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Mad Em-Dashes is a St. Louis Cardinals blog by Dan Moore that does not want to waste your time. 

Hot 2015 Prediction: You'll hear Aledmys Diaz's name again

I've learned a lot from reading Baseball Prospectus for 12 years, but the most useful thing, as a writer, is how they produce their front-cover teasers—the little fortune-cookie-fillers that sit across the middle of the cover, under player headshots but above the blurb from Billy Beane. It's the showstopping Baseball Prospectus magic trick, and it's so easy: You take a guy who had a better or worse season than everyone expected, and then you say his season will probably be worse or better this year. It's applying the benefits of regression to your writing without the costs, which mostly involve explaining regression to yourself and others.

Aledmys Diaz had a bad year, after several murky good ones, but the worst thing about his particular bad year was that it gave us no new information about a player who had very little to offer in the first place. (Joe Schwarz helpfully gathered what there was back up yesterday.) It's not like that with the other second-tier infield prospects. When Breyvic Valera was 22 he was putting together the emptiest possible .313 average between Palm Beach and Springfield; when Jacob Wilson was 22 he was hitting in Peoria, and then not hitting in Palm Beach.

When Aledmys Diaz was 22 he was performing a year's penance for pretending he was 23. Wilson's entire professional career—they were born a month apart—fits neatly inside the time Diaz has lost since his last season in Cuba, and looks a lot like you might have expected Diaz's to look.

What do you do, on your Baseball Prospectus cover, with somebody whose season wasn't better or worse so much as empty?

Aledmys Diaz's first season was surprising because it seemed so irrelevant; like all good Baseball Prospectus reversals, what we can actually take from it is the Chinese-curse certitude that players are rarely surprisingly anything two years in a row.

Something will happen to Aledmys Diaz this year. He will show that he's a prospect worth offering $8 million, or he will show that he isn't. If he vanishes again he'll vanish more forcefully. But for now—for the purposes of your Baseball Prospectus reversal—he is more invisible than he ought to be, and thus available to make you seem like a wizard to people who haven't thought about him since he signed his contract.

I have no reason to be optimistic—the point is that I have no reason to be anything, except aware—but I am. All that's left pulling the Aledmys Diaz bandwagon is the information communicated by the Cardinals' original investment, but most first-rounders (non-Kozma division) get a year or two further on that tank of gas.

Why Jim Edmonds is my marginal Hall of Famer

Jim Edmonds retired with 68 rWAR. (You can probably find me waving around this extremely satisfying number—60 WAR being the super-rough in-and-out line for Hall of Fame discussions—in several posts on Viva El Birdos.) In 2012, still retired, his bat and his glove collapsed all at once, and he had 57.3 rWAR. He's gotten back in shape since then, to his credit, and although his wins above average have declined slightly he's now back over the 60 WAR line.

I don't bring this up because I enjoy scoring Andy-Rooney-style points on WAR; I don't even bring it up because I know it to have disproportionately affected Jim Edmonds. I bring it up because the Hall of Fame case for Jim Edmonds is marginal—it's not obvious and it's not simple, and much of it is carried in the wins that slosh around the rim of the bucket when we refine our defensive metrics or adjust our park effects. Cut 10 WAR from Albert Pujols's career—say, all the suspiciously brilliant defense at first base—and you've changed nothing. Donate it to Fred McGriff and you've made two Hall of Famers.

You should be nervous about making a marginal Hall of Fame case, in the same way you should be nervous when you begin drawing huge crowds to your fiery speeches about national unity in the mid '30s. Each one builds on the last until the thing moves under its own power; by the time you're done you've elected Jim Rice and above-average Red Sox are marching through your capital.

It's easy to make the case for one not-quite-great player as a Hall of Famer, and it's hard not to prove too much, to inadvertently make the case for ten not-quite-great players. You're duck-walking around the Groucho Marx problem, trying very hard to find the one club rarefied enough for your player that would have him as a member.

Almost three quarters of position players with 70 WAR are in the Hall of Fame; about two-thirds of position players with 60 WAR; a little over half of position players with 50 WAR.

Jim Edmonds bobs up and down in the part of this chart where we are asked to draw a line somewhere between Richie Ashburn (63.4) and Willie Davis (60.5) and Bobby Abreu (59.9) and Darrell Evans (58.5) and Robin Ventura (55.9), among others. Even up where he used to sit there's Kenny Lofton (68.2) and Graig Nettles (68) and Duke Snider (66.5) and Buddy Bell (66.1). And I haven't even gotten to FanGraphs yet, or to the Veterans Committee picks that dot the 40s and 30s and 20s of the WAR rolls.

We can and should cut down the noise—and hopefully not too much of the signal—by looking at other things: his place relative to other center fielders, his disproportionate number of wins above average, rather than replacement level. But what we're getting at by then is not, or not entirely, a dispassionate analysis of the facts. It's an attempt (mostly successful and mostly justified) to read onto the facts our sense that Jim Edmonds—almost entirely during the five years between 2000 and 2004—was as good as nearly anybody, and that that should mean something.

And when we begin describing Jim Edmonds as a Hall of Famer this way we're accepting (finally) that our Hall of Fame campaign requires its own set of standards, and not just a broadside against the ones our predecessors came up with. It's not enough to find that Jim Edmonds is as good as a lot of Hall of Famers, and that on center field leaderboards he is all that stands between Ken Griffey, Jr., and the rest of the universe.

For going on 10 years of Jim Edmonds Hall of Fame advocacy I stopped there, and I have the continuing evolution of WAR to thank for pushing me to recognize that in believing Jim Edmonds is a Hall of Famer I am advocating for other things, as well—a somewhat larger hall, maybe, or one that adjusts the balance between career-long greatness and momentary brilliance, but nothing so simple as an objectively smarter and better one than everybody else's.

A Hall of Fame is supposed to be a celebration of the very best a field has to offer, and given enough voters of different backgrounds and preferences maybe it can be. In practice, though, mostly alone, we spend our time carving adjectives onto the plaques we don't share in common. Our Halls of Fame spring up around our marginal Hall of Famers.

Jim Edmonds is mine. 60 WAR sounds about right because he has it; focusing on peak greatness works for me because that's one of the things I most want to remember about the players I loved watching. If your Hall of Fame is different from mine I'll bet I find a different marginal Hall of Famer at the back of it, and a different picture of baseball fandom, and that's why they give both or neither of us a vote.

Legends are tainted by stubborn good-faith attempts to make them loom larger in memory than they did in life; every time a boomer insists that nobody made real music before or after the Beatles a millennial is born who will wince every time "A Day in the Life" begins to play. Every time Sunny Jim Bottomley comes up, Sunny Jim Bottomley who hit 20 triples and 31 home runs in a season, who once drove in 12 runs in a game, it's as an example of somebody who shouldn't be a Hall of Famer. His admirers polished his reputation until the finish rubbed off.

There are standards for the Hall of Fame, then, and we can find them by looking at what's come before us—but we change them by looking at them in a way that's maddening when the solid parts of your case, the numbers that gave you a reason to push forward, shift and settle too.

Jim Edmonds wasn't as good as Ken Griffey, Jr, and he wasn't obviously better, as far as I can tell, than Kenny Lofton or Carlos Beltran or Andruw Jones. He could be an excellent Hall of Famer, neither the best selection nor the worst omission the voters will make in the next five years. And silhouetted against his peers he was a remarkable player, daring and reckless and inexplicably patient. Anyone who actually gambled as much as Jim Edmonds seemed to—swinging at a high fastball, chasing a pitch he should play off the wall—would have run out of his hitting coach's patience or through a brick wall by 25. At 25 Jim Edmonds was, instead, in the process of discovering whatever it was that cheated the house out of its advantage until he was 40—the marked cards, the extra information we didn't have when his heel popped up and he readied himself to swing at a pitch that seemed hopeless from where we sat.

The numbers justify his election, but they don't justify the campaigning, all the posts and tweets we'll make supporting it and the comments we'll leave when voters don't. Electing him is only the beginning; Frankie Frisch, backed by the full faith and credit of the Veterans Committee, could not make us care about Ross Youngs. We'll have to pass along the numbers, and the memories, and all the highlight videos. We'll have to explain why Jim Edmonds is a Hall of Famer, and then we'll have to explain what a Hall of Famer is.

A year of writing intermittently

2014 was the first year since 2004 where I wasn’t writing a couple of blog posts a week. It was weird! I feel very disconnected from the baseball news cycle; not having an internet connection stable enough to watch games with until the postseason probably had something to do with it, but when I buy the 2015 Baseball Prospectus I’ll probably be putting a lot of names to slash lines for the first time.

But I outbid everybody else hunting for the em-dash.es domain name for another year, so whatever I end up writing in 2015, you’ll see it here. My resolution is to exceed the 40-or-so posts I ended up making in 2014, and to have the book project I’ve been working on on-and-off for a few years in a condition to show you guys before, say, the celebrity softball game. (The TV replay, not the live game—I might need that extra day.)

To everybody who continued reading my work long after doing so was necessary to gain entrance to a fun and vibrant community: Thanks.

Here are five things I remember writing in 2014:

  1. Scott Rolen is going to make you a curmudgeon

    Scott Rolen—he was a great player, but you had to be there. You had to watch the way he controlled his huge limbs in flight, the way his arm snapped forward like a machined part, the way he ran with his head down in a way that had to be totally unlike your dad's stupid Charlie Hustle memories sounded.

  2. Yadier Molina is a Hall of Famer in search of a new WAR formula

    There have always been people who think Yadier Molina will one day be inducted into the Hall of Fame. These people watched him hit those NLCS home runs in 2006 and knew; these people watched him distinguish himself as Mike Matheny Jr. in 2004 and knew. Ask around the Midwest League and I am convinced you will find that there were people who sat at O'Brien Field every afternoon, cheering on Dan Haren (7-3, 1.95) and Tyler Johnson (15-3, 2.00) and Shaun Boyd (.313/.379/.471), and knew that Yadier Molina, .280/.331/.384, was going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

  3. Kevin Siegrist is an injured pitcher

    The thing that's harder to afford, as a baseball fan, is the sense that getting excited about a young pitcher is just the first part of a story that always involves a year in the wilderness and a flinching unease every time you watch him throw that bewildering slider.

  4. Why I keep rooting for Tommy Pham

    I can’t disprove the world I imagined when I was 17—where all of us are governed by probability, and it’s best that we all accept it and will our favorite organizations to become more efficient—which I guess is the point. When you are a supremely confident teenager, if you’re lucky, you get some idea of how the world really does work, and you root for progress to take hold and install you in your rightful place among the elect who have also read the right books. Sometime after that, if you are lucky, you fail convincingly enough to realize that you are the fat, not the lean cut of meat you kept yelling at general managers to finish trimming.

  5. We are lucky the World Series ratings are so terrible

    Our only protection is that nobody outside Fox Sports Midwest's viewing territory cares about our Mike Matheny memes; the regional nature of baseball fandom is all that's keeping us from Budweiser commercials about Mike Trout's bitchin' man-cave. Local radio stations and regional sports networks and going to a no-account June afternoon game with your whole family are not signs of the sport's sickness, they're what allow us to enjoy it on its merit, with people we're close to, for reasons that might not (and should not) resonate with every other baseball fan in the United States.

Mark Reynolds as the most entertaining of all possible Ty Wiggintons

Major League Baseball, for you and me, non-combatants, is entertainment. It's a thing to watch, and there's value in it being fun to watch that is mostly but not entirely captured in our favorite team winning or losing.

A team full of Mark Reynoldses would be excruciating. You can admire the honesty of three-true-outcomes baseball—and the wisdom of playing it in the current run environment—while still hoping somebody makes it less viable, in the same way you can tip your cap to Jose Molina while hoping umpires someday stop falling for the photo-realistic tunnel he keeps painting over the same brick wall.

But one Mark Reynolds sitting on the bench, waiting to give us a 1-in-20 chance of jumping up and down and yelling at the TV after the Cardinals' starter gets roughed up for four early runs, is entertaining.

I can wonder whether he'll be more valuable than Xavier Scruggs or even Tommy Pham in the same role—you can wonder about Stephen Piscotty, if you want—and I can wish for someone like Rickie Weeks, the designated longshot in the field of possible bench bats that emerged over the last week. I can (and do) think that paying list price for a fraction of a win off the bench is a strange use of resources, even if the free-agent WAR values line up.

But value is John Mozeliak's job. On that fractional-win scale I'm happy to be entertained.

Jason Heyward loses half his value when you drive him off the lot

Every time I use HTML and CSS I have to start over from scratch, which means that I have to read a new book about it. In every new book there's a strange, uncanny-valley project used for the examples—a veterinarian's homepage, or a tchotchke store, or a website about Spanish history.

It looks almost like a real website, but the way it has to stretch to provide an instance of every HTML element and CSS selector betrays its roots. It's too perfect an example.

General Managing for Dummies > Chapter 12 > Risk vs. Cost Certainty

12-14 G AB H 2B 3B HR RBI AVG OBP SLG
Markakis 419 1696 474 79 4 37 163 0.279 0.342 0.396
Heyward 411 1542 410 78 10 52 178 0.266 0.345 0.431

What if our former top prospect stops running, and he keeps losing power, and his defensive reputation doesn't accurately measure his defensive ability? He'd probably only be worth a win or two, and you wouldn't want to make a long-term commitment.

Guest Post: The Sweetness Now

Editor's note: It was always a pleasure to publish Tom S. on Viva El Birdos; it's a pleasure to publish him here as well, though for a much smaller audience and on a much graver occasion. What follows is his.

I do not grieve because I knew Oscar Taveras at all. I saw a fascinating swing, the promise of talent still to be discovered. I saw a luminous smile and a palpable enthusiasm for the game he played. But I cannot say I knew him. I grieve him though, in my own way, along with everyone else.

Something irrational lies in the focus on a single man’s death. People die everyday. Many unheralded deaths are as senseless and sad as Oscar’s. Our attention for the deaths of public figures often comes in unfortunate contrast to our larger indifference to the mass of human suffering. At the other end of the island where Oscar died, a barely-noticed-then and little-remembered-now earthquake killed a hundred thousand Haitians or more in 2010. I cannot reconcile the disproportionate emotion I feel for the loss of one Dominican ballplayer and the loss of countless Haitians. Being a creature of emotions means being a creature of irrationality. One can love a single man shown on a screen much more easily than one can love people described only in statistics.

As for why you feel this death more than many others: Oscar broke the rules of baseball. The rules of baseball are simple. We pay to watch people more athletic than we’ve ever been do things we could never do. We get to feel vicariously and for a short time their youth and vigor. We are ordinary. The players are elite. We are burdened with all the weaknesses of flesh: we are variously overweight, feckless, uncoordinated, aging. They defy the limits of their bodies. Our successes are few, small, and unknown. Theirs are writ large and appreciated nationwide. For the cost of a ticket, or of a few hours of watching or listening with intermittent advertisement, we get to buy a small taste of what that’s like.

And in that arena of eternal, vibrant youth, death has no place at all. Death and frailty of the body are things of our world, not theirs. At least, that is the fiction we buy into when we turn on the game. Oscar broke the rules by reminding us of that fiction. By proving his mortality, Oscar reminded us that the story baseball tells us is a pretty lie, nothing more.

Outside the arena, death is forever plucking at our elbow. We leave him in our peripheral vision, until he suddenly demands our undivided attention. But we need not continue to repeat this cycle. You can wait for the memory of Oscar’s death to fade and resume believing in the lie, or you can try to live beyond the lie.

Anyone who has spent time outdoors in winter knows the pleasure of coming home to a warm fire. If you had grown up on a tropical island without wintertime you might not love the fire's warmth as much. You have to feel the cold to appreciate the warmth. You can warm your hands at the fire and remember they will get cold again, while enjoying the feeling of warmth. The warmth can be more pleasing, in fact, when you remember that it is transitory. The colder you felt before you came home to the fire, the better that warmth will feel to you. The two feelings are counterweights, inseparable from one another. The cold then is part of the warmth now. The sweetness now is part of the sorrow to come.

In every gorgeous swing are the seeds of a ballplayer’s decline to come, a decline that must come, one swift as Oscar’s or one stretched out over decades. It will come. The sweetness and the sorrow are hopelessly commingled.

To live beyond the lie, somehow we must learn to love the sorrow as much as we love the sweetness, for they are not truly different things. Somehow we must see the thing we love and see its destruction at the same time, and neither turn away from its destruction, nor let the prospect of its destruction cloud the pleasure of loving it.

The lie of baseball was the lie of eternal youth. The terrible, beautiful truth of Oscar Taveras was powerful, graceful, fragile youth.

Baseball players

Yesterday I was at the nice Taco Bell, waiting with my head down for our take-out, when an enormous man walked in and said he would order in a moment—he was just waiting for the order to come in. I wasn’t looking, but I think he must have waved his phone at the girl behind the counter, because the next thing I heard after her polite acknowledgement was the loudest word I have ever heard inside a fast-food restaurant.

“HELLO!!” he said. Then there was a pause for the other end of the conversation. I looked down a little further, so that it was clear to everyone at the front of the restaurant that I was not involved in this, or anything that transpired from it.

I heard the man walk up, and the girl said what she was supposed to say—welcome, can I take your order, etc. Fast-food conversations are a dead idiom, but the internet has made me jumpy; I find myself fearing confrontation from all corners. Someone is always about to say the wrong thing.

The man gave his order, much quieter, now, and the girl punched it in. Then she said, her voice sliding out of the Taco Bell register, “You have the most beautiful teeth.”

“WHAT?” Sometimes it seems to me (on Twitter, in real life, wherever) like all of us are on the same tightrope, an instant from falling away from each other into the ideas we're predestined to land on, alone.

“Your teeth are just so white.”

Now I am sidling behind the take-out bench. But the man’s voice gets much quieter—still ragged, but an indoor voice now—and he says, “These? Store-bought.” And then he says, “When I came back from Vietnam the government put three grand into my mouth.”

And all of us in the store—all of us except the man with the white teeth, who had never been nervous at all—all of us exhale deeply. He and the girl laugh a little. And I walk out feeling grace—stupid, trivial Taco Bell grace. That was the only place in the world this loud Vietnam veteran and this 16-year-old working Saturday nights and I, whatever I am, could forgive each other for being different human beings.

Baseball isn’t really walled off from the rest of the world, and tonight all of us, the religious and agnostic, the people who have to know everything and the people who don’t want to know anything more, will scatter wherever we need to be. And then we’ll come back, because the things that bring us together like this aren’t distractions from the real world but consolations for it.

We don’t really know him; we don’t know whether he should have played more last year, let alone whether he was a good person. Through baseball, for half a season, we were lucky enough to speak a common language. He signed to us in broad gestures—the off-balance swing, the enormous smile—and we waved back. We talked about stupid, trivial things, and I’m so glad we could.

We are lucky the World Series ratings are so terrible

I watched highlights for an NFL game the other day, and that was a mistake. I was going to embed the video, but I can't find it any more, so you've dodged the bullet.

It was mostly yelling. The Rams' first touchdown passed in a hail of shouted inside jokes that didn't seem to include the audience, and then one of the former players shouted something four or five times, and then the guy who was clearly the token j-school grad quietly read Austin Davis's name off a cue-card.

That was when I checked to see if I had some other video auto-playing in a different tab.

Football is the national sport in America. People follow the entire league, for fantasy purposes, and the Super Bowl is one of the last remaining sporting events people feel obligated to think about.

This is often used—by people who have watched these highlights, and should know better—to weep over the decline of Major League Baseball. The Royals playing the Giants was the worst-rated World Series game ever.

I'm as charmed as the next Fibber McGee and Molly fan by great-grandparent stories about World Series scores being passed around in school by indulgent teachers—by the sport enrapturing people who had no means of watching or listening to it while it was happening—but at this point it should be clear to everyone who's watched a football game on TV and a baseball game on TV that baseball fans could not be any luckier that it is not a ratings powerhouse.

It is our enormous privilege that baseball is simultaneously popular enough to max out its production values and pay for the best athletes and local enough to leave a layer of regional sensibilities between us and the gigantic network that spends its Sundays shouting though a megaphone to the back of the house.

As a reformed jackass who has only recently learned to be quiet while people say things about Ray Lankford that are incorrect I should say that this is not about feeling better than the Common Sports Fan—it's about the way gigantic sports-funneling institutions do not and cannot respect individual sports fans as humans. They are too busy trying to make everyone love the same funny commercial about dogs eating chips.

Our only protection is that nobody outside Fox Sports Midwest's viewing territory cares about our Mike Matheny memes; the regional nature of baseball fandom is all that's keeping us from Budweiser commercials about Mike Trout's bitchin' man-cave. Local radio stations and regional sports networks and going to a no-account June afternoon game with your whole family are not signs of the sport's sickness, they're what allow us to enjoy it on its merit, with people we're close to, for reasons that might not (and should not) resonate with every other baseball fan in the United States.

Huge ratings break those relationships apart; they pull everyone closer to the enormous fireball of monetizable attention that blows out a sport's highlights and reduces every individual fanbase and team and game to its blandest narrative outlines. If you're tired of Derek Jeter, remember that the only thing unusual about the treatment he got was that he was a baseball player. If you don't like the way St. Louis media handled Oscar Taveras, imagine a hot take stomping on Russell Wilson's face forever.

Why I keep rooting for Tommy Pham

There were years after I bought my first copy of Baseball Prospectus when I would have wished on a one-fingered monkey’s paw for the ability to run projections on everything, instantly, whenever I wanted. Having set aside the tragic and inevitable ironies that accompany all monkey’s paw usage as a matter of course, it seemed to me that real-time projections basically subsumed all other wishes.

The movie would have very little conflict but a ton of montages: The one where you walk into the casino and count cards without actually having to count cards, and become rich; the one where you see exactly how likely your significant other is to be charmed by your unpredictable (to her!) combination of flirtatious eye contact and mysteriousness, and fall in love; the one where you determine, finally, that there is a 90 percent chance the vector for the monkey’s paw’s insidious lesson will be your son who sharpens the diamond saws at the metal works, and find him a job where there is statistically zero industrial machinery for him to fall into. (At the time this was not already the plot of Limitless.)

It wasn’t just about using my powers to become rich; projections were as close as I could get to a metaphysics. I imagined the world around me as one potential outcome shuffled in among billions, the gaps impossible to cross without some kind of compass. Because I had the supreme self-confidence of the internet baseball fan circa 2003 it did not bother me very much that I was imagining a universe basically predetermined by a run of dice rolls I hadn’t been party to.

Most 18-year-old tools goofs you pick out of the middle of a draft will never make it out of the low minors. Most 20-year-olds who hit .215 with power will not outlast your self-deprecating jokes about touting them. Most 22-year-olds who suddenly show potential have not flipped a switch. Most 23-year-olds and 24-year-olds and 25-year-olds will start looking for other things to do when their own bodies tell them over and over that they are not cut out for the thing they’ve been preparing to do their whole lives. 40 games, 12 games, 75 games… PECOTA used to make a big deal of attrition rate. This was the gothic, extraordinarily complex Nate Silver version of PECOTA, held up on all sides by flying buttresses, but attrition rate just measured the likelihood of someone’s chances to play collapsing from one year to the next.

It captures injuries, but it also captures bad relationships with coaches, replacement by better or cheaper prospects, fluky playing time events. Far enough from the major leagues it has to be picking up more than that--a loss of the desire to play, or the conviction that you can get ahead, whether it’s your conviction or somebody else’s.

With a sufficiently clairvoyant projection-generator you could run live ZiPS career totals for all of us, figuring out just how many trade-offs it would take, and just how far back in our lives you’d have to go, to wedge a single game onto our baseball card. Here’s Babe Ruth if he had stayed a pitcher, or Rick Ankiel if he’d never been one; here’s Matt Harrington if he’d signed his first contract, and if he’d signed his second, and his third and fourth and fifth. You could watch the 90th-percentile projections of all the high school stars you knew flicker and zero out as they stopped growing or hurt their arms or followed their girlfriends to college or got a job somewhere in town.

Most 26-year-old September call-ups do not have long careers, but at every stage in his career a baseball player is facing the most certain projection of all, that eventually he will play zero games and figure in no pennant races.

I can’t disprove the world I imagined when I was 17—where all of us are governed by probability, and it’s best that we all accept it and will our favorite organizations to become more efficient—which I guess is the point. When you are a supremely confident teenager, if you’re lucky, you get some idea of how the world really does work, and you root for progress to take hold and install you in your rightful place among the elect who have also read the right books. Sometime after that, if you are lucky, you fail convincingly enough to realize that you are the fat, not the lean cut of meat you kept yelling at general managers to finish trimming.

We are in the world where Tommy Pham will eventually be forced out of the major leagues like all of us were, whether we were a minute old or 13 or 31. Between now and then we have a reasonably good idea of what will happen, but I think we also have an obligation to enjoy what happens in the moment—to be generous with our attention because the world conjured up by all the money and information there is in professional baseball will not be generous with much else. When I root for Tommy Pham it’s just because he’s a person who’s capable of surprising me, and himself—who has to alternately fight against and accept certainty like the rest of us.

What part of Kolten Wong's future is Mike Matheny's job?

Mike Moustakas is a black box that was 11-31 with three doubles and a home run in AAA Omaha last month. Before that he was a Greek statue of a third baseman turning to dust in the back room of a Victorian museum, and before that he was a teenage prospect with no time between minor disappointment and major breakout season. On May 20 he was hitting .152/.223/.320. On June 1 he was called back up; he's doubled twice since then.

He is not the Royals' first round-trip visitor to Omaha. Alex Gordon did the same thing, and Zack Greinke before that. Gordon and Greinke slipped through mediocrity into catastrophe, whiled away a couple of months as the best player on their team, and came back changed players.

Kolten Wong had played 52 regular-season games and hit .192/.239/.223 when he was sent down. That's really bad, but it's split across two seasons and a million sudden shifts in role. In AAA he hit .344 in 15 games. Since then he's hit .327 in 14 games.

Kolten Wong hit .258 on balls in play in April and he hit .381 on balls in play in May. If you think of him as a guy who's basically always going to hit like a Kolten Wong projection the 15 games in which he beat up the Pacific Coast League are a waste of two unusually good weeks.

It's both a credit to and an indictment of the Royals that they were able to recoup their investment in two prospects on the edge, having first drafted and put them there.

The Cardinals have been far more proactive with their prospects. They move fast through the minor leagues, but they're integrated slowly into major league roles—so slowly that a guy like Jon Jay or Allen Craig can go through multiple role changes, and fall in and out of favor multiple times, before he's a full-time starter at the position we know him for.

Kolten Wong has struggled to escape the shadow of Matt Carpenter and Mark Ellis, and that's the Cardinals' MO. An explicitly temporary minor league demotion is more unusual, mostly because the Cardinals don't need it—either a player like Matt Adams is on a temporary injury-replacement assignment or he's working in a role that involves time off as a matter of course.

He thinks the stint might have helped

"They just kinda told me that they saw things in my swing that it was getting too long," Wong said. "And before it got too bad or too late, they wanted to send me to a less stressful environment to work on it. I took it as an opportunity to work on my approach. ... I could feel it getting a little big, too. That's not the player I am, so when it gets that way, it's in my best interest for me to do whatever I can to turn it around."

"I feel like I'm around there again," he said. "I think my swing's back. My confidence is definitely back. Now I just want to get back up and take the confidence that I've developed from here and use it there."

Of course it's not in his best interest to tell an MLB.com contributor that he's going to hit .450 until even his halfwit boss gets it into his stupid head what a stupid idea it was to demote him. But I've had jobs before, too, and slumps, and backing up to a place where I can succeed without confronting the same existential threats every day has helped me sometimes.

That is, I think it's possible that something like this could help Kolten Wong or Mike Moustakas. I think it's much more likely to help Moustakas, who has failed for years now, than it is Wong, but my immediate reaction to Kolten Wong's demotion conflated those two questions in a way that probably wasn't helpful.

I've been reading a lot of old Bill James lately—the Managers book and a random Baseball Abstract from a used bookstore—and what's really struck me about it is how he's willing to take as read the thing traditional sportswriters most often accused him of forgetting: The idea that baseball players are human beings who must sometimes be taught and coerced and tricked into playing above or below or just toward their statistical projection.

Sometimes you give Rick Ankiel three months to be the best player in the history of the Appalachian League and he still can't pitch at the end of it; sometimes you give Alex Gordon a chance to work on some things and he does.

Why are we so worked up all the time about Mike Matheny? I don't think it's just because we often think he's bad at his job—it's because we can't separate from that our lingering doubt about whether his job is important at all.

Now that Kolten Wong is the Rookie of the Month, and safely ensconced on the major league roster, I can separate those two thoughts more easily. I think Matheny's job is important, and I also think that Kolten Wong is not Mike Moustakas.