Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Some mild fun with what is honestly not a completely terrible article...

I think the general consensus of the blogosphere (alternative term: interblogs) is that Jerry Crasnick is one of the good guys. He eschews the pointless negativism of a Jay Mariotti, the weird poetry of a Bill Plaschke, the rampant Yankeeism of a Mike Celizic, and the being-two-thousand-years-old of a Murray Chass. Usually, he writes solidly unremarkable articles that make solidly unremarkable points, although all too often he falls prey to the siren songs of sportswriters: hustle, grit, and clubhouse presence. So if not one of the good guys, at least one of the neutral nellies. You guys like alliteration, right?

But still, I can't shake the feeling that, with a little careful prodding and nagging, Jerry can take that final step into being a full-fledged Rob-Neyer-style baseball dude, and if there's one thing I definitely feel the world needs more of, it's Rob Neyer. So now, as part of my genius Bizarro self-improvement plan for Mr. Crasnick, I will shame him into recognizing the error of his ways by nitpicking what is on balance a decent column.

Chicago is anxious to extend its hands and hearts to Kosuke Fukudome. If he fulfills the hype, there will be an abundance of standing ovations, Wrigley Field curtain calls and laudatory Jay Mariotti columns coming his way over the next several months.

Laudatory...Jay...Mariotti? Sorry Jerry, you've already lost me.

But as Fukudome nears the end of his first week in a Major League Baseball clubhouse, even the most erudite, well-educated Cubs could use a primer on how to relate to their new teammate.

Ooh, who do you think is the most erudite, well-educated Cub? I know who it used to be, but sadly that was now ten years ago. Hmm...I'm going to go with Sean Gallagher, if only because those songs he wrote in the early nineties were truly something else. Or is it because his stand-up is so avant-garde and revolutionary?

Center fielder Sam Fuld, who has an economics degree from Stanford,

Stanford? NERD!!!

counts "Mr. Baseball" with Tom Selleck and "Lost in Translation" with Bill Murray among his Japanese cultural references.

Lost in Translation? PRETENTIOUS NERD!!! Ah, that felt good. I love ripping on them nerds. Because if there's one thing I'm not, it's a nerd. What's that? You want another completely random link to an Alan Moore comic? Well, OK, if you insist...

Anyway, skipping ahead...

The Cubs did plenty of homework before signing Fukudome to a four-year, $48 million deal in December. Ace scout Gary Hughes watched him at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens and returned with glowing reports, and Bush and scout Paul Weaver were similarly impressed in subsequent viewings.

I think we're supposed to assume they did a little more research than this, but I'm a little concerned when the first piece of evidence Jerry cites is a four-year-old analysis of Olympic baseball, something pretty much universally considered to be a failed bastardization of baseball proper. And anyway, it's not as though Fukodome's regular season games aren't televised, so it's not like the old days when the only way to see the likes of Sadaharu Oh were in exhibition games against a hungover Mickey Mantle. I mean, I know for a fact Japan has TV; I see clips of it all the time. Admittedly, the Japanese television I've seen didn't really have much to do with baseball, unless it involved random people being pelted with them, I guess.

Fukudome hit two home runs for Japan at the World Baseball Classic in 2006, and had the look of a player who's comfortable on a big stage.

Well, David Ortiz hit two homers, so that definitely proves that argument. Endy Chavez did as well, and you just know those two homers helped him make that amazing catch back in the 2006 NLCS. Oh, and *SHUDDER* Bernie Williams hit two as well.

Of course, Adrian Beltre hit FOUR homers at the WBC, so that means he's twice as comfortable as any of those non-clutchy hit-nothings on a big stage. And that's definitely been borne out by his play in a huge market like Seattle, where those pirahnas in the media will eat you alive if you don't play up to their colossal expectations (and, by that, I think I pretty much mean With Leather's Matt Ufford).

Fukudome's willingness to work deep counts makes him a welcome addition to a Chicago lineup that embodies the word "aggressive." Last year the Cubs were tied for 25th among the 30 big league teams in walks. They also displayed a hack-first and ask-questions-later mentality as a rule. According to Stats Inc., the Cubs swung at 46.9 percent of the pitches they saw last season. That made them the 22nd most selective team in the majors.

Jerry, you're never going to make any progress until you're willing to call a spade a spade. The Chicago Cubs lineup wasn't aggressive because "aggressive" in this context has positive connotations. The Chicago Cubs lineup last year was "undisciplined", "counterproductive", "bad at things that actually contribute to what hack sportswriters like to call manufacturing runs, which really should mean working counts and producing walks," and "playing like Juan Pierre was still there." Come on, Jerry, you know, deep down, in your heart of hearts, you're an unrepentant asshole...just like me! Give in to your darker nature! Rip those Cubs hitters a new one!

Fukudome posted an on-base percentage of .430 or better in each of his last three seasons with the Chunichi Dragons, and Piniella loves the thought of hitting him second between Alfonso Soriano and Derrek Lee.

Well-done Lou! You put your high-OBP guys at the top of the order, thereby giving them slightly more opportunities than other players to use their already superior ability and thereby maximizing your overall run-scoring potential! Precisely right. (Well, other than Alfonso ".337 OBP" Soriano leading off. That's merely average, but at least he has a reasonable contract that reflects that. Don't correct me on that...as a fan, I need this. Although his WARP-3 last year was 9.0, so that's something.)

What's his principal strength as a player?

"My strength is, when I make a mistake I forget about it very quickly and prepare for the next play or the next pitch," Fukudome said.

As I believe you might say in your native Japanese, Mr. Fukodome, "Chigau!" Your principal strength is your .430 on-base percentage over the last three seasons in Japan. That is an awesome strength. You don't need to run from who you are and create Erstad-esque pseudo-arguments for why you're valuable. (Incidentally, I had no idea no idea how much research I would have to do to figure out that "chigau" was the exact Japanese word I needed to use.)

If Piniella is correct, big league pitchers will test Fukudome's bat speed with hard stuff out of the chute. Then they'll pound one side of the plate or the other to try and find a weakness. With each test that Fukudome passes, opponents will invent new ways to try and beat him.

You mean...they're going to pitch to him? People, this is why Sweet Lou makes the big bucks; he takes a long look at major league pitchers, studies their habits, and ultimately decides they are, in fact, not belly-itchers. Me, I was definitely learning towards the belly-itching side of things, so I'm sure glad I'm not running the Cubs. Honestly, I figured opposing teams would just let Fukodome hit off one of those preschool batting tees. Actually, that might happen with the Pirates.

Judging from his portfolio in Japan, Fukudome doesn't have a lot of shortcomings. He's a former Central League Most Valuable Player, a two-time batting champion and a four-time Gold Glove Award winner with a career .397 OBP.

The Gold Glove: a bullshit award that knows no international boundaries. Come to think of it, didn't Buzz Aldrin pick one up for his fancy flag-handling on the Moon? And what about this plaque that Carl Sagan put in Pioneer 10? Doesn't figure two look suspiciously like the two baseballs that adorn the Gold Glove award? Don't they? Dear lord...the universal apocalypse is coming...and it's in Gold Glove form! What an angle!

You know, utterly unbelievable as it might sound, that digression pretty much illustrates the problem with Crasnick's article - whereas the end of all life in the universe is, you know, important, there really isn't anything that Jerry writes that offers any particularly new insight. Let's see if I can summarize his points:

1. Japanese players face a culture shock when they play in the United States
2. Kusoke Fukodome should be pretty good, if not outstanding
3. The Cubs were horribly impatient hitters in 2007
4. Lou Piniella believes pitchers will pitch to Fukodome
5. Adding a good player to an improving Cubs team might make them improve more

C'mon Jerry - I know you have to reach a quota of articles and everything, but if this is all you've got to say, you might as well have the common decency to make up crazy shit like an intergalactic Gold Glove conspiracy. Hell, I'll let you have it...for a price.

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