Monday, May 18, 2009

Prospectus Idol Submission - Vlad vs. Russ

A few weeks ago, I submitted a story to Baseball Prospectus to enter a contest they are having to find new writing talent. They have since posted the ten finalists, and as I am not one of them, I am assuming it is okay to post my submission here.

You can check out the finalists for the Prospectus Idol contest here.

To whom it may concern:

Below is my submission for the BP Idol contest. My goal in life was never to be a baseball writer, but I have found myself spending more and more of the free time I have writing about baseball. I feel that I am a very good writer, and I currently spend my days working in advertising, crafting well-reasoned emails to my superiors and doing my best to convince people they should buy things they do not need. I was going to include a photo of myself wearing a Royals hat, because that is my team, but I felt the picture of me with a stuffed octopus on my head probably gives you a better idea of who I really am.

You can learn much more at

Your consideration is appreciated.

H.G. Miller

The idea is for a weekly column that focuses on a long at-bat, using the sequence of foul balls and pitch changes to dissect the match up, the teams, or any other interesting and funny facts.

Vlad the Impaler vs. Some Guy Named Russ

Casey: We usually just show the pitch that puts the ball into play.
Jeremy: But then you miss the battle.
Casey: The battle?
Jeremy: He started him off with a fastball up and in, then slider away, slider away, comes back with a split finger change, drops the curve off the table, sets him up off speed, then... jams him high and tight, that's what got him out.
Casey: It was a ground ball to the shortstop.
Jeremy: The inevitable conclusion to a job well done.

-Sports Night, "The Apology" -

This week's epic battle took place at Angels Stadium where the Oakland Athletics took on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The season is young, but everyone knows that inter-division wins are worth twice as much in the standings. Maybe more if John Kruk is doing the math.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero faced off against right-hander Russ Springer. The Angels were winning 4-0. It would be an epic battle.

Pitch #1: Ball

Springer starts Guerrero off with a slider down and away. It's the kind of pitch that even a free swinger like Vlad won't go after this early in an at bat. Although, there is a slight chance he doesn't know the at bat has started. With the extended Spring Training this year and the dry air in Anaheim, Vlady may not even know the season has started yet.

Pitch #2: Strike Swinging

A 90 mph heater on the outside edge of the plate. Guerrero can't catch up to it and Springer evens the count. Things are looking up for the wily right-hander.

On the surface, it certainly doesn't seem like a fair fight. Russ Springer epitomizes the average relief pitcher. After 800 innings of major league action, his ERA+ sits at 97. Guerrerro has swatted at flies with better credentials than this.

Pitch #3: Foul Tip

Another slider down and away and Guerrero nicks it. He's mad at himself for swinging at the pitch. Over the course of his career, the Dominican slugger only sees 3.24 pitches per plate appearance, so there's a high likelihood that the next pitch will be the last of this at bat.

Pitch #4: Ball

Another slider way outside and Guerrero let's it go. Springer tried to stretch the strike zone and got too greedy. He's been tasked with striking out one of the premier power hitters in the game, and he should have known that it wouldn't be easy. Nothing ever is.

Drafted by the Yankees, Springer surely had visions of wearing pinstripes and entering the hall of fame. 17 seasons and 8 teams later, those dreams have faded and now he's forced to hang on at the fringes, moving from contract to contract, amassing millions of dollars as an anonymous middle-inning relief pitcher.

Pitch #5: Foul
Fastball, on the upper outside corner. The count stays at 2-2. The storm clouds are gathering as this lengthy at bat is just getting started.

Usually, its some pesky second-stringer who barely made the 25 man roster that will keep flicking pitches into the stands, but it appears Guerrero is finally awake and motivated. The fans paid good money for their seats. He's ready to put on a show.

Pitch #6: Foul

Springer tries to move the ball a little further off the plate and Guerrero still gets some wood on it. He may be a free swinger, but the man's got some plate coverage. Russ is about to learn, it's not easy to just blow one by the younger Guerrero brother.

Pitch #7: Foul

A nasty cutter on the outside of the plate and Guerrero sticks with it. This is a new pitch. Still on the outside, though. He knows this guy won't try to throw something inside to him. He may be older, but he can still crush an inside fastball. It's a skill his older brother could have used in his professional career.

Wilton Guerrero is without a team this year and his career is probably over. Vlad keeps on swinging.

Wilton - 282/308/369 in 678 games.
Vlady - 323/389/574 in 1757 games.

Genetics can be a funny thing.

Pitch #8: Foul

Another fastball on the upper corner. Guerrero is getting frustrated. Springer is getting tired. He averages well over 4 pitches per plate appearance in his career, but it's early in the season and he doesn't want to get worn out.

Springer is forty this year. He and Guerrero are old men in this league. Now that steroids are out of baseball, they have nothing but BENGAY and old stories to keep them going day after day.

Pitch #9: Ball

Springer tries to stretch the strike zone again and fails. His frustration is building on the mound. He can hear the announcers in his head: "The two can go no further."

If there is one thing announcers love, it's a long at bat. Foul ball after foul ball creating tension and providing enough time to get in useless biographical information about each player. The announcers get to keep talking and the research staff gets to demonstrate just how hard they worked the night before preparing for the game.

Somebody would pull out some nugget about how Springer has faced only one batter in a game 52 times in his career. It would mean nothing.

The crowd noise is growing. Springer bears down.

Pitch #10: Foul

Outside fastball fouled away.

Guererro steps outside of the box to collect his thoughts. He digs into his memory for past experiences against this pitcher. He can't remember if this is Russ Springer or Dennis Springer.

He hit a home run off of Dennis Springer back in 1999 when he was with the Expos. He wonders why they don't ever play the Expos anymore and then remembers that he's in the American League now. Wait, that's not it.

Anyway, after he tied up the game with the homer, some guy (Anthony Telford) blew it in the bottom half of the inning. He remembers the coaches being very sad.

Pitch #11: Foul

Outside fastball fouled away. Springer won't give in and Guerrerro won't give up. He's faced Guerrero four times in his career and given up two hits. The crowd cheers louder. They want another hit from their hero.

Russ Springer will not allow it. Not this time. Not tonight.

Pitch #12: Swinging Strike

A high fastball finally does him in. It's over the middle of the plate, but almost to Vlady's eyes. He can't lay off. He chases it, twists in the wind and catches only air.

Springer doesn't celebrate. He's a veteran who just did his job. Inside, he's smiling though. He loves how the crowd noise quiets as their hero is vanquished. He knows they will fight another day.

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