Thursday, May 15, 2008

Keep 'em Coming...

The headline was supposed to refer to all the nicknames you guys are throwing out - some gems in there. It could also refer to the Royals, who are once again proving that if they can just score 3 or 4 runs consistently, they're going to be in every game. Is mid-May too early for scoreboard watching? Because right now the Indians are the only truly imposing barrier blocking the Royals from realistic postseason hopes. If you told me right now that the Indians would win no more than 85 games, I'd say we have a shot at winning this division. The way the Tribe is pitching, though, they could blow this division apart pretty soon. But hey, their starter gave up a run (unearned) today. So that's something.

Once my schedule frees up in a week or two we'll talk in more detail about how realistic the Royals' chances are. In the meantime, here are my thoughts on all the suggested nicknames so far...

- First off, I want to address the concerns of those who feel this entire enterprise is inappropriate. As one anonymous poster said, "I must object to this entire post. The entire point behind nicknames, and the reason that they really great ones ARE great and therefore stick, is that they are given through spontaneous bouts of creativity, usually related to a humorous, impressive, or embarassing trait of the nicknamee."

My response to this is that, actually, most of the famous nicknames in baseball history were in fact penned by sportswriters, and were almost certainly not thought of spontaneously, but rather were premeditated acts of penmanship. I highly doubt one of Mickey Mantle's coaches looked at him one day and said, "you know what - this guy's the Commerce Comet!" One of Johnny Martin's teammates may have called him Pepper, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the guy who first called him "The Wild Horse of the Osage" was sitting in front of a typewriter at the time.

The media has always been involved in coining nicknames for players. It just so happens that in today's game, the media has largely abdicated that responsibility. There's nothing wrong with that, but just as blogs are replacing the traditional media's role in other ways, I see no reason why blogs can't take on the duty of both inventing nicknames and disseminating them to a wider audience.

- To "TheBobHamelin": I will gladly concede that you created the term "Hispanic Panic" to refer to Messrs. Soria, Nunez, and Ramirez first - a fact I was not aware of until after I made the same connection. In return I hope you will gladly concede that it is in fact possible for two people to have come up with the same nickname, independently of each other, without any need to suggest plagiarism or other foul play. Thanks. As I've said before, I'm not entirely comfortable with the nickname, so I may just avoid using it in the future.

- We'll be putting a number of potential nicknames up for a vote next week, I hope - I'll have more details on that later. But one nickname is so perfect that I am invoking executive privilege right here and now: our top two starters will henceforth be known, when referred to in tandem, as Greinke and the Brain. Many kudos to whoever came up with that one - I never watched the show and I still think it's brilliant. May they succeed in taking over the World...Series.

- Lots of calls for Doc Bannister, lots of calls for The Professor. Both of them are good but obvious. Doc, The Professor, The Brain...we'll put this up for a vote.

- A pretty strong consensus for calling Gordon "Splash", and an equally strong consensus that he hasn't earned it yet. Need a few other contenders here, or we'll just call this one over.

- I have a personal preference to avoid nicknames derived from the player's real name if at all possible, but that's not a hard and fast rule. A lot of you like "The Gobstopper" for Jimmy Gobble. I'm always up for a Willy Wonka reference. Maybe we can just call him "Everlasting" - an ironic reference to the fact that he's usually out there to face a single hitter.

- So many choices for Soria, but none of them strike me as being able to do his brand of dominance justice. I'm not sure any nickname can do him justice at this point - he looks like he's ready for a higher league. The way he closed out the game on Wednesday do you say "The Eviscerator" in Spanish? I think Marcus Thames saw a PTSD counselor after the game.

El Matador ("The Killing One", Babelfish tells me) is not bad. 'Sover? So Long Soria? Don't want to jinx the guy. Captain Jack isn't bad. Joakim The Dream is - not a big fan of the rhyming names.

Someone suggested "The Wolf" from Pulp Fiction, which I think is great. But wasn't Harvey Keitel's character known as "The Cleaner"? Maybe just Wolf will do. This just in: "The Hispanic Abe Lincoln" - or HAL for short - is a late entry, worthy of your consideration.

- There's NO consensus for Billy Butler. Billy Baroo...Beav...Bat Man...Big Bang...B-Squared...Bubba...everybody's got the same idea, but different execution. Apparently Teahen calls him Bill the Thrill, and I'd be fine with that - the players should get priority on nicknames - except Will Clark was Will the Thrill, and I'm not a fan of recycling nicknames. The perfect nickname should incorporate his undeniable hitting skills as well as his heft and lack of dexterity when engaged in any activity that does not involve a bat in his hands. The dude's a big ogre, basically. Shrek, anyone? (Yes, I'm a sucker for the animated films.)

- Some very good suggestions for Gathright. I still like Dash, in large part because he can bat ahead of Gordon and we'd have "Splash and Dash." But Hops and High Jump are both very good. (I don't care what the people in Louisiana call him, I'm not calling him Honey Bun.) We'll put this to a vote.

- I like Mr. Incredible a lot for John Buck. Although this would make him Gathright's father. The apple fell pretty far from the tree, I guess. Maybe Elastigirl had a fling with Frozone...

- Very few suggestions of any stripe for Guillen. Tick Tock's the best I've seen so far, but I'd like to see better.

- Sliver is not bad for Leo Nunez, but I like Razor better. It's a reference to his build and his impressive body of work at the same time.

- I really like the suggestion of "Topspin" for Teahen. The alliteration is nice, and it's a quirky nickname which is actually kind of a dig - maybe it will remind him that, once upon a time, he was a capable of hitting for power. "Gordon takes a lead off second base...and Topspin lines a fastball the other way for a hit!" That sounds pretty cool. Thoughts? Slapshot might also work because he's such a cut-up.

- Some good names for Greinke, but they all reference his psychological issues in one way or another. The Baseball Jonah awaits a real challenger. Although "Chipotle" was pretty funny.

- The only name I've seen for Meche is "The Mechete." If that's the best we've got, I'm fine with "The Epic."

- Someone called Grudzielanek "Stubble". That's what I'm talking about - short, simple, evocative.

- Come on, guys. Hooch? It's not even the right pronunciation. Dumbo would be okay if it were newspaper-friendly. Cool Hand is still the leader in the clubhouse here. (And it looks like I'll have to add it to my Netflix queue. Given how rarely I have time to see movies, I'll probably get to it in 2013.)

- Does Tony Pena even deserve a nickname? If he does, I like Toothpick - refers to his build and the effective size of his bat. Toothpick Tony is hitting .182 - see, that works already.

- None of the DeJesus suggestions have overwhelmed me so far. With a name like that we should be able to come up with something, right?

- "Shake" Yabuta is so stupid that it's actually kind of funny.

Again, keep in mind that we're not going to pin a nickname on every player, nor should we expect to. If I don't think any of the suggested nicknames for a player are absolutely top-notch, then we'll simply pass over that guy.

Alright everyone, I should be back early next week and we'll try to get some polls up. In the meantime, keep the nicknames - and wins - coming.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


The blog is going to be a little slow over the next week or two, partly because I'll be out of town for a few days, but mostly because I'm devoting my writing time to another project these days. Don't fret - I'm still writing about the Royals. I'm just writing about them for our special Baseball Prospectus project that's slated to come out next spring. I don't want to give away too many details just yet, but suffice it to say that instead of writing about Greinke and Gordon, I'm writing about Saberhagen and Brett...and UL Washington and Pat Sheridan too. Writing about good Royals teams - this is a new experience for me. I'll try to adjust.

In the meantime, I wanted to launch an idea I've had since I started the blog three months ago. Call it the Nickname Project. While the experience of being a baseball fan is, in so many ways, the best it's ever been, one of the small things we've lost over the years are the evocative nicknames for players of generations past. Gone are the days of King Kong Keller and The Barber and The Mad Hungarian, to say nothing of Death to Flying Things or the nicknames that stuck to their player so strongly that most fans didn't even know what their real name was, like Cy Young or Dizzy Dean or, of course, Babe Ruth.

Today, few players have nicknames that uniquely identify them, and of those who do, most of them were either created by Hawk Harrelson (i.e. they're really dumb) or they are simply a diminutive of their real name. If I ever get a Hall of Fame ballot, I'm tempted not to vote for Alex Rodriguez in his first year of eligibility simply because "A-Rod" unleashed an avalanche of "first letter-first syllable" nicknames on the sport. One of Justin Upton's teammates recently referred to him as "J-Up". Upton is the most exciting young player to hit the sport in years - is that the best you can do? Please.

The dearth of good nicknames is, I think, a casualty of the fact that baseball reporting has become so splintered since the advent of cable TV, regional sports networks, and of course the internet. Many of the nicknames of years past were penned by sportswriters, who had such a monopoly on reporting about the game that someone like Red Smith could single-handedly anoint any player he felt worthy of a nickname. No one has such power today. lists Babe Ruth with two nicknames, in addition to "Babe", and there were probably a dozen other names that were used in Babe's era that fans understood referred to him. Ted Williams has four nicknames: The Kid, Teddy Ballgame, The Thumper, and The Splendid Splinter. Barry Bonds, who has towered over the game like a colossus for the past two decades, has no nickname.

I can't help Barry Bonds, but I can do my part to help our Kansas City Royals. I did so for the first time a few years ago, when I walked into the visitor's clubhouse at U.S. Cellular after the Royals had lost another one-run game. The reporters quickly gravitated to Andy Sisco, who in the midst of a promising rookie season had lost the game in the eighth on a couple of cheap hits.

I knew Sisco was 6'10", the tallest pitcher in team history, but no number can prepare you for the sight of this enormous man-child, with the build of a defensive lineman (a 6'10" defensive lineman), standing a full head taller than any of the reporters in the room. He had this timid, deer-in-the-headlights look in his eyes even as he answered questions as politely as possible, and it called to mind Lefty Gomez's famous line about the hulking Jimmie Foxx, "He wasn't scouted. He was trapped." (Foxx, whose nickname was "Beast", is listed at 6' even and 195 pounds. Mark Teahen is 6'3", 210. They sure don't make 'em like they used to. They make 'em a lot bigger.)

And suddenly it came to me. "Sisco? This guy should be called Sisquatch."

Now, as nicknames go Sisquatch didn't exactly catch on like wildfire, probably because Sisco himself has let his career go in reverse pretty much from that exact moment on. But a number of people - okay, a number of my fellow BP authors - started using the name, which was a small moral victory for me.

But I can come up with all the nicknames in the world and it won't matter if I'm the only one using them. The Epic (Gil Meche) and The Baseball Jonah (Zack Greinke) have yet to set the blogosphere aflame, though I remain optimistic. But today I am here to ask you, the gentle RotR reader, to suggest nicknames for your favorite (and even not-so-favorite) Royals. Here are the rules:

1) Be nice. We're looking for nicknames that can appear in your family newspaper - more precisely, nicknames that will appear in the Star at some point. So no fair calling Greinke "ProZack." You know who you are.

2) Try to avoid puns on a player's name, unless they're really, really good. Nicknames should tell you something about the player, not just rehash his name. Sisquatch works (well, I think it works) because it evokes Sisco's physical dimensions; it just happens to resemble his name.

A few months ago, reader Breck suggested that we call our third baseman "Splash" Gordon, which I like, because it mocks the typical "Flash" Gordon name and says something unique about Gordon. Plus, it's a name that only works in Kansas City and a few other parks that have water beyond the outfield fence. But otherwise, try to avoid using their real name. If anyone suggests calling Butler "B-But" again I will have you banned from the internet, so help me God.

3) Give feedback. The point here is to come up with nicknames that we all agree on, so we'll all use them, in the hopes that eventually the names will spread into the vernacular of the casual Royals fan. So feel free to comment on other people's suggestions. I'm hoping to engage my fellow Royals bloggers out there to take part as well.

If we can pin a nickname on every player on the roster, wonderful. But if we can just come up with five good, solid, catch nicknames, that's fine too. Quality over quantity. Fire away.

Here are some suggestions to get you started:

Gil Meche: Gilgameche is both too obvious and name-derived, which is why I call him The Epic. Plus, it refers to his contract, the biggest one the Royals have ever given to an outside free agent. Do you like? Not like?

Zack Greinke: The Baseball Jonah. Read here for details. Do you like? Not like?

Brian Bannister: How about Rodin?

Joakim Soria: Bob Dutton called him Captain Zero today, which isn't bad, except his ERA will
eventually be a positive number.

Luke Hochevar: Cool Hand Luke is all I've got. I've never seen the movie, though I remember an episode of "Cheers" when Dr. Frasier Crane referred to it as the "sweatiest movie of all-time." That sounds pretty manly. I think.

Leo Nunez: "The Blade" is taken, but something that refers to his slightness of build ought to work.

Joel Peralta: Victorinox? He's the swiss army knife of the Royals' staff - he can mop up, he can be used as a righty specialist, he can even close in a pinch.

Billy Butler: Last summer I wrote a piece comparing Royals players to Harry Potter characters, and no comparison was more obvious than calling Butler "Hagrid." Are we cool with this, or would the joke be lost on the 0.3% of the population that hasn't read the books?

Joey Gathright: Dash. "The Incredibles" is, for me, the best of the Pixar movies.

And then there are nicknames we can pin on groups of players. I referred to the collection of Soria, Nunez, and Ramirez as "The Hispanic Panic," although that might be construed as offensive. Better ideas, anyone? The 1927 Yankees lineup was Murderer's Row; the 2008 Royals lineup is...Shoplifter's Row? Jaywalker's Row? Double-Parker's Row?

Alright, that's just off the top of my head - if I think of more, I'll add them in the comments section. Just like everyone else.

So send in your suggestions, and hopefully I'll come up with a way for everyone to vote on their favorites at some point.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Bannister in the Daytime.

Posnanski wrote his usual wrap-up of Bannister's start yesterday, and updated his log to point out this rather unusual split in Banny's performance:

Wow, as someone who claims to be one of the nation’s leading Brian Bannister scholars, I am embarrassed to say I missed this. But I did. It is brilliant reader PC who points this out:

Brian Bannister by day (this year):
– 4-0, 0.62 ERA, 29 ip, 12 hits, 3 runs, 2 earned runs, 0 homers, 7 walks, 18 K.
Batting average against: .126; OPS: .320; OPS+ -10(!)*, Babip: .156.

Brian Bannister by night (this year):
– 0-4, 8.02 ERA, 21 1/2 ip, 33 hits, 19 runs, 19 earned, 5 homers, 5 walks, 11 K,
Batting average against: .344; OPS .960; OPS+ 158(!), Babip: .350.

...Now, you can say: Well, sure, but that’s nothing, it’s a small sample size, it’s a fluke. Maybe. But as PC continues to point out … here are his career numbers:

Brian Bannister by day (career)
– 10-1, 2.65 ERA, 88 1/3 ip, 67 hits, 28 runs, 26 er, 4 homers, 23 walks, 38 Ks.
Batting average against: .212; OPS: .576; Babip .226.

Brian Bannister by night (career)
– 8-13, 4.58 ERA, 165 ip; 168 hits, 88 runs, 84 er, 20 homers, 55 walks, 87 Ks.
Batting average against: .261; OPS .763; Babip: .275.

Again, we’re not looking at a big sample by any means. But I think it’s big enough to say: “Wow, that’s kinda weird.” For whatever reason, it seems like Brian’s stuff is just much harder to hit during the day.

Those are pretty dramatic splits, certainly. But I think it's dangerous to read too much into them. Yes, this year Bannister has been much, much, MUCH better in the daytime than under the lights. But you can't say it's not a fluke simply because his career numbers also reveal a split - because those career numbers include this season.

For his career, Bannister has a 4.58 ERA at night, a 2.65 ERA during the day. But if you strip out 2008, his ERA at night is 4.07; during the day it's 3.64. A difference, but a small difference. And it's a difference which overstates the mark, if anything. Here are Bannister's career totals at night and during the day, prior to 2008:

Night: 143.2 IP, 135 H, 47 BB, 78 K, 15 HR
Day: 59.1 IP, 55 H, 16 BB, 20 K, 4 HR

His hits per nine innings during the day (8.34) is a fraction better than his ratio at night (8.46). His strikeout-to-walk ratio is significantly better at night than during the day. His BABIP - this is approximate - is .256 during the day, .266 at night.

Prior to 2008, there was no conclusive evidence to speak of that Bannister was a better pitcher during the day than at night. Do eight starts change that perception? If his start in Arlington, with 30 mph winds gusting to right field, when Bannister said he felt like he was pitching on the moon, had happened to occur in the day, how much would that skew these numbers?

I do think that Bannister is probably a little more effective during the day, in part because Bill James ran a study about 20 years ago - I think it was the 1987 or 1988 Abstract - which showed that power pitchers appear to be signficantly more effective at night. Bannister is basically the opposite of a power pitcher, so it would stand to reason that he might be more effective during the day.

But I don't think the difference is great enough to influence how the Royals use him. For one thing, he's not the only Royals' starter to pitch better during the day. Gil Meche, in a career of over 1000 innings, has a daytime ERA (3.78) more than a point lower than his nighttime ERA (4.84). Now that is significant. I suspect that most pitchers pitch better during the day, because day games tend to be clustered in the colder months of the season, and colder weather tends to lower offense. (Just a theory I have. Which means I'm probably wrong.)

If the Royals have a doubleheader and choose to start Bannister in the day game and someone like Greinke (whose ERA is 15 points under the lights) in the nightcap, great. But let's not go overboard with moving starters around to take advantage of an effect that might not actually exist.