Friday Notes 

Item! The SF Chronicle has launched the "Sports Columnist" blog, which covers all sports. The first baseball-related entry gets off to a thoroughly confusing start. Bruce Jenkins (Jenkins? Confusing? Who knew?) describes Russ Ortiz "in his prime" this way:

There was absolutely no mystery to his delivery; the way he gripped the ball and unloaded, he seemed to be saying to himself, "I'll just aim it right here." We all know the results: Ortiz was often overpowering, with better-than-average control and a biting slider that offset a fastball that, in some scouts' opinion, was all too straight.

Sigh. Bruce must be too busy eating donuts, because a cursory check of Ortiz's past life with the Giants shows annual walk totals of 125, 112, 91 and 94. He went to Atlanta and posted totals of 102 and 112. Granted, these numbers don't approach the top-100 list of most walks allowed in a season -- mainly from the pre-1900 years -- but a little more digging shows that even in his best year, 2001, when he went 17-9 with a 3.29 ERA and 169 Ks, he walked 3.8 batters per 9 innings. That's 0.5 above the league average for 2001. Ortiz's control was worse in every other year, often topping 5 walks per 9 IP, while the league averages were more or less consistent.

So whatever you think of Ortiz in his prime -- maddening, overpowering, friendly, a fan favorite, a "gamer" -- he absolutely, positively did not have "better-than-average control." Five minutes of computer time would have saved Bruce from being Dead Wrong in Public, as he loves to write in his column.

This type of analysis would normally score Jenkins points with the "I remember it, thus it was so, and damn the pointy-headed statistics" crowd. Problem is, Bruce is all alone on this one. You could randomly survey people streaming illegally across the border, ask them about Russ Ortiz's career, and 8 out of 10 would say, "Ortiz? You mean the pendejo who walked so many batters?"

In fact, another trait of Ortiz -- ask anyone who followed the Giants then -- is that his fastball was not at all straight. It had a natural "cut" motion to it, sort of like Mariano Rivera. It was one reason he walked so many -- he could never quite harness the powerful lateral movement. Which "scouts" does Jenkins cite? Johnnie Walker and Jim Beam, perhaps, whom he keeps handy for consultation in a flask in his desk drawer?

We all know the results: you're Wrong Again in Public, Bruce.

Item! Tim Lincecum pitched batting practice yesterday. He drew a crowd and this comment from Barry Bonds, according to Mark Sweeney: "Barry said, 'His ball's pretty straight.' Usually big-league hitters hit a fastball that's pretty straight."

Item! El Duque is back in New York having his neck examined. It doesn't seem too serious for now, but if he's sidelined any length of time, the Mets will be even more desperate to fill their rotation. Without El Duque, and until Pedro Martinez returns from surgery, they basically have Tom Glavine and a bunch of potential fifth starters. Why is this Giants-related? Because the fast arrival of Lincecum could sway the Giants toward a trade of, say, Matt Morris, or Noah Lowry, who could bring a strong positional prospect in return. Lastings Milledge, anyone?


Now listening to Tribalistas, a Brazilian supergroup effort that won a Latin Grammy award in 2003 and all sorts of awards and airplay in Brazil. I was oblivious to all this when I found it in the Marisa Monte section at Amoeba. Monte, Carlinhos Brown and Arnaldo Antunes are the three members, and their mainly acoustic songs have a disarming lullaby sweetness -- in tone, at least, since I don't understand Portuguese.

The simplicity is deceptive. The songs are sprinkled with quirky electronic touches -- better to listen on headphones -- and undergirded by one of the most remarkable instruments I've heard in a long while: Antunes's bullfrog rumble of a voice, about the lowest I've ever heard in pop music. It's the vocal equivalent of the pedal tones on a brass instrument, nearly sub-auditory but deeply penetrating, and in harmony with Monte (and Brown?), it's mesmerizing. Listen to enough music and you find yourself longing for something, anything new; find it, and it goes into heavy rotation.


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