As we move to the part of the season where only Chip is obsessing over playoff placement (“Braves fans are all big Twins fans tonight!” No, really, Chip, they aren’t, even as they would prefer a Minnesota win; fandom connotes a lot more than a preference for which team wins a particular game. Even worse, Chip has been known to use this phrase in May) my thoughts begin to turn to obscure academic articles. I found one: Sinister right-handedness provides Canadian-born Major League Baseball players with an offensive advantage: A further test of the hockey influence on batting hypothesis. With a title like that, you know the authors have privileged obscurity over style, so I’m bound to be interested.
I plan to discuss this article in some detail at some point in the offseason while we are still drunk on World Series Champagne, an inebriation that I forecast to last until the second game of Spring Training 2020, when people will freak out over somebody’s hangnail. For now, I’ll describe the thesis and give my two word rebuttal.
“Sinister right-handedness” is not what you might think it is at first glance. It has nothing to do with Josh Donaldson’s evil thoughts, although I have no doubts those are spectacularly evil and worthy of academic study. Sinister right-handedness is simply the phenomenon that anyone looking at any baseball site will recognize immediately as Throws:R Bats:L. The observation in the study is that those who bat left do better in baseball than those who bat right, but those who bat left and throw right do even better, but only if they come from Canada. The reason for this, it is argued, is that Canadians learn to play hockey, and right and left shooting in hockey is far less dependent on brain dominance (hockey is rarely classified as a brain-dominant sport, of course, but most hockey players shoot lefthanded, irrespective of the hand they use to sign checks), leading a hockey-practicing culture to carry this left-handedness in the hockey shot to the baseball swing and thereby profit from the advantage held by left-handed batter without requiring the much rarer trait of right-brain dominance, ie natural left-handedness.
Anyway, this is an interesting, if not particularly Moneyball-ready, hypothesis which it seems to me is refuted thus: Scott Thorman. If you really wanted to push it, you might counterargue: Pete Orr, but I think that’s a weak counterargument. Note, by the way, that the best argument for this hypothesis would be Freddie Freeman, but while his parents were born in Canada, he wasn’t. But if you told me they started him playing hockey on the mean streets of Orange County, California, there may be something. Other than a mention that he attended a lot of Anaheim Ducks games as a child, though, I can’t find any evidence that Freddie ever played hockey. I note in passing that Tom Glavine played a lot of hockey but he is not a sinister righty; he’s just sinister.
Game 3 of the final Trip to the Bank found Keuchel facing the disappointing Zach Eflin, who hasn’t disappointed me in the least, but then I never saw any of his work in the High School Musical franchise. He pitched OK through June, but since then has seemed to hit a wall: 6.49 ERA, and his team is 2-10 in those starts. But he is tied for the league lead in complete games, with 2. When the record for a counting stat for a season is 2, it’s probably time to consider retiring that counting stat.
No complete game for Eflin tonight, even though he gave up no hits until the 4th; but the first hit was a 3 run Flowers homer. I am part of the growing chorus of fans who would love to see a McCann-Cervelli two catcher playoff roster, but if you’re squinting to find a reason to keep Flowers around, his occasional homer is surely all you need, unfortunately. And that would be all the Braves would get, continuing a recent pattern of an all-or-nothing offense, which can still work if you can hold the opposition’s offense.
Keuchel didn’t follow with a shutdown inning; it was a give one back inning. But at that point, you like your chances: Eflin had given way to the bullpen, and Keuchel was still at 66 pitches. His fifth inning was scarier: bases loaded, one out and everyone’s tenth-favorite Mormon ballplayer at the plate. (Dale Murphy is clearly first and Barry Bonnell is second, followed by Roy Halladay, Kyle Farnsworth, Jeff Kent, Wally Joyner, Harmon Killebrew, Dennis Eckersley and Danny Ainge. Harper is ahead of Jack Morris, though.) Harper hit into a 463 to end the inning and Keuchel pitched one more: 1 run in 6 innings. That’ll generally do.
The Former Mr. Paltrow threw an immaculate 9 pitch 3 K inning in the 7th, the first for the Braves since Buddy Carlyle in 2007. Greene had an Atlanta-clean 8th. Melancon, the Rubber Undertaker, got the first out in the 9th, but then gave up two infield singles to make it interesting. Dansby, whose offense has still not recovered, speared a humpbacked liner for the second out, leaving it to Mikael Franco, Hero of March. He fouled out to JD leaning over the dugout railing to end it.
Chip Watch: (a) “Eflin wins the war, but Acuña may have won the battle.” (after Ronald sees 9 pitches leading off.) Exactly backwards, Chip. If you’re going to use clichés, practice them at home first. (b) “The Dodgers clinched the NL West, so they’ll now wait to see who the Wild Card teams are.” Ummmm… Chip? Exactly how confident are you that the Dodgers will be facing the Wild Card team?
So, one more game tomorrow, in what the musical 1776 describes as “Foul, fetid, fuming, foggy, filthy Philadelphia!” Cheesesteaks are highly overrated.