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Back to basics

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Writing in this space used to be easy. Writing, in general. It isn’t anymore. At least it isn’t right now. (Also, it’s official: I hate the words “blog,” “blogger,” and “blogging.”) It’s been a wild 12 months for me, personally. I haven’t been around much. I feel like I have to make up for lost time, except I’m not sure how to do that. I also feel, mostly due to Twitter, like I’m drowning in information. That if I’m not bringing a distinct opinion and voice to the conversation, there’s no point to any of this. That if I’m not writing about WAR, or xFIP, or showing you a graph of some sort, I’m bringing something to the table that’s utterly unreadable, and a waste of your time. And I’ve never felt that way before. I’ve gone as far as to comb through my own archives, in search of, I think, inspiration. Sure, some people find my writing and my twittering — surely my twittering — annoying. But that’s always going to be the case.

I read a lot. If you can’t write, read, right? In the aftermath of the Shaun Marcum for Brett Lawrie trade (or is it the Lawrie for Marcum trade?), I’ve read an inordinate amount of blog posts and columns devoted to the transaction. I’ve seen Lawrie’s infamous Eminem-inspired tattoo, and his abdominals. The amount of content out there — instant content — boggles the mind. I think it’s amazing how much, and how well, Joe Posnanski writes. Every. Single. Day. I only wish I could. I want to. And, yet, I open my RSS reader, and log on to Twitter, and I’m overwhelmed. By all of it.

On January 29th of this year, just a few days before I took off for a jaunt through India, George Packer, one of my favourite writers, wrote about Twitter (which he doesn’t use):

The truth is, I feel like yelling Stop quite a bit these days. Every time I hear about Twitter I want to yell Stop. The notion of sending and getting brief updates to and from dozens or thousands of people every few minutes is an image from information hell. I’m told that Twitter is a river into which I can dip my cup whenever I want. But that supposes we’re all kneeling on the banks. In fact, if you’re at all like me, you’re trying to keep your footing out in midstream, with the water level always dangerously close to your nostrils. Twitter sounds less like sipping than drowning.

The most frightening picture of the future that I’ve read thus far in the new decade has nothing to do with terrorism or banking or the world’s water reserves—it’s an article by David Carr, the Timess media critic, published on the decade’s first day, called “Why Twitter Will Endure.” “I’m in narrative on more things in a given moment than I ever thought possible,” Carr wrote. And: “Twitter becomes an always-on data stream from really bright people.” And: “The real value of the service is listening to a wired collective voice … the throbbing networked intelligence.” And: “On Twitter, you are your avatar and your avatar is you.” And finally: “There is always something more interesting on Twitter than whatever you happen to be working on.”

This last is what really worries me. Who doesn’t want to be taken out of the boredom or sameness or pain of the present at any given moment? That’s what drugs are for, and that’s why people become addicted to them. Carr himself was once a crack addict (he wrote about it in “The Night of the Gun”). Twitter is crack for media addicts. It scares me, not because I’m morally superior to it, but because I don’t think I could handle it. I’m afraid I’d end up letting my son go hungry.

Packer’s writing, for some reason or another, has always spoken to me. But never, ever like those three paragraphs did. I’m who he’s talking about; I’m on Twitter crack. From The Hardball Times, to Baseball Prospectus, to Drunk Jays Fans, to Dustin “Fuck Off” Parkes’ new and impressive Getting Blanked, to Pension Plan Puppets, and Down Goes Brown, to The Tao of Stieb, and MLB Trade Rumors, and Ghostrunner on First, and The Blue Jay Hunter, and RaptorBlog, and The Basketball Jones, and FanGraphs, and NotGraphs (have you subscribed yet?), and T. Jose Caldeford … You get my point: Information overload. I’ve tweeted almost 9,050 times. That’s a lot of characters. A lot of, essentially, posts here at Sports And The City. And here I am, one of those people worried about people’s shortening attention spans, and the dying art of long prose. Have you even made it this far?

I used to write for me, and you. But mostly me. I believe I’m a better writer today because of it. I’m going to try and get back to basics.

Opening Doors

You didn’t think I was going to write all of that, and not tell you how I feel about the Lawrie for Marcum trade, did you? You so crazy. It’s why I appreciate you.

I love the trade. Don’t get me wrong, it’s tough to see Marcum go. North of Steeles, forever. Well, hopefully not. I really miss living in the city, personally, but you know what I mean. Marcum pitched with pride. Not only for himself, but for his teammates. I’ll never forget how angry he was after the Balitmore OriLOLes, in late September, threw at Jose Bautista. Make no mistake about it: Shaun Marcum was taking names. I’ll miss his confidence, his leadership, and his swagger. An Opening Day starter for the Toronto Blue Jays, I trust he’s left a competent set of men to follow in his footsteps. The Marcum era will be looked upon fondly, and I wish Shaun well in the National League, where it’s even easier to pitch like a man.

To get, you’ve got to give. In return for Marcum, Brett Lawrie brings a different kind of swagger to Toronto, and as Parkes pointed out at Getting Blanked, there’s nothing wrong with that. Lawrie is a high ceiling, high reward type of ballplayer. Is he worth the risk, in dealing Shaun Marcum? If the Carl Crawford contract with the Boston Red Sox proves anything, it’s that, yes, Lawrie is worth the risk. And so is Anthony Gose. For the Blue  Jays to climb a mountain that only seems to grow higher and higher, Alex Anthopoulos has to reach. He has no choice but to play high stakes; high risk, high reward.

While it hasn’t publicly, to these eyes, the Lawrie deal puts an end to the Zack Grienke-to-Toronto speculation. The 2011 season isn’t about “going for it.” Lawrie’s all about upside, and versatility. Lord knows he can hit. Now it’s up to the Blue Jays to find him a position, and make a big leaguer out of him.

In his 1988 Bill James Baseball Abstract, James wrote:

What I wanted to write about… is a very basic question. Of all the studies I have done over the last 12 years, what have I learned? What is the relevance of sabermetric knowledge to the decision making process of a team? If I were employed by a major-league team, what are the basic things that I know from the research I have done which would be of use to me in helping that team?

Number one on his list was:

Minor league batting statistics will predict major league batting performance with essentially the same reliability as previous major league statistics.

Here are Lawrie’s and Travis Snider’s numbers from their seasons in AA-ball, when both were 20 years young:

Snider: 362 ABs, .262/.357/.461

Lawrie: 554 ABs, .285/.346/.451

Most, if not all of us, are ecstatic about a season for Snider freed from the shackles of Cito Gaston. And if you’re as excited about Snider as I am, how can you not be excited about Lawrie? He’s got a bat, and wheels. The fact that he’s Canadian is a bonus. I could care less where a ballplayer is from, Canada, Cuba, or India. Bring me the best baseball players, period.

The 2011 season is about Snider finally getting a full season under his belt. It’s about Kyle Drabek earning his stripes in the ultra-competitive American League East. It’s about J.P. Arencibia becoming a big league catcher. It’s about Adam Lind learning how to play a competent first base, and Aaron Hill returning to form. What I love most about the Lawrie for Marcum trade is that it proves that Alex Anthopoulos isn’t trying to open a window from which the Blue Jays can contend. He’s trying to open a set of French doors, overlooking the ocean.

Image courtesy This Isn’t Happiness.