MLB Midseason 2014: The TB Rays & Other Notables

We are deep enough into the 2014 season to be able to use the numbers to make sense of what’s going on in Major League Baseball. The concept of ‘fair sample size’ is important in statistical analysis.  In baseball, this means we need to wait until around June before we can positively identify significant season trends.
Before then, the sample size is often too small to be accurate.

Baseball’s two most important batting stats are OBP & SLG, in that order.
OBP & SLG are conventionally presented with batting average (AVG) as triple slash stats AVG/OBP/SLG; which tells you basically everything you need to know about a hitter in one line.


The TB Rays have the worst record in baseball.
Didn’t the experts anoint them as the best team in the AL?

Fans should not be too surprised, as the TBR have operated on a razor-thin margin for a long time now. When it collapses it quickly becomes a free-fall, because there is little depth.
TBR lineup is a least 2 bats short (at 1B & DH); the two most-important production slots.
An adaquate catching platoon would be helpful; Ryan Hanigan (.212/.299/.336) and Jose Molina (.129/.180/.129) doesn’t let you compete in the AL East.

The Rays 17th in OBP (.315) and 26th in SLG (.365).
Their once historically-great defense, is now middle-of-the-pack by most metrics.
The Rays innovations in shifting defenses & alignment have been noted by MLB, thus eroding another advantage they once held.
The Rays DER (Defensive Efficiency Ratio: the measure of converting balls-in-play into outs) is .687, 18th in MLB.

Note: NYY is 27th, BOS 28th, and TEX 30th in DER; all high-priced, veterean-heavy– under-performing teams.

TBR are 22nd in team ERA at 4.10.
#2 starter Matt Moore needed TJ surgery, and is out until next June– minimum.
Ace starter David Price is a free agent after the season, so it won’t get better.

Joe Maddon is a great field manager, but he needs some help if the Rays are ever going to seriously compete.
Rays owner, Stuart Sternberg is worth an estimated $800 million. Player payroll needs to increase by $20-30 million/season, otherwise TBR will no longer compete in this division.
Someone with nearly a billion dollars in wealth should invest in his business, and not use poor attendance as an excuse for frugality.

Rays fans don’t come to Tropicana Field because: 1) there is a jobs depression in Tampa, just like everwhere else– only it’s a bit worse there; 2) it’s located in congested traffic at the end of a penninsula; 3) it’s a dump.

The problem with the Rays in 2014 is that they were set up to fail.
They have always competed short-stacked against payroll behemoths in TEX, NYY, BOS… and every year they eventually bust to one of them.
Attrition through free agency has diminished the ranks somewhat, but few of the name players they let go (Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton) are really helpful at their free-agent contract prices.
The real problem is in Scouting & Player Development, starting with when they chose Tim Beckham over Buster Posey with the #1 overall pick in 2008.
They’ve had other drafts with multiple compensation picks, and failed to develop an impact player.
As a result there is very little help on the way from their once-fertile minor league system.

TBR are not the worst team in baseball, but they might end up with the worst record in 2014.
This is because they play in the toughest division in sports, the AL East.


TOR is the best team in the AL East as of mid-June, and they are for real.
TOR is 4th in OBP (.332) & 2nd in SLG (.446) to COL (.462).
Mark Buehrle (10-2, 2.04 ERA) anchors a decent rotation, and their team ERA is 18th (3.99), which is an improvement over recent seasons.

OAK is a MLB best in team ERA (2.91) & OBP (.336), and 2nd in DER (.717); which is why they have the best record in the AL.
If you still don’t believe in Moneyball, then you are hopeless.

The NYY are old, injured, and heading for a 4th-place finish.
Masahiro Tanaka (9-1, 2.02 ERA) is the only thing keep them afloat, at this point.

BOS has starting pitching injury issues, ERA 17th (3.89), and a completely unproductive outfield.
RF Shane Victorino (.242/.276/.352) tops the BOS outfield in SLG.

LAD have the best RF in baseball, Yasiel Puig (.333/.430/.584), and a hugely overpaid remaining lineup.
No disrespect to MIA RF Giancarlo Stanton (301/.393/.589)
Clayton Kershaw (5-2, 3.17 ERA) & Zack Grienke (8-2, 2.62 ERA) are the best 1-2 in the NL.
The MIL, SFG, & STL are all better bets to go to the WS.

MIL finally has some starting pitching (ERA 3.65, 11th in MLB) and have stabilized their defense (5th in DER at .706), so they are for real.
They can always mash; 8th in SLG (.409).
This is the good Rickie Weeks .307/.365/.443; I hope he stays healthy.
I don’t believe anything Ryan Braun (.299/.337/.529) says in front of a camera or through his spokespeople.

TEX is last in MLB in team ERA at 4.60.
They had a great lineup, until they: 1) let Nelson Cruz (.303/.374/.636) get away to BAL; and 2) traded Ian Kinsler (.287/.316/.449) to DET for Prince Fielder (.247/.360/.360 in 150 AB before neck surgery ended his season) and $30 million.
TEX gets this season and six more of Prince Fielder at $24 million/year.
I don’t know why Nolan Ryan left the front office, but I’m betting decision-making like this was part of the problem.

All part of the game, as bad trades a just part of baseball…

Enjoy the summer:)

Rush Records & the R&R HoF

In the high school halls
In the bathroom stalls

According to Billboard, their only top 40 hit was “New World Man” from Signals (1982), yet Rush has sold tens of millions of records worldwide.

Rush has been together for almost 40 years now, and that should be appreciated. [1]
Few bands last that long, much less have their success– commercially and/or artistically.
A large reason for Rush’s sustained existence is their talent as virtuosos & artists, along with their professional approach.

Rush Records

All the World’s a Stage (1976) proved Rush could play live as a tight band and as expert instrumentalists.
By the 1980’s Rush abandoned this approach and eventually limited their touring.
Rush would eventually evolve into mostly a studio project.

Rush always provided the lyrics (with Peart) and made attempts at interesting album artwork.
This was important & valuable in the record album era– when the sound got scratchy, the listener could go the the album jacket for clues to the music.
Rush wanted you to know everything going on, down to infinite details in their liner notes.
Rush is best experienced on vinyl.

Rush is:

Geddy Lee as their utility infielder on bass, vocals & eventually synths.
In baseball terms, think Robin Yount (or Ben Zobrist) value.

Alex Lifeson, the guitar master of all styles including: rock, classical, jazz, ska, reggae. His fluid soloing, clean harmonics & arpeggios, heavy riffing, and everything in between fill in a lot of space with thoughtful sounds.
Choosing a favorite band member in Rush goes like this: if you are a drummer it’s Neil Peart.
If not, most choose Geddy Lee.
For me, Alex Lifeson’s subtle and intuitive sense of riff & melody, as well as his technical mastery is what has always been most interesting about Rush; live and in the studio.

Neil Peart replaced John Rutsy (in order to save him from himself; died in 2008) shortly after their first record was released in 1974.
Fly by Night (1975) introduced a powerful & technically brilliant percussionist; with many percussively melodic ideas.
As a bonus he wrote poems & stories, so Peart immediately became Rush’s chief lyricist.
Peart’s artistic ideas were heavily influenced by mysticism and the writings of Ayn Rand.
Rand was an American author whose Objectist philosophy was “rationalized self-interest” & support of laissez-faire capitalism.
Peart’s ability to rhyme words & create a narrative has always been flawed by this reactionary perspective and it limits Rush, artistically.

Despite this shortcoming, Rush is qualitatively better with Neil Peart.
By their fourth record 2112 (1976), Rush had achieved a commercial breakthrough.
2112 is a concept album whose side one is filled with oracles & mythical heroes of a future world.
Tempos shift & drift with machine-like precision as Geddy Lee wails through the 20-minute tale.  He really can sing.
Hardcore fans often insist this Rush’s best record.
As a rule: I never argue with hardcore Rush fans.

My personal favorite Rush record is A Farewell to Kings (1977).
“Closer to the Heart” is maybe their best single.
The rest of the album hangs together, with concepts that (mostly) don’t stretch too long.
“Cinderella Man” is one of Geddy Lee’s best self-penned songs.

Hemispheres‘(1978) last track is sub-titled “An Exercise in Self-Indulgence”, an instrumental jam that works– thanks largely to Lifeson & Peart’s wizardry.
This tongue-in-cheek nod to their own pretentiousness– which often led to long set pieces that sound silly, processed and impersonal– is a great finish to one of their best album sides.

How much of it you the listener are willing to put up with is a measure of your fanhood.

Rush made rock operas in the era of Queen & Black Sabbath, and there is always a certain Spinal Tap quality to that genre.

Rush of that era, fit in perfectly with the early video & role-playing games.

Moving Pictures (1981) is often hailed as the zenith of their commercial & artistic success.
At least three of their best songs: “Tom Sawyer”, “Red Barchetta” & “Limelight” are on side one, so it’s hard to disagree.
Side two is experimental or filler, depending on perspective.

What changed mostly at that time was the industry landscape.
MTV was launched on August 1, 1981 to huge commercial success.
Ageing arena-rock acts like Rush didn’t fit in with the new model.
Nothing in Rush’s music ever resembled dancability, plus they had little crossover appeal to women.

This new media form favoured young celebrities, who looked sexy & energetic such as: Duran Duran, INXS & Madonna.
Technically precise instrumentalists over 30-years old, didn’t fit the new mold.
By 1984, Van Halen & Def Leppard defined mainstream rock.
Grace Under Pressure (1984) with “Distant Early Warning” & “The Enemy Within” is a sensible jumping-off point, marking the end of Rush’s classic period.

Rush continued to get distribution and AOR promotion with diminishing returns, until grunge forever banished them to dinosaur status in the 1990’s.

Not all bands can be the Beatles, and what that means is: appreciating something that isn’t obvious has its own rewards.
Rush gets backhanded by everyone from classic-rock critics to post-punk purists.
Their historic value is the standard they set for musicianship, which is still hard to match.
Describing their sound evokes comparisons to Led Zeppelin, Yes, and King Crimson.
Among the great rock-era trios, Rush holds their place with Cream & Green Day; in that tier just below the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Police, the Minutemen, Husker Du & Nirvana, for me.

You can argue their success, but you can’t deny that they took their craft seriously.
For some reason that doesn’t get respect with certain people.
Rush was eligible for the R&R HoF in 1999 and finally inducted in 2013.

Does Rush belong in the R&R HoF?
Sure, but what about Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band, Cheap Trick, Devo, Pere Ubu, Wire, Husker Du, Sonic Youth, Bikini Kill…and the rest?!


The R&R HoF is a moribund institution, erected in the image of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone magazine.
Bands like Rush have to patiently wait their turn, and when it’s convenient, they are admitted.
Meanwhile, punk and 1980’s underground is condescended to, and ignored.
Even 25+ years later, that rock music is a still too out of control for the R&R HoF.