Friday, June 24, 2011

Sixpoint Sweet Action

It's been a while since I've discussed my new-found interest in discovering the best canned craft beer offerings. In terms of the selections that are readily available locally, three breweries are major players: Colorado's Oskar Blues Brewery, San Francisco's 21st Amendment, and upstate New York's Butternuts Beer and Ale. That is, until now.

On the way home from work this evening, I discovered another entry into the canned craft beer derby. Several offerings from Brooklyn's Sixpoint Craft Ales are now available at my preferred local store, and tonight's choice was their Sweet Action, an amber ale that Sixpoint describes as "...a simple representation of what makes beer great—the marriage of barley and hops, in a harmonious balance for your mind, body and soul."

The beer was already half-consumed at this point, lest you think this was a flat pour.

Since I've always advocated for the importance of hops/malt balance, the emphasis on this all-important quality in this particular brew made it pretty much essential that I give it a try, and I was not disappointed.

As advertised, it's a very well-balanced beer, and at 5.2% ABV it makes for an excellent session beer. It's slightly yeasty as well, a quality that reminds me of home brewing, which is never a bad thing.

Sixpoint's offerings come in 16-oz. cans, which came as a very pleasant surprise to me. Seriously, why should we settle for 12-oz. servings at home when we're used to drinking full pints in bars? Actually, the cheater pints that are used in most bars hold closer to 14 ounces, but that's a discussion for another day.

Anyway, I'll definitely return to the store for a taste of more of what Sixpoint has to offer, and I'm sure it will be a worthwhile venture.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Ranking the Neil Young Discography

I have a tendency towards starting many projects that I never finish. Don't get me wrong. I finish a lot of them, but just as many end up getting placed on the back burner.

From Hank to Hideki? I'll get back to it eventually.

The Left Field 100? Stalled at about one-third of the way to completion.

I've even struggled with getting around to my year-end compilation the past couple of years. In fact, I've handed out a grand total of three 2010 comps to friends I've actually seen since I completed the playlist in February of this year.

That one I can chalk up to life-related excuses, though. Well, I guess I can use that excuse to cover other instances of slacking off as well.

Anyway, you get what I'm driving at. But, here is one project I promise to see through to completion. It might...uh, rather, it will take a few months, but I think it's time I tackled the concept of ranking the entire Neil Young discography.

Of course, these rankings will be entirely based on my opinion rather than viewed from a critical perspective. Well, because I'm hardly a music critic. So, there may be a few unconventional choices, but so be it.

I have a dilemma, though. That is, what to do with live albums and compilations. Obviously, live records that consist of previously unreleased material, such as Rust Never Sleeps and Time Fades Away, are as much proper albums as the studio releases. Then there are the live albums that capture a single performance—Live at Massey Hall 1971 and Live at the Fillmore East, for example—which feel like more legitimate releases than live compilations such as Live Rust and Weld.

Normally, the answer to the question of what to do with compilations of studio material is an easy one. That is, don't consider them. But, of course, with Neil Young it's not so easy. Decade, for instance, while primarily including his greatest hits from 1966 to 1976, also contains the previously unreleased "Down to the Wire," "Winterlong," "Deep Forbidden Lake," "Love is a Rose" and "Campaigner." And, then there's Journey Through the Past, the soundtrack to Young's bizarre film of the same name.

So, maybe there will be a critical element to my rankings, in that I'll probably rate the live albums in terms of whether or not the concert versions do justice to the originals or in any way are compelling re-workings of the songs. I'm leaning towards not considering the studio compilations at all.

Of course, I'm open to anyone's suggestions regarding methodology.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Left Field National League All-Star Ballot

I already explained this in my American League post, but just to be sure to cover all the bases, I'll say it again. My All-Star picks are based on each player's performance since this point in the season last year (i.e. 6/15/10 - 6/15/11), and they're presented here because I like to share my opinions about such things—I wouldn't be writing a blog if I didn't—and as part of the voting for the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

I also want to elaborate a little on why I chose to base my picks on the last calendar year rather than 2011 to date, and the best way to do this is with an example.

Last year, I advocated that Colorado's Miguel Olivo had been the best catcher in all of baseball in the first half, yet he was completely overlooked by not being selected for the National League team. In the first half of 2010, he batted .325 with 11 HR, 42 RBI and a 150 OPS+, and at the time of the aforementioned post had thrown out 46.5% of would-be base-stealers. In the second half, he batted .193 with 3 HR, 16 RBI and a 48 OPS+. I don't have his defensive splits, but even his caught-stealing percentage dropped to 42.3% by the end of the year.

The bottom line is Miguel Olivo has never produced an entire season in his career that was worthy of All-Star selection. So, with apologies to the Howie Kendricks, Matt Joyces and Alex Avilas of the baseball world, I need to see a little more sustained production before I vote you onto my All-Star team.

Now that I've got that out of the way, here are my National League selections:

- Brian McCann (Atlanta)
There's not really much question about who the best all-around catcher in the National League is, especially with San Francisco's Buster Posey unavailable due to injury.

First Base - Joey Votto (Cincinnati)
It's hard to believe this is such a no-brainer too, but St. Louis's Albert Pujols doesn't even come close.

Second Base - Rickie Weeks (Milwaukee)
Is Weeks officially a superstar yet? I'm not sure, but I'm pretty certain there's no other National League second baseman worthy of comparison.

Shortstop - Troy Tulowitzki (Colorado)
Despite the fact that the Mets' Jose Reyes is off to such a tremendous start to 2011, Tulowitzki is the best shortstop in the league over the last calendar year.

Third Base - Chase Headley (San Diego)
We all know Washington's Ryan Zimmerman is a better player, but Headley is tied with him in WAR since mid-June of last year and, therefore, gets the nod based on the current year performance tie-breaker.

Outfield - Matt Holliday (St. Louis), Andrew McCutchen (Pittsburgh), Ryan Braun (Milwaukee)
Holliday's a no-brainer. McCutchen doesn't need the center fielder requirement to make this squad, but he'll play that position nevertheless. Lastly, I'm taking Braun over Colorado's Carlos Gonzalez because of better 2011 performance, and over Cincinnati's Drew Stubbs because of better offensive production.

Starting Pitcher - Roy Halladay (Philadelphia)
I don't really need to justify this pick, do I?

There you have it, my 2011 All-Star ballot.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Left Field American League All-Star Ballot

One of several votes that the Baseball Bloggers Alliance collaborates on throughout the year is the All-Star ballot. As such, I've determined my picks for starters in both leagues and will reveal them here, after I explain my methodology a little.

I've read a lot lately about how selecting an All-Star team based on two-plus months worth of performance is a flawed idea, and although that's how I've generally done it in the past, I've come to agree with this assessment. So, I thought I'd base my picks on an entire year's worth of performance, with an ever-so-slight emphasis on the current season, where applicable. 

It probably would have been better to use statistics since last year's All-Star break, but they're not so easily available, so I utilized FanGraphs' functionality to display the numbers for the past calendar year (i.e. 6/15/10 - 6/15/11). I primarily looked at WAR, for its ability to take both offensive and defensive performance into consideration, but I made a few discretionary adjustments.

First, the American League:

Catcher - Matt Wieters (Baltimore)
Wieters wins out over Detroit's Victor Martinez—who hasn't really caught all that much this year—and Minnesota's Joe Mauer, who's been injured most of 2011 to date. 

First Base - Miguel Cabrera (Detroit)
It was a close call between Cabrera and Boston's Adrian Gonzalez, but I ultimately chose Cabrera because this is an American League All-Star team, and Gonzalez was a National Leaguer for a good portion of the sample period.

Second Base - Robinson Cano (New York)
I gave Cano the edge over Texas's Ian Kinsler, because Kinsler's slight edge in WAR is primarily due to defense. Honestly, I still don't completely trust WAR's ability to measure fielding, especially when it comes to the fact Cano rated as below-average last year.

Shortstop - Alexei Ramirez (Chicago)
Cleveland's Asdrubal Cabrera is off to a great start this year, but combining this year's numbers with those from mid-June of last year on makes Ramirez an obvious choice.

Third Base - Adrian Beltre (Texas)
Beltre had an excellent 2010, and is off to a good start for 2011, so he's my pick over Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria and the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez.

Outfield - Jose Bautista (Toronto), Curtis Granderson (New York), Josh Hamilton (Texas)
I'm a firm believer that at least one of the three outfield positions should be a center fielder, but Granderson deserves one of the three spots regardless of that distinction. I had to decide between Hamilton, who really hasn't done much yet this year, and the Yankees' Brett Gardner, believe it or not. I just couldn't bring myself to proclaim Gardner an All-Star starter, so I went with Hamilton, despite the fact his selection is almost entirely based on 2 1/2 months of performance from last year.

Designated Hitter - David Ortiz (Boston)
Not really much to choose from here, so Ortiz's 2011 first-half resurgence earns him the spot.

Starting Pitcher - Jered Weaver (Los Angeles)
Although not technically part of the ballot, starting pitcher is a four-horse race between Weaver, Seattle's Felix Hernandez, New York's C.C. Sabathia and Detroit's Justin Verlander. Weaver earns the tie-breaker based on 2011 performance.

I'll return with my National League picks in a separate post.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Jinxing Colon

With the heavy rains in New England this weekend, my work around the house has moved from outside to in, which gave me the opportunity yesterday to more closely follow the Yankees game on my mobile device, and share a couple observations on Twitter in the process.

So, when Bombers starter Bartolo Colon completed his sixth inning of shutout baseball, while the Yankees were leading the Indians 2-0 on home runs by Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson, I tweeted the following:

It couldn't have been more than a half-hour later that I received this response from my pal Lee Mazzola:

I had already noticed Colon had been pulled in favor of David Robertson two outs into the 7th inning, but since I wasn't watching the game on television, I hadn't made anything of it. Then, of course, I learned Colon was removed from the game due to a strained hamstring—an injury he suffered while covering first base—and will likely wind up on the disabled list.

I've written a few times in the past about my baseball superstitions, but have always qualified these statements by saying I don't really believe in such things. Now, I'm not so sure.

Friday, June 10, 2011

On the Rox

It looks like I've got some blog catching up to do.

On Friday night, May 27, KJ and I attended our first game at Campanelli Stadium, home of the Brockton Rox of the independent Canadian-American Association of Professional Baseball, otherwise known as the Can-Am League.

I've got a bit of a history with independent minor league baseball. In 1995, I tried out for an umpiring position with the brand new North Atlantic League, and was selected as an alternate. Unfortunately, due to financial issues, the league released all of its umpires and decided to go with local officials mid-way through that first season, so I never got the call to work a game. Not surprisingly, the league disbanded after only two years in existence.

My pal Fred, whom I met at umpire school, was also one of the alternates in that inaugural North Atlantic League season. Following this unsuccessful venture, he went on to work close to ten years in the Northeast League, which eventually became what is now the Can-Am League.

I saw Fred work games in small cities such as Newburgh (NY), Waterbury (CT), Nashua (NH) and Lynn (MA), three of which are sometimes known as the armpit of their respective states. My main observation regarding the crowds in these cities are that they can sometimes be a little less than civil. That's possibly a spillover from the on-field action, as the lack of affiliation with a major league organization generally makes for a less professional contest. Not in terms of the quality of play, but instead with regard to the way the players carry themselves on the field.

Neither of these prior impressions were confirmed by my first taste of Can-Am League action. The size of the crowd—2017, or about 1/3 the capacity of the 6000-seat stadium—wasn't all that impressive, but there was a definite family/community feel to the atmosphere. I've also learned to appreciate that the between-innings games and promotions are part of the experience when it comes to the minor leagues.

On this particular night, my favorite was the "Pie-In-The-Face Game," which basically consisted of a 5-year old three times being offered the choice between a prize in an envelope/box or hitting his father in the face with a pie. Not surprisingly, he chose the pie in the face every time. In the end, though, quite predictably he was awarded the prizes anyway.

As far as the baseball was concerned, the Can-Am League claims to be AA-quality baseball. While there were a couple errors—both by Brockton's opponent, the Worcester Tornadoes—and a few more mental lapses during the game, I'd have to say this is a fair assessment.

The offensive talent is definitely there, as evidenced by the three home runs the two teams combined for. That kind of hitting display is something you almost never see in the short-A New York-Penn League, because the players at that level just haven't developed enough power yet, particularly due to the adjustment to wooden bats. Of course, the exception was the four homers Evan Longoria hit in just eight games for Hudson Valley back in 2006.

The Rox defeated Worcester 7-5, in what was the second game of a season-opening four-game sweep en route to an 8-1 start. They've since lost four of five games, including three of four to the Quebec Capitales, the Can-Am League's two-time defending champions.

At 9-5 prior to tonight's game, Brockton finds themselves tied for second place with this weekend's opponent, the Newark Bears, with both teams trailing first-place Quebec by a half game.

Newark is managed by none other than Tim Raines—his son is also on the team and one of the league's major hitting stars—so we'll definitely be checking out some of this weekend's action. Of course, you know Brockton has a pretty noteworthy—especially in these parts—skipper of their own.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Assimilation and Conversion

My wife is a Red Sox fan. I'm a Yankees fan. This doesn't cause conflicts as I imagine it could in other households, but it's an interesting topic to write about nonetheless.

Part of the reason there's no tension between us in this area—besides the obvious—is that she doesn't have as much invested in the Red Sox as I do in the Yankees. I've been a Yankees fan for close to 40 years. My dad's been a Yankees fan for about twice as long as I have.

KJ's only lived in Boston since 2001 and, like many other transplants, she got swept up in the excitement of the hometown team pretty quickly. And, why not? You certainly have to admire the dedication of sports fans in this town. I doubt there are such statistics available, but if there were, I'd be willing to bet Boston has the highest per capita rate of rapid sports fans—pink hats not withstanding—than anywhere else in the country.

During the 2009 World Series, in which she rooted for the Yankees, I was beginning to think she was going to become a Yankees convert. She really seemed to want to root for the same team as I did, and I believe I even told people—perhaps a bit over-confidently—that it was only a matter of time. I've since realized I was probably wrong, and I'm fine with that.

In fact, I don't know that I want her to change loyalties just because of me. Despite the fact she hasn't been a Red Sox fan all her life, she's still got some serious time invested in them. Plus, they've won two World Series during the time she's been a fan, and I can't imagine changing teams and being conflicted when looking back on the past glory of your former team.

She did, however, tell me the other night—at Fenway Park, of all places—that she thinks she wants a Cano jersey. So, I'm pretty much happy with the fact that she's a Yankees fan only when they're not playing the Red Sox. Now, if there's ever a repeat of 2003—or 2004, for that matter—I'm not exactly sure how it will play out in our house, but I'm sure we can handle it.

On the other hand, does it make me a bad husband that I just can't bring myself to ever pull for the Red Sox? Obviously, considering they're the Yankees' division rivals, this is somewhat understandable. But, if the Yankees are eliminated from the playoffs and the Sox are still playing, what then?

Thinking about the subject of conversion further, I don't think I know a single person who's converted from being a Red Sox fan to a Yankees fan, or vice-versa. The closest example I can come up with is my good buddy El-Squared, as he likes to sometimes call himself. I've known him for about as long as I've been a Yankees fan, and he actually used to be kind of a Yankees fan as well, but not really.

I recall going to a game at the stadium with him, his younger brother Bernard, and their father, but El was one of those kids who was a fan by default, until he got a little older and realized he really didn't care.

Then, he moved to Boston to go to grad school a little over 20 years ago, and he's never left. During that time frame, he's developed more of an interest in professional sports than he ever had as a kid, and has become a Red Sox and a Patriots fan.

But, I consider his more of a case of cultural assimilation, rather than religious conversion.

It was once suggested that, if I lived in Boston long enough, it would only be a matter of time before I became a Red Sox fan. Well, I've been here 14 years now and that inference couldn't be further from the truth. I guess it's just that, as Steve Wynn or Scott McCaughey might say, my soul can't be rearranged.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Is Fenway Park the Worst Value in Baseball?

I'm sure some of the exorbitantly priced seats at the new Yankee Stadium could give them a run for their money, but it doesn't get much worse than the vantage point KJ and I had for last night's game.

For $55 per ticket, here was our view of the on-field action:

Click to enlarge

Actually, since KJ was sitting one seat to my right, she could just barely see the batter, but not the catcher or the umpire.

But, there was a silver lining.

During the second inning, we discovered that we were sitting in the wrong row, and our real seats were one row closer to the field. As you can see from the next photo, this made a significant difference:

Click to enlarge

Seriously, though, this isn't the only reason I'm suggesting Fenway Park is worthy of this dubious distinction. Prior to the game, I was telling KJ that the stadium's right field boxes are the absolute worst seats I've ever witnessed a game from. 

For an idea of what I'm talking about, take a look a sections 91 and 92 on the Fenway Park Seating and Pricing page. As you view the field from the photo provided on the web site, note the direction of the seats, which I'll point out are beyond the right field foul pole (otherwise known as "Pesky's Pole"). They're facing directly into the right field corner. Now, try to imagine how your neck would feel at the conclusion of that game.

These seats go for $52 a pop.

But, these are just my observations, and I'm certainly not trying to say that last night wasn't an enjoyable night at the ballpark. The weather was perfect,  Philip Humber—bullpen support not withstanding—delivered almost as brilliant a performance as John Danks did the last time we saw a White Sox game, and we were lucky enough to witness former Yankee Alfredo Aceves's second career loss, against 16 wins.

Since an unusual play occurred during the game, I'll revisit what I've previously referred to as the "baseball lesson of the day."

In the home half of the 5th, Carl Crawford singled with nobody out. The next batter, Jed Lowrie, lofted a fly ball to center field, but Crawford was running on the pitch. He returned to first easily, but was called out when White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez appealed by stepping on second base.

It took me a few seconds to figure out what happened, but when asked by the girl sitting to my left, the explanation was that Crawford, after sliding into second, had taken a step towards third. This action subsequently required him to retouch second on his way back to first, something he neglected to do. Therefore, he was out on appeal.