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Soup of This Day #180: It’s Nothing To Do With The Weather

May 19, 2012

John Deere tractor and chisel plough
A John Deere 8110 tractor with a chisel plough – For when the Earth is patient but an ox won’t get you to market on time – Photo: Jesster79, 2004. Jesster79 is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

Tonight’s post is based around the wisdom of Australian Football League (AFL) coach Mick Malthouse, but in spite of that, mostly it relates to baseball.

Let me start by admitting that I’m automatically biased against Mick, even if it turns out that he’s a lovely bloke outside of football.

See, from 1990 until 1999 he was the coach of the West Coast Eagles. The Eagles are 1 of 2 Western Australian teams in the AFL. The other is the Fremantle Dockers of which I am a committed supporter. Freo are the working class battlers, whereas the Eagles are the rich, Chardonnay-set with a sense of entitlement.

When Freo wins the Dockers fans are ecstatic, mostly because deep down we’re always expecting that the lads will @#$% it all up somehow – When the West Coasters win their fans just seem to have expected it. There’s a sense of shock, a trembling of the wine glasses even, when they don’t make the finals.

But then Mick stepped it up a notch by moving to Collingwood, coaching them from 2000 until 2011. The Magpies are the New York Yankees or the Manchester United of the AFL. They are cashed up and possessed of a belief that the universe revolves around them. Consequently they are intensely disliked by pretty much everybody outside of themselves. Mick took this bunch of unloveable thugs and dragged them into 4 Grand Finals of which they won 1.

You can add that Premiership to the 2 he won with West Coast across 3 Grand Finals. So clearly Michael Malthouse knows his stuff and as such, even with the dislike, I tend to listen when he talks.

1 time I watched him talking on a football panel show. I can’t remember the season but Collingwood were out of contention and so Mick was talking in his usual brusque way about how other teams were performing. He was asked about 1 team in particular – The interviewer suggested that the team had ‘overachieved’. I can’t quote Malthouse’s reply word for word – I just don’t recall it that well. What I can do is rehash the spirit of the answer:

Mick’s response was a blunt denial that a team, any team, could overachieve. His theses was that what you’re actually saying when you use that term is that the team has done better than you thought they might – In other words they have exceeded your expectations. They haven’t overachieved though – They have in fact just achieved. The implication from Malthouse was that this level of achievement was not a surprise – They were who he thought they were, to paraphrase a line from Dennis Green.

If you follow Mick’s logic through then it’s also incorrect to suggest that a team might underachieve. And this is where we get to baseball. Specifically the interleague series that kicked off this morning with the Red Sox at the Phillies.

The Phillies should be contenders in 2012. They cruised to a 102 and 60 record last year, the best in the Majors, largely off the back of a stellar rotation. That pitching roster had a collective ERA of 3.02, ranking them 1st in the National League. For 2012 they have improved their staff on the mound – Keeping Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee in the starting rotation and adding Joe Blanton and Vance Worley. It’s hard to see much getting scored off that lineup.

But baseball is about offence as well as defence – You have to score runs too. In 2011 the Phillies managed 713 of them, good for just 7th in the NL. When it came to the playoffs they were bundled out 3-2 in the Divisionals by wild cards and eventual World Series Champions, St Louis. The Cards for the record were ranked 8th on ERA (3.74) but 1st on offence (762 runs).

So the logical step across the break would be to add some power off the bat?

No. The Phillies stayed solid across the team, adding only Jonathan Papelbon from the Red Sox as a big money acquisition.

Jonathan Papelbon, the closer.

That’s ‘closer’ as in pitcher who comes in to save the game in the 9th and therefore will most likely not bat, even in the NL.

That seems a strange area to strengthen in and so far this season it’s understandably seen no real improvement to the offence – They’ve notched 165 runs, ranking them at 6th in the NL. Worryingly their pitching is ranked 9th with an ERA of 3.55. That last will come down but in the meantime the Phillies went into this 3-game series with the Sox at 20 and 19, last in the NL East.

Underachieving? Nope – Pretty much achieving.

The Boston Red Sox occupy a similar place in the standings – They went in to this series also in last place in their Division, holding an 18 and 20 record. There though the comparison ends – The Red Sox don’t have a problem with the batting:

In 2011 they smoked their way to 875 runs, ranking them 1st in the American League. They were in fact ranked 1st on hits, doubles, OPS and SLG. This year they are at it again, albeit at a slightly lesser pace – 1st in doubles. 2nd in runs (209), hits and SLG. 3rd in OPS.

Pitching is another story. As in a horror story.

In 2011 the Red Sox were ranked 9th in the AL for ERA with a collective 4.20. They famously missed out on a wild card shot on the last day of the season, finishing up with a disappointing 90 and 72 record.

It’s not hard to join up the dots there is it?

This term the dots join up for an even uglier picture. Their collective ERA is 4.68, good for 13th in the AL rankings.

There are only 14 teams in the AL.

Underachieving? Nope – Achieving at pretty much the right level for a team that did not a lot to strengthen a suspect pitching rotation bar selling off the closer to the Phillies (Admittedly akin to selling ice to the eskimos so a fair feat of salesmanship) and adding a flotilla of maybe-they-will-be-Cinderella punts on the cheap.

So for this morning’s game I was expecting a tight contest with the Phillies just shading the Sox via superior pitching.

And that was what happened.

Cole Hamels was ok. He gave up a couple of home runs but both were solo shots so the damage was limited. Daniel Bard for the Sox though was wild – His line showed 49 balls out of 94 pitches across 5 innings. He gave up 5 runs off just 3 hits and hit 2 batters.

Just in case that last stat offends Phillies fans can I point out that the ball caroomed off the 2nd hit batter and split open Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s ear, taking him out of the game and off to hospital. Ty Wigginton, the Phillies bat in the middle of that sandwich was ok.

Karma has done her work there then.

In the end the Phillies got home 6-4. Result achieved.

I’m going to end this post as it started, via the wisdom of Mick Malthouse. Mick is a thinker – Not afraid to go outside the box now and then in search of an edge.

I’ve always thought of him as a serious Yogi Berra, capable of weird stuff but without the sense of humour. This last bit from him sums that up nicely – At a post-game press conference for the Eagles he gave an answer to a question that nobody seems to remember any more. That lack of recall is probably because the answer makes little sense to anyone apart from a student of Confucious:

‘The ox is slow but the earth is patient.’

Yes Mick, and the ox is achieving.

It’s Nothing To Do With The Weather

2 Comments
  1. After the Red Sox have left town leaving the Phillies bloodied, here comes the Nationals. Do you know on Philly talk radio today the discussion is whether or not Washington’s rotation would be more desirable to have for the future than Philadelphia’s? That is how bad things have gotten here. I tried to warn the universe in pre-season the Phillies had done nothing to improve their chances this year even knowing their 3 and 4 hitters are nowhere to be found and their future production very much in question…except for that great closer, of course. Why DO you need a closer when you can’t score any runs? They stood in place hitting-wise…and they are standing in place in the standings as a result.

    • It is indeed a worry when the Nats are your benchmark. I read your pre-season warnings and while I took them on board (they made sense) I figured that there must be something that the Phillies staff could see that a guy from Western Australia couldn’t. Just like there must be something in all of those pitchers the Sox auditioned that wasn’t apparent down here.

      Nope.

      There’s as much of a hole in the Phillies’ run production as there is in the pitching for the Red Sox. As of today we’re good for gifting 5 runs a game.

      At least we don’t have Papelbon any more. Saw an interview with him before the 1st game. Talking about himself as ‘Cinco’. Funny how you view someone different once they’ve gone from your team. Good riddance. Sorry he’s with the Phillies.

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