Aaron Judge and Vlad Guerrero scare Orioles into moving fences back

Since 2006, the Orioles’ home ballpark has allowed more home runs than average every year except for 2016 (when it was exactly league average in that category) and the COVID-shortened 2020 season. Since 1992, no ballpark has seen more balls leave the yard than Camden, and that left-field fence has been a big reason for all the home runs. At its closest, the left-field wall sits just 333 feet away from home plate. That’s actually about average across all MLB ballparks. However, the parks’ 364-foot distance to left-center is the second-closest of any MLB ballpark, ahead of only Wrigley Field (363). Camden Yards is also one of just eight ballparks with a wall lower than eight feet in left. A 12-foot wall would be tied for the sixth-tallest wall in Major League Baseball. What’s interesting is, in this era, when the longball is king, you’ll regularly find teams moving walls in or lowering them. Moving them out? Not so much. Cleveland moved the walls out at old Municipal Stadium back in 1991 but returned to the old dimensions a year later. And the Cardinals discussed moving the walls back at Busch Stadium III in September, but so far have not.

To put in perspective just how hitter-friendly this ballpark has been, after left-hander John Means threw the team’s first no-hitter since 1991 in 2021, Means said he was glad the game happened in Seattle and not Baltimore. If the game had happened in Baltimore, it’s likely that Kyle Lewis’ eighth-inning fly ball, which was caught at the left-field wall in Seattle would’ve been a home run.

“If this was Camden Yards, it was gone,” said Means after the game.

This man just threw the team’s first no-hitter in 30 years and one of his main post-no-n0 thoughts was “I’m glad we weren’t at home.” If that’s how your ace feels, just imagine how difficult it would be to attract free-agent pitchers. Why would any of the top free agents play for your team if they know they’re going to be giving up dingers left and right that they wouldn’t give up at other ballparks?

Over the last three years, there have been 655 home runs hit at Camden Yards — 72 more than the next closest ballpark (Yankee Stadium, 583). That’s a larger gap than the difference between Yankee Stadium and Wrigley Field — the 13th-most homer-friendly park over the last three seasons.

How will this move directly affect the Orioles’ 2022 season though? Well, given that two of Baltimore’s top three home run hitters: Austin Hays and Ryan Mountcastle were right-handed hitters, there’s a big chance that Baltimore’s offensive numbers could take a dip. However, there’s also a big chance that Baltimore’s division rivals could take a huge hit when playing in Baltimore.

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Yankees slugger Aaron Judge has hit 14 career home runs at Camden Yards, four more than any other ballpark not named Yankee Stadium.

Yankee shortstop Gleyber Torres has hit eight home runs in Baltimore, twice as many as the next closest ballpark.

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Toronto first baseman Vlad Guerrero Jr. hit 12 home runs against Baltimore last season. That’s one-fourth of his season total.

Rays catcher Mike Zunino has been playing in the AL East for just the last three years of his nine year career. Already, Camden Yards has seen him hit five home runs (sixth-most of any ballpark he hasn’t called home).

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Right-handed hitters tend to have their way in Baltimore, and the AL East is filled with powerful right-handed bats. I didn’t even mention Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez, Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Bo Bichette, Randal Grichuk, or George Springer.

Theoretically, this move should help the Orioles’ pitching staff. With many of their staff still very young and a ton of prospects still in the minor leagues, this is probably a good move. It will not only help build confidence in many of the team’s young pitchers, but also help convince free agent pitchers to join the team.

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It’s a move that’s long needed to happen for a while, and with the Orioles’ lease on the ballpark set to expire in 2023, this decision will hopefully help in talks with Maryland Stadium Authority to give the team an extension.

Teenage pitcher becomes first female to play professionally in Australia

Beacom has a killer breaking ball. That’s a 12-6 curve reminiscent of prime Barry Zito if you ask me. Am I exaggerating? Maybe, but she’s 17 for goodness sake! She can continue developing that breaker and perhaps turn it into a seriously devastating weapon the longer she plays.

What’s even more impressive than the pitch itself is Beacom’s release point. As you can see in the overlay, there is nearly no separation between where she releases her fastball versus her curve. That’s one of the most important aspects of pitching: not tipping your pitches. Hitters will look for any little tidbit of information to figure out whether or not the next pitch thrown their way is going to be 90 mph or 75, so Beacom’s ability to make each of her pitches look the same is pretty impressive for someone her age. When I took the video and broke it down frame-by-frame, you can see that she does actually go slightly more over-the-top with her breaking ball, but the difference is so minuscule, even Major League hitters would have a tough time noticing the difference in live at-bats.

According to MLB Trade Rumors, Beacom’s fastball sits anywhere between 80 and 84 mph, which is close to the fastest pitch ever recorded by a female pitcher. In the show I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, fictional superstar Ginny Baker topped out at 87 mph with her fastball. So, theoretically speaking, we aren’t that far off from the “unrealistic” world portrayed in that 2016 TV show.

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There are pitchers in Major League Baseball today who struggle to hit 90 mph who’ve dominated Major League competition. Among active pitchers with at least 200 career innings pitched, two of the top-16 career ERA leaders have an average fastball velocity under 90 mph: the Marlins’ Richard Bleier and the Angels’ Aaron Loup. So, as long as a woman can demonstrate similar control and ability to create weak contact as someone like Bleier or Loup has done throughout their careers, she’d just need to knock her velocity up a few pegs to officially be on the same level as current Major League pitchers. Don’t forget, she’s a lefty pitcher, and those are always in demand.

We’re still likely decades away from seeing the first-ever female in Major League Baseball, but as long as women like Beacom keep showing up, it’ll only be a matter of time before it happens.

Let’s talk about Julius Randle and the thumbs down

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Essentially, if we’re looking at a sports team that we support as a product through purchasing tickets and merchandise and investing our time and energy, why are the consumers of such a product expected to stick around with a smile on their faces through shit results?

Of course, it’s not boiled down to that so simplistically, for one, an enormous part of the popularity of sports is that it’s not just a product. The teams we love are part of our identities, and the “rain or shine” aspect is a huge part of what fans see as culturally acceptable. “Bandwagon fans” are shit on regularly for the crime of investing their time, interest, and money in a product that they know is going to succeed, but we all know that’s not it. It’s that we don’t see them as having real loyalty, of crawling through the mud with your team on a down streak until they finally see the light of day on the other side. It’s easy to be a bandwagon fan, so does that mean that consumers of the sports product should expect their investment to be met with days, weeks, or years of difficulty and frustration?

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The thing is, there’s no real ROI in the product of sports, aside from bragging rights and that on-top-of-the-world feeling you get when your team wins. Which is why that comparison from Twitter doesn’t necessarily work. At a restaurant, at the very least, you’re presumably consuming a bodily necessity in food and drink. In return for money, you’re getting fed, which we need to do to stay alive. Does it have to be food from that specific restaurant? No, but in sports, we’re consuming a wholly unnecessary product. It’s fully a choice — not only the decision to support your team, but to become invested in sports at all.

Look, I get it. I’m a Cubs fan. I attended nearly every Notre Dame game of the Charlie Weis era. It’s not fun to see your team lose, and you do sort of expect something better. And it’s totally normal to have a disappointed or angry or frustrated human reaction to your team failing to be better. But I’m not sure that taking that anger and frustration out on the athletes — the real-life human beings in front of you — is necessarily the way to go.

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A similar situation went down this summer when Mets players Javier Baez and Francisco Lindor gave the crowd a thumbs down after scoring. In a press conference following the incident, Baez said, “We’re not machines. We’re going to struggle seven times out of 10. It just feels bad when…I strike out and get booed.”

And yes, I know that they make millions upon millions and we don’t feel bad for them for getting booed and all that. I think the fans have a right to express their emotions surrounding a sport, which is, in many ways, an extremely emotional product that we consume. At the very least, what we receive from our consumption of sports is a wide variety of emotions that rely heavily on how your favorite team performs on a given day. There’s also that sense of the “we” in sports fandom — you identify strongly with your team and that identity is visible and vulnerable to those around you. If your team performs poorly, your friends and acquaintances and coworkers are going to turn to you to poke fun or talk shit or ask the tough questions. By investing in one fandom or another, you become an extension of that team or program to the people who you interact with in your daily life.

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However, the athletes are only one part of a much larger production system that surrounds sports, and while we can take to Twitter to express our anger with coaches, GMs, presidents, owners, and the like, the only people we’re really granted personal access to are the athletes. The booing is, presumably, directed toward all levels of an organization for failing to meet expectations, but the people physically using their bodies and doing their best to work toward success are the ones who have the misfortune of hearing it. I mean, for God’s sake, I was at a college football game this fall where the home crowd booed their own starting quarterback for coming back in to replace the backup. Is the jeering directed toward the coaching decision in that case? Probably, but some 23-year-old playing for no money who will probably never see the NFL instead hears tens of thousands of people booing him off his own field.

There’s no real conclusion on this, but it’s an interesting thing to think about. To answer my earlier questions, I think that Knicks fans have a right to express their frustrations, and while it’s not classy to boo your own team, it’s also their prerogative as invested fans. They could exist without the team, but the team couldn’t exist without them, so they do have a certain level of power there. But Randle was also well within his rights to come back at them. I mean, come on, he’s a person, not some indestructible god. He’s a dude getting booed by the people who — within the culture of American sports, at least, whether you agree with the expectation or not — are expected to support him and his team.

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In my opinion, the fans owe him respect as a human being, but don’t necessarily owe anything to the organization they support. On the other hand, the organization doesn’t owe the fans success, as the fans are at complete liberty as to whom they support, but they do owe the fans an effort, at least. I’m not sure how the restaurant metaphor works in there as it’s hard to compare anything to the consumption of such a unique aspect of our culture. Either way, the Knicks won the game. 

WAR isn’t perfect, but don’t disregard it entirely

Heyman’s right. WAR isn’t perfect, but it’s still a good measure. Esteemed baseball writer Tom Verducci has an even stronger opinion. Verducci has called WAR a “junk stat” because certain legends are ranked lower than others many would consider just above average. For example, as I’ve stated in some of my pieces before, Bobby Abreu ranks higher in career WAR than both Vlad Guerrero and Ichiro Suzuki, despite both Guerrero and Suzuki being far better players during their primes. Well, Abreu isn’t just higher than those two, he’s also higher than the likes of Yogi Berra, Mike Piazza, Joe Torre, Larry Doby, and many other Hall of Famers. So, if Abreu, someone who was named an All-Star just twice during his MLB career, ranks higher than these legends, CLEARLY wins above replacement is a broken stat.

NO!

Career WAR is an accumulative stat, much like hits, home runs, or a pitcher’s wins and losses. So, why is it that those stats reliant on a players’ longevity are viewed in such high regard when compared to WAR? No one complains that Frank Robinson has more career home runs than Mark McGwire despite McGwire playing five fewer seasons. Omar Vizquel was never a great hitter during his career. He had an OPS over .800 once (1999), yet people love to point out his 2800-plus career hits as a Hall-of-Fame credential…so what makes WAR any different?

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If you play long enough, you’re bound to accrue some solid base stats, but what? Since WAR isn’t rooted in any of those physical statistics, it’s worthless? Get out of here.

Heyman’s tweet specifically mentions that Yogi Berra should’ve been higher on this list of all-time catchers because of how flawed WAR is as a measuring stick. However, Heyman seemingly fails to realize that Berra is fifth all-time in catcher WAR, ahead of Mike Piazza, who was ranked higher than Berra in the article Heyman references. That sort of breaks his argument that WAR is what kept Berra lower.

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The four players who rank higher than Berra in all-time catcher WAR — Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Iván Rodríguez, and Carlton Fisk — all had more career plate appearances than Berra, and guess what? That’s how WAR is supposed to work. Berra didn’t play as long (plate appearance-wise) as his counterparts so he didn’t have as much time to up his WAR. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Berra is worse than Fisk or Abreu, it just means that the other guys managed to stay on the field longer, which adds to their career value.

If we’re going to applaud players for reaching certain benchmarks like 500 home runs, 3,000 hits, or even something as minuscule as most games played at shortstop (once again, one of the most common arguments for Omar Vizquel to be in the Hall of Fame), why can’t WAR be viewed the same way? Having a 60 career WAR is remarkable. It shows that a player was able to play at a high level for a very long time. It doesn’t necessarily mean that a player with greater than 60 WAR is better than everybody with less, but it’s just another measuring stick people can use. Lord knows I don’t think Willie Davis (60.7 career WAR) is greater all-time than Andrew McCutchen (46.0 career WAR).

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Even if you still think it’s ridiculous, there are other great sabermetrics that use WAR as a baseline to take a player’s prime into account, if that’s more your style. Take JAWS, a statistic created by Jay Jaffe that compares a player’s career WAR with the best seven-year stretch of their career and uses both figures to determine the ultimate value a player provided. Essentially, if a great player played less years than someone else and had a lower career WAR because of it, JAWS allegedly brings that first player’s peak into the equation and provides a more clear picture as to who the more valuable player was. When that gets taken into the equation, Berra actually drops below Mike Piazza on the all-time catcher list.

I’m not saying that WAR is a perfect stat. Neither is JAWS, might I add, but to totally invalidate a person’s opinion because they used a statistic that has been more or less accurate in the years it’s been used, that’s petty and elitist.

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Yes, it’s easy to play “narrative ball” with some advanced analytics.

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But that doesn’t mean these analytics are useless. They can be great figures for making an argument in defense of any given player, even if they aren’t linked to any tangible statistics.

Dylan Larkin gives fan $20 to make up for spilled beer

Instead, Larkin took the captain title to a whole new level. He’s not just looking out for his teammates; he’s looking out for anyone who steps foot in Little Caesars Arena. Larkin knows that when he’s wronged someone, he needs to make it up to them.

I’ve never met Larkin’s parents, but man, they raised him right. What a solid dude! But it’s not just Larkin who’s been seen making up for a fan’s spilled beer lately. A little more than a week ago, Golden State Warriors’ combo guard Gary Payton II was mic’d up for his team’s game against the Indiana Pacers.

While leaning up against some railing, Payton accidentally knocked a fan’s beer over and immediately ran over to a team official asking him to get that fan another Truly. I don’t know what it is about spilling alcohol, but people just seem to understand that that’s not something you can do and walk away from. You HAVE TO get them another drink! It’s just common courtesy, but still, seeing these athletes go out of their way to ensure their fans have great experiences at their games…it warms the heart.