Mo Woe

At age 58, it’s probably too late for me to outgrow my infantile fascination with funny baseball names and numbers.

As all of us who care know, baseball stats only mean anything when taken in context and measured against norms, and they have a way of averaging out over the course of a whole year, or a career. But in the early going of a season, like now, they can be wonderfully skewed, either freakishly high or low, because the sample size of games is still so small.

For example, take Brock Holt, the super-sub of the Boston Red Sox. He plays second, third, short, centerfield, does impressions and doubles as bat-boy, and entered yesterday’s action with a batting average over .600. Or on the other end of the spectrum, our brand new All-Star catcher Russell Coltrane (“A Glove Supreme”) Martin, who’s currently batting .043 and is still in search of his second hit as a Blue Jay. You just know that by season’s end both these guys will we hitting somewhere between .250 and .280, unless something goes wonderfully right or horribly wrong for them.

In April, players can go from spaghetti-bat to feared slugger in a day, like Boston’s Dustin Pedroia. He entered Tuesday’s action hitting .212 – “Pedroia, you suck!!” – then promptly raised his batting average to about .280 with three hits and a walk in one game – “Just kidding Pedey, we love you, you’re still the best!!”

It’s even wilder with pitchers and their key stat of earned-run-average, or ERA. (Any of you dangerous intellectuals who think ERA stands for “Equal Rights Amendment” should stop reading right about now, if you haven’t already.) There are any number of twirlers with ERAs of 0.00, or 0.61, which you know aren’t going to hold up for very long.

Apropos of all this, I tuned into Wednesday night’s Blue Jays game with some interest, noticing that they were facing yet another Tampa Bay pitcher I’ve never heard of, named – what else? – Ramirez. He came into the game sporting a snazzy ERA of 31.75, just preposterously high, like hearing about a guy that weighs 4,000 pounds. Now, I know it’s a mistake to give too much weight to stats this early, but still, I thought this guy might be just what the doctor ordered for the Jays, whose suddenly moribund offense scored three measly runs in their first two home games. At this point, even a number as crooked as an ERA of 31.75 has the power of language – it conjures up a pitcher, likely young, who’s had one rough outing when he got cuffed around pretty bad and gave up five or six runs in a couple of innings – “I’ll be home soon Ma, they’re hitting my curve all over the place.”

For those who don’t get the whole ERA thing, it’s simpler than you think if you know the parameters…..really good pitchers will have an ERA of between 2.00 and 3.00 over a season, it means they give up an average of between two and three earned runs – i.e. runs not caused by stone-gloved fielding – per nine innings pitched. More average guys will be between 3.50 and 4.50. Not so great is around 5.00, which will have a pitcher looking over his shoulder. Anything much over 5.00 and likely the pitcher is suddenly toiling for the AA Poughkeepsie Wing-Nuts, or managing his father-in-law’s hardware store in Buttcrunch, Idaho…… But he probably won’t be allowed anywhere near the sporting goods department.

It turns out that Mr. Ramirez has a first name as funny as his ERA – Erasmo, which is a new one for me. It was funny enough just seeing it on the TV screen, but then announcer Buck Martinez said the name a couple of times and I burst out laughing, the giggle-fit getting out of control when I rolled Erasmo Ramirez around on my tongue a couple of times. Try it out, it’s fun.

The name Erasmo suggests the Dutch Renaissance scholar Erasmus – who was a barrel of laughs, known for his wicked slider and pioneering metaphysical stand-up comedy routines – but with the hipper, more ‘street’ ending of “mo”. Or maybe “Orgasmo”, who, if memory serves – and hopefully it doesn’t – was a character in the “F” sci-fi porn cult-classic “Flesh Gordon”. No, wait… that flick had the x-ray “Orgasmatron” gizmo……Come to think of it, there’s actually an Italian gialli movie from the late-sixties called “Orgasmo” starring Carroll Baker, which should tell you all you need to know about how bad it is.

Erasmo Ramirez is not quite a match for such mythically funny-named pitchers of the past as Cletus Elwood “Boots” Poffenberger, Eli Grba or Whammy Douglas. But in contemporary terms, it’s still pretty evocative and funny, almost as good as Antonio Bastardo, the smoulderingly wrathful National League relief pitcher, or Kyle Lobstein, the young Tigers’ starter whose name screams “soft-throwing Jewish lefty”. Erasmo is a unique enough name that it allows us to dispense with the last name, from now on he’ll be known simply as “Erasmo”, much like the wonderful Toronto pianist Dave Restivo is known universally to musicians as “Restivo”…….(cue suspenseful diminished chord).

Anyway, even as early as April, a pitcher with an ERA this high has a lot of work to do and can only get better, or get gone. Buck Martinez kindly revealed that Erasmo’s unsightly mark came mostly from a shaky relief outing where he gave up five or six runs in about an inning or so, that would do it. Given the injury-riddled state of Tampa Bay’s pitching staff, this disaster actually earned Erasmo a promotion to the rotation and a start on Wednesday night. It didn’t take him long to show that his 31.75 ERA wasn’t exactly a fluke, the Jays jumped all over him from the first inning on, scoring seven runs with nine hits off him in 3 and 1/3 innings. Despite this, Erasmo actually dropped his ERA to a merely ghastly 22.63. At this rate, he should be down to a respectable 4.00 or so in no time, say by September, if he lasts that long.

As befits his name, Erasmo is a strange pitcher. He throws pretty hard, but is quite small – when his catcher came out to the mound to calm him down, he appeared about a foot taller than the embattled hurler. He’s also wildly inconsistent at this point. When he wasn’t being hit hard, he made some of the Jays look silly, inducing some weak tappers and striking out Edwin Encarnacion on three pitches. (Speaking of which, how about ex-Blue Jay Brett Lawrie’s opening day “platinum sombrero” with his new team, the Oakland A’s? Mr. B.C. struck out four times on the bare minimum of twelve pitches, a staggering display of efficiency. Unless it was strictly about money, I’m utterly mystified by the A’s decision to trade Josh Donaldson for Lawrie and other pieces. With his self-centred immaturity, proneness to injury and woeful on-base-percentage, Brett fits in with the A’s baseball philosophy the way Cubby O’Brien would have fit in with The Third Reich. I’d like to say I’m gonna miss you Brett, but I can’t, I’d be lying.)

Getting back to Erasmo – please – he looks like he might be pretty good once he gets his feet wet and learns to mix his deadly change-up in with his other pitches more effectively. With that name, if he doesn’t make it as a pitcher, he could always have a career as a magician (“Ladies and gentleman, the fabulous illusions ofErasmo!”). Or maybe as a new-age romantic-Latin music producer – “Now, music of Tranquility and Passion, by….. Erasmo…….(cue mysterious Phrygian slash-chord).

Returning to statistics, I’m going to have to run now and put in some time on the bass. My BIP (Bad Intonation Percentage) is an unsightly 41.27, I really need to bring that down. I’ll be back shortly with some thoughts on this year’s Blue Jays, the ridiculous new sponge-turf they’re being forced to play on in that dump of a video arcade they call a ballpark, the overkill of new baseball metrics and a report on a terrific documentary I saw recently, called  “Battered Bastards of Baseball”. In the meantime, in the spirit of this alliteration, I remain your “Bewildered and Befouled Boob of the Bass”.

© 2015, Steve Wallace. All rights reserved.

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