Stephen Baker

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Saturday notes: The Frick and curve balls

February 12, 2010General


Vermeer's "Officer and Laughing Girl"

Yesterday, after lunch in Midtown, I walked up to the Frick Collection. It's a spectacular collection of European art--like a highly condensed version of the Louvre. The Web site lets you explore and zoom in on the paintings. Check out, for example, the sleeve on this Rembrandt self portrait.

The collection comes from Henry Clay Frick. He was a coal (coke) baron in Western Pennsylvania and made his money from the steel industry. It was Frick who ordered the deadly crackdown at the Carnegie mill at Homestead, in 1892 (while Carnegie was vacationing in his native Scotland). This piqued my interest in the Goya that Frick bought (below), which features steelworkers.

Speaking of steel, I'm heading out to Pittsburgh next week for a reporting trip, following a Lunch forum Monday at Penn State.



Goya's "The Forge"

***

In my baseball geeky way, I'm enjoying this statistical study on the effectiveness of fastballs. The conclusion, based on the crunching of millions of pitches and the weighing of hundreds of variables, is that pitchers rely too much on the fastball.

A common example. Let's say a pitcher is behind in the count, 3-1, to a good hitter. One more ball and the batter walks. So the batter is expecting a fastball, which is easier for the pitcher to control. He's "sitting" on the pitch, in baseball parlance. And his chance of getting a hit are higher. Cagey pitchers with great control, like Greg Maddux and Jamie Moyer, built careers from throwing change-ups and curves in hitter's counts.

Statistics indicate that others should do the same. The danger of walking the batter by throwing a bad curve, it appears, is less than the risk that comes from throwing a fastball he's ready for. This is the way pitchers throw to great hitters like Albert Pujols. Now it seems they should treat every batter like a superstar. (For those eager to dive deeper into baseball math, here's a post on how outfielders calculate the trajectory of fly balls.)


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