My Life as a Zucchini.

My Life as a Zucchini (original title: Ma Vie de Courgette) was one of the five nominees for this year’s Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, and the shortest of the nominated movies at just 66 minutes. It’s a stop-motion animation film with exaggerated, absurd-looking characters, boasting a wonderful story that strikes a perfect balance between sweetness and the sad reality beneath. (I saw the film in French, with English subtitles, but there is now an English version in theaters too, with Ron Swanson providing the voice of Raymond.)

Zucchini is the nickname of the main character, the orphan Icare, whom we meet at the beginning of the film in awful circumstances: He’s the neglected child of an alcoholic mother, apparently friendless, with only a kite and his collection of his mother’s discarded beer cans to keep him company. She sits in her living room all day, drinking and yelling at the television, but dies a few minutes into the film in an accident that Zucchini caused, which sends him to the orphanage by way of the cop Raymond’s office. At the orphanage, he meets the other kids who’ll soon become his friends, including Simon, the bully with a good heart beneath his exterior, and eventually Camille, the new girl with whom Zucchini falls in love.

Every one of these kids is there for some awful reason. Alice is there because her father molested her and is in jail. Bea is there because her mother was deported to Africa while Bea was in school. (Sound familiar?) Simon’s parents are drug addicts. There’s so much sadness underneath this story that it’s remarkable the film feels so light, but the script gives us everything through the eyes of the children, and it’s a world in which I wanted to spend so much more time. And how could you not care about these kids? The characters are all realistic – not in appearance, with their gigantic heads and arms that nearly reach the floor, but in conception and in their reactions to their circumstances. Even the rough stuff is played for laughs without diminishing the harsh reality beneath; for example, Simon is the only one who knows anything about sex (referred to just as “the thing”), but it’s because he saw pornographic films his parents would watch. It’s awful on its face, but his child’s understanding of what happened on screen is written so perfectly.

Squad goals
Zucchini’s motley crew.

While My Life as a Zucchini is an animated film, it’s not for kids. My daughter is ten, and I’m glad she passed on going with me, because I think the reasons the kids are in the orphanage would have upset her. (The sex talk would have just embarrassed her.) And while I smiled and laughed through most of the film, I was always aware of the sadness beneath the surface. Even the ending, which I won’t spoil except to say that it’s a happy one, still reminds you of the bleak situation these kids – who are in what I can only assume is the greatest orphan home in the world – face. They will always feel, as Simon said, that there was no one left to love them. Mining heart and humor from such fearsome material, based on a French-language book by Gilles Paris, is an impressive reminder of the power of a great work of fiction, whether book or movie, live-action or animated. My Life as a Zucchini can’t match the technical mastery of Oscar winner Zootopia, but its story is far more powerful.

Quick endnotes: If you see the movie, look for an homage to Spirited Away in the graffiti on the wall around the Les Fontaines orphanage very early in the film. Also, be sure to stay through the end credits (at least in the French version) for an absolutely precious vignette from the audition of the child who voiced Zucchini.

Lanterns: The Harvest Festival.

Harper Collins is running a sweepstakes to win an early copy of Smart Baseball and a 30-minute phone call with me before the season starts – click here to enter with your email address. You can also preorder the book here. It comes out April 25th.

The light, colorful boardgame Lanterns: The Harvest Festival came out in 2015 but somehow never hit my radar until the app version came out at the end of 2016, which sold me on the game quickly with great graphics and a strong tutorial. The game itself has simple mechanics, but a clever twist has you giving your opponent something of value every time you do something to help yourself, a quirk that helps keep scores close till the very end.

Lanterns is a set-collection game at heart. There are seven colors of Lanterns, and players try to collect Lantern cards of each color so they can turn them back in for points – either a set of one of each color (so seven total), three pairs, or four of a kind. To gain these cards, on your turn you place one square lantern tile from your hand of three, with a color on each side. You get a card for the color of the side facing you – and then each of your opponents gets a card for the side facing him/her. If you managed to match any of the four sides with the color of the piece it’s now touching, you get a card of that color too. Usually, you’ll place a tile and get two colors, although a three-card move comes along every now and then.

There are also wildcard “favor” tokens available, which you get with special lantern tiles that have platform symbols in the middle of the four colors. When you get the chance at the start of a turn to exchange Lantern cards for points, you can spend two favor tokens to swap one Lantern card for a card of a different color. The supply of Lantern cards in any color is limited, however, so it’s possible you won’t be able to complete such a swap, or even that you won’t get a card you’ve earned via tile placement – and sometimes you’ll want to avoid trading back a card into the supply if that color is currently exhausted.

The point values of those sets declines over the course of the game as players turn in more sets of each type. The first seven-color set turned in is worth 10 points, the first three-pair set is worth 9 points, and the first four-of-a-kind set is worth 8 points. When a player turns in a set of any type, s/he takes a “dedication token” showing the point value of that set from that type’s stack, and the token underneath might have a value of one point less than the one just taken. (In a two-player game, this is always true, but with more players set values might go down every other token instead.)

Once the supply of square tiles is finished, each player gets one more turn in which to exchange a set of Lantern cards for points; after this, the cards and leftover favor tokens have no value at all. Players just add up the points from their dedication tokens to determine the final scores. Games take maybe 30 minutes, and the only downtime for anyone comes as each player scans the open spaces for possible moves to find the most advantageous one. Cacao is a similar tile-laying game, but those decisions take longer.

The app is stunning – the game’s beautiful artwork looks even better on the iPad screen, with fun animations of the lanterns, and the AI is good, maybe not quite tough enough on the hardest setting, but fine for casual play. I usually beat AI opponents but I’m never routing them, which is a testament to the game’s built-in damper on runaway scoring. The publisher has an Android version as well but I haven’t tried it. I highly recommend the iOS version, though, for solo or pass-and-play use.

Long Way North.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences doesn’t release a shortlist of nominees for Best Animated Feature, instead simply listing all eligible films for a given year, with the 2016 list comprising 22 titles, five of which were eventually nominated. That’s how I stumbled on Long Way North, which is free to stream via Amazon Prime; directed by one of the assistants from the amazing 2009 film The Secret of Kells, Long Way North is a very old-fashioned sort of animated film, made in 2D Flash with a traditional feel and a strong, simple story for all ages. (You can also buy/rent it on iTunes).

Sasha is our heroine, the headstrong daughter of an ambitious Russian diplomat in the late 19th century, but after making a rather poor impression at her debutante ball, she chooses to run away from home to find out what happened to her adventurer grandfather, whose supposedly unsinkable ship never returned from an attempt to sail the Northeast Passage by way of the North Pole. She ends up on a merchant ship of tough guys who agree to search for her grandfather’s ship in hopes of collecting the enormous reward out for it, and, of course, she has to save the day through her courage and cleverness in figuring out where to look.

The movie succeeds on two core levels – the look and the story. The 2D rendering gives the movie a real old-school, almost comic-book feel, enhanced by the lack of contour lines in the film, giving the images a layered look, like paper or fabric pasted on backgrounds. In an era where we expect to be dazzled by animation – look at this year’s Oscar winner Zootopia, with its absurdly realistic rendering of animal fur, or Best Animated Short winner Piper‘s rendering of water – Long Way North delights with its minimalism. It’s a throwback in a good way, with an animation ethos like that of The Triplets of Belleville, where simplicity is given to us as an alternative to the near-perfection of Pixar. Once Sasha gets out of her parents’ dank mansion and into the world, the pictures explode with vibrant colors and sweeping fills that look painted on canvas.

The story is the real selling point in Long Way North, as it takes the coming-of-age framework and gives it a few more adult twists, even darker ones as Sasha and the crew face real life-or-death struggles as they approach the North Pole. Sasha is the center of the entire story and the only fully-realized character in the film, but her arc is more than just “spoiled kid meets adversity” or “child never gives up on dreams.” You know she’s not going to die in the Arctic, but the writers succeed in making her path from home to the Pole and back again matter in a way that gives us drama and tension without feeling forced, while also striking the right balance between rewarding Sasha’s blind faith in her grandfather and making her feel the consequences of the risks she’s taken.

The script itself has some really silly, avoidable mistakes in it. After an accident aboard the ship, one of the sailors rues the loss of all of their penicillin … which wasn’t discovered until about forty years after the time of this film. One scene has a character giving Sasha CPR, even though that technique was also decades away from invention. The Northeast Passage itself had already been sailed before the time of the story as well, by Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld, after several partial expeditions by Russian sailors. There’s even a glitch where the title of a book that’s part of the plot changes (by one word). It’s all rather sloppy, which is jarring in a film that looks so clean.

My daughter is a fan of any film that has a female protagonist, especially one who saves the day through cleverness or perseverance, and she loved Long Way North even though the opening exposition is a little confusing. I was more drawn in by the lush feel of the film at first, and didn’t find myself as caught up in the story as she was until the first third or so was over, and Sasha was in the small port town where she boards the mercenary ship. I would probably still recommend this over The Red Turtle, which was nominated for the Oscar over Long Way North, because it’s so much more accessible, with a better literal story (instead of TRT‘s more metaphorical one), and a brighter feast for the eyes as well. And in a related story, I’m hoping to catch My Life as a Zucchini, the only one of the five nominees for Best Animated Feature this year I haven’t seen yet, when it plays here in Wilmington this weekend.

Klawchat 3/9/17.

Starting at 2 pm ET. Questions go in the frame below, not the comments!

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Klaw: You’re telling me it’s in disguise, just use your eyes. It’s Klawchat.

Darren: Have you seen Billy Hamilton. Any thoughts on the progress of his swing and the ceiling of how well he can hit and get on base?
Klaw: It’s probably a good idea for me to start out by saying I haven’t been out to spring training yet. Also, Billy Hamilton’s swing has never been the problem. He has so little hand and wrist strength that I don’t think he can ever hit enough to be even a moderate OBP threat.

Brian: I’d like to let you know that I appreciate the cold water you (aka reality) you throw on prospects. Blue Jays touting Tellez big time…but he is having significant issues this spring catching up to the fastball. I appreciate your takes as a fan, because it helps my untrained eye focus on things I’d miss.
Klaw: You’re welcome. I know the Jays value Tellez more highly than I do. The required offensive threshold for a DH is just so high, however, and Tellez can’t hit good velocity, so I don’t see much probability for him to be more than an up and down guy.

Don: It’s only been three starts, but Tanner Houck hasn’t gotten the results I would have expected out of a potential first round pick. Do you think he has first round talent and at what point do the lack of results start to eat away at his draft prospects?
Klaw: Three starts at the beginning of the year mean very little, especially for a pitcher. It’s much more about how you finish. I think he’s going in the first round barring injury, but I have real concerns about the delivery and lack of a third pitch.

Mark: Why are people so adamant about others speaking their second language when they never attempted to learn a second one? The “Sammy Sosa forgot how to speak English” narrative, brought up by Howard Bryant in his Selig column, is lazy, racist and ignorant. Why wouldn’t he testify under oath in Spanish? Calcaterra made a good point about it 6 years ago, but it’s still used as a default narrative. Just because people claim to have “a friend who spent a semester in Spain and came back fluent” (note: the only people who spend 6 months abroad and return fluent are people who were already fluent to begin with), doesn’t mean someone should testify in their second language. People confuse being able to converse with the media with mastering a language. I’ve spent a decade in Chile working for a bilingual news service and as a translator for an engineering company. If I had to testify in front of Congress – with my freedom at stake – I sure as shit wouldn’t do it in Spanish if I could avoid it.
Klaw: I agree that the comment about Sosa is all of those things, and that “you’re in America, speak English” people should go jump off a tall building. You speak your native language. I’ll do what I need to do to make myself able to understand you.

Francisco: Is Pavin Smith a first rounder ?
Klaw: I don’t think so. Second rounder for me.

J: I know it’s early, but…. any sense of Giolito in spring? Steps forward, steps back, treading water?
Klaw: Building on my earlier answer, I can only offer that his comments about discarding everything the Nats did with his delivery last year are the most positive thing he could have said.

JB: I do not understand all of the fury over a gay character in Beauty and the Beast…anyone who has watched the original animated version should be able to tell that LeFou is in love with Gaston. Last week you mentioned that orientation should not matter in these instances if it is not an established part of canon. On that note, I did not understand why the Broadway version of Harry Potter decided to make Hermione an African American woman for that very reason… I am all for diversity in every aspect of life, but this did seem a little too forced. Thoughts?
Klaw: On the first point, the Australian site the Chaser summed it up best with their post titled “Outrage at inclusion of gay character in film about woman-buffalo romance.” On the second, did they choose to make the character a woman of color, or did they simply cast the best actress regardless of skin color? All we ever learned about Hermione’s appearance from the books was that she had brown, bushy hair (which went out the window once they decided to play up Emma Watson’s looks).

Ned: Keith I’m not able to handle anyone’s differing opinion of things, could you please pull yourself up by your bootstraps and only give me answers that I like?
Klaw: Maybe on april 1st?

Ryan: Are you going to come back to your hometown (or LI in general) when your book is released?
Klaw: I haven’t been back to Long Island in three years, and am not sure when I’ll ever be back there. My family all moved away in 2012 or before.

guren: I recall that you put together a list of your top pizza restaurants back in 2015. Have you ever made pizza at home that compares to some of the better ones on the list, or is it impossible due to the lack of a proper oven?
Klaw: I’d need an oven that could at least get to 800 degrees, so unless I hack the self-cleaning cycle – note well: i’m not going to do that – I won’t be able to do a real Neapolitan-style pizza at home. My daughter and I do make pizza often, but it’s our own style, somewhere between that and NY slice style. Mostly it’s great because it’s from scratch and it’s ours.

addoeh: Let’s talk about a former NFL quarterback that is in his late 20’s. How much interest would teams have in Jake Locker if he announced a comeback today? IIRC, he was considered a good baseball prospect.
Klaw: He was a legit prospect both ways, and in an alternate universe where he’s not good enough to be an NFL prospect – like Kyler Murray – Locker chooses to specialize as a hitter or as a pitcher and comes out of UW as a top ten pick.

Bo: I am probably your biggest fan in the Netherlands. Could you please tell me if you think Profar is going to be a star after all?
Klaw: Still a believer. This is a big year, though. He needs to play every day, and any rationalizing his performance from last year as rust or fatigue from the two-year layoff is over.

Ben: Any chance you have read Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall?
Klaw: I read Fludd and didn’t like it, so, no, I haven’t read anything else she’s written. I just started Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad last night; it seems like it’s the favorite to win this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, to the extent that such odds exist.

Jon/Tampa: Keith, curious on your take on a couple of NYY minor leaguers and if you feel they are over hyped. Frecier Perez and Estevan Florial. Thank you in advance. Actually, more of your thoughts on them rather than if they are over hyped. I trust your judgement more.
Klaw: Florial was 18 and Perez 20 on my Yankees org ranking. They’re both intruiging, but incomplete as prospects, and a long way off. If they’re getting hyped now, it’s premature. I am kind of rooting for Florial because he was born in Haiti, and, I mean, when am I ever going to get back to Haiti?

Jon: More likely to make it as a starter Justin Dunn or Fernando Romero?
Klaw: Both are starters for me long term. Probably Dunn has higher probability because he’s never had an arm injury.

Casey: Does Paul DeJong have a chance to be an average regular or will his most likely outcome be as utility infielder?
Klaw: Has a chance, most likely a good UT who could end up with 500 AB some years playing 3-4 positions.

WarEagle: Hi Keith, I’m trying to watch some SEC baseball games at Auburn, the college I attend. Is there any guy in South Carolina or Auburn I should keep an eye on?
Klaw: Keegan Thompson at Auburn is something, back from TJ, stuff hasn’t been great yet. SC has Schmidt, probably a reliever for me, and Crowe, first-round stuff but bad medicals.

Glen L: If Gleybar Torres moves off SS – does he have the arm for 3B? footwork for 2B? which position would you want him at if not SS?
Klaw: He’s not moving off shortstop.

Herman Melville: I’m sure Harper-Collins knows how to market books better than I do, but it really seems like a missed opportunity to not have it released closer to Opening Day.
Klaw: Not my decision, of course, but I will say it’ll be easier for me to do stuff around the book with it coming out April 25th and not April 4th.

Marc: Seeing several writers tab Taylor Trammell as a breakout candidate this year, what is your take on him? Potential 5-tool?
Klaw: Oh, you mean several writers like me?

Chris Burns: What’s the word on the health of Mike Matuella? Is he someone Rangers fans can hope on getting healthy and having SP potential?
Klaw: I have zero faith in him staying healthy enough to be a starter. He’s thrown about 150 innings total over the last four calendar years.

Dan: Does Madrigal hit for enough power to be a top 50 draft prospect? He seems to have star qualities but wondering if he isn’t closer to Tony Kemp than Dustin Pedroia
Klaw: I don’t think he’s a top 50 guy, but he’s a lot better than Kemp.

College fan: Nick Quintana has made some impressive contact for a freshman. What was the knock on him as a HSer that depressed his draft stock? Is he doing better than expected?
Klaw: Little guy, not expected to have any power, can hit though.

Tim B.: I know you ranked him in your top 100, but what more can you share about the kind of player you expect Jahmai Jones to develop into? Can he be a 20/20 guy or even more?
Klaw: The SB last year surprised me a little, but I imagine you’re asking more about the power, so, yes, I think he’s a 20 HR guy. Just think he has to fill out physically. He was a young draftee.

EC: I wanted to thank you for doing the lords work – especially on twitter – dealing with the crazies who always seem to be sniffing around. It is funny, because they seem to think that you wouldn’t change your mind on anything, when the truth is that if there was a change in scientific evidence and understanding (on vaccines or climate change or whatever) you probably would have an open mind and if it proved to be correct, change your world view. Not really a question I guess, just an observation.
Klaw: You’re welcome, and you’re correct. I tell these wackadoodles that I just follow the science, at which point I’m usually called a pharma shill, or that I’m gullible and believe what the media tells me, and that I should line my hats with tin foil.

TC: What is the ceiling on Bobby Dalbec? What is the chance of him reaching that ceiling?
Klaw: There’s 30 HR power in there, but the kid had a different swing and stance seemingly every game last year, and I didn’t have him on my predraft top 100 for that reason. The Red Sox did calm him down and get him to stick with one set of mechanics all summer, and now there’s real reason for optimism. He doesn’t have to hit a ton to be a big leaguer, just maybe a K rate under 30% so that he’s hitting enough to get to some of that power.

Hinkie: Anything new on “The Adventures of Shohei Otani Coming To America” ? Will there be a CBA exemption allowing him to be a true FA or will he be limited to a J2 signing bonus ? And … If teams believe he is destined for J2, are there numerous clubs holding back on early deals with LA teens in the hopes of a shot at Otani ?
Klaw: I have heard nothing new and expect to hear nothing new until at least the fall. I’ve been told there will be no exemption, but I said in a recent chat I can come up with several loopholes to get him paid.

Michael: Does anyone do more with less than Tebow? Five outs in only three at bats! And he found the right place to stand on deck.
Klaw: The attention we and MLBN gave that game is completely unwarranted. I hope he’s long gone by the time I get to St. Lucie.

Gordon (PA): Hi Keith. Have you ever considered doing a top 100 non-fiction list to supplement your top 100 novel list? I’ve shared your enthusiasm for modern classics like the Omnivore’s Dilemna, The Third Plate, The Sixth Extinction, etc. and would love to see what all would fill your list and use it to fill up my wish list. Care to drop a top ten?
Klaw: With the novels list, I’ve read enough of the accepted classics, including others’ top 100s, Pulitzer winners, etc., that I felt like I had the base that allowed me to do a reasonable list. I couldn’t do that with nonfiction books or with movies. I will mention some other favorite nonfiction books: Barbarians at the Gate, Liar’s Poker, The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber, Thinking Fast & Slow, The Invisible Gorilla, Manhunt, Charlie Wilson’s War, Undeniable, Charlatan, Einstein’s Cosmos.

Tracy: Keith, there is a terrific blog piece in Scientific American this week that you may find interesting, written by Peter Dykstra. It’s a slap-down on climate change deniers and their reasoning for rejecting science and sound judgment. Dykstra basically links their flawed mentality to Sigmund and Anna Freud’s theory on simple denial. It’s definitely worth a read for anybody who has trouble tolerating this kind of thinking.
Klaw: I’ll check it out. Maybe we can get together and mail copies to every EPA employee we can identify?

Mike: Any concern over Greinke topping out at 89 yesterday when he was topping out at 93 at this time last year? AZ newspaper quoted a rival scout who thought Greinke’s stuff had dipped.
Klaw: Not really; I’d be concerned if Greinke, who knows how to manipulate his velocity like few others, said afterwards he was throwing at 100%.

ck: Keith, thanks for all of your work. Are the Cubs better off trying to trade Candelario, or keep him as Rizzo/Bryant insurance (aware of his defensive limits at 3B)?
Klaw: I think he’s good trade bait. He’d play in the majors for someone right now.

Gentry: Who’s better, Luis Castillo or Gohara?
Klaw: I could go either way. I rated Gohara higher, so that’s my answer, but I don’t feel strongly about it. Might be 55/45 in Gohara’s favor.

Brad: Keith, I know you were high on Aaron Blair at this time a year ago. Have you heard any specifics about what has happened to him? I can’t figure out why he hasn’t become at least a backend rotation guy.
Klaw: Velocity fell last year. So did Archie Bradley’s and Braden Shipley’s. I feel like those guys all had something in common in 2015.

A Submitter Has No Name: Hard question but I figured you’d be the best to answer: Which arm in the minors has the ceiling of a #1 and is the most likely to reach that ceiling? You do a good job of assessing risk and probability when determining ceilings (as see with the Moncada ranking). Love your work!
Klaw: That’s Kopech. You gave the reason why I ranked him highest of all pitching prospects: ceiling of a 1, best chance of such players to get to that ceiling.

Donald: Aren’t you glad that President Trumps secret plan to get rid of ISIS in 30 days was such a bigly success?
Klaw: I also enjoyed the Last Week Tonight episode from two Sundays ago, where they included Trump’s campaign promise to ensure every American has health insurance. I assume that means he’s going to veto the Trumpcare bill if it reaches his desk?

TEM: So Jason Heyward has spent the offseason developing a new swing. Based upon what I’ve read from you and elsewhere, the results to date aren’t particularly encouraging. For a guy like Heyward who has shown success with the bat in the past, why would he try to build a new swing from scratch? Why not go with what has previously worked?
Klaw: I think the idea was to restore what worked for him several years ago, as opposed to last year, when nothing worked.

Sandy Cheeks: I believe you said Sandy Alcantara has a really good chance of rising into the top 50 by the end of this season. Which outside the top 100 prospects besides Sandy could have the most movement by the end of the year?
Klaw: If you look at my sleeper for every team, those are 30+ such players. That’s the purpose of the sleepers – guys who aren’t top 100, but who could make a significant leap into the 100 next year.

Scott: Thoughts on Michael Gettys progress and development within the Padres organization and how do you see him moving forward?
Klaw: Borderline non-prospect for me. Can’t hit.

Scott: Is Quantrill going to start in the year in Lake Elsinore this year? Who else of the Padres top prospects are going to be at LE in your estimation? I am looking forward to attending some games next season.
Klaw: I assume so, but i haven’t asked any team about assignments yet, and Q may be on some sort of innings limit.

Anonymous: Hello, I’m going to be in San Francisco next month for a couple days. Could you offer your top recs for 1. coffee 2. pizza 3. one other exceptional dining experience? Thanks!
Klaw: Four Barrel for coffee, Del Popolo for pizza (tell Jon D, the owner, I sent you), and Cotogna for an exceptional dining experience. Also, bring a jacket. And a sweater.

Craig: Klaw, for pete’s sake, give The Godfather a try! It is a freaking masterpiece.
Klaw: I understand that it’s great, or widely considered to be so. The subject matter itself repels me.

JD: Have you seen/heard much of Seth Beer? Is his bat a guy, a Guy, or a G!U!Y?
Klaw: Saw him a few times in HS. Could always hit, but was older than his competition (he was on track to be a 20-yo senior). He’ll be 21.5 next spring as a college junior, and while he’s a corner OF without much defensive value, I can’t really argue against a guy who hits for power and doesn’t strike out much. I will throw this question out there – yes, the walk rate is bonkers, but is he actually that patient, or are teams just pitching around him?

Mike, (Toronto, ON): I’m filming a few days on the final episode of Orphan Black here in Toronto. Any messages from KLaw to the cast/crew? Also, I feel like the Jays are going to be alright this year, despite the fact that everyone in the US media seems to feel they’ll slip. Morales/Pearce replace EE and Smoak, Liriano replaces Dickey, no innings limits for Sanchez, healthier Bautista + JD (maybe Travis, too). Other four starters remain from best starting staff in AL last year. What am I missing?
Klaw: Well, there are few things you could say that would make me more jealous. I had given up hope that Maslany would win the Emmy, only to have her get it last year. I’m a little more bearish than you on the Jays – Morales/Pearce aren’t replacing EE, and while Bautista should be healthier he’s also nearer 40 than 30. There’s also little to no depth – if they need help during the season, it’s not coming from within. I haven’t done any of my standings predictions yet, but I think I’ll probably have them treading water or a touch below last year.

RBI, WIns, and Saves: We would like to announce we are writing a book, too! it’s called “Why We Matter and How Newfangled Stats are Ruining Baseball!” (Subtitle iw “Why Keith Law is Such a Big Poopyhead.) We think we can get Murray Chass to write the forward for us. By the way, what chance does Christin Stewart have to become a GUY?
Klaw: I thought I banned you three from the chat. I think Stewart’s going to be a 50 (average) or a 55 (above average) big leaguer, with little variance around that. His defensive limitations mean he lacks ceiling beyond that, but I feel good enough in the hit/power tools to say he’s going to be an average everyday guy.

JD: I know you generally don’t compare your reports to other writers’, but the difference on David Paulino is unusually large. Any sense what accounts for that? Seeing him at different points in the season?
Klaw: Can’t answer that, nor do I ever answer that kind of question. Paulino throws super hard with a bad delivery, below-average command, and below-average secondary stuff. I said in my Astros writeup, where he wasn’t in the top 10, that I think he’s 90% likely to end up in relief.

Gary: It looks like Derek Hill’s ceiling may be 4th or 5th OFer, due to his issues swinging the bat. Are there any adjustments you would recommend he make, or is he simply not gifted as a hitter?
Klaw: His issue has been injuries. He has to get stronger, but mostly he’s just never had the reps he needed to get any better at the plate. His swing is fine. He has to stay on the field for more than half a season.

JJ: John Farrell said this morning that he’s toying with the idea of batting Benintendi third in the order. Is that too much, too soon, for a rookie, even one with Benintendi’s upside?
Klaw: I don’t believe a hitter’s place in the batting order is going to affect his performance negatively. If anything, he may have more at bats with men on base, meaning he’ll see more pitchers working from the stretch.

Tom: Planning on attending a Wilmington Blue Rocks game this summer. Any good dining options nearby?
Klaw: Cocina Lolo in downtown Wilmington is 5 minutes away, and I think it’s the best overall restaurant in the area.

Bill: Keith – did the Yankees end up better off getting Torres rather than Schwarber (whether or not that was actually on the table is another story).
Klaw: I think so. I’d take the risk of the prospect to get the shortstop rather than the huge bat without a clear position.

Rick: “Do you believe that sick people that cannot afford medical treatment deserve medical treatment”? I feel like if we simply asked people this question before arguing the freaking minutia of all this health care debate for weeks on end, we could save ourselves a lot of time. Because I think that’s a simplified version of what this all comes down to. I give credit to the conservatives who come out and say, “No – health care is not a fundamental right”. At least I know where they stand.
Klaw: I agree, and I want more politicians to have to go on the record like that. Do you think someone should die due to lack of funds for health care that exists, but is expensive? Would you give up some of your own income to ensure that poor people you don’t know get to live longer, or be less sick? (I would.) If not, well, it’s not good, but it’s a reason.

ForteKay: Saw a couple writers mention an increased risk for Thor this season due to added muscle and not throwing in the off season – I’m a bit concerned by his desire to throw HARDER but he also has tremendous size and an easy motion. Should I be any more worried than I would be for a pitcher in general?
Klaw: That was based on comments from a former coach who’s never seen Thor and knows no specifics about him. I thought the media running with that was irresponsible.

Alex: Any recommendations on things to see in Europe?
Klaw: You may have to narrow that one down a bit.

Karl: I know you are not a fantasy sports guy, but perhaps you can help me out…in a long term dynasty league I can keep two of the following: Aaron Judge, Bradley Zimmer, or Alex Verdugo. I know you rank Verdugo the highest on your rankings but on a purely offensive stats output would that still be the case? Thanks for taking my question and I won’t ask another fantasy question ever again.
Klaw: Verdugo. Also Verdugo. In case that wasn’t clear, take Verdugo.

Mike (DC): Joe Martarano to give up football to play baseball full time. At 22 y/o, is there any shot he can develop quickly enough to make the majors some day?
Klaw: Problem was he sucked in HS. Long way to go at the plate.

dave: If the panda loses his footing will Devers have a chance for a midseason call up
Klaw: I think they’d prefer not to do that. Devers hasn’t even played a game in AA yet.

ForteKay: Re: Godfather – Is it the semi-racist connotations of Italian-Americans and crime? Or just violence in general? As a fellow Italian-American that association definitely bugs me – but hard to deny it makes for really entertaining fiction.
Klaw: It’s the former. I do not like ultraviolent films, but I avoid gore (I said on twitter I’ve never seen a slasher film, let alone this disgusting trend of ‘torture porn’ films) and accept that much great fiction includes violence. Blood Meridian is a great novel, but if someone films that it’s going to get an NC-17 for all the killings.

Steve: Thanks for spreading the word about Ten Fe. Killer album.
Klaw: Still among my favorites this year. Temples’ new record was good too. I got an early stream of the Afghan Whigs’ album, due out in May, and liked it a lot – more than I did their last record.

HugoZ: Do you find the subject matter of Richard III repellant as well? Isn’t there value to examining the nature of evil?
Klaw: Richard III is certainly a repellent character. He’s not an Italian-American, for one thing. For another, that’s Shakespeare. He had the best words. Mario Puzo is not Shakespeare.

JR: Not sure if you can say anything on this, but there have been reports in recent days that ESPN is going to be making another round of cuts. Is there anyone we can email/tweet at/send snail mail too to encourage the decision makers to keep you? You are the only reason I buy insider, so they would lose my annual sub fee if you end up elsewhere.
Klaw: Several of you have reached out on the topic, so thank you all for the concern. I just signed a new contract a few weeks ago. I’m more worried about friends of mine who work behind the scenes at ESPN, although I know nothing more than you saw in reports like Richard Deitsch’s.

Jeff: No question, just a comment. Saw Hunter Greene in person last Saturday against the local HS team. I came to the conclusion (in my amateur opinion) that he is really $#@#% good. Any chance a team drafts as a SS instead of a pitcher?
Klaw: There’s enough real doubt about the hit tool that I think he’s 80/20 or better to go as a pitcher. Up to 101, athletic as hell, now has a real slider too.

JD: re pitching around Seth Beer: the Gamecocks coach said he’d walk him 4 or 5 times if he had to, throw it to the backstop if he had to… and then the winning run scored on a passed ball during an intentional walk to Beer. So maybe people are pitching him a little too carefully?
Klaw: Is that the incident someone tweeted at me about? By the way, remember when the Gamecocks coach talked some smack about me when I said Brandon McIlwain was foolish to enroll early at SC and skip the MLB draft? How’s that working out?

Dan: I have read all of Gladwell, any other books like his you would recommend?
Klaw: I think there’s much better stuff out there in the same vein that leans more on the research and less on anecdote. Thinking Fast & Slow, Invisible Gorilla, Predictably Irrational, Superforecasting, even Freakonomics all mine that territory more effectively.

Tim (KC): Keith, now that the Diamondbacks have made changes, which teams are most behind the times analytically speaking? Which are better than the rest?
Klaw: As far as I know, all 30 teams have or are building dedicated analytics departments. Arizona, Minnesota, Philadelphia are all behind on the timeline, but it’s not due to lack of effort, budget, or willpower. They just got late starts.

Dan: Where will Lazaro Armenteros start the year? How long before he will sniff a top 100 list?
Klaw: Probably extended spring, and I’d bet on never.

Jerry: What I don’t get is how “pro-life” goes along with poor people don’t deserve shit. Also I don’t get how we haven’t overhauled medical and pharmacy billing.
Klaw: “Pro-life” people are generally “pro-birth.” You have to have that baby, and now you’re entirely responsible for it, even though kids who are malnourished, maltreated, or often sick are more likely to end up costing society as a whole when they get older. (Also, you know, compassion for those less fortunate is a good thing.)

Jerry: Bochy said he really doesn’t want to platoon LF, so does Parker hit lefties well enough to win the everyday job (because there are a ton of LH SPs in the NL West)?
Klaw: Such a long swing. I can’t see it.

Bruce: Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow – what is the ceiling for both and what do you expect from them this year?
Klaw: Maybe both #2s? Taillon is much further ahead. During his long layoff he became more of a complete pitcher, not just a thrower. Glasnow’s new delivery perplexes me and I wrote about it this week.

Harold: Every economic problem in our country boils down to the fact that pols in both parties craft legislation to benefit the ultra rich and the ultra poor. They love the rich because they all fall into that category, along with those who fund their campaigns. They love the poor, because it is a large voting bloc that is easy to influence with promises of subsidies and other benefits. The problem, obviously, is that the segment in the middle is burdened with financing everything and eventually will be too small to handle it.
Klaw: Is that really true? I thought the “ultra poor,” however you define them, don’t vote at the same rates as higher socioeconomic strata. The rich do tend to get what they want, though. Everything counts in large amounts.

Bobbo: Just letting you know that someone got the “Bad Idea Jeans” joke.
Klaw: That commercial will never, ever, ever get old.

Jeff: Bomani Jones said on Twitter (paraphrasing) that Thomas Sowell is a brilliant man who lost his damn mind…was wondering how you feel about Sowell, since you are both econ buffs.
Klaw: This seems like a really interesting topic that I totally missed.

Lee: Why the heck would any somewhat intelligent human choose a football career over baseball? Football gives you lifelong debilitating diseases on a non-guaranteed salary structure. How is this even a choice for people?
Klaw: No idea. If any of our friends with kids let their sons play football – they’re all reaching the ages where that’s an option – I will try to convince them otherwise the way I would convince a vaccine resister.

Dan: This the year Daniel Norris puts it all together? What are you expecting from him this year
Klaw: I’m a believer.

Jerry: I know “best shape of life” means nothing, but was it true for Panda and does it mean anything?
Klaw: Sounds like he’s in great shape but I have no idea what if anything it means.

Stewart: As with any society, ours is in the stage where those who are the least productive are the ones reproducing the most. Studies consistently show that people are much more likely to maintain the economic status of their parents, rather than taking a huge leap forward. If politicians want to lessen the impact entitlement programs on the economy, they need to provide real incentives to middle and upper class people to have more children.
Klaw: Or to provide incentives and methods for the lowest stratum to have fewer children. You know, like easy access to affordable birth control.

Anonymous: Great news! EPA chief Scott Pruitt says CO2 is not a primary contributor to global warming. I was really starting to worry that global warming was a real long term threat to life and property. Apparently I can relax now.
Klaw: It would be great if the media would simply call him out on that bullshit every. single. day.

Nathan: Assuming both reach their potential, who ends up with more value, Meadows or Dahl?
Klaw: Meadows. My worry with Dahl is that I don’t think he has a great plan at the plate. I think he’s blessed with tremendous ability, but Meadows has a much better idea when he gets in the box.

Valdez: Did you have the same attitude toward MJordan’s foray into baseball, or did he get a pass?
Klaw: I was 20 when he did that. I had no standing to even have an opinion, and if I did have one, I have no idea what it was. I know that several years later I found out that Jordan’s little sojourn wrecked the career of a prospect behind him – I think that was Charlie Poe – so I would say now, with that knowledge and the benefit of my age and experience, that it was just as ridiculous, maybe even more so because they shoved him right to AA. (He also showed that he was way more skilled than the washed-up QB, though.)

Nick: Ever made beef jerky at home? If so, which cut of beef do you prefer (I don’t think flank is ideal).
Klaw: I haven’t, partly because I can’t get over my fear that I’d do it wrong, mostly because we eat very little beef at home.

Ethan: Is there a difference between a sinker and a two-seam fastball, as far as grip and movement? I feel like I hear the two interchanged sometimes. I could be wrong.
Klaw: Yes, two different pitches, typically different movements, but a two-seamer can sink – it usually will at least have some sink, although that type of movement, where it moves both down and to the pitcher’s arm side, is usually called ‘tail.’

Paul: Isn’t the issue with healthcare how to reduce costs? Haven’t heard any goods ideas from either party.
Klaw: Yes. That’s a bigger issue than mere price elasticity, which is what the GOP keeps pointing to with HSAs – saying that if you’re not spending your own money, you stop caring whether you’re overpaying. That is true for most goods, but doesn’t appear to be true for health care, at least not in any way that can inform policy. If you or a loved one needs lifesaving care, you will pay everything you have. That is an open invitation for providers to charge as much as possible.

TJ: Klaw, do you have any “guilty pleasure” players? Guys you know aren’t great but just enjoy watching them play? Mine would be Rajah Davis- gotta love a short, pudgy dude who looks like he’s having great fun playing and wears a giant oven mitt when on base, even if he takes the craziest routes imaginable to chase fly balls…
Klaw: I love watching athletes do athletic things. Billy Hamilton is not very good at all at the plate, but I could watch him run all day. I don’t care if he goes full Piersall and runs the bases backwards. I’d watch him run from the dugout to his position. I am just floored to see a human being move that fast.

J: Watched Lobster last night. I feel like I need to watch it again and pay more attention to all the animals who have walk on parts
Klaw: The dog should have gotten a best supporting actor nomination.

ForteKay: Any book signings planned in the New York/Westchester area? Would love to get a signed copy and talk a bit of baseball
Klaw: Nothing yet, but I think we’ll do something in NYC around the launch date. As it gets closer, more requests are coming into Harper Collins and we’re trying to work those into my scouting schedule, because I think I’m doing all my draft travel after April 1st this year (it just worked out that way).

Klaw: That’s all for this week – thank you as always for all of your questions. With travel coming up, I may move chat days/times or skip a week, so please watch here, Facebook, and Twitter for announcements on that front. Hup hup!

I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore.

So I’m told that the new movie I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore isn’t technically a movie, because Netflix bought the film at January’s Sundance Festival and released it directly to its streaming service, bypassing a theatrical release entirely. That means it’s ineligible for annual movie awards and (most) critics’ lists. I don’t think the movie was going to end up earning Oscar nods, but it might have been on some top ten lists given its indie cred and noir-farcical feel, along with a pretty great performance by Elijah Wood.

Melanie Lynskey plays the protagonist, Ruth, a frumpy, meek post-op nurse who lives alone, is constantly put-upon or merely stepped-on, and comes home from the Worst Day Ever to find that someone broke into her house and stole her laptop and her grandmother’s silver. The police are indifferent and even blame her* a bit for the break-in, giving zero reason for her to expect to ever see her stuff again. She had location-tracking software on her laptop, however, and when her phone tells her the laptop has been turned on and is located about a ten-minute drive away, she recruits her martial arts-obsessed neighbor, Tony, to go get it back … which leads them into one semi-incompetent escapade after another until people start getting shot.

* Unrelated: last year, we had a false alarm at our house for unknown reasons, but the police ended up getting to the house before we could return and call them off. The officer who went through the house was really unpleasant to us after, saying we’d left “every door unlocked,” and all but calling us idiots. While we have certainly made the mistake of leaving one door unlocked, there’s one door that we never open and that is always locked, one he claimed was left unlocked … which it wasn’t. So I probably related to Ruth a little more than usual when the cop was talking down to her.

I keep seeing references to this film as “neo-noir,” but it’s noirish, at best, and is too comical, with protagonists and antagonists too inept, to really qualify as noir. Ruth and Tony are just amateurs, and they get drunk on the success of the laptop retrieval mission. When they get closer to the bumbling, violent idiots behind the burglary, things get more serious, except that the gang literally can’t shoot straight, and we get a Fargo-esque screwup that leaves a few people dead and Ruth running for her life from the big baddie, played by David Yow (lead singer of the Jesus Lizard). The tone definitely gets darker as the film goes on, but less in a Touch of Evil sort of way, more in a Pulp Fiction holy-shit-people-are-dying-horrible-deaths way.

There is a broader theme underlying I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore that takes it beyond mere indie black-comedy territory – that people today are losing their empathy. Ruth views the burglary as the greatest violation in a day of minor violations, and thinks the problem is just that people are assholes (her word for it, not that I disagree). And when she confronts some of the people who were assholes to her, only one, Tony, actually sets about proving her wrong. There’s no answer to the questions of where our empathy went, or how to get it back, but as the foundational observation for an inept crime caper film, it works quite well.

By the way, Lynskey’s first major role in anything was in 1994’s Heavenly Creatures, where she played Pauline Parker, who murdered her mother with the help of her friend Juliet Hulme. The director of that film was Peter Jackson, who later directed the Lord of the Rings films, starring … Elijah Wood. Hulme was played by another then-unknown actress, Kate Winslet. And you probably know who Juliet Hulme is, but not by that name: She was released from prison after serving her five-year term, changed her name to Anne Perry, and became a best-selling author of historical detective fiction.

Sing Street.

Sing Street is a coming-of-age story, set in the 1980s, that also serves as an homage to the distinctive pop and new-wave sounds of the first half of that decade along with the new medium of the music video. Written and directed by John Carney, who wrote and directed the wonderful 2007 film Once (now a Tony Award-winning musical), Sing Street uses largely unknown actors and original music that manages to evoke classic ’80s pop tunes without directly ripping them off, and includes all kinds of little visual cues to remind those of us who grew up in that era of the atmosphere of the time. The film earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Musical or Comedy (it’s both), but didn’t earn a Best Song nomination, and was totally overlooked by the Oscars. I named it my #10 movie of 2016 on my post last weekend. It’s currently streaming on Netflix and available to rent on amazon and iTunes.

The film follows Conor, the youngest of three children of squabbling Robert (Aidan Gillen, a.k.a. Mayor Carcetti from The Wire) and Penny (Maria Doyle Kennedy, a.k.a. Mrs. S from Orphan Black), as he’s moved from a posh private school to a free school run by the Christian Brothers called Synge Street, named for the Dublin street on which it’s located. (The street and school are both real.) Conor’s bullied right away by the tough kids in the new school, but spots an attractive girl standing across the street – complete with ’80s big hair – and lies about being in a band to try to impress her, asking her to be in their first video. Then he has to make a band, which becomes Sing Street, and launches the remainder of the story, along with the film’s wonderful soundtrack.

Each Sing Street song is a thematic copy of something that’s popular at the moment, like Duran Duran’s “Rio” or Hall & Oates’ “Maneater.” If you remember the ’80s act Danny Wilson, who had a minor hit in the U.S. in 1988 called “Mary’s Prayer,” their lead singer Gary Clark wrote most of the music for Sing Street, and has a clear knack for this sort of knockoff – the song that sounds like some other song, but has enough of a hook to work on its own, with new and often quite clever lyrics. I’m far from the only person who thought “Drive It Like You Stole It” was robbed of an Oscar nomination – neither Sting’s version of the same song he’s been rewriting since “They Dance Alone” or that awful Timberlake song where he trolls the entire world deserved a spot over this one – but you could make a case for “Up” or closer “Brown Shoes” too.

The story itself is a little light, and we’re mostly just following the two main characters, Conor and Raphina, as they start to grow up a little, make some mistakes, and develop a sort of teenage crush. Everyone else is comic relief, including Conor’s manic, frustrated musician brother Brendan (played by American actor Jack Reynor, who’s great except for his bad Irish accent); Mark McKenna as rabbit-obsessed multi-instrumentalist wizard Eamon; and even class bully Barry, who has a predictably awful home life but gets his little moment in the sun. And Carney works in several ’80s music-video tropes, including shots of the main couple running out of a concert hall or the two of them running down the alley in the half-light, as well as clips of the band filming amateur music videos that imitate the stuff they’ve seen on TV.

Carney himself has said he regrets the ending, joking that he wishes he’d killed the two protagonists off, but I found his comments puzzling because, before I saw his comments, I didn’t think the ending was so unambiguously happy. Other than the clear reference to “Rio,” except for Conor getting poured on as opposed to Simon LeBon basking in sunshine, the ending seemed open-ended and doubtful to me. There’s no real reason to believe good things are going to happen to either character in what would hypothetically follow the final sequence. It’s an escape, because the film itself (and the music videos that inspired it) is an escape, but the characters are only escaping from, not escaping to. To compare it to the other great musical of 2016, La La Land, there’s probably no chance Conor and Raphina are staying together for long. They’re two kids in something like love, doing something rash and impetuous that probably won’t work out, but so what?

Ferdia Walsh-Peelo has a star-making turn as Conor, playing him with little flashes of the charisma of a lead singer, but primarily as a shy, slightly nerdy kid who’s barely coming into his own over the course of the film. He was 16 when it was filmed and won’t turn 18 until this October, if you want to wonder what you’ve done with your life. Lucy Boynton has less to do as Raphina, but she manages to pull off a solid combination of insecurity and superficial haughtiness, while also proving to be quite the chameleon as the costume and makeup folks run her through a series of looks that are unquestionably ’80s and best left there. (She’s also going to appear in the upcoming film version of Murder on the Orient Express.) Walsh-Peelo is the one I’d like to see some more, though, since he sang his own vocals and has a certain presence even behind his character’s meekness.

For more on how Carney & company created the convincing sounds of a band of teenagers who’ve just started playing together, I recommend this piece from MIX magazine.

Stick to baseball, 3/4/17.

No new Insider content this week, although I believe I’ll have a new piece up on Tuesday, assuming all goes to plan. I did hold a Klawchat on Thursday.

My latest boardgame review for Paste covers Mole Rats in Space, a cooperative game for kids from the designer of Pandemic and Forbidden Desert. It’s pretty fantastic, and I think if you play this you’ll never have to see Chutes and Ladders again.

You can preorder my upcoming book, Smart Baseball, on amazon, or from other sites via the Harper-Collins page for the book. The book now has two positive reviews out, one from Kirkus Reviews and one from Publishers Weekly.

Also, please sign up for my more-or-less weekly email newsletter.

And now, the links…

Top Chef, S14E14.

This episode was called “Comida Final.” It’s Brooke versus Shirley, no mas.

* I could be reading way too much into facial expressions and body language, but I don’t think these two like each other. Either they’re really just sick of being so close to each other all the time, or they are just not mutual fans. It happens.

* They’re facing the classic Top Chef finale challenge: Prepare a progressive four-course meal. They pick their sous-chefs from the season’s contestants to date, with Shirley choosing Casey (because she thinks Brooke will take her), Brooke taking Sheldon (who would have been my first pick), Shirley taking Katsuji (who deadpans “because I’m Mexican?”), and Brooke taking Sam. I think Brooke won that draft.

* The third sous-chefs turn out to be the two contestants’ chefs de cuisine, which is kind of cool for those guys – they tend to be a little anonymous below their famous bosses.

* Shirley is clearly crafting a story across her four dishes, basing it on food memories with her family. Brooke’s seems less focused on a narrative, but says her theme is “definitely local ingredients.” I don’t think the story matters unless the judges can’t decide who won. Has anyone in a Top Chef finale lost after clearly outcooking his or her opponent?

* They’re shopping at some sort of open-air market – more like a grocery store than last week’s farmers’ market – with 10,000 pesos, about US$500.

* Brooke says “There’s a lot of Shirley yelling … and there has been for months now.” Yeah, I don’t think they like each other. Oh well.

* So it sounds like Brooke forgot to order pork belly. Then it gets really weird: She asks to use Shirley’s, which is awkward enough, but then it turns out Shirley ordered it for a ‘backup’ dish in case she doesn’t like the suckling pigs (piglets) she bought. Doesn’t Shirley have every right to say no? Granted, Brooke has short ribs as her backup plan, but ultimately ordering the correct items is the chef’s responsibility.

* They’re having a pre-finale dinner at Dreams Resort in Tulum. I really want to take a very long vacation down there. They’re surprised by their families at the dinner table – Shirley’s husband, Brooke’s husband and son Hudson (who, by the way, has gotten so much bigger since her last season on the show). I can’t imagine being away from my daughter for the amount of time this show requires – and she’s done this twice!

* I’m always surprised when I see how much ink Brooke has. Not that I think anything of it, but for whatever reason it doesn’t line up for me.

* When they walked in the kitchen, I was reminded again how much stronger I think Team Brooke is.

* Shirley, to her great credit, ends up giving the pork belly to Brooke. Meanwhile, Katsuji is butchering the piglets – and he’s a kosher chef, so he probably never cooks with pork at his restaurant.

* You don’t see whole red snapper very often as a consumer, but those fish Shirley has look amazing – and particularly fresh.

* Shirley’s making broth for her ramen, and I think she’s trying to make a pork broth, which is a long process, probably not something you can simulate in a couple of hours.

* Brooke asks Sheldon how he cooked his octopus “the other day,” in case you were wondering how compressed the filming schedule was. She’s got Sam making three garlic items to go with it – a garlic oil in which they’ll sear the octopus, garlic chips, and a garlic puree.

* Shirley’s also making noodles by hand for the ramen, and is using an old-fashioned hand-crank that won’t stay clamped to the countertop. This is the main reason I own the overpriced KitchenAid pasta-roller attachment. It works.

* Brooke is making chamomile flan, which turns out to be a problem because of some oven issue, but I just want to say that chamomile is gross. It’s related to ragweed (to which I’m very allergic) and tastes like some sort of grass. I like tea-flavored desserts, but, you know, how about Earl Grey?

* Anyway, the flan takes a lot longer to cook than anticipated (she says “it’s like the oven just took a shit”), so there’s a good chance it’s going to end up eggy and a little dense, rather than the silky texture of good flan.

* Shirlye’s mom and sister are there along with her husband. Her sister is adorable. Brooke’s folks are there; her dad has some strong mustache game going.

* First course: Shirley does snapper crudo with chili soy vinegar and crispy shallot. She calls it “Let me take you to Lijiang.” Brooke does a raw, warm oyster with grilled swiss chard and bacon. Daniel Boulud praises the presence of bacon flavor without fat, while Jonathan Waxman loves the amount of liquid in the shell.

* Jonathan Sawyer, who has the most metal hair we’ve ever seen on Top Chef, thinks Shirley’s dish was beautiful, but the elements weren’t balanced – Tom points out that you can’t get all three elements in one bite. Tesar is there too, and says Shirley’s dish was nice but calls Brooke’s “soigné.” I know that’s a compliment, but that word was tired the moment it moved out of the fashion world.

* Second course: Shirley serves top ramen with egg, kimchi, purslane, rendered pork fat. I’m not bothering with her goofy dish names. Brooke serves charred octopus with orange annatto broth, radishes, garlic puree, garlic chips. The octopus is an enormous hit; Padma calls it “finale food,” and Sawyer says he’d put it on any menu, anywhere, and would recommend it to anyone. Boulud praises the two presentations of garlic, and how it still doesn’t dominate the dish. I’m having a hard time imagining that much garlic in a dish without that becoming the predominant note.

* Joachaim Splichal says Shirley’s broth was very flat, and Tom thinks the rise of ramen in the last decade makes it look worse in comparison. Sawyer also doesn’t care for the noodles.

* Third course: Shirley made braised piglet shanks with wild rice, lentils, blanched spinach, and habanero onions. Brooke made braised pork belly and beans with charred onion and purslane, with a reduction of the bean braising liquid over the top. It’s all rich, comfort food. Tom loves the wild rice; Joachim says, “being German, I haven’t had pork like this since I left Germany.” Graham Elliott likes the choice of cut too.

* Brooke’s dish is just as much of a hit. Boulud “cleaned ny plate.” Sawyer praises the proteins and the sauce; Martha Ortiz there thinks the beans were the star and reminded her of Mexican cuisine. That’s high praise.

* If you can read Spanish, Ortiz’s biography on her official site is something to behold. It makes her sound more like she founded a country than two restaurants.

* Fourth course: Brooke’s dessert is an chamomile and aged rum flan with candied cashews. Shirley’s dessert is rice pudding with tropical fruit (I see dragonfruit, mango, and passion fruit), lemon-lime snow, and some sort of brittle. Joachim says it’s one of the best desserts he’s ever had.

* Brooke’s mom won her neighborhood’s second annual flan cookoff, earning her an ovation from the diners. That was cute.

* You can tell right away that the texture of the flan is off from the diners’ reactions, and everyone says the chamomile and rum flavors aren’t there. (You’d have to infuse the chamomile leaves in the dairy for a while.) Meanwhile, they’re all inhaling the rice pudding.

* We see Shirley’s mom asking her daughter how to say “I’m proud of you in English,” shortly before Shirley and Brooke return to the room. Shirley goes to see her mom and asks “haochi ma?” meaning “how did it taste?” (literally, “delicious?” as a question), to which her mom says “very delicious,” and then says in English, “Beautiful Shirley, I am happy Shirley, I am proud.” It got a little dusty in my living room at that point.

* Judges’ table: Tom calls out Shirley for the lack of enough chili or mint to go with each bite of the fish in her snapper crudo. Gail thinks it was smart to “set the stage” with the light first course. Graham claims Brooke’s first dish was “too much right out of the gate,” but Tom doesn’t find it too acidic and likes the “smack in the face” to start off. Shirley says for her ramen she was trying to mimic the big flavors of the taste of the packet you’d get in instant ramen, but the judges all seem to agree the broth came up short. Brooke credits Sam for the garlic chips, and overall her octopus dish gets perfect marks (that we see). Tom is still raving about the wild rice in Shirley’s pork shank. Graham says that the diners were debating whether Brooke’s was a pork dish or a bean dish, but that I think is a sign of its success. Tom says “everyone here can attest that I like rum,” but neither that flavor nor that of chamomile weren’t in Brooke’s dish. Gail notes the inferior texture of the flan itself. Padma says Shirley’s dessert was her favorite dish of the night; Graham says it was creative and provocative, and Tom loved the textures and flavors.

* Tom says Brooke won the first course, and when Gail says the octopus was her favorite dish of the night, Tom seems to agree. There’s some fake drama here when they discuss the dessert, but I think this was a rout: two dishes for Brooke, one for Shirley, and one toss-up. Tom even acknowledges this when he says that if he looks head-to-head, he “can make a really clear argument for who I think should win.” Yes.

* And there’s little surprise here. Brooke is Top Chef. I had her ranked at the top after episode one, and she never budged. Shirley ending up second over Sheldon or Sylva was the big upset, but Brooke came pretty close to running the table. She’s also now the second chef to come back via Last Chance Kitchen to win, after Kristen, who beat Brooke in the latter’s first time around.

* I’ve criticized this season of Top Chef more than any other season I’ve covered here with recaps, and I think everything I said still holds, but this was a strong finale in every respect. I wanted to eat all of that food. I got ideas for dishes or twists on dishes from the last three courses. (I never prepare shellfish at home, and I’ll leave crudo to folks who source better fish than I can.) One chef cooked well, the other cooked like a champion. And the emotional moments in the finale felt genuine.

* That said, I sincerely hope we are done with the mixed veterans/rookies format, and that wherever the next season takes place, only a few challenges will focus on regional cuisine. I always want fewer gimmicks – you can fire your sudden-death quickfires into the sun, guys – and would like to never see any of these “you can only cook with one hand behind your back, and we’re pumping half the oxygen out of the kitchen” challenges again. I’m truly just here for the food, even if I never get to taste any of it. And, hey, if they want to do Top Chef: Philadelphia next season, I’m just saying the baseball offseasons give me a lot of room in my schedule.

* EDIT: Vulture interviewed the two finalists, where they at least contradict some of my speculations above.

Author: The JT Leroy Story.

I’ll be doing a Facebook Live event on Monday at 11 am ET as part of our buildup to the April 25th release of my book Smart Baseball. I also have a new boardgame review up at Paste, covering the cooperative game for kids Mole Rats in Space, from the designer of Pandemic.

Author: The JT Leroy Story is an unusual documentary because its subject, Laura Albert, recorded many of the phone calls she made during the time period where she was posing as the bestselling author who, it turned out, wasn’t real. Albert herself does most of the talking in the film, which makes it so much more compelling than many documentaries (but raises reasonable questions about the reliability of what we’re hearing), and makes the film’s revelation at the end that much more effective of a stomach-punch and an explanation for so much of what came before. The film was nominated for a Writers’ Guild award for Best Documentary Screenplay and is free on amazon prime.

JT Leroy was a fictional author who wrote real books, an HIV-positive teenager/young adult who had worked as a truck-stop prostitute and been pimped out by his drug-addicted prostitute mother, and who expressed genderfluid feelings before that was part of the common vernacular. He was either the creation of Albert, a woman in her mid-30s at the time of Leroy’s ascension, or a separate ‘avatar’ who expressed himself through her; Albert seems to vacillate between explanations, but is clear that this isn’t dissociative identity disorder, at least. She ‘became’ Leroy to write, and wrote fictional stories about what were supposedly his real-life experiences. Leroy’s first two novels, Sarah and The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, were critically acclaimed and became best-sellers, earning the author a cult following that extended to the celebrity world, only some of whom appear to have been aware that Albert was the actual writer behind the works.

In 2005, a New York article outed Albert as the writer behind Leroy and her sister-in-law as the person acting as Leroy in public, with the New York Times later corroborating the story. Painted as a grand hoax, Albert’s authorship of Leroy’s works doesn’t seem analogous to hoaxers like James Frey or plagiarists like Q.R. Markham; Leroy’s novels were original works of fiction, and never presented to anyone as fact. At most, they were said to be based on fact, or inspired by it, which is false but shouldn’t alter anyone’s perceptions of the quality of the content. (I haven’t read any of Albert’s works under any name and thus have no opinion on whether any of it is good.)

Author attempts to answer two questions about the scandal. One is simply to tell everyone what happened, because the story was major news for a few weeks in 2005-06, and then faded away as such controversies do, especially since in this case the only harm done to anyone was to the film company that eventually sued Albert for fraud. (She signed the option contract as JT Leroy, rather than under her own name.) The documentary gives us the story from Albert’s perspective, punctuated by dozens recordings of phone calls with her publisher, her therapist, her friends, and celebrities who befriended Leroy or Albert (including Billy Corgan and Courtney Love), plus a few others who appear on camera to discuss their roles in helping bring Leroy to the reading public.

The second question is always the toughest for any documentary to answer – the reason(s) why – although in this case, Author at least gives us the central figure’s own explanation with some supporting evidence. The filmmakers here chose to leave the biggest revelation until the end of the film, a gimmick that I found extremely effective, because instead of essentially absolving Albert up front for everything that comes afterwards, Author tells you everything that happened (through Albert’s lens) and then finishes up by giving us a clue on what spark may have started the conflagration.

Author lacks the completeness that a thorough documentary requires; Savannah Knoop, who posed as Leroy in public, appears just once near the end of the film, and Geoff Knoop, Albert’s husband at the time, is nowhere to be found. All we’re getting is Albert’s retelling of the story, in which she takes some responsibility but also depicts herself as someone wronged by media coverage of Leroy as a “hoax” rather than an avatar of a pseudonymous writer. I admit to finding hoaxes fascinating, largely for the motivations of the perpetrators and their general belief that they won’t get caught, and Albert has a reasonable complaint that she’s been treated unfairly. If you thought the novel had literary merit, is that merit diminished at all just because the author wasn’t actually male, young, genderfluid, or HIV-positive?

Klawchat 3/2/17.

Starting at 1 pm ET. Questions go in the chat widget below, not in the comments!

You can preorder my upcoming book, Smart Baseball, on amazon, or from other sites via the Harper-Collins page for the book. Also, please sign up for my more-or-less weekly email newsletter.

Klaw: Pull your shirt off and pray. It’s Klawchat.

Henry: Keith, what has happened to JJ Schwarz? I’m a UF fan, and obviously he had a great freshman year. Last year seemed bad, and this year looks even worse in the early weeks (obviously small sample). I’m totally with you that there’s zero chance he catches in the pros, but why has the bat fallen apart so drastically?
Klaw: I think other teams started pitching him differently and he hasn’t made the adjustment. Not sure he’s even a first-round consideration any more.

Patrick: Keith, as a fan, what should i be paying attention to in Spring Training? Especially with young pitchers I hope will help my favorite team sooner rather than later?
Klaw: Health is the biggest thing. If you’re talking about watching performances, really you just want your pitchers throwing strikes and showing their usual velocity by their third or at worst fourth times out. But don’t get hung up on any spring stats.

Steve: Have you seen Heywards new swing? Besides being way to early to see if its sustainable or productive for him, does the loading and swing path look more natural and promising than what he previously had?
Klaw: On video, and talked to scouts who’ve seen it, and basically there’s nothing positive to say right now.

Cedric: Any thoughts on the DeJong/Zabala trade?
Klaw: I answered this on Twitter by linking to my Mariners report. Zabala is the only real prospect in the deal.

Robert Luis: What can you tell me about the abilities and projections of 19 year old Cuban Luis Robert? Any favorites to sign him when he becomes eligible?
Klaw: He’s already getting hyped well beyond his abilities. Who can sign him depends on whether he becomes eligible before or after the signing period ends.

Dan: Jim Bowden threw around a trade: Almora and Happ for B. Hamilton. Thoughts?
Klaw: Utterly ridiculous – I wouldn’t trade either guy straight up for Hamilton – but not even the dumbest one in the article. That would be Quintana for just Kyle Tucker and David Paulino, the latter of whom isn’t even top ten in the Astros’ system. That’s probably less than half the return the White Sox should expect for Quintana. There’s a real disconnect from real-world values here.

John: I haven’t heard much about Jake Mangum or Greg Deichman from draft analysts. Both seem to be hitting very well in the SEC but neither get much mention. Do you consider either one a 1st round possibility?
Klaw: Mangum is a freshman. He’s not eligible. Deichmann is just a corner guy who’s not a day-one prospect – and he isn’t hitting well “in the SEC,” because LSU hasn’t played any SEC opponents yet. Their schedule to date includes Maryland, Hofstra, Nicholls State, New Orleans, Army, Air Force, Pencil State, Backwater U, and Little Sisters of the Poor.

Luke: Trevor Rogers, the high school LHP from New Mexico, is already 19. Will his age affect his draft slot?
Klaw: Age is more important for position players than pitchers. For arms, the disadvantage of age – reduced physical projection – may be mitigated by reduced risk of injury.

Joaquin P: If the pirates were to trade Meadows (for Quintana perhaps) could they put Bell in RF and Will Craig at 1B? Are they better this way given how bad Bell has looked at first?
Klaw: Craig’s not major-league ready, and Bell has to play left, not right.

Jon Orr: Thoughts on Austin Gomber? Saw him in spring training and his breaking ball looked really loopy and didn’t seem to have sharp break
Klaw: Just another guy.

Chet: What do you see happening with Kyle Funkhouser this season?
Klaw: I have no idea, and I mean that quite literally – the range of possible outcomes there is enormous. If he comes out and walks 60 guys in 80 innings, I won’t be surprised. If he comes out and dominates two levels of A-ball, I won’t be surprised. He’s shown so many different looks the last two years that I feel very little confidence in any forecast I could make.

Brian: Arcadia? You’re a little too young for 80’s tunes…
Klaw: I was 12 when that song came out.

Jason: The Cardinals have two former interesting players in camp: Daniel Bard and Austin Wilson. Is there anything left to optimistic about either?
Klaw: Probably not, but the change of scenery was probably the best thing that could have happened to Wilson, and I’d say he has the better shot of the two to restore some value.

Jimmy: If Harper is healthy all year- .325BA 40 HRs?
Klaw: Yes. In other words, if he’s healthy all year, I believe he can repeat 2015.

Lou: Hi Keith! Wondering your thoughts on the Cubs big 4 starters all posting career low babips last year? Their defense and positioning must play a large in that right? But lots of teams have good defensive players and smart analytical departments that can improve positioning, what makes (or made) the Cubs so much better? And if it is defense and positioning, why would we expect the numbers to regress?
Klaw: I think it’s more defense and positioning than it is just pitching, but we’d expect it to regress because defense and positioning include some randomness too. You can position ‘perfectly’ and still not get to all of the balls in play you expect to get to. I think last year the Cubs got to more of those balls than we would have anticipated.

Nick: Can Chesney Young turn into something like a Neil Walker, or am overly optimistic and assuming too much power (I’ve read it’s near zero).
Klaw: There’s nothing similar about those guys at all. He has virtually no power.

Derek: I’ve seen a few breathless pieces about the Harper-Machado-Kershaw free agent bonanza of 2018-19. Often these articles list Matt Harvey along with those others. Harvey’s been a great pitcher, no question, but I’m very skeptical about his return to greatness. The surgery to repair thoracic outlet syndrome is no joke and Jaime Garcia is probably the most successful guy to have come back from it. Not to mention that Harvey’s a Tommy John guy and the number of guys who’ve had both procedures is quite small. If I had to bet on whether Harvey ever throws 200 innings in a season again, I’d probably bet he doesn’t. What do you think?
Klaw: I would agree. Bet the under on that.

Nick: How does Hunter Greene compare to other recent HS RHP phenoms? Guys like Bundy, pre-TJ Giolito, and Taillon.
Klaw: Nobody has thrown this hard except Pint, and Greene does it much easier. Giolito and Bundy had better secondary stuff at this age. Greene is probably the best athlete of this whole group. And he can play plus defense at short.

Vander: Heard anything new about Jo Adell?
Klaw: His season starts on Monday.

Tracy: Keith, is it me or do you also get miffed when you see people basking in all the “great” weather we’re having? Folks, long stretches of sixty- and seventy-degree temps in February is not normal. For those where there should be snow on the ground, put the damned flip-flops away!
Klaw: I get more miffed when I see idiots, often idiots in government, ‘gloating’ on cold days that climate change must be wrong, because we seem to have no problem electing people who are so stupid they don’t know the differences between climate and weather or between income and wealth.

Andy: Do you watch Top Chef with your daughter? My son (a little younger) would love the food aspects, but I’d like to avoid all of the human drama that sometimes gets played up. I really don’t want to watch Chopped to satisfy his food competition wants.
Klaw: No, because of the language, but we did watch the last two episodes of Project Runway with her this year because she really wanted to see the dresses (and she was super annoyed at who won), which meant a little chat about what language she might hear that would be inappropriate to repeat.

Josh C: Do you think Ramon Laureano can play center or is he strictly a corner guy?
Klaw: Corner guy.

Ron: HI Keith-Sorry to hear about Kiriloff’s injury. Another bad luck bite on the Twins. Hope he comes out of it in good shape and ready to go next year. Losing the year of development is the worst thing. Do you have any favorite eating places in North Dakota? Ever been here? Thanks!
Klaw: Drove across it in 1998. Didn’t eat anywhere special – it wasn’t quite so easy to find good spots back then – but we loved Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Ed: Will you be updating your AZ eats this month? Will be there later in the month. Any kid friendly places on your 2016 list (which I have been using as my guide). Will be in Scottsdale most of trip.
Klaw: I might, although there won’t be many changes. I’d add Tacos Chiwas and Tratto, and I think one or two places closed. The core recommendations wouldn’t change, though.

Alex: Feel you’re the most accurate when it comes to projections, so what kind of ceiling do you see for Sandy Alcanatara and Junior Fernandez? Any chance Fernandez can stay as a starter?
Klaw: Very good chance Fernandez can stay a starter, although Alcantara has a better chance to stay a starter and a little more ceiling. I’m going to spend at least two days on the Cards’ back fields later this month, and that group of Latin American arms is the main reason.

Jerry: Do you think it’s ethically wrong to download music cds from the library onto your computer? If so, what if you delete them after a couple of weeks?
Klaw: Still copyright infringement, even if you delete them. You can just listen to almost any of them on Spotify for free anyway, so why do it?

Fritz: Thanks for all that you do – I’m an Insider to read your work. What is the best way for an organization to evaluate its scouts?
Klaw: I don’t like the idea of just evaluating long-term outcomes, because we know how many outside variables can screw that up. (Ryan Westmoreland comes to mind as the most extreme example.) But I would try to match up short-term grades and projections – the scout said this guy had a 60 curveball, he’s in pro ball now, other scouts say it’s a 50, he’s not getting many swings and misses on it, so that’s a mistake in the grades. A team could execute on that plan of accountability, and scouts would understand how they’re being evaluated too.

Cedric: RE: the DeJong/Aneurys trade, is Drew Jackson just another guy?
Klaw: Yes. Can’t hit.

Andrew: Regarding Quintana – is his contract situation (he’s a relative bargain) actually over-inflating his perceived value? In other words, he’s good and inexpensive, but how much better does he really make, say, the Astros? I’d be inclined to hold on to Tucker and Martes if I were Lunhow…
Klaw: He’s a top 10 pitcher in the AL, maybe in all of baseball, on a wildly team-friendly contract. I don’t know if you can overstate his value.

TK: So … our new AG likely committed perjury regarding communications with Russia. We’ve got that going for us now, too. Is this real life?
Klaw: I agreed with the impeachment of Bill Clinton when he committed perjury (later acquitted) over a trivial matter. I certainly agree that Sessions should be removed form his post for committing perjury over a more serious matter.

Chris: Re ignoring spring stats, wrt Bird his showing some pop is worth noting given the injury he’s coming off, right?
Klaw: Yes, it at least indicates he’s swinging without pain or restriction.

Adam: I was having a conversation with a friend during the Oscars and they said their issue with Ryan Gosling is that he’s a bad actor who picks great movies. Do you agree with that sentiment?
Klaw: I disagree. As evidence, I submit his performance in Drive.

Adam: Jesus Sanchez in the Rays system is a name I stumbled upon on another prospect list, and they almost made him out to be the second coming. Does he have potential to shoot up lists next year?
Klaw: He was #13 on my Rays list this winter. Second Coming is a bit much, probably from scouting the stat line.

Adam: AJ Preller traded Max Fried for Justin Upton and then did NOT trade Upton for Michael Fulmer, ultimately taking Eric Lauer with the compensation pick used when Upton signed with the Tigers. Oof
Klaw: Fried for Upton has the potential to look historically bad for them.

Kay: Could Nimmo play well enough in CF to make a platoon of him and Lagares? Compliment each other well enough with the bat and he can’t be worse than Grandy or Conforto out there.
Klaw: I do not believe Nimmo can play CF that well, even if his knee is 100%.

Shaun: Your top five disney world restaurants?
Klaw: Jiko, Via Napoli, Raglan Road (not as good as it once was, but still a good place for a pint of Guinness and some bangers and mash). But Disney Springs has some new places I haven’t tried, like Rick Bayless’ Frontera Cocina, and a sushi place from Morimoto.

Alan: Johan Camargo seems to be getting rave reviews in Braves camp. Anything more than a utility guy in the future?
Klaw: If that. He has never hit anywhere he’s played and he’s 23.

Dan: Long-term, who project as the better SP: Lugo or Gsellman? Thanks, Keith.
Klaw: Gsellman.

Kay: What is the single biggest difference in the way people like yourself evaluate prospects that might lead to big differences in opinion?
Klaw: People who try to write about prospects but don’t see them, or see them but can’t evaluate what they’re seeing, or don’t have good sources to discuss players with are not going to produce good content. Better at that point to simply report what happened and link to folks like BA or MLB or Fangraphs or me.

Craig: Klaw, who would you say is the most well-known person you attended Harvard with? And did you ever socialize with them?
Klaw: Paul Wylie was there while I was and I met him twice. Couldn’t have been nicer. I know some entrepreneurs were in my class, like the guys who founded LinkExchange and sold it for a few hundred million. I met them once or twice. The daughter of the Aga Khan was in my class but I’m not sure if I ever saw her. I believe Karenna Gore was a year behind me. I also remember a classmate from the Houghton family, whose name adorns one of the buildings on the Yard; I had one class with him, but didn’t know him well, and I remember him largely because he took his own life during our sophomore year.

Cedric: TIL that Matt Harvey once threw 157 pitches in a college game. Should that coach have been criminally prosecuted?
Klaw: He’s still the head coach at UNC. And people praise him.

John: Jake Mangum is definitely not a freshman.
Klaw: Sorry, his bio page at MSU still says “freshman,” but I can see now they haven’t updated that. Looks like he’s age-eligible this year.

Ryan: Just saw the news that LeFou will be gay in the upcoming Beauty and the Beast remake? Thoughts? I understand the importance of representation, but do you have a problem with changing established character traits–even though his orientation was never established? Does it feel like pandering?
Klaw: I saw this news item and didn’t give it a second thought. A character’s sexual orientation shouldn’t be news unless (as you imply) it’s changed from established canon.

Ron: Klaw, between Republicans claiming they have inherited a terrible economy and liberals claiming that it is fantastic, how would you characterize the economy that Trump inherited?
Klaw: I’d say it was growing, but in a way that isn’t addressing inequality and may be exacerbating it. The Republicans are lying, while the Democrats are exaggerating (a lot).

bartleby: from your book cover “and the right way to think about baseball” – don’t you think that’s a bit arrogant?
Klaw: I think I could not possibly care less what you think. Is that arrogant too? My bad.

Elliot, Baton Rouge: Hey Keith, aside from Alex Lange (who I’d be curious to hear your draft projection on) are there any other legit prospects playing for LSU this spring?
Klaw: I think Lange is a reliever or low-end starter, tops. Not a first rounder. Deichmann is a draft guy but not a major prospect IMO.

Paul: Generally prefer getting stuff on my Kindle these days, unless there are lots of graphics in a book. Which format would you suggest for your book?
Klaw: Not many graphics in the book. A few tables that should display just fine, one or two graphs. I tried to stick to words over numbers wherever I could, and we moved most formulas (like explaining OBP or linear weights) to the footnotes so the book would be a more fluid read.

Ian: When evaluating a high school pitcher, how important is it for you that they spin something adequately? Can a kid with a good arm and clean mechanics learn how to spin the ball as he matures?
Klaw: Might be a million dollar question. Guys who can’t spin anything scare me, because I wonder if they’ll ever have anything more than a 45 breaking ball. Now I wonder if that will even translate to lower spin rates on fastballs too. Eovaldi, the paragon of fastballs that didn’t spin enough, never had a good breaking ball either.

Joe: I think it’s easy to forget that Addison Russell is 19 days older than Dansby Swanson and only 63 days older than Alex Bregman. I feel like Russell is somewhat forgotten about when people talk about the great SS in the game right now. Does he have an MVP caliber ceiling?
Klaw: I think he does. There’s a lot of untapped offensive potential in Russell. Had he spent another 18 months in the minors and destroyed AA and AAA, maybe we’d look at him differently?

Kevin: Would you rather have a pitcher who can ride his fastball up in the zone, or one who sinks it effectively?
Klaw: No preference. Both work, although I might argue that pitching up requires more skill (command and/or spin) than pitching down.

Kay: Klaw – you get to step into the box for BP against any pitcher in the league, Theo Epstein style – who do you pick? And how do you fair?
Klaw: You could lob it to me and I might not square it up. Putting a decent swing on a pitch with a wood bat requires hand and wrist strength that I could never have.

Erik: The economy will never grow like it should be unless the abomination know as Dodd-Frank is repealed. Any problems with Trump should be mitigated by his promise to cut overly onerous regulations
Klaw: Define “overly onerous regulations.” I for one am a fan of clean air and water, for example. I’d like to see more onerous regulations on those topics, so that black people get clean air and water too!

Rob: Thanks again for your vaccine related discussions. For better or worse, people take very seriously what public figures have to say (and we need more rational voices than that of De Niro and Mccarthy). You’ll never convince the idiot on twitter that you’re arguing with but, hopefully a silent reader on the fence, will be swayed in the right direction.
Klaw: You’re welcome. I’m hoping a few people see the links I post and decide to vaccinate their kids, and that other folks with platforms like I have also speak out on public health and science topics.

Joe: What was harder: writing the book, or doing the self-promoting? For me, I think the self-promoting would be harder, but that’s mainly due to my personality. Have you enjoyed/not enjoyed that part of it?
Klaw: Writing is always easier for me because it’s so solitary. I’m not one to promote myself or my work beyond a tweet here or there.

Archie: Serious question….if a guy at a lower level school pops up as a serious draft candidate, do you automatically start to wonder how he ended up there? Are there enough late bloomers who may have been undeveloped and/or overlooked in HS that would keep you from assuming that a high level guy in D-II, III, or NAIA has some sort of makeup issues that led them to that level?
Klaw: I think we get more late bloomers, especially pitchers, than other sports do.

GFY: There’s nothing more annoying than someone who is super arrogant and I think you’ve officially crossed that line with your reply to the “is it arrogant” question. Have a nice life.
Klaw: If you couldn’t see the humor intended in that answer, well, between that and your profane message to me, I truly do not want you as a reader.

JR: While the Mets haven’t said anything official, reading between the lines it appears they (or at least Collins) still prefer Bruce over Conforto (Bruce has been given the same treatment as other veteran starters this spring – not traveling on road games and penciled in as RF starter for home games). How shocked would you be if Bruce is starting RF and Conforto is on bench or in AAA to start the season?
Klaw: I wouldn’t be shocked but I’ll mock the hell out of the team if they do that. That’s plain shooting themselves in the foot.

BD: Surprised S Kieboom was DFA’d? He can help someone right?
Klaw: I hadn’t seen that. Thought he’d be a decent backup catcher with occasional pop but no OBP. Nats are a little flush with catchers though.

Henry: Keith, is this the first season that every MLB team has an analytic department, even a bare bones one to measure performance? I was thinking the other day how the industry has changed full circle on this in a relatively decent amount of time, which is a very good thing. It makes the sport far more enjoyable to evaluate. Thanks!
Klaw: I believe all 30 teams have this now, yes.

Matt: I can spare about $10/mo to go towards either a subscription like the Washington Post or the ACLU. Any idea which organization would get the bigger bang for my money? Don’t really want to give money to a cause that doesn’t need it as much as a different one may.
Klaw: If you want the most bang for the buck, find a local food pantry, or a local shelter for victims of domestic violence, or something similarly small and focused. That will produce the best return and will most directly help people who need it.

Corey: Do you think Brian Johnson can still end up a solid 3/4 starter in the big leagues ? Assuming he’s depth for this season in Boston, can he crack the rotation next year or is he a trade chip ?
Klaw: I do, but he has to get all his velocity back for that to happen and it wasn’t there at the end of last summer.

John: No one wants to acknowledge the two elephants in the room: an aging populations and slowing global growth from large economies like China starting to mature mean long run domestic real growth rates are going to be slower. Those manufacturing jobs are never coming back and we will need a basic income framework at some point. Of every 100 manufacturing jobs lost since NAFTA passed 85 went to automation, 5 became obsolete, 5 went to China or Mexico, and 5 went somewhere else.
Klaw: I am seeing more acknowledgement of the automation issue, although it’s not part of the mainstream political discourse. Better to just scream “JOBS” real loud and hope for the best.

JJ: I, for one, appreciate your arrogance. It’s arguably your finest quality. Keep it up!
Klaw: Uh … thanks?

Thomas: What is Renfroe’s ceiling?
Klaw: Hunter’s? If he hits, above-average everyday RF. I don’t think there’s more than a 45 hit tool there, though.

Ted, Atlanta: over/under 10 HR, 15 SB for Dansby this year
Klaw: Over on both.

Jake: You get to make one law that every single human must follow – what is it?
Klaw: Never put ketchup on steak.

Justin: Regarding your suggestion with Wheeler coming into relief once every rotation turn; wouldn’t it be more beneficail to him and the team to just have him in extended ST or in low A ball. It seems like a big risk both to the team (being short in the pen and Wheeler by not letting him work his arm strength up, especially if its a close game and he can’t locate.
Klaw: That’s also an option. I tried to lay out a few possible plans that the Mets might pursue, discarding anything I know they don’t do.

Ben: If Price needs TJS, do Red Sox have enough depth there, or will they look to acquire another starter?
Klaw: They don’t have anyone to replace the 5-6 wins he’d be worth. But I don’t know if they’ll make a panic trade now, either. That’s a recipe for a bad decision.

Alan: Anything new out of Braves minor league camp?
Klaw: Minor league games don’t begin until the week of the 13th. Anything you ‘hear’ now is static.

Joey Bagodonuts: Pencil U really recruited me hard. Glad I didn’t go there.
Klaw: But their graphology department is top notch!

David: Thoughts on Dermis Garcia Yankees?
Klaw: 80 raw power. 20 defender. Maybe a 30 bat right now – a long way off and a long shot to have value.

Keith: What order would you put the following in terms of likeliest to reach top of the rotation status? Kopech, Keller, Alvarez?
Klaw: That is the order in which I ranked them on the top 100, and the order in which I’d answer that question (because the combination of ceiling and probability of reaching ceiling is a major criterion for me).

Zac: Robinson Cano had 39 HR’s as a 33 year old 2B last season, which is the most HR’s by a 2B in the AL since Alfonso Soriano in 2002. Is Robinson Cano the best all around 2B since Joe Morgan, or am I underrating Roberto Alomar?
Klaw: Cano’s probably going to retire as the best 2b since guy-who-won’t-read-Moneyball, and will almost certainly end up a Hall of Famer.

Trader: I would submit that global trade is the single most important issues that is either horribly understood or subject to the worst effects of populism. It is jaw-dropping to see things like the Border Adjustment Tax even being proposed. It has as much potential as anything to push us closer to 3rd world status. and highlights just how far we have fallen in terms of leadership and economics — on all sides.
Klaw: Free trade might be the only thing on which most economists agree – it’s a net positive for all countries involved. The continued popularity of protectionism speaks to 1) poor economics education in American secondary schools and 2) how pandering to existential fears remains a winning formula for electoral success.

Kay: Arrogant bastards unite! Seriously, you’re just straightforward and have strongly held beliefs. This is something I like and respect about you. Dark sense of humor is a bonus.
Klaw: Thank you. And that is what I hope to be – I’d rather give strong opinions I can back up, and some day have to explain why some were wrong, than refuse to give strong opinions for fear of just that. Oh, and back to the book title thing – you want the book to have a strong title and subtitle to get the consumer’s attention, even if it might seem offputting. “Hey, this guy thinks he’s got the right way to think about baseball? What the hell is he talking about?” is a good reaction. Read some of it, buy the book, yell at me later.

Tom: Thoughts on Archie Bradley 177 innings into his MLB career?
Klaw: Ask me again about him and Shipley and Ray and Corbin in a few months, now that Romper Room has closed its Phoenix location.

David: Why are there some who feel Gleyber is overrated?
Klaw: Why are there some who believe vaccines cause autism? People believe all kinds of stupid shit. I will say I didn’t get any negative feedback whatsoever after ranking Gleyber #4 overall.

josh: Why is it that any time someone brings up a honest discussion about regulations someone always acts like the Republicans want to take away everyone’s clean air and water? Talk about a strawman….
Klaw: Maybe because Trump literally just signed a document to start to roll back a major clean water rule?

Anonymous: What do you think of Heyman’s sentiment today that he would be surprised if Hunter Greene is not the 1st pick in the draft?
Klaw: If you’re asking me where I’d put $100, Greene or the field, I’d put the field. One, because he’s not so much better than everyone else (like Harper or Strasburg) that I feel confident he’s going to be 1-1 today, three months out. Two, because no HS RHP has ever gone 1-1, and ignoring that is pure base-rate neglect.

Joey Joe Joe: Surprised at how little interest there was in Joe Blanton?
Klaw: Yes. He was pretty dang good last year.

Clint: Fernando Tatis jr = next Machado? Or am I thinking to big league?
Klaw: I wouldn’t say =, but I’d say “might turn into.” He’s a pretty special talent.

JD: How do you see the college pitchers in this draft? Any real standouts for you?
Klaw: None has come out very good, other than perhaps McKay – whom, I learned this week, at least one team up top prefers as a hitter. (I think that’s crazy. A 1b without power, who’s also a LHP up to 95 with a good CB? Easy choice.)

Rob: What kind of ceiling do Alvaro Seijas and Johan Oviedo have? Legit arms?
Klaw: Those are the other two I’m hoping to see in Cardinals camp (with Fernandez and Alcantara), plus the Cubans they’ve signed in the last year. I’m probably going to spend more time in the Palm Beach/Jupiter area than anywhere else in Florida.

Frank: No question just a comment. If the state of Texas wants a transgender person to use the bathroom of their birth then they can’t complain when they complete in sports against those of the same birth sex. Anything else would be hypocritical, not like that would ever happen.
Klaw: This is a valid point. Also, once again we get back to the fallacy of two biological sexes. But that’s science, and science ain’t real popular in Texas political circles right now.

Ron: I thought Dozier had the most homers for a 2nd baseman since Soriano? Or how many of the 42 included as DH?
Klaw: Baseball-Reference shows 40 as a 2b, 2 as a DH. That stuff, while absolutely accurate, is why I never get hung up on “most X by a player at position Y” stats. Dozier had 2 homers as a DH. Was he magically not able to play second base on those days? Like, he woke up and put his glove on his right ear instead?

Kay: Is consistency really all that much to ask for? From ball players, to umpires, to politicians, to friends and their beliefs.
Klaw: It’s the hobgoblin of rational minds, apparently.

Klaw: That’s all for this week’s chat. Thank you as always for all of your questions. I’ll be holding a Facebook Live session Monday morning to talk about Smart Baseball and answer chat-style questions as well, so please come join me there and tell your friends about this amazing book that tells you the most arrogant way to think about baseball! Enjoy your weekends, everyone.