Klawchat 10/5/17.

Keith Law: If it’s all right with you, I’ll rip this here joint apart. Klawchat.

Tyler: Given what we know as of now, do you think the Braves will lose Kevin Maitan? Do you think that would be a fair punishment for what seems like a league wide practice?
Keith Law: Given what we know to be true, I don’t think so, but MLB confirmed to me that their investigation is still ongoing. If this is merely about verbal agreements with players before they turn 16 and “hiding” them from other clubs, everyone does it, and I’ve argued for a while that the CBA provides compelling incentive for everyone to do it. If they want to root out the corruption in the July 2nd market, they need to stop trying so hard to prevent teams from paying money for talent.

Gabriel: Seems hard to believe that the johns werent involved in this whole coppy mess right?
Keith Law: I find it hard to believe they weren’t aware of these industry standard practices.

Jack: How would you go about fixing the Giants? Full rebuild necessary?
Keith Law: The system isn’t going to produce enough starting pitching in the near term to make them a contender; if Cueto and Shark turn around and have big bounceback years in 2018, they might contend, but that’s their hope for near-term success. The problem I see with a full rebuild is a lack of tradeable assets on the ML roster other than Posey, and I can’t imagine them dealing him – I’m not sure I could even advocate that.

Joe: Will all the teams that have agreements with international players for July of 2019 be told they can not sign those players or do you think the Braves will be the only team that doesn’t sign the player that they had a deal with?
Keith Law: July of 2018 … and 2019 … and 2020. MLB is very good at pretending this isn’t happening all over the place. In the draft too – I’d estimate 75% of players taken in the top 5 rounds have predraft deals in place.

Jeremy: If a team goes 86-76, are they 10 games over .500 or 5 games over .500?
Keith Law: I would rather engage in a two-hour debate over whether a hot dog is a sandwich (it is) than get involved in this semantics argument.

John: Feels like Nolan Jones is semi forgotten about. But he’s put up great numbers in A-. Does he skyrocket in 2018?
Keith Law: Don’t think he’s forgotten about, any more than a typical non-first-round HS prospect. Big progress this year, definitely a guy on the radar again, probably on the outside of my top 100 (although I haven’t even started that process yet).

Bill: Is Kris Bryant under rated or over rated? I hear both.
Keith Law: (wanking motion)

Eric: Should the Diamondbacks put Archie Bradley back in the rotation next spring or is he a bullpen-only guy from here on out?
Keith Law: I’d like to see him get a shot to start, but when a pitcher who struggled as a starter finds this kind of success in relief, he and the club may both want to leave well enough alone and I don’t argue with it. I only have an issue with teams leaving ex-starters in the pen when the pitcher still wants to start and the scouting indicators were in favor of him starting.

Bauer: Do you buy Cleveland’s reasoning for starting Bauer over Kluber in game 1? It sounds to me they’re managing for games they’re not guaranteed
Keith Law: That was my take – this was an October-long strategy rather than a win the ALDS strategy.

Scouting: I really enjoyed your scouting articles on the Phillies young hitters and Darvish and was wondering what, for you at least, are the biggest differences in scouting MLB vs MILB players? Are there different things you’re looking for?
Keith Law: As you move up the ladder, physical tools and projection become less important, approach and feel for the game become more important. You can be strong as hell, or have a beautiful swing, but if you can’t distinguish balls from strikes or fastballs from breaking balls, it’s not going to matter.

Snap into a Slim Jim: A. Cam Newton is dumb; B. Of Course he should apologize; C. We don’t need 40 articles written about it though, do we?
Keith Law: We’re going to get at least that many. If he had just apologized after the fact – the reporter said he didn’t, he actually made it all worse – then maybe we could have gotten around this. Now it’s going to go on for days and days.

Ethan: Hi Keith – love the chats and feedback, as I have learned a lot from you and your book! My question is around Dinelson Lamet. I completely understand the need for three pitches. However, is there a situation and/or example of a SP that thrived with just two elite pitches? And what level would those need to be? 60? 70? And do you think Lamet’s fastball/slider combo can reach those levels to lessen the need for an average third pitch?
Keith Law: You’re sort of begging the question here. If your two pitches leave you with a massive platoon split, then it doesn’t matter. And that’s Lamet’s problem: Neither of his two current average or better pitches gets LHB out, and his changeup is ineffective.

Coppolella : If you were running a team would you be looking to add Coppolella or Blakeley to your front office given that they’re by reputation quite smart and seemingly got caught doing something that everyone does?
Keith Law: If MLB clears one or both of serious wrongdoing, yes, but I think every team has to wait for the outcome of that. And let’s not pretend that MLB never blackballs anyone, players (coughBondscough) or execs.

RaysBiscuit: Why are defensive oriented catchers picked highly in the draft? I’m sorry for any recency bias, but whenever I see Reese McGuire, Taylor Ward, Justin O’Conner, Nick Ciuffo, Mike Zunino… I wonder why they were picked that high and it seems catchers don’t turn out to be worth the selection compared to the others though hindsight is 20/20. I’ll give Zunino a pass as he was bullet rushed but is every team hoping for a Posey type catcher when one picks a catcher in the first round?
Keith Law: Teams overdraft catchers because of positional scarcity, not just in the majors but within the draft. There are so few decent catchers in any class that they tend to get elevated on draft boards because the scarcity makes them seem more valuable – or because there’s a fear of having a draft where you don’t get any catching at all. (Solution: Draft one or two guys every year who are possible conversion candidates.)

Frankur: Yankees making a mistake by not pitching Severino in game 2?
Keith Law: If there is no physical impediment to him pitching game 2, then it’s an odd choice. But maybe he doesn’t feel right and that’s part of why he was so off in the wild card game

LDS: Which series do you think represents the biggest mismatch of the LDS and which series is the tightest to you?
Keith Law: No real mismatches to me. I’m not doing a preview piece, but I’ll at least give you some picks here: Astros, Cleveland, Nats, Dodgers.

Anti-Intellectualism: What do you think is the best way to combat the rampant anti-intellectualism that’s seemingly on the rise in our country?
Keith Law: I wish I had a good answer. I do think that the more intellectuals – really, subject matter experts – who speak up, the better chance we have for facts to win out over myths, but humans have a rather strong tendency to believe whatever they want.

Dana: Do you think football’s brain injury problems will lead to more African-Americans in baseball down the road?
Keith Law: I think that’s already happening – although it’s less “in baseball” and more “in alternatives to football.”

Jeff: I have a coworker that checked himself in to the hospital a couple of weeks ago because he thought he may commit suicide. Our boss has verbally displayed his displeasure about him missing all the work he has and has openly talked about demoting him and even firing him. Is he allowed to do that? I have great respect for my coworker for being able to reach out for help, but I hate that it could cost him his job. That just doesn’t seem right to me.
Keith Law: Don’t think that’s legal, but I’m not a lawyer. Of course, what was illegal for employers a few months ago may become legal any day now…

delatopia: Everyone in the Bay Area raves about the A’s youth but I basically see Chapman and maybe Barreto and then a bunch of second division starters and bench guys, at least among position players at the MLB level. Is there more there that I’m not seeing?
Keith Law: I agree with you – I don’t know if there’s a core player in the bunch. Lot of 2-WAR types. Nice, cheap guys to fill out a roster, but lacks the couple of 5+ WAR guys you need to build a contender.

Jim: MLB starting investigating Coppy because of a Draft Room incident? Have you heard of what went on? Hearing of plates being thrown at people…..
Keith Law: I was told that story is false. (In one version it’s a plate; in another it’s an ashtray. Good sign the story might not be quite accurate.)

Pat: How would you grade Tim Beckham defensively at SS? The metrics seem to like him, but my eyes tell me he kind of sucks.
Keith Law: I haven’t seen him there much myself in a couple of years; I thought he had the physical ability to be an above-average defender there, but didn’t have the consistency you want, more in his hands than anything else.

Dan(NJ): Do you see much difference in how the Yankees approached the WC game and a true “bullpen” game? If the goal to “bullpenning” a game is to use your 4/5/6 best pitchers, then surely Severino fits that mold. I think there were some people disappointed that a team with the staff resources like the Yankees didn’t start Green or something, but I think that in how it was played and how Girardi managed, it was a true bullpen game.
Keith Law: It ended up a bullpen game, but I don’t think Girardi planned that in any way. He did a nice job responding to the crisis, but it’s a bit different than going into a game with the expectation that your starter will only throw, say, 40-50 pitches.

Bob Villar: How close are you to believing in the Alec Hanson hype?
Keith Law: I always take the advice of Harry Allen in these situations.

Hinkie: If you were forced to predict the team Shohei Otani plays for next season, who would you pick ?
Keith Law: If I can only pick one team, I’d pick the Nippon Ham Fighters.

Jim: Are you concerned that all these pitching changes, particularly in the first couple innings, is affecting the overall product? I love baseball and having 8 innings of relievers diminished my interest. I understand the strategy but there’s no flow to the game.
Keith Law: It lengthens the game needlessly. The long innings are fine when there’s lots of action – baserunners, homers, what have you – but not when it’s commercials and mound visits.

Jeff: You called Rosenthal’s article about the Braves in-fighting a “non-story”. What’s your take now?
Keith Law: Same. Monday’s debacle was about the MLB investigation, not in-fighting.

RunawaYEM: Please confirm whether Luiz Gohara is a guy, or a full-on GUY
Keith Law: I believe he’s a GUY, but I worry that he looks more like a guy and a half.

addoeh: When would you start being interested in reports on international players that won’t be officially signed until 2019 or 2020?
Keith Law: A few days before those signing dates. There’s so much nonsense around them that I find it hard to parse, and the reality is when you verbally commit to sign a player when he’s 14, you may get a very different product when the player actually signs at 16.

Richie: Do you watch October baseball with the sound on or off?
Keith Law: Off more than on.

Andy: If Maitan is declared a free agent, what kind of deal/bidding do you think he gets? Has his “unexpected thickness” affected the market for him?
Keith Law: I’d guess north of $10 million. And you know MLB would REALLY rather not make a top prospect a free agent because it would underline just how severely underpaid amateur players are.

Aaron: The Padres had by far the worst run differential but still won 71 games (just 7th worst) in baseball. Keith, would you attribute this to randomness, or give props to Andy Green’s management ability? Thanks.
Keith Law: I think Green’s a very good manager, both in game and in development.

Luke: What’s the best new board game that both you and your daughter enjoyed most?
Keith Law: Azul, which comes out later this month, has been a big hit here. She liked the Cities of Splendor expansions a lot too.

Dave: The Yanks have gap year coming up at 3B before Machado hits FA. Is it ok to just pencil in Andujar, or does he need more work?
Keith Law: Pencil but not pen would work for me. You have to be able to live with a lot of variance in your forecasts for him in 2018 – I think he’s a legit prospect for the long term, but I couldn’t tell you that he’s definitely going to hit in his rookie season.

Ryan: Do Tatis and Gore have a chance to both be top 10 prospects by the summer of 2018.
Keith Law: Tatis already is. That’s a lot to ask of Gore and I don’t think so.

Chris: I’m guessing you have same take re starting again as to Chad Green?
Keith Law: yes, maybe even more so (leaving Green in relief) because he’s a totally different guy in this role.

Michael: Is Jake Junis with the Royals for real, or just a small sample size?
Keith Law: He could be a fifth starter.

EricVA: Did you hear something about Severino not feeling right or was that just a guess?
Keith Law: I’m just saying that would be a valid reason for pushing him back. I haven’t heard anything to this effect.

Chris: Speaking of catcher’s defense, broadcasters got all over Sanchez for the one ball he missed that Robertson slingshot into the other batters box and not the countless pitches he blocked (or took in the marbles). This is a very tough staff to catch imo, and that narrative about him is ridiculous. Thoughts?
Keith Law: I think he’s a below-average receiver but more than makes up for it with his bat. Catcher defense is a favorite topic of broadcasters, though, probably because it is so visible.

Jeff: So was Coppy well-liked in the industry? Passan’s article painted a rough picture of him.
Keith Law: My sense is that there was a mixed view of him. I had a major agent call me out of the blue on Tuesday to talk about that whole story, and he said – unprompted – how much he liked Coppolella and enjoyed negotiating with (or against) him. I’ve heard more positive comments on him than negative since Monday. But this industry loves to smear people on their way out the door – look at what happened when Francona left Boston.

Kevin: After Reyes, which arms in the Cards system do you find most intriguing?
Keith Law: It’s probably Alcantara, even with the up-and-down year.

Alan: What’s your feelings on Dayton Moore to Atlanta?
Keith Law: I understand that the job will be his if he wants it. He’d fit their system, and he has worked there before, which I think all works in his favor. He’s highly regarded as a person within the industry, too. A mutual friend suggested Tony Lacava — full disclosure, I worked with Tony in Toronto and consider him a mentor – as someone who’s worked under Hart and Schuerholz, has scouting & PD experience (as does Moore), and comes with a pristine reputation. If you just forced out your GM over ethical violations, you want your next hire to be squeaky clean.

Steve: In light of the Coppella investigation, do you think the O’s concern over participating in the international market because of shady practices of buscones is warranted? It’s possible to participate in the Latin America market “ethically” right?
Keith Law: You can participate ethically but you will likely be shut out of the top end of the market.

Dennis: Your favorite Ishiguro novel? Which would be the best to start with?
Keith Law: Remains of the Day is an absolute masterpiece of English fiction. Never Let Me Go is #2. Avoid The Unconsoled – I think it’s an outright failure of a novel.

Salty: Keith – Eric Longenhagen mentioned in his chat the potential value someone like Gose could have as a LOOGY/pinch runner. If he entered a game as a PR, could he stay in the game and pitch, and if so, would he then slot into the DH spot, with the defensive replacement slotting in to the spot vacated by the guy who was pinch-ran for?
Keith Law: You can’t switch your DH spot in the lineup like that. BTW, Gose got hurt after a few innings, and I’m not very optimistic about him even if he stays healthy.

Craig: Is Adbert Alzolay the Cubs top prospect? Can he scratch his way onto the big league team as early as next summer?
Keith Law: Top pitching prospect and yes.

Andy: Dillon Maples had this breakout season. Does he regress, keep improving, or what? How does one predict this?
Keith Law: You don’t. You just enjoy it. And I think this is very legit – the stuff matches up with the numbers.

Dennis: Do you think Jo Adell might end up in your Top 100?
Keith Law: Not this year.

Joe: Keith, what do you make of Blake Rutherford? I know to not write him off, but it is mind-boggling that a kid of his talent and pedigree put up the kind of line in low-A.
Keith Law: Same. And the swing is fine. But the ball just didn’t come off his bat well this year – poor exit velo, no power, didn’t even sound that great (I saw him the day before he was traded).

Aaron: Keith, can you explain why there’s often so much change in a prospect’s ranking between the time of the draft & the end of the season? Do we really learn that much from a month or two of professional competition? Because otherwise, this screams Small Smaple Size, and you are one of the biggest anti-SSS-ites out there. …maybe I’ve just answered my own question there…
Keith Law: I don’t think there is, not in my rankings. If you compare my final predraft rankings to where those prospects appear on my top 100 the following winter, the order is generally very similar. Any changes would be more because post-draft more scouts & execs are willing to talk about players than they are pre-draft (“I really liked that guy, we were going to take him if they didn’t”).

Joe: Fair to say that the worst thing Coppy did was send the 2000 word text messages? Honestly who does that?
Keith Law: I don’t think I’ve ever even read a text message that took more than one screen.

Dan: Are you at all encouraged by Paul Ryan’s comments on bump stocks? (I suppose I was, somewhere around 2% encouraged)
Keith Law: I wish I was but I’ve been burned by optimism before.

Oren: If you were the Jays GM, how seriously are you shopping Josh Donaldson this winter?
Keith Law: Very seriously. I generally don’t say you *have* to trade a player, but you want to make it clear you’re going to take the best offer if anything meets your standard.

MJ: Just finished your book and loved it. My question to you is do you think there is any chance at a big industry breakthrough regarding player health in the near or medium term future? Something with biometric data perhaps?
Keith Law: Having just read Erik Malinowski’s Betaball, on the Golden State Warriors, which mentions a few technologies that team used to improve player health, I’m even more convinced now than I was before that baseball teams will invest heavily in such technologies (and probably already are, we just don’t know about it) to try to reduce injuries.

Tim: Thoughts on Hader to the rotation in 2018? Or does his stuff/approach play better in the pen?
Keith Law: Better in the pen, but I wouldn’t blame the Brewers for at least giving him a chance to start and see if it works. He was great as a starter until he got to Colorado Springs, and that’s not a fair test.

Boots Poffenberger: How good is Nick Neidert?
Keith Law: Very polished, not a big upside. Maybe a league-average starter?

Dennis: Who are some writers that you would like to see win the Nobel Prize for Literature?
Keith Law: I don’t know that I could name one – I believe the honoree has to be still living, which eliminates the top 8 authors I’ve read (by # of titles), and as much as I enjoy the works of Jasper Fforde and J.K. Rowling I don’t know that either is really a serious contender for the award.

Snit: With Coppy gone, how do you think this changes the Braves’ plans for this offseason? Do you think they only kept Snitker because of scandal?
Keith Law: That’s my sense – Snitker probably would have been replaced had this not happened. I expect this will change their modus operandi more than it changes specific plans – trades like the Gohara move are much less likely now.

HugoZ: Which team is more modern-metrics friendly–Royals or Blue Jays?
Keith Law: Both are pretty forward in that department; I get the sense the Blue Jays use it more, but that may just be that they’re more open about it.

addoeh: The NRA has second highest membership of any group after AARP. And like the AARP, they vote. Until their members start leaving it because of how their leadership resistance to any sort of changes in the law, there will never be any changes.
Keith Law: They vote AND they pay dues that are then funneled to politicians.

Boots Poffenberger: What happened to Jeff Hoffman this year? Will he ever achieve his ceiling?
Keith Law: I don’t love the fit of his very flat fastball and Coors Field. Great arm, great athlete, but not a very finished product as a pitcher.

Jack: Johan Camargo…..bench piece or could he be a starter somewhere?
Keith Law: Bench piece to me.

JP: the Yankees carrying 12 pitchers in a 5-game series seems like overkill (even with Green/Robertson being unavailable today), no?. If Ellsbury pinch-runs, there isn’t a backup OF on the bench…
Keith Law: I’d never carry 12 P in a 5 game series. Hamstrings your bench too badly.

Chris: BTW for that guy who said the Yanks have a gap year til ’19, Headley is still under contract, Gleyber could be a factor, and I wouldn’t be so sure theyre gonna throw 350m at Machado.
Keith Law: All fair. I assumed he meant they weren’t going to let Headley be the everyday player next year, though.

Mike: Is there a manager more overrated than Buck Showalter?
Keith Law: There’s some competition there, yes. But I think Buck manages to skate on a lot of things that at the very least should be called into question.
Keith Law: Pitcher usage at the top of the list.

Dan: Do you have particular non-fiction interests: eras, settings, subjects, etc? (and I apologize if you’ve already made this common knowledge; I appreciate your time)
Keith Law: Particularly interested in books on science (especially physics), math, or food.

BD: For the postseason would you go with an uber talented but green guy like V Robles, or a boring but veteran backup OF ?
Keith Law: Robles. More ways he can impact the game in a small sample.

Jason: Would it make more sense for Atlanta to start 2018 with 2 of Fried/Gohara/Newcomb in the rotation, or should they get another vet (2 if Dickey retires) to fill out the rotation?
Keith Law: Would get a veteran to provide some bulk innings. You have to assume those guys might not pitch well enough to average 5 innings a start.

DBACK BACK BACK BACK’s: What’s JD’s contract look like this winter?
Keith Law: Wouldn’t shock me if he got 5 years and over $20 million a year … but he’ll play at 30 next year and has negative defensive value. Ton of downside risk.

Mark: Would you rather break the bank for Harper or Machado next year?
Keith Law: Either. Going to depend more on health than anything as both guys have had some injury issues.

BigPapaChuck: Does Coppy ever get a job in baseball again?
Keith Law: As of today, I think it’s unlikely, but it will depend a lot on what MLB finds and what they tell clubs privately.

Hinkie: With Scott Kingery knocking on the door, and the market likely to be flooded with second basemen (Daniel Murphy, DJ LeMahieu, Brian Dozier, Ian Kinsler, Logan Forsythe, and Jed Lowrie) next winter, don’t the Phillies need to trade Cesar Hernandez this off-season ?
Keith Law: I think they need to trade one of him or Galvis, maybe both, and let Kingery and Crawford be the DP combo for the next six years (we hope).

Bobbo: In the beginning of the season, my friends and I wondered who was to blame for Conforto making the big-league team but mostly riding pine. i reasoned that it was on Alderson, since TC is gonna do what the GM says. it never occurred to me that TC was operating on his own with the owner’s protection. did it occur to you?
Keith Law: I have called him Teflon Terry for a reason.

Bobby T: Do you own one baseball card?
Keith Law: I still have a few lying around. Loved them as a kid.

Dog: If you could go back in time and see one player live that you never got a chance to see, who would it be?
Keith Law: I’d go to a Negro Leagues game.

PhillyJake: Eating a Biscotti from Enrico’s in Pittsburgh. I haven’t lived in Pittsburgh for over 11 years now, but when friends from there come to visit, they always bring me one. Ever had the pleasure?
Keith Law: Yep. Best thing on the Strip when I lived there.

Steve: The Gerrymandering case before the Supreme Court is the most impactful in the past _____ years? Could argue since Roe v. Wade, right?
Keith Law: Or Brown v Board of Education.

Andy: With how good Ozzie Albies looked this season and how Dansby Swanson had lapses in the field at times, I’ve heard people suggest they switch places in the field. Do you see an advantage to that?
Keith Law: I would hate to see the team overreact to one season, but bear in mind Albies primarily moved off shortstop because of Swanson, not because of his own deficiencies.

Ridley Kemp: Any thoughts on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominations (other than “I struggle to think of a more irrelevant institution”)? I’m pulling for The Zombies this to get in this year just because they’re so much better than The Doors.
Keith Law: Yeah, they make our HoF look rational.

ML: Should MN trade Gordon or Sano for a proven starter this off-season? Both being mentioned as options in MSP.
Keith Law: I would not. Both look like potential core players.

Jerry: Which White Sox prospects will reach the majors in 2018? Is Kopech, Collins, Hansen and Eloy a decent guess?
Keith Law: Kopech very likely. The others are all less so. Collins in particular is going to have to show more ability to hit (despite the big hitch in his swing).

JP: would a perfect postseason for you be all series going to Game 7’s (Game 5’s in DS)?
Keith Law: Yes – and it’s the perfect outcome for MLB, too. Ratings go up when series go to the limit.

Cool Hand Luke: If you were Sandy Alderson, who would you target as the next Mets manager?
Keith Law: I’ve recommended my former ESPN colleague Alex Cora a few times now. I believe I dropped some other names in chat last week.

Drew: There’s no validity to the concern that a team like the Nats clenched too early and haven’t played meaningful games in a month, is there? They looked a bit flat towards the end of the season, but it seems bogus to think that’ll carry over to the postseason.
Keith Law: There’s no evidence that this supposed effect – it’s momentum, really – is true. There are plenty of counterexamples of teams who all but backed into the postseason and still advanced or even won it all.

Ben: Hey Keith, not sure how much you pay attention to portions coaching staffs outside of manager, but did it surprise you STL is parting ways with Lilliquist? Have seen nothing but positive words about him over the years. It eems to me that pitching, itself, has not been as big a problem for the Cardinals since Matheny has taken over, as much as, oh I don’t know… Matheny has been?
Keith Law: It did surprise me, but I also don’t know the inner workings there. Was more surprised to see the Rays let Jim Hickey go.

Tom: If it were entirely up to you….how would you fit the MLB draft and international signings highly visible problems?
Keith Law: The more MLB tries to prevent teams, which are absolutely flush with cash, from spending money to acquire talent, the more avenues MLB opens for rule bending and rule breaking. It’s analogous to corruption in developing countries, especially non-democratic ones: You can’t get rid of corruption by outlawing it. You have to address the incentives that enable or even encourage it. In baseball’s case, that’s going to mean going in the opposite direction from recent CBAs, allowing teams to spend more on international talent rather than less.

Pace of Play: Dumb question, maybe, but why do pitchers coming out of the pen need more than, say, three warmup pitches from the mound? Isn’t warming up what the bullpen’s for? Or do they get all those warmups to fill commercial breaks?
Keith Law: I think warmups extend to fill the time allotted by commercials.

Ben: Randomly saw you recommending Ballplayer: Pelotero on twitter. I went ahead and watched it last night; I always figured that world would be sort of slimy…
Keith Law: It’s worse than you think it is.

Mac: When evaluating a hitter what is the most important thing you look for?
Keith Law: It depends entirely on his age and level. For a younger hitter, it’s more about tools, physical ability, swing mechanics. Older hitter, I care more about approach, ability to adjust, frequency and quality of contact.

CB: Scioscia is going into the last year of his contract. Is there any argument at all in favor of extending him?
Keith Law: I think it’s best for the Angels to move on from him – to let Eppler hire his own manager, and ensure that the team doesn’t fall any farther behind the curve in terms of managerial use of analytics. It’s a handicap right now, and that’s only going to get worse going forward.

Jon: Stupid hypothetical: do you think Votto wins NL MVP if Cincy wins 85 games? Despite being the worst baserunner in the history of MLB, he was unbelievable this year.
Keith Law: If they’d made the playoffs, maybe. Otherwise, I don’t think so. He did have a tremendous year.

Josef: Only 22% of Americans own guns and many NRA members are not opposed to banning high capacity weapons or requiring licensing or training. Will we ever have common sense laws on guns?
Keith Law: Not until money stops talking.
Keith Law: That’s all for this week. Thank you all for reading and for all of your questions. If you’re in Arizona, I’ll be at Changing Hands in Phoenix on October 14th at 2 pm to talk and sign copies of Smart Baseball. Hope to see you many of you there!

Alhambra app.

The boardgame Alhambra is a modern Euro classic, winner of the 2003 Spiel des Jahres award and a host of other prizes, and still rated fairly highly on Boardgamegeek even thought it’s a bit light for that crowd. It’s also one of my least favorite Spiel winners, and one of my biggest disconnects between what I think of a game and what the gaming community thinks. I reviewed the original game back in 2011, and while I’ve softened on it just a little bit, it’s still not something I’m eager to pull off the shelf.

But there is now an Alhambra app (for iOS devices and Android), and because I take my responsibility to all of you seriously, I have played it for the purposes of reviewing it. And … I still don’t like the game that much, and I find the app a little clunky to use; after I’ve been spoiled by a run of Asmodee Digital apps and a few other super-clean ports, this one fell short of the mark for me. The AI players are solid, though, so it’s a good challenge for solo play, so if you enjoy the tabletop game, you may find value in the app that I didn’t.

Alhambra is a tile-laying game where players use money cards selected from a rolling display of four cards and use them to buy one or more of the four tiles currently in the market. You get one action per turn and can use it to buy a tile, take money cards (one card, or several if they add up to five or less), or move a tile already in your palace to storage/move one from storage to the palace. If you buy a tile and pay the exact amount, you get a bonus action, so in theory you could get five actions in one turn: you buy each of the four tiles for the exact amount, and then get a bonus action to take money or renovate. There are six tile types, and you score for having the most or second-most of each type, with three scoring stages during the game and points increasing at each scoring. Tiles also have wall segments on zero to three edges; at every scoring, you score one point for each edge on your longest contiguous wall.

The app version of Alhambra has two different views – a standard top-down look and an isometric view with graphics on the tiles to give them 3D textures, with the isometric one much more comfortable to look at in my experience. You can also tailor the app speed if you want to see AI or opposing players make their moves, or if you’d rather speed things up and have cards just disappear from the display as they’re taken.

Making moves in the app is not intuitive in the least. First, you must select your action from a box at the top of the screen – buy, take money, renovate. If you’re buying, then you must select the money cards you intend to spend to buy the tile, and selecting the cards is a pain because of the way they’re laid out, overlapping each other, forcing you to click on the edge of a card to select it. Then you pick the tile you’re buying. If you pay the exact price, the app automatically gives you a bonus action by asking you to select a new action type. If you don’t have enough money to buy any tiles, that action is greyed out.

Any tiles you buy go into a temporary storage bin on the screen until your turn is done, after which you place all of the tiles at once. You drag the tile you wish to place over towards your board, and the legal spaces for it light up in green, then go back to retrieve the next tile if there are more in your tray. Once you place a tile, I don’t think there’s a way to undo it. The isometric view only fails in this one spot – it’s hard to distinguish walls on the ‘far’ side of tiles.

The game ends when the supply of tiles is exhausted, at which point there’s a quirk in the rules – the remaining tiles are assigned to players based on who has the most money of each color, whether or not those players have enough to buy the tiles. That can also mean you acquire a tile you can’t place, and the app wants you to place that tile in one of your renovation slots … which I only figured out from trial and error. If you don’t know this, you’re stuck.

The app is stable now after some early bugginess, and some expansions are available as in-app purchases, but I find the UI here too frustrating – and, again, I’m not wild about the game underneath it. If you love the base game, go for it. Otherwise, I’d give this one a miss.

Marjorie Prime.

Marjorie Prime is a soft science-fiction movie that delivers a brooding, dark meditation on the interlocking nature of grief and memory, buoyed by a thought-provoking idea at its center and carried by several individual strong performances in demanding roles. Set almost entirely in one house, the film moves slowly through time for its first half, then undergoes a disconcerting acceleration that leads to a concluding scene that doesn’t deliver on the promise of the remainder of the film.

Marjorie, played by Lois Smith, is an 85-year-old widow whom we meet in the opening scene as she talks to a young man named Walter, played by Jon Hamm. Walter is actually Walter Prime, a holographic projection, powered by a machine-learning program, and Marjorie talks to Walter Prime to grieve the real Walter, her late husband, while teaching the AI how to be more like the real Walter was … or how she remembers him, at least. Her own memory is starting to fail, and her adult daughter Tess (Geena Davis) and son-in-law John (Tim Robbins), have moved in with her; getting Walter Prime was John’s idea, and he also speaks to the AI to try to further train it, which includes teaching it certain subjects to avoid when it is with Marjorie, while Tess is uncomfortable with the illusion and more than a little creeped out by it. As the title implies, Marjorie dies, and we then get Marjorie Prime to help Tess grieve, so we see glimpses of the early learning process, along with a few flashbacks to reveal the truth of certain anecdotes the people and the Primes share with each other.

The script relies almost entirely on dialogue, which puts a tremendous weight on the actors involved to execute it, and to envelop the audience in the philosophical and emotional questions the script raises. How do we grieve? How do we remember the loved ones we’ve lost – and to what extent are our memories functions of what we choose, rather than what our brains have stored? (There’s one scene that’s a little too explanatory on this point.) Why does Marjorie choose a very young version of Walter for his Prime, while Tess chooses Marjorie as she was just a few years before her death? Why does she ‘correct’ Walter Prime’s story about the night when Walter proposed to Marjorie? Do the Primes give the bereaved closure, or merely prolong the grieving to a harmful extent? In Marjorie’s case, Walter Prime seems to help, and John has set up the AI to encourage Marjorie to eat (and deduce when she’s not eating), while Tess seems to suffer from the experience of talking to Marjorie Prime in the second phase of the story. The film asks how we should grieve, but the answer it gives seems no more specific than “it depends on the person.”

The four main actors do all of the heavy lifting in this film, with just brief appearances by a few others. Hamm only has to play a Prime, except for one flashback scene, but has to convince the audience that his affect and expressions are real enough to evoke genuine conversations with the bereaved, which he does thoroughly and handsomely, displaying a little rakish charm in the film’s final scene. Robbins was the revelation here; I’ve seen plenty of his work and often found him too obtrusive an actor, a big guy who could only deliver a big personality on screen. In Marjorie Prime, he’s understated throughout, playing small in voice and in deed. When John has one brief moment where he acts out of frustration, it’s shocking because it’s so out of character, and Robbins loses just enough of his equilibrium to keep John together as, a heartbeat later, Tess enters the room. He’s also kind to Marjorie in the way of a doting son-in-law, a counterweight to Tess’s resentful, frustrated daughter, which Davis presents by frequently talking through her teeth.

(In general, I don’t discuss the physical appearance of actresses, because it’s superficial and generally irrelevant, and the pressure on women in film & TV to never age must be immense. Something was amiss with Davis’ face in this film, however; whether it’s plastic surgery, Botox, or something beyond her control, it altered her way of speaking in a way that I found distracting and a little hard to understand.)

Smith’s portrayal of Marjorie, first as person and then as Prime, hit me a little more than the other performances because she had some of the same expressions and cadences as my own grandmother did in the last few years of her life, including the same gait – not quite a shuffle, but a careful one, the walk of someone whose every step shows her awareness of the possibility of a fall. There’s a scene early in the film where John is standing behind a seated Marjorie, and she turns to talk to him … and in her facial expression I saw my grandmother, making the same face, talking to me as I stood behind her (she was tiny, no more than about 4’9″, so she didn’t have to be seated for this to take place). Smith hits all of the micro-elements of an elderly person facing both mortality and memory loss, like the little irritations at having someone prompt her with something she did remember, or the visual response to the confusion of, say, asking about someone who died many years ago.

The flaw in Marjorie Prime is the script’s failure to stick the landing, reminiscent of a film I just mentioned the other day, Being John Malkovich, which had a brilliant premise but sputtered at the conclusion without any real resolution of the movie’s many plot strands. Marjorie Prime has one real plot, rolling it forward a few times, but the end of the movie shifts the focus from the living to the Primes, creating far more questions than it resolves. Are we to empathize with the Primes now? Is it a comment on our own impermanence, and how technology may outlive us all? Should we feel some obligation to AI entities we create and teach? And if any of this was the point, where were these themes in the first 90 or so minutes of the film?

If you can live with a film that broaches important or thought-provoking ideas but doesn’t quite resolve its plot, then you should seek out Marjorie Prime, which is still in theaters. It’s a quick 98 minutes, even though it’s so dialogue-driven – there is no ‘action’ to speak of here, but there’s a sense of peeling away the layers of the family history that provides some narrative greed. And these characters are so well-inhabited that you’ll be glad to have the Primes around when one of them dies.

Music update, September 2017.

A whole raft of anticipated releases hit stores in September, including new records from Wolf Alice, Daughter, Hundred Waters, Cut Copy, Torres, The Killers, Death From Above, LCD Soundsystem, and the National, some of which lived up to expectations, some of which didn’t, and some of which were as bad as I expected. (I really couldn’t have any less interest in or respect for The Killers at this point, since they licensed a song and recorded an extra video to help promote the fight involving serial domestic abuser Floyd Mayweather.) Here’s my highly edited list of the best new songs of the month, with a half-dozen metal tracks at the end, increasing in heaviness as it progresses. You can access the Spotify playlist here if the widget below doesn’t appear.

Hundred Waters – Wave to Anchor. Hundred Waters had my #1 album of 2014 with The Moon Rang Like a Bell, an unconventional, experimental record of atmospheric electronica with breathy, acrobatic vocals by Nicole Miglis. The band’s second album, Communicating, came out on September 14th, and pushes even further into experimental territory, but with bigger sounds and more dramatic flourishes, very much in evidence here and on “Particle,” “Prison Guard,” and “Blanket Me.”

Daughter – Glass. Daughter’s Music from Before the Storm is the soundtrack to the new video game Life is Strange: Before the Storm, but works as a standalone album as well, with indie-folk trio Daughter using the game’s script as inspiration for a record that fits well in their own discography. It’s actually more cohesive than their last album, 2016’s Not to Disappear, even with instrumental tracks like this one, and I think stronger start to finish, buoyed by songs like this one, “Burn It Down,” “Voices,” and closer “A Hole in the Earth.”

Wild Beasts – Punk Drunk & Trembling. Wild Beasts are breaking up, with 2016’s magnum opus Boy King, a mesmerizing record of tremendous hooks built around a theme of toxic masculinity, their swan song. This track is one of the leftovers from the recording of that record and part of a forthcoming EP to close out their career.

Hippo Campus – Baseball. How could I omit a song called “Baseball?” Actually, that didn’t matter except that I pushed it further up the playlist – I wouldn’t include a song that wasn’t good, and this song has a great little guitar hook and catchy chorus to drive it. It’s on their newest EP, warm glow, which comes out just a few months after their debut album Landmark dropped.

Sløtface – Backyard. Try Not to Freak Out, the debut full-length from these Norwegian punk-pop purveyors, is uneven, but with a few standout tracks built around big hooks and fun lyrics, including this one and “Nancy Drew.”

Wolf Alice – Heavenward. I’ve been a little disappointed by Wolf Alice’s second album, Visions of a Life, released on Friday, as it doesn’t show any growth from their debut, My Love is Cool, and in some ways feels even less mature.

Death From Above – Holy Books. Their third album, Outrage is Now!, came out on September 8th, and it’s almost as if they’ve merged with Royal Blood, producing an album of huge, guitar-driven hooks that’s my favorite album of their three so far.

Portugal. The Man – Don’t Look Back In Anger. I don’t include many covers and almost never include live tracks, so you know this one, recorded in-studio for Spotify, must be pretty good.

Mourn – The Fire. These Barcelona punks put out a five-song EP, Over the Wall, on September 8th, with two standout tracks, this one and “Whatever.” They have a sort of anarchic, college-rock vibe to their best songs, as if the entire thing is going to fall apart at any second but the band just manages to keep it together until the song ends.

Van William – Never Had Enough Of You. Van Pierszalowski, lead singer of WATERS, put out a few singles on his own under the nom de chanson Van William (understandably so) earlier this year, and has now collected them with this new track and one demo on a four-song EP called The Revolution. This ballad is a definite shift in tone and feel for VW compared to the first two singles and to his work with WATERS, but you’ll recognize his signature sound in the shuffling guitar riff behind the lyrics.

Prides – Lets Stay In Bed All Day. I had Prides’ first single, “The Seeds You Sow,” as my #8 song of 2014,, but their debut album ended up a big disappointment, lacking any big hooks and really downshifting their overall sound. This song seems to get them back on track, with a big Wombats feel to both music and lyrics.

Tricky with Mina Rose – Running Wild. It only took me twenty years, but I have finally realized that I like Tricky’s music a lot more when he’s not the vocalist.

Von Grey – 6 A.M. I’m not sure about the “sexy goth sisters” marketing around this trio, but the sound on this track is a compelling, more vocal-driven descendant of the ’90s novelty act Rasputina.

Cut Copy – Black Rainbows. Cut Copy have produced so much music – 21 singles, five albums (including their latest, Haiku from Zero), a few EPs – since their 2001 debut, but despite a general sound that’s right in my wheelhouse, I’ve rarely found their songs even a little bit memorable because they haven’t had good pop hooks in what is otherwise very poppy music. This breaks that trend, the best song I’ve heard from them since 2010’s “Where I’m Going.”

The Riff – Weekend Schemes. I mean, if your band is named The Riff, you’d better bring the guitar licks … and they do, at least on this song, which is like a harder post-Oasis Britpop vibe with a dash of The Hold Steady in the vocals.

INHEAVEN – Bitter Town. Big, ballsy hard rock from their eponymous debut album, which also features the muscular “World on Fire” (on my August playlist). This song is more wistful, a little introspective even, with strong lyrical contrast to the heavy percussion and distortion that drives the music.

Mastodon – Toe to Toes. Mastodon have always been inventive musicians, frequently breaking out of traditional song structures, and often succumbing to melodic urges as if they couldn’t help but make a heavy song a little catchier. This song seems to split the baby; there’s a heavy, jazz-metal component, reminiscent of the work of ’90s metal acts Cynic and Atheist, and the song suddenly downshifts into AOR territory – but the juxtaposition works to the song’s benefit, providing a respite from the relentless riffs of the heavier sequences.

Chelsea Wolfe – Offering. Highly atmospheric, ethereal, gothic … something. It’s not really metal, although bits of metal creep into her latest album, Hiss Spun, and she employs a number of major names from the metal and hard-rock worlds on the record. There are doom and stoner elements here, but it’s all in service of building a dark, funereal edifice for Wolfe’s wide-ranging vocals. I thought the album as a whole dragged, but this track is a standout.

Myrkur – De Tre Piker. Myrkur is Amalie Brunn, a Danish vocalist who just released her second metal album under this moniker; her music is generally described as “black metal,” but that wildly undersells what she’s doing here. This music defies traditional categorization, borrowing from diverse genres and shifting tempos, themes, and styles multiple times within tracks, incorporating folk and classical elements along with extreme metal aspects, including screamed vocals that alternate with her own clean singing. It doesn’t always work, and she struggles sometimes with the lack of cohesion within tracks, but I’d put her in a very small group of artists who are trying to change the definitions of contemporary rock music.

Arch Enemy – My Shadow and I. I think I just don’t care for Alissa White-Gluz’s guttural vocal style – but I think the guitar riffs on Will to Power, their new album, are a big step forward from the slightly disappointing War Eternal (2014), still true to their melodic death-metal roots. (Founding guitarist Michael Amott was a member of seminal death-metal act Carcass for their breakthrough album Heartwork, which remains one of the founding records of the melodic death-metal subgenre.)

Satyricon – Deep calleth upon Deep. The vocals are bad – they just are, always have been for Satyricon – but they’re an unapologetic doom band now, a transition that, as many of you argued on Twitter, started somewhere around Rebel Extravaganza or Volcano. It’s not what original Satyricon fans want, but if you can stand the silly death growls there’s a good Pallbearer/Crypt Sermon vibe here.

Akercocke – Unbound by Sin. This is probably the most extreme metal song I’ve ever included on one of these playlists, which is why I left it till the end, but this song – and the entire album, Renaissance in Extremis – is a tour de force of progressive, technically proficient metal that incorporates elements of jazz and classical along with the standard death-metal trappings like blast beats (yawn) and growled vocals (mixed relatively low here, so the fretwork stands out). I used to think Akercocke was something of a joke, a so-called “blackened” death metal band that used controversial lyrics and album covers to grab attention, but this album, their first in ten years, just floored me with its complexity and textures. If you like extreme metal at all, it’s the best album of that niche this year and I think the best since Carcass’ Surgical Steel.

Get Out.

Get Out (amazoniTunes) remains one of the top-reviewed movies of the year seven months after its initial release, despite multiple factors working against it: It’s a horror film, it was released in a dead spot in the calendar, and it was written and directed by an African-American man. The film has been a critical and commercial success, and is now the highest-grossing movie with an African-American director, along with a hilarious 99% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. (And even that might be misleading; one of the two “negative” reviews is a 3/5 rating from a non-professional critic, while the other is noted gadfly Armand White.)

I’ve said several times here that I avoid most entries in the horror genre, almost entirely out of a dislike of graphic violence. The modern trend of “torture porn” and body horror may have its audience – sociopaths and prospective serial killers, I ssume – but I am not of it. The handful of horror movies I’ve seen and liked have been psychological or gothic horror films; I often cite The Others as one of my favorites, because it’s creepy as hell, wonderfully acted, and free of violence.

Get Out does have some blood and a not insignificant body count, but it is very much a psychological horror movie, and even takes pains to keep the worst of the violence off-screen. The horror within the movie preys on our fear of mortality, our questions about identity, and racial guilt and animus, but not outright violence. There are unoriginal elements within the film, and one horror-movie cliché so pervasive I caught it despite limited experience with the genre, but the script as a whole is tight, unified, and clever, tackling subtle racism with a story that starts out equally subtle before it explodes into a paranoid and utterly bonkers physical manifestation of the problem.

Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose Armitage (Alison Williams) have been dating four months and are about to head to her family’s estate so he can meet her parents. He expresses reservations because she hasn’t told her parents that her boyfriend is black, but she assures him that they’re progressive, open-minded people who would have voted for Obama for a third term if they could have (a phrase her father, played by Bradley Whitford, repeats almost verbatim). When they do arrive there, Chris notices that the family employs a few black servants who speak and move with a strangely flat affect, while Rose’s mother (Catherine Keener) appears hellbent on hypnotizing Chris to cure him of his smoking habit. She later manages to do this, seemingly without his knowledge, in the middle of his first night there.

When the family hosts a big garden party the next day, the various older white guests make all manner of peculiar, racial (but not always overtly racist) comments towards Chris, while the one black guest, a young man named Logan who arrives with a much older white woman, is ‘off’ the way the servants are, and completely loses his composure when Chris takes his picture, as the flash triggers a total change in his demeanor and he attacks Chris while growling at him “get out!” Chris sends the picture to his friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery), who is a combination of Smart Brother and Conspiracy Brother, and Rod informs him that Logan is actually Andre, who had gone missing from their neighborhood six months earlier. After that, the movie largely confirms that everything that looked amiss is very much so, and then some, with a quick transition from psychological suspense to outright horror that works because the story is so tightly written up to that point.

The script works as a straight story, with a few jump scares along the way, but succeeds more by taking the stereotype of the “post-racial” white progressive and turning it inside out, using metaphor to expose such people as fakes or flakes – people who don’t really believe what they spout, or who simply fail to back up what they say when real action is required. Rod is the most dependable person in Chris’s life, and is essential to Chris’ hopes of escape at the end of the film, while one by one the “nice” white people Chris has met end up betraying him. You could even take Peele’s example of Logan/Andre as a warning about assimilation, about losing one’s identity and culture in an effort to fit into “American” culture and society by conforming to white norms and standards.

The remainder of this review contains possible spoilers.

The escape sequence of Get Out is taut and surprisingly focused on Chris’s psychological state, and has him relying on his mental skills at least as much as his physical to try to get himself out of the house. The one cliché I mentioned earlier appears here – the person who was pretty definitely dead suddenly appearing, not dead, and at full strength, despite (in this case) suffering a rather traumatic head injury – as if Peele needed one more person for Chris to fight before he could get out of the building. That same scene ends with an off-screen death that recalled Chris Partlow’s murder of Bug’s father near the end of The Wire season 4, but with all of the violence here left off screen, whereas the HBO series made the killing more visible and graphic. Even when Chris does one of the dumb things that the protagonists in horror films do, a choice involving Georgina, it’s at least well-founded in his character’s history and further explained through flashbacks at the moment of the decision (which turns out to be the wrong one, of course).

The core conceit of the film also struck me as a direct allusion to (or lift from) Being John Malkovich, which made the casting of Keener, who earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her work in the earlier film. BJM is more of a clever idea than a fully-realized film, like a short story that couldn’t bear the weight of two hours of plot, while Get Out turns the story over and makes the Malkovich analogue the center of the film, while actually finishing the story off properly. So while the central gimmick is not original, Peele manages to do in his first produced script to what Charlie Kaufman (who wrote BJM) didn’t do until his third, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which won Kaufman the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. The idea at the heart of Get Out may not have been Peele’s, but he turned it into a complete work with a clear resolution.

Peele has also spoken since the film was released about alternate endings he’d considered, one of which he filmed and most of which were darker than the one we get on screen, but I’ll stand up for the script as it was actually filmed. The film asks whether black Americans can depend on whites at all to help them achieve or move towards equality, and answers it with an unequivocal ‘no.’ The ending we get at least implies that black Americans can reach those goals, but only by helping themselves, and doing so in rather heroic fashion, relying on their wits more than they do the stereotyped physical qualities that the Armitages and their ilk ascribe to African-Americans.

After hearing multiple warnings about the nature of the end of the film, I thought Get Out chose the high road in presenting a horror-film sequence with more emphasis on what’s happening in Chris’s head than what’s happening to all the bodies, including his, and I enjoyed the movie far more than I expected. The film is also boosted by some strong performances, especially Kaluuya (born in England, but nailing the American accent), Williams, Keener, and especially Howery, whose role is largely comic but absolutely fills up the screen whenever he appears and delivers by far the movie’s funniest line near its end.

I imagine, given the critical acclaim for the film and the criticism of the 2014 and 2015 Oscar nominee slates for the lack of persons of color among major nominees, that this film will be the rare horror movie to find itself with an Academy Award nomination, perhaps for Best Original Screenplay, and likely a Best Original Score nod for Michael Abels. As far as I can tell, The Exorcist is the only straight horror movie to earn a Best Picture nod – even Rosemary’s Baby didn’t get one – so there’s an outside chance we’ll see some history made if Get Out does the same. It would be an incredible outcome for a movie that had so many factors working against it before its release.

Stick to baseball, 9/30/17.

My one ESPN column this week is a free one, covering my awards picks for 2017, excluding NL Rookie of the Year, the ballot I was assigned (again). I also held a Klawchat on Friday.

I reviewed Azul, one of my favorite new boardgames of the year, for Paste, which will be my last review for them until November. I will continue to post reviews here in the interim.

My book, Smart Baseball, is out and still selling well (or so I’m told); thanks to all of you who’ve already picked up a copy. And please sign up for my free email newsletter, which is back to more or less weekly at this point now that I’m not traveling for a bit. I also have a new book signing to announce: October 14th at Changing Hands in Phoenix.

And now, the links…

Klawchat 9/29/17.

My post on the five BBWAA award ballots I don’t have went up yesterday on ESPN.com, and my latest boardgame review, the excellent light strategy game Azul, went up on Paste yesterday as well.

Keith Law: There’s a madness in us all. Klawchat.

Sean: So Jeimer Candelario can really hit huh? Is there going to be power coming or more of a high AVG/OBP kinda guy?
Keith Law: I think it’s doubles power, not a ton of BB, won’t K much. Cubs people loved his bat from when he was just a teenager; he just didn’t move up as quick as expected but it’s working out in the end.

Kyle: Could a team with corporate ownership like Toronto or Atlanta sign Otani and then a different division of the corporation sign him to a massive “marketing deal” as a way to get around the compensation rules?
Keith Law: I think MLB would challenge that. All the more reason for Manfred to waive the rule for Otani and make him a true FA.

Brandon: Brett Phillips hitting a little to end the year. 4th OF because he can play CF or potential for more of a regular role?
Keith Law: Has everyday upside. Depends on contact rate. I think he’s more of a plus RF in the long term; arm plays up there, not sure he has the range for CF every day.

Jon: Correct decision to shut down Giolito a little early right? Around 50 IP more (in game situations) than last year, was very good in his time in the bigs and doesn’t really have anything more to prove this season still coming off the surgery. Projection still as a future ace?
Keith Law: No problem with having him skip his last two starts; if he met their developmental goals this year, which I think he did, then let him go out on a high note. He threw far more strikes this year in the majors, missed more bats, showed a better CH, and got back close to his old delivery. He’s also added a slider, which is key because his curveball wasn’t as good in the majors as it had been when he was in low-A or high-A. I’d be more comfortable saying #2 ceiling. To get to ace, he’ll need the CB to be as sharp and effective as it was a few years ago, or for the slider to become that pitch.

Nelson: If you read a book then dont remember if you read it a year or two later, what do you gain by reading it? Just temporary enjoyment while reading?
Im asking because I have a horrible memory and could probably reread a book 6 months later and it be new to me so sometimes I questions the point of reading at all
Keith Law: For the enjoyment of reading in the moment. If a book takes me away for an hour or two, and then I forget it six months later – which is true of a lot of genre fiction – then I’m content.

Bruce: Do you belive in any specific “conspiracy therories”? (belief contrary to official authority position)
Keith Law: I believe the ball was juiced in 1987.

Evan: Reasonable for Mitch Keller to taste the bigs next year or is that a little aggressive? Figure he starts back in Altoona and a midseason promotion to Indy if he performs well? Was unhittable in the EL playoffs.
Keith Law: I think he debuts next year, late.

Tadd: Billy McKinney remembered how to hit this season. That pure swing hasn’t really changed. His outlook any different than from before the season? 4th OF type?
Keith Law: Still a bit too much swing and miss for a low-power corner OF, but before the year I was afraid he’d never see the majors, and now he’s clearly a major league bench guy.

Mike: Do you think popularity of games such as Monopoly and Chutes and Ladders is because of price? I know I had sticker shock over the $30-$50 price of games like Settlers and Ticket to Ride.
Keith Law: Price and ubiquity. For years, B&N was the only mass market retailer to sell Eurogames. Now Target has moved aggressively into the segment. The price is surprising to newbies, absolutely, but I think many of them justify it by how often you want to replay them. Look at your hours of use vs the cost and it makes more sense.

Jeff: What in the world can the Pirates do with Glasnow? So dominant in minors, including walk rate his last stint, to can’t throw strikes to anyone in the majors. Still let him throw as a starter? Or are we going to see him showcase a little more in the pen? He’s 24 now, not the young guy we all think of him as.
Keith Law: Has to pitch somewhere to continue to get reps; if they can designate him as a long reliever next year, handling mopup and other low leverage work where he might throw 3-5 innings, that might be the bridge he needs – as if there were a AAAA level for him.

Andy: What do the Brewers do for next season? They need more good starting pitching, but so does everyone else. They’re unlikely to try to upgrade from Thames, even if that might be warranted. Hope the young guys develop more?
Keith Law: Pray Nelson gets back to pre-surgery form. Burnes should arrive soon. I still think Lopez will develop into a ML starter. I would definitely look to upgrade from Thames, even if it’s with internal options, but otherwise they’re largely waiting on the talent in the system to progress.

Joe: As Stanton gets closer to 61 homers, there seems to be this unspoken, collective agreement that if he can get to 62 he will break the “record.” Did I miss the memo where we all decided that McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds never happened?
Keith Law: Collective my ass. If you see anyone make that claim, mock them mercilessly. It’s historical revisionism: You don’t like what happened, but it still happened. And I think the dangers of historical revisionism are self-evident.

Bruce: True or false: People who put milk and sugar in their coffee shouldnt care about how long ago it was roasted and ground.
Keith Law: You’re trying to trigger me. I will equivocate: If you drink fresher coffee, you’ll use less dairy or sweetener. If you get really good coffee, you might even go black.

Matt: Robert Stephenson last 10 games: 49.2 IP, 54 K, and only 3 HR allowed. Slowly turning a corner? Fastball sitting at 94
Keith Law: 33 walks in that span. Why would you leave that out when control has been his biggest issue?

Sanchez: Imagine advocating not using a 30 home run catcher in a winner take all game because of passed balls?
Keith Law: I saw that. It’s not good.

Mark: Now that Ausmus is gone could you throw out 3 or 4 names that should be considered as his replacement?
Keith Law: I’m going to stump for Alex Cora until he gets a shot somewhere. I know Doug Davis, currently the Scranton-Wilkes Barre defensive coach, is highly regarded in player development circles; he managed a couple of years in AAA, at least. I was talking to an exec recently about under the radar candidates and realized Billy McMillon had never gotten another managing job after a couple of successful years in AA.

Nikolai: Do you think Luis Robert could end 2018 in AA/AAA?
Keith Law: I think the range of potential outcomes for his 2018 season is extremely wide because we have no idea how advanced a hitter he is.

Thorpe: What’s Lewis Thorpe’s upside if he can stay healthy?
Keith Law: Mid-rotation starter. Maybe more, but he has to show some durability first.

Chris : I feel like Terry’s horrid lineup construction the last two months has been wildly underreported the last two months. Not playing Cecchini, continuing to sit Smith and Nimmo against lefties, continuing to throw Blevins (he’s at 74 appearances), and throwing away ABs on guys like Reynolds and Evans have all drawn my disgust. TC’s a goner, but dont people understand that this actually damaged future Mets teams bc no conclusions can be drawn from such sporadic and mindless operating?
Keith Law: Not just that, but I worry he’s damaged the hitters, or at least delayed their development, by not giving them more reps.

Caleb: What does the future look like for Braves youngster Luis Gohara?
Keith Law: High end starter.

Matt: Do you think people purposefully put questions in the “comments” or just a matter of not paying attention? Always wondered your take on this.
Keith Law: I believe the chat window doesn’t always show up on mobile devices, so some folks get confused. It’s fine. But I answer questions in here.

Steve: How do u organize all your keeper books so you can find them? Is there a KLaw Top 102 section, for ex? Sci Fi? Do tell..,
Keith Law: I only keep maybe 10-15% of what I read, and they’re semi-organized by author and type.

Derek: Do scouts ever predict the kind of defensive transcendence that Andrelton Simmons displays? With SS, it’s usually “good enough to stick at the position” or “has a chance to be above average” or something similar. I guess it’s just really tough to predict someone will be historically great. My question is: did you see Simmons becoming this defensive savant when he was a prospect? Does anybody in the minors at any position have that kind of defensive ability?
Keith Law: No; I heard he was a very good defender with an 80 arm, so maybe a 60 glove, maybe better, but I don’t recall anyone telling me he was an 80 glove. Everyone thought he’d end up on the mound.

Aaron C.: Read your newsletter this morning. Sorry to hear about the general jerkiness of humanity. Curious about the seasonal assholes you hear from: Spring = your season record predictions; Fall = your awards predictions; Winter = Hall of Fame. Who hates you in the summer?
Keith Law: Late spring and summer it’s the “you were wrong with this one take on this one player” crowd. Especially popular with players having their first good year somewhere. Whatever – it’s part of the job. My only complaint is that when I get a lot of those it can drown out real comments that might merit an answer. A week or so ago, there were some BFIBs going nuts over Luke Weaver, although they went dead silent after he faced the Cubs.

Andy: The ESPN comment section is hilarious. You’re accused of East Coast Bias due to picking Sale. Then the next comment is claiming Judge is far and away the MVP, and you clearly haven’t seen him play. Other highlights, “Javy Baez is the MVP of the Cubs,” “I don’t care about pitcher’s strikeouts,” and “Kluber has more wins in less starts.” Plus the comments about how you ignored NL ROY. To someone not you, this is all amazingly fun.
Keith Law: Never read the comments.

Guy F.: Thoughts on the salted caramel craze of the past couple of years?
Keith Law: I mean, I love salted caramel, so it’s fine with me. And the salt can mute any bitter notes in the caramel (which, since it’s lightly burned sugar, will have some bitter chemicals).

jay_B: Arbitrary end points here, but Javy Baez has been excellent in the second half. If even some of this is real, two questions: .275/.325/.500 a real possibility, and with his defensive ability, what’s that worth?
Keith Law: That’s probably a star, no? Sounds like a 4 WAR player.

Larry I in L.A.: Thanks for all of your thought-provoking work over the years, Keith! A 40-year friendship of mine is in peril due to our current political situation. We were in each other’s wedding and have been fantasy baseball partners since 1982, but now he says stuff like “I refuse to believe that our leaders would intentionally lie to us for financial gain.” (And I thought the knock on progressives was that we are gullible and naïve!) This ties in to the backlash over your hypothetical awards ballot column, another illustration that too many folks prefer to cling to outdated notions than, you know, learn new stuff. Can our country recover from this ever-widening streak of anti-intellectualism?
Keith Law: I’m not hopeful; if anything, anti-intellectualism is creeping forward, like with Florida’s legislature trying to allow the teaching of “intelligent design” (which, to be very kind, is just pseudoscience) in public schools.

Jeffry: Thought on Amed Rosario and Dom Smith after some up and down showing in the majors? Growing pains or red flags?
Keith Law: All good. Same outlook as before.
Keith Law: Aaron Judge struck out in 44% of his PA in 2016. He got better.

Chris : Do you agree with this position regarding moving players around in minors? “It’s just for versatility and flexibility,” Mets farm director Ian Levin said. “You never know what will come in the future. Also, getting exposure to other positions makes you better at your position. We get all of our middle infielders experience at second, short, even third.”
Keith Law: In general, yes. I think it also allows you to develop potential utility guys by giving them a few reps at short every year. However, I’d be concerned about putting inexperienced players at second base and having them get hurt on double plays.

Jon: How can you not include Eric Thames in your MVP consideration? I feel like you’re overweighting the final 140 games of the season.
Keith Law: Can we talk about how almost everyone is pretending that they didn’t get all hysterical over him in April? You know how many “YOU WERE WRONG ABOUT THAMES” tweets and comments I got back then? Can we remember any of this next April when some rando goes off for three weeks?

Dane Iorg: Who says no to this deal: Carson Kelly, Jack Flaherty, and Jedd Gyorko for Josh Donaldson. Cards? Jays? Both? Neither?
Keith Law: I think the Cards would and should say no to that. Very likely everyday catcher, with some upside beyond that; very likely back-end starter with modest upside; both major-league ready and cheap for six years. Ton of value there, and we’re not talking about highly volatile A-ball kids.

J.O.: Which WAR do you like better? Should I just take the average of the two? (And when I do, should I not count walks/HBP when I am calculating the average?)
Keith Law: I look at both, and where they differ greatly, I delve into where they agree and where they diverge. It’s important to understand why they differ – is it a BABIP issue (for pitchers)? Defensive disagreement (for fielders)?

Ken: What kind of line do you see Matt Chapman putting up in a full season?
Keith Law: Sub-.300 OBP, 30 HR, Gold Glove defense.

Nik: Can Dane Dunning be anything better than a decent #4?
Keith Law: I think so.

Alex A.: Is Pedro’s kid a real prospect?
Keith Law: I don’t know. I wasn’t familiar with him before he signed, and he wasn’t on Jesse Sanchez’s top 30 july 2nd prospects list this year or Longenhagen’s top 25. Also a little unusual for a prospect to sign at 17 rather than 16, but that may be because his family already has money and he was finishing school.

Grover: From your front office experience, would a move like benching Pujols require GM/ownership intervention? If he were so inclined could Scoscia just do it himself since it’s probably the best move for the team?
Keith Law: Owner would have to sign off on that.

German: How should the Twins approach the wild card game? On paper, they look overmatched, but as we know, baseball is weird.
Keith Law: If they do anything novel, it should be handling the pitching staff like there’s an extended fire drill. Start Berrios, because he’s your best starter, but have all hands on deck, and if you need seven pitchers to keep the game close, you do it. Forget the traditional model – starter goes 5-6, setup guy in 8th, closer in 9th – and just get outs. They will be overmatched, but they have at least design enough for the luck to help them.

Eddie: Any good reason why Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands aren’t states yet? It seems like bringing them officially into the union would be a win/win for everyone. My only thought is that the career politicians that run our country, on both sides of the aisle, must think bringing the 2 in will tip balance of power to the other side, therefore they choose not to push for their statehood.
Keith Law: They’d lose their favorable tax status, and American taxpayers would likely end up paying a lot to prop up their economies, especially in the first few years. I’m actually fine with that, but you can see how that might not be terribly popular in Congress, with virtually no voting constituencies in favor of it.

Sam: Keith, if I remember correctly, you mentioned you renovated your kitchen. I am starting down that path. Any recommendations? Also, thoughts on induction vs. gas stove?
Keith Law: I got a gas stove; never cooked with induction. Expect to exceed your budget by at least 10%, especially if you’re taking down drywall (oh, hello, flying splices!). And remember that granite counters help increase resale value. The only thing we couldn’t do was a double oven – the wiring wouldn’t work for it – but in hindsight that was a luxury item that I would only use maybe twice a year, not worth the extra cost anyway so it worked out.

Juan: Any thoughts on the Dr. Seuss issue?
Keith Law: I don’t understand why that librarian claims the books are racist, and I thought she really just wanted attention for her (valid) criticisms of Betsy DeVos.

Mike: A year away, but could you estimate the years and total value on the contracts Bryce Harper and Manny Machado end up signing.
Keith Law: I’ll be surprised if either ends up short of $300 million.

Matt R.: The painful decline of Albert Pujols sometimes causes us to lose track of how extraordinary he was the first 10 seasons of his career. Taking the last few years into consideration, where would you rank Pujols among right handed hitters of all-time? 1? 2? 3? Lower?
Keith Law: He’s top 3, I think, but I haven’t spent a ton of time on it. You know what’s weird is how his whole aging curve is shifted to the left by, like, five years.

Anthony: Really loving the seamless way you approach the inevitable connection of sport to politics. One of the reasons it is said there is less activism among baseball players is the lower percentage of African American players. But given the persecution of Latinos under the current administration, is it at all surprising there hasn’t been more action on that front? I also wonder if/when — particularly in a city like Los Angeles where a large portion of the fans are Latino (Mexican, primarily) — fans don’t begin to engage in peaceful protest.
Keith Law: A lot of Latino MLBers aren’t US citizens, though; I assume that’s part of why they haven’t been more vocal. And those of Venezuelan birth or descent would likely use their voices to bring attention to the failed state in Caracas instead.

Mike M.: Hi Klaw – Curious if you’ve had a chance to listen to the new Wolf Alice record, and if so, any early opinions?
Keith Law: I’ve heard the four singles they released, loved “Heavenward,” liked “Beautifully Unconventional,” found “Don’t Delete the Kisses” to be a bit twee, and thought “Yuk Foo” was a decent album track. Also, their name is really Wool Phallus, right? I’m not the only one who hears that?

Dave: You said you would explore that market for Didi. I agree with the logic, but what sort of return would you expect? Comparable to Chapman/Miller deals?
Keith Law: Two major prospects back? Sure. But he could also be a chip to get a major-league ready starter, with Pineda out, Sabathia old, and Tanaka a potential blowout at any point.

Chris: Are the Twins a good reason to change the wild card format or a good reason to keep it as is?
Keith Law: I don’t like the expanded WC, but MLB likes it – owners like it, and everyone likes the extra money – so I doubt it’s going anywhere. My opinion is that it just devalues the regular season a little bit more.

Gary: Do you know anything on the Asian prospects Bae that Atlanta signed? Any information to share?
Keith Law: He signed for just $300K, which is exceptionally low for a player from Korea, not definitive but an indicator that the industry didn’t view him as a top prospect. I’ll probably catch him in March.

Santos: Any way to get in touch with you if we want to get an autograph (on a baseball perhaps, provided with a self-addressed stamped package) and send along a donation to one of your charities? I saw your tinyletter about the boardgames and I like the idea, I’d just rather have an autograph than a board game honestly.
Keith Law: I have toyed with this idea before; I’m just concerned about executing it if a lot of requests come in. I’m not the most organized fellow when it involves anything other than writing or cooking.

James: The Royals most likely will lose their starting SS, 1B, 3B, CF and their best pitcher by WAR. We obviously don’t have the minor leaguers in AAA to cover all these holes, do you take a Dewees and have him go from AA to the majors to take over CF or take a flyer on a bargain bin veteran?
Keith Law: He can’t throw enough for CF.

Mark: Did you read the Newsday story about Collins and the Mets? If so, was any of the info new to you or is that a pretty accurate depiction of him?
Keith Law: This matched most of what I’ve heard the last few years from within the industry. Lot of complaints about him from the player side.

Matt from Milw: Is Corbin Burnes a 4th/5th, or potentially better?
Keith Law: Better.

Mark: How pathetic is it that people think Puerto Rico is another country?
Keith Law: I’ve been to PR (twice) and the USVI (once) and every time someone asked me afterwards if I needed my passport for the trip.

Matt: I saw you recently said it is just as likely players are using steroids as they are using magic (or something to that effect). I know you didn’t mean that literally, but is it unreasonable to think a small percentage are probably taking HGH or some sort of “PED”?
Keith Law: We know about 1 in 7 big leaguers is taking a PED with the league’s sanction; they get therapeutic use exemptions for the drugs, nearly always Adderall (a mixture of two amphetamine salts). My tweet was in response to a terrible NYT column that argued the rise in HR rates was due to undetected league-wide steroid use, which is obvious bunkum.

Gary: Pretty much the only successful pitcher Atlanta has called up from their rebuild focused on pitching is Gohara, and it has only been a few starts for him. Any reasons for concern about this rebuild? Is it a problem with their development? Wisler, Blair, Newcomb, Folty, Sims, etc. all have been just alright. Why are we supposed to believe the next round of arms will be different?
Keith Law: Sims was the only one in that group that Atlanta drafted. The next wave – two waves, I think – are all ATL draftees.

Colin: Would now be the time to trade Rhys Hoskins? Maybe get some youth in return?
Keith Law: Don’t think so. The 1b market is bad for sellers or free agents this winter, and also I think there’s a good chance Hoskins is a core player around whom they can build.

Max: With his inability to stay healthy, do you think it might be time for HOU to think about moving McCullers to the pen? Possibly as another Devenski?
Keith Law: I’ve suggested this many times, and of course been pilloried for it when he’s been healthy. He has a high-stress delivery, he does get hurt often, and he’s thrown 120 innings in one calendar year in the five since he signed. It’s at least a plan worth considering if you’re Houston.

Larry: Would it make sense for Atlanta to deal Inciarte instead of Kemp/Markakis? Gets Acuna in the lineup and you get a good return, whereas Kemp/Markakis wouldn’t bring back anything of value.
Keith Law: That was my argument a few weeks ago. Kemp and Markakis have negative trade value. Moving one of Inciarte or Acuna to a corner creates surplus value you can’t capture, because both can play CF.

Scrapper: Any particular storylines that you will be following in the post-season?
Keith Law: Yes, I’m curious to see who wins the World Series.

Tom: Ball Juicing: Should we care? Do you think it make the game objectively worse?
Keith Law: I think it does; the current Three True Outcomes environment likely isn’t good for growing the sport long term.

Tyler: Hear rumors that the A’s may move Barretto to CF because of the dearth of OF prospects. Any chance he will be playable out there?
Keith Law: He’s also not that great at SS. The question would be is he better in CF or at 2b; I think there’s a good chance he’s plus in CF with his speed, so I’d try it.

Joe: Keith, is this the ceiling for Trey Mancini? I am worried that if his bat drops at all he won’t be a regular since he has so much negative defensive/position value.
Keith Law: If the bat doesn’t drop, though, you have a nice, cheap regular. It’s possible.

Mark: Is Dinelson Lamet a legit 4/5 starter or just a guy?
Keith Law: Until he develops a third pitch to get lefties out, he’s just a guy.

Michael : Does Bryce Harper leave Washington?
Keith Law: I assume so. If the question is Washington or the field, I’d bet on the field. Same for Machado and Baltimore.

Bob: Do you see a connection between certain aspects of your personality (love of math; a fondness for organization) and the literature you prefer?
Keith Law: I don’t. I just love things that are great.

Mike: At what point in the draft do you roll the dice on an elite HS arm like Ethan Hankins when the draft is stocked with (more mature) college pitchers?
Keith Law: I don’t think that’s a fair summary of the class; he’s a top 5 talent right now, bearing in mind a lot can change in eight months.

Eric: Other than strategy games like chess, are there any old board games (say more than 20 years old) you still like?
Keith Law: Diplomacy’s great. Acquire is very good. And I know this isn’t what you mean, but Catan is 22 years old.

Ben: Does Albies have develop 20-25hr power in his future?
Keith Law: I want to say no, but the way the ball flies right now, there might be 40 guys this year who hit 20 HR whom I never thought would hit 20 HR.

JP: what are your thoughts on Chris Archer basically saying the clubhouse wouldn’t let him perform a peaceful protest during the National Anthem?
Keith Law: Extremely disturbed. I don’t know any details, but I hope someone in Rays management talked to him about it, and let him know they’d have his back if he chose to kneel for the anthem or sit it out.

Matt: Do you have any hope that the Orioles won’t rush Hunter Harvey?
Keith Law: I’m afraid they’ll rush him, and I heard he’s still very cross-body, which is/might be how he blew out in the first place.

Bryce Harper: Dom Smith destroyed a ball the other night with one hand. What’s his HR ceiling with the new ball?
Keith Law: I saw him in HS and thought he had plus raw or better. I’m sticking to that – there’s 25 HR in there, at least.

Ty: I bought La Flamme Rouge off of your review and like it for its balance. There seems to be a broken mechanic where exhausted cyclists can block trailing cyclists by playing exhaustion cards every turn. Have your run across it? Does this sound like a good fix? An exhaustion card cannot move into the left lane ever.
Keith Law: We didn’t run across that; I think I’d have to see this in action to follow you.

Tracy: Meanwhile, Scott Pruitt is making an abomination out of the EPA and yet no one is mentioning it, at least not the corporate media. This guy is as sleazy as they come and he is single-handedly destroying one of our most important federal agencies. Keith, if you come across any informative articles on this creep I would appreciate it if you post them on your links page.
Keith Law: The problem with the current Administration – well, one of the problems – is that with scapegraces in so many positions of power, the media can’t keep every one of their misdeeds in the spotlight. We’re busy with Tom Price spending a million bucks on luxury travel; we can’t talk about Pruitt gutting environmental protections, or DeVos making life easier for rapists on campus.

Clark: You’ve answered it before, but can you tell us what Meadow Party is a reference to?
Keith Law: Don’t blame me. I voted for Bill and Opus.

GS: The other reason PR & VI aren’t states is because they’d likely bring more Democratic Party representation to Congress. Same with DC obtaining statehood.
Keith Law: I haven’t heard that about the territories but it makes sense. Also, USVI would be the smallest state by population by almost half a million people (about 20% of what Wyoming has). That would mean you’d add two Senators for 100K people, while, say, California has two for over 37 million.

Tom: Hi Keith. A certain blogger has made the assertion that Judge is “Stanton with more walks.” Does this seem to be just a wee bit clickbait?
Keith Law: Stanton with more walks is good. I’m not sure if that’s supposed to insult one or the other.

JJ: Why are you always voting for the NL ROY? Shouldn’t they mix that up a bit? Spread your East Coast Bias around to some of the other categories, perhaps?
Keith Law: This is obviously what they’ve decided I should vote on. I have no say in it.

Chris : Royal Blood newest album is very mneh to me. Going to see them open for QOTSA at MSG regardless.
Keith Law: I loved it on first and second listen, but found I haven’t gone back to it very much.

Ron: Excited for Blade Runner 2049? Early reviews have been stellar. Grierson said it is the most gorgeous film he has ever seen.
Keith Law: Yeah, I might be proven wrong on that one. I didn’t like the idea of revisiting that world at all, especially since the first movie diverged so much from PKD’s book.

Steve: What the hell happened to Chris Tillman and can he bounce back next year?
Keith Law: Came back too quick from the shoulder injury last year and hasn’t been the same since.

Andy: Will your eventual memoir be titled: No One Ever Reads the Intro?
Keith Law: Yes, but only if I get to start with a 30-page intro.
Keith Law: That’s all for this week. Thank you all, as always, for reading, and an extra thanks to everyone who’s donated to my little boardgame-sale fundraising effort. We’re over $500 to three charities, two for hurricane relief and one a local food pantry. I appreciate everyone’s generosity; goodness knows the islands hit by Irma and/or Maria need our help. I’ll be back next week for another chat.

Ticket to Ride First Journey app.

The current explosion in popularity of European-style boardgames has tended towards older players, adults or teenagers, without as much emphasis on the youngest players who, at least historically, were a prime target for boardgame publishers. A few companies have produced stripped-down, introductory versions of their Eurogames for kids aged 8 and under, but until now none of them had appeared in app form. Asmodee Digital changed that with today’s release of their Ticket to Ride: First Journey app for iOS devices, Android, and Steam, and as you’d expect from an Asmodee product, it looks incredible, plays smoothly, and is extremely stable and reliable. At $4.99, it’s a steal for folks who want to introduce their younger kids to the glories of tabletop gaming.

Ticket to Ride: First Journey is a simplified version of the boardgame Ticket To Ride, which is itself among my top five games all time for its own simplicity and universal appeal, with First Journey – sold exclusively at Target – aimed at kids six and up (and probably fine for kids as young as four, as long as they can match colors). The board itself is smaller, with fewer cities on it and fewer trains required to connect cities that remain – there are no five-train connections between cities, for example.

If you’re already familiar with the rules and mechanics of the full versions of Ticket to Ride, here are the main differences between that game and the First Journey version:

  • You draw two train cards from the deck rather than choosing from five visible options.
  • You start the game with two route tickets (and have no choice).
  • When you finish one ticket, you get another ticket.
  • Everyone knows when you’ve finished a route.
  • Each ticket is worth one point; first to six points wins.
  • You get a point for building a continuous route from coast to coast.
  • There is no penalty for failing to complete a route.
  • Even in the two-player game, players can use both routes between two cities, and you can’t occupy both routes to block another player.
  • Each player has 20 train cars; as in the regular game, if a player places all his/her cars, that also triggers game-end.

The board is streamlined, and the cities on your route cards are animated in the app until you complete them. Each city has a unique icon, like a beaver in Montreal, a totem pole in Seattle, or a movie camera in Los Angeles. The pictures are bright and the text is very clean – not quite Comic Sans, but in that vein. You can drag your train cards to a route to place them; it’s a little fussy about your placement, but the app zooms in on the two cities to help you direct the arrow to the correct route. When you have two colors of tracks between cities, the one you can use is evident and the one you can’t use shows up with lock symbols on it. Some of the routes are extremely short – one track of three trains, two tracks of one or two trains each – so it doesn’t take long to complete your tickets.

On a turn, you have just three options: take two train cards, place trains on the map, or trash your two current route tickets and draw two new ones. That keeps turns quicker than in the base game, since no one is hemming and hawing over which train cards to select, and gives you an out when other players have done something to prevent you from completing a route card.

The route-planning aspects of the main game are still here but much simpler. There’s no longest route bonus, just the “coast to coast” bonus, so building a more efficient route that encompasses your two initial tickets is more about hoping you’ve already completed tickets you’ll draw later in the game or will at least be closer to finishing them. That means less need for the long-term planning of the original game, which makes it easier for younger players to keep up with the adults.

For the youngest players, First Journey might still present the frustration that comes from getting boxed out of a route, especially with three or four players. You can use your turn to trash your two current route cards, however, and draw two new ones, which at least gives you a chance to draw something you’ve already completed or at least will be able to complete. It also means that showing other players your route cards isn’t a negative, so if parents want to help their kids it doesn’t hurt the parents’ ability to play their own hands. The game still has a fair amount of luck involved in card draws of both types, and it’s possible to just have an unlucky game, which cuts both ways with younger players since they can be helped by randomness as well as irritated by it. There are three levels of AI difficulty; I only played against the Hard AI, which I think would be hard for a young player new to the game but isn’t challenging for someone who’s played the full Ticket to Ride.

The game appears to end immediately when one player reaches six points, rather than allowing all players a final turn as in the base game, which seems to give the first player an advantage. It’s possible, therefore, to have a player complete his/her fifth route and then draw a ticket for a route s/he has already completed, ending the game on the spot.

The game comes with a U.S. map and players can unlock a Europe map with a free Asmodee online account. The Europe map will be a standalone game in physical form (due out to U.S. retail in January) and includes a coast-to-coast style bonus, which is more of a west-to-east bonus with players connecting Dublin, Brest, or Madrid to Moscow, Rostov, or Ankara (represented by a samovar rather than an iron fist). There are also collectible stamps within the app for players to earn with each victory.

The First Journey app is ideal for players too young for the full game, with the inflection point probably somewhere around age 7 or 8 depending on your kids’ experiences with better boardgames. For older kids and adults, I recommend the Ticket to Ride app itself, which is among the best boardgame apps available and allows you to buy different maps as in-app purchases to give you different experiences and new rules tweaks.

The Fountains of Paradise.

Arthur C. Clarke is generally listed among the giants of science fiction, thanks in large part to Stanley Kubrick’s seminal adaptation of his short story “The Sentinel” into popular a film, 2001, which Clarke simultaneously adapted into the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film’s reach and impact extended well beyond sci-fi audiences, with one of the most memorable movie soundtracks in film history and a bit of dialogue that made the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movie Quotes of All Time (although, strangely, they include the line “Open the pod bay doors, HAL,” rather than the more oft-repeated followup, “I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.)

That’s a long bit of lead-in to reveal that I’ve always found Clarke’s writing to be dry and dull. He’s very science, as we might say on Twitter, and spends little to no time on character creation or development, and not a whole lot more on plot beyond the scientific aspects of his topic. I read 2001 maybe twenty years ago and was surprised by how thin the book was – HAL, a computer, is the most interesting character by a wide margin – and then had a similar experience two years ago with Rendezvous with Rama, which won Clarke the first of his two Hugo Awards for Best Novel in 1972. He won the award a second time with The Fountains of Paradise, in 1979, and while that latter book certainly is more novelesque than Rama, it suffers from the same problems as everything else I’ve read by Clarke: The scientific idea at the heart of the story dwarfs all of the typical considerations that go into whether a novel is good as a piece of literature or even popular fiction. (Both books won the Nebula Award for Best Novel in their respective years as well.)

The Fountains of Paradise is built around the idea of the construction of the first space elevator, a hypothetical device that could be used to transport people and goods to and from space at a fraction of the cost of current rocket technology, which is based around and thus restricted by the weight, cost, and supply of fossil fuels. A space elevator would involve threads of extremely strong (and as yet speculative) material that extend from some point on the earth out over 35,000 km above the planet’s surface, relying on the counterbalancing forces of the earth’s gravity and the centrifugal force from the earth’s rotation to with a robotic lifter climbing the ribbon using a still-undetermined method of power (until the lifter gets high enough to rely on solar power) to drive its ascent. The idea has been around for over a century, became a bit more realistic with the publication of a scientific paper on the topic in 1975, and, if it ever came to fruition, would be useful for endeavors like sending people to Mars or mining an asteroid.

Clarke takes the space elevator and builds a thin story around the political and engineering obstacles towards the construction of one on a fictionalized version of Sri Lanka, where a Buddhist shrine happens to sit on the ideal location for the Earthside terminal of the space elevator. The protagonist of Clarke’s work is an engineer, Dr. Vannevar Morgan, who wants to build this space elevator after his successful construction of a bridge across the Strait of Gibraltar – which, for what it’s worth, sounded utterly impossible in Clarke’s description – and views the cultural and religious objections as mere impediments to the march of progress. Morgan is a lifeless, one-dimensional character, and gets more page time than anyone else in the book, but none of the various secondary characters who appear has any more depth or personality.

The focus on the scientific underpinnings of the elevator and the engineering challenges in its construction means that when something goes wrong with the elevator itself or in its construction, the stakes are quite low. Even the book’s ultimate rescue scene lacks much suspense; it’s pretty clear, or was to me at least, how it was going to end, and to raise the stakes Clarke has to have Morgan forget some facts that would, I think, be obvious to an engineer of his experience. He also abuses Chekhov’s gun in the story, in the form of a heart monitor that telegraphs early on how the story is going to end.

The paint-by-numbers aspect of the main story is further exacerbated by the inclusion of a second story around the appearance, some years earlier, in our solar system of an interstellar probe with a sophisticated AI that proves to us the existence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. This subplot seems to bear no real purpose in the broader story other than to underline Clarke’s disdain for religion and to explain the disappearance of religion in general in the book’s 21st-century setting. Religiosity in developed countries has declined over the last hundred years or so, and may very well continue to do so, but to prophesy its disappearance seems like wishful thinking, and puts Clarke in the school of G.H. Hardy, who once wrote of his desire to find a single proof of the nonexistence of God that would convince all of humanity. I certainly respect any writer’s right to incorporate his own religious beliefs or unbelief into his/her writing, but in a book about the construction of a space elevator, it comes across as a distracting non sequitur, and does nothing whatsoever to advance the central plot or explain the motivations of any core characters. I get the appeal of Clarke to those who read science fiction for the speculative aspects of its scientific content, but no matter the genre, I need something more than that, and Clarke doesn’t deliver that in any of his best-known novels.

Next up: Mark Pendergrast’s Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How it Transformed Our World.

For the love of algebra.

I have always loved math, and I don’t think there’s any field within math I love more than algebra. I certainly enjoyed calculus, and there are parts of number theory that still fascinate me (Goldbach’s conjecture, an unproven hypothesis that dates back to 1742, more than anything else), but algebra just speaks to me like nothing else in the domains of math or science. So when I saw this week’s FiveThirtyEight Riddler problem, which boils down to solving two equations for two unknowns, I might have dropped everything I was doing and spent about a half an hour solving it – messily, but I think ultimately getting the right answer.

My own personal love of algebra dates back to when I was ten years old, and my junior high school, lacking an honors math class for sixth grade, decided instead to bump me up to the regular eighth grade math course, where I met a wonderful teacher and some awful kids. (I was three years younger than they were, and of course small for my age anyway.) I was told very little about the move but somehow understood that I’d be learning algebra, so I went to the school library and found a book, long out of print now, called Realm of Algebra, by an author I’d never heard of at the time but would later grow to know very well through his science fiction writing, Isaac Asimov. I devoured the book, which I credit to Asimov’s ability to make even abstruse concepts clear to readers, in a weekend, and ended up ahead of where I needed to be for the class. Algebra felt to me like another language, as easy to comprehend as English, maybe even more so – like this was my native tongue and everyone had been hiding it from me. I could always “think” in numbers, but algebra gave me an entire framework for it, and everything I learned that year, especially from Asimov’s book, still directs much of how I think about problems today.

It has also made me an easy mark for puzzles and games that revolve around algebraic questions. I often check FiveThirtyEight’s Riddler questions, but I rarely try to solve them – some look too hard or involved, some just don’t grab me. This week’s question, about finding the area of a missing rectangle, hooked me from the start. (I suppose I should disclose that FiveThirtyEight is part of the ESPN network of sites, and thus I am connected to it as well.) Here’s the question in brief: Find the missing area in the picture below, bearing in mind that it is not to scale.

A puzzle of rectangles.

I tweeted the link to the article last night and got a slew of responses from readers, some right, some I don’t think were right, and a few that gave me more insight into the problem – one of which made me realize my first answer was impossible – so I decided to take a few minutes and explain my method, in case it’s useful to anyone or still contains a mistake.

To figure out the area of the lower-left rectangle, you need to know its height and width, so this is a problem of two unknowns, which means you need (at least) two equations containing those unknowns to be able to solve it. To make the math a little less messy, I defined the height (vertical axis) of the target area as 11-x and the width (horizontal axis) as 14-y, meaning that the height of the upper-left area is x and the width of the lower-right area is y. We know the area of the lower right rectangle is 45, and the area of the upper left rectangle is 32, so using the formula for the area of a rectangle we get the following two equations:

(14 – y)x = 14x – xy = 32
y(11 – x) = 11y – xy = 45

You can then solve one equation for one variable in terms of the other, substitute that back into the second equation, and solve for one of the two variables. I chose to solve the first equation for x, yielding:

x(14 – y) = 32
x = 32/(14 – y)

11y – y(32/(14 – y)) = 45

11y – 32y/(14 – y) = 45
11y(14 – y) – 32y = 45(14 – y)
154y – 11y2 – 32y = 630 – 45y
–11y2 + 167y – 630 = 0

That, my friends, is a quadratic equation, and if you remember your quadratic formula – where you take the two coefficients and the constant and plug them into the formula to get the two possible solutions – you can solve it from here, or you can just plug them into this site and get your two answers for y, which in this case are 7 or 90/11.

It turns out that both answers produce whole-number, positive results for the area of the lower left rectangle. If y is 7, x is 32/7, and the area is 45. If y is 90/11, x is 11/2 (5.5) and the area is 32. A reader pointed out that the first answer is impossible, however, because of the one number I haven’t mentioned yet: the truncated, upper-right rectangle’s area, which is 34. Because the area of the whole shebang has to be less than 154 (11 * 14), since there’s a piece missing at the extreme upper right, then the lower left area has to be less than (154 – 32 – 34 – 45), which is 43. That leaves 32 as the only possible answer. (EDIT: Fixed the second sentence, where I transposed the two answers.)

I think.