Saturday, January 28, 2012

Juan Pierre - Bunt King

Juan Pierre just signed a minor league contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. That's quite a come-down for a guy who has played 318 games for the White Sox the last two seasons. The odds of Pierre making the Phillies' roster and/or seeing any significant playing time if he does, seems remote. And that's probably as it should be. Pierre earned negative value according to Fangraphs in 2011 and had zero value according to Even at your most optimistic, zero value in 158 games doesn't seem like much of a value proposition. And it's kind of too bad that Pierre has about as much chance of getting significant playing time as Ron Paul has of being president. Juan Pierre is a totally unique ballplayer. He is the bunt king.

The one chance Pierre has of catching on with the Phillies (or anyone else) is with his legs. The Phillies were ponderous last year and Pierre has always been fast if nothing else. You could do worse to use him as a defensive replacement late in games though his defensive ratings over the years look like a Dow Jones Index (adding further questions about such metric's worth). His arm is worthless in the outfield, but he can still cover some ground. His arm, in fact, is legendary. He makes Johnny Damon look like he has a cannon.

But again, Pierre is an oddity. He is a statistical toy. Make fun of that all you want, but it sure is interesting. He'll be missed if his playing days are over just for the joy his statistics give us. Here are some examples:
  • During his twelve years in Major League Baseball, Luis Castillo is the only other player to have more than 1000 games played with a lower ISO than Juan Pierre. A slugger Pierre is most certainly not.
  • During his twelve year career, no one has played as many games as Pierre and has struck out less often. His 5.7 strikeout percentage is the lowest in baseball during his career and among all currently active players, only Jeff Keppinger comes close.
  • Unfortunately, Pierre's walk rate matches his strikeout rate. 5.7 percent.
  • In Pierre's twelve years in the big leagues, he's led his league in caught stealing seven times! He's only been successful 72 percent of the time in his career. He's led the league in steals three times, but he is not particularly good at it.
  • Amazingly, Pierre has led his league in hits twice. Despite only playing twelve seasons (eleven full), he's compiled 2,020 hits. Since he's only 33, if he were to play seven more full seasons, he'd get to 3,000.
That's a pretty amazing list of fun stats, is it not? But that's not even the best one. The best statistic to ponder is Juan Pierre's bunting. Batted ball data really only goes back a few years, so we really can't compare Pierre historically. But Pierre is the bunt king of his generation. Fangraphs and B-R differ slightly on his bunt attempts with B-R giving him more, so we'll go with that for now. According to that site, Juan Pierre has had 625 bunt attempts in his career. That's almost a full season! To put that in perspective, one of out of every twelve plate appearances has ended with a bunt. That's incredible.

Of those bunt attempts, 144 have been sacrifice hits. Nobody but old managers are fond of sacrifices, but still. Of those bunt attempts, 186 have led to base hits (Fangraphs has it at 192). That's sixty plus more than the nearest guy since such statistics have been kept. Two of those bunt hits led to doubles (if you can imagine that). So, for Pierre's 625 bunt attempts, he winds up with a slash line of: .387/387/.391. When Juan Pierre bunts, he has an OPS+ of 120. Why would he ever swing?

So sure, we can all state that Juan Pierre hasn't been a very valuable player. And he's at a point in his career where baseball front offices are very aware of valuation metrics. It seems highly unlikely that Juan Pierre will ever again see significant playing time. Which is kind of sad. Because Juan Pierre has some of the goofiest numbers of any baseball player of his era. He is the contact king. He is the walkless king. He is the caught stealing king. He is the toothless king and he is the floppy arm king. But more than anything else, Juan Pierre has been the bunt king.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Ichiro Lead Off Debate

Eric Wedge is talking tough about Ichiro Suzuki according to an Associated Press piece reported on Wedge is quoted in the report as saying, "Ultimately it's not just about Ichiro, it's about our club and his 24 other teammates." Those are some pretty strong words. If you read between the lines there, Wedge is saying that he can't be worried about what Ichiro thinks. Does that statement also hint that what Ichiro thinks is a problem? Could be. The bigger question isn't whether Wedge has a problem or not with Ichiro's pride. The question is whether Ichiro should be the Mariners' lead off batter.

It is very easy to believe the sky is falling concerning Ichiro Suzuki. He is entering the 2012 season as a 38 year old who showed major signs that time caught up with him last year. He failed for the first time to reach 200 hits and his final slash line of, .273/.310/.337 really exacerbates the reality that Suzuki doesn't walk enough for a lead off batter if he fails to hit. The outfielder walked only 26 non-intentional times in 721 plate appearances (he was intentionally walked 13 times). His low walk rate has always been his reality (6.2 percent lifetime), but his ability to hit safely better than most humans made that somewhat acceptable. When the batting average falls to .272, the low walk rate becomes more of an issue.

And it's not as if Ichiro just had a bad half of a season in 2011. Both his first half and second half were very similar. But there is a glimmer of hope that Ichiro Suzuki could rebound a little bit. A lot of Ichiro's metrics remained static in 2011. His line drive, ground ball and fly ball rates were all within his career norms. So were his strikeouts. The only real difference was the number of his batted balls that fell safely in play. Ichiro has a career BABIP of .354. The three years prior to 2011 included these BABIP rates respectively: .334, .384, .353. Last year his BABIP was .294, easily the lowest of his career. Without knowing the quality of that contact (MPH off the bat), the assumption could be made that there is room for some bounce back.

There is this myth that the lead off position is this haven of on-base heaven in baseball. That is more wish than reality. Lead off batters in all of baseball last year had a slash line of .267/.328/.398. In 2010 it was, .264/.329/.384. Lead off batters who have a high on-base percentage are more the exception than the rule (market inefficiency?). Ichiro's average was above the average while his on-base percentage and slugging were lower than league average.

But what if he were to recover some? Three different projections systems were consulted for this post. Ichiro's projected slash lines in the three: .303/.347/.377, .291/.332/.359 and .303/.344/.382. All three of those projections see some bounce back and put Ichiro's average and on-base well above league average.

To see what Eric Wedge is looking at in the big picture, some discussion needs to take place about other lead off options the manager might have. Dustin Ackley's name comes to mind immediately. In Ackley's debut season in 2011, his on-base percentage was .348--well above Ichiro's. Ackley finished his minor league career with an on-base percentage of .381. Projections from three different systems put Ackley's on-base percentage in 2012 anywhere from .341 to .373. If Ackley can do that, he becomes just slightly more effective as a lead off batter than Ichiro's projections. Is there anyone else?

Justin Smoak has very good patience at the plate, but he's the power hitter you want in the middle of the line up. The same goes for Jesus Montero. Franklin Gutierrez has a .310 lifetime on-base percentage. That doesn't work. Mike Carp is counted on for power. Brendan Ryan doesn't hit enough.

The bottom line is that Ichiro and Ackley are the only two on the team that make sense in the line up position. They are, in fact, interchangeable in their ability to get on base. Since Ackley has more ability to get extra base hits, it seems to make more sense to bat him second behind Ichiro rather than in front of him. Perhaps Eric Wedge is trying to motivate Ichiro Suzuki. In the last season of his contract, if Ichiro wants to continue playing beyond 2012, he will have enough motivation to improve on what was a lost 2011. The Mariners should start the season with Ichiro Suzuki as their lead off batter and give it fifty games to see what happens.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

BBA Link Fest - Change in General

Welcome to another Thursday link fest! Every Thursday, we take a stroll around the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, focusing on the General Chapter. What is the General Chapter? They are BBA affiliated sites that aren't specific to a single team and write whatever crosses their awesomely talented minds. Do yourself a big favor and click some of these links and read some great baseball writing. Not only will you be glad you did, but you'll have our appreciation as well. Thank you always for your support. Okay, enough intro, let's get to the links:

Change is the theme this week and if that's the case, we must start with The Platoon Advantage. Our good friends announced that once a week, their work will be featured at Baseball Prospectus. Hearty congrats to our pals as they deserve as much wide recognition as possible. And just to prove that their fine writing will also continue at the home site, here's a sample of when TCM met the commissioner and drank his beer. A subscription to BP only costs about $3.95 a month and is very much worth the cost. Now you have one more reason to get it!

Over at one of our newer member sites, Justin of BaseBlog has a fun series going recounting Sports Illustrated covers for different teams. Cool beans. So far he's done the Cardinals and the Brewers.

Speaking of change, the Tigers certainly changed their team this week. Sully over at Sully Baseball thinks the Tigers made a more sensible deal that the Angels.

One thing that never changes is that Through the Fence Baseball always has terrific content to read every week. This Fan particularly liked this post celebrating a baseball movie that actually garnered Oscar consideration.

Jake Ciely is flabbergasted by the Fielder deal. His X-Log post finds a way to get past his shock and makes some sport bet suggestions.

In this week's Fan choice for post of the week, Russ Blatt over at 85% Sports has a touching piece on his friend, Gary Carter.

Another change occurred this week that got someone overlooked because of the Fielder deal. But Sooze over at Babes Love Baseball makes sure we know that Timmy got paid.

The Fan has to feel for one of his favorite buds over at The Ball Caps Blog. First, his beloved 49ers lost their playoff game. Now he bemoans the talent drain in the National League.

If Russ Blatt hadn't touched this Fan's heartstrings, this post from FHPromos over at Baseballism on where Jorge Posada fits in among Yankee catchers through history would have been the best of the week. Terrific stuff.

Easily one of our most active sites with terrific content every single day is Call to the Pen. The Fan's favorite this week is a rally cry for the Washington Nationals written by Lew Freedman.

Over at the Crum-Bum Beat, Curly Bender has another terrific baseball-related movie moment for us. But it's not about Moneyball. Great read. He's also got a fabulous picture of Louis Tiant you simply have to see.

Mario Salvini from our Italian entry, Che Palle! has a terrific entry this week remembering Italian ball player, Vic Raschi.

Three of our favorite writers from three different General Chapter sites had a baseball show event recently that you must listen to. You can find it here over at Diamond Hoggers.

Speaking of change, is it just the Fan or did For Baseball Junkies get a new logo? If so, it looks terrific. If it's the same one as they've always had, then this Fan feels pretty stupid, but it's still a great logo. Anyway, check out their great perspective on the Fielder deal.

The Baseball Index reports on a deal the Blue Jays made for a relief pitcher. Is it just this Fan, or do the Blue Jays try to catch bullpen lightening in a bottle every season?

More great stuff from Golden Sombrero this week. More great prospect reports but this is a great article by Dee Clark on a positive way of looking at the steroid scandal. 

Loic, a writer on our French affiliate, has reactions to the Rafael Betancourt deal.

Grubby Glove has a truly great and interesting piece this week on the 1972 Topps baseball cards. This Fan remembers buying those in his youth.

The Hall of Very Good has some of the most fascinating posts. Just this week you can read about Adam Dunn's amazing season, Jose Canseco at the AVN Awards and this post, about Heath Bell's amazing backyard. 

Theo over at Hot Corner Harbor has another one of his famous quizzes this week. So much fun!

In a terrifically well-written piece, Left Field gives us a discussion on views of success and failure that you must read.

In their own off-beat style, Major League A**holes has their take on the Prince Fielder signing.

After digesting the trade for a couple of weeks, Michael Schwartze has a different look at the Pineda - Montero trade over at MLB Dirt

The Baseball Wives reality show has gotten a lot of ink lately. But as usual, it's sometimes difficult to remember that these are real people. Jonathan Hacohen of MLB Reports helps fix that with a terrific interview with Maggie McCracken.

MTD, our favorite absurdist from Off Base Percentage is going to change his name. Why? Read this.

And finally, Old Time Family Baseball reports that Alex Cora hasn't retired after all. And check out their birthday tribute to Bob Uecker by clicking on the site's heading.

Have a great week everyone!

Why is Colby Lewis a Rotation Lock?

Almost forgotten in the "Rangers didn't get Fielder," story line which has eclipsed all other news this week, is that, yes, the Rangers signed Yu Darvish. Without thinking about it deeply, Darvish simply rolls into C.J. Wilson's vacated slot since Wilson signed with the Angels. But it's far more complicated than, "Darvish equals Wilson." The Rangers are also intent on trying Neftali Feliz in the starting rotation which gives the Rangers a bit of a nice problem with too many starting pitchers. That brings us to this post over at's Dallas affiliate which presented a debate by two writers there about what the Rangers should do about it. Their conclusions were a bit astounding.

One of the writers said that Alexi Ogando should go to the bullpen where he was such a force in the playoffs. The other writer posited that Ogando should be given a full chance at starting and Matt Harrison should be traded for needed parts (center field and first base). Both writers based their calls on Darvish followed by Derek Holland, Neftali Feliz (and this is the kicker) and Colby Lewis being a lock for the rotation. The swing spot was either Harrison or Ogando depending on the writer. The big question this Fan has is: Why is Colby Lewis a lock?

According to, this was the following fWAR scores by starting pitcher: Wilson (5.9), Harrison (4.2), Holland (3.6), Ogando (3.6) and Lewis (2.3). Aren't you seeing what this Fan is seeing? has them in the same exact order though the numbers differ a little bit. Baseball Prospectus agrees with the same order. Is there any basis to bump Colby Lewis above both Ogando and Harrison?

The answer to that question depends on which statistic you believe to be the fluke number for Colby Lewis. He was wonderful in 2010 after coming back from Japan. He put up a 4.6 fWAR season. His FIP that season at 3.55 was better than his final ERA of 3.72. He struck out a healthy 8.78 batters per nine innings while only walking 2.91. Last year wasn't as good for Lewis. His FIP rose up to 4.54 and his homers per nine really spiked to 1.57 per nine after limiting them to under one in 2010. So was 2010 the fluke or the homers in 2011?

This writer doesn't believe the homers were a fluke. Why? Colby Lewis is a fly ball pitcher. His ground ball to fly ball ratios the past two seasons have been 0.84 and 0.70 respectively. Fly balls fly far in Texas. Matt Harrison, on the other hand, doesn't strike out as many batters as Lewis (6.11 to Lewis' 7.59 in 2011). But Harrison is a ground ball pitcher pitching to the best fielding infield in baseball. Harrison's ground ball to fly ball ratio the past two seasons have been 1.42 and 1.47. Doesn't that work better in Texas with that infield?

Ogando is pretty neutral in the ground ball category. His ground ball to fly ball ratio was 0.91. Everyone falls on Ogando because he collapsed a bit in the second half. But the Rangers stretched him out to 169 innings which was uncharted territory. It's only natural that he might have run out of gas. And Ogando simply has better stuff than either Harrison or Lewis and should be allowed to develop as a starter.

The left-handed angle with Matt Harrison is not a good argument. Unlikely as it seems, Harrison had more trouble with left-handed batters in 2011 than he did with right-handed batters. You would think it would be the other way around. But Lewis is even worse against left-handed batters and such batters had an .829 OPS against Lewis last season. To be fair, Colby Lewis is death to right-handed batters.

This post is no knock on Colby Lewis. The guy has been a terrific story for the Rangers since he got back from Japan. His post-season heroics are noted. And Lewis is a good guy to have around with his Japanese connection as Darvish makes the transition. But in this humble writer's opinion, the Rangers' future revolves around Darvish, Ogando, Harrison and Holland. The Rangers should be building these guys for the long run.

The wild card in all this is Feliz. Can he make the transition? Is he worth the risk? Certainly, Wilson and Ogando have paved the way and make it hard to say that Feliz can't make the transition. You have to think that if any team can pull it off, the team would be the Rangers. It simply grieves the inner geek in this writer to have the experiment happen at the expense of either Harrison or Ogando. When Wilson and Ogando were converted, there were no other options available. There are now.

One of the writers in the article linked above threw off the comment that the Rangers could use Ogando in the bullpen in 2012 and still convert him to a starter in 2013. As soon as that comment was read, the mind immediately raced to Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain. Oh man, don't go down that road if you can help it.

The Rangers have a nice problem on their hands with too much starting pitching. We will all be interested in how that works itself out. Feliz will get his chance. Colby Lewis is even being talked about as the Opening Day starter. This Fan just can't get away from the feeling that Lewis is the sixth best option of this rotation (giving Feliz the benefit of the doubt). And don't forget, a now healthy Scott Feldman could probably start on most teams. Look at the post season he had. This writer isn't sold on Colby Lewis and the Texas Rangers shouldn't be either. These things have a way of working themselves out so we'll just have to wait and see.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

When La Russa Manages the All Star Game

The St. Louis Cardinals won the 2011 World Series and though that team's Hall of Fame manager, Tony La Russa retired immediately after, it's only fitting that he be tabbed to manage the NL All Star team in 2012. According to the linked article describing La Russa's appointment, this is the first time a retiring manager has managed an All Star Game since John McGraw did so in the 1933 classic. It's a fitting tribute and will provide a symmetry of sorts as this will be La Russa's third NL All Star manager appearance equaling the amount of times he did so as an American League manager. 

The announcement could lead to some interesting results for the National League team when they play as the visiting team in Kansas City this July. Since this is La Russa's last shot at holding the reins in the dugout, expect the unexpected. What follows is a peak at some of the things you could see.
  • After facing two batters in the first inning, Clayton Kershaw is stunned to see La Russa on his way to the mound. "But, Skip, I only faced two batters." La Russa responds by telling the pitcher that he doesn't like the match up.
  • At some point in the contest, one of the NL outfield All Stars will play second base.
  • Before the game, La Russa will not name the NL's closer. Jonathan Papelbon will still think it should be him.
  • In the seventh inning, La Russa will set an All Star record for most pitching changes in an inning. The television network broadcasting the game will be delighted with the three extra commercial breaks.
  • With his new gig in the MLB front office, La Russa will instantly punish an umpire who makes a bad call. Don't be surprised to see one of the men in black doing push-ups on national television.
  • When La Russa presents the line up card to the home plate umpire before the game, the umpire will be embarrassed to tell La Russa that pitchers no longer hit in All Star Games. La Russa sees all his double switches go up in smoke and will have to rethink the eighth place in the NL line up.
  • At least one NL pitcher will make his only All Star Game appearances as a pinch runner.
  • Tony will mess with Ron Washington's mind by having a pitcher in the on deck circle. Washington will hastily make a pitching change and La Russa will cackle like a hyena.
  • If the game goes into extra innings, the game will have to be called because Tony will run out of players as Charlie Manuel refuses to let La Russa play Cliff Lee in left field.
  • Yadier Molina will catch the entire game.
  • Ryan Braun will be given the sign to sacrifice a runner to second. When Braun swings anyway, he'll deny seeing the sign.
  • Joey Votto will stew in the dugout after playing two innings while Lance Berkman plays the other seven.
  • Tony will intentionally walk Albert Pujols twice, Miguel Cabrera once.
  • Prince Fielder will not face a right-handed pitcher.
  • After Yu Darvish accidentally knocks down Jimmy Rollins with a pitch, La Russa will instruct his pitcher to knock down Derek Jeter. When the benches clear, La Russa will get in the pitcher's face and call him, "Yu Devil."
  • At least one squirrel will interrupt the game.
Hey, this will be one All Star Game we won't sleep through. Can't wait!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Betemit a Step in the Wrong Direction for O's

Wilson Betemit's bat is a mirage. There. Glad we cleared that up right in the first sentence. At least now you know the tone the rest of this piece will take. Oh, perhaps as a stopgap for a season, Betemit could be at least useful now and then. But two years with an option? Oh dear. That's not a good idea. Friends, there is a reason why the Orioles will be Betemit's seventh team in his now ten year career. He'll wear out the welcome mat before you can say, "Defense." His last name is one of the best oxymoron names in baseball. He most certainly isn't a better mitt. Is he even a betebat?

How does this signing make sense for the Orioles? The deal gives the Orioles two of the worst fielding third basemen in baseball in Betermit and Mark Reynolds. So which one plays third and which one is the designated hitter? Perhaps Reynolds can play first. But then you still have a lousy glove over at third. We'll concede that Mark Reynolds has some really good power and can give you a lot of homers. But the strikeouts choke his value. Betemit looks like a decent offensive player the last two seasons, but consider that his BABIP over the last two seasons have been .361 and .391 respectively. If Betemit hit line drives higher than the average hitter, you might accept that explanation.  But his line drive percentage has been 14.8 and 19.3 in the last two seasons.

Wilson Betemit is one of those players that makes you scratch your head. How has his career lasted this long? There are four things you can do to have a long major league career:
  1. Be a left-handed reliever
  2. Be a utility infielder
  3. Be a backup catcher
  4. Actually be a good player
Betemit would fall under category number two. And yes, he can play multiple positions. But saying that, wouldn't you at least want that sort of player to be somewhat decent at doing so? Omar Vizquel he ain't. The Orioles, it seems, have been fooled by his offensive numbers the last couple of years. And granted, they look pretty good. His OPS+ the last two seasons have been 141 and 117. What's wrong with that? His OPS in high leverage situations last year was an astounding, .974. So he's a great clutch hitter, right? This writer maintains that it's a fluke. His career OPS in such high leverage situations is .794. Not bad, but it it includes last year and certainly makes last year look fluky.

Look, this writer knows that WAR isn't the be all and end all when considering players. But the stats show that Betemit is not good defensively, not good on the base paths and has compiled the grand total of 3.3 fWAR in his ten seasons and 3.7 bWAR. If you want to take a one year flier on such a player, that's okay. But a two year deal with a third year option? Are you crazy!? This Fan has been wrong before and will certainly be wrong again. But from this perch, the Orioles have to be out of their minds to make such a deal.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Say Me, Say You, Bobby Abreu

Despite rumors to the contrary last night on Twitter (And rumors went bananas last night), Bobby Abreu is still a member of the Angels and according to the wonderful website, MLB Depth Charts, Abreu is still penciled in to the Angels' starting line up as this seasons' Angels designated hitter. That could change, of course, with a trade or if the Angels decide to eat the last year of Abreu's contract. Abreu is now 37 years old and his presence along with the erstwhile, Vernon Wells, effectively blocks prospect Mike Trout from the starting line up and perhaps the opening day roster. Such is life for Bobby Abreu that his relative worth will be debated for the next couple of weeks. It won't be much different than the rest of his career.

There will come a time when Bobby Abreu retires. Perhaps it will be after this year when his contract ends. Perhaps not. But the end will come someday and when it does, there are sure to be wide discussions of his career. Some will point to his eye-popping career slash line: .293/.397/.481, good for a 129 OPS+ (according to Those same supporters will point to Abreu's 393 stolen bases and 75 percent success rate. They could point out his 554 doubles, 58 triples and 1,412 runs scored.

But just as many will counterpoint that he only made two All Star teams in his sixteen years of play and was somewhat ineffective as an outfielder. Despite piling up great numbers with the Phillies, not many fans shed tears when he was traded to the Yankees in 2006. Nor were there many New York tears shed when that team let him walk away to the Angels after the 2008 season. And now there are grumpy Angels fans that Abreu is still a member of their team heading into 2012. It's not Abreu's fault that the Angels signed him to a contract that in hindsight was two years too long. Abreu certainly earned his keep in 2009 and 2010. But he didn't come close last year.

What makes perfect sense is that Bobby Abreu's nearest comp on is Bernie Williams. Both players had similar career numbers. Both were better offensive players than defensive players. And both cause a lot of heartburn among writers and fans as to their relative career value. Williams' defense cost him more WAR than Abreu's tally according to Fangraphs. But B-R has them much closer.

Bobby Abreu, if he remains with the Angels through the season, is not going to have a good PR season. And that's unfortunate. The Angels have painted themselves in a box with the atrocious Vernon Wells deal they took on by obtaining him from the Blue Jays. They have to play Wells to try somehow to justify what they will pay him the next couple of years. Abreu's on-base skills are much superior to Wells (in the understatement of the year). Since Wells has to play, if the Angels desire Abreu's on-base skills, he will be forever known to Angel fans as the guy who blocked Mike Trout (who everyone wants to see play in the big leagues).

And we can't leave Torii Hunter out of this discussion either. Hunter quietly (who ever talks about it?) has just as much of a dead contract as Wells. Hunter is going to make $18 million this season and there's no way he'll ever earn it. For those counting such things, that's $39 million committed to three guys who probably shouldn't be in the line up instead of Mike Trout. Hunter and Wells will play because of the money. Abreu becomes the expendable one and he might still be the better offensive player of the three. Abreu can't win no matter what he does. Either he's traded or cut, or he's reviled for blocking a prospect.

It's a fitting problem for a player that has caused so much debate in his career and will after it's over. Bobby Abreu might have been a superstar for two seasons. But he has been a very good player for his career. He is probably not a Hall of Fame player. But in a day and age of on-base mania, he's Exhibit A for how to do it.

Failure in Sports

Failure once again raised its hairy head in national sports. Both conference championships were decided by the failure of two players. Billy Cundiff yanked a chippy field goal left to end the Baltimore Ravens' season and just a few hours later, Kyle Williams fumbled a second punt--this one in overtime--which allowed the New York Giants to kick the game winning field goal. Ironically, the Giants' winning kick was the same distance as Cundiff's miss.

Failure is the dark side of sports. But failure is also the single element that defines sports. For every team that wins, another loses. On an individual level, the heroics of one man or woman is only possible by the failure of another. The recorded winner of the 500 metres speed skating even was Uwe-Jens Mey. But that race is much more known as the race Dan Jansen fell down just days after his sister had died. Jansen would fall again in the 1000 metres race.

The 1978 playoff game to settle the American League East champion pitted the New York Yankees against the Boston Red Sox on October 2, 1978 in Fenway Park. The game will forever be known for Bucky Dent's improbable three run homer. But everyone knows that pitch was thrown by Mike Torres who gets saddled by history as the failure of that game.

But he wasn't alone. The score was 5-4 heading into the bottom of the ninth. The usually reliable Goose Gossage had already given up two runs to tighten the game to its eventual score. And he was on the ropes again in the ninth. The Red Sox got two men on base but had two out. Hall of Fame player, Carl Yastrzemki came to the plate and could push the Red Sox to the post season with a hit. Yaz had already hit a homer and drove in another run with a single in the game accounting for two of the Red Sox' four runs. For Red Sox fans everywhere, Yaz failed them as he popped weakly to the foul side of third to end the game and the season for his team.

The defining poem of sports,  Casey at the Bat, has its ultimate moment in the failure of Mighty Casey that sent the citizens of Mudville home unhappy. The resonance of the poem for generations was the failure. Yaz became Mighty Casey. Billy Buckner will forever be known for the Mookie Wilson grounder that went through his legs. Mitch Williams blew the save that gave Joe Carter glory and the Toronto Blue Jays their second straight World Series crown. Failure is more poignant than success and is remembered much longer. The most memorable hole of golf ever played will be Jean Van de Velde's 72nd hole in the 1999 British Open. Does anyone remember who actually won that tournament?

In no sport is failure more built into the sport than baseball. The best hitters fail sixty percent of the time. The best teams lose nearly forty percent. The best pitchers ever lost thirty percent of the time or more. And the game is only decided when the last three outs are made. Three failures end every game.

Kyle Williams and Billy Cundiff are to be pitied and not exploited. They aren't the firsts and they won't be the last. Before Cundiff, there was Gary Anderson, Scott Kaeding and of course, Scott Norwood. Yes, they failed. Someone had to do it.