I Contain Multitudes.

You are currently covered in bugs.

That’s the fact that drives Ed Yong’s book I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life, his highly acclaimed 2016 book about the microbiome, a relative neologism that refers to the interconnected world of microorganisms that exist in, on, and around all other life on earth. Without these bugs, we almost certainly wouldn’t exist, and the best estimates Yong has have bacteria and other microbes in and on our bodies outnumbering the cells of our actual bodies by a margin slighter over 1:1. You do not just contain multitudes, Yong quips (borrowing a line from Walt Whitman), but you are multitudes.

Yong spends as much time dispelling myths as he does explaining the new science of the microbiome because everyone who reads this has probably grown up believing one of two things about bacteria and other microbes: They’re dirty and bad and cause illness and death; or, some bacteria are good and we want lots of them but not the bad ones. Yong says neither is accurate; there aren’t “good” or “bad” microbes per se, but that the effect a microbe can have depends entirely on where it lives and thus what it’s able to do.

Microbes make the complexity of life on earth possible, sometimes serving as the difference between life and not-life, as in creatures that live in inhospitable, lightless environments at the bottom of the ocean near steam vents that bring geothermal heat out into the water. Scientists discovered creatures there that seemed to have no business existing in the first place, such as a worm that had no mouth or digestive tract. It turned out that the worm in question plays host to bacteria that provide it with all of the energy the worm needs by converting sulfur compounds found in that dark environment into chemicals the worms can use.

He also explains how evolution works differently – and apparently faster – in bacteria than it does in multicellular organisms, thanks to something called HGT, Horizontal Gene Transfer. (As opposed to, say, the Mariners moving Segura to second base if Cano is hurt; that would be a Horizontal Jean Transfer.) Bacteria have the ability to swap genes with other bacteria in their environment, meaning they can alter their genome on the fly while still alive, as opposed to humans, who are stuck with the genes that brought us to the dance.

Perhaps most relevant to the lay reader are the two chapters near the end of the book where Yong talks about how probiotics don’t work and how we might use bacteria, including their HGT superpowers, to fight diseases like dengue and Zika. Probiotic products are all the rage now, but there’s no evidence that swallowing these bacteria – which appear in tiny amounts even in products like yogurt – alters your microbiome in any way. Your gut flora are largely a function of what you were born with, meaning in turn what you got from your mother in birth (vaginal delivery exposes the infant to the bacteria in the mucosal lining) or via breast feeding (which contains more bugs plus compounds that encourage the growth of helpful bacteria in the cut), and what you eat now (more fiber, please). So skip the kombucha and eat more plants.

Mosquitoes that spread disease often do so with the help of bacteria they host, but there’s an effort underway in Australia – a country far less hostile to science than the United States is – to release mosquitoes of the same species that carries viruses like dengue or chikungunya, A. Aegyptes, that have been infected with a Wolbachia bacterium that renders the critters immune to the viruses. These mosquitoes would then move into the environment, mate with other mosquitoes, and thus spread the bacterial ‘infection’ through the population, thus dramatically reducing the number of bugs flying around with the disease in the first place. A separate but related endeavor aims to do the same with the mosquitoes that carry the parasite that causes malaria in people, a disease that has proven particularly obstinate to the development of a vaccine (in part because it’s neither viral nor bacterial).

Yong’s book seems comprehensive, although I came into it knowing extremely little about the subject. He gets into fecal transplants, including why they’ve helped people with deadly C. dif infections where traditional treatments failed. He discusses antibiotic resistance, of course. He provides copious examples of symbiosis and dysbiosis in the wild, and how many species, including animals, deprived of their normal microbiomes fail to thrive. And he gets into how climate change is altering microbiomes worldwide, leading to mass deaths on coral reefs and the spread of a fungus (also highlighted in Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction, the most recent winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction) that has already wiped out numerous species of tropical frogs.

Most important, however, is that Yong keeps this all so accessible. I find the subject interesting anyway, but his prose is readable and his stories quick and quirky enough that the audiobook held my attention throughout, including during some rather dreadful trips between spring training sites in Florida. Granted, it might make you think very differently about shaking hands or touching various surfaces, but I Contain Multitudes might also encourage you to eat better, get a dog, and throw out all your triclosan, while giving you a new appreciation for germs.


I admit to knowing less about how the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences settles on its five nominees for Best Foreign Language Film than I do about the other major awards, so when I say I don’t understand how Neruda wasn’t nominated for the honor while A Man Called Ove was, I mean that quite literally. Not only is Neruda a smarter and better film, but I find it hard to accept that a large number of movie industry people saw both and said, hey, the mawkish claptrap about the grumpy old man is the better choice. (Neruda is available to rent on amazon and iTunes.)

Neruda, Chile’s submission for the prize for 2016, was directed by Pablo Larrain, who also directed Jackie, which earned Natalie Portman a well-deserved Best Actress nomination. It’s a fictional story that stars the very real and very famous Chilean poet, Senator, and dissident Pablo Neruda’s flight from an anti-communist government in Chile in 1948, first in exile within his country and eventually in France. Through the movie, he’s pursued by the obsessed detective/inspector Oscar Peluchonneau, but Neruda has a strange plan in place, taunting the inspector with copies of books and handwritten notes while always remaining one step ahead of his predator.

As a chase film, Neruda stinks, so don’t rent this one looking for high adventure; there’s more comedy in the cops’ regular failures to find Neruda, even when he’s right under their noses. This is a far more philosophical work, one that is even structured like a poem, and that meditates openly on the nature of character and even on whether we are ‘real’ or merely the fictional products of someone else’s imagination.

Larrain has adopted a specific visual style here, where he cuts conversations up by settings, so that characters in the middle of a deep dialogue will suddenly shift positions, rooms, even ending up outside, but appear oblivious to the change in scenery. Part of this seemed to be an attempt to mimic the free verse of Neruda’s poetry, while it also seemed to underline the metafictional aspects of the story – that is, since these jumps are clearly not possible in reality, are we to suspect that other portions, even entire characters, are not real, but are merely projections of the creative genius of Neruda.

The title character is played by Luis Gnecco as a corpulent, arrogant libertine, as sure of his flight plan as he is of his literary talent, and not above the occasional champagne-soaked orgy. (There’s something inherently amusing about a man who is overweight and balding attracting women in twos and threes by virtue of his words.) He brings two voices to Neruda, one for regular dialogue, one for his poems and speeches, a gearshift for a character who, in reality, was certainly aware of his public profile and eager to play a role in his country’s history.

Oscar, played by Gael García Bernal, is the more demanding role, however, as the cop undergoes an existential crisis during an assignment that will make his career or end it in humiliation. He plays it with the veneer of the noir detective, dashing in suit and hat, betraying little emotion, always confident that the next raid will corner his prey, but little details in the performance and even his look – the unmade ties, the collar askew – show the doubt beneath the surface. In a story that truly has just two characters and focuses on the dance between them that keeps them apart until the final few scenes, García Bernals performance was literally essential, giving life to a film that could have descended into caricature or farce.

Neruda is in Spanish, and a little French, with English subtitles, which I only mention because I’m fairly sure I lost some of the benefits of understanding Neruda’s speeches and poems in the original language because I was also reading the English to make sure I didn’t miss anything important. I can understand a little Spanish, but apparently the letter “s” is banned in Chile, so I found much of the dialogue hard to grasp. Perhaps I’ll need to see about a sabbatical in Santiago; I hear they have good food there.

The real Neruda’s flight was far less daring or courageous; he was smuggled from house to house for three years, didn’t appear in public, didn’t taunt his pursuers, and eventually fled to Argentina and then France on a friend’s passport. He also earned criticism within his lifetime for his refusal to condemn communist leaders who suppressed journalists and other writers, putting party over principle, so to speak. This film version, while flawed in his personal life and his general arrogance, is far more heroic than the actual Chilean was. It’s a forgivable offense because of what it brings us in the interplay between him and Oscar, who turns out to be the real star of the show.


I’ve been a devotee of the fiction of Ann Patchett since reading her magnum opus, Bel Canto, an ensemble story that takes inspiration from the 1997 incident when Tupac Amaru fighters took over the Japanese embassy in Peru and held 72 people hostage for four months. Patchett built from that story to create a deep, rich web of complex characters and wrote a literary fugue that she later said was her attempt to recreate Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. (I’m not a fan of that book, so I’d say there’s no comparison.)

Her latest novel, Commonwealth, is the only other novel she’s written that tries to tell the same sort of broad tapestry of a story, with at least five and as many as ten well-defined, realistic characters in a book that plays with time as she reconstructs the history of two families. The book starts with a christening party and a drunken kiss between a husband and a wife who are married to other people, a kiss that begets an affair that begets divorces, marriages, a death, and six children becoming stepsiblings and forging bonds that will last for decades.

This isn’t Bel Canto in format, however; that book had epic scope but was told in linear fashion. Commonwealth jumps around in time based on what details Patchett wants to reveal, a gambit that started as disorienting but improved as the story went on because each section reveals something about one or more characters that proves useful in the next. I still might have preferred a linear timeline here, largely because that makes it easier for me to immerse myself in a story, but Patchett is such a skilled storyteller that she can make the future into prologue and still have it all tie together.

Although the four adults involved in the two marriages that become an affair, two divorces, and another marriage set the plot in motion, this book is much more about the kids involved than anyone else: two sisters from one marriage, then four kids, two of each sex, from the other. They’re not an easy mix at any point, but because Bert and Beverly, the couple who kissed and eventually divorce their spouses to marry each other, are kind of half-assed parents, the six kids end up partners in crime, the older ones mostly taking care of the younger, but also getting into all sorts of trouble, some trivial, some tragic.

Each story focuses on different kids, but Albie, the second-youngest of the six children, is easily the most interesting, I think because Patchett has written him as someone who today would be considered “on the spectrum” of autism but who in this book’s time period would never have been diagnosed. He’s just weird in the eyes of his siblings, who hand him Benadryl tablets and tell him they’re candy so he won’t be such a pain, and grows into a self-medicating, risk-loving teenager who can’t stay in school or keep a job and really doesn’t find any stability until at least his 20s. But as he gets older and the family situation keeps changing, some of his bonds with siblings, especially his stepsister Franny (the second best-developed character in the book), become the novel’s true center.

There’s also a bit of fun metafiction within Commonwealth, where Franny, who feels as I do about books (hand me a supply of books and then just leave me alone for a few weeks), meets a literary idol of hers, Leon Posen, and eventually becomes his lover and sort of amanuensis. Leon eventually takes her stories of her childhood and writes them into a novel, Commonwealth, that restarts his literary career, becomes a bestseller, and narrowly misses winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. That last bit may prove prescient; the book is considered one of the favorites to win this year’s award, which will be announced on Monday, April 10th, but is probably less likely to win than Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad.

Patchett’s prose is as lush as her characters, and here she marries the two with a story worthy of her words; when she hasn’t succeeded, it’s been in books with weak stories, like Run or Taft. Commonwealth is a huge success, however, a story of and for everyone, one that is simultaneously about nothing and about everything. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, and Patchett gives us a whole new unhappy family to enjoy.

Klawchat 4/6/17.

Questions go in the frame below, not the comments!

We’re also just 19 days from the release of Smart Baseball, which you can preorder now via Harper Collins’ official page for the book.

Keith Law: Getting what you want can be dangerous. Klawchat.

addoeh: How big of a gap is there between the value of J. Baez and I. Happ? If included in otherwise similar packages, is it the difference getting a #1/2 starter and a #2/3 starter?
Keith Law: I think Happ’s probably about as valuable as Baez is, given Baez’s known flaws and additional year of service. I’m not sure either headlines a deal for an ace – Eloy probably has to be in such a trade either way.

EricVA: What ever happened to Jesus Montero? Was he just overhyped? Did the Mariners make an adjustment that ruined him? Was he just a spectacular bust?
Keith Law: PED guy with what turned out to be very questionable makeup.

Gabriel: Hey KLAW, when is your first mock draft coming out?
Keith Law: Mid-May. I don’t think mocks this early have any value to readers. They’re just wild-assed guesses.

Dan: I know you are not a hitting coach but how would a long swing turn into a short swing (i.e Jason Heyward)?
Keith Law: When a player has a shoulder injury and changes the swing to prevent pain.

Woland: Hey Keith, any thoughts on Brandon Finnegan for this year? SSS obviously but he looked great in his start. Is he a potential top of rotation guy, or more middle of the road? thanks!
Keith Law: I think he ends up in the bullpen.

Josh Meyer: Do you see the Twins drafting Hunter Greene with the top pick?
Keith Law: No, I think it’s more likely they take a college guy like McKay there. But I would probably take Greene myself, given what I know now. I’m supposed to see him pitch tomorrow.

S.S. Size: Wow, can you believe it!? Mad-Bum is on pace to hit 60+ home runs!
Keith Law: Go away. I don’t want to hear from you until at least Memorial Day.

David: Steven Matz ever pitch a full season?
Keith Law: Maybe once. Cashner and Ross both did it, and both came in with injury and/or delivery concerns.

Travis: What are your thoughts on Adam Haseley?
Keith Law: First rounder. CF who never strikes out. I was skeptical of the power but he’s hitting the ball harder this year.

Dan from Cincy: When do you start hearing who specific teams seem to be targeting in the draft? Have you heard anything yet on the Reds at #2?
Keith Law: For most teams, not until May. However, the Reds are high enough in the draft and clear enough in their actions so far that I would say it’s 90% that they take Greene or McKay.

Darren: Hello Keith,
I have a friend with a son that is starting to experience issues with anxiety. I recommended she have her son read your work as you speak out about your personal issues. What would you recommend for a young boy first trying to come to understand and deal with this illness. Thanks for all you do.

Keith Law: Therapy is key, because he will need someone to help him understand what emotions/feelings are normal and what are the anxiety taking over. I also always counsel folks to consider medication, and to look at meditation, exercise, and possibly adjusting their diet (especially if the anxiety is affecting his stomach) too.

Ryan: Complete Cards homer so I admit bias but I would like to respectfully disagree with your opinion that Yadi does not belong in the HOF. He is currently sitting around 33 WAR which is pretty low by HOF standards. My issue is that Yadi’s best skill set is probably the one thing WAR is the worst at quantifying. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Yadi has had as good if not better defensive career than Omar Vizquel who is currently 7 dWAR ahead of him.
Keith Law: 33 WAR is absurdly low by HoF standards, even if we just look at catchers, and if you’re gifting Yadi a bunch of wins for catcher woo, you have to gift some to every catcher already in the Hall for a fair comparison.

Kyle KS: Preordered the book, excited for it! Speaking of baseball books, do you ever get into biographies like Ankiel’s upcoming one?
Keith Law: No interest in that.

J: So, the endless fattening of pitching staff calf is starting to get comedic. While I love the Bethancourting of rosters, it’s frustrating and boring to have a three-man bench. After the Indians postseason bullpen usage, and the Reds claiming they will have multi-inning relievers abounding, do you think there’s a chance of a team making the move back to an 11-man staff, leaving room for an actual 5-6 man bench? The team that does it and succeeds…. all the base with belong to them.
Keith Law: I think it’ll be a while before any team tries that (the smaller staff) because everyone is so terrified of overworking pitchers. (Except the Orioles, I guess, who ran Bundy out there for the seventh when he was throwing 88-90 last night.) First we’ll have to see managers develop a new model for using multi-inning relievers, and then you might see a team willing to back off the eight-man bullpen, which I agree is utter insanity.

Zeon: Did you ever play any baseball simulation video games, like Micro League, Tony LaRussa or OOTP? If so, which was your favorite(s)?
Keith Law: I played some Micro League and Earl Weaver Baseball as a kid.

Dana: Suzyn Waldman is the latest media member to take a shot at Clint Frazier. Are there character issues with Frazier or is this just a guy who rubs some people the wrong way because he dares to have fun playing baseball?
Keith Law: Apparently she made the whole story up, for which she should be suspended. I wouldn’t say much for her bona fides as a journalist, but she is a member of the press, and fabrication is a cardinal sin.

John from Northern Virginia: I know medication can help keep depression and anxiety in check when the insanity of the word comes crashing in around one’s rational view. Do you have any favorite strategies for coping when the meds just aren’t enough? (other than starting to drink heavily, of course). Thanks again.
Keith Law: Yeah, I don’t recommend booze as a long-term strategy. But you’ve probably noticed I’m taking in more movies and haven’t slowed up at all on my reading. A little escapism helps as long as you don’t lose contact with reality.

Chris: I’m interested in getting your take on the Cards extension of Molina (3 yr /$60M.) As a Cards fan, I don’t mind overpaying a little for fan sentiment as long as it doesn’t seriously hamper the teams ability to compete down the road. Does this deal seam to find that balance?
Keith Law: I think that deal may also include the price of him mentoring Carson Kelly for a transitional year or two. I hope so, actually, because I think it’s a good use of Molina’s skills and because I think it can turn Kelly from a potentially above-average regular into a star.

Andy: Now that the season has started, we can definitively say that the Giants haven’t figured out their bullpen, Cleveland will be carried by their hitting, and that Seattle and Texas won’t attain last year’s heights. We know all this so why watch anymore baseball this year? Things are decided.
Keith Law: You forgot that the Blue Jays are doomed.

Nelson: What do scouts mean when they said ” that player doesn’t have a good make up”?. What is make up ?
Keith Law: Character. Personality. Work ethic, aptitude, perseverance, ability to work with others. It can also include off-field stuff, so “bad makeup” might also mean he drinks too much or has had problems with the law.

Brady: Coming out of HS, were there character questions with Clint Frazier in his scouting report?
Keith Law: Not at all. Cocky kid who could back it up. I’m pissed that Waldman decided to sandbag the kid like that.

Andy: So Ian Kahaloa cost himself probably much needed development time. Is that a 20 mental makeup? I mean, I don’t want to yell at a cloud here, but it seems like posting a video of you doing illegal drugs is more than just a youthful mistake.
Keith Law: It sounds like addiction rather than just stupidity. He needs help and I hope he’s getting it.

Nick: Yo that Earl St. Clair from your playlist is smackin’!
Keith Law: Contrary to what he says, he’s got it like that.

Erich: Watched the Orioles game last night and Bundy’s stuff looked as good as I have ever seen. IF (big IF) he remains healthy, how high is his ceiling?
Keith Law: Except it wasn’t. His fastball was down from last year, and way down by the end of his start.

Nick: Do you watch Archer? Some of the best comedy writing I’ve seen.
Keith Law: I used to but dropped off around season 4 when they tried that Vice storyline that kind of ruined the show.

Derek: Scouting report on Trea Turner’s defense at SS? My recollection is that you thought he’d have enough arm to stick there. So far he looks good – seems to have good range to his right and his arm is solid and accurate (if not a cannon). One would expect his athleticism to play there…
Keith Law: Arm was there, footwork was fine, worried about his slight frame holding up under the work of a middle infielder but I think he’s filled out better than i expected.

Jeff: What does Michael Gettys’ hit tool need to be to be an average or better major leaguer? Likelihood he gets there?
Keith Law: He’s not getting there. I don’t think it’s even a 10% chance. He can’t find a swing that works, and he’s been through quite a few already.

Robert: Twins opening day broadcast, Dan Gladden comments how it’s such a great day for sons and fathers. Sent my wife through the roof. She also loathes every ‘women, wine, and baseball’ type of event. It’s this kind of passive sexism that needs to be changed if MLB wants to grow. Women can enjoy sports just like men, without having to wear pink jerseys, drink wine, and told that it’s worth going to see Kris Bryant in tight pants.
Keith Law: When people complain about hearing women (like my friend and colleague Jess Mendoza) on sports broadcasts, I’d like to send them this comment and see if they are similarly bothered by 19th century sexism too.

Burns: Higher ceiling, Franklin Perez or Forrest Whitley? Which is more likely to reach it?
Keith Law: Whitley definitely has the higher ceiling for me.

Brett : How many of Buxton, Sano, Kepler, Rosario and Polanco will become above average everyday regulars?
Keith Law: Yes, yes, yes, no, maybe.

Poppy: What are some good coffee places in San Diego? As a coffee novice espresso seems a bit strong what would be some of your recommendations for trying to get into it?
Keith Law: Love Bird Rock there. James and Copa Vida are solid. Espresso doesn’t have to be strong, but you might start by asking for a gibraltar (or a cortado), a drink that has some milk in it but not enough to drown the coffee out like a latte would.

Jeff: I’m a huge fan of your work. Have you ever considered writing a book? I bet it would be great.
Keith Law: I have indeed considered that.

Moltar: So Lugo and Matz are down and Montero looked Monterrible in long relief yesterday. After Three Children In An Overcoat (aka Sean GilMartin), I have to imagine an off the board guy will make some meaningful starts for the Mets. The guy I’ve pegged is Chris Flexen. He’s had some injuries, but with some Warthen tutelage I think he can be this year’s Gsellman. What say you Klaw?
Keith Law: Flexen could be that 12th man type who helps, but what Gsellman did last year (adding a full grade of fastball) is kind of nuts and I wouldn’t predict that for anyone.

Dante: When a pitcher is coming off a major injury (shoulder, elbow), how much do they usually work on fixing mechanics, or changing pitch mix (i.e., changing what likely got them injured in the first place)? It seems most pitchers go right back to what they were doing before, which likely leads to the injuries coming back.
Keith Law: Depends on the organization. Some teams will use that opportunity to rework a delivery. Marcos Molina’s stuff is down, but post-TJ he’s got his arm slot back up close to where it was when he first signed.

Nelson: Can you help me out: Is it incorrect to say “a high rate of speed” when refering to something going fast? I always thought that was wrong but then I saw it in a NYTimes piece so maybe Im the dummy
Keith Law: I thought the word for that was velocity.

Marcus: In your opinion, when is the right time to call up Cody Bellinger? By all accounts (aside from his ST batting average) he looks every bit a big leaguer right now. I’m sure they feel like Toles has earned a spot, but would a Bellinger/Joc/Puig OF be better?
Keith Law: They may want him to come up as a 1b, in which case there’s an immovable object that will slow his timetable.

Matt : Who do you think is second on padres board (after Greene of course)
Keith Law: I’ve heard Austin Beck for them and the Rays, which was why I raced down there on Monday (and saw him do squat).

Wood: Do you think Andruw Jones belongs in the HOF?
Keith Law: Probably not, but he has a better case than Yadi. I just think Jones’ career was too short; how many HoFers were done at age 31 other than guys who died young like Addie Joss?

Matt : Going to have new draft rankings coming out soon?
Keith Law: Later this month – we’ve pushed some things back because the draft is late (June 12) and so I can do a top pro prospects update next week, by which point #1 and #2 will have graduated along with Josh Bell.

Dmitry : My patient, who is a Murray Chass old school kinda guy bet me a dinner at Rao’s (he has a table) that Beltre will not make the HOF within his first 2 years of eligibility. I say he does. Do you agree or is too much of his value tied to underappreciated SABR metrics?
Keith Law: I think he does because of two factors. One, the electorate is slowly changing. Two, the old school is going to recognize his milestones – he’ll get to 3000 hits this year and probably retires with 500 homers – and will simply consider his defense and clubhouse effects as additional positives.

Darren: Hi Keith, What are you thoughts on Braden Shipley. Can he recover from the mismanagement of the previous regime. Did you happen to see him? What is his ceiling now? Thanks.
Keith Law: I’ve heard the new regime is trying to work on his delivery to restore some of the lost power but I haven’t seen it myself. I didn’t put him on my breakouts list, despite past faith in his offspeed stuff, because I heard in spring training that it’s still a lot of average.

No Pepper On The Grass: My team can’t score a touchdown, so I’m going to invoke the nuclear option and change the length of the football field to 80 yards.
Keith Law: That seems fair.

LA Baseball Fan: Hi Keith. Love the chats. Do you think Hunter Green is a first round talent as a SS? If so why? Is his arm at that position enough?
Keith Law: Yes. He has a 70 arm at short. top ten pick as a SS.

Harrisburg Hal: At what Eastern League parks are you most likely to be seen? Reading? Trenton? Would love to catch you in Harrisburg.
Keith Law: Reading and Trenton most likely. I’ve been to one game in Harrisburg and two in Bowie since I moved here.

Niklas: Why is there a rule 5 draft? It just seems like a lot of times it actually hurts the players that are drafted. Tyler Goeddel sat on the bench on a bad team for a whole year when he really needed at bats. How does that help the development of these players?
Keith Law: Its purpose was to help players from becoming trapped in loaded farm systems when they could help a major-league club. The rule change about ten years ago undid a lot of that, so now eligible players are often too far away to handle the jump. Goeddel should have played more in the second half last year, though. I don’t understand the Phillies taking him, keeping him all year and all winter, not playing him enough for a real look, and then dumping him this week.

Tim (NJ): Finnegan’s start last night for the Reds got a lot of buzz in Cincinnati – up to 94-96, vastly improved changeup. Know you were on him as reliever a while ago – anything change since then?
Keith Law: Answered above, but I’ve seen him hit 97 before.

Erik: Did you get a chance to listen to any audiobooks during all your driving? If so, any new recommendations? You’ve been 2 for 2 for me so far with Ballad of the Whiskey Robber and Undeniable.
Keith Law: I listened to Delusions of Gender (interesting but dry) and I Contain Multitudes (a strong 70 for me). I’m now listening to S-Town like all the cool kids.

John: If you were the Astros, would you include Martes and Tucker in a deal for Quintana?
Keith Law: Yes, I would, but I don’t think that reported deal was ever on the table.

RobertM: Congrats on your new, and I gather first book. That’s has to be exciting. I know this has been asked previously, but will there be any bookstore signings, or perhaps at other types of locations?
Keith Law: Thank you, it is indeed my first but I hope not my last. I know I’ll be at the Georgia Center for the Book on May 16th, and have been invited to one or more Pitch Talks events, including one in Toronto on June 26th. I’ve talked to Changing Hands in AZ about doing one in October too. Interested bookstores or other venues should contact Danielle Bartlett at Harper Collins; if I can accommodate something in my regular travels, I’m happy to do these.

Greg P: Are the Royals stunting the development of Raul Mondesi by having him start at the major league level? Would he be better off getting some time in AAA?
Keith Law: I think so. But I also didn’t agree with how they developed him in the minors, such as asking him to bunt for hits when he hadn’t figured out how to work the count effectively.

Hinkie: Is Pavin Smith the best hitter in this year’s draft? Also, will he be there at 1-8 for the Phillies?
Keith Law: Not the best hitter, or in the top five. He’ll be there at 8 and I bet he’ll be there at 9 too.

RobertM: Just saw the news on James Kaprielian. Hopefully rest cures what ills him, but doesn’t look encouraging. If you had to guess, is the rise in TJS all velocity related? And related, did you ever see the film Fastball and your thoughts.
Keith Law: I think year-round pitching is one major reason, higher velocity a minor one. Jeff Passan’s book The Arm is the must-read on this subject. Never seen that movie.

Justin: Do you see Adam Frazier ever becoming anything more than a decent bench player?
Keith Law: I do not.

CB: Remember all the people who said that voting for Clinton and voting for Trump were one and the same? I wonder what happened to all of those people?
Keith Law: Actually I ran into a few online who called me a few names and said I was just falling for the corporate whatever it was I stopped listening.

Doug: Do you think Miguel Diaz is a potential starter for the Padres? He’s looked nasty against the Dodgers so far this season.
Keith Law: Because he’s throwing one inning at a time. Last year was the closest thing he’s ever had to a healthy season, and he didn’t reach 100 innings or pitch above low-A. I think he could be a really good reliever.

Chris: Any insight into Szapucki’s arm issues? I’ve heard something is up.
Keith Law: He has a shoulder impingement. That’s public info.

Chris: Soooooo the Mets are definitely ruining Conforto right?
Keith Law: They’re ruining their lineup.

Wade: How much do you pay attention to college seniors?
Keith Law: Only if they’re tabbed as prospects, like Wil Crowe (technically a redshirt junior, but he’s going to be 23 in september).

Chris: First in the queue for the book at Portland PL! Does it make me a bad person for not buying it? (I do pay for Insider mostly for your work fwiw)
Keith Law: Read it and tell the world it’s wonderful and I’ll forgive you.

Andy: Will Shohei Otani be able to hit and pitch in MLB?
Keith Law: No. His bat is way overhyped.

Scott: Braves were really aggressive by promoting Allard and Soroka to AA. Seems like they?re rushing them a bit, no?
Keith Law: It’s aggressive. I think Allard can handle it, might even need it so he’s not just getting by on that curveball. Soroka surprised me more, but they have so many starters they needed to bump someone up to make room.

Josh: Cedric Mullins: is he a prospect worth watching, and what are your thoughts on the Orioles starting him in Bowie? Seems uncharacteristically aggressive.
Keith Law: He’s a good little player, made the end of my O’s org report based primarily on one good scouting report on him. I saw him homer in a big league game last week – good athlete, can run, little dude but strong hands.

Nelson: How’s your dog doing?
Keith Law: She’s insane. Although right now she’s sleeping because I ran her ragged earlier.

Snitker: Will Ronald Acuna be in AAA by the end of the year?
Keith Law: I don’t understand why Atlanta fans all want to rush Acuna. Look at how little he’s played anywhere above short-season.

forever it: How much does MLB bloodlines factor into prospect evaluations? For instance, every item I read on Vlad Jr. mentions his dad’s approach and body type, but I’ve never once seen someone note a guy’s non-MLB dad is, say, morbidly obese or something and say he may have weight concerns later on. Do teams overvalue this, dreaming on a Bonds or Griffey, even though they’re more likely to get a Gwynn Jr.?
Keith Law: Non-MLB dads and even moms can be considerations in the draft. I remember seeing one first-rounder’s parents, who probably combined to weigh about seven bills, and factored that into where I ranked him. (He didn’t pan out, but I don’t want to shame the kid’s parents here.) Scouts absolutely look at that stuff.

Matt: Huge fan of yours. I wondered if you ever read books along the lines of “I’m just reading this to learn something” as opposed to fiction/nonfiction books. They’re not the greatest examples, but the first that come to mind; books like Blink or Tipping Point. If so, do you have recommendations for any books that aren’t novels that will open windows into some new learning views?
Keith Law: Yes – if you search the dish you’ll find reviews for books like Thinking Fast and Slow, The Invisible Gorilla, Predictably Irrational, and Superforecasting, which would all fit what you’re looking for.

Jeff: A NYT story this week suggested the showcase circuit has destroyed fundamentals, down to the ability for college prospects to play catch. Is this an actual thing?
Keith Law: That’s a histrionic take on a real issue. Kids are absolutely taught to show off for the scouts at those events rather than to play real games and thus develop greater feel.

Tu PAC : The buzz at the back fields in Surprise for the Rangers was Leody Taveras, which was to be expected, but also Cole Ragans. Did you get a chance to see Ragans this spring, and is he someone who could shoot up the prospect lists this summer?
Keith Law: I didn’t, because they only played one game while I was there (I think). I have heard good things, mostly because he has uncommon feel for pitching for his age. It’s not a huge fastball.

Jack: Which Phillies prospect are you most interested in seeing?
Keith Law: The whole Lakewood rotation, really.

Kendall: As someone who suffers from anxiety, I second Keith’s comments. Therapy, once I finally went, helped me understand what was happening, and was immensely helpful.
Keith Law: Just passing this along.

Tevin: If you?re the Twins, how do you pass on Hunter Greene? 102 at 17 y/o? Lord. They need pitching, but he gives you two potential players in one to bank on. Also, Falvey known for developing pitchers in CLE ? great match. Kid seems like he ?gets it? too.
Keith Law: I think you take him, you send him out this summer as a shortstop, with the plan to pitch him in 2018. Maybe he does something either way as a hitter in the GCL to change your mind or reinforce it.

Jeffrey: Any plans to go to the Pacific NW and check out the #1 rated Oregon St. team?
Keith Law: No. Good college team doesn’t necessarily mean good draft prospects.

T: Kaprielian headed for an MRI. On a 1-10 how despondent should I be?
Keith Law: Start at 4, but keep your hand on the dial. Soon as you hear it, pump up the volume.

TJ: Saw former Tiger prospect Kevin Ziomwek retired after not being able to come back from thoracic outlet surgery. What sort of prospect did you see him as?
Keith Law: Probably a reliever in the long run. I guess the stuff never came back.

Jim: Travis Blankenhorn look like the future 3B of the Twins?
Keith Law: You know, I saw him last week in Fort Myers, and 1) oh my god is he huge and 2) he actually wasn’t that bad at third for a guy his size. Maybe he’s a 2b instead, but he can scorch the ball.

Rod: Does Hader get called up before Martes?
Keith Law: Hoy es jueves, entonces creo que no los vemos antes de martes.

Scott: Hi Keith. What would your best advice be to a father of 10-year-old daughter who wants to know why she only has the option of playing softball while boys get to play baseball (which is what she wants to play, although not with boys)
Keith Law: Ah, that’s a tough one. She should be allowed to play with boys (except in Iowa or Arkansas, where they have yet to turn the clocks to 1950 yet). But your question is a tougher one, the kind of thing that book Delusions of Gender gets at – girls do less because we condition them to do less, not because there’s anything different about their brains.

Sterling Mallory Chris Archer: So I’ve been reading your chats every week since you started on ESPN, but I’m curious, what more would you like to accomplish professionally?
Keith Law: Another book, not about baseball. Then we’ll see.

Skippy: Currently watching the Cardinals game and cubs abnouncer is making a big deal about Matt Carpenter being a coaches child and about how important that can be. I’m sure it has its positives if your dads a good coach but does it really make THAT much difference like so many announcers seem to believe? I hear it pretty often about certain players. It kinda feels like the same thing as when we refer to small framed white players as “scrappy” to me
Keith Law: I think that can go both ways. I’ve met players who were sons of big leaguers and showed shockingly little feel for the game. A couple were even to the point where I’d call them entitled.

Chris: What are you expecting from Zach Wheeler this year?
Keith Law: Maybe 100 good innings as a starter and long reliever.

Scott: Who has the best slider in baseball? Saw Sale from behind home last night, and I would be impressed if there’s one better.
Keith Law: Kershaw? I agree that Sale’s is up there. I’ve told the story before, but he didn’t have that pitch in college. I remember talking to a scout after Sale pitched against Lipscomb and the scout called Sale’s breaking ball that day a 3 (or 30).

Keith Law Disciple: Do you have any insight on what happened to Javy Guerra last year? Overhyped to begin with, injury, new team, other? Thanks!
Keith Law: A medical issue that I think has been mostly resolved, at least enough for him to resume his career.

Justin: Any chance Piscotty just cost himself a LOT of money with that extension? I get the security aspect, but even if he improves marginally from last year that is a steal for the team
Keith Law: I agree it’s a potential steal for the team but that’s a lot of security too. I will never criticize a player for taking the money, whether it’s choosing the higher offer in free agency or choosing security with an early long-term deal. Good for him.

Dan: I found Jayson Stark’s column on how no current MLB players are among America’s top 50 favorite pro athletes.I think attitudes of the Ian Kinslers of the world are contributing. While his commentary had a healthy dose of “we aren’t like THOSE people” referring to Latin players, there are surely plenty of American born players with personality and passion, who would love to express it without the risk of retaliation. I mean, Jose Bautista celebrates a huge postseason homerun and the next season the Rangers were still out for revenge. For celebrating the biggest hit of his career.
Keith Law: I think there’s something to this; we should be encouraging players who have some flair or personality to show it. But even the local media ran Bryce Harper down for being an enthusiastic, emotional player, and he posted one of the best seasons in MLB history two years ago.

RobertM: I’m nor sure if Waldman fabricated it, but she took someone’s word on it, and never verified it, and then spread it on a radio show. That’s even worse.
Keith Law: Yes, I would put that in the same bucket, and there has to be a consequence for that.

Gerald: I read your brief update on Matt Manning…did your or your sources see anything wrong with his delivery? Is he working on stuff that may lead to a loss of command? Is he destined to be a reliever long term? As a Tiger fan who sees the need for new blood on the horizon, your report really made me worry.
Keith Law: You probably should worry a little bit – he took a step backwards.

JB: Any thoughts on Kyle Wright’s less than stellar season thus far? Could he be this year’s Alec Hansen?
Keith Law: Don’t think he falls anywhere near that far, but he’s definitely hurt himself with his lackluster showing. There are more guys in this draft going down than going up.

Rob: Does Franklin Perez have ace ceiling?
Keith Law: I don’t think so; I think more mid-rotation towards back-end.

David: What could the Yankees get for Betances in July? Robles from the Nats?
Keith Law: If you based it off the Miller and Chapman deals, yes, that’s a fair starting point, although the Nats may not see it that way.

Ted: Did you see the ESPN mag piece on Yoan Moncada? Seemed to imply there were maturity issues – does behind scenes chatter indicate something like this may impact his development? Or just typical young kid with money (i.e. no big deal)?
Keith Law: I didn’t read it, but there are maturity issues, for sure.

Andy: What do you think of Gorsuch as a Supreme Court candidate?
Keith Law: I think he’s an excessively strict constructionist, which foretells a rollback in civil rights.

Danny: Do you make anything of Chance Adams starting at AA instead of AAA? If he has to work on pitch sequencing or any individual pitch, wouldn’t he better served doing it in AAA after dominating AA?
Keith Law: Or the Yanks just don’t think he’s that great a prospect?

Bill: My real question – is there any way that the WBC could become worthy of your time? Is any World Cup style/Olympic system automatically less compelling because its an exhibition?
Keith Law: Doing it midseason with greater participation would help tremendously. I don’t find exhibitions automatically less compelling. I do think the US winning was a terrible outcome for MLB, though. The league gets much more value from another country winning, especially if it’s a team that hasn’t won before.

Jeff: Rosario is going to tear it up in Vegas, right
Keith Law: Yes, but it’s Vegas, so it shouldn’t make us overrate him.

Erich: Why do you think Stroman struggled so much at the beginning of last year? Bad luck? Overuse of sinker? Stuff translates to better results id think.
Keith Law: I thought bad luck. Will never forget seeing some jays blogger saying in June that the team should send Stroman to AAA. It was like message-board level overreaction.

Aaron: Over the last couple years, Anderson Espinoza’s star seems to have fallen slightly. Is there any concern from your end? Probability of reaching ace ceiling taken a modest or huge hit?
Keith Law: I don’t think it’s fallen at all, actually.

Brandon: I wish more athletes realized this is an entertainment sport. As Cam Newton says if you don’t like me celebrating, don’t let me score. It’s that simple. You can celebrate without being dick pretty easily but not faux outraged has entered into sports. More enthusiasm is good for the game.
Keith Law: In baseball, if you’re not actively trying to hurt someone, it’s probably OK. Just don’t throw at anyone’s head or slide in spikes-up.

John: What is different about the spiked curveball that a lot of pitchers (e.g. Kluber) are throwing these days? I think I get how the grip is different, but what about the action?
Keith Law: Harder break, sharper to the eye, but more difficult to command.

Erich: You dont seem like the kind of person who would work at a large corporation like espn (with them becoming more and more of a hot take machine.). Have you ever considered branching off and doing something on your own?
Keith Law: They have never asked me to do hot takes and when the new baseball editor took over last summer I told her specifically I didn’t want to do that. She agreed completely and it hasn’t changed one bit. As long as they treat me well, I don’t feel like I need to go out on my own.

Marshall MN: Do you have any plans to stop by the Twins Chattanooga AA team this year, because selfishly I would love to hear an updated scouting report on pitching staff? Both the rotation (Gonsalves, Stewart Romero, Jorge) and the bullpen (Burdi, Jay, others) are loaded with guys to watch.
Keith Law: No, I don’t fly to see minor league stuff, only draft guys. Minors I’ll do what I can around here (which is a lot), then Futures Game and AFL.

CKS: Heard a few reports that labelled Braves 3B Rio Ruiz as the ‘most improved player’ in spring training this year. Does he have the ability to be an everyday guy or is that wishful thinking?
Keith Law: ‘most improved player’ = (wanking motion)

Scherzer’s Blue Eye: Beyond Soto and Robles, who is the Nats prospect you’re most intrigued by?
Keith Law: Luzardo when he’s back. Also drawing a blank on their big Latin American signing.

EricVA: About to have my first kid and everybody tells me to freeze a bunch of food for after. However, I cook for us every night and find it therapeutic. I firmly believe I’ll still want to cook dinner every night while my wife watches our baby. Am I insane?
Keith Law: I kept cooking after my daughter was born. But I will suggest you keep it simple, because you’ll be too damn tired to do much cleanup.

Bob: Ok, his bat is overhyped but will Otani be a top 20 pitcher in MLB? Top X?
Keith Law: Top ten. Maybe top 5.

Alex: Top 10 for Kopech seems high considering (iirc) you saying he has a legitimate chance to be a reliever. Is the upside just so enormous that that outweighs the risk?
Keith Law: Correct. It’s potentially a top 5 starter in baseball.
Keith Law: He’s, not it’s.

Dan: Good luck with the release of your book! Can’t wait to read it. I enjoyed your write-up about the day you went to Cardinals camp to see the minor leaguers. Was your overall impression better or worse than you expected? As in, could that group in the lower minors lead the charge to a top five ranked system in a couple years? Thank you!
Keith Law: Hicks was the big surprise – I’d heard about the 101 mph, but 92-97 with plus sink is even better than a straight 101. And he’s got two other weapons, and the delivery works. The other guys I saw were all close to expectations; I might say Junior Fernandez looked more relieverish than I’d hoped.

Steve: Ryon Healy. Potential 30 Hr and 300 average guy?
Keith Law: No, I’d bet the under, a lot.

Kvothe: Thoughts on every pitcher’s velocity being higher because of Trackman tracking velocity right when the ball is released from pitcher’s hand?
Keith Law: Nothing to say. As long as we all know that, we’re good.

JJ: I think most Red Sox fans are down on the Kimbrel and Pomeranz trades and the resulting dings to our minor league system, but the Sale for Moncada/Kopech was probably a win-win for all Sox involved, right?
Keith Law: I thought so at the time. I thought they overpaid for Kimbrel but it was in line with what Miller and Chapman fetched.

Erich: Do you ever voice displeasure with other espn analysts for hot takes? Its very frusterating to see guts say things just for attention.
Keith Law: If it’s a baseball take, I will.

Virat: Do you think Conforto could handle CF on a daily basis? and is his bat worth playing him there?
Keith Law: I don’t think he’s a major league caliber CF.

Steve: Does Brendon Rodgers have the ability to stick at shortstop or is Trevor Story there for a bit
Keith Law: Definitely a shortstop, but not soon enough to worry about Story. That will work itself out somehow.

Tommy: It seems to me that both political parties look to appeal to the largest group they can get votes from, which usually means people who are less than educated, to put it mildly. How about setting up the voting machines to give a quick 3 question quiz to root out all of the people who haven’t the mental capacity to vote on important issues? Everyone can feel like they voted, but only those who can pass a simple quiz will have their votes count.
Keith Law: I assume your question is well-intentioned, but that’s basically a literacy test, which has been illegal in US elections since 1970.

JJG: Is Matt Chapman similar to Mike Olt in tools, or just statline?
Keith Law: Much better fielder. More similar to Matt Dominguez in that respect.

Craig: Bruce Rondon a future dominant closer or just another hard throwing middle reliever?
Keith Law: I’d bet on Joe Jimenez becoming a big league closer rather than Rondon.

Adam: It’s interesting, the game is the best it has ever been in its history. Saying that, who playing now would you consider to be Hall of Famers? I agree Molina is not yet close, but I am wondering who you would think we will be seeing in Cooperstown in twenty years?
Keith Law: Anyone at all? Pujols, Beltre, Kershaw, Trout, Beltran, Miggy, Cano, Ichiro. Among younger guys, Machado, Harper, Bryant, Lindor all are off to that kind of start. And while it’s early for a pitcher, Chris Sale is about 40% of the way there.

Steve: Does Jameson Tallion become a number two for Pittsburgh or does he have number one potential
Keith Law: Probably a good two when it’s all said and done. He’s another guy who got hurt and cleaned up his delivery while recovering.

Devon from DC: Any plans to come to DC for a book signing?
Keith Law: Not at the moment, but again, it has to come from the venue – Harper Collins is setting up a ton of media hits but not a book tour.

matt: Hey Keith, any idea why Buster Olney no longer does his daily links roundup? It was a valuable resource and (along with your work) the main reason I pay for Insider. I deeply miss it.
Keith Law: I don’t know, sorry.

JJG: Read many times when he was coming up that Olt was a future Gold Glover (fwiw). Was Olt overrated as a fielder or is Chapman just a special defender (or both)?
Keith Law: Yeah, he had that reputation, but I never saw it live – I’m sure he was good, but I couldn’t vouch for how good. He was an awful defensive SS as an amateur, though. Funny how a guy can be a 3 at short and become a 6 or better at third or second.
Keith Law: OK, I went long this week but I have to go to the bus stop to get my daughter. Thank you all as always for all of the questions. Nineteen days till Smart Baseball!

Music update, March 2017.

I ended up missing about ten days of music listening while with the family in Arizona and getting ready for various trips, but I think the playlist turned out okay thanks to the volume of new stuff this month, mostly from bands I already knew from previous releases. It’s been a big year for comebacks from 1990s artists too, with three acts on here who have recently released their first new material in over a decade.

If you can’t see the widget below, you can access the Spotify playlist directly.

alt-J – In Cold Blood. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of alt-J’s work, especially their debut album An Awesome Wave, which is on the very short list of my favorite albums of all time, up there with OK Computer, The Last Broadcast, and Whitesnake. (Just kidding about that last one. Mostly.) I wasn’t totally on board with alt-J’s musical shift for their second album, where they eschewed the minimalist approach of their first record with what I considered very mixed results. This song, the second of two singles released so far in advance of their third album, has their trademark lyrical weirdness and interplay across vocals and instruments, but the same ‘big’ sound as we got on This Could All Be Yours.

Portugal. The Man – Feel It Still. This is the song Fitz and the Tantrums recorded in 2017 in an alternate universe where they didn’t become a shitty pop band. Portugal. The Man can be as weird and unconventional as alt-J, but bombast is their raison d’etre, and if anything I find them restrained here on this very old-school funk/R&B track.

Wavves – Daisy. I’m a fan of Nathan Williams’ brand of punk-pop, more so than of some of his predecessors in this California surf-rock sort of vein, which often was more obnoxious than actually good (Nerf Herder or New York’s Wheatus come to mind). Wavves’ sixth album will be out on May 19th and good luck getting that little high-pitched guitar line out of your head.

Basement – Submission. This track comes from Basement’s 2016 album Promise Everything, which was just re-released in a deluxe edition by their new record label. I’ve only heard this song so far, a hard rock track with grunge style but cleaner production.

Dreamcar – Kill for Candy. So, go figure: this is AFI lead singer Davey Havok and the three musicians from No Doubt, and “Kill for Candy” sounds nothing like either band to me. It’s new wave revival, like White Lies or Editors, and catchy without the cloying sound of No Doubt’s faux-ska-whatever they call it.

Grandaddy – Brush with the Wild. Grandaddy broke up in 2006, which I mention only because I wasn’t aware they’d broken up until I heard this song and read that it was their first new track in eleven years. I wasn’t a big fan in their heyday, but this song has a good hook and a strong “Shorter War on Drugs” feel.

Black Honey – Somebody Better. I think this is the third song I’ve included from Black Honey over the last year, and I’m still waiting (and excited) for the British quartet’s first album given the power-pop singles they’ve released to date.

The New Pornographers – Whiteout Conditions. TNP’s new album, also called Whiteout Conditions, comes out on Friday; you can stream it on NPR’s First Listen before that. In the meantime, the title track is another kick-the-door-open sort of pop gem; A.C. Newman can craft some potent hooks, and I love the way he plays with his vocal delivery here.

MisterWives – Oh Love. This second single from their upcoming album Connect the Dots is a step down from “Machine” in terms of hook and tempo, although Mandy Lee gets to showcase her voice a little more here.

Oh Wonder – Ultralife. I don’t think I caught this London duo’s self-titled debut album, which came out in the fall of 2015, but this title track of their second album, release date unknown, grabbed my attention with the lush instrumentation and apparent mix of influences from several different styles and even decades, back to ’80s pop.

alt-J – 3WW. Obligatory.

Earl St. Clair featuring PJ – Ain’t Got It Like That. St. Clair’s debut EP, My Name is Earl, dropped in early March, and it’s a serious throwback to ’70s soul and funk.

Tei Shi – Justify. Nothing against Tei Shi, who continues to churn out weird-but-intriguing music, but I can’t listen to this without picturing that overhyped Madonna video. (“There’s Prince!”)

Spoon – Tear It Down. I’ve heard three tracks off Spoon’s latest album, Hot Thoughts, so far, and I think … it’s a Spoon album. It’s good, but if there’s something novel here, I haven’t caught it yet.

The Kooks – Be Who You Are. I’d put this in the same category as Spoon’s latest – this is a pretty standard Kooks song, with a decent hook, but nothing we haven’t heard before. It’s like someone took peak Britpop and decided to add more ’60s to it.

Slowdive – Sugar for the Pill. This is more in the vein of Slowdive’s muttering, shoegazing past.

The Jesus and Mary Chain – Song For A Secret. I thought J&MC’s comeback album, Damage and Joy, was a bit tame, but it still had some solid moments like this track, which seems like a sequel to “Sometimes Always.”

White Reaper – The Stack. There’s a little sameness to White Reaper’s output now, but I like their punk-tinged power-pop sound and the main five-note guitar riff here is solid.

The Black Angels – I’d Kill for Her. Another band that’s been around for a while but that escaped my attention, the Black Angels engage in some heavy psychedelic rock, here punctuated by a whining guitar lick that gives the whole thing a Neil Young sort of vibe.

Mastodon – Precious Stones. I originally had “Andromeda” on this playlist, also from Emperor of Sand, but I prefer Mastodon tracks with clean vocals – their music is heavy, but progressive rather than extreme, and their best songs play the vocals off the music.

Dark Tranquillity – The Absolute. This song was a bonus track on DT’s latest album, 2016’s Atoma, and it’s a big departure from their recorded output to date. I’d put it more along the lines of Opeth or Candlemass than the typical melodic death metal that typifies Dark Tranquility’s discography to date.

Pallbearer – I Saw the End. I think it’s fair to say Pallbearer is the best doom band in the world now, although I understand there’s not a ton of competition and some of you are probably wondering what “doom” is in this context. I think they’re the spiritual heirs to Black Sabbath.

Ra’s Dawn – Inside Out. Is histrionic metal a genre? Ra’s Dawn seem to embody the term, combining progressive thrash with the bombastic vocals of early power metal stalwarts like Helloween or Hammerfall. I like the music here but could do without the disappearance of the guitars behind the verses.


The 2016 film Christine is a good movie, not a great one, that gives some life and depth to a real person who’s only remembered today because she committed suicide on live television. The script itself plays pretty loose with the facts and fails to stick the landing, but succeeds at humanizing its subject and is bolstered by several extremely strong performances, notably that of its lead, Rebecca Hall. The movie is available to rent on amazon and iTunes.

Christine Chubbuck was a 29-year-old reporter for a local TV news program in Sarasota at the time she took her own life, a decision that seems to have come at the end of a series of personal and professional setbacks as well as the reemergence of an undertreated case of mental illness. Christine delves into those setbacks while also giving some depth to her character, but without romanticizing either her or her decision. She’s sympathetic despite obvious flaws here, without becoming just an object of curiosity for the ending we all know is coming.

Most of the film compresses Chubbuck’s professional and personal problems into a period of a few days or weeks prior to her suicide. Her station manager, Michael Nelson (played by Tracy Letts), is pushing everyone to chase more salacious stories, citing the “if it bleeds, it leads” maxim, to boost ratings, which shifts the kind of longform news pieces that Chubbuck wants to do on to the back burner, increasing her conflicts with Nelson, who is depicted here as anti-feminist but who understands that Chubbuck has untapped talent. She also has an unrequited crush on the show’s lead anchor, George Peter Ryan (a charismatic Michael C. Hall), and discovers that she has to have an ovary removed, reducing her chances of ever getting pregnant. (She really did have that operation, but it was a year before her suicide.)

Rebecca Hall plays Chubbuck as permanently tightly wound, regardless of mood, giving the impression that she’s bipolar rather than simply depressed, which fits her brother’s recollections of her rather than her diagnosis at the time. Hall’s Chubbuck is always in fourth gear, which makes her difficult to work with, but never a caricature of a “crazy” person; when the script calls for her to be erratic, Hall portrays her with self-control, like someone who’s internalizing the pain of her mental illness.

I had less issue with the film’s bending or fabricating of details – for example, the character Jean (Maria Dizzia, who is just waiting for her part in a Gilda Radner biopic) doesn’t seem to have existed, but here plays Christine’s closest friend at the station instead of sportscaster Andrea Kirby – than the film’s mawkish ending and cloying use of details to tie parts of the movie together. The movie doesn’t shy away from Chubbuck’s suicide, showing the shot from a distance but otherwise playing it straight, including the disbelieving reactions from coworkers who thought it was a prank at first. But it overdoes the aftermath by showing us Chubbuck’s mother watching the program (probably not true) and then a fabricated ending with Jean that serves no purpose but to tie back to a conversation the two women had earlier in the film. This last scene undermines the dramatic effects of the suicide and the seriousness of the portrayal of Chubbuck’s personal problems, but provides zero benefit in exchange.

Rebecca Hall’s performance here would be, at the moment, the second-best by a lead actress that I’ve seen in any 2016 film, just a shade behind Natalie Portman for Jackie and ahead of Oscar winner Emma Stone. She delivered nuance to a script that gave her enough latitude to play Chubbuck as unhinged or unlikable, even when working against a stock character like her mother (played by J. Smith Cameron, who, I just discovered, is married to Kenneth Lonergan). Hall hits this specific note of internal tension and holds it for almost the entire film, only letting it go briefly in scenes where Chubbuck goes to the local children’s hospital to do puppet shows for the kids (something Chubbuck did in real life). In a highly fictionalized biopic like Christine, a sloppy or bombastic lead performance would destroy the film, but Hall truly carries the picture and helps gloss over some of the script’s missteps.

Michael C. Hall is also surprisingly effective as the insecure, dumb-jock type who’s found his star on the ascendant because of his good looks and on-camera charm, while Letts is his usual workmanlike self, infusing a little depth to a character who’s largely one-note because he’s only seen when interacting with and usually just reacting to Christine. Dizzia probably has to do the most work with the least help, as her character is the hackneyed “best friend with no life of her own” type, stripping some character traits from Kirby (played by Kim Shaw), who is instead just the pretty face who gets the job and the guy that Chubbuck wanted.
I wish Christine had spent a little more time explaining the character’s struggles with mental illness, and hadn’t made her so dismissive of the topic in the one scene where it’s explicitly discussed; Chubbuck’s brother has said she was in treatment at the time of her suicide, which this film seems to contradict. But bipolar disorder (formerly called manic-depressive disorder) wasn’t in the DSM until after Chubbuck’s death, so she was only diagnosed with depression and thus was probably undertreated rather than untreated when she killed herself. The script instead focuses on her unhappiness in her love life and at work as the primary drivers of her suicide, backburnering the depression, when that was almost certainly the main cause.

Watch Christine for its strong lead performance, for the solid supporting actors, and for the film’s effort to fill out the story of a real person whose legacy has been limited to its shock value. The script has its flaws, but does manage to give the viewer a picture of Christine Chubbuck as a real person, and the decision not to sensationalize the suicide itself, instead making her character the center of the film, saved the movie from its handful of missteps.

Stick to baseball, 4/1/17.

My predictions for 2017, including full standings, playoff stuff, and award winners. If you skipped the intro and got mad online about it, I’ll reiterate here: it’s just for fun. I do not run projections, and I will never beat a well-run model at the predictions game except as a fluke. I also wrote one post earlier in the week covering Cardinals, Tigers, and Atlanta prospects I saw while in Florida; there will be another post coming this weekend. I did not chat because I was in the car or at games all week.

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

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

And now, the links…

Captain Fantastic.

I hadn’t even heard of Captain Fantastic until Viggo Mortensen grabbed an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for his performance here, but when it popped up on Amazon Prime this month and a couple of you recommended it, I figured I’d give it a shot, even though the reviews I’d seen before watching it were all pretty lukewarm. It’s really not a good movie at all, thanks to a mawkish, preachy script, saved in parts by some good performances and a lot of very funny quips that still aren’t enough to justify this movie’s one-sided existence. (It’s also available on iTunes.)

Mortensen plays Ben, a father of six who lives in an isolated cabin in the Pacific Northwest with his family, where he and his wife have home-schooled the kids and raised them off the grid, rearing a bunch of child prodigies with distinctly anti-capitalist, anti-religious, socially progressive views. When their mom, who is absent in the early parts of the film because she’s been hospitalized, kills herself, the brood end up taking a road trip south to New Mexico to attend her funeral, fight with her father, and engage in the obvious comedy of having the kids see American consumer culture for the first time.

It’s a cliche-ridden mess as a script, as a story, and in most of the things the family does outside of itself, which is to say that the only parts of the script that work are the interactions between Ned and his kids, or among the kids themselves. With six of them, there isn’t enough screen time to develop their individual characters, so five of them are cut from the same cloth and seem to represent different stages of development, with the oldest, Bo, the one who gets some depth, although the two sisters, Kielyr and Vespyr, have their moments. The actors playing the children are all quite good, and I would bet this film will one day be a novelty for the fact that a bunch of good actors were all in this as kids, but they don’t have a ton to work with.

The hippie material here provides a few good laughs, although some of them were easy targets, and the film overplays the humorous aspects of having a five-year-old spout Marxist ideology or Bo indignantly inform his father than he’s no longer a Trotskyist but a Maoist. But once the film puts them in direct contact with mainstream kids and adults, like Ben’s sister (played by Kathryn Hahn, who shows how great she can be even in a serious role) and her family, the film just goes for low-hanging fruit, and never recovers the energy it showed in spurts earlier in the film.

The ending is where the wheels truly come off the bus, pun intended; the story jumps too fast, spares us a lot of explanation we need for decisions the characters (mostly the kids) make, and gives us way too much of a feel-good ending for a setup that should give us something very ambiguous. This is a movie about parenting, about the choices we make as parents, about what it might be like to be there every minute of the day with your kids, and how we might raise children to be better humans, better aware of their effects on the environment and on others, more concerned about injustice and less concerned about material wealth. But parenting is hard, and raising kids with values like those, so far out of the mainstream of our culture, is extremely difficult, so giving us a pat ending where everything’s just fine – and, by the way, who’s paying for Bo’s choice at the film’s end – is inauthentic.

Mortensen’s very good in the film, but I would have given Joel Edgerton the nomination for Loving or even Michael Shannon for Midnight Special before him. Heck, even Rolf Lassgård, without whom A Man Called Ove would have failed completely as a film, was better.

Stick to baseball, 3/26/17.

My annual column of breakout player picks went up on Thursday for Insiders, and I held a Klawchat that same day. I had one other Insider post since the last roundup, on four prospects I saw in Arizona, one Cub, one Royal, and two Padres.

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

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

And now, the links…

In Search of Israeli Cuisine.

Michael Solomonov is an Israeli-born chef who was raised in Pittsburgh and now owns Philadelphia’s Zahav, consistently rated among the best restaurants in the United States, as well as the hummus-focused spinoff Dizengoff, which I can vouch makes some of the best hummus I have ever had. Solomonov only switched his culinary focus to Israeli cuisine around 2008, and in a new documentary, In Search of Israeli Cuisine, he goes back to his motherland to explore the roots and evolution of a cuisine that, by definition, only goes back about 70 years. The film, directed by Roger Sherman, opens this weekend in New York, in Philadelphia and several California cities on the 31st, and rolls out nationwide over the month of April.

In Search of Israeli Cuisine is less documentary than travelogue; Solomonov is an explorer, and the film doesn’t try to give the viewer an encyclopedic look at the cuisine of his home country, in part because simply defining the cuisine of Israel is itself a thorny question. Solomonov bounces around the country, from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to the fishing town of Acre in the north, to the Golan region near the border with Lebanon, and to the desert south, visiting Israeli and Arab chefs who are pushing the boundaries of local cuisine as well as farmers, vintners, and other vendors contributing to the country’s vibrant culinary scene.

The film runs past the debate of the definition of Israeli cuisine somewhat quickly, with authors and chefs offering widely divergent opinions, some saying it’s ridiculous to say a country so young has its own cuisine, others pointing out that the cuisine exists because it’s in front of you. Based on what we see in the film, I’d argue with the latter group: This mélange of dishes, ingredients, and traditions comes from such a broad range of countries and cultures that it clearly forms its own cuisine. The film opens with Solomonov going into a small counter-service restaurant and asking for something small from the grill. He gets eighteen small plates, and proceeds to list their countries of origin, getting through about a dozen (not including the one where he just says “no idea”) before he’s even had anything we might call a main dish. Yogurts, salads, breads, and pickles dominate the counter in an array of colors, and it’s the combination of influences that makes this a unique cuisine.

Color is huge in In Search of Israeli Cuisine; since we can’t taste or smell the food, we’re relying on our eyes and Solomonov’s reactions (spoiler: he loves everything) to get a sense of what it’s like. The colors of the produce are eye-popping, as are the various sauces and purees smeared on every fine-dining plate we see in the film. The home-cooking Solomonov experiences is just as appealing, albeit sometimes less colorful because the dishes are slow-cooked and heavier on spices and meats; the scene where one of the chefs Solomonovs interviews (in the man’s apartment) picks up the Dutch oven full of maqluba, a Levantine stew with rice, and inverts it on to a giant metal dish, is mesmerizing and slightly terrifying to watch.

Within Solomonov’s travels, he gets at some of the questions of where Israeli cuisine came from. One controversial topic is how much of it was borrowed – or “stolen” – from Palestinian cuisine, one of many places here where food and politics intersect. Another is the influence of Sephardic Jews on the new cuisine, which some of the chefs in the film fear will mean the end of the cuisine of Ashkenazi Jews, who primarily come from Germany, Eastern Europe, and Russia. (Sephardic Jews come from around the Mediterranean, including Spain and North Africa.) I found the premise a little tough to swallow, pun intended, because cuisines don’t disappear if they have followers. If people like this food, then someone will find it profitable to keep making it. Cuisines only disappear if no one wants to eat them, or if the ingredients required for the cuisine themselves disappear or become too expensive. It doesn’t seem like either is the case here.

One of the chefs in the film says that the tomato doesn’t care if the person cutting it is Jew or Arab. The Palestinian chef Solomonov ends up hugging (because the food is so good) says that most of the time his clientele is largely Jewish, dipping in the wake of an attack. Several chefs here see food as a way to build bridges between communities, especially between Jews and Palestinians living together in Israel. (Broader issues like Jewish settlements or the occupations of the Golan Heights and West Bank are not mentioned, nor should they be given the focus on food, but it’s hard to forget them while you watch and see the map of places Solomonov visits.)

The star of the show is truly the food, though. The thoughts of the various chefs, farmers, authors, and grandmothers whom Solomonov meets are interesting, certainly, but the food grabs your attention and usually doesn’t let go. There’s something a little primal about the way the chefs eat so much of the food on the screen – just grabbing with their fingers, or picking them up with a hunk of bread. (note: I love bread.) If anything, I wanted more details on what we were seeing on the various plates – those purees, for example, often dashes on the plate before five other ingredients were added. What were they made of? Solomonov tastes one lamb dish by picking up a slice with his fingers and dredging it in at least two of the sauces on the plate – what were they? Other than the noodle kugel he tries in one Ashkenazi man’s house, what did he learn on the trip that might influence the menu at Zahav? And how soon can I eat them?

The film ends with clips of many of the chefs and writers who’ve appeared giving their geographical backgrounds, a parallel to the opening scene of the film where we hear how many different countries contributed to the array of meze (small plates) in front of Solomonov. If the film provides any answer to the question of what “Israeli cuisine” is, that’s it: Israeli cuisine is the sum of everything the people of Israel have brought to it.