Sluggers’ Slump: What’s Going on Here?


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(Jacob deGrom Ties MLB Record, Strikes Out 8 Straight. Pix-USA Today)

Have you noticed how it seems hitting has been trumped by pitching in baseball, not only this year but for a number of years now?

With Red Sox in last place, 26 games behind the AL East winner Orioles, I have had a good deal of time to think about more than just my beloved team and their miseries. While I have enjoyed the Nats’ good season, it’s not the same as rooting for Boston.

Looking at some box scores a few weeks ago, I was struck by what seemed to me to be low batting averages, even of the best players for the best teams in baseball. In fact, when I looked at the six leading teams in all the MLB Divisions, only two clubs had anyone hitting over .300 (one of those two teams just had one player hitting .301, and he is now below .300).

I began looking at other statistics, going back as far as 2000. Here are just some of the things I found when I looked at every year from 2000-2014 (being retired and having a losing baseball team allows for spending time on such matters):

**In 2000, 17 teams scored over 800 runs. By 2008, that was down to seven teams. Today no team will score that many and only five teams are likely to score over 700 runs.

**In 2000, there were six players who had over 200 hits. In 2008, it was six. This year only one player is likely to have that many hits.

**In 2000, 30% of the MLB players were hitting .300 or higher. In 2008, that was down to 23%. Today, only 11% are likely to break .300.

**In 2000, 15 players had a slugging percentage over .600. In 2008, it was down to two. Today, no one will be over .600.

**In 2000, 58 players struck out over 100 times in the season. In 2008, that was up to 88. And today, that number will likely be over 130.

**In 2000, there were only six pitchers who had over 200 strike outs. That climbed slightly to eight in 2008. This year the figure projects to 15.

So, Batting averages are down. Hits are down. Slugging is down. Runs are down. Batters are striking out more. More pitchers have more strikeouts than ever before.


Steroid issue? Better pitching? Better defense?

I came across an article (thanx to an alert MillersTime reader) in The Atlantic that looked more closely at what was going on and came to the conclusion that a significant portion of the change in balance between the pitchers and the hitters had to do with something no one expected:

Near the end of the 2006 season, the first cameras appeared that recorded balls and strikes. By 2008, all the MLB teams had these cameras (Pitch f/x technology, tracking pitch speed, break, and location). Then MLB began rating their umpires using what these cameras showed. Four umpires who scored poorly in their ratings were fired. Some who rated well earned bonuses.

What it appears happened was that the cameras showed that umpires were not calling strikes in the lower 15% of the strike zone. In the top of the zone, they were pretty accurate. Inside and outside pitches they missed a bit, but it was the low ones that they weren’t calling strikes.









(Charts by Brian Mills)

Once this fact became known and corrections began (umpires calling more low strikes), the pitchers caught on and were credited with more low strikes than previously. Plus, according to one analysis, when hitters got behind early in the ball/strike count, they, of course, were less successful hitters. One analysis credited 40% of the decline in run production to the factor of the unintended consequences of the cameras entering the game.

If you want to delve further into this issue, take a look at this terrific  article from The Atlantic: The Simple Technology That Ruined Baseball. It is about more than what the title implies.

And even better, look at the wonderful analysis by Brian Mills in the study he did for MLB, published in August 2014: Expert Workers, Performance Standards, and On-the-Job Training: Evaluating Major League Baseball Umpires. Don’t be put off by the title. if you download the article, know that the most interesting parts come in the second half of Mills’ study.

Let me, and others know, what you think about all of this.

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 No No: A Dockumentary ***1/2

11179886_detIf you’ve followed baseball at least since the beginning of the 70s, then the name Doc Ellis is probably familiar to you. He pitched primarily for the Pirates, tho he also did a bit of time with the Yankees, Athletics, Rangers and Mets.

In this just released documentary, we are treated to a portrait not only of the best known facts of his career (pitching a no-hitter while on LSD) but to the story of his rise to the Majors, his eventual decline, and what happened to him following his retirement in 1979.

Like most documentaries of this type, his story is told through the use of archival films as well as interviews with his two wives, his sister and a number of his teammates and others who knew him well. Sometimes the chronology is a bit askew, but No No is worth your time.

Ultimately, it is the story of a black baseball player who challenged many of the orthodoxies of his time (he was often compared to Mohammed Ali) and whose story is one that is fascinating and gripping not only from an historical perspective but one that is also pertinent in light of what is occurring today in the world of sports.


“Last Days in Vietnam” – Mesmerizing


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Last Days in Vietnam ****1/2

Like many people of my generation, the Vietnam War was a major part of my late adolescence and young adulthood. For at least 10 years, rarely did a day go by without it occupying some part of my thinking about politics, about war, about my country, about my own role vis-a-vis the war. (I chose to go into the Peace Corps as a way of serving my country and followed that with high school teaching.)

Thus, I thought I knew a good deal about many of the aspects of that war, including the final days of the conflict.

And so I was quite surprised recently when I saw Rory Kennedy’s Last Days in Vietnam.

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Three Dilemmas. Please Advise.


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unnamed(Not shown: Multiple Red Sox tickets to win the 2014 Pennant & World Series.)

Dilemma #1:

The Facts: The Washington Nationals and the Baltimore Orioles secured playoff positions last night in their respective MLB Divisions (NL East and AL East). Thus both have a shot at winning the 2014 World Series. I have been a Nats’ fan (a distant second, of course, to being a Red Sox fan) since they arrived in DC. I have rooted against the O’s for years, except when they play the Yankees. I hold two Las Vegas $10 bets. One for the Nats (payoff $110) and one for the O’s (payoff $260).

The Dilemma: Whom do I cheer for to win the World Series?

(Note: I also hold three $10 tickets for the Nats to win the 2014 Pennant. Total payoff for the three tickets, $145.)

Dilemma #2:

The Facts: On my Orioles’ WS ticket, I have written the name “Nelson” in the upper right hand corner of the ticket. Nelson is a friend who roots for the O’s and rubs it in when they beat the Sox. Nelson does not know I bought this ticket with him in mind.

The Dilemma: Do I inform Nelson I have the ticket, and do I give it to him?

Dilemma #3:

The Facts: I also bought a bunch (I’m embarrassed to say how many) of Sox tickets for them to win the 2014 Pennant and World Series. (If either the Nats’ or the O’s win the World Series, I can recoup the cost of most of my foolish Sox bets.)

The Dilemma: What do I do with all my useless Sox 2014 tickets.

Please advise.


DC Shorts – Film Festival


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Sundance, Toronto, Cannes, DC.

Which one doesn’t belong?

“DC,” you say?

True. But…

If you have interest in short films (two to 30 minutes), then you might know that Washington, DC is in its 11th year of holding a Film Festival dedicated to these kind of films. And the one in DC is beginning to make a name for itself, specifically, called “the coolest short film festival” by Movie Maker Magazine.

Alright. Perhaps I overstate, but if you like short films, which sometimes are precursors to film makers’ longer works and which sometimes are just delightful in and of themselves, then you’re in for a treat next week.

From September 11th-21st, you can see choose from 135 films (chosen from 1400 submissions) from 25 different countries. The 11-day fest is spread out through five venues in the DC-Virginia area. You can choose from 17 different 90 minute programs where each showing will screen between 7-9 short films.

Plus, you can watch 100 of these online if you prefer that method of viewing.

See the press release announcing the DC Short Film Festival for more details.

Recently it was dubbed as the “Coolest Short Film Festival” by MovieMaker Magazin – See more at:
Recently it was dubbed as the “Coolest Short Film Festival” by MovieMaker Magazin – See more at:

Also, check out their Website to learn about the various films and activities. Be sure to see the How to Guide if you want to plan to see some of these short films.

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Two films recently seen:

100-foot.119909_galThe 100-Foot Journey ***

Audiences apparently are enjoying this film more than the critics (Rotten Tomatoes 85%/65%). It is one of those ‘feel good’ movies, an adult fantasy of sorts.

Following the loss of their Mumbai restaurant, an Indian family settles in a small town in southern France where they open a new restaurant, Maison Mumbai. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, there is a Michelin one star restaurant just across the street.

I won’t say more about what unfolds, somethings are predictable, some are not, but there are good performances, led by Helen Mirren (Madame Mallory) and including Om Pur (Papa) and Manish Payal (Hassan Kadam).

If you’re looking for a movie to see before heading to an Indian restaurant, then you might enjoy this film as long as your expectations are not too high.

Actually, I think another film built around food, Chef ****, was more satisfying.

Richa Hill. 120124_galRich Hill ****

This documentary won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

It portrays the life of three adolescents in a small mid-western town over a period of a year and a half.

It is depressing.

It is probably also an accurate portrayal of what happens when you mix poverty, family dysfunction and a failing economy.

I also suspect it is a portrayal of a portion of our society that many of us never see or don’t really know.

But these are three adolescents I found ‘stayed with me’ after I left the 91 minute documentary, even though the film at times seemed long and unsatisfying.

Books & Reading: Alive and Well


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BOOKFAIR 17551409420710

(Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post photo)

From what I saw and experienced on Saturday at the Washington Convention Center, books and reading are alive and well, at least in the DC area.

The Library of Congress’ National Book Festival, first started in 2001 and held on the Mall until this year, moved inside, and all indications are that it was a terrific move.

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If You Love Books…


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poster_enlarge…and if you are in or near Washington, DC this Labor Day weekend, you’re in for a treat.

The National Book Festival will take place this Saturday, August 30th, from 10 am – 10 pm, though doors open at 9 am.

And it’s all free.

Since it first began in 2001, it has been held on the Mall, but this year it has moved indoors to the Washington Convention Center.

The list of activities is impressive and includes more than 100 authors, book signings, lectures, panel discussions, activities for children, and the opportunity to meet some of your favorite writers.

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Three Movies to Consider


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I enjoy movies as readers of MillersTime no doubt know. Of late, however, there haven’t seem to be too many ones to recommend for your consideration.

Here are three, however, that on various levels I found enjoyable:

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“Ever Since Columbine…”


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A friend sent me the article linked to below.

Since many of you who ‘read’ MillersTime are (have been) teachers or have worked in education and many more of you are involved with schools in one way or another, I thought I’d pass along this wonderful example of what one individual is doing in her classroom.

It should only take you a few minutes to read.

Feel free to pass it on to others.

One Teacher’s Brilliant Strategy to Stop Bullying, by Glennon Doyle Melton.

Why Is President Obama Such a Polarizing Figure?


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My daughter asked me last weekend, “Don’t you think {President} Obama should go to Ferguson?”

I immediately said, “No. I don’t think he should.” And I talked briefly about the issue of local and state control. Although there was increasing tension and violence (on both sides), I didn’t believe it was the President’s role to go to the scene of the turmoil in that city.

But I also felt that Pres. Obama could not go, even if he wanted to.

For a variety of reasons, he has become a polarizing figure in our country. (See Why Obama Won’t Give the Ferguson Speech His Supporters Want).

A number of years ago, perhaps it was in early 2007, I was spending a good deal of time in Orlando, FL, visiting my aging parents. In the evenings, after they had gone to sleep, I turned on the radio and was stunned to hear what was being said about Hilliary Clinton, then the leading Democratic candidate for the Presidency (Sen. Obama was not yet an announced candidate).

Both the talk show hosts and the callers seemed to me to be salivating at the thought of having Hilliary Clinton as the Democratic opponent to a Republican candidate. It is not an exaggeration to say that what I heard was “vile.” After listening for a few evenings, I felt sick by what I was hearing and stopped tuning into those stations.

When Obama announced his candidacy and began to challenge Clinton, I was intrigued. Tho I knew he hadn’t had the experience that Clinton had, I felt he was a fresh face and could possibly be a less polarizing candidate.

When Candidate Obama gave his ‘race’ speech in Philadelphia in 2008, A More Perfect Union, I was convinced he was the best shot we had as a country to move beyond our racial divide. After all, he was very different than a Jesse Jackson and had spent much of his life walking that thin line between a white and a black world. (You can read the full text of his speech or you can watch a video of it, 37+ minutes.)

How naive I was.

Now, six over seven years later, even if it was determined that a President’s presence in Ferguson was called for, Pres. Obama could not go. He is simply too polarizing and likely would only add to the tension and to the crisis. Not calm nor help it.

And so the question I’ve been wondering about, not only since Ferguson but for quite a while now is this:

Why has President Obama become such a polarizing figure?

A number of possible answers come to mind for me, but I would be interested in what readers of this website would say about that question.

As always, if you weigh in, and I hope you will, please keep your responses civil, no matter how strongly you may feel about this President, this Presidency, or what is happening in our country.

My hope is that we can have a thoughtful conversation in the Comment section of this post.

NYC in August


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It was Ellen’s idea.

“Let’s plan a trip in August to NYC,” she said. “It’ll be similar to our one-week-a-year trips to a foreign city.”

I was skeptical: “NYC in August?”

But then I”m a married man, and so we headed to NYC last Friday, returning home today, five nights, six days later.

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Stepping Back from the Precipice…for the Moment.


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Twenty-four hours ago I asked my wife Ellen to lock up all the sharp knives and put a barrier across the stairs to the third floor.

It was clear to me that the Sox were about to explode, that GM Ben Cherington was about to cast off, minimally, our two top pitchers and one of our top relievers.

For what? A bunch of prospects?

My well being was threatened, and I needed protection from acting impulsively.

This morning I told Ellen she could unlock the knives and take down the barrier to the third floor.

For the moment at least, things didn’t seem so dire.

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Favorite Films from First Half of 2014


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Compiled below is the list of films I saw between Jan. 1, 2014 and July 31, 2014 that I rated from three and a half to five stars.

These categories are somewhat arbitrary, but generally the five and four and a half star films are pretty close, and I enjoyed those tremendously. The four star ones were all good, but I had some (minor) reservations. The three and half star ones were more problematical films but still worth checking out.

If a film did not make it into one of these categories, I did not write a review.

The ones listed below I recommend for your consideration.

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