Stick to baseball, 9/22/17.

I wrote three pieces for Insiders this week: scouting notes on Yu Darvish, more notes on Aaron Nola and some young Phillies hitters, and my annual look at players I was wrong about. I also held a Klawchat on Thursday.

I’m down to biweekly game reviews for Paste, so the most recent one is from last week, covering the great Days of Wonder-published title Yamataï, by the same designer who won the Spiel des Jahres (game of the year) this year for his game Kingdomino.

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.

And now, the links…

War Machine.

Three new Insider pieces for you to check out this week: scouting notes on Yu Darvish, more notes on Aaron Nola and some young Phillies hitters, and my annual look at players I was wrong about.

War Machine, released briefly to theaters this spring but residing in perpetuity on Netflix, is a thinly fictionalized adaptation of Michael Hastings’ non-fiction book The Operators, itself an expasion of Hastings’ infamous Rolling Stone article that led to the resignation of General Stanley McChrystal from his post as Commander of the coalition forces fighting in Afghanistan in 2010. It is a decidedly unflattering depiction of just about everything and everyone involved in the endless war against the Taleban, although it succeeds more in its portrayal of individual foibles than as an indictment of the war effort as a whole, laying more on the comic end of the scale than on the satirical side.

Brad Pitt stars as General Glen McMahon, the movie’s pseudonym for the McChrystal character, a tough-talkin’, f-bomb-droppin’, let’s-go-kick-some-terrorist-ass general brought in to replace the last let’s-go-kick-some-terrorist-ass general who couldn’t win the unwinnable war in Afghanistan. It appears that this is what McChrystal was really like, although he feels like a walking cliché, a Hollywood-ized representation of what a no-nonsense military leader should look, act, and talk like. He comes to the coalition with his group of acolytes and toadies, including the rah-rah Major General (based on Michael Flynn) played hilariously by Anthony Michael Hall, who largely cheer him on or at least avoid contradicting him, and has somewhat predictable conflicts with American diplomats, notably Karl Eikenberry stand-in Pat McKinnon, played by Alan Ruck (whom you know as Cameron Frye). McChrystal comes across as well-intentioned but largely naive about how unwinnable the conflict really is, although he does have moments of clarity – like the talk he gives to the European Parliament where he explains how killing insurgents likely creates more insurgents in the long run – amidst the standard military maneuvers.

Pitt seems so focused here on doing his impression of McChrystal that any nuance in the character is lost. The portrayal is all accent, facial expressions, and gait – his jogging scenes are just strange, as it seems impossible that Pitt could appear that unathletic – and lacks any depth, which is shocking because Pitt is capable of so much more. His performance is indicative of the misuse of so many talented actors in two-dimensional roles here – Ben Kingsley as the drug-addled, feckless President Karzai; Topher Grace as McMahon’s “civilian media adviser,” who sets up the ill-fated Rolling Stone article; Meg Tilly, looking disturbingly old in short grey hair, as McMahon’s ignored, adoring wife. Only Tilda Swinton, given one scene as a German politician who interrogates and questions McMahon during the talk to the Parliament, gets any material with which she can work, and it’s all of one scene. (There’s also an uncredited cameo at the end of the film that I won’t spoil but that did generate one of the many laugh-out-loud moments I had.)

War Machine has been reviewed and marketed as a satire, but I think it works better as a straight comedy with tragic elements. It’s too close to real events to work as farce; the U.S. effort in Afghanistan was destined to fail, at least once the initial goal of removing the Taleban, who harbored al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, had been achieved, and everything after that was theater. The script certainly hones that to a fine point – the value of the war effort to politicians and the political cost of increasing the engagement both come through – but without parodic exaggeration. Instead, the script succeeds by crafting comedy against an unusual backdrop, including two scenes where Kingsley’s Karzai gets probably the biggest laughs of the film, without telling the viewer anything s/he didn’t already know about the circular nature of the war effort.

(The film contains a clip of President Obama’s speech at West Point, announcing a troop surge in 2009; just last month, almost eight full years later, President Trump announced the same thing. The effort to train Afghan forces to protect their own country has already cost us $70 billion and costs another $4 billion every year, while parts of the country remain within Taleban control or “contested” between the government and insurgents.)

The magazine article that eventually led to this film toppled a general and drew back the curtain on a little bit of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, but ultimately led to no substantive change in our policy there. Even if this film had become a massive hit in theaters – Netflix doesn’t release viewership numbers, so we have no idea how many people have even seen it – it’s unlikely to change anyone’s mind on our policy there. War Machine is often very funny, and it may increase your weariness of the war, or our country’s repeated, failed attempts at nation-building (even where our intentions were good) abroad, but I don’t think this movie tells us anything about the war or the politics thereof that we didn’t already know.

Klawchat 9/21/17.

Three new Insider pieces for you to check out this week: scouting notes on Yu Darvish, more notes on Aaron Nola and some young Phillies hitters, and my annual look at players I was wrong about.

Keith Law: Going with the flow, it’s all a game to me. Klawchat.

James: Does Fernando Tatis Jr stick at SS?
Keith Law: I think it’s 50/50. Depends on how much bigger he gets. Certainly has the hands and actions for it.

James: Luis Urias has a killer eye at the plate but lacks power or any other standout tool. What kind of MLB player could he develop into?
Keith Law: Possible regular at 2b but lack of power is a major concern. Think it’s a more likely outcome he becomes some sort of utility guy or multi-position regular.

Nick: Why does Scioscia continue to play Albert Pujols during a postseason run even though Pujols clearly hurts the team AND they have better options???
Keith Law: I’m going to go way out on a limb here and say it’s because of his contract.

Michael: Odd question: do you ever wear a baseball cap? If so, which logo is on it? I would think it would have to be something non-partisan like a Homestead Grays cap or some such thing.
Keith Law: If you see me at a game I will probably have a cap on, especially in the daytime. None of them have logos of any team.

Brian Sabean: When will you nerds put down your slide rulers and realize that clutch hitting is real? You can’t measure clutchitude.
Keith Law: I believe the technical term is “clutchiness.”

Clarence (not Mike D.): Rangers fan here. Last year I felt good about Roughie Odor’s season, despite the 3% walk rate, because of the 30+ homeruns and the wRC+ of 106. Given his position and age, there was some reason to be excited. This season, though? Good lord, what an atrocity. Any hope for this kid’s approach?
Keith Law: He hasn’t given us any reason to have hope for it.

TJ: Do you think that we’ll see aluminum/composite bats in MLB within the next 25 years?
Keith Law: Christ I hope not. I’ll have to find a new line of work.

@RationalMLBfan: In last week’s chat, you mentioned that Gleybar at 2B would be a waste of his defensive ability. Would you explore trading Gregorius, who has turned into a solid average SS (whose hitting is *not* a product of YS, per his splits), in the next year to address the 2019 logjam? Try to trade Castro (or not [re]sign Frazier, Headley, Machado) and move Gregorius to 2B or 3B?
Keith Law: I would explore the market for Didi; I believe strongly that 1) this is his peak and 2) Gleyber has a much higher ceiling.

TJ: Do you have any take on the Neshek/Grienke autograph story?
Keith Law: Only that mentioning Greinke’s social anxiety in the news stories about it is just bullshit.

Keith: How do you think the White Sox will handle Luis Robert next season? Has your POV on him changed based on anything you heard from the DSL?
Keith Law: He was way too old for the DSL – most players there are 18 or younger. I assume he’ll start in Kannapolis.

Thad: Any chance Sean newcomb’s increased use of his high whiff change will help spring his breakout? Control issues need to change obviously but a lefty with a good change and high spin rate breaking ball seems too good to never figure it out.
Keith Law: Still haven’t seen a good argument why he’ll throw strikes other than “he’ll eventually throw strikes.” It’s not his delivery, and I don’t see how anyone could easily alter it to improve his control or command.

Kevin: In reading one of the links you posted a couple of weeks ago, I began wondering how many kids who don’t participate in showcases actually end up being drafted out of high school. It seems like their names become known based on these events. Are there actually kids out there who are not part of that circuit who end up being “Guys”? If so, how does word typically get out about them, since it seems almost every college and pro guy loves the one stop shopping of these big events?
Keith Law: Yes, plenty of kids get drafted without paying to go to showcases. I’m not sure why you’d say “almost every college and pro guy” loves those events; have you talked to that many coaches and scouts to make such a claim? Area scouts prefer to go see players one by one in actual games rather than the artificial environment of showcases.

Mike: Once Javy started to start everyday once Addi went out it seems like his plate discipline improved. Do you think he can get to a little below average walk rate if he starts everyday?
Keith Law: I do not. I don’t think he’s wired for that.

Jose R.: The Marlins’ Brian Anderson kind of snuck up on us this year. Can he be their everyday 3B next year without hurting the team?
Keith Law: Reports on the defense have been glowing this year; if he’s really a 6 or 7 glove there, then yes, he’s a regular, even if the bat’s a little light.

Seth: A couple small things that always bothered me. With interleague play everyday, why do we have to reset the stats of a player if they switch leagues? Also: if a pitcher commits the error, should it be considered an earned run? I’ll hang up and listen!
Keith Law: Resetting the stats is an anachronism that should probably due now. I think the unearned run/earned run distinction is useless.

Dan: De la Cruz pulled from AFL. Starting to become a concern that he can’t say healthy?
Keith Law: Already was a concern, now I’d just say it’s a legitimate reason to question his value.

Juwan: Do you view Victor Robles as having superstar upside? He has looked insanely dynamic for the Nats in the few performances we got to see him.
Keith Law: I do. Huge tools, still young, has always performed even when young for his leagues.

Chris: Bob Geren. On a scale from just find a new team to root for to just jump off a cliff, what should Mets’ fans reaction be to this likely hire?
Keith Law: He’s not Terry, which is an automatic improvement. What I don’t know is if Geren will be better the second time around – if he learned anything from his failures the first time, like AJ Hinch or Terry Francona did.

TC: Hey Keith, loving the book. I coach a travel team of 12/13 year old boys (no we don’t let them pitch on consecutive days or throw more than 60 pitches in an outing!) but I was wondering about the applicability of the 75% rule for stolen bases at that age level (as in, if they can’t steal successfully at least 75% of the time then they shouldn’t even try) – should that percentage be higher? lower? . I’m happy to report that my team NEVER bunts (unless it’s for a base hit)
Keith Law: Probably much lower because of the higher likelihood of an error or misplay that results in a steal that gains you two extra bases.

Jon: Any updates thoughts on Cole Tucker (SS – Pit) now that his season is over? Could he make Trea Turner-like improvements next year in his age-22 season at AA?
Keith Law: Nothing like Turner at all. Saw him a few weeks ago and wrote about him – good news is his arm seems fine, bat isn’t as far along as i’d like.

Ml: If you are running the Twins, is Kepler a part of your future?
Keith Law: Yes.

David: What would the penalty be if MLB discovered an “under the table” deal with Ohtani?
Keith Law: A fine, and maybe a loss of international pool money and/or draft picks. Probably still worth it. MLB is royally screwing this up. Manfred should just waive the rules for Otani and let him go to the highest bidder. Otherwise, the kid is nuts to come over now, between the restrictions and his impending ankle surgery.

Pops: What is your take on the Greinke/Neshek spat? Does Zach’s anxiety belong in the conversation? Isn’t that an entirely plausible explanation for his behavior here?
Keith Law: If Greinke wants to explain his behavior by referring to his social anxiety, that’s fine. YOU do not get to do that.

Marshall : What’s the outlook on Ryan O’Hearn? Previously you said that you didn’t think he’d be a regular…. Has he done anything to change your mind?
Keith Law: I don’t think that’s a fair representation of what I said; he has big-league power, and the contact he makes tends to be very hard (I think his exit velos are good too), but he hasn’t shown the approach or OBP skills to get to regular status yet. In a weak system, with potential holes all over the major league roster next year, though, I’d like to see the Royals give him a shot.

Chris : Are there certain stats that you discount given September baseball can be less meaningful and rosters are expanded? I love watching Nimmo play but am not sure if his Sept and OBP are a product of bad pitching or actual development.
Keith Law: I would generally discount everything in September if it’s an outlier compared to what the player did before (majors or minors).

Dog: Has anything in Luke Weaver’s outstanding performance since he was called up changed your opinion of him long-term, or is this just a small sample size fluke?
Keith Law: Tiny sample, facing some bad lineups, uncharacteristically high GB% (never been close to 50% anywhere else in his pro career, over 50% in majors this year). Zach Duke had a great first half-season in the majors that didn’t look that different from Weaver’s.
Keith Law: FWIW, I think Weaver’s better than Duke. Weaver’s a starter, just not a top of rotation guy.

Derick: Did you see Sabean’s interview on clutch hitting? Is it weird that the least disturbing part of the interview (at least for a Giant’s fan) is when he said “I’ll kiss your ass on Main Street”?
Keith Law: There were a lot of comments there and from Bochy that I didn’t understand. It sounded like the team is blaming Belt for having a concussion, too.

Ben: Rant: It’s so frustrating having to watch Braves games on mute because Chip & Joe spend the whole game complaining about modern baseball. They honestly argued that hitters hit too many home runs last night. Not enough “exciting hit and run, fundamental baseball” they said. I have to watch baseball games on mute, Keith!! Ridiculous.
Keith Law: Joe Simpson – who, I’m told, has taken some shots at me on air – should spend some time with his own team’s front office.

Scott: This is something that probably takes more than a chat answer to get in to, but when you’re evaluating a catcher’s game calling, what are some of the things you look for?
Keith Law: I don’t. I rely on coaches, players, team execs. I can’t evaluate that stuff from teh stands.

Dog: Is Galvis really good enough to push JP Crawford off of SS?
Keith Law: No, that’s silly.

Dana: Do you think the Wild Card Game should be a best of 3 series? Nothing more random than one baseball game.
Keith Law: I don’t want longer playoffs.

Rob : You weren’t as high as some on Jordan Adell in the draft, so has his early minor league success surprised you at all?
Keith Law: Nothing a player does in his first summer surprises me. Go look at what Dante Bichette Jr. did his first pro summer.

CB: Do you think you have any readers in Nambia?
Keith Law: No but I’m huge in Nimbabwe.

Dog: Do you buy into the theory that the baseballs are different this season, leading to more home runs? Could that also explain why guys are seeing a power jump once they get promoted to the majors from the minors (I know its a small sample, but Jesse Winker, for example, has shown way more over the fence power than expected).
Keith Law: Not a theory any more. The baseballs are different; we have direct and secondary evidence to support this.

Danny: Do you still think Clint Frazier will produce strong average and on base numbers? I think I recall you once saying that he was the best best in the minors at one point to have a batting title.
Keith Law: Did I say that? He does have one of the 2 or 3 fastest bats I’ve ever seen, but his eye has never been great.

Eric: Should Rick Honeycutt be directing Darvish to throw his changeup/cutter as you recommended? Is the fact that Darvish isn’t throwing this way essentially Honeycutt thinking it’s unnecessary or Darvish deciding he can’t/won’t do it? Both of those scenarios seem like mismanagement of an asset; the Dodgers should be trying to extract as much value out of Darvish as they can while they have him.
Keith Law: It’s not easy to just go tell a veteran player “do this, not that.” You have to get him to buy into it. I don’t have to worry about that in my job – I get to just state my opinion and not worry about whether the player agrees – but that should at least be a conversation the Dodgers have with Darvish, about throwing his changeup more (or maybe restoring the splitter?) and throwing the cutter a lot less.

Danny: Do Jorge Guzman or Freicer Perez look like starters to you?
Keith Law: I haven’t seen either yet, but based on what scouts have told me, Perez yes, Guzman probably not.

Brett: Is Klaw an Apple or Android kind of guy?
Keith Law: Apple. Had bad experiences with two Android phones years ago and that ended it for me. I do own a Kindle Fire, but use it almost exclusively as an e-reader.

Andrew, NY: I just watched the video you posted of lagreca on twitter. and he is dead wrong about the pythagorean theorem not being in baseball. My nephew just moved up a level in little league and is a C. we wanted to see have far his throw is now compared to last year and used that theorem to figure it out. and i didnt even have to do a mock lisp..go figure.
Keith Law: The rank anti-intellectualism of the rant was maybe the most disturbing part but hardly the only one. I wonder if he can explain the Pythagorean Theorem in plain English. Either the baseball one or the real one.

Robert: Do you think Duggar or Bryan Reynolds would be a better fit for CF at AT&T park in S.F.? Thanks
Keith Law: Reynolds, I think. Both are interesting, with some upside. I’ve seen Reynolds more in CF and believe he can play it.

Miguel: Do you think Eric Hosmer is an upgrade over Brandon Belt? Belt walks a ton more and rates as a much better fielder but on the Baseball Tonight podcast Buster and Kurkjian were saying the Giants should dump Belt for Hosmer. Are they forgetting Hosmer had a negative WAR just last year?
Keith Law: Hosmer’s 2017 season is an enormous outlier compared to the rest of his career; even with this year, Belt has nearly twice the career WAR. I don’t think a reasonable projection for each player has Hosmer as an upgrade – certainly not enough of one to justify paying him a premium, selling low on Belt, and probably ceding a draft pick.

JOD: Thoughts on the AL CY race? See arguments both ways re Sale vs. Kluber. To me it matters Sale has made 4 more starts, and it shouldn’t be held against him since Kluber’s made fewer starts and has a lower ERA.
Keith Law: Kluber for me but I don’t feel strongly about it. Either is deserving.

Andres: Thoughts on Slotface’s new release?
Keith Law: Liked most of it. They should be getting a lot more airplay/attention here than they are.

Scott: Nobody ever talks about Tom Eshelman, probably because he barely cracks 90 mph. But unlike Nick Pivetta, for example, who throws 95, Eshelman doesn’t walk anyone or give up home runs. Do you think he can be an effective big league starter? If so, what’s his ceiling?
Keith Law: He doesn’t give up home runs *in the minors*. We’ll see if Eshelman can avoid giving up home runs when sitting 87-88 against big league hitters.

Marty: Will we finally see netting down the lines at all stadiums, after what happened in NY yesterday? Why does it always take a tragedy/near tragedy for people to wake up about something so obvious?
Keith Law: I hope so. Otherwise we’re saying “we’ll just wait until a fan dies.”

Hinkie: I know the 2018 draft is going to be loaded with pitching, but I’d like your thoughts on a couple of hitters … 1 college, 1 prep. Are Jeremy Eierman and/or Nolan Gorman the type of players good enough to be top 5 picks ?
Keith Law: Think that’s probably optimistic on both.

Alex: Do you really think Braves trade Ender Inciarte?
Keith Law: I never said I thought they would; I said I thought they should.

Steve: Hi Keith, have you read any NK Jemisin? I just finished The Inheritance trilogy and it was beautiful.
Keith Law: I’ve read The Fifth Season and really liked it.

Pat D: Have to play devil’s advocate here a little. ESPN ultimately fired Curt Schilling for a history of saying “controversial” things. Jemelle Hill has a similar history, not as extensive, perhaps, yet she was not fired. Doesn’t this help fuel the ESPN bias narrative that certain people love to perpetuate?
Keith Law: “Controversial” is quite the euphemism. The devil deserves a better advocate than you.

Great Big Little Panther: How often do you go to a minor league or amateur game to scout a known prospect, but come away more impressed by a relatively unknown player?
Keith Law: Almost never.

Pat: Have you heard anything about the severity of Sedlock’s “forearm” injury? Was a disaster this year, then got hurt (though maybe the injury caused the ineffectiveness).
Keith Law: Not really, just heard he wasn’t coming back. Add him to the pile of young arms littering the site of I-895.

Ethan: Do you see Otani coming over now for less money, or waiting for big payday? Does the lower price tag make it any more likely that a team with a lower payroll could actually end up signing him?
Keith Law: I think it’s more likely he waits, given the cap, the ankle injury, and the fact that he hasn’t even hired an agent yet.

Alex: Is the ceiling of Bryse Wilson really higher than Mike Soroka?
Keith Law: I think it is.

Kirby Puckett & The Union Gap: Devers has made a bunch of errors lately, & his fielding percentage has fallen almost to Ryan Braun level. just a slump, or cause for concern?
Keith Law: If you want to talk about a player’s error total, you’re in the wrong chat, pal.

Matt : Is there any chance Judge can still win the MVP? Maybe if the Yankees win the division with him breaking McGuire’s rookie hat record home run record? Or does Altuve have it locked up?
Keith Law: Altuve should have it locked up, but narratives do affect the voting. Maybe some nitwit will argue the Astros were so good that they didn’t need Altuve.

Brett: As of 9/21/17, do you foresee Acuna or Eloy being higher on your 2018 Top 100 list?
Keith Law: I would refer back to my top 50 list in July, which contained both players.

Ben: I’ve always loved popular science books like Asimov, Sagan, Gamow, Feynman and others. Have you read any good recent science books that you’d recommend?
Keith Law: Ed Yong’s I Contain Multitudes is the best book in that genre I’ve read this year.

Lumin: Are you evaluating prospects’ future hit/power tools (or even pitchers’ FB rate) differently in the juiced-but-still-standard ball era?
Keith Law: No, because I think (without clear proof) that the scale should hold – that the rising tide lifts all boats. I haven’t seen, for example, why certain players would get a larger boost to their power outputs than others. If I saw such evidence, however, I would make that change.

CJ: It’s a SSS, obviously, but J.P. Crawford went from 0 walks, 7 Ks in his first 6 games to 7 walks, 7 Ks in his next 8 games. Is the latter sustainable for a player as young as he is?
Keith Law: When I saw him prior to this year, his at bats were consistently good, even when the outcomes weren’t. He didn’t mind hitting with two strikes, and he seemed to really understand the outer edge of his zone. For whatever reason, that fell apart in the first half of this year, and I haven’t gotten a satisfactory explanation for it. But what he’s done the last week-plus, and what I specifically saw him do Tuesday night, looks much more like the guy I rated as a top-5 prospect the last two winters.

Jay: I saw someone on Twitter joke that the Dodgers didnt care about winning home field advantage by “benching” Pedro Baez but in theory, wouldn’t the Dodgers be better off NOT having home field advantage? What NL team would want home field in the World Series? I would have to think its more probably they would benefit from a 4th game being able to use a DH than they would playing a home game in a 7 game series filled with randomeness, right?
Keith Law: Do they have a proper DH option? I don’t think they even have three decent outfielders right now.

Ethan: I’m asking this as a proponent of WAR, but are historical WAR figures a good measure? I’ve never understood how they are compiled for players like Ruth, Williams, etc. Aren’t stats, tracking systems, measures used to calculate now that weren’t then?
Keith Law: Historical WAR figures use different defensive metrics, but the core concept is the same: Value every event, add them up, compare to position, adjust for park and league.

Mike: Ever listen to David Cone on YES network doing Yankees’ telecasts? He seems to have a strong understanding of, and appreciation for, modernized statistics AND the ability to translate them into game strategy.
Keith Law: I’ve heard Coney a few times and think he’s among the best because he’s so thoughtful about what he says. I’m not sure I have ever heard him talk just to talk.

Todd: How panicked should Brewers fans be about Jimmy Nelson’s injury? I’ve long defended the no DL in the National League but i’d like it now please.
Keith Law: Labrum surgery is never good. I’m disappointed.

Tracy: Do you sell the books you read to any particular place or do you donate them?
Keith Law: There’s a store in West Chester PA where we donate. We’ve given to local libraries, but our local system isn’t taking donations right now (with some exceptions – I had bought several out-of-print Pulitzer winners to read, and they took those because they didn’t have them anywhere in the state libraries).

Pat: Why do people assume the balls are juiced and not the players? The same “the balls are juiced” narrative happened in the 90s. Are there some actual studies on the balls being different that I’m not aware of?
Keith Law: Yes. The Ringer and 538 both ran articles on this.

Andy: Apparently the Orioles are not planning on trading Machado before next season.
Keith Law: This film doesn’t end well for them.

addoeh: You’ll get a lot of questions in the coming weeks about “clutch”. But, on a 20-80 scale, how are your manual transmission operation skills?
Keith Law: Zero. Never learned.

Don: You mentioned on the pod with Buster that you rarely take your daughter to games. Is she into baseball at all? If not, as a parent is it a bit of a let down in anyway that she’s not into something you are passionate about? (Not that you are disappointed in her for not caring, just that she doesn’t care for something that means a lot to you)
Keith Law: She’s not really into it, and she doesn’t have the attention span for any sporting event, really. We have lots of other things we can share, though; she loves games and we cook together often now. She shaped the gargagnelli (pasta) I posted to Instagram last week.

Drew: I’m seriously not trying to be smart, just curious–I know there’s no proof of Creation, but is there proof of evolution? I’ve never read The Origin of Species, but isn’t it all just theory compiled from observation? Any good references on the subject?
Keith Law: Yes, there is proof. Bill Nye’s Undeniable is a good layperson’s read on the topic. Also, if you understand how antibiotic resistance forms in bacteria, that’s evolution happening before your eyes.

Dallas: Miles Mikolas in 60 starts in Japan has a 2.12 era with 411ip, 367k, 66bb. He has been an ace for Yomiuri. He is a free agent after the season; how would you value him coming back?
Keith Law: Probably about how I valued him before he left for Japan (assuming nothing substantial has changed about him – but I haven’t looked into him at all yet).

Tom: Do you think Justin Upton will opt out of his deal at the end of the season? Do you think the Angels should hope he doesn’t? Having this Upton for a least a couple of seasons would be nice.
Keith Law: I think he will – and the Angels are probably fine either way, really. It’s not a bad deal for them if he stays, but it’s not super team-friendly either.

Ben: How do you respond to those who think adding additional netting to help prevent injuries sustained from foul balls is adding to the pussification of baseball, and how parents aren’t looking out for their kids or this would have been prevented, and everyone should be alert 100% of the time, blah blah blah?
Keith Law: With derision.

Sean: How important is home field advantage in October?
Keith Law: I think it’s marginally important – there’s a slight but significant advantage in baseball to HFA, enough that you want it, not enough to, say, overwork a pitcher to get it.

Steve: Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter will be ____ in 2018.
Keith Law: Frenemies.

JR: If Colin Kaepernick was a 4/5 SP for and kneeled for national anthem before baseball games, would MLB freeze him out the way the NFL has, or would an MLB team sign him?
Keith Law: Josh Lueke found work. I’m thinking Kaep would get signed in MLB. I am thoroughly enjoying the people claiming the NFL’s ratings are down because a few players are kneeling, though. The delusions run deep.

Joe: Keith, DJ Stewart had a good statistical season. Did he improve his prospect standing?
Keith Law: He didn’t really, though. He wasn’t young for AA, and the bar is pretty high for a no-position bat.

Brent: Do you think Seth Beer’s bat will play well enough to make him a high 1st round pick?
Keith Law: Probably. Has to put up another big statistical year, but he’s done that before.

addoeh: What is Mike Montgomery going into next year? A decent #5? A long reliever?
Keith Law: I like him a lot better as a long reliever.

Pat D: Keith, I put “controversial” in quotes because I think controversy is in the eye of the beholder a lot of times. Full disclosure, I despise Schilling, and had no problem with what Hill said, so that’s probably why I can’t make that point. But I have seen others writing that online, and not just trolls.
Keith Law: Creating a hostile work environment by, for example, making racist or transphobic comments, is not “controversial.” It can get you fired, and it can get your employer sued. The EEOC even has a page dedicated to harassment, which includes “offensive jokes, slurs, epithets … offensive pictures.”

Brian: Does Forrest Whitley see the majors in 2018?
Keith Law: I wouldn’t be shocked at all.

CJ: I seem to remember you are an Agatha Christie fan. Any interest in the movie adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express? I tend to think her books don’t necessarily translate well to movies.
Keith Law: I’ll wait and see the reviews, but that book in particular seems like it won’t do well on film.

Darren: Do you believe MLB has to change the baseball back to previous specifications and provide details in the off season of any new changes to the baseball? Or can they go into next season with more changes, not inform the public, and escape with no blame?
Keith Law: There’s no accountability on this – they don’t have to do anything. However, I think the health of the game is going to require them to eventually calm down the ball and raise the bottom of the strike zone (which someone – Hardball Times? – wrote recently has already happened a little bit in 2017).

Nick: Is there anyone from the 2017 draft that has exceeding your expectations so far or is it too early for that?
Keith Law: Too early.

Scott: Duplantier’s season was incredible but do his skills match the stat line? Can he be a front end starter?
Keith Law: It’s not front-end stuff at all; he spent way too much time in low-A even though he was too old/advanced for that level. He is a legit prospect as a starter, but not the kind of starter the stat line might imply.

Tracy: One more book question: Have you considered uploading your entire catalog of all the books you’ve read to a site like
Keith Law: Nah, I just blog about them. I do keep a list for myself, though, which comes in very handy when I’m standing in a used bookstore, looking at Wodehouse or Christie or Greene titles, and can’t remember if I’ve read the one in my hand before.

Harold : Have Fulmer or Lopez done anything to make you more optimistic about either one sticking as a starter?
Keith Law: Not really.

Ghost of Connie Mack: Obviously A’s fans are losing their minds over Olson’s homer binge. While nice, power has never been the question with him. The question has been and will be on the contact and bat speed. Have you seen anything from him that leads you to believe those issues have been improved and he can reach his ceiling?
Keith Law: No, I think he’s a low-average, moderate-OBP, power guy who probably ends up a DH, and can be a solid regular there if the contact rate works out, with a decent chance he’s less than that.

Brian: Thoughts on Gohara? Seems like he could REALLY benefit from developing his changeup, but overall I’m encouraged. I guess I have two questions – how important do you think a 3rd pitch is for him? And how likely do you think he can develop a passable one?
Keith Law: Third pitch definitely important, although his slider is so hard he can work it like a cutter and get some RHB out with it. I do think he’s a starter, chance to be a very good one, but I don’t think i want to buy call options on his career post age-30 or so with that waistline.

Brian: If you were the Phillies would you look to trade Cesar Hernandez in the offseason for pitching or look to move Scott Kingery?
Keith Law: Make room for Kingery. He’s a stud.

mike: Other than Potter and LOTR are there any high fantasy series’ you’ve read that you rec’d for adults
Keith Law: The Magicians trilogy, by Lev Grossman. Also, not a series, but Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke is a top 20 novel all-time for me, and at 1000 pages it’s as long as a series. (The BBC miniseries was fantastic too, especially the casting of the two leads and of the man with the thistledown hair.)

Mike: Please rank the top contenders for Bryce Harper when he hits free agency next winter. Please do the same for Manny Machado.
Keith Law: All of them? I mean, any team with the cash should be interested.

Gary: Why did Forrest Whitley fall to Houston in the draft? Were there concerns that made him fall there or was it the price tag?
Keith Law: He didn’t “fall.” He went in the teens, about where he was expected to go.

Josh: Bogaerts has to be injured, right?
Keith Law: Alex Speier came on the BBTN podcast when I was hosting and said X has been dealing with two hand injuries.

Anonymous: Thoughts on Joc Pederson?
Keith Law: Change of scenery candidate. Has ability, has not converted it, don’t think he’s gotten on well with the staff in LA either.

Danny: How unusual is it for a guy like Severino to develop a plus slider out of nowhere?
Keith Law: I think it’s not unusual, but I have no good sense of how to predict which guy will take a pitch from a 4 to a 6 (or a 7 – that’s probably a 7 slider). Aaron Nola had a fringe CH, now it’s probably close to a 6. If you just bet on athletic guys with good arms, you’ll probably capture all the “new plus pitch” guys, but you’ll also get a lot of others in your net you didn’t want.

Bob: You mentioned cooking with your daughter…. do you and your family have a favorite “weeknight” meal you enjoy cooking?
Keith Law: She likes everything but knife work. I’ve made breaded/fried chicken cutlets, and she’ll do all the steps after I’ve cut the meat. She loves to roll out dough, too, whether for pasta, pizza, tortillas, or bread.

Biscuit: Noticed the scouting reports on Nola and Darvish…would you say it is more fun to scout major leaguer stars or budding minor league prospects? I think of it like mining a rough diamond (exhilarating because of the potential) versus viewing the final gemstone product (admirable in its beauty). That parallel only works if you actually value shiny stones but feel free to apply a corollary as you see fit.
Keith Law: Much more interesting to watch kids and mull over what they do well, what they need to improve, and how that improvement might come about. Darvish did not excite me. Watching the Phillies’ young guys was way more interesting.

Kevin: I know I am late to the question. But why don’t you do chats on anymore?
Keith Law: ESPN ended chats in August of … holy cow, 2015. I can’t believe I’ve been chatting here for two years.

Kevin: I love your taste in board games and your ranking lists. I’m going on a flight tomorrow, any new/current favorite mobile/iOS board game apps?
Keith Law: I reviewed Through the Ages the other day, have been playing Alhambra a bit (although I had a glitch the other day), still would go back to my old favorites like Carcassonne, Agricola, Caylus, Ticket to Ride, etc.
Keith Law: OK, that’s all for this week. Thank you as always for all of your questions and for reading. I should be back next Thursday for another chat as well. Enjoy your weekends.

The Little Paris Bookshop.

Nina George’s novel The Little Paris Bookshop, originally published in German as Das Lavendelzimmer (“The Lavender Room”), was a global bestseller shortly after its 2013 release and has been translated into over 30 languages. (Her website says “335 languages,” but I’m going to assume that’s a typo.) It’s … fine. It’s better than most popular fiction, certainly, and George infuses the work with her own expansive literary knowledge, but for a book that’s been marketed and reviewed as an inspiring, life-affirming sort of story, much of the plot itself left me rather cold.

Monsieur Jean Perdu runs a quaint bookshop on a little boat that’s moored in the Seine in Paris, from which he dispenses books like medicine, ‘reading’ his customers’ needs and diagnosing the proper books to treat what ails them. Of course, the one person he can’t help is himself; he’s been mooning over his lost love for twenty years, after she left him without warning to return to her husband, leaving just one letter that he never opened because if he had there wouldn’t be much of a story here. A circumstance occurs in the form of a new neighbor in his apartment building, a woman who’s just been thrown over by her husband, whom Perdu helps with a book and some furniture, and who ends up opening the letter and thus opening the rest of the story, in which Perdu, a young, bestselling author with writer’s block named Max, and a few stray eccentrics they pick up along the way set sail for the south of France to get the answer to the twenty-year mystery of Perdu’s paramour.

This book could have gone very, very wrong, but George at least avoids the most hackneyed or sentimental tricks of popular fiction – she has Perdu discover early in the book that his former lover died shortly after leaving him, to pick one ending I was afraid we’d get, and if you get the sense that Max might be Perdu’s son, as I did at one point, he’s not. The ending is a little sappy, and frankly not that believable given what we know of the two main characters; there’s also an absurdly coincidental answer to Perdu’s secondary quest, the search for the actual identity of the author of one of his favorite novels. Max is also a stock character, a literary wunderkind (and, apparently, a handsome devil) who’s stymied by the success of his first book and can’t seem to get started on his second one, only, of course, to find his true or second calling in the course of their sojourn down the river.

Perdu is at least the novel’s one credible, three-dimensional character, more than anything else for the way George portrays his grief. Perdu’s life outside of his work stopped when his lover left him, and if we can overlook the absurdity that he’d refuse to open the letter (but, say, would trash his furniture in despair), his arrested development after that point is a thoughtful depiction of someone who just can’t get over the death, or at least in this case the disappearance from his life, of a loved one. Telling the reader “you have to continue to live your life” as an answer to grief isn’t exactly profound, but the way that George incorporates Perdu’s knowledge of literary fiction, mostly real books, is novel (no pun intended) and gave the book a level of interest for me that elevated it above most popular fiction I’ve encountered. George didn’t stick the landing, but she didn’t flub it, either.

Next up: Just about done with Margaret Ayer Barnes’ Years of Grace.

The Store.

Thomas Stribling’s The Store appears to be one of the most obscure winners on the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel/Fiction list; the only copy in the entire state of Delaware was at the University, and a friend in Boston reported that she could only find one copy in the area, with the other two books in this trilogy completely unavailable. You can buy it new, for $32 on Kindle or $40 in paperback, from the University of Alabama press, pricing that I interpret as an acknowledgment that if you’re looking for this book, you either really have to have it for school/work reasons, or you’re a completist trying to read the entire Pulitzer list. The cost may be the main reason the book is hard to find, but the text itself, while actually quite funny for its era and full of interesting, eccentric characters, is incredibly problematic in the pervasive racism and anti-Semitism, not just in the characters’ views but often in the descriptive prose itself. Language that may have been acceptable when Stribling wrote the book in 1931 or in the time of the book’s setting right after the Civil War is offensive today, even if you want to make a sort of park-adjustment for the context in which it was written. There are white characters in The Store who have what would have been seen as progressive views on race, but it’s hard to read it now without thinking of how backwards the rural south was for decades after the end of slavery.

The protagonist of the book is Colonel Miltiades Vaiden, who served in the Civil War but is left at odds and ends by the conclusion of the conflict, and eventually takes a job in a local general store in Florence, Alabama, with an eye towards eventually borrowing enough capital to open a store of his own. Vaiden runs afoul of his boss, who cheated Vaiden out of thousands of dollars about twenty years earlier, by refusing to short-change the black customers who come to the store, which is about as far as any white character gets in the book to an egalitarian view of the races. Eventually, the scrupulously honest Vaiden abandons his scruples when he finds a chance to get even with his former nemesis, stealing goods enough to cover his losses and then some, opening a store of his own and buying real estate, sparking a back-and-forth battle that claims at least one life and doesn’t end particularly well for anyone involved.

Along the way, Vaiden’s wife passes away – he’s really not that upset about this, as he’s constantly thinking about her as “his fat wife” – and he ends up trying to reunite with Drusilla, a woman who spurned him the night before their wedding many years before and whom he later courted and dumped for revenge. It’s not much of a romance, and when Vaiden does get married near the end of the book, it’s to Drusilla’s daughter, with this whole Electra-complex subtext that makes the result rather creepy to read.

The shame about the racism, the anti-Semitism, and the unromantic love story is that there’s a lot of dry humor and satire within the book; it’s a portrait of the postwar south, but not a nostalgic or favorable one. Stribling gives his black characters some actual depth, and the conversations they have with each other about how they don’t get the same treatment from the law that white suspects who commit the same or worse crimes do applies today just as it did a century-plus ago. Vaiden is by no means a hero; his principles shift according to his needs and circumstances, and it’s revealed over the course of the book that he committed a serious, violent crime of his own but escaped prosecution because he was white and the victim black. Economic injustice is everywhere in the story, including the fact that poor black farmers paid more for less when whites ran the only stores in town. (Vaiden seems to reflect the postwar, tacit racism, in contrast to the overt racism of many of his neighbors, as he treats his black and white tenants equally, and agrees to help one black farmer pay for artificial fertilizer to try to increase his yields.) The argument for Stribling here is that nothing about the story is unrealistic for its setting of 1870s; I’m sure the n-word was prevalent, and race relations were at least this bad in the backwoods of the south, but because the book was written in a time when blacks were still treated as inferior in every walk of life, the text is too soft on its subjects. It’s a quick read, but an uncomfortable one, to unclear benefit.

Next up: I’m most of the way through another Pulitzer winner, Margaret Ayer Barnes’ charming if dated Years of Grace.

Through the Ages.

Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization is currently the #2-rated game on Boardgamegeek – a ranking that tends to skew towards longer, more complex games – even higher than the original version, which is ranked #18, so it was perfect fodder for an app version, especially since the game requires a fair amount of accounting work to keep track of all of the resources and options. The app dropped last week for $9.99 for iOS devices and Android, and it is really stunning – great graphics, smooth gameplay, no glitches, and decent AI players – although I have to admit I’m not sure I love the game underneath it.

Through the Ages is essentially Sid Meier’s Civilization in card form, with a few tweaks. Players are competing to build tableaux of cards that represent growing civilizations from the stone age to the present day, playing cards that generate food, stone, knowledge, and happiness; making new workers by growing the population; adding new technologies; developing new military units and growing armies; raiding or declaring war on opponents; constructing Wonders, because every game of this theme has to have that; upgrading their government types; and probably six other things I’ve already forgotten.

On each turn, players get a fixed number of civil actions and military actions that allow them to take cards, grow the population, research technologies, or build buildings. The number of each is tied to the government type, with more advanced governments giving players more actions per turn. Everything in the game is dictated by the cards available on the rolling display; the first few cards cost one civil action to take, then the next group costs two, and the last three, with some penalties for certain card types. You’re really building a giant engine that will produce enough of the different resource types to allow you to rack up points in the end-game without creating unrest or running short of what you need to keep up with your opponents’ armies or feed your workers or lose resources to ‘corruption.’ There are substantial bonuses for finishing Wonders and in the Politics cards that will appear later in the game or at the end.

Through the Ages is incredibly layered, and requires more oversight, active management, and long-term planning than most games I’ve ever played. It has reached the point in some games where I thought, “Maybe I should write down what I’m doing so I remember what to do on my next turn,” which I think is a clear sign that a game has become work. I also had to monitor the AI players’ moves in the game log just to figure out why I was getting so thoroughly trounced (by the medium level, no less), and eventually pieced together a sort of rough strategy that involved getting Knights, Iron, Irrigation, and a couple of key military and science cards; it doesn’t work every time but I did finally beat the S.O.B. by doing that and ensuring I was never at a military strength disadvantage for the entire game.

The biggest bottleneck in the game is the need for an ‘idle worker’ to build or create anything new, whether it’s a building (farms, mines, labs, temples, and later versions of the same) or a military unit. You need a certain amount of food to grow your population, an amount that increases as the game goes on, and then those people need to eat, so you have to keep producing food to grow your population and build more things, or to destroy some of your weakest buildings to put those workers on more productive jobs. (Of course, they don’t actually earn any more for being more productive, as all benefits flow to you, which is one way in which Through the Ages reflects our modern economy.) There are yellow resource cards in the carousel that give you immediate, one-time bonuses of food, stone, or science, but taking one burns an action that you might need for something else.

And those actions are a second major bottleneck. Every player starts the game under Despotism, and can take a unique government card to upgrade to more modern systems that grant more actions – some give more civil actions but fewer military ones, some more military ones but not many more civil ones – and then burn either a whole turn or several rounds’ worth of science points for a “revolution” that changes your government type. You have to do this once to win, I think; I don’t know if doing it twice would pay off. But late in the game you’ll need more than the four civil actions per turn you get from Despotism.

Whereas in Civilization and other 4X (video) games, you can pretty much build whatever you want if you have the resources, Through the Ages dramatically limits your options because it’s card-based. There’s a ton of luck involved in the card draws, because the rolling market turns over quickly, with the leftmost three cards moving after every player if not selected; it’s easy to miss a card you need, especially those with just one or two copies in the deck. (All leader and wonder cards are unique, and you can’t take a wonder card if you have one currently in production.) The political cards aren’t quite a function of luck, but if you end up behind in military strength, your opponents can hammer you every turn, deepening your deficit by robbing you of population, resources, points, or buildings. Players play these cards into a LIFO queue, so playing one into it pushes the oldest one out, and many of those cards really stick it to whoever has the weakest army, more so as the game progresses.

Through the Ages never eliminates anyone, but deficits can grow exponentially, and it can be clear halfway through the game that you’re just not coming back. It also has one of my least favorite game features – players can have actions available without any way of using them. No one likes the frustration of having the right to make a move but not having the ability; some of this is a function of insufficient planning, but you can also just get stuck even if you did the right things earlier.

The app version is extremely well-done, with a tutorial that should be a model for other developers looking to port (or just create) complex boardgames to tablets. (There’s even a clever joke within it.) And the app has built-in reminders to cover numerous situations where you might forget a free action, fail to use all your actions, lose resources to corruption, or lose all production on your next turn due to an Uprising (in essence, if you don’t have enough happiness points to cover your population). There are so many cards with special functions that it’s easy to forget what you can do, and the attempt to render some depth to your civilization means wonders are in the way back, at least one of which, the Ocean Liner, gives you a new benefit each turn, fall out of sight and out of mind.

There's a lot going on here.

I found the light AI to be more of a training module, but the medium AI throttled me repeatedly before my first win. That doesn’t mean the medium AI is good, just better than I am as someone new to the game. It was instructive to watch the AI’s actions, and the game log, available by tapping a button on the upper left, is clear and useful. The game also has an easy undo function that lets you go back as far as your last irreversible move – such as something that involved revealing cards or a battle against an opponent. There’s a lot on the screen, but everything is brightly colored and clear, and once you get the hang of some of the images they’re using – like having a light on in a building to show that it’s occupied by a worker – they’re straightforward.

Through the Ages is above the level of game difficulty I prefer; it’s long and involved, requiring too much thought and planning to make it truly fun for me. I understand why players would love the game’s intellectual challenge and the reward of building something successful, but I prefer games that move a little faster and let me act more spontaneously. If playing a game with a beer in hand would make you demonstrably worse at it, it might not qualify as fun in my book. But if you like Through the Ages, or just generally like intricate games with long cycles, this app is just what you want.

Stick to baseball, 9/16/17.

For Insiders this week, I wrote two pieces, one on eight top 100 prospects who had disappointing years in 2017, and my last minor-league scouting notebook of the season, covering Yankees, Pirates, Nationals, and Cardinals prospects. I held my regular Klawchat on Thursday. My next column for ESPN will be my annual “players I got wrong” piece; if you have suggestions, throw them in the comments. I try to stick to players who’ve beaten expectations for more than just one season, although sometimes I waive that if there’s a particular story I want to tell.

Over at Paste I reviewed Yamataï, the new boardgame from Days of Wonder, which hasn’t fared that well critically or commercially but which all three members of my family really liked. It’s also a gorgeous game, which never hurts around here.

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 have a ton of links from the NY Times this week, which requires a subscription above a certain number of free articles. I normally try to spread my links out across many sources, but the NYT had so much great content this week that I stuck with it. I’ve tagged a few of them as such for those of you who don’t subscribe (I do, obviously). And now, the links…

Klawchat 9/14/17.

I have a new boardgame review up at Paste, covering Days of Wonder’s medium-weight Yamatai, which has some clever mechanics that keeps all players’ moves connected. For Insiders, I have two new posts, my final minor league scouting post of the regular season plus a look at eight top 100 prospects who took steps backward in 2017.

Keith Law: Staccato signals of constant information: It’s Klawchat.

Trey: I know you’ve marked Chad Kuhl as a future reliever, and I’ve been with you on that. But each time he goes out I see a little more development and want to give him a longer shot. Any change on your opinion?
Keith Law: None. Still a two-pitch guy who has serious trouble with LHB.

Michael: With Gray, Hoffman, Freeland, Marquez, possibly Bettis, do the Rockies have a legitimate starting rotation? Or will they need to replace some of those guys?
Keith Law: Gray is the clear keeper of the group. Hoffman might just be a bad fit for Denver, given his flat fastball. Marquez is the most likely reliever of the group given his platoon split issues. Bettis I’ve always figured was more likely a reliever, but I’m rooting for him all the way now.

William: Is esteury ruiz the next Fernando tatis?
Keith Law: Ruiz is only one month younger than Tatis, so I’ll say no.

Angel: If you have the chance to put otani in your top prospects .. what rank you will put him?
Keith Law: Otani isn’t a prospect. He has several years of experience in NPB, Japan’s top league, and I don’t rank those guys as prospects.

Adam: Austin Hedges’ defensive prowess seems to have arrived as advertised. His bat, however, Is a bit underwhelming. How much does a strong defensive catcher have to hit to remain a starter?
Keith Law: He has power, and I think he’ll hit just enough to get to it and end up not just a starter but a good one because of all the defensive value he’ll bring.

Deke: Price-gouging laws: Good or bad? I’ve heard econ. experts say they are actually bad (low price means supply gets eliminated, means even fewer people can get the water or whatever), but I have a real hard time with “sorry, poor person, economics says that case of water is $80.”
Keith Law: I think it’s too hard for authorities to truly separate gouging from supply/demand-based price increases. And it’s true that in some market conditions, high prices can lead sellers to increase supply. The key of any such law would be to focus just on short-term price spikes caused by disasters or acts of God, where the economic benefit is unclear or nonexistent – such as, it’s not like suppliers could suddenly ship a bunch of food and water and gas to south Florida on no notice.

Mike: Why do teams sometimes put guys on the 10-day DL in September? What advantage does that provide now that the rosters are expanded?
Keith Law: I actually don’t know the answer to this.

Chris : I hate to nitpick as a Mets fan, but why does the FO allow TC to sit Dom Smith and Nimmo against lefties? Also, Cecchini is on the bench in favor of ABs for useless vets like Reyes and Cabrera. It drives me crazy that they can’t even suck properly.
Keith Law: The Cecchini stuff bugs me more. I’m OK with easing up on Nimmo, who’s always had trouble with LHP, or Smith, who has shown power but hasn’t made a ton of hard contact yet, right now. By next year, however, Smith needs to be playing every day and someone else needs to be the manager.

Adam: It has been speculated that Otani’s free agency will be a situation “where money almost literally isn’t a factor,” due to the new signing rules. But the difference between $300k and $10mil is still a lot of money, even for Otani, right?
Keith Law: Of course it is. Two thoughts on Otani: One, I saw absolutely nothing this week to indicate that he’s any more likely to be posted next month than he was a few days ago. There was one completely unsourced report out of Japan … and that’s it. He may very well come over, but this was a non-story. Two, a team can sign Otani to a short-term deal with a forced non-tender clause, which most NPB free agents had in their contracts, so they’d become MLB free agents after just three or four years here. Hell, if I were GM of a contender with the cap room, I’d offer Otani one year at the maximum allowed salary and agree to nontender him at the end of the year.

Chris : If I’m the Mets I’m fielding offers for deGrom this offseason. Their minors are a disaster and if they could command a Sale or even Gray-like return, they’d have to consider it. A 2018 playoff run just doesn’t look doable right now.
Keith Law: I agree. Pitching depth is gone. I don’t think the minors are “a disaster” but they’re not helping in 2018 beyond the guys already up.

Kelly : What’s your take on Cub’s pitcher Jen-Ho Tseng, and what are your thoughts on bringing in a young starter during a pennant race?
Keith Law: Pretty average stuff, always had a flat fastball in the low minors. He stopped missing bats this year but posted the best GB rate of his career, so perhaps there’s something new there. I don’t mind bringing in a young starter for important or high-leverage games, as long as it’s someone with command, rather than a stuff guy who’s still unfinished as a pitcher.

Devon: Have you heard anything about this supposed “power struggle” in the Braves FO? I hope the old guard of Schuerholz and Cox don’t think they can win the way they used to, with a top 5 payroll any more.
Keith Law: No. I said last week I thought that story was nonsense.

Bobby: Keith – Thanks, as always, for these chats. Re Chance Adams of Yanks system, it seems like you think he is a likely reliever. That said, I imagine you think it makes sense to keep him starting until he absolutely proves he can’t? Since he has more or less proved himself against minor league hitters what would you do w him if you were Cashman?
Keith Law: I’d spot start him in the majors, definitely. Unless there’s a health reason or absolutely no room at the inn, I’d always let a starter continue to start until he proves he can’t.

Bob Horse: Have you seen/heard anything about Jesus Luzardo since he returned from TJ? Early returns look promising for the A’s
Keith Law: Heard the stuff is all the way back, so yes, very promising.

Chris : Marcos Molina a starter or reliever?
Keith Law: Reliever. Stuff isn’t the same post-TJ and it’s not a good delivery for a starter.

Paul: Keith – see any of Gohara’s start last night? You weren’t lying when you said it’s an easy 98! Slider looks filthy too. Even in the first start, the numbers were ugly, but he got seriously squeezed on a few eventual walks that became his undoing. I’m excited!
Keith Law: I did, and yes, two plus pitches, chance for a third adequate one, has the size, still very young. I liked the trade for Atlanta at the time and like it even more now.

Nick Pappagiorgio: Right now, are Kershaw’s .47 ERA and .52 xFIP advantages and superior K/BB ratio (6.7 to 4.7) enough to offset his ~25 IP deficit to Scherzer for NL CY? (They’re even on WHIP and FIP.) Thank you!
Keith Law: I don’t see why K/BB ratio or WHIP would matter at all in this discussion. It’s how much you pitched and how well you prevented runs – which you can argue is measured by ERA or RA, or by stats like FIP that focus more on what the pitcher controls. (Don’t use xFIP.)

Craig: I see where the Brewers called up Aaron Wilkerson, possibly to take Jimmy Nelson’s spot in the rotation. His AA stats this year were great — does he have the stuff to start big league games right now?
Keith Law: Yep, potential 5th starter type, great story behind it too – wasn’t even the #1 on his own HS team, ended up at NAIA Cumberland, pitched in independent ball, Red Sox scouted him there and signed him

Nancy: What’s your outlook on Albert Almora? Can he be an every day above average regular. He’s walking a little this year and has continued to hit well and play great d.
Keith Law: I think the defense makes him an above average regular in time.

Jon: What do you make of Kevin Gausman’s season? Has been electric the 2nd half. But we saw that at points last year as well. Is 2018 his year to put it all together?
Keith Law: In starts where he’s on the 1b side of the rubber, he’s been generally outstanding. Just leave him the hell alone already.

Leo: My early view of the 2018 draft is that it has a lot of depth but not much up top. A lot of HSers that project to be ok and high-floor college arms. Thoughts?
Keith Law: Don’t agree. Better HS crop than that, worse college arm crop. No Bryce Harper types at the top but good talent in the top ten overall.

DR: Is Pache a borderline top 100 guy? How much power does he have to hit for to be a top guy?
Keith Law: I think he’ll end up a future top 100 guy. The power is in there, but he’s shown none, obviously, so it’ll be hard to justify (to myself, even) ranking him above players with a little less ceiling but more production closer to the majors.

Esq: Sorry cut off earlier. Early reports on manning were that stuff was down. He looked dominant later in season. Has he returned to his top ten pick form?
Keith Law: Stuff was down pretty much all summer. At least he started throwing more strikes after he looked like he might have the yips in spring training.

Alyssa: Is AJ Reed a prime trade candidate? Seems hard for HOU to find him AB’s at the big league level but had another monster year in Fresno. He just has to play, right?
Keith Law: Agreed.

Leo: Nick Williams hasn’t really slowed down. He’s running a high BABIP though in a small sample…is his season encorauging at least?
Keith Law: Not to me – same poor pitch recognition as ever.

Brad : Hey Keith! It really looks like Giolito had turned the corner. I don’t know if he will ever be a true ace but I think there is a good chance he is at least a solid #2 or a really good #3. Do you think this is another on the list of Don Cooper doing his magic or where his issues only minor mechanical ones?
Keith Law: Cooper and others deserve credit for restoring Giolito’s old mechanics. It’s still not 100% – he didn’t look like himself yesterday after a couple of starts where he really did look like the pre-2016 version – but I’m fine projecting him as a 2 or better.

Yu: Can Yu Cheng Chang become an everyday SS or does he need a trade for that to happen?
Keith Law: Don’t think so. Not sure he’s going to hit enough for that – it’s not a great swing and he lacks the hand strength for it just now.

Ron: Is this Michael Taylor putting everything together and is it sustainable? Numbers are substantially better than his first few seasons. Were improvements made or is it a flash in the pan?
Keith Law: It’s not entirely sustainable, but he’s a plus defender with pop. I doubt he’s a .364 BABIP guy (or close to it) going forward but he does enough else to stay a regular for someone.

Hinkie: Can you please explain what MLB means when it says it “intends to be vigilant in enforcing the rules and will scrutinize any efforts to skirt them” when it comes to the Shohei Otani Sweepstakes. Is this even serious or will some team still have an “under the table” long term arrangement with Otani ?
Keith Law: No idea how MLB can stop anyone who doesn’t explicitly violate the CBA.

Yu: Is Rogelio Armenteros more than a back end starter?
Keith Law: Probably not, but given how little it cost to sign him, that would be an incredible outcome.

Jordan : Is Jordan Hicks a starter or reliever? Are this season’s stats cause for optimism?
Keith Law: Starter for me, with some performance risk. Huge upside.

Ethan: Hi Keith, I really appreciate these chats, as they are a highlight for me each week. I am a huge Padres fan and am excited about the future but am also assessing a couple of glaring holes with position players. Does Franchy Cordero have chance to be an everyday LF on a good team or more of a 4th OF? And who would you prefer more at 2B – Luis Urias, Asuaje or Spangenberg? Thanks again!
Keith Law: Urias has the best potential to be a regular at 2b, but needs to find more power than he’s ever shown. Cordero chance for a regular, more likely an extra guy, but young enough that there’s a wide range of outcomes.

Denis: Will Mitch White crack the top 100 prospects next year?
Keith Law: He made my top 50 in April and wasn’t far off the midseason list (which included recently signed draftees).

Pat: The Orioles’ approach to Austin Hays this month is obviously strange. But that aside, how likely is he to be an acceptable everyday RF on Opening Day 2018? Because I think that’s where it’s headed.
Keith Law: It’s not just strange – it’s ridiculous. Don’t add a guy to the 40-man two years early if you’re not going to play him. I do think he’s a regular for them at some point next year.

Ted: Given some of the technical flaws you’ve noted on Moncada’s swing, would he be better off focusing on hitting from one side of the plate? Any word on whether the White Sox will look for him to pick righty or lefty?
Keith Law: Too inexperienced to give up on him switch-hitting just now. It’s like the starter/reliever question earlier – my job is to forecast what I think a player will do or become, whereas the team has more incentive to play it out and see if the improbable outcome ends up occurring.

Blank: What’s your opinion on the Jemele Hill situation?
Keith Law: I stand with Jemele unequivocally. I particularly support her right to say what she did. And I find the very White House trying to silence a smart black woman of color very disturbing.

Tony P (@disguyyy): I’ll try not to hit enter (again) and end up just saying “Hi”. I’m sure you are getting a ton of these today, but hopefully I can ask in an original manner. Do you feel pressure, whether it be from yourself, co-workers or those of us who are fans of your willingness to speak truth or even opinion (gasp!) in an environment that does not encourage it, to defend people who even though they may have a higher profile in that environment, historically could benefit greatly from your verbal support? How do you determine when to speak up and when to let the situation settle itself? Thanks, as always.
Keith Law: I’m just going to be me. If I think I need to say something, I’ll say it. Evolution is real, vaccines are safe and effective, climate change is real and caused by man, chemtrails aren’t a thing, the earth is round, we did go to the moon, and open borders are good for the economy.

Paul: Hey Keith – I enjoyed your Dunkirk review and agreed with it across the board. One thing you didn’t mention that really jumped out to me – I thought the sound throughout the movie was amazing. Kept me on the edge of my seat – a euphemism that in this case was literally true – for 90 minutes straight.
Keith Law: I thought it was mixed too loud, at least where I saw it; I found some of the battle noise distracting to the point where I wasn’t paying enough attention to the on-screen action. But that could just be me.

Mike: Disappointing years for Jays pitching prospects: which of Greene, Harris and SRF are most likely to rebound?
Keith Law: I hear the best comments on Greene and the least favorable on Harris. I didn’t get to see any this year, unfortunately.

Andy: Would you rather have rhys hoskins or yoan moncada?
Keith Law: I’d still roll the dice on Moncada’s upside even knowing that Hoskins is probably no worse than an average major-league regular.

Rob : Why do left handed hitters seem to more often have such extreme splits against left handed pitching than right handed hitters do against right handed pitchers? Or is that a narrative baseball people have implanted in our heads?
Keith Law: It’s very true, and I think it’s a function of LHB seeing so few decent LHP as amateurs or low-minors prospects.

Mark: Was pleasantly surprised to read your scouting report on Tate. If he reaches his ceiling, can we expect a solid #2 or very good #3?
Keith Law: It’s #2 stuff and #4/5 kind of not-missing-bats results. I’m cautiously optimistic, though. I don’t think this is Nate Eovaldi, where the velocity is good but there’s nothing else. Tate’s fastball has life and he does have two decent offspeed pitches.

Owen: What was Dusty Baker thinking last night leaving Scherzer in for 120 pitches with the division locked up and his ace clearly tired?
Keith Law: The last inning was probably pushing it. I don’t think 120 is an automatic negative with Scherzer, given his age, size, durability, etc., but he might have been fatigued at teh very end.

Justin: What do you make of Tyler Glasnow? He seemed to fix his control problems in AAA after making a few adjustments, then pitched in MLB last night and was awful. I’m not giving up on him, but I was just curious what your current thoughts on him are.
Keith Law: Losing faith that he’ll ever have the command and control to be a starter. It’s ace stuff, but I don’t think he’s ever had a delivery that he could repeat. It does look better today than it did in March, when I compared his delivery to Bert doing the pigeon.

Owen: Thomas Boswell made a comparison between Michael A. Taylor and Mike Cameron the other day (excellent defensive CFs who didn’t break out offensively until 26, and they do show up on each other’s B-R comps by age). Fair comparison? Semi-fair? Outrageous?
Keith Law: Very fair. Similar skill sets across the board – power, speed, hard contact, strikeouts. Is Taylor as big as Cameron? I only saw Cam up close when he retired, while Daz was an amateur, and holy cow he was huge.

Denis: Which prospects are you most looking forward to seeing in AFL?
Keith Law: I’m not joking when I say all of them. It’s one of the best things I do every year. I’m like Homer in the Land of Chocolate.

Mr. Red: Is Jose Siri a legit prospect or just a guy who had a really nice hot streak? Follow-up: can you answer without making an iphone Siri joke? I’ll hang up and listen.
Keith Law: Legit prospect. But I hear he doesn’t recognize faces.

Jon V : There is talk of Tito going with a 14 position player roster for the playoffs. Do you like this strategy or is there a big risk you tax your staff if one of your starters has a bad outing?
Keith Law: If you have the right relievers, guys who can go multiple innings, then you can do this, easily.

Patty O’Furniture: Do you believe in Austin Riley yet? Hit .315 with 8 bombs once he got to AA
Keith Law: With a .393 BABIP, way above anything he’d done before. Not sure why you’re just ignoring the bad performance in high-A, either.

Daniel: Most intriguing Starting pitching prospect in Yankees system?
Keith Law: Loaisiga or Abreu.

Tracy: Keith, you mentioned last week what you do with all the books you read and it finally made me realize that not only do I enjoy reading, I am also a bibliophile — I enjoy the physical experience of reading and holding a book, hardcovers in particular (forget e-books). Does that make me a snob?
Keith Law: If it does, I’m a booksnob too. Although I do read probably 15-20 ebooks a year, and maybe a dozen audiobooks, on top of 70+ physical books.

John: Heard that the cubs thought alzolay had surpassed cease as a prospect? Do you agree with that assessment?
Keith Law: You probably heard that from me when they traded Cease.

Tom: What are your thoughts on Zack Godley? Is this season indicative of his talents, or is it just a fluke?
Keith Law: CB is much better than I’d ever heard it was, or even remember seeing on TV before this year. So I think it’s fairly real.

Angelo: Enjoyed your review of Yamataii. How is it as a two player game?
Keith Law: Plays well with two, best with three, four is crazy but good-crazy because you’re competing for space.

Brian: How much do you look into why people do bad things, and does that affect your opinion of them? I know everyone can change but it seems MUCH harder to do for some. I’m thinking of how you say people can’t be rehabilitated if they commit certain crimes (e.g. rape). What if that person grew up in a household where rape was common? Even if society says it’s wrong, all the people you’re looking up to (e.g. parents) are either participating or are observers, which can result in you thinking – even for once in your life – that it’s ok to do.
Keith Law: Many violent criminals were themselves victims. That should affect how our justice system approaches them, but the prevailing belief in the field is that such people – pedophiles, people with violent paraphilias – can’t be ‘fixed,’ either.

Ben: What World Series matchup are you hoping for? I think Indians-Dodgers would be a lot of fun.
Keith Law: I think that or Cleveland/Nats would be the best for fans in general – meaning, if your team isn’t in the WS, what pair of clubs would most make you want to watch?

Chris: Thanks for your Trenton writeup, it’s exactly what I was hoping for when I sent you that tweet. So, is Thairo worth a 40-man spot? Likely to be popped in Rule 5 (I know, you love Rule 5 talk), but behind tons of middle infielders and utiility guys arent that hard to find.
Keith Law: I’d probably protect him – I think he’s taken for sure – but maybe that means he’s trade bait for them in November?

Bert Stanton: Hey Keith, I appreciate all of the work you do. Would you grade Kyle Tucker’s current/future hit and power tools any differently now than you did this past offseason?
Keith Law: I don’t remember where I graded them last offseason (if I did); I would say I think as much power as there is now, there’s at least another full grade in there. He’s still a good distance from his physical peak.

David: Will we get read your thoughts on Dillon Tate’s start at some point?
Keith Law: Posted this morning, and the link is at the top of this post.

Bort: Are you buying shares in Max Fried?
Keith Law: I see above-average CB and CH, average or better FB, below command, good athlete, needs time but no physical reason he can’t be a good three-pitch starter.

Chris: Gut feeling by ASB next year: Andujar at 3B, Gleyber at 2B, Headley playing some first and Castro traded. Seem reasonable?
Keith Law: Gleyber at 2B is a waste of his defensive ability. Andujar at 3b works for me, though. Good player, may never get the hype he deserves because he’s behind bigger prospects in that system.

TK: One more note on Dunkirk and the sound: that’s the first movie I can remember with almost no silence. Maybe only a couple seconds before the end of the movie. Plus, Hans Zimmer’s use of the Shepard tones created the effect of rising tension throughout that had people (literally and metaphorically) on the edge of their seats.
Keith Law: And now I have a page saved for later reading about Shepard tones.

TK: I think you mentioned before you have the NL ROY vote again this year, so I don’t know how much you can comment on this, but has Josh Bell’s defense improved at all this year? Fangraphs WAR has his defense at -11.5! Is there any hope for him to become at least average at first? Or is his future back in the outfield or, sigh, at DH with an AL team?
Keith Law: That’s misleading. His UZR, the main defensive metric used by Fangraphs, is -2.1, so two runs below average at first base. The -11.5 figure includes the positional adjustment for first base. It’s saying he’s a slightly below-average defensive first baseman, and I’d say that matches the eye test – not average, maybe even a tick worse than the -2.1 indicates (first base defense isn’t well captured by defensive metrics yet), but playable.

Owen: Follow-up: Mike Cameron listed at 6’2″, 210. Michael A. Taylor at 6’3″, 210, although his face makes him look like his mom is expecting him to come home from the park for dinner.
Keith Law: OK, Mike Cameron was not 210 at age ~40, I can promise you that.

Jshep12: Do you now feel like Serverino’s change up is good enough to keep him in a starting roll or do you still see him as a reliever going forward?
Keith Law: I never had an issue with his changeup – it was his best pitch when he was in low-A. He didn’t have much of a slider till this year, and now he has one, it’s really hard, and he throws it a ton.

Michael: Looking for a board game rec for my 4yo. She’s mastered UNO and Sorry. Any suggestions so she can continue to develop strategic sense?
Keith Law: Ticket to Ride First Journey is good for that 4-8 age range. A reader said yesterday on twitter that the youth version of Carcassonne is good too.

David: Could we get a few words on Jonathan Loaisiga? Really interesting to hear you mention him over some more widely-known low-minors Yankee pitching prospects.
Keith Law: Also in that post linked above…

Brian: Corey Knebel the long term solution for the Brewers at closer? Or would you look to flip him for an impact bat?
Keith Law: Every closer on a non-contender – well, the Brewers are contenders and builders at the same time – should be considered trade bait. The attrition rate on closers is too high.

Connor: Is Nick Allen already a MLB-caliber SS?
Keith Law: No.

JR: Have we become numb to mass shootings? Last weekend guy shot his ex wife and 7 others at a football watching party, yesterday there was a shooting at a spokane high school. Feels like as they have become more common, media coverage and talk about it goes way down, which is scary.
Keith Law: We’ve become numb – someone tweeted after the failure of gun control legislation after Sandy Hook that the battle was over, that if 20 dead kids couldn’t move the needle, nothing will – and we’ve also been overwhelmed by the constant scandal, controversy, and policy nightmares of the current Administration.

Austin: Thoughts on the Cleveland Indians?
Keith Law: They’re good.

Jeff: I notice that you do not use the Indians nickname (see Cleveland/Nats above). Anything the team could do to redeem the nickname in your view? Perhaps something like this:
1) Announce that regardless of the historical origin (which is murky) of the nickname from the 1910s, going forward the Indians are named to honor Louis Sockalexis.
2) Eliminate Chief Wahoo and hire a task force of Native American artists to design a new logo.
Keith Law: Yeah, they could fucking drop it because it’s racist garbage.

kmill: Keith, I live on the island of St. John and made it off the day before Irma hit. I know you are aware of the issues we are facing and help needed. You and your readers help spreading awareness is greatly appreciated. The US in USVI stands for United States, we are part of this country and should receive equal benefits for disaster relief. thanks
Keith Law: I’ve sent $100 to St. John’s Rescue, and the little boardgame sale I announced in my newsletter already raised $90 that I sent to Tim Duncan’s Youcaring fund for USVI relief. I know not everyone has the ability to give, but if you do, please consider those funds – those two islands need our help. So do Barbuda and St. Martin, but the USVI are particularly dependent on us to help, and there are thousands of people there who’ll need shelter, food, and basics just to resume their lives.
Keith Law: That’s all for this week – thank you all for your questions and for reading. I should be back next Thursday on schedule for another chat. Enjoy your weekends!

The Potlikker Papers.

John T. Edge is the director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, an institute at the University of Mississippi that is dedicated to the study and exploration of southern American culinary traditions, a valuable resource that, among other things, works to keep knowledge of the region’s cuisine from dying out in our era of homogenization and processed food. That background gave me a high expectation for his book The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South, but it’s not the book I thought I was getting. It may deliver on the promise of its subtitle, but there’s so much emphasis here on the modern south that the prehistory of it, the hundred-plus years before the civil rights movement that inform so much of southern cuisine even today, gets lost in the shuffle.

Southern cuisine itself is more of a catch-all term than a specific style of cooking – there are multiple regional cuisines from the American south, including two, Creole and Cajun, distinct ones just within the state of Louisiana. White and black southerners bring their own traditions, although many foods associated with white or all southerners likely originated as African-American foods. The culinary appropriations, the origins of what we now consider traditional or classical southern cuisine, the subtitutions out of need that became standard … these are the stories I expected to read and want to hear as someone who likes to eat and cook many dishes that at least have some basis in the rich, vegetable-heavy dishes of the south.

That’s not this book, at least; Edge starts in the 1950s and spends nearly all of the book discussing the evolution of southern cuisine from the 1970s forward, bouncing around celebrity chefs (Emeril gets a lot of page time, as does the late Paul Prudhomme) and artisanal farmers (Glenn Roberts, founder of Anson Mills, is a well-deserved star of that part of the book), but talking less about history and more about modern figures. The best part of The Potlikker Papers by far is the first section, Freedom Struggles (1950s-1970s), which talks about southern food in the context of the civil rights movement – the Montgomery bus boycott, the lunch-counter sit-ins, the importance of individual black chefs like Georgia Gilmore, the way white politicians borrowed or fabricated narratives to suit their policy aims, and more. This is a complete story, probably enough to fill an entire volume – how food enabled African-Americans to fight for equal rights and establish economic independence in a white-dominated society that sought to subjugate them by every available method.

After that section, however, Edge’s narrative falls apart and the book devolves into a series of unconnected profiles and vignettes that were neither engaging nor particularly illustrative of anything about modern southern cooking. A chapter on barbecue, for example, that focuses primarily on North Carolina doesn’t tell me much about Q as a cuisine or the region itself (which has a complicated and recently damaging history with hog farming). The final chapter, on the rising influence of Latin American immigrants and chefs on southern cooking, feels tacked on and cursory. If southern cuisine is one big tradition, Edge doesn’t manage to unify it here, and if it’s merely the phylum for a host of individual orders and families, he doesn’t provide the connective thread beyond mere geography. I had high hopes for The Potlikker Papers, but after the first section on the civil rights era, it told me nothing I didn’t already know.

Next up: I’m about 2/3 through Arthur C. Clarke’s The Fountains of Paradise.


Dunkirk, directed by Christopher Nolan (Inception, Memento) and starring every good-looking British man under the age of 40, tells a fictionalized story of the evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk, France, in 1940, after German forces routed the combined allied troops and pinned them in on a small section of France’s northwest coast. Ordinary British citizens sailed their small vessels, including fishing boats and other pleasure craft, across the English channel and rescued an entire army – over 800 such boats evacuating over 330,000 troops. It would seem an impossible tale had it not actually happened.

Nolan’s script contains very little dialogue – I’m hard-pressed to recall a live-action film with less – and lets the tripartite story drive the film, with intertwined narratives focused on land (the evacuating soldiers, especially one who’s late to the beach and trying any which way to get out), sea (a father and son plus the son’s friend, sailing across the Channel to try to aid the rescue), and air (three Spitfire pilots battling the Germans). The connections seem tenuous at first, but the narratives all collide as the film progresses and their separate timelines begin to converge with the arrival of the small boats at the mole (causeway) at Dunkirk beach.

The script thus gives us little about most of the characters, and many are left unnamed within the film itself. One pilot is only seen with his mask on until his final scene near the end of the film. Kenneth Branagh, a favorite actor of mine who isn’t afraid to chew a little scenery when given the chance, is marvelously understated throughout as Commander Bolton. Oscar winner and Shakespearean actor Mark Rylance plays the civilian sailor Mr. Dawson with similar restraint, the embodiment of British stiff-upper-lip-ness in repeated crises as they sail toward France. Harry Styles – yes, Harry Freaking Styles – is one of the few young soldiers to stand out in spite of the paucity of dialogue, even overshadowing Fionn Whitehead, another acting neophyte who plays the fleeing soldier in the “land” narrative.

The script may be subtle, but the film isn’t; watching this in a theater was an extremely loud and incredibly close experience, with perspective shifts and wobbly camera shots that immerse the viewer in the action, often to an uncomfortable extent. (If you’re claustrophobic and/or have a fear of drowning, you might give this film a miss.) War movies often break the tension by shifting to planning scenes, away from the action, where old men in brass buttons plan the deaths of thousands by moving miniatures on a tabletop map, but Dunkirk never leaves the corridor from England, which we only see from Mr. Dawson’s boat, across to France, moving us from sky to sea to land and back but never pulling us far from soldiers in peril.

Nolan skirts some dangerous lines in the script, giving us Chekhov’s gun in the form of airplane fuel tanks, but writing his way out of obvious endings in two of the three main strands. He doesn’t shy away from the brutality of the conflict, with German aircraft bombing beach and ships even though these are retreating forces with little to no ability to defend themselves, yet there’s a clear effort here to keep the blood offscreen – one assumes because that would detract from the story Nolan is trying to tell and appeal to the baser instincts of those in the audience who mistakenly wandered into the theater while looking for the next Saw installment. The body count is high, even if they’re mostly redshirts, but the horror here has to come from the actors’ expressions and the constant sense of confinement, in ships’ holds, in a tiny airplane cockpit, or even on a wide-open beach that is a perfect shooting gallery for German dive-bombers. The one slight misstep, the thread that leads the ending’s one real nod to sentiment, essentially sacrifices a side character for the plot value of his death, but it’s the only time Nolan submits to that impulse and it at least has the good grace to stay out of the way of the remainder of the plot.

There’s an organic nature to the script that ultimately takes Dunkirk from good movie to great, as Nolan thinks more like a novelist than a screenwriter here. Knowing the history of the evacuation, Nolan creates sets of circumstances for each character or group, and then sees how they react to the stresses under which he places them. We get three pilots who have three differing reactions to disasters in the air. We see a wide variety of soldiers reduced to scrapping for places on ships, refusing to rescue others, or threatening to turn a soldier over to the enemy to make room on a boat. Mr. Dawson and his crew are tested repeatedly, and he becomes the stoic heart of the film, standing in for the hundreds upon hundreds of British men of all ages who risked their own lives to bring the boys home.

It’s early to forecast honors for any film, but I will throw out there right now that I think Dunkirk has to be the favorite for that SAG “best ensemble cast” award, or whatever it’s called, given in lieu of a proper “best picture” honor. Also, I was sure I saw an uncredited Una Stubbs – that’s Mrs. Hudson from Sherlock – on one of the boats, but IMDB tells me it’s an actress named Kim Hartman. But there is an uncredited appearance via voice only that I won’t spoil beyond saying every film is better for having this actor say a few words in it.