FJM Style: World Series Degree Zero

Yeah okay - Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Oh my god you guys the revolution is going to be televised!!!

We've done the Cardinals once, and we'll probably do them again soon, but we ought not forget the team in the Junior Circuit when we are doing our article takedowns and team-wide mockeries. Indeed, while the Red Sox-Cardinals World Series is loathsome in almost all possible ways (save SHANF of course), there is something truly special about the putrefaction of the journalism that is covering the event. Lesion-covered and skin-sloughed is an understatement.

But the funny thing about decay is that it serves as a kind of change, and any kind of change can be seen as a shot at revolution. The worst-to-first Red Sox, particularly, look like a success story that VI Lenin would have happily taken back in October, 1917, and the story of their turnaround has launched a thousand hot takes as well as not a few reasoned and intriguing analyses. This article, "World Series 2013: why Red Sox run is a revolution" by Mark Sappenfield (of the Christian Science Monitor, weirdly), is sadly one of the former. In it, we'll learn a lot about Moneyball, grit, statistics, heart, and, of course, revolution. Because, apparently, the sainted goal of total change that progressives and radicals have worked toward for centuries has been achieved through the intervention of...Jonny Gomes? Huh. Hopefully Sappenfield shows his work.

The Boston Red Sox are going to the World Series.

Well, so far, so good.

To say that they were built for this - all desire and heart and never-say-die toughness - would be an understatement.

Whoo boy.

First off, you don't "build" a team to have desire, heart, and never-say-die toughness. There's not a metric in the world that can quantify these things (why they're commonly known as "intangibles"), and even if there were, you don't build a team to have determination. You build a team so that they can hit and pitch baseballs. Yes, you want a nice clubhouse and all, but if all you wanted was determination, then hire some plucky orphans or Iron Man runners or single moms with three jobs or something. You won't win many games, but hey, sportswriters will love you.

Secondly, when did we change the definition of "understatement" to include massive hyperbole? Because I -- and this is an understatement -- am outraged to the point of mass homicide as a result of it.

But the fact that they have done it is also nothing short of astonishing.

STOP IT WITH ALL THE UNDERSTATEMENTS!

This is not merely one of those worst-to-first stories, in which fans warm their hearts around the fire of a familiar narrative.

God, I hate those stories. Happening every year and so familiar that they've become a clear narrative and not a rare feat that makes us remember the team forever. You can keep your 2006 Tigers and 2008 Rays: give me those scrappy dirtbag, never-say-die, probably predicted to be a .500 team or above 2013 Red Sox.

Yes, the Red Sox did finish last the American League East division last year. And yes, they did win the division this year, and - on Saturday - advanced to the World Series with a 5-2 win over the Detroit Tigers in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.

Again, very little to disagree with here. You're on the right track, Sappenfield!

But that does not speak to who this franchise is, or why its ascent is so amazing.

Sigh.

Franchises aren't a "who" -- a franchise can't have a corporate personality in the way a person (or a small group of people) can. And frankly, "worst-to-first" is a totally good and helpful brief description of why the Red Sox' ascent is "so amazing:" because that is fairly rare!

The Red Sox are, in one sense, a revolution - a team that was built in a very different way from the Red Sox World Series champions of 2004 and 2007, yet might just join them in Boston lore.

What form of revolution do you think Sappenfield means here? Clearly we're not talking political or social revolution, as the Red Sox of 2013 did not successfully bring down American democracy and global capitalism, however hard they may have tried. And let's get the pedantic temptation out of the way and just assume that he's not thinking about "revolution" in the physical sense, like the turning of a wheel or the orbital spin of a planetary body. Also: probably not referring to the Boston MLS team; the famous American war; or the delicious Chicago brewery.

So that really leaves only one option left, which is an epistemological (or "relating to knowledge") revolution. The kind of revolution that dying corporations strive for and German philosophers attempt to conceive of -- the striking of all the old foundations and the erection of a new, better, and more successful system premised on a reevaluation that leaves no sacred stone in place unless it has true and rationally determined merit for the new system. An ideal greatly to be desired.

And the 2013 Red Sox did it in a few months! Wow! I'm sure I'll totally agree with this by the end of the article.

(Also how pretentious is it to say of a WORLD SERIES BOUND TEAM that the "might just join [2004 and 2007 teams] in Boston lore"? Is Boston lore so chock full of wins that AL Pennant winners are left out? Cause if so: *fart noise*)

In fact, of all the Red Sox teams of the past decade, this was perhaps the only one that began with almost no expectations of glory.

Weirdly, this is actually right. Imagine how insufferable we'd all be if the Phillies had a 13 year run of World Series contenders as opposed to just a five or six year run?

The 2013 Boston Red Sox were seemingly a medicinal dose for a baseball town desperately in need of one.

"Medicinal dose" is obviously a metaphor (unless you're asserting that John Henry was literally forcing people to take like Red Sox brand cough syrup), so "seemingly" is a) not necessary and b) confusing. Also, a medicinal dose in what way? How, if they didn't have any expectations, were they supposed to be a medicinal dose? I feel like I've swallowed ipecac while reading this article -- is that what you mean?

After a late season collapse in 2011 that was accompanied by everything short of locusts and frogs

Ain't no reference like an Old Testament reference! The only thing that Ben Cherington didn't bring to the negotiating table was a burning bush! Boston is like Job! On the seventh day, Pedroia rested! I got a million of these!

and then a last-place finish in 2012 that forever linked the words "Manager Bobby Valentine" and "clubhouse revolt," this 2013 team was seemingly meant to be a salve.

"Seemingly" is actually used better here, but again, I have to ask -- a salve for what? If they were expected to be terrible, what exactly were Bostonians hoping they'd cure?

No fried-chicken-eating malcontents here.

Ohhhh, a salve for media-driven storylines that fans picked up as personal insults because we're all stupid animals ready to kill each other.

No Bobby Valentine, either

Well okay. Disguises notwithstanding, this is a good thing.

But also, aside from the legendary David Ortiz, not so many superstars, either.

Even if we want to use a strict definition of "superstar," Dustin Pedroia and Jon Lester have to count. And if we loosen up even a little bit, we get: Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino, Clay Buchholz, Jon Lackey, and Mike Napoli. Even Ryan Dempster to a degree, however bad he looked. And I'm just going off memory: the point is that there were a bunch of guys people would casually know on this team, and if you're using a different definition of "superstar," then I'm frankly baffled.

"They might not win much, but golly gee, you all sure will root for 'em," could have painted on Fenway's Green Monster.

"Golly gee whillickers," said the imaginary fan who has never and will never exist in the history of baseball, "I don't care if these lovable losers win three games this year. I like them because of their unpretentious attitude."

Also: if this is really a "salve" for baseball fans sick of primadonna behavior, why is there so much sanctimony over the Astros? They lost a bunch, seemed likable enough, and were (maybe falsely) lambasted for making money while people had a bad time at the ballpark. Why didn't Houston appreciate their lovable losers?????

After spending more than a decade trying chase the success of the Evil Empire (a.k.a. Yankees)

Oh thanks for the clarification, Mark. I thought you were referring to the seminal Rage Against the Machine album.

this seemed as close to capitulation as the Red Sox could get.

This is what capitulation looks like, by the way. If capitulation means that you get to have the fourth highest payroll in baseball, well, maybe most teams should give up.

Gone was the obsession with OPS and WHIP and WAR - stats known only to baseball geeks and venerated by the previous regime.

You already know most of the jokes I'd make about this, so let's all agree that this is largely inflammatory nonsense.

Still, mainstream broadcasts abound that use OPS, and WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) is a concept simple enough for Wheels to get his head around. I'll grant you that WAR is primarily only fully accepted in advanced stats communities, but care to guess how the 2013 Red Sox did in terms of WAR?

According to fangraphs, the Red Sox hitters are first in WAR at 36.6, leading by 6.3 (!!) over the Rays. That's .1 more fWAR than all the Phillies hitters earned this year. In pitching, they are a deeply disappointing (...to nerds!) third place with 21.7 fWAR (the Phillies earned 10.5 fWAR). And in the ever-controversial fielding metric (FLD), the Red Sox fall to seventh overall, a truly scrappy effort to be upper third in all of baseball in the nerdiest of nerd stats.

Oh also, those other stats that the new regime hates? OPS and WHIP? While the Red Sox did fall to the middle of the pack in the latter stat (a 1.3 WHIP was good for 14th place overall). In terms of OPS? The Tigers were second in the majors with a .780 OPS, .35 points higher than the third place Athletics. The Red Sox had .15 points of OPS on themfor a .795 OPS (.349 OBP and .446 SLG). Yeah, clearly, they've let that stat go by the wayside.

But let's be kind to Sappenfield and ask seriously: if this is truly a revolution, what blank slate did the Sox turn to in lieu of OPS, WHIP, and the devil WAR?

Instead, the 2013 Red Sox did something that, by the measure of the advanced stats revolution ushered in by "Moneyball," was extraordinary.

They built a team based on character.

First off, film or book titles (haha, just kidding, this guy doesn't read) are properly cited in italics or underlined, not in quotes. I mark off 18 year olds for making this mistake; you are an established journalist. Horrible.

Also, what????

They brought in Shane Victorino and David Ross and Ryan Dempster and Jonny Gomes - none of whom made the front page of The Boston Globe

Hey, a challenge! Let's see:

"Shane Victorino part of new Red Sox culture" -- The Boston Globe, March 31, 2013

"The 'other' Ross may be most significant Sox addition" -- The Boston Globe, December 23, 2012

"Ryan Dempster adds leadership and character to Red Sox rotation" -- Boston.com, Globe staff, December 19, 2012

"Red Sox have big plans for Jonny Gomes" -- The Boston Globe, December 2, 2013

Not sure how you quantify "front page news" without a plenitude of material front pages, but these guys are hardly unheralded. But you're right: totally crazy underrated moves!

all of whom simply loved to play baseball the right way.

Shane Victorino (I love you, Shanf, but): Playing the game the right way.

David Ross: Playing the game the right way.

Ryan Dempster: Playing the game the right way.

Jonny Gomes: Playing the game the...pffahahaha.

Gomes_medium

via rulesoflunch.files.wordpress.com

Of course, there is no way to measure character.

THANK YOU

In the stat-obsessed world of modern American pro sports, "intangibles" has almost become a four-letter word. True greatness can always be triangulated by pioneering new ways of looking at data, the advanced stats revolution suggests.

Insert George Carlin "Seven Words You Can't Say On Television" here.

Also, are there competing revolutions? In that case, what is the status quo? Am I being too literal in reading "revolution" into a terrible, one-off article by a hack? Is anyone going to answer these questions?

Also, also: what "stathead" would say that statistics measure "greatness" -- the word itself suggests intangibles, factors that are not of interest to the stat community. I think most people can agree that, say, John Olerud was a "great" player, without agreeing on whether he's done enough to make it into the Hall. Heck, Kirk Gibson's HR in the World Series was undeniably a moment of greatness, but stats won't tell you that. You know what else? No one who cares about stats would suggest that they could in the first place!!!

By that measure, the idea of "intangibles" is just a crutch for analysts too lazy to dive into the numbers.

I think we're all well aware of your laziness, thanks.

But then there is Gomes.

Jonny Gomes: The lazy analyst's wild card!

By any statistical measure, the Red Sox outfielder is average. Average batter, average fielder, average speed.

Weirdly, by any statistical measure, Gomes is emphatically not average. Sure, his .5 Bsr this year looks fairly average, and would put him right around the 60th percentile had he had the plate appearances to qualify. But his -8.3 Fielding rating is decidedly below average. And his OPS+, according to baseball-reference, is 111, which means he is above average at hitting. Indeed, this is the only thing that OPS+ tells us: how good a batter is compared to the average (of 100). Yes, he's not Miguel Cabrera up there, but I can't find a measure that marks him as average.

For a team with aspirations like the Red Sox, he would seem a bit player, if not a waste of money.

Jonny Gomes put up above average offense from a corner OF spot over 300+ plate appearances for the Red Sox. He earned five million for that. He was worth exactly 1 fWAR. Conservatively, 1 WAR is worth 5 million dollars. Gomes is therefore not a waste of money by any means, and anyone who watches baseball knows that the "bit players" are necessary to fill in the time over a long season.

But no, no, by all those dumb statistical measures, Gomes was stupid and terrible. So sayeth Mark Sappenfield, Nobel Laureate.

Yet to watch Gomes is to watch the human will personified.

As it happens, the human will is an abstract concept, and thus can only be materialized at all if it is personified. So, maybe Jonny Gomes has a will? I mean, one would hope he had volition, and one would hope that you would see it personified in him. Otherwise, he's a slave.

...TO FRIED CHICKEN AND BEER IN THE CLUBHOUSE.

He plays as if he gnawed through iron chains just so he could be an eighth-inning pinch-runner.

Terrible teeth on Gomes, just tragic.

Also, hahahaha John Farrell would have to be so high to put Gomes in as an 8th inning pinch-runner.

When he slides into second, the bag is visibly afraid.

This isn't personification, but rather anthropomorphizing the bag. Still, it's a similar concept, and to Sappenfield's credit, he uses the trope correctly here. To his eternal discredit, the trope carries exactly zero content.

Even his awkward batting swing, which looks vaguely like Lou Ferrigno playing Whiffle Ball, is more a matter of raw desire than skill.

"Ah, I see! Gomes is just like me! A blue collar guy getting by on grit and toughness -- not handouts or talent."

Except Jonny Gomes can hit a home run off of Anibal Sanchez, and my sincerest guess is that you could not. Johnny Gomes managed a 1.106 OPS in his last serious go-round of AAA; my guess is that you and I would not manage to reach base even once. Oh, and Jonny Gomes came in third for Rookie of the Year in 2005, hitting 21 HR in 101 games. I don't have to tell you where you and I ranked on the RoY ballot that year.

So let's cool it maybe on the whole "Jonny Gomes has no skill!" tip, huh?

He hits the ball (and hard) because he refuses to admit that he can't, it seems.

What

Never have I seen a more bald phrasing of the "think it and you'll be it" ideology. Jonny Gomes -- IT SEEMS -- just chooses not to fail, with an intensity that physics and the very difficulty of hitting a baseball cannot resist.

Do you think Jonny Gomes reads articles like this and gets sad? Like, he's doing really pretty amazing things fairly well, and he's a hero to guys like Mark Sappenfield because he looks like he probably isn't really skilled at baseball. That's awful.

If the Red Sox teams of 2004 and 2007 were built in the image of slugger Manny Ramirez, enormously talented and among baseball's elite, then the Red Sox of 2013 are made in Gomes's image.

Unskilled players who seem entirely average "by any statistical measure?" Because that's what I take you to mean from your article, Mark. And I don't know...David Ortiz is anything but average. Same with Pedroia, Victorino, Ellsbury (52 stolen bases and nine home runs is average now?), Lester, Buchholz, Uehara (seriously), super rookie Xander Bogaerts -- even guys like Stephen Drew. The Red Sox did not fall into this season: they were dominant this year.

There are players like Gomes on the Red Sox (including Gomes himself), but there are players like that on every team. Just because you venerate mediocrity over exceptional performance does not mean that exceptional performance magically can be remade into mediocrity.

They are a team of "glue guys" - players whose contributions come as much off the field as on. How they conduct themselves. How they put in the extra work. How they have a deep passion for the game.

I'll confess: I agree that statistics can't give us this kind of information on players. But can you, Sappenfield? What is the proof that these guys are so "gluey," outside of pre-approved narratives and your perception of Jonny Gomes' swing and slide?

Also, weren't the 2004 Red Sox championed for being "dirtbags"? Isn't the bloody sock supposed to be gritty? Didn't Johnny Damon apparently get worse once he shaved his workaday caveman beard? Oh, sorry -- I forgot that those were soulless Moneyball automatons that couldn't possibly understand nor personify WILL.

In short, they are a team built on "intangibles."

SEE ABOVE

The 2004 and 2007 versions had their share of character guys, too. But this team is defined by them.

How? How would you even begin to defend this? How does a team get "definition?" And if a team does get a definition, how could a writer outside of the clubhouse hope to accurately portray it? If a team is an organism, how can we hope to observe it?

Why do I keep asking these questions when I know I won't get answers?

And after eight remarkable days in October, it is undeniable that those intangibles were vital in bringing a flawed Red Sox team to the World Series again.

Flawed?! The flawed Red Sox who shared an MLB best 97-65 record with the (apparently flawed) St. Louis Cardinals? You needed eight god damned games to prove that they were a team driven by intangibles? What about the other 162 games where they proved that -- intangibles or no -- they were one of the two best teams in baseball?! What else could you possibly need proven to you???

Of course, they're clearly a talented bunch.

AAAAAAAAAGGGGGHHHHH

But for long stretches of the series against the Tigers, they looked overwhelmed. They went into Game 4 leading the series 2-1. They could easily have been down 3-0.

This just in: playoff teams good and Championship Series games often close and nailbiting. More on this story as it develops!

Seriously, is there anything worse than the sportswriter trope of "They could have easily been down x-x as opposed to up y-y?" You're telling me things could have gone differently? In a baseball game??? Hold on, I need to cancel my afternoon appointments cause you're going to have to walk me through this.

The only difference between the two was what defines these Sox.

Or, you know, several runs. Also, can you guess the cliche that's coming next? Oh, I'm almost sure you can.

The team ground out wins as though it was Boston Steel Workers Local 8751.

BOOM. Steel worker reference! The grittiest of all dead American industries!

This was blue collar baseball

BOOM. Blue collar smash mouth winning the game through grandslams baseball! Nothing grittier than a grand fucking slam!

John Lackey pitching a teeth-gritted gem in Game 3, Gomes hustling out an infield hit to set up the winning run in Game 2.

Heavy bad teeth imagery in this article. Also, two examples of grittiness defining a series, including one well-pitched game from a pitcher who has a 3.52 ERA on the year on the back of a 7.5 K/9. WHAT A GRINDER

Then, in Game 6, Victorino broke out of a 2-for-23 hitting slump - and some fans' calls for him to be benched - to hit the game-winning grand slam.

Just like that steel union guy! Man, it's an understatement, I know, but Shane Victorino may be the thing that finally saves manufacturing jobs in this country.

Yes, a potential World Series championship awaits if the Red Sox can beat the St. Louis Cardinals as they did in 2004.

This is how baseball works. I am writing a baseball column.

And that would certainly be gratifying for a bunch of players largely who were written off at the beginning of the season.

"Written off by me and my colleagues!"

But perhaps for this team, the greatest reward is simply getting to play another week of October baseball.

"You know, I think it's terrible we got swept and all...but what a blessing to play four more of these wonderful games." -A thing that would make Mark Sappenfield write an article about the softness of professional baseball players today.

Seriously, screw this article and screw your half-measure, win-even-if-we-lose revolution. This is just cowardly writing. To misquote Aesop Rock: "If this revolution's gonna be televised, then fuck I'll probably miss it."

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