Travis d’Arnaud, Taylor Teagarden, and The Hangover III, Part 2

In the prequel to this article, I wrote about Travis d’Arnaud’s demotion from the New York Mets to the Las Vegas 51s. He had been hitting like a butterfly in the majors, while Taylor Teagarden had been mashing the ball in the minors. I speculated that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but then Taylor Teagarden made me look foolish by poking an opposite field grand slam in his first start with the Mets.

d’Arnaud went on to murder the ball in Las Vegas, hitting 6 home runs, 8 doubles, and 10 singles in just 59 plate appearances. That’s 24 hits in 15 games. To put that in perspective, d’Arnaud has 24 hits in 40 games with the Mets this season. And he hit with much more power in Vegas than he’s shown at the major league level. Much more power. All told, his stint in the minors produced a ridiculous 1.384 OPS.

So Teagarden mashed in Vegas, then hit a home run in his first game in New York. Travis d’Arnaud mashed in Vegas, then returned to the majors last night, and guess what? He hit a home run! This wasn’t a little opposite-field poke like Teagarden’s home run. This ball was pulled and crushed. So maybe what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas after all. Maybe these guys stop off at the airport gift shop and grab a bag of that dry Vegas air to take with them. Then again, maybe not.

After that big moment in his first game with the Mets, Teagarden cooled off. He became more of an iced-Teagarden. Through 9 games and 30 plate appearances, Teagarden posted an OPS of .450. Yes, it’s a hilariously small sample. It’s also a hilariously bad stretch. OPS is on-base percentage plus slugging. d’Arnaud had a higher on-base percentage than Teagarden’s on-base plus slugging. Whatever.

The question we’re naturally left with is, “What does all of this mean?” Well, pretty much nothing. Nothing conclusive, anyway. These guys can hit home runs in Vegas, and they can hit them in New York. But they’re not going to hit as many in New York because the competition is tougher and the stadiums are bigger. There’s really no way to know whether the stint in Vegas “fixed” Travis d’Arnaud, or whether it simply gave him enough confidence to swing the bat well until his next 0-for-10 stretch. Time will tell. Or it won’t.

If d’Arnaud goes on to have a successful major league career, we won’t know whether it’s because he had a stint in Vegas at the right time, despite his stint in Vegas, or whether the whole thing was completely irrelevant. Cause and effect is a tricky thing to suss out. The good news is that it sounds like Travis made some actual adjustments while he was down there.

Per Wally Backman: “[We] moved his back foot closer to the plate. He was having a hard time hitting the pitch away, but now he can cover the whole plate. If it was that simple all the time, it’d be great. That’s one of the things he wasn’t doing in the big leagues. He needed to clear his head a little bit, come down here, have some success and get some confidence built back up.”

Per Travis: “It was all mental. [I’m] just focusing in on every at-bat like it’s my last at-bat. Not thinking about a hundred different things. Just focusing on one thing and keeping a solid approach on each and every pitch. I kind of went away from that [in the majors]. I feel like my concentration is up and I’m able to focus in easier. I feel good. I’m in a good place.”

 A week ago, that place was Vegas. Now it’s New York. They’re two places with a lot in common at night, but a lot of differences on the baseball field. Hopefully for the Mets and d’Arnaud, what happened in Vegas stays with Travis.

Male and Pale

I was born male and pale. This is not a privilege. My skin burns in the sun and my body is incapable of turning a single cell into a viable human life. If the 15-to-35-year-old me were given the choice, I might have been born female, in the Gina Carano or Venus Williams vein, with a diverse genetic makeup and cool name like Moon Bloodgood. Having said this, if the 15-to-35-year-old female version of me were given the choice, perhaps I would have been born male. I guess the concrete is always greyer on our side of the street.

My actual skin color and gender are accidents of birth. Due to these circumstances, over which I had no control, society has conferred upon me what is called privilege. It is definitely a thing, though I don’t agree that it’s exactly what most people say it is. For the moment, I’m going to ignore the roots of this privilege and focus on exactly what it is.

I can think of two major ways in which we can be privileged.

We can be granted a right which some people are denied.

There are some privileges which we can earn. A driver’s manual tells us that driving is not a right, it’s a privilege. I don’t legally have this privilege because I’ve never taken a road test. Cool. No Problem. That makes sense. If that’s important enough to me, I can take a road test and earn the right to drive. Similarly, I can study for my state’s bar exam and earn the privilege to practice law.

There are other privileges which we do not earn, like walking down the street without being harassed or threatened because of our appearance. I have been threatened because of my skin color on three occasions. I’ve had catcalls aggressively directed at me once or twice. These are small numbers. I can only imagine what it’s like to experience this on a weekly, daily, or constant basis. Freedom from this experience is not a privilege. It’s a right that we all should have. My life is not made better by the fact that someone else’s life is made worse. It’s my opinion that we all suffer for this, though we do not suffer equally.

We can be granted preference over people who are different from us.

I get asked for directions everywhere I go. In Germany they ask in German, in Montreal they ask in French, in Costa Rica they ask in Spanish, and in Sweden they ask in English. I’d like to think that people pick me to ask because of my confident bearing, ability to look at ease in unfamiliar territory, and outstanding memory and spatial awareness. Those could be factors. But the primary reason I get picked is probably because I have pale skin, grey-brown hair, and above-average height.

Getting asked for directions isn’t exactly a big-time privilege. But the same (perhaps subconscious) prejudices that lead people to pick me when asking for directions can also lead them to pick me for more significant things, like a job, a relationship, or president. Life can be a zero-sum game in these situations. While I do not gain anything when someone else is harassed on the street, I do receive material benefit when I get a job after a more-qualified applicant is passed over because of a third person’s prejudice.

It’s essential that I recognize that this is a real thing. It happens. It can go both ways. I’ve been treated as a less authentic taekwondo teacher because I’m not Korean; my acceptance as a yoga teacher has been questioned because I’m male; and I was denied acceptance to one private school because they wanted to reserve their financial aid for “inner city” kids, ignoring the fact that I grew up in a single-parent home in a neighborhood called Hell’s Kitchen. Ultimately, none of these incidents had a significant negative impact on my life. Also, these are three instances across 36 years. It’s easy for me to recall them because there have been so few. In the vast majority of cases, things have swung the other way. I have “benefited” from other people’s prejudice much more than I have suffered from it.

Why do I put “benefited” in quotes? Because, while I 100% accept that I have received undue preference due to prejudice, it’s not something I’ve ever asked for. It’s not something I’ve ever wanted. It does not fill me with joy. It makes me angry. It makes me ask myself, “What can I do about this? How can I get it off of me?” I can literally feel my heart beating with rage as I write this paragraph. Literally! And then I tell myself to breathe. And think. What can I do?

Since I was 9 years old, I’ve wanted to be famous. I never wanted to be like Paris Hilton. Famous for an accident of birth. I never wanted to be a prince. I wanted to be like Doc Gooden. Famous for being awesome. I wanted to be awesome. Just like an objectified actress who wants to be known for her talent rather than her looks, I feel degraded by getting chosen because of my physical appearance. It’s dehumanizing.

This is where we stumble upon the problem of the white dude painting himself as the victim. The problem rests upon the choice of article: definite (the) or indefinite (a). No, I do not think I am the victim. I am a victim. We are all victims of a society where people make important decisions based on unimportant data. Mental checkboxes. Male/female. White/Black/Asian/Latino/Other. Seriously, other? The need for a box marked “other” should tell you that the other boxes are irrelevant. They’re contrived.

Society is fractured by this othering. For people, it always seems to be about us and them. But there is no them. Only us. We are all of us, us. We all lose something when someone is chosen based on something other than their merits. It’s just that some of us lose a lot more. And others of us gain something dirty. Something tainted.

No, I don’t consider this a privilege. It’s a tactical advantage that I do not want.  Short of going all Robert Downey Jr in Tropical Thunder, it’s not something I can just shake off. All I can think to do is be honest that it exists, continue ignoring irrelevant data, and try to avoid things which I do not deserve. I’m open to suggestions.

You can call it privilege. I’ll call it materially-beneficial prejudice. The important thing is that we talk about it.

Travis d’Arnaud, Taylor Teagarden, and The Hangover III

The New York Mets recently demoted their prized catching prospect, Travis d’Arnaud, to the Las Vegas 51s. In his stead, they’ve promoted Taylor Teagarden, a 30-year-old who is the owner of an awesome name, a .950 OPS in Las Vegas (that’s very high), and a contract opt-out clause if he’s not in the majors by June 15. Teagarden is in the majors now, but there’s a good chance that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Specifically, Taylor’s excellent performance in the arid air of Las Vegas is likely to remain his minor league performance, while his performance in the major leagues is likely to remain on the level of a backup catcher. In 518 major league plate appearances, Teagarden has posted a wRC+ of 67 (that’s very bad). This brings us to Travis d’Arnaud’s demotion.

First of all, Travis d’Arnaud is also the owner of an awesome name, a .989 OPS in Las Vegas, and a major league wRC+ of 54 (that’s tragically bad). Beginning with d’Arnaud’s name, I’m sure den Dekker and deGrom are saddened at losing the opportunity to squeeze three lowercase last names onto the same lineup card. (It’s too bad Terry Collins decided not to play den Dekker in center field when d’Arnaud caught deGrom’s last start.) More importantly, d’Arnaud has been awesome in the minor leagues and offensive offensively in the major leagues. Is this just the latest case of a much-hyped prospect not living up to it, or is there more at play here?

When the Mets acquired d’Arnaud for R.A. Dickey after the latter’s 2012 Cy Young campaign, there was much rejoicing in Metland. Sure, many fans were saddened that the Mets had relinquished one of the year’s best pitchers the year after they’d lost the 2011 NL batting champion and the team’s best shortstop ever. But at least they’d gotten something for Dickey. Sandy Alderson came away with one of the best catching prospects in the game (d’Arnaud), a top-flight pitching prospect (Noah Syndergaard) who would wrest the nickname Thor from AAA hero Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and a young lottery ticket outfielder (Wuilmer Becerra).

But where there is rejoicing there should often be concern. While many were envisioning the next coming of Mike Piazza or Gary Carter, some of us were more skeptical of d’Arnaud’s likely outcome as a major leaguer. Here was a guy with strong defensive skills and a potent bat (for a catcher). My concern was never about his talent. It was about his health.

Before being traded for R.A. Dickey, but after being traded for Roy Halladay, d’Arnaud suffered a back injury (2010) and a knee injury (2012). It turns out that he’d also had a pair of concussions somewhere along the line.

Since joining the Mets organization, d’Arnaud has managed to break his left foot (2013) and suffer a third concussion (2014). If we look at the limited sample of his major league performance (257 plate appearances), the most concerning aspect is his lack of power. He has hit for just .079 isolated power (SLG minus AVG). In the minors he was in the .150 to .250 range. It’s normal for a hitter to have a hard time driving the ball against major league pitchers, but this is a steep drop-off. Could his 2013 foot injury be a factor here? Allow me to regale you with a brief tale of hitting stuff.

When I was a 22-year-old taekwondo blue belt, I broke my foot while breaking boards. After a week on crutches, I decided to tape it up and get back in there. I competed in a tournament, where I re-injured my foot in my first fight. Unfortunately, I also won my first fight, so I had to fight again. I couldn’t use my right foot to kick my opponent. I also couldn’t put all of my weight on my right foot, so kicking with the left was out. Punching sounds like a great idea when you’ve got a lower-body injury, except for the fact that power is generated by driving from the legs. Hitting a baseball works the same way. The lower body is used to generate forward momentum. The legs drive the hips, the hips drive the shoulders, and the arms drive the bat through the zone. The wrists do some stuff, too.

To make a long story short (too late!), the foot injury of 2013 probably sapped some of Travis d’Arnaud’s power. Looking at his .219 BABIP, we can assume that he’ll eventually hit for a higher average. His 10.9% walk rate is pretty good-looking as well. The only concerning thing about this is that he’s posted double-digit walk rates at every stop with the Mets (aside from his 6 games in rookie ball), and at zero stops beforehand (when he was a prospect with Philadelphia and then Toronto). It’s possible that the much-maligned Mets hitting philosophy has confused poor Travis and taken away his natural ability to mash. But wait…there’s more!

After a slow start to the season, d’Arnaud suffered his third concussion at the hands (or bat) of Alfonso Soriano. He was placed on the 7-day DL, spent a little bonus time resting, then did a brief stint in the minors. Since returning to the big league ball club, he’s been offensively useless. Mets fans have seen this before. A guy gets hit in the head and it damages his ability to hit a baseball. Ryan Church. Mike Piazza. Sometimes the ability comes back all the way, as in the case of David Wright. Sometimes it doesn’t come back at all. Think Jason Bay. Sorry. You can stop thinking about Jason Bay now.

So what’s the upshot here? Concussions are bad. Real bad. And while they’re bad for everyone, they seem to be particularly bad for people who hit a baseball for a living. When the Mets returned d’Arnaud to the majors, there was hope that he’d start performing better than he had been. But was that a reasonable expectation? It probably would have been if he’d been on the DL with a hang nail, but not after a concussion. It’s doubtful that hitting against AAA pitchers in Las Vegas will help Travis d’Arnaud learn to hit major league pitchers in New York. After all, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. But perhaps it will give him time to more fully recover from his concussion, away from the bright lights of the big city. And since this isn’t a DL stint, the Mets won’t have to pay him a major league salary or burn through his service time while he plays in the minors. When dealing with a top prospect, money and service time shouldn’t be the primary concern for the organization. But with this regime, it always seems to be a big factor.

Speaking of hope, there is another: Kevin Plawecki, a not-so-ballyhooed catching prospect who has been wearing out AA pitching this year. d’Arnaud might have to watch his back while he’s vacationing in Vegas, lest he find himself second on the depth chart.

Forced Contemplation

I do some of my best writing when it’s least convenient. Perhaps I do the majority of my writing this way. I do it on planes and trains and buses and foot. All of the places where I am limited in activities to contemplation and observation. Those are the places where I do my best thinking and idea gathering.

Whether you’re a writer or some other kind of thinker, I recommend taking your body on a trip to nowhere when you want to take your mind somewhere special.

So Yeah, About That Buddhathon…

The words EPIC FAIL come to mind. Apparently, they come to mind in such an epic fashion as to require bold, italicsand CAPS. Right. I have two competing thoughts when it comes to analyzing why I failed at something:

  1. What mistakes did I make and how can I avoid them in the future?
  2. Don’t dwell on the past.

The truth is, these thoughts are not really competing. The analysis begins with a review of what happened. It continues with the consideration of how I can improve my process. Then it ends. That’s it. The analysis is over and it’s time for new action. So let’s try to follow that process.

Why did I fail? Let me count the ways.

  • I tried to do too many difficult things at once. It’s reasonable to set a single difficult goal, or a set of simpler goals. But creating a set of difficult goals is folly. I’m big on folly.
  • I tried to sell a product before it was finished and before I had developed the proper infrastructure. Either/or may have been okay. Combining both was a mistake.
  • overused italics.
  • I ignored how much work I had to do in addition to the goals on my list. In other words, I overestimated my free time.

How can I avoid these mistakes? I’ve got a few ideas. Some of them are even serious.

  • Set fewer and/or more reasonable goals. Less folly.
  • Enjoy the proper use of less and fewer more often and use italics less often or in fewer instances.
  • Make fun of myself for being a grammar and usage nit who loathes dictionaries and everything “proper.”
  • Avoid tangents.
  • Accurately assess how much work I have to do outside of the goals I’m setting.
  • Something about italics.

Don’t dwell on the past. What’s the easiest way to avoid dwelling on past failures? Set new goals for success! In the next 3 weeks, I’d like to:

  • Lose 1 pound a day. (Playing poker in British currency does not count.)
  • Finish the rest of Critical Concepts. (Those italics are legit, yo.)
  • Play some poker. (Playing poker in British currency does count.)

That’s all doable, right?


Fuck my life.

My inner self-non-loather would like to remind me that in the month of February, I did play some poker, relaunch a website, and publish 28,000 words, including two booklets and a series of articles. So maybe the “epic” in fail should only be in italics, bold, or CAPS. Go me.

Buddhathon Week 1

I’m just 8 days into my Buddhathon and I’ve already discovered what a wonderful and stupid idea I’ve come up with. That’s pretty much how I roll, so I should just deal with it.

On the poker front, I’ve played a little more than 10,000 hands. That’s not exactly on pace to hit 100,000 by the end of the month, but goals are made to be broken. Or is that rules? The list of excuses is formidable:

  1. I never play more than 6 tables.
  2. It takes up to 30 minutes to get 6 tables running on NJparty.
  3. NJparty bumps me off every 90 minutes, forcing me to get new tables.
  4. NJparty often crashes before 90 minutes, just for fun.
  5. is even worse than NJparty.
  6. Sometimes there are fewer than 6 tables of the stakes I play.
  7. The other sites are worse and/or have less traffic.
  8. I made two videos and wrote a book.

Now that I’ve sufficiently buried the lead, let me tell you about my new book. It’s more of a booklet, really. 8,000 words. It’s called Turn Your Hand Into A Bluff, it’s available on Leanpub, and it’s a collaboration between me and Dusty Schmidt. It’s about turning your hand into a bluff. More specifically, I get into The Math of how you decide whether your hand has more value at showdown or as a bluff. There’s also a section titled The Not Math. That part’s filled with guidelines to help you find the best play without crunching a lot of numbers.

This is Part 2 of Poker In Practice: Critical Concepts, and as such it contains 10 real-life hands, thoroughly dissected. It’s just $2.99, so it’s a bit of a steal. That’s funny, because, like, bluffing.

Anyway… back to the grind. At a minimum, I want to push my way through $.10/$.25 this month. I’ve been running like garbage, suffering from “they always have aces” syndrome, or TAHA, but things will turn around. They always do. Small sample size and all that.

February Buddhathon 2014

January is over. The Year of the Horse is here. That means this immovable object is getting ready to become an unstoppable force.

February is my least favorite month. Good thing it’s short. 28 days. Four years ago, I managed to do something pretty useful with 28 days. I did this Grindathon, where I locked myself in my apartment building and played 200+ hours of poker, made 28 poker videos, and did 28 video blogs. I raised a few grand for some causes and made ten times that playing poker. It was a good month.

So yeah. I’m gonna do that again. I’m playing smaller stakes these days. It’s part of my 2014 poker plan. I want to put up statistically significant winning samples at every limit from $.05/$.10 through $5/$10. Ideally, I’d like to get even higher than that. Maybe I’m dreaming.

In January, I eked out 31k hands of nickel and dime with an 8.90 bb/100 win rate. My all-in EV adjusted win rate was 13.62. That gives me 99.8% confidence that I’m beating that limit. I’m gonna call that statistically significant and move on up to $.10/$.25.

Dime and quarter poker is still the micro-stakes, but I imagine there are more decent players there. Weren’t many of those at nickel and dime. Regardless, I hope to give the limit a sound thrashing for 50k hands and then play another 50k hands at $.25/$.50. That’s where you can almost start making some money to live off of.

So if that’s my February – 200 hours, 100k hands, and pushing through 2 limits – then in March I’ll be ready for $.50/$1. Maybe that’s optimistic. I’d call that an upper-quartile outcome. I need to run good, play well, and keep improving. Still, it doesn’t sound like that much of a challenge, does it? Let’s make it harder, then.

I’m also going to spend about 90 hours working on four new poker booklets, Parts 2 through 5 of Poker In Practice: Critical Concepts. That’s a lot of writing and not a lot of time. I can write between 500 and 2000 words per hour (or up to 3600 if it’s just a stream of consciousness), so the actual writing won’t take a terribly long time. Maybe 30-odd hours. But then there is editing, proofreading, publishing, and shameless self-promotion to think about. All in all, it’s a lot of work.

We’re still only looking at 280 hours of work, which is a 70-hour work week. So let’s tack on up to 7 new poker videos for DragTheBar. We’re three hours in and I’ve already knocked one of those off the list, so maybe this will be easy.

Then again, probably not.

Why Leanpub

I woke up this morning to see we’d sold 18 copies of Pay Attention To Bet Sizing, along with 2 copies of Poker In Practice: Critical Concepts. That’s not bad for the first day, especially considering promotion consisted of a few blogs, tweets, and facebook posts.

The less exciting news was that one of our early readers had uncovered a mistake. A flop was missing along with the action on that street. I was frustrated to have this error in the text, given the several rounds of editing and proofreading we had performed.

Editing is actually the source of many typos and errors. The writer writes the sentence just fine, then decides to change a few words, but leaves some unwanted artifacts of the original structure. That’s why we need to perform a round of proofreading after every round of edits.

With Pay Attention To Bet Sizing, we went through multiple formats, and that’s where we lost the flop. I should say that’s where I lost the flop, because I’m the one who extracted the content from my original Word document and stuck it into Markdown. It was a joy writing in Markdown, which is the format necessary for Leanpub. It’s much more straightforward and literal than writing in Word, which hides a lot of information from you in its WYSIWYG interface. Markdown is lean.

It would be easy to blame this error on Leanpub, because if I didn’t have to convert to Markdown, I never would have lost the flop. But this error demonstrates the strength of Leanpub, and a large part of the reason we’re using it for the first releases of our books.

20 people had already purchased a copy of this version 1.0 with the mistake in it. If this was the final version and they had bought it on Amazon, I would have little chance to contact them and get them a fixed copy. I could put the errata on Poker In Practice, but I would be unable to get a corrected version in their hands. Enter Leanpub.

After learning about the error, I took the following actions:

  1. Check the PDF to verify it was wrong.
  2. Check the original Word document to find the right information.
  3. Correct the mistake in Markdown on Leanpub.
  4. Correct a formatting issue that was bugging me.
  5. Publish the new version of Pay Attention To Bet Sizing.
  6. Email everyone who had purchased a copy to notify them of version 1.1. They can now download an updated PDF, MOBI, or EPUB.
  7. Repeated steps 3-6 for Poker In Practice: Critical Concepts, since we’ve essentially published the same material twice already.

After 15 minutes of noodling around on my computer, I had released new versions of two books, contacted 20 people about the changes (allowing them to download version 1.1), and instituted a new policy as follows:

The first person to notify us of any legitimate error in one of our lean published books will received a free copy of the next booklet we release. This applies to actual mistakes, not words I make up like expondicate or opinions about ranges and stuff like that. We’d still like to hear about all of those things. So expondicate on them at Poker In Practice!

I’m not totally in love with everything about Leanpub, but now that I know how everything works over there, I’m convinced it’s the best available method for quickly distributing written content. If you’ve been thinking about starting a writing project but you’re not sure how to get it going and get it out there, I suggest you give it a whirl on Leanpub.

Pay Attention To Bet Sizing

I’ve been a busy bee.

Aside from playing and studying lots of poker (more on that in my end-of-the-month post), I’ve finally managed to hack through Skynet’s defenses and get my new written poker product posted for purchase.

“What’s this written poker product?” you might ask. (You might not ask, but I’m sitting alone in front of the computer, so I pretend you’re asking anything I’d like. And yes, how thoughtful; I would like a cookie.)

Pay Attention To Bet Sizing. It’s Part 1 of Poker In Practice: Critical Concepts. I’ve written it with the help of my Don’t Listen To Phil Hellmuth co-author, Dusty Schmidt. We used 10 of his real-life hands to illustrate this most critical concept of No Limit Holdem.

“Where can I get this and how much does it cost?” You can click on either book title above to follow the links over to Leanpub, or you can visit my publishing home on Part 1: Pay Attention To Bet Sizing is a whopping $2.99. That’s two hundred and ninety nine pennies! (Though we prefer paypal.)

“Why is it so cheap?” At roughly 8200 words, it’s more of a booklet than a book. That’s why I referred to it as a written poker product. It’s a complete idea. A thorough treatment of a single subject.

“How many parts are there?” So far, just the one is finished. But there are eight more already in the pipeline, at various stages of development. Our plan is to polish up one of these each week and send it out into the world. So the full book, Poker In Practice: Critical Concepts, is available for pre-order on Leanpub for $19.99. If you buy that, you’ll get weekly updates with new sections and edits on prior ones. Once we’re completely finished with the series, we’ll probably bump the price up to $29.99 or something, but we’ll see how it turns out first before deciding on a final price point.

I’m very excited to be releasing written content again. The best thing I can say about the booklet is that I gained a tremendous amount of confidence in my bet sizing by writing the piece. So if writing it helped me that much, I hope reading it can do the same for you.