one: don’t think; it can only hurt the ball club.

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Nick Markakis: Ballplayer

I know I’m probably in the minority when I say this, but I absolutely LOVE watching Nick Markakis play baseball for the Atlanta Braves.

Markakis may not be the player you or many other Braves want him to be, but he’s the leader in the clubhouse who’s value reaches farther than the stat sheet. When the Braves do get back to those winning ways, it will be in large part because of the veteran mentorship and wisdom he left in the clubhouse.

The insufferable intolerance of Nick Markakis among many Atlanta Braves fans is long past overkill. It is now mostly white noise and borders upon the absurd.

It’s not lost on me that Markakis is on the downhill decline of his career and thus, more than likely, won’t be a Brave in 2019. I’ve accepted that, and when the time comes, an ode to Markakis will probably be penned. In the meantime, he is still an Atlanta Brave. It’s discussed, ad nausea, about Markakis being primarily a singles hitter; those sentiments are justified, to an extent.

Since 2006 (Nick’s rookie season), he ranks second among all active Major League players with 1,438 singles; Ichiro ranks first. It’s ALSO TRUE that he ranks third in DOUBLES with 431, only Robinson Cano and Miguel Cabrera rank higher at one and two, respectively. In that same span, Markakis is in the top 10, with runs scored (965), top 25 in RBI (876), and first in plate appearances with over 8000.

Additionally, since Ender Inciarte joined the Braves in 2016, he has hit more singles in a Braves uniform than Nick Markakis has. In 2016 Inciarte had 118 singles; Markakis had 110. Last year, Inciarte had 158 (of 201 hits) … one-hundred and fifty-eight … That’s almost 80% of his total hits last year. Markakis had 115 (of 163 hits), a whole 10% less than Inciarte. That’s 278 singles for Inciarte and 225 for Kakes in two seasons.

Yet what confuses me, was the praise and excitement Ender garnered from fans for leading (at one point) all of MLB in singles. Compared to the malevolent diatribe cast at Markakis.

He’s not an elite defender. BUT, in 15,518.2 innings in right field, he has made only 23 errors. In comparison, Jason Heyward has had 25 errors in 9,198 innings. My point is that Kakes is still an average, serviceable right fielder for one more year in Atlanta, especially with the makeup of the current roster. Nick Markakis, yes, hits a lot of singles. But so does Hunter Pence, Torii Hunter, Curtis Granderson, and Ichiro Suzuki.

But, of everything Nick does well, or for everything he doesn’t do well, there’s one thing you have to respect about the man. He comes to the park ready to go every day. He puts his head down and does his job. He’s the quiet leader in clubhouse and doesn’t say a lot. But you have to at least respect the opinion of a Hall of Famer when Nick Markakis is the topic of discussion. #StopHating

You don’t have to hit 30 home runs in a season or drive in 100+ runs to be considered productive. And you certainly don’t have to be an elite defender, saving 25 runs a season. you still need to see the guy actually play baseball. Yes, I know, it’s an anomaly that players don’t play on a sheet of paper. There’s a reason teams still employ scouts and send them to watch guys, you know, actually throw or hit a baseball. You need that part of the evaluation. Every player on the team (*AHEM*) on … the … TEAM, plays a role.

One guy’s role may be to hit home runs, one player’s role may be to pitch in the 7th inning (sidenote: this is called a starter). Another player’s role is to come in off the bench and provide a late inning spark and maybe, it another olayer’s role to be the veteran mentor to a group of kids who need some direction, and whatever else they contribute is gravy.

Nick Markakis is a ballplayer. #SorryNotSorry.

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We the fans…

“Man, if we could just get Clayton Kershaw. “ 

“You know, we should really start loading up the box.” 

We won the World Series!”

The pronoun “we”, when referring to a sports team, is synonymous with die-hard fans. And for the die-hard fan, “we” is used as if they were Liberty Media or Arthur Blank, even though this isn’t even close to the truth. We didn’t suit up and step across those lines. We didn’t walk the sidelines whispering to a defensive coordinator that the team should swap to a 4-3 base from a 3-5-3. And we certainly didn’t buy the team or pay to build the stadium (unless we’re counting taxes).

So why do we do it? Why do we say, we?

There are instances when this very personal pronoun, when applied as such, is accurate. High school and collegiate athletics are an example. I’m an Alabama Crimson Tide fan (Roll Tide), I’m a Kansas State Wildcat fan (EMAW), and I’m an Arizona State fan (Forks Up). I say “we” for every one of those schools. I’ve never set foot on the campus of the University of Alabama. While I’ve been on to the campus of Kansas State University, I was never a student there. Ironically, I’ve never set foot on the campus of Arizona State either, but I’m a full-time online student working on my BA in Mass Communications and Media Studies. While I work my actual job with the US Army, I never went to West Point. However, I have absolutely NO PROBLEM saying “we” concerning the Black Knights, Sun Devils, Wildcats or Crimson Tide.

Rabid fans of sports teams use this word as if they have some incomparable insight; as if the team calls upon them to discuss lineup adjustments, which free agents to sign, or who to trade. We often say “we” like we’re paid staff members. That’s not an ignorant oblivious perception of reality. We know this is inaccurate, a fallacy, and a fantasy. We know our paychecks aren’t signed by the Atlanta Braves or the University of Alabama.

So, again, why do we say … “we”?

I’ve read a few psychological pieces speaking to this very thing. One particular article I liked characterized it simply as this: We see ourselves as an extension of that team. And perhaps, for all intents and purposes, we are.

Players come and go all the time. They come here, stay a while, and move on. They get traded, leave in free agency, or retire. The players are temporary, the fans are forever. It’s passed from generation to generation. Father to daughter, mother to son, grandfather to grandson. These teams feel like they are a part of our heritage, we become emotionally involved, as if they’re one of our children or perhaps we are one of theirs. We celebrate every walk-off with them. We hang our heads with each heartbreaking loss. We cry when our favorite player gets traded, and rejoice when they sign a big time free agent contract (except for BJ Upton).

But it’s not just the legacy either. We buy in to the product. Not only the product on the field. Tickets, jerseys, memorabilia, and even tuning in to the local cable channel. Kind of makes you think, what happens if the fans stop going or stop buying in. We as a collective group of fans, buy “stock” in an idea of identity and relationship shared from the team’s brand, investing in part ownership in the teams themselves. We has now become a verb: a word used to describe an action, state, or occurrence. We are the occurrence and we are the action.

Sports bring people together for a bigger purpose than themselves and even shares with them an identity. Sports teams that represent cities share a common interest and brand for a shared geographical identity. The advent of social media has expanded the fan’s presence and the idea of “we” as a body of fans. I haven’t met, in person, 99.9999% of the “friends” I have on social media that I share my Braves fandom with. Yet, I feel like some of them I have known my whole life.

The shared identity and mutual relationship fans have together does not mean WE always agree, but when the team sprints out of the dugout on opening day we are certain that for the next 3 hours we will run the gamut of emotions together through our shared relationship with the team and our shared experience as fans. We will high-five, throw fists into the air, and might even hug after a Free-Bomb. This is the personification of “WE”. It has nothing inherently to do with the men or women on the field or court. It has everything to with the men and women in the third deck, cheap seats, sitting and standing all around you.

Yes, we love our sports. We love our teams, and we may even love those players. But, when it all comes down to it, at the end of the day, you… “we”… are the fans. “We” are prideful. “We” are the veins that lead to the heart. “We” are the 12th Man. “We” are the 26th man on the roster. “We” are #KnockahomaNation! “We” are #InBrotherHood.

No matter your team, no matter your town. We is a term of pride and you speak it with conviction. You may not have signed a contract to play, but you have probably signed your life in time, attention, and your identity and emotions, away to the undulating highs and lows that come with being a fan. Maybe the reason fans feel like they are an extension of the team is because, well, we are.

Maybe the team should think of you, the fans, as an extension of themselves. Is the product that they sell us the team on the field or is it the identity and emotion of the fan in the stands?  You… “we” are a massive force. We shift the tides of momentum and can be the difference between a pitchers nerves, a quarterback’s composure or even a referee or umpire’s call.

We are a family. We are the pulse of a franchise. We bigger than our individual selves or the specific players on the team. We the fans.

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It’s Time for the Big Reveal; Dan’s 2018 IBWAA Hall of Fame Ballot

With the BBWAA and Hall of Fame announcement coming Wednesday, as well as the IBWAA’s, I thought it a good time to share my Hall of Fame ballot.

When I started writing my opinions and publishing them for the world to see, I never thought it would take me to where I am today. After about a year, though, I discovered the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America (IBWAA). It didn’t take long for me to become a lifetime member. We aren’t affiliated with the BBWAA, the guys and gals who actually have a counting vote for the Hall of Fame itself, but we still cast votes for it and end-of-the-year individual awards. This will be my third time voting with the IBWAA, and I’m sharing my ballot here, with you 80-Grade Knuckleheads.

First, I need to give a little background. You won’t see Vlad Guerrero or Edgar Martinez on my list. These gentlemen were voted in on last year’s ballot for the IBWAA. Because we aren’t associated with the BBWAA and the Hall of Fame, our ballots differ. However, our votes and selections are very similar.

The IBWAA isn’t some second rate organization either. Many of the industry’s top writers are members of the IBWAA. Writers like Jim Bowden, Jim Caple, Jerry Crasnick, Jon Heyman, Brian Kenny, Grant McAuley, Ken Rosenthal, and many others. So, even though the Hall of Fame doesn’t acknowledge the IBWAA, we still have some big names on the roster.

Oh, I almost forgot, last year, the IBWAA voted to expand selections from 10 to 15.

Now, on with the selections.

This year was pretty easy for the first 9 or 10 choices. The last 4 or 5, however, were a little bit more difficult for me, personally. Of course, with the option of voting for 15 players, I displayed a little bias. The first three names checked on my list were Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, and Fred McGriff. As Braves fans, we all know the reasons why these three should be allowed admission in the Hall.

The next four off the list were Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel, Billy Wagner, and Larry Walker. Thome and Walker don’t really need a disclaimer either. Vizquel was one of the most dominate defenders in his time, and for a middle infielder, he could hit a little bit. Vizquel’s overall WAR for his career is 45.3 in 24 seasons. His dWAR (28.4) nearly matches his oWAR (32.2). Vizquel also had (still has) probably the fastest hands I’ve ever seen.

Next, I have Mike Mussina, Scott Rolen, Curt Schilling, and Gary Sheffield. Sheffield and Rolen are probably the stretches in this group of four. Sheffield’s offensive output is not the problem, though. His 79.9 oWAR is proof of that; what is an issue, is his defense. A dWAR of a -28.6 kind of hurts him. But, if the writers can elect guys like Ozzie Smith, who’s defense practically got him in, then why not the heavy hitters who’s claim to stardom was their offense?

Now, for the final four names. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Trevor Hoffman, and Jeff Kent. Again, I shouldn’t have to really go into the first three names. However, Kent probably warrants some explanation.

Kent, aside from having an MVP, 4 Silver Sluggers, and 5 All-Star appearances, was a pretty good second basemen. He falls at number 20 on the JAWS scale. In overall WAR, Kent has a 55.2 and good for 19th among second basemen. Above him, in the HOF, are Joe Gordon (18), Jackie Robinson (17), and Craig Biggio (16). Robinson Cano and Chase Utley are still active, but rank 13 and 15, respectively. Above those guys, are Roberto Alomar and Ryne Sandberg, both Hall of Famers.

Kent is in the top 20 best second basemen ever, and even guy big time players below like Bobby Doerr, Nellie Fox, and Bill Mazeroski fall well below that magical JAWS line.

So, his WAR is pretty good, at least good enough to be the 20th best in baseball history for second basemen. Lets look at some other numbers though that might help Kent’s case.

Kent is 13th among ALL second basemen in runs scored, 12th in hits, 4th in doubles, 3rd in RBI, 5th in OPS, and 1st – among any second basemen to play the game, including Rogers Hornsby – in home runs; he had 377. Hornsby had 301. Kent also sustained a .290 career batting average. His biggest knock offensively, second (only to Biggio) in career strikeouts with 1522.

So, there you have it. My 2018 IBWAA Hall of Fame ballot.

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From Batting Averages to Launch Angles … It’s Still Baseball

Picture this … Braves are down a run with Nick “I only hit doubles” Markakis standing on second base, after a booming double to the gap gets by any Nationals outfielder not named Harper. There are two outs. Johan Camargo steps up to the plate. The Braves are down a run and they need to tie it here.

What are you thinking?

“C’mon Johan, all we need is a base-hit here buddy … Get’em over, get’em in. C’mon, A-B-C baseball here fellas.”

Or are you thinking: “Hmmm. I hope that this isn’t the plate appearance in which Johan Camargo’s inflated BABIP decides to start crashing back to Earth, and set off a chain reaction that leads to a drop in wRC+ and his ISO.”

For the last couple of years, I’ve fallen into a trance. Why, for everything that is good and holy, do I feel the need to analyze EVERYTHING I see occur during the course of a baseball game? When did it stop being fun and start feeling more like work? Every pitch and swing, chewed up and spit out like a bad Christopher Russo take. Whatever happened to just watching a game to, you know, watch a game. A cold beer in hand, couple of hotdogs (AKA: sandwiches(( Hi this is Ken and I’m editing this piece… for the record we didn’t ask Dan to write for his Hotdog takes which are obviously horribly wrong, do try to overlook this egregiously atrocious hot take and focus on his baseball opinions))) – just you and America’s Pastime.

For the better part of a decade, I feel like the game has been nothing but microscopic adjudications; launch angles, exit velocity, FIPs, and BABIPs. I used to watch games because I just liked watching baseball and the Braves. Now, when I watch a game, I find myself watching mechanics, pitch selection – all of it with the TV on mute, because, you know, sometimes, Chip happens.

Contrary to what may be inferred here, I’m not knocking the metrics we see used now. I actually enjoy learning about the quantitative measurements that make our game and its players, more valuable, and advances the game for the better, sometimes. I’m not against them, I’m all for them. It advances the game in ways we never considered or thought of possible even 15 years ago. I can’t imagine all of us, though, started watching and following baseball because we couldn’t wait to fire off hot takes based on the unsustainable BABIP of Johan Camargo.

This game is a fantastically graceful, majestic game. It’s full of intrigue, excitement, pins-and-needles type drama. Sometimes, though, I feel like I’ve lost the kid that only cared about watching the Braves, and less about “watching the Braves”. Somewhere between 8 and 38, I forgot how to watch the game for what it is.

Baseball was life because baseball was fun and simple.

Baseball today, for some, has gotten hard to keep up with. You have to know so much just to stay current and relative in the conversation. I feel like you have to own a PhD just to stay abreast of the discussion. Regardless of your preference in how you partake or engulf yourself in the game, baseball at its core, will always be there. No matter how hard it gets to watch, how scientific it gets to evaluate, how intricate it becomes to follow, or how smarter everyone around you seems to get.

I don’t say all this to offend. I’m sure there are others that feel a similar way. I say this, because, as I have said, I have warmed up to the advanced metrics and even have tried learning about them. All I’m saying is that sometimes, I just want to watch the game to watch the game, analysis free. That’s it.

At the end of the day, though, there is no right or wrong way to enjoy the game. As long as you’re watching, that’s all that matters, really. Baseball is still baseball, it brings people together, and there’s nothing wrong with the game … Well, except the Designated Hitter, you can leave that sh*t in the American League forever … “Bye, Felicia”.

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That ‘Forever a Fan’ moment…

Let’s get one thing out of the way now. I’m a baseball fan, first, and foremost. After that, it’s the Braves, and up until 2014, that was it.

We all have that story. That story that turned you into the fan you are today of whomever your respective team or teams are because of that “Forever a Fan” moment.

The Baltimore Orioles were always a team I admired from a distance. Cal Ripken, Sr., Cal Ripken, Jr., Eddie Murray, Brady Anderson, even Mike Mussina were guys I respected and loved watching just play the game. Anyway, when we moved within about 20 minutes of Oriole Park at Camden Yards (OPACY), I couldn’t wait to make my first trip to Camden.

We arrived here, Fort Meade, MD, in the summer of 2013. August to be exact (I’m active duty Army, for those who didn’t already know that). So, when I learned that the Orioles provided free tickets to Ft. Meade soldiers and their families for afternoon Sunday home games, I was stoked.

I was a casual O’s fan, until one night in September of 2014 changed that for me.

My birthday is July 8th and my oldest son’s is July 14th. The Orioles PR department had reached out to our unit and was looking for service members to honor during the 2nd inning of about a dozen home games that year. Like any self-respecting baseball fan, I threw my name in the hat.

About a week or so later, the Orioles came back with a list of games to pick from. Because there weren’t too many military members that volunteered for this, all 8 of us who submitted our names got selected to be a guest of honor for a game. The game I picked was July 11th. The opponent that night? The New York Yankees. It was this night that I (and my sons) became Orioles fans, for life.

My view from our row 19 seats, on the aisle.

Our seats were 19 rows back, from home plate. I have never had seats that close in my life. It was so surreal. The Orioles staff met us at our seats with gift bags for me and my boys. A free Orioles hat and t-shirt sat in the bag. As the bottom of the 1st inning started, Adam Jones was hitting 3rd, and there were 2 outs. I’m standing in the aisle, paying a vendor for a frozen lemonade for one of my sons, and then, it happened.

There I was, standing in the aisle, $5 bill in hand, and Jones fouls one back. I heard it, but didn’t see it. My youngest son could do nothing but yell, “Dad. Dad. Dad … DAD!!” I looked up and saw it coming off the advertisement board onto the lower level facade. Then, it bounced off the concrete, grazed the bill of my cap, and came to rest at the back left corner of my seat.

I forgot I had my wallet and money in one hand. My instinct took over and I lunged for the priceless, mud-streaked pearl. I fought valiantly, thwarting off some old man who had no business being anywhere near that baseball. It was mine, dammit! That was my baseball. I had more of my hand around the ball than he did, and after a few seconds, wrestled away that glorious baseball out of his old, tired grip.

My oldest with the foul ball from Adam Jones.

My first foul ball ever, and it had come off the bat of Adam Jones, at a Orioles vs. Yankees game. I was a fan for life.

Fast forward about 2 years. It’s November, 2016. A neighbor of mine, who’s wife is working for a local real estate company just happens to work for the company that partners with the one and only Cal Ripken, Jr. So, she comes up to me and says, “Hey, I know you’re a baseball fan, but my company is holding a grand opening for our new office, and my boss has invited Cal Ripken, Jr. to be there. Do you want to come?”

Uh … is the Pope, Catholic? You damn right I want to go. So I did.

We were at that place for about 20 minutes before I heard someone say, “hey, Cal’s about to leave, so if you want a picture, better hurry”. Barry Allen had nothing on me for that moment in time.

Before getting a photo taken (one that I will never let go of) I was able to actually talk to him for about five minutes. Not only did I get the chance to meet and get a photo taken with Cal, but I also got to talk baseball with him. Talking baseball with the Iron Man, WOW. A memory I will not soon forget. We talked about the Cubs first World Series win. What he thought of the Braves and the direction they were heading. We talked advanced metrics vs. traditional stats. It was AMAZING.

Me (second to Cal’s right) and a few other military members.

Oh, and Cal Ripken, Jr. is a mountain of a man, in case you’re wondering. It was Jose Altuve and Aaron Judge like. I literally looked up to him. It was that night at the game that made us Orioles fans, and I now claim them as my American League team. As a baseball fan, though, meeting the Iron Man was a dream come true, a dream I didn’t even know I had.

We all love the Braves, that much we all agree on. If you weren’t a Braves fan, you wouldn’t be reading this on Knockahoma Nation. So, it’s more than OK to be a fan of other baseball teams and even football teams (ROLL TIDE!!). So, our question to you, is simple:

What’s your “Forever a Fan” moment? When was that moment you knew “I’m hooked forever”?

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