After the Divorce.

Italian author Grazia Deledda won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1926, the second woman to win that honor, the second Italian to do so, and the first Italian prose writer to win it. (There have been 113 winners, six of them from Italy, but four of the winners won for poetry or drama.) Her work focused largely on portraits of regional, peasant life in her native Sardinia, a Mediterranean island that is an autonomous region within Italy, with its own indigenous language and unique history, and a relatively strong economy today that, prior to World War II, was poorer and more driven by agriculture and mining. Deledda’s works, including her 1902 novel After the Divorce ($2 on Kindle), tend to put ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances so Deledda can display or criticize social mores, such as the economic disadvantage of being a woman in Italy at the center of this book.

Giovanna and Constantino are a young, happily married couple with an infant son whose unremarkable lives are shattered when Constantino is arrested for and convicted of the murder of his cruel, abusive uncle. A new law passed in Italy shortly after the trial allows a woman to divorce a husband who has been convicted of a crime and jailed, so Giovanna does so, under duress, and marries the neighboring landowner who has been lusting for her for years but whom she rejected prior to marrying Constantino. The marriage is a disaster, of course, and eventually the truth of the murder comes to light and Constantino is released to return to his village, where he and Giovanna begin an affair that leads, almost inevitably, to tragedy.

Although the end of After the Divorce doesn’t quite match the common ending of early novels on the same theme – Madame Bovary, The Awakening, and Anna Karenina all mine somewhat similar material – the novel is still at heart about how women of that era lacked economic power. When Constantino was jailed with no real hope of parole or acquittal, Giovanna has no way to feed herself or her child, and becomes a burden on her own money-obsessed mother.

Deledda never blames her protagonist, instead creating the framework of Shakespearean tragedies to put her core characters on a collision course with each other that you know will end badly for at least one of them. There’s no real way out of the mess short of someone dying; under the law, Giovanna is married to the vile neighbor, Brontu, who, along with his mother, treats her as a servant, and can’t divorce him to return to her first husband now that he’s free. Yet the culture of the time presented no avenue for her to earn any living, and the trial wiped out her family’s only source of income. It’s a feminist novel that predates most feminist literature; even The Awakening, which I think is one of the earliest examples of that genre, has a protagonist driven to infidelity by boredom (inflicted on her by a society that won’t let her do anything with her mind) rather than economic need. Deledda here seems to be describing an injustice of the time, one that might feel a little quaint today but was a real issue in much of Christendom before the post-World War II liberalization of laws around marriage and civil rights.

I’ve seen a few references to this book or Deledda in general as antecedents of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet, but I didn’t see the similarity; Ferrante, who writes under a pseudonym and has avoided nearly all media, hasn’t mentioned that this was an influence, and other than the setting there doesn’t seem to be a common thread here. If you liked Ferrante’s novels, you could certainly give Deledda a spin, but I wouldn’t say liking one indicates that you’ll like the other.

Next up: I’ve finished Margaret Wilson’s The Able McLaughlins, a Puliter winner, and am now reading Anna Smaill’s weird, dystopian novel The Chimes.

The Last Days of Night.

Graham Moore won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2015 for his work on The Imitation Game, particularly impressive for a first-time screenwriter with just that and one novel under his belt at the time. His second novel, The Last Days of Night, came out last August and just appeared in paperback this spring, and is about as good a work of popular, contemporary fiction as I’ve come across.

Moore takes the term historical novel to a new extreme here, creating a coherent narrative around the War of Currents of the late 1800s – the public dispute over whether the nation’s power grid should run on direct current, favored by Thomas Edison, or alternating current, favored by Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse – by relying on the historical record as much as possible for descriptions of characters, scenes, and even dialogue. This type of novel typically makes me uncomfortable because it potentially puts words and thoughts in the mouths of real-life personages, potentially coloring or distorting our impressions of them; Moore includes an appendix explaining source materials for many of the depictions in the book, even explaining the origins of some of the dialogue, and also delineating which events and timelines in the book are real and which he created or rearranged to fit the narrative. I’ve read “non-fiction” books that played faster and looser with the truth than Moore does here in his work of fiction.

The War of Currents was kind of a big deal, and a lot more public than you’d expect a scientific debate to be, largely because the two figures at the center of it, Edison and Westinghouse, were both famous and powerful at the time – Edison the revered inventor and showman, Westinghouse the successful businessman and an inventor in his own right, the two embroiled in a public dispute over whether DC or AC was the safer choice for the nation’s emerging electrical grid. (AC was the inarguably superior technology, and eventually won out, but not necessarily for the ‘right’ reasons.) Moore wraps this battle, including the bizarre entrance of one Harold Brown, inventor of the electric chair, into the debate, in the larger one over who really invented the incandescent light bulb, spicing things up a little bit with some fictional details like the firebombing of Tesla’s laboratory and a hostile takeover of Edison’s company.

Told from the perspective of Paul Cravath, a young attorney who handled Westinghouse’s side of the various lawsuits back and forth between him and Edison and later founded the Council on Foreign Relations, The Last Days of Night manages to turn what could have been dry history into a suspenseful, fast-paced novel (aided by lots of short chapters) populated by well-rounded characters. Edison’s depiction might be a little too on the nose, but Westinghouse, Cravath, and even the enigmatic Tesla – whose Serbian-accented English is recreated in clever fashion by Moore, who explains his technique in the appendix – come to life on the page in three dimensions even with the limitations of their roles. Moore relied largely on historical information to flesh out the characters, with the main exception of Agnes Huntington, Cravath’s wife, on whom there was very little documentation, leading Moore (or perhaps simply allowing him) to create her backstory and eventual romance with Cravath out of whole cloth. The trick allows Moore to give the book its one proper female character, since the War of Currents was fought entirely by men in domains – science and the law – that were closed to women until the last century.

I found the pace of Last Days a little frenetic, definitely aimed more at the popular end of the market than the literary end; events move quickly, as Moore compressed almost a decade into about two years, and the book has short chapters and tons of dialogue to keep up the velocity. That meant I tore through the book but found it a little balanced towards action over meaning; there was just less to ponder, especially after the book was over, but I also never wanted to put the book down because there are so few points where the pace slackens. That makes it a rarity for me – a book I could recommend to anyone who likes fiction, regardless of what sort of fiction you like.

Next up: Still playing catchup with reviews; I’ve finished Grazia Deledda’s After the Divorce ($2 on Kindle) and Margaret Wilson’s The Able McLaughlins, and am now reading Anna Smaill’s weird, dystopian novel The Chimes.

Klawchat, 7/27/17.

I’ll be in Chicago this weekend, speaking over lunch at the Standard Club (a ticketed event) and then signing books that evening at Volumes Book Cafe.

Keith Law: I’m on track, like a Long Island train. Klawchat.

Sean: With the Sonny Gray situation do you think the A’s should take the best offer now or wait until the offseason hoping a better market develops?
Keith Law: I don’t think they HAVE to take the best offer now; if they feel like they’re not getting sufficient return, they can and should wait. But I think they will get an offer they like.

Dodgers catchers: Do you like Keibert Ruiz or Will Smith more? Do you think both make it as catchers?
Keith Law: Ruiz has a lot more offensive upside than Smith, but lower probability. Smith is more advanced on defense right now; I think Ruiz is more bat-first.

Jack: JP Crawford has gotta be a september callup this year right?
Keith Law: Depends. A month ago, he hadn’t done anything to justify a callup. If he keeps hitting AND playing hard AND shows better defense, then yes.

Noah: Is Turang your early favorite to go 1-1 next year?
Keith Law: He’s a possible candidate for 1-1, not an early favorite. Don’t think there is a favorite in this class.

International: One thing that’s always intrigued be is that despite the fact that the Dominican Republic and Haiti are the same island we see so few players come from Haiti, do you have any insight into why that is? Are they truly that different from a socioeconomic standpoint?
Keith Law: Same island, different countries, cultures, and languages. They play baseball as kids in the DR everywhere on the island, but don’t in Haiti. Players with Haitian ancestry have all grown up in the DR (I think).

brian snitker: is Dansby’s demotion too early or too late?
Keith Law: It is short-sighted and unnecessary. When you’re building, you don’t demote your long-term shortstop in favor of short-term assets (Phillips, Adams) or flashes in the pan (Camargo). It’s really out of character for Atlanta, who’ve done almost everything for the long term.

Nick: What’re your thoughts on the Neshek trade?
Keith Law: Phillies got three useful pieces, none elite prospects, nobody in the Rockies’ top 15 or so. Requena is the most intriguing because it sounds like he can stay a starter and he’s pitched well in a horrible home environment (Asheville). Hammer is a one-pitch reliever with a high spin rate on the FB. Gomez is probably a good utility infielder; if he got on base more, I’d like him as a potential regular at 2b.

Nick: As a Phillies fan, I’m really frustrated by managements commitment to Tommy Joseph. Why won’t they just bench him and play Hoskins???
Keith Law: I think they were hoping they’d get something for Joseph in trade. That seems unlikely now.

Ed: What do you do to keep your knives sharp? Steel, steel + something else, send them out every once in a while.
Keith Law: I have a small knife sharpener recommended by Michael Ruhlman (et al) that I use maybe twice a year.

Johnny Lee: In your opinion, what Blue jays should do before this 7/31?
Keith Law: Sell anyone unlikely to be part of the 2019 Jays. Wouldn’t sell Stroman, which I’ve seen suggested on the interwebs, in what appears to be a buyer’s market.

Jon: Giolito with another strong outing, of course on the heels of a few lesser ones. How much longer until we see him in the CHW rotation in a lost year?
Keith Law: I expect he’ll be up in September. Reports I’ve gotten have generally been positive on the stuff but varied start to start on his delivery. I would love to see him in the majors working with Don Cooper regularly, once they feel like they can trust his delivery enough that he’ll come up and be around the zone.

Sour beer: Yadier Alvarez or Mitch White?
Keith Law: Alvarez by a small and decreasing margin.

David: Duane Underwood Jr has the lively arm and athleticism, but has never put it together. Do you try him as a reliever or let him continue to eat up a 40 man spot and try and make it happen as a starter?
Keith Law: I’d try him as a reliever, with the possibility of returning him to the rotation one day if he ever fulfills his physical projection. But you’re right – it’s not happening yet.

Justen: Pirates had a triple SS promotion last week with Kevin Newman, Cole Tucker and Stephen Alemais all moving up a level. Know you’ve been bullish on Newman and he seems to be hitting better of late. Do they have anything with the other two guys?
Keith Law: I like Tucker – missed a year with shoulder surgery, bit slow coming back, great kid, very good athlete, still young for AA and probably spends most of 2018 there.

Terrence (Atlanta): KLaw, what’s the report on this kid Flexen starting for the Mets tonight?
Keith Law: I had a note on him here:

Toby: Josh Naylor seems to be acclimateing well to AA, has he put his maturity issues behind him?
Keith Law: I haven’t heard anything about that, but his body is getting somewhat worse. I think he’s going to have to work to avoid becoming a DH.

Bob: How excited should we be in Padre-land about Michel Baez and Adrian Morejon? Which are you higher on?
Keith Law: Morejon is a 3-pitch guy right now, and LH, but Baez has size and hasn’t had Morejon’s injury scare this year. I prefer Morejon.

James : In April you wrote that Amed Rosario has “so much bat speed and strength … that he should eventually hit 15-20 homers.” Assuming he ever gets called up, is that still your expectation for him? Which young SS is he most comparable to (Lindor, Correa, Bogaerts, Seager)?
Keith Law: Yes, I think he’ll peak in that power range. I don’t like player comps; he’s his own guy.

Kyle KS: Is Bader a CF long term or destined for a corner? I thought it was odd that he was starting there over Pham who has performed well in CF in a small sample.
Keith Law: Bader looks much better than expected in CF, but I think the standard for CF defense is so high right now that he’ll eventually end up bumped by someone better (like Sierra).

Greg: Hey Keith, I was wondering what your general outlook was on the Pirates’ current state. On one hand, they have a good, young, controllable core in place (Polanco, Marte, Bell, Taillon, Rivero, etc). On the other hand, they still seem to be a few pieces away from being legitimate contenders. If you were Neal Huntington, would you aggressively pursue trades for Cole/McCutchen/Harrison now or in the winter, or would you stay the course, hope for better luck and try to win within next 2 years? Thanks!
Keith Law: I would aggressively pursue trades for those guys, targeting players in or near to the majors rather than more total talent that’s further away. I don’t think they need to consider a total rebuild.

Jesse: Who is the greatest prospect you have ever seen in person that did not make it in the majors?
Keith Law: I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone like a Brien Taylor, who is pretty clearly the biggest prospect ‘bust’ of all time – he was as good a pitching prospect as scouts of that generation had seen, and of course was derailed by an injury suffered in a bar fight (and I think is now in jail?). I saw Wade Townsend once as an amateur and his shit was ridiculous, but we know what happened there. Delmon Young was a pretty big disappointment too, but, in hindsight, I think his advantage was that he was so physically mature at 18.
Keith Law: Sorry, that answer required a little research.

addoeh: Baseball seems to be slowly turning into a situation where most at bats end with either a HR, K, or BB. It was frustrating trying to watch Tuesday’s Cubs-White Sox game because of it (even with Hawk Harrelson getting angry). Is there a solution?
Keith Law: I think it’s a problem, and I would say raise the bottom of the strike zone.

Randy: Walker Buehler rebounded nicely last night, first game just a fluke? Should the Dodgers bring him up for help out of the pen in the playoffs?
Keith Law: I believe that is their plan. I wasn’t at either game; I assume the first outing (where he couldn’t retire a batter) was a fluke.

Twflan: To what do you attribute to Kris Bryant’s relative inability to hit well with RISP this year? I know RBI’s are a silly stat these days and very situational based on your teammates getting on base, but KB has not done as well as expected in those situations…
Keith Law: Typical random fluctuation. Player performance is not uniform.

Collin Jones: The returns for the early trades have been quite underwhelming? Is that a sense of what the market is this year, or am I undervaluing the prospects involved?
Keith Law: Multiple execs have told me it’s a buyer’s market, so the returns are all coming back light.

Rachel Failla: Do you think, in our lifetimes, we’ll see a trans professional baseball player? It seems we’ve just started making progress into openly gay athletes in pro. sports, but Trump’s comments yesterday frighten me into believing trans tolerance/understanding isn’t being improved, rather taking a step backwards.
Keith Law: I think we’ll see an openly gay player in the next five years. I don’t know about a trans player, primarily because I think societal acceptance of transgender rights (or transgenderism as an inborn condition, rather than a mental illness) is so far behind acceptance even of gay & lesbian rights.

Adam: Kumar Rocker or Ethan Hankins?
Keith Law: No idea. It’s way too early for that.

Adam: I’m not sure if I missed it, but did you do a writeup on the Royals, Padres trade? Or were there not enough prospects involved for your coverage?
Keith Law: Not significant enough of a trade. Couple of spare parts for the Royals, future starter for the Padres (Strahm) and a nice lottery-ticket bat with a good swing (Ruiz).

Nate: Keith, is there a non-zero chance Casey Gillaspie turns into an average major leaguer?
Keith Law: Non-zero, but low, under 20%. I thought he was a 2nd/3rd round talent in the draft – below average athlete, first base only, strong kid but didn’t use his legs at all in his swing, making the power suspect.

Jay: Over the past few weeks Cornelius Randolph has brought his line up to .255/.350, with a little more power. (10 HR Now) I know he’s stuck in a corner OF spot, do you believe he might be throwing off the title of “failed prospect”?
Keith Law: I dislike using the past tense on a player who hasn’t clearly ‘failed,’ either through release or many years of non-performance. You could call Randolph a failing prospect, or a disappointing prospect. I don’t think anything he’s done the last few weeks changes the outlook for him; the last two scouts I asked about him came back with similarly negative views, a position-less guy without the elite hit and/or power tools he’d need. (I do or at least did like his swing last year. Really surprised he hasn’t at least hit for some average.)

@RationalMLBfan: Just read Smart Baseball very thoroughly–good book! Questions about Stolen Bases chapter. (1) Is there a database that separates out normal caught stealing with hit-and-run? (2) From a sabermetrics perspective, is the hit-and-run play a good play or does it put artificial pressure on the hitter to make contact (and possibly reduce the quality of batted ball contact), which negates any benefit of distorting the defense moving to cover the SB attempt?
Keith Law: I don’t think so on 1, because someone would have to identify those manually (subjectively) and code them as such. That means any answer to 2 won’t be derived from data, but I know Earl Weaver, among others, disdained the hit-and-run for the reason you cited – you’re forcing a swing on the hitter rather than leaving swing/no-swing decision to him to make based on the pitch.

ECinDC: Erick Fedde is getting called up to start for an injured Stras. What can we expect?
Keith Law: I think he’s more likely a reliever in the long run. Everything he throws is hard, so there’s a fringy changeup and he’s had trouble separating the breaking balls. It’s reliever feel.

Lee D, LA: Keith, two weeks ago you answered my question about “upgrading Chris Taylor” by suggesting they replace him with Verdugo. Taylor is now at .320/.388/.541 in almost 300 ABs, and only 26 years old. Still think this is a SSS phenomenon?
Keith Law: Yes, I do. His BABIP is .427. That would be the third-best BABIP for a hitter who qualified for the batting title in MLB history, behind Ty Cobb in 1911 and Joe Jackson in … oh, 1911, there you go. (In fact, no one has topped .410 since 1924, but Taylor and Ben Gamel are both over that mark right now.

Brian: What is Ronald Guzman’s ceiling in your opinion? Everyday regular?
Keith Law: Ceiling is above-average regular. Feel pretty good about him being an everyday guy.

Mac: Hi Keith. How do you justify eating meat to aggressive vegans? I never feel like my responses counter their concerns about animals. I’m not changing, but I’d just love to have a good argument. Thanks!
Keith Law: I don’t. I don’t think I need to justify my food choices to anyone but myself – and arguing meat-eating with “aggressive vegans” would be like talking religion to an atheist or atheism to a devout person. It’s just not worth the time.

Frankur: When you went to the SFG game with google, were the google employees fighting each other to see who would get to sit next to you?
Keith Law: They rotated seats. It was all quite civil. Now, if they’d been Bing people, that might have been a different story.

Mark: What is wrong with Steven Matz? Traditional numbers and peripherals are both terrible.
Keith Law: Don’t think he’s fully healthy. That’s been his story his entire pro career, unfortunately.

TJ: Is there something to this idea that Chance Adams can’t make it through the batting order three times? He’s had success at every level.
Keith Law: I haven’t heard that about him. He’s pretty good, better than I had him coming out of last year. What I get back on him that’s negative is generally about his height and lack of FB plane – but he’s a Yankee, so he’ll come up and throw a ton of offspeed stuff, mitigating any concerns (if they’re real) about the FB.

Dorn: You’re obviously down on Austin Meadows, but lets assume he comes back and finishes the year strong and healthy. Does that put him back to where you had him preseason?
Keith Law: I’m not down on him; he’s been hurt on and off this year and hasn’t performed at all. Everyone (team sources) who saw my top 50 before I published it indicated he didn’t belong.

Brett: Atlanta promoted Luiz Gohara to AAA today. Are you a fan of the move? What do you think his ceiling could be?
Keith Law: #2 starter. I guess you could argue it’s ace stuff and size but he’s never indicated that he’ll have that kind of command/control.

Nate: Thoughts on Jordan Luplow?
Keith Law: Good kid with some power and a bit of length to his swing.

James: Matt Strahm – starter or reliever for the Friars?
Keith Law: Starter once he’s healthy again. He’ll be in the ideal ballpark for developing as a starter.

Joe: Keith, it is unrealistic for the Orioles to land a Chapman/Miller package for Britton?
Keith Law: If they put him out there they should demand a package like that.

Manu: Is it possible to see Acuña in ATL this year?
Keith Law: I bet he and Gohara come up in September.

JR: Conforto on pace to hit 30 HRs (and that is with a stint on the DL and the Mets dinking around with his playing time early season). Would you be surprised if he had some 40 HR seasons (assuming he gets his name in the lineup almost every day)?
Keith Law: I would definitely be surprised – and I’ve always been a Conforto guy. Thought he’d hit .300/.400 AVG/OBP but didn’t foresee 30+ HR power.

David: Who is the worst prospect you have seen that became a star in the majors?
Keith Law: I don’t think anyone who’s been a ‘terrible’ prospect has been a star; I can think of guys I didn’t rate highly who became stars, and guys like Kinsler (whom I never saw as a prospect) who were late picks and always old for the levels but turned into stars.

Peet: So how does next year’s draft class compare to others, overall? Thanks!
Keith Law: It looks stronger, especially on the HS side.

David: Did you expect Hunter Renfroe to look this bad in the majors? Is he really just Jeff Francouer without the speed and defense?
Keith Law: He has always had two issues – bat speed is just fair, and he does not see breaking stuff well. So I’m not shocked at the struggles. I’m more shocked by Margot’s numbers.
Keith Law: Sorry, just found out a cousin of mine passed away yesterday, in her 70s I think – very sweet person who helped me reconnect with a branch of the family we’d lost contact with years ago. What a bummer.

Mike: Are the Orioles *trying to injure DylanBundy?
Keith Law: I have not liked or understood their handling of him going back to last spring. They knew he had calcification in his shoulder, they knew his injury history, and the moment he started hitting 95 in relief, they put him back in the rotation and had him going 100 pitches an outing – and did it again this year. It’s a shame. He would be on my very short list of the best HS pitchers I’ve ever seen live.

Otto: Who do you like better for the next 10 years. Manuel Margot or Andrew Benitendi? Thanks
Keith Law: Benintendi.

Mark: Blake Rutherford – second division regular or 4th OF?
Keith Law: I’m not willing to downgrade him that much just yet. It’s not the year we expected from him, but the swing is still really good and he has a solid approach.

Jay: Given Bo Bichette’s numbers, have we ever seen a prospect ever come in and hold batting averages as high as he has since being drafted?
Keith Law: I’m sure we have. Look at what his brother did that first summer. Kinsler hit like .420 or so in low-A.

Tim F: Can you critique Paul DeJong of the Cards – is his current play an outlier or can he be a solid professional shortstop? Thanks.
Keith Law: Of course his current play is an outlier (2% walk rate, 31% K rate, .300+ ISO) – but he’s definitely a big leaguer of some sort, maybe not an everyday shortstop but either a regular at 2b/3b or a multi-position regular.

John: If you had to hitch your horse to a tall Yankee pitching prospect — is Domingo Acevedo or Frecier Perez the guy to bet on?
Keith Law: Perez. Acevedo’s delivery is really rough. He can’t repeat it.

Zirinsky: Keith: What’s going on with Mateo? SSS or did the (undeserved) promotion cause something to click?
Keith Law: He looked pretty good the other day – bat speed was good, hit that HR I tweeted about, made one really great play at short, then didn’t run out a grounder and half-assed a throw on a routine play that the 1b had to scoop. I do not know this firsthand, but I have a feeling he was moping in high-A and started to play harder after the promotion. The player I saw on Wednesday should not have hit .240/.280/.whatever in high-A.

Carlin: Been reading rumors about the A’s coveting a CF prospect for Gray and scouting Florial heavily. Even speaking as a Yankees fan, isn’t Florial a really underwhelming centerpiece for the a top-of-the-roto guy?
Keith Law: He should be the second piece, not the first. 30% K rate and just generally raw. He’s like a Cameron Maybin sort of prospect – enormous upside due to his physical gifts, but a long way to go as a player.

HugoZ: Why should we be so exercised about Swanson’s demotion if he’s likely to be brought back on Sept. 1?
Keith Law: Because of the philosophy behind it – it seems to be entirely driven by recency bias and an emphasis on winning, what, one or two extra games this year?

Gene Mullett: Have you ever been really excited to try a restaurant or something by a celebrity chef & been disappointed? Care to share?
Keith Law: Spotted Pig in NYC. I have her cookbook and liked a few recipes from it. Meal was disappointing start to finish.

Keith Law: I’m throwing a post-chat bonus answer here, because I saw a few tweets asking about this but didn’t see a question in the chat queue (I never even get to see them all because you guys ask so many, and thanks for that). People are asking if I think Luis Severino is a starter now, because he’s having an amazing season as a starter. My concern on him was always delivery-related; pitchers who don’t rely on their lower halves tend to break down and/or have trouble with command. Severino’s delivery was all arm – like Reynaldo Lopez’s, like JB Bukauskas’s, two other guys with starter stuff and track records but reliever-ish mechanics. Severino is bigger now, and throwing a ton of sliders, a pitch that is much better than it was when I saw him as a prospect (and better than I projected it to become). So yes, he’s a damn good starter right now, even though I don’t know if he’s changed the way he uses his legs at all. I hope he is using his lower half more so that he can pitch like this for a long time.

Keith Law: Gotta wrap this up for a phone call – sorry to cut it a bit short this week. I will be in Bristol on Monday for our BBTN trade deadline show that afternoon, and will probably not chat now for two weeks. Thank you as always for all of your questions. I hope to meet many of you this weekend in Chicago!

Pig Tales.

Barry Estabrook’s Pig Tales: An Omnivore’s Quest for Sustainable Meat didn’t make me a vegetarian or cause me to stop eating pork, but it has certainly reinforced a lot of things I was already doing to try to avoid contributing to our food-industrial complex. Estabrook exposes some of the worst practices in the pork industry, including inhumane treatment of pigs, widespread doping of animals with antibiotics, and terrible pollution that ruins surrounding neighborhoods. Estabrook’s point is that animal husbandry doesn’t have to be that way, but he doesn’t quite get around to saying that this would involve Americans accepting that meat shouldn’t be cheap.

Pig Tales is structured in a predictable way: here’s the setup, here are all the bad practices (some awful, some merely objectionable), here’s the cost of the modern meat-production complex, here are a few folks doing it the right way. It’s certainly effective, and Estabrook is a skilled storyteller. You can’t read about the horrible conditions in which factory-farmed pigs are raised – in cages where they can barely move, sitting in their own excretions, covered in sores – without at least wondering if there’s a better way (unless you’re a sociopath, I guess). I thought his descriptions of local efforts to combat pork-factory pollution were even more compelling because they illuminated a side of the industry that’s much less well-known; raising pigs indoors is a dirty job, and produces a lot of waste that pollutes local air, water, and soil, with much of it dumped into artificial “lagoons” that overflow when there’s a substantial rain. Estabrook talks to local activists and groups fighting the pernicious aspects of pork production – labor abuses and environmental degradation – and uncovers how certain states, notably North Carolina and Iowa, have bent over backwards to favor corporate agriculture over the rights of residents to things like clean air and water or safe housing. (North Carolina especially seems to have debased itself for Big Pig, hardly a surprise given how badly gerrymandered their state is.)

Estabrook also describes the breakdown in our food inspection system, largely because it has fallen too far under the sway of the industrial food producers themselves. He highlights the story of one USDA inspector who was reassigned to a job farther from his house, ostensibly to get him to quit, because the factory owners didn’t like that he was doing his job. Pig Tales was published in 2015, six-plus years into a Democratic administration that, in theory and practice, was more open to regulations than the previous one, and I can only imagine that this is going to get worse given the Trump admin’s war on science within the executive branch. The USDA is a long-running disaster anyway, pushing “nutrition standards” that rely as much on industry input as on actual science (to say nothing of the uncertainty around the science of nutrition), but the fact that it’s understaffed for the mission of ensuring the safety of our food supply only exacerbates the problem. That’s one agency I’d like to see scrapped and rebuilt from scratch, with a focus on food safety. Estabrook only gets at one of the agency’s problems, but he refers heavily to this 2013 report on swine slaughter plants that found widespread, egregious violations of the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act … with no real consequences for the manufacturers.

Pig Tales isn’t all bad news for pork eaters, however, as Estabrook visits multiple farmers who are doing something right – many who’ve eschewed antibiotic use, others who don’t use cages or only use them right around birthing, and still more who raise smaller herds as part of an integrated agricultural setup. His stories all give some threads of hope, but I think Estabrook should have emphasized the “cheap meat” problem more: Americans expect meat to be inexpensive, because it has been so for so many years now, but the retail price of factory-farmed meat does not accurately reflect the negative externalities that arise from its production. He hints at the subject, but I could have used a concluding chapter here that pointed out what I think is obvious: If pork producers were regulated correctly, meaning that they adhere to food-safety standards and pay for damage they cause to their environments, pork would become more expensive because no one would be able to produce it cheaply enough to turn a profit at current commodity prices. And I’m not sure anyone is ready for a world where some consumers are priced out of some or all types of red meat. That’s a legal and ethical concern that Estabrook doesn’t broach.

The author makes it very clear that he believes there is such a thing as sustainable, ethically-raised, environmentally responsible pork production, and he’s probably right – but it won’t be available to everybody. Raising meat that doesn’t damage the environment, put us at risk of foodborne illnesses, accelerate antibiotic resistance, or mistreat the animals is expensive. It takes a lot of land, as with responsible beef production (although the economics of sustainable beef are worse), and more labor per animal. I don’t think I learned anything from Pig Tales that I didn’t already know about pork, but I did learn about how state and local governments have abdicated their responsibilities to protect their citizens, and that has only further driven me to consume less meat and, when I do consume it, to try to ensure it comes from responsible farmers. Perhaps if more consumers make those choices, the market will shift even in the absence of government regulation – but if meat is suddenly a luxury good, is it really sustainable at all?

Next up: My reviews are a few books behind, but I’ve finished Graham Moore’s The Last Days of Night and Grazia Deledda’s After the Divorce (just $2 on Kindle) and moved on to Margaret Wilson’s The Able McLaughlins.

Oakland & San Francisco eats.

I’ll have my annual re-ranking of the top five farm systems up this week, most likely Tuesday, for Insiders.

I only had two meals on my own during my trip to the Bay Area last week to speak at Google and sign books at Books Inc. in Berkeley (which should still have signed copies available), but both were memorable additions to my ongoing U.S. pizzeria tour. Oakland’s Pizzaiolo is on that list from Food and Wine from a few years ago that continues to inform some of my travels – it’s not a perfect list but I’ve done well by it overall – but the pizza wasn’t even the best thing I ate there.

Pizzaiolo is more than a pizzeria, although those are obviously the star attraction on the menu. It’s really a locavore restaurant that also does pastas, mains, salads, and vegetable-focused sides (contorni), with outstanding, largely local ingredients the common thread among all of them. I met a friend for dinner there and we split two pizzas, a margherita with housemade Italian sausage and a pizza of sweet & hot peppers, black olives, and ricotta salata. The sausage was probably the best element of all of this; the dough itself was good, maybe a grade 55 when comparing it to other Neapolitan pizzerias I’ve tried around the country (a list that has to number around fifty now). The pepper and olive pizza was surprisingly good, less spicy than I feared it would be, more briny and salty from the combination of the olives and the ricotta salata, a pressed, salted, lightly aged cheese made from the whey of sheep’s milk left over from other cheesemaking. But the best thing I ate was actually a salad of mixed chicory leaves (especially radicchio) with figs and hazelnuts; I love radicchio in spite of its bitterness (or perhaps because of it), but this had some of the least bitter chicory leaves I’ve ever tasted, and the sweetness of the black mission figs gave the perfect contrast to just that hint of a bitter note. The menu changes daily, however, and I can see it’s not on the Pizzaiolo menu today.

Una Pizza Napoletana isn’t on that F&W list of the country’s best pizzerias, which is kind of a joke because it’s probably a top five spot for me because of the dough. I’ve never had a pizza with a crust like this – it has the texture of naan, which is an enriched dough from India (usually containing yogurt or other dairy), whereas pizza dough is typically enriched with nothing but maybe a little olive oil. The menu is very short: five different pizza options, no alterations or substitutions allowed, with a few drinks, and one extra pizza (with fresh eggs) on Saturdays. Most of the pizzas use buffalo-milk mozzarella, and only the margherita has tomato sauce. I went with the filetti, which has no sauce but uses fresh cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, garlic, and fresh basil. It’s really the dough that makes this pizza – it’s a traditional, naturally-leavened dough that takes three days to make, resulting in that incomparable texture. The pizzas are on the expensive side at $25 apiece, although I think given the quality of inputs and the time required to make doughs like this, it’s a reasonable price point. You’re buying someone’s skill and time for something you’re never going to make at home.

Una Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco. To die for.

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My new friends at Google also sent me home with a few gifts, including a bag of coffee from Philz, which a few of you have been telling me to try for years now. I haven’t opened the bag yet (I am a bit obsessive about finishing one bag before opening the next) but will report back when I try it.

Everything is Obvious.

Duncan Watts’ book Everything is Obvious *Once You Know the Answer: How Common Sense Fails Us fits in well in the recent string of books explaining or demonstrating how the way we think often leads us astray. As with Thinking Fast and Slow, by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, Watts’ book highlights some specific cognitive biases, notably our overreliance on what we consider “common sense,” lead us to false conclusions, especially in the spheres of the social sciences, with clear ramifications in the business and political worlds as well as some strong messages for journalists who always seek to graft narratives on to facts as if the latter were inevitable outcomes.

The argument from common sense is one of the most frequently seen logical fallacies out there – X must be true because common sense says it’s true. But common sense itself is, of course, inherently limited; our common sense is the result of our individual and collective experiences, not something innate given to us by God or contained in our genes. Given the human cognitive tendency to assign explanations to every event, even those that are the result of random chance, this is a recipe for bad results, whether it’s the fawning over a CEO who had little or nothing to do with his company’s strong results or top-down policy prescriptions that lead to billions in wasted foreign aid.

Watts runs through various cognitive biases and illusions that you may have encountered in other works, although a few of them were new to me, like the Matthew Effect, by which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. According to the theory behind it, the Matthew Effect argues that success breeds success, because it means those people get greater opportunities going forward. A band that has a hit album will get greater airplay for its next record, even if that isn’t as good as the first one, or markedly inferior to an album released on the same day by an unknown artist. A good student born into privilege will have a better chance to attend a fancy-pants college, like, say, Harfurd, and thus benefits further from having the prestigious brand name on his resume. A writer who has nearly half a million Twitter followers might find it easier to land a deal for a major publisher to produce his book, Smart Baseball, available in stores now, and that major publisher then has the contacts and resources to ensure the book is reviewed in critical publications. It could be that the book sells well because it’s a good book, but I doubt it.

Watts similarly dispenses with the ‘great man theory of history’ – and with history in general, if we’re being honest. He points out that historical accounts will always include judgments or information that was not available to actors at the time of these events, citing the example of a soldier wandering around the battlefield in War and Peace, noticing that the realities of war look nothing like the genteel paintings of battle scenes hanging in Russian drawing rooms. He asks if the Mona Lisa, which wasn’t regarded as the world’s greatest painting or even its most famous until it was stolen from the Louvre by an Italian nationalist before World War II, ascended to that status because of innate qualities of the painting – or if circumstances pushed it to the top, and only after the fact do art experts argue for its supremacy based on the fact that it’s already become the Mona Lisa of legend. In other words, the Mona Lisa may be great simply because it’s the Mona Lisa, and perhaps had the disgruntled employee stolen another painting, da Vinci’s masterpiece would be seen as just another painting. (His description of seeing the painting for the first time mirrored my own: It’s kind of small, and because it’s behind shatterproof glass, you can’t really get close it.)

Without directly referring to it, Watts also perfectly describes the inexcusable habit of sportswriters to assign huge portions of the credit for team successes to head coaches or managers rather than distributing the credit across the entire team or even the organization. I’ve long used the example of the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks as a team that won the World Series in spite of the best efforts of its manager, Bob Brenly, to give the series away – repeatedly playing small ball (like bunting) in front of Luis Gonzalez, who’d hit 57 homers that year, and using Byung-Hyun Kim in save situations when it was clear he wasn’t the optimal choice. Only the superhuman efforts by Randy Johnson and That Guy managed to save the day for Arizona, and even then, it took a rare misplay by Mariano Rivera and a weakly hit single to an open spot on the field for the Yanks to lose. Yet Brenly will forever be a “World Series-winning manager,” even though there’s no evidence he did anything to make the win possible. Being present when a big success happens can change a person’s reputation for a long time, and then future successes may be ascribed to that person even if he had nothing to do with them.

Another cognitive bias Watts discusses, the Halo Effect, seems particularly relevant to my work evaluating and ranking prospects. First named by psychologist Edward Thorndike, the Halo Effect refers to our tendency to apply positive impressions of a person, group, or company to their other properties or characteristics, so we might subconsciously consider a good-looking person to be better at his/her job. For example, do first-round draft picks get greater considerations from their organizations when it comes to promotions or even major-league opportunities? Will an org give such a player more time to work out of a period of non-performance than they’d give an eighth-rounder? Do some scouts rate players differently, even if it’s entirely subconscious, based on where they were drafted or how big their signing bonuses were? I don’t think I do this directly, but my rankings are based on feedback from scouts and team execs, so if their own information – including how teams internally rank their prospects – is affected by the Halo Effect, then my rankings will be too, unless I’m actively looking for it and trying to sieve it out.

Where I wish Watts had spent even more time was in describing the implications of these ideas and research for government policies, especially foreign aid, most of which would be just as productive if we flushed it all down those overpriced Pentagon toilets. Foreign aid tends to go to where the donors, whether private or government, think it should go, because the recipients are poor but the donors know how to fix it. In reality, this money rarely spurs any sort of real change or economic growth, because the common-sense explanation – the way to fix poverty is to send money and goods to poor people – never bothers to examine the root causes of the problem the donors want to solve, asking the targets what they really need, examining and removing obstacles (e.g., lack of infrastructure) that might require more time and effort to fix but prevent the aid from doing any good. Sending a boat full of food to a country in the grip of a famine only makes sense if you have a way to get the food to the starving people, but if the roads are bad, dangerous, or simply don’t exist, then that food will sit in the harbor until it rots or some bureaucrat sells it.

Everything Is Obvious is aimed at a more general audience than Thinking Fast and Slow, as its text is a little less dense and it contains fewer and shorter descriptions of research experiments. Watts refers to Kahneman and his late reseach partner Amos Tversky a few times, as well as other researchers in the field, so it seems to me like this book is meant as another building block on the foundation of Kahneman’s work. I think it applies to all kinds of areas of our lives, even just as a way to think about your own thinking and to try to help yourself avoid pitfalls in your financial planning or other decisions, but it’s especially apt for folks like me who write for a living and should watch for our human tendency to try to ascribe causes post hoc to events that may have come about as much due to chance as any deliberate factors.

Stick to baseball, 7/22/17.

With the trade deadline approaching, I’ve had a bit more Insider content than usual this week, including breakdowns of the Ryan Madson/Sean Doolittle trade, the David Robertson/Tommy Kahnle/Todd Frazier trade, and the Tyler O’Neill-Marco Gonzales trade. I also had a long post covering lots of prospects I’ve scouted in the last few weeks, including players from the Phillies, Nationals, Orioles, Red Sox, Atlanta, and Cleveland systems. I held a Klawchat on Friday.

My latest boardgame review for Paste covers the asymmetrical game Not Alone, which pits one player against anywhere from one to six opponents who work together, although we found the game really doesn’t work with just two players and is only slightly better with three.

Thanks to everyone who’s already bought Smart Baseball. I’ve got just a couple of additional book signings coming up:

* Chicago, Standard Club, July 28th, 11:30 am – this is a ticketed luncheon event
* Chicago, Volumes, July 28th, 7:30 pm
* GenCon (Indianapolis), August 17th-20th

And now, the links…

Klawchat, 7/21/17.

My latest boardgame review for Paste covers the asymmetrical game Not Alone, where one player faces off against up to six opponents in an alien-themed game where the team of players is hunted by an unknown Creature.

Keith Law: Two steps forward, six steps back. Klawchat.

Jeremy: If Michel Baez performs in High-A as as well as in Low-A, do we start taking him seriously?
Keith Law: It’ll really depend more on the secondary stuff than on performance.

Preston: What’s a realistic return for the Cubs if Candelario is the lead to a package of prospects? Certainly not high-impact RP like Britton, right?
Keith Law: I don’t think so, but I’ve always been a little bearish on his defense. He can hit though.

Erix: Hey Keith. Last week you mentioned Connor Greene as a fringe top 50 prospect. I’m curious as to what the reports on him are. Scouting the stat line (I know) shows little swing and miss, and too many walks (but an elite groundball rate). Thanks!
Keith Law: He’s been up to 98 pretty regularly and will at least flash above-average secondary stuff. Still not fully filled out physically either.

Lance: First time, long time. Can you explain Justin Smoak? How has he turned in to what you thought he’d be after being terrible for so long? Is it sustainable?
Keith Law: The explanations I’ve heard – e.g., that he’s finally feeling like he can be himself as a hitter, rather than trying to prove his worth or justify a lineup spot every day – are not terribly satisfying. So, no, I can’t.

john w: What’s a realistic timetable for Mejia to contribute in the next year and a half-ish? And what’s a reasonable expectation if he’s included in a deal? Not asking for names necessarily, just wondering what Cleveland’s options realistically are.
Keith Law: I’d demand a Quintana-level return. Mejia is certainly comparable to Eloy as a prospect, and you could argue he’s more value as a trade asset right now because he’s closer to the majors. If you believe Mejia will become even an average receiver/framer, then he might be the #1 prospect in the minors.

Drew: What is your future projection for Jamie Barria? Guy is looking pretty good so far.
Keith Law: Starter stuff, reliever delivery & command.

David S: Are you familiar with the band Ghost? If so, what do you think? I saw them open for Maiden and found them quite interesting in a good way.
Keith Law: I like their music quite a bit, but the whole Satan-worship gimmick is puerile.

Kevin: There seem to be more wide-ranging views on the Phillies rebuild than any other club. This likely stems from the fact they have very good depth (and upside, i.e. Sixto), but lack the “can’t-miss” top prospects other clubs have. On a scale of 1-10, how confident are you they could compete by 2019-2020?
Keith Law: I agree with your assessment of their system, but I don’t think they’re contending in 2019 unless they add significant talent from outside the organization – like signing a major free agent to supplement what they already have.

Benjamin: Thoughts on twins prospect Ricky De La Torre?
Keith Law: Ricardo? I’d refer you back to my reports on him before and right after the draft.

Jake: Do the Cubs have the pieces necessary to acquire Gray, Darvish or Verlander?
Keith Law: I would not think so.

Tom (NYC): Hi, love the chat, and thanks for answering the question. Assuming Smith and Rosario graduate this year, what is your opinion of the NYM minor league system going forward? Also, relative to your last offseason ranking, are there any guys notably rising or falling in their minor league ranks?
Keith Law: It’ll be thinner without those guys – I don’t think they’ve drafted or signed players of quite that caliber the last two years – but I still am fairly bullish on guys like Szapucki (as long as he’s healthy), Alonso, Gimenez, even Dunn, who is still just 21 years old.

John: Thanks for the chat Keith! Was wondering about the inactivity of the Padres in the trade market thus far. Have you heard anything from your sources that teams are shunning San Diego, or are they truly just holding out for a big return?
Keith Law: I’ve never heard of anyone “shunning” a team with players to trade.

Nick: Beltre for Devers. Who says no?
Keith Law: Both.

Dave53: Thanks for doing the talk in Berkeley two nights ago. (You and I spoke about Dillon Maples.) Food question: Two friends and I will soon take our ninth annual minor league baseball trip. This year, we’ll be in your area, with stops in Bowie, Aberdeen, Frederick, Hagerstown, and on up to Scranton. Our daily pattern is a hearty breakfast, followed by beer and bar food for the rest of the day. I couldn’t find anything on your website, but do you have any breakfast recommendations along our route?
Keith Law: I know Michael Voltaggio has a place or two in Frederick, but otherwise, I’d suggest you veer off into the larger cities you’re passing like Baltimore and Philly.

Nick: Seems like this Adzolay has really picked it up this year. Think he’s a top 100 type, and where do you see his ceiling?
Keith Law: Had I continued past ranking 50 names, he would have been in the next ten.

JR: I know you consider the Tim Tebow “expirament” a publicity stunt (and I totally agreed with that take); but have you been surprised he has done this well? I pretty much thought he would just wash out. It was interesting to hear that he was consciously being an opposite field hitter. I figured that was probably because he just lacks bat speed… but it also could indicate a player who can adapt and play within himself. I’ve got the feeling now that, unless he quits, he will eventually get a September call up. Probably for t-shirt sales of course but still, way better than I ever expected.
Keith Law: He does lack bat speed, or any other useful tool except pull power. If they call him up, it’s an insult to every other player in the minors. Bill Veeck is dead. Let’s leave the marketing stunts in the cemetery too.

Biscuit: Would the Nats ever consider calling the Angels and offering a deal centered around Trout and Turner? No timetable yet for Turner, but hard to envision him helping a ton again this year, especially with wrist injuries tending to linger. Maybe Nats ask for Simmons back as well, and send a few prospects back to the Angels.
Keith Law: Every week, I get questions about the Angels trading Trout, and the answer is always the same: The owner has made it clear he’s not trading him. Fin.

The Bilmo: Kershaw or Koufax?
Keith Law: Kershaw.

BJ: Fair to say Javier Guerra is a bust. Heard reports that he can’t hit breaking balls. Numbers don’t lie .226 20 BB 100 K
Keith Law: He’s had a very significant health issue the last year-plus. If you feel good calling him a “bust” for that, be my guest.

Nick: Andrew Pullin – Why does he continue to get no love? Not a Phillies fan by any means, but love what he’s done the last 2 seasons at each stop. Thought he’d sneak on to at least 1 top 100 sheet, since he should be getting a call up this fall (or risk being lost…).
Keith Law: He’s a corner outfielder without exceptional power, patience, or defensive ability. There’s no way he’d be a top 100 guy. Also, I think you’re confusing the rules – protecting a player from the rule 5 draft merely means putting him on the 40-man, not calling him up.

Anthony: After trading Sale, Quintana, Eaton, Frazier and the relievers, how do you feel the entirety of this last year for the White Sox? It seems to me that they are handling this rebuild as well as they could and have made solid trades all around. Over under on prospects they received becoming everyday regulars? 5.5?
Keith Law: I think they’ve done exceptionally well so far.

Levitator: Dunkirk is getting rave reviews, do you plan to go see it in the theatre?
Keith Law: Probably not.

Steven: Tyler O’Neill seems to be adjusting –
at least from a performance view –
to AAA with wRC+ by month: 52, 84, 121, 179. Can he be an impact bat for the Mariners in 2018+?
Keith Law: Well, now he certainly won’t be. I also don’t like using month to month splits like that as evidence of anything but random variation.

Levitator: The Jam-band Phish is playing 13 consecutive concerts at Madison Square Garden (with a day off after every three shows). Have you ever seen a jam band live before and allowed yourself to relax and enjoy the unstructured flow a la jazz?
Keith Law: Boring AF.

Steven: He’s years away, but is Taylor Trammell a GUY?
Keith Law: Not yet. The pro reports I’ve gotten on him so far have been a touch disappointing – I expected raves about the athleticism, but everyone I’ve asked has called him just a good athlete but not an exceptional one. I haven’t seen him since before he signed, so I don’t know if he’s really lost something or if everyone just overrated him on draft day.

Adam: Okay, so we know your opinion on the alternate flavor Oreos, but what is your stance on regular vs Double Stuf?
Keith Law: Regular all the way. Double Stuff is double wrong.

Young Hoss Radbourn: Hello Klaw. If you’re Brian Cashman, are you better off staying the course and putting Chance Adams in the rotation? Or do you give up a package of Mateo/Acevedo, etc for Sonny Gray and let Adams continue to work on his 3rd pitch in Scranton?
Keith Law: If Mateo + Acevedo gets you Sonny Gray, you do it before Beane comes to his senses. (But I’d call Adams up.)

Chris: If you’re Jeff Luhnow, what is a realistic package of players you’re willing to give up for Sonny Gray?
Keith Law: I don’t see any reason why they need to acquire Gray, at least not at the likely cost. I wouldn’t give up Tucker for him, but the A’s would probably insist on that. I don’t think Martes is a sure thing, though, so if he could headline such a deal I’d consider it. Martes has a great arm but I’m not sure he’s ever going to have enough fastball command to be that kind of starter.

John: How often do you go back and re-read a book? I read many of the “classics” back in my teens and 20s, but now I don’t remember much more than the basic storylines (and I suspect that my younger self would have missed important aspects of the writing). I’m tempted to reread them, but I feel like that would come at the expense of books I haven’t read yet.
Keith Law: I think I’ve probably read fewer than a half-dozen novels twice – outside of Harry Potter, which I read once myself and again all the way through to my daughter. Off the top of my head: Master & Margarita, Great Gatsby, Pride & Prejudice, The Eyre Affair. I’ve also re-read one Agatha Christie novel and one PG Wodehouse novel twice, both because I hadn’t realized I’d already read them until I was halfway through.

Minnie: Heard Rutherford may have been working to cut his swing down to make it quicker, but sacrificing power for now. Does any of that jive with what you saw?
Keith Law: No, it doesn’t. That sounds like a post hoc rationalization to me.

Sean: Keith, thanks for chatting as always. JP Crawford has really been hitting well in July, hitting for power, getting on base a lot – this seems a lot more like what was expected. Any chance he’s “back”, or was the words you heard from scouts so negative that you’d be surprised to see this kind of performance continue moving forward?
Keith Law: It’s just a handful of games, not enough to believe it’s all changed. And it doesn’t address why everyone I asked said his defense was just average or below, after it was consistently above-average to plus in the past.

Nick: Ok, so you’re Sandy Alderson. For whatever reason you didn’t call up Amed Rosario earlier this year after the super 2 date, and somehow still haven’t. Am I nuts to think that at this point just wait until next year super 2 date, or would 3 months of big league experience be worth losing that extra year of control on the back end?
Keith Law: If you want players to develop, you call them up when they’re ready. Returning Rosario to AAA would not accomplish anything.

Ben: Reaction to T. O’Neill for M. Gonzales trade?
Keith Law: I’ll file something on this later today.

toddfather: How do you deal with sunburn prevention/care? You must have gotten some insane sun burns scouting the Arizona League in the middle of July
Keith Law: AZL games are at night.

TK: How much trouble is our Republic in if Trump starts handing out pardons left and right, fires Mueller and not a single person in the GOP stands up to him?
Keith Law: I would consider this – including Trump pardoning himself or family members – a de facto coup d’etat.

CD: I know they’re the best team in the league right now, I just get the feeling the Dodgers are going to make a play for Sonny. The FO have history, they know the players inside and out, they did a big deal last year. Is Verdugo/Buehler too rich for your blood, or should Oak shoot lower, like Calhoun/White?
Keith Law: Oakland should ask for Verdugo and Buehler – whose outing last night would scare the hell out of me, because it’s the kind of thing that happens when a pitcher is hurt – but expect to only get one of them, if a deal happens at all.

Ed: I had some sticker shock after the Quintana trade, and while I am feeling better about it (Q’s first start helped!) I’m still disappointed to see Cease go given the Cubs inability to develop pitching. Where did you have Cease fitting in with the pitchers in the Cubs’ latest draft? 3rd behind Little and Lange?
Keith Law: Cease > Lange. I don’t think Lange is a starter in the long run.

steve: Keith: The Red Sox have done a terrible job with Swihart. (C to LF, now 3b), does he have value left?
Keith Law: If he hits like he used to/is expected to, he can be a good value overall at 3b – he played it some in HS, even played some short, and was athletic enough to be good there.

Josh: Frequently sports media personalities expound about players increasing/decreasing their value at the trade deadline by having a really good/bad start the week before; e.g., Jaime Garcia. Just finished Smart Baseball this week and I have to assume actual front offices don’t put any stock in this beyond potential injury concerns from a bad start, right?
Keith Law: Right. So with Buehler last night, it’s not that he had a bad line, but that a guy with his stuff failing to record a single out and walking 3/5 guys is a concern that something is physically wrong with him.

Ed: Now that we’re through a good portion of the season, what are your thoughts on Heyward’s new swing? While his numbers aren’t spectacular, they’re better than last year. Just season to season noise or do you think the swing helped?
Keith Law: I’m guessing season to season noise, but really couldn’t say that for sure. It’s a small enough improvement that it could be random chance but I don’t know how we’d be certain that it’s not.

Moltar: Big bummer about Szapucki. Since he won’t be back until 2019 realistically, how does this affect his ceiling?
Keith Law: TJ doesn’t affect a player’s ceiling, unless he’s in the 15% or so who don’t get their stuff back, but it affects both his probability and his timetable. So we’ll see in April or so where his stuff is, if he’s on track and seems to have his fastball back, but I’d drop him in any rankings as I’ve always done with guys who just had TJ and aren’t back yet.

Bill: Heard a commentator say that Quintana slots in as the Cubs ace ahead of Lester next year. I realize in terms of teams with an embarrassment of riches that you can have two #1’s but wanted your opinion of whether Quintana is truly ahead of Lester.
Keith Law: He is, and it’s not close.

Marshall MN: Rooker got moved up to High A ball for the Twins, I know this is something that you said should be expected given his age, but nonetheless it is nice to see a rookie position player performing at such a level so quickly for the Twins.
Keith Law: He’s still too old for high-A, but at least he’s at a level where he’s closer in age to the pitching he’s facing.

Ben: What do you think of Jake Rogers? I know he was considered a great defensive catcher already, but he’s really hit this year (as a 22-year old in A and A+).
Keith Law: Absolutely terrible when I saw him.

Rick: Yaisel Sierra didn’t pan out as a starter but seems to be pretty good RP, could he help the Dodgers bullpen this year and into the playoffs?
Keith Law: He’s off the 40-man so I don’t know if they’ll rush him up the ladder for this year, but I do think he has future value as a quality reliever. They were smart to sneak him off the 40 when he was struggling.

Moltar: With Szapucki down, any other names to watch among Mets arms? I love the numbers being put up by Flexen and Crismatt but have no way of knowing their value without asking nice people like you.
Keith Law: Neither has his potential. They’re suddenly short on arms.

Michael: Hi Klaw – If you were Scott Proefrock would you bring up Hoskins now? What would you do with Joseph assuming there is no market for him? Just let him sit?
Keith Law: If I were Matt Klentak, I’d wonder what you were talking about.

Zach Otto: Good Afternoon, what do you see as Alex Verdugo’s power ceiling? Picked him up in my fantasy minor league draft two years ago due to your rankings.
Keith Law: Average power, 15-20 range. Think he’s more of a well-rounded hitter with doubles power than a 30-HR type.

David: Is Jen-ho Tseng a realistic back of rotation piece in a year or 2 or just an org guy?
Keith Law: Back of the rotation possibility, bullpen likely, much more than an org guy.

Ben: As an A’s fan, is it purely wishful thinking that Sonny Gray could get Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitely in return?
Keith Law: I think that’d be insane.

Jake: Hey Keith! A buddy and I are spending a long weekend in Nashville, any restaurant recommendations?
Keith Law: Use the search box above – I have several posts on Nashville food.

Carl: How much value do you put in the Statcast stats? For instance, they have their own xBA (expected batting average) based on quality of contact, which right now says Jose Altuve should be hitting .268 instead of .353.
Keith Law: We have under three years of Statcast data. I’m not sure how we could even argue we have enough to create an x-anything stat off it.

Common Dolphin/Rehoboth Beach: Will the Orioles surprise everyone and trade Machado at the deadline, or during the offseason
Keith Law: I think they’ll surprise no one and keep him, which will be a wasted opportunity for the franchise.

Justin: With Raul Mondesi finally having some minor league success (.316/.346/.544) in AAA Omaha, how would you rank him were he still able to qualify as a prospect considering he’s still only 21?
Keith Law: I don’t rank guys who’ve played that much in the majors, ever. I don’t even like to hypothetically rank them, because we have information on them that we don’t have on players who still have their eligibility. (I’d always prefer to see players who care close to the cutoffs graduate, rather than facing the same information gap repeatedly every winter.)

Daniel: It certainly seems ESPN has no interest in getting back to a Klaw podcast, but have you ever considering doing it independently? No sports then, but food, games, politics, etc. It’d be a time commitment for sure, but Bomani Jones’ show seems to do pretty well.
Keith Law: Given the time commitment, I’d need someone else to produce & otherwise handle it.

Arin, D-town: Robert Stephenson is starting this weekend, what is he long-term? relief pitcher, 4th or 5th starter, or something else?
Keith Law: That stuff should pitch in the top few spots in a rotation, but he’s basically had 35 command for a year-plus now. Between AAA and the majors, he’s allowed 15 homers in 65 innings. Jim Acker is applauding his efforts.

John: Your notes on Sixto seemed to highlight how raw he is. How more unrefined is he compared to the average 18/19 year old pitching prospect?
Keith Law: I don’t think he’s less refined than the average prospect that age – that would be unfair to him. He’s pitching in low-A at an age where many pitchers are still in high school, and most are in short-season. That he can have success there, even on this extremely restricted regimen, is in his favor. And he’s not unrefined in the sense of a guy with a crude delivery or no idea where the plate is.

Chuck: Did you do a family oriented board game list? I have a 10 & 7 year old. 10 year old can handle 7 wonders but not Catan. 7 year old just plays what she can in 7 wonders no strategy. PS love the chats.
Keith Law: I haven’t done that breakdown but I add complexity scores to every game I rank each November, which you can use as a proxy for this.

Schlitz : Mitchell White or Dennis Santana?
Keith Law: White.

Daniel: You mentioned in the last chat wanting to tie free agency to age rather than years of control. Would that deter teams from selecting college players in favor of high-schoolers? Or are the benefits so far down the road that it would come out in the wash?
Keith Law: The college players get there faster, so it would wash out.

PhillyJake: How hard were the Pirates shopping Cutch this past offseason? Seems the only real suitors were the Nats and what NH was asking for was ridiculous. Or was it more the Nats asking about Cutch and NH seeing if he could get more than Cutch was worth?
Keith Law: I am not sure how to answer that precisely, but I can say he was definitely available this winter. I know Pittsburgh approached at least some specific teams.

Marshall MN: Do you think there’s any truth to the rumors that the Marlins want to get rid of Stanton? Shouldn’t a well-to-do franchise (are any outside Oakland NOT well-to-do) take a serious look at trading for if the Marlins are seriously looking at it like a salary dump?
Keith Law: Stanton’s is one of the worst contracts in baseball from the team’s perspective. They should be looking to trade him.

John: There was a Joel Sherman report suggesting that Blake Rutherford wouldn’t hit for power nor stick in CF. Legitimate concerns, or spin from the team giving away a prospect?
Keith Law: There is no chance Rutherford sticks in CF. I have no idea how anyone got the idea that he would. Just watch him play.

CVD: Besides the Doolittle and Madson additions, do you think the Nats will do anything else to address the bullpen?
Keith Law: I don’t think they need to do anything else.

Angelo: Mitchell White was recently promoted to AA, any concerns with him thus far other than missing innings with the toe injury?
Keith Law: Nope.

michael: Kris Bryant is kinda soft, right?
Keith Law: Don’t know. I’ve never touched him.

Patrick: You ever use an Aeropress? I think its changed my life. I used to make coffee daily with a French Press.
Keith Law: I haven’t. I use a V60 for drip, and I have an espresso machine that I use most days.

j : Have you heard any good reports on Jorge Mateo lately? Lot of extra-base hits so far in his stay with Trenton. I know, it’s only been a few weeks there
Keith Law: I have not; I’ll go see them again soon. And I’d ask this: If this is somehow the “real” Mateo, which I doubt, was he just being lazy in Tampa? Not trying? Sulking?

Sterling Mallory Chris Archer: It’s known that Sixto needs to work on his breaking ball. What do you think he needs to do physically or mechanically in order to do so?
Keith Law: Nothing. I wouldn’t change the delivery.
Keith Law: And he’s not going to get much bigger (nor should he try to).

Matt: Keith, you seem largely unconcerned about Kopech’s control issues over the last couple of years despite a sky-high walk rate. What do you see in him that makes you think he’s more likely to resolve the issue than other guys with similar control problems?
Keith Law: Plus athlete with a delivery that should eventually allow it.

Josh: It was great having you in Harrisburg last weekend, thanks again! I know your reports on Meadows are down. Does he have any trade value? Wondering if the Bucs could package him and stuff for someone like Gray.
Keith Law: Trade value would be very low between injury and non-performance in AAA.

John: Keith–as someone who doesn’t seem afraid to take on anyone on Twitter and sifts through a lot of garbage–I have a dilemma. I’m somewhat new to Twitter and love to discuss baseball, mainly the Pirates. However, the large majority of discussion is negative, uneducated, or flat out wrong. This makes the discussion unenjoyable and draining. So, how do you view this kind of interaction? Is it worth it?
Keith Law: No, it’s not worth it. I don’t engage in Twitter discussions or arguments anywhere near as often as I did before.

MikeM: You have been bearish on Severino’s ability to be a SP long term. So far this year he has looked great. Has your outlook on him changed at all? Is he just one of those guys who has a funky delivery and is able to make it work?
Keith Law: He looked awful last year, he’s looked great this year. He has improved his slider by at least a full grade, and he’s throwing it a LOT this year. Whether he can hold up with that delivery is another matter.
Keith Law: I have said before, though, that I haven’t seen him live this year to see if he’s corrected the failure to use his lower half.

Matt: Has there ever been talk about a Senior League for MLB? Kinda of how there’s a Senior PGA Tour. It would be pretty cool to see match ups that never happened in MLB. Like Jim Palmer facing Barry Bonds or something like that.
Keith Law: There was one in 1989-90 in Florida; it folded during its second season. They played in the offseason, which probably didn’t help, and they played in Florida, which definitely didn’t help.

Ben: The Tigers say Manning’s velo drops when he’s focused on the zone and pitching ahead in the count. That sound like BS to you?
Keith Law: The only velo that matters is the velo he shows when he’s throwing strikes. 98 to the backstop is just eyewash.

Brett: Would you rather have Bo Bichette or Fernando Tatis in your minor league system and why?
Keith Law: Tatis might stay at short; Bichette won’t. And Tatis has more power.

Carljam: What is step 1 in the Orioles righting their sinking ship?
Keith Law: Something that isn’t likely to happen while Angelos is alive.

MRA in Pasadena: Are you interested in the film adaption of “Station Eleven”? I really enjoyed the book (on your recommendation) but think it would be a better mini-series than movie
Keith Law: It might also be creepy as hell on film, where in the book the post-apocalyptic setting managed to be more atmospheric.

John: Keith,

I plan to be at GenCon all 4 days, but I couldn’t find you in the event list. Where/when do you specifically intend to be holding a book signing there? I definitely don’t want to miss it.
Keith Law: Friday afternoon at 1 pm (I think). I’ll make sure to post about where to find me when the event gets closer.

Gene Mullett: Big jump for me!
Big jump for me!
(Love early Gang of Four)

If you were a GM & needed an SP, is there one you’d target first of those available?
Keith Law: If Darvish is available for a rental, I’d take him in a heartbeat.

Jim (Boston): Any thoughts on Chavis? Does he have a future in Boston?
Keith Law: I think he’s more likely to end up traded than to play for the Sox, but he’s probably a solid-average regular at third or maybe in RF if his defense doesn’t improve enough.

Pat: Why do the Orioles literally punt the international signing period, and shouldnt there be recourse from either the league or the union?
Keith Law: I don’t know, and the recourse is going to be a lack of prospects.

Ethan: Keith, looking for a board game rec for 6 mid-twenties participants, with possibility of partnering into 3 couples. Suggestions?
Keith Law: Citadels is the best game I know for six (or more) players.

Schlitz : How good can Keibert Ruiz be? All the reports I’m reading is he’s a great hitter and a great receiver/framer for being just 19
Keith Law: Lot of potential with the bat. Don’t think he’s a “great receiver/framer” now.

Matthew: Volt in Frederick is quite good. Make reservations for Table 21 (The 8-seater around the prep area of the open kitchen) if that is of interest.
Keith Law: I’ve never actually been there – it’s a pretty long drive for me, and if I need to see the Keys, they come here three times a year.

Tyler: does Verlander get in the HOF? He has essentially had Koufax career to this point.
Keith Law: No he hasn’t, not essentially, not even kind of. Koufax is a fairly strong outlier among HoFers – he only appeared in 12 seasons and only qualified for the ERA title 8 times. He had a HoF peak, but not close to the longevity we typically demand of candidates (barring those who died young or lost time to war). If someone has his career today, I think he’d have a tough time getting in.

Chad: How concerning is Luis Urias’ lack of power?
Keith Law: I don’t think he’s ever going to have much power, but it seems like a strange thing on which to fixate given his profile – small guy with great plate discipline, good bat control, plays in the middle of the field.

Tariq: I see a lot of comps of Jesus Luzardo to Gio Gonzales. In your opinion, is that a lazy or fair comparison?
Keith Law: Lazy. I don’t think they’re very similar. But I do think Luzardo can be productive like Gio has – it just won’t come the same way.

Duke: Double stuffed ruined single stuffed for me. Just tastes like all cookie. What’s the reasoning behind your choice?
Keith Law: Because the best part of Oreos is the cookie.

michael: What sources do you recommend for health/nutrition? eg. Are nitrates really bad for you? Is farmed salmon really unhealthy? etc
Keith Law: I look for actual research on the topic, or articles in reliable outlets that refer to actual research (peer-reviewed science). Cured meats prepared with added nitrates (pink salt) aren’t bad for you – nitrates on their own are dangerous, of course – and those labels that claim “nitrate-free” and use celery juice or powder are just scamming you. Celery contains nitrites that serve the same purpose in curing. It’s like claiming “evaporated cane juice” isn’t sugar.

Nick: May be anecdotal but I’ve seen more and more of my friends a peers (mid-20-year-olds) rejecting capitalism outright for socialism. To me, there are too many benefits to capitalism and too many pitfalls to socialism for that. I’m all for meeting in the middle. What’re your thoughts on this?
Keith Law: Here’s my complete list of successful socialist economies:

justin: O’Neill seems a lot like Grichuk. Good power, poor contact. Fair comparison?
Keith Law: Fair comparison.

Kretin: Jahmai Jones promoted to High-A. He wasn’t necessarily lighting Low-A up, are the Angels being too aggressive?
Keith Law: Peculiar. I know he’d been better after a bad April, but he’s still just 19, and now he’s going to play in some good hitters’ parks, which isn’t going to teach him much.

Schlitz : DJ Peters has some swing and miss to his game, though his OBP is high. With his power and speed, what kind of prospect can he become?
Keith Law: He looks like Jayson Werth, physically, but there are some similarities to their games as well. The swing and miss is the real concern.

Jack: Should Tigers fans be concerned about reports of Manning’s velocity being down this year? I read that he may have been asked to dial it back so that he could improve his command.
Keith Law: I’m probably answering too many Manning questions here, but he couldn’t throw strikes in the spring. He wasn’t “asked to” dial it back; he had to.

Jeffery: Am I the only White Sox fan who feels like we may have given a lot away for nothing?
Keith Law: I think so. All the other White Sox fans are yelling at me for ranking any non-White Sox prospects in my top 20.

Dean: Franklin Barreto has struck out 123 times this season. How much of a concern is this?
Keith Law: For a speed/slap guy with a very compact swing, it’s a huge concern. I wouldn’t have called him up.

BE: AA says he got the best he could for JDM. Is he the right guy to handle what looks to be an ugly rebuid?
Keith Law: If that was the best offer on July 18th, I might have waited until closer to the deadline. Walking away from that deal wouldn’t have been the end of the world.

Brett: What are the Law’s doing this weekend?
Keith Law: Family birthday party (wife’s side). And trying not to melt.
Keith Law: That’s all for this week – thanks for bearing with me on the late start. I should be back next Thursday, before I head to Chicago for my talk at the Standard Club and signing at Volumes Book Cafe on the 28th. Enjoy your weekends.

The Strangler Vine.

M.J. Carter’s historical novel The Strangler Vine has the feel of a murder mystery without an actual murder, instead sending its two central characters on a quest in 1837 India to find a missing Briton who disappeared into the north, likely of his own volition, but whose importance to the East India Company has grown in his absence. It’s a fast read thanks to the tremendous narrative greed in the story and the yin/yang Carter created in her two protagonists, but I found the dialogue completely inappropriate for the time period, as she gives her characters modern vernacular and even sensibilities that feel very out of place in this setting.

The story opens with the young Captain (soon to be Lieutenant) William Avery in Calcutta, chosen seemingly as a last resort, to delivery a message to the reclusive company agent Jeremiah Blake and later to accompany Blake on the mission to find the missing author and poet Xavier Mountstuart (which sounds like an Orioles prospect), who has stirred up quite a bit of trouble with the publication of a novel that paints both the Company and the behavior of British expats on the subcontinent in a rather unfavorable light. This comes just as the Company is trying to expand its influence over greater portions of what we know now as India, which at the time was split into many nation-states or local fiefdoms as with pre-unification Italy, and the disappearance of the author has only further complicated the efforts to bring more of the region under the British company’s control. The Europeans are also combatting the plague of Thuggee, a supposed band of marauding bandits who worship the goddess Kali; rob and murder travelers in heinous, ritualistic fashion; and threaten stability in the region as well as local trade. (Thuggee, or at least the campaign against it, was real, and the English word “thug” is derived from its name.) A handful of real historical personages, including the famed William Sleeman, appear in the book, so portions of the story will be obvious if you happen to know something about the time period.

The core suspense story in The Stranger Vine is well-crafted and manages some unpredictable elements even though you’ll see some of the ending coming because we know some of the macro results of the British role in India (especially that the Company was eventually removed from power and replaced by a colonial administration that lasted until independence and Partition in 1948, creating the modern borders of India, Pakistan, and later Bangladesh). There’s a bit of a whodunit here, but the identity of the ultimate bad guy is subordinate to the journey, which Carter animates with strong action sequences and vivid descriptions of both the landscape and the various battles that befall our heroes. Blake is the stronger of the two main characters, an erudite humanist unhinged by the death of his native wife, disillusioned by the Company yet still nominally in its employ, and a spy-like investigator who keeps Avery in the dark for much of the story. Avery, while amiable in his naivete, is more simply drawn and serves as a chronicler whose involvement in the action of the plot is less than Blake’s in total but includes a couple of high points that allow for some character development.

However, Carter hasn’t captured the vocabulary or rhythm of speech from the time period – an observation I make based on novels I’ve read from that era – and has given some of her characters decidedly 21st-century views. When a man makes a (sexual) pass at Avery, the religious 21-year-old politely rebuffs the attempt and the matter is simply dropped – difficult to accept in an era when homosexuality was illegal and seen as a grievous sin. Blake’s concern for the plight of locals under the Company may have been apposite for the time, yet he speaks and acts with an egalitarian perspective that would mark him as a progressive in 2017, let alone in the 1830s. And the antagonists of the story, notably those with the Company who seek to control the subcontinent, are kind of not racist enough, with their opinions of locals marked more by cultural elitism than outright prejudice – the Indian people need the Brits to install a government, to teach them democracy, to raise them out of heathenism, but in a paternalist sense rather than the overt bigotry I’d expect from that time. (She hints at phrenology once in the book, but only to have Blake dismiss it as junk science.)

If you prefer to read for story, The Stranger Vine will be among the more satisfying contemporary novels you read; the plot works, and even with Carter’s missteps in dialogue, she never talks down to the reader or takes easy outs with her characters. I would still say I really enjoyed the book even as the inaccurate tone irked me, because there’s something so meticulous about the story’s construction. It’s merely a bit flawed, but in a way that may only matter to certain readers.

The Salesman.

The Salesman won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film this past February, although the film’s victory was obscured by director Asghar Farhadi’s refusal to travel to the ceremony after the current Administration attempted to enact a de facto travel ban on people from his native Iran, among other countries. The ban and the director’s previous, eloquent statements criticizing it may have secured the win for the film, especially given the overall tone of the proceedings this year. Separating the movie from the atmosphere around it (as best as I can), however, the story and the two lead performances are more than deserving, and, as with his Oscar-winning A Separation, Farhadi has shown how much a strong screenwriter can do without resorting to the usual pandering of sex and violence. (The film is available on Amazon Prime, or for rent on iTunes.)

The movie’s title comes from the play within the film: A married couple, Rana and Emad, are also starring in a stage production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, with Emad as the protagonist Willy Loman and Rana as his wife, both wearing prosthetics and using makeup to appear much older than they are. The movie opens as the couple’s apartment building is evacuated as the structure begins to crack due to construction in the neighboring empty lot, putting the edifice at risk of collapse. One of their co-stars in the play has a vacant apartment in his building and offers it to the couple rent-free, but doesn’t fully explain why the previous resident left or why all of her stuff is still sitting in one locked room. Someone visits the apartment, apparently thinking the previous tenant is still there, and ends up assaulting Rana, putting her in the hospital with a skull injury and possible concussion. The aftermath of the assault drives a wedge between her and her husband, as she suffers obvious PTSD and doesn’t want to pursue a case against her unknown assailant while Emad struggles to understand why she can’t just ‘get over it’ yet simultaneously becomes fixated on finding the culprit and enacting vengeance.

Farhadi thrives on delicate pacing and dialogue that leaves much unsaid, which can be more powerful in the right hands but puts a great burden on the actors. Taraneh Alidoosti delivers one of the best performances of the year as Rana, going from the confident, matter-of-fact woman from before the attack to a woman showing all the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, looking for emotional support her husband can’t give her, still trying to act in the play as it’s the one ‘normal’ thing she might be able to do. Shahab Hosseini is a bit maddening as Emad because he’s so perfectly aloof, unable to see past his own anger to help his wife, obsessing over finding the perpetrator – only to stumble on an answer he didn’t expect. And when that character is revealed in a tragicomic parallel to the play, Emad and Rana end up opposing each other over what to do about him: whether to grant him forgiveness or ruin his life by telling his family what he’s done.

The Salesman establishes its velocity early and never wavers from it; Farhadi doesn’t speed things up as we approach the resolution, and there’s no fake action to give the film a burst of energy. It’s a slow build, such that the tension near the end and the sense that something awful is going to happen is close to unbearable, after which Farhadi leaves the audience with an ambiguous closing scene (like that of A Separation) that leaves many aspects of the story open to interpretation. The story seems like it would demand an easy answer or a big finish, but even its most basic questions, like whether or how to forgive someone who committed a crime like the one depicted here, remain unresolved. His depiction of the attacker introduces an element of uncertainty that, at the very least, raises the possibility of empathy rather than justifying the initial reaction of one of the neighbors that he’d like to skin the culprit alive.

I’ve seen all five of the nominees for Best Foreign Language Film from last year – the others are Land of Mine, Tanna, Toni Erdmann, and A Man Called Ove – and would have voted for The Salesman too, giving it the edge over Tanna on story and the two lead performances. South Korea’s film board chose not to submit The Handmaiden, which I think would have at least given The Salesman a run for its money in the voting given the former’s high production values and strong LGBT storyline, although in the end the best film was the winner anyway.