Lev Weinstein, Krallice drummer and extremely extreme baseball aficionado, asked us for a chance to nerd out on metal and MLB with ESPN senior baseball writer/bastion of sensibility Keith Law (whom we interviewed in the 2014 baseball preview). We're not surprised that both of them stepped up to the plate with the following insightful and progressive exchange. All right, metal shit first. You described in your Decibel interview last spring a little bit about how you got into this sort of music. Could you elaborate a bit on your progression from Whitesnake to heavier stuff?
I learned to play guitar when pretty young, and upgraded to electric when I was about 14, after which I became obsessed with pretty much anything distorted, and eventually zeroed in on some of the more technical shit out there. At the time, "heavier stuff" wasn't what we'd call heavy now, but as some of the more extreme stuff started to emerge from the U.K. -- I'm thinking early grindcore -- I was paying attention, but not really a fan of the music, just of the idea of pushing the speed and sound envelopes. When some of those bands started to morph into more melodic territory and the Swedish/Norwegian bands emerged, then I was more on board. And the fact that there was no end of insanity coming from that scene that made for soap-opera reading didn't hurt either.
Did you ever play an instrument? Start a band?
Yes, guitar. Played with friends, but never played a real show with anyone until some readers invited me to play in a Smashing Pumpkins cover band this October. It was fun.
You talked about digging the new Carcass, but being pretty turned off by the sort of unthinking bombastic nature of a lot of modern metal. How would you characterize the sort of sound that draws you in?
The music has to have a melodic element. That's the common thread in all the genres I listen to -- I need a good hook, a good sense of melody or maybe counterpoint to draw me in, and then even there are elements I don't like (e.g., Cookie Monster vocals ... really, I do that voice to make my two-year-old niece laugh). I can just tune them out. But I also have no interest in childish lyrics -- the Cannibal Corpse kind of splattercore or misogynistic stuff or any of the Satanic material from the Nordics just seems juvenile. If you're doing it to shock me, you failed, and if you really mean it, you're sick.
Have you ever talked about Armored Saint with Metal Mike Piazza?
I was unaware of his affinity for them, but now I'm going to corner him next time I see him.
You mentioned that John Clayton probably actually doesn't dig Slayer. Any ESPN personalities out there who are actually secret metalheads? Any dudes with truly legit taste around Bristol? Is Trey Wingo actually into early Deicide? I know Gammons fucks with some Beyond the Gates-era Possessed, right?
Some behind-the-scenes guys, but none of the other talent has ever come out to me as metal fans.
Priest or Maiden?
Maiden all the way.
Megadeth or Metallica?
Metallica. Although as far as I'm concerned, both bands broke up in 1992.
Death Angel or Dark Angel?
That's a good one. Respect to Dark Angel for being about 30 years ahead of their time lyrically. I preferred Death Angel's music, though.
All right, down to brass tacks: We first have to talk about my Mets. I am deeply concerned with this Michael Cuddyer deal. This is seemingly the first misstep from the Alderson camp. I know you were also puzzled by the move. How bad is it? Any consolation here? Lie to me if you need to.
I can't lie. It was terrible. I don't see what they want with him -- he's a bench guy, hardly worth the draft pick, let alone what they're paying him.
That said, I'm seriously excited about their crop of prospects, especially this class of pitchers. Does it make any sense for the Mets to try to exchange some of these arms for bats, or do you think they'd be better served holding on to what they have and cultivating a (hopefully) extremely strong rotation?
Given how volatile arms are, I'd look to trade some of them for the predictability of bats. Remember how we all loved Rafael Montero a year ago?
Somewhat of a corollary: do you get the sense that the zeitgeist has shifted insofar as more value seems to be being placed on prospects as opposed to established big leaguers? Is this liable to lead to more trades involving major league talent ,such as those we saw at the deadline this year?
I do think it's changed quite a bit -- probably changes every year based on the mix of GMs and their relative job security.
I'm fascinated with, and know very little about the process of physically scouting young talent. How many plate appearances/innings does it usually take before you feel you've got a true sense of the athletic abilities and mechanics of a given player?
If I get BP [batting practice] and 3-4 plate appearances, I've got a start on a hitter, enough for an opinion. You never get a true sense of his actual skill level; the more you see, the closer you'll get, but I think it's an asymptotic relationship. For a pitcher, I want two innings' worth of pitches (maybe 30-40, all his pitch types) from behind the plate, and at least an inning up the line.
Is it ever the case that you've scouted a prospect whose swing/delivery has looked radically different from game to game?
No. Month to month or year to year, yes.
To that end, how much canon does there seem to be in the teaching of technique to kids across the country? I know there are some college programs you've been critical of in this respect. Is anyone coaching the coaches? Is there any consistency nationwide in terms of what's being taught to young players? Do you suspect that there's a vast amount of talent out there going undeveloped due to coaching deficiencies?
The last question is the key, and I think the answer is yes. Baseball is a skill sport. Football and basketball are sports of size and athleticism, but baseball requires more specialized skills that need to be developed over years of practice and, usually, instruction. (Occasionally you get a kid like Byron Buxton who's just preternaturally gifted.) And I think 95% of amateur coaches can't or don't develop. There are exceptions, but we know them because they're so few and far between.
At about what age does it seem like players get locked into mechanics and have a difficult time making more than micro-level adjustments? Or is that more due to the adaptability of the individual than to age?
By 20-21, I think a player's body has developed around his mechanics to the point where changes are difficult.
I remember watching a segment on Real Sports years ago which featured Mike Marshall's school of pitching, featuring radically different mechanics from any I've seen. Is this something you know about? Is he a nut or is he onto something?
Most people in the industry think he's a nut. I just don't think it works for most body types. His biggest success story, Jeff Sparks, threw very hard and couldn't hit the broad side of a barn.
To that end, how much stock do you put in the various supposed red-flag arm positions in deliveries? Reading your chats, it seems like you're more interested in easy and repeatable deliveries than whether a guy's got an inverted W going on or whatnot. Fair?
That's a pretty good summary. And use your lower half, damn it. Short striders and all-arm guys might as well tattoo a scarlet A on their foreheads.
I've also been fascinated by your stance on the efficacy of steroids in regards to actual performance on the field. Even understanding intellectually that there won't be the same one-to-one translation of juicing to improved ability in a skill game like baseball as there is in sports fueled by pure athleticism, I nonetheless viscerally find it hard to wrap my head around the notion that usage doesn't improve performance. Could you briefly lay out what evidence or lack thereof has led you to your conclusions on the matter?
My contentions are: 1. we treat all PEDs as the same, even though, for example, there are studies showing HGH doesn't do much for men under 50; and 2. we don't know to what degree usage of any specific drug affects performance, so we like to pretend they're miracle drugs. I actually think amphetamine use has been more prevalent and has had more of an effect on performance than steroids ... but I can't prove it, or even estimate it, so I have to leave it out of my analyses.
Finally, I'd like to pick your brain a little in regards to sabermetrics. It seems like the new frontier is defensive metrics. What's going to be the new favorite stat of all us amateur nerds in the next few years? Essentially, what's going to be the new WAR?
Teams are working with better batted-ball data than ever right now. If that gets out into the mainstream, it'll be the next frontier.