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Untitled 2-17-2017

February 17, 2017


Hugh Mason

            I was watching a movie the other night, and I realized that Hugh Grant has become the new James Mason.   I used to love James Mason; he was one of my favorite actors ever, from 5 Fingers through A Star is Born, Lolita, Salem’s Lot and The Verdict.    No matter what happened to his character, he reacted to it with poise and balance, which makes it all the more powerful when, as in A Star is Born and Lolita, his front degenerates and the angry, frustrated human being inside comes to the surface—or even when, playing a lawyer in The Verdict, he is momentarily flummoxed by unexpected testimony and asks a question which he should have known better than to ask.            

            Hugh Grant, I never much cared for, when he was a young actor, and I supposed him to be a younger, new-generation Cary Grant, supposed to be funny and charming and veddy Englischa.  But I was watching Florence with my wife—pretty decent movie—and realized that Hugh Grant was playing the role that James Mason would quite certainly have played 50 years ago.   And he played it very well. 

            I am always fascinated by that. . . .by who gets the roles now that Jimmie Stewart would have gotten in his time (Tom Hanks) or who gets the roles that Paul Newman would have gotten (Brad Pitt) or who gets the roles that Burt Lancaster would have played (Tim Robbins), or who gets the roles that Sidney Poitier would have played (Denzel).  After John Wayne was gone in the 1970s there were 15 people picking up John Wayne-type roles, but I was shocked to realize that now there are none; has that hit you?   There is nobody left in Hollywood who plays John Wayne-type roles, and who has had a high-impact career.  That must be what Willie Nelson meant by the song.   Come on back, Jesus, and pick up John Wayne on the way. 





Red Arms


            Did the 2016 Cincinnati Reds have the worst pitching staff of all time?    Of course, the quality of play improves over time, so no doubt the Reds’ pitching in 2016 was better in purely objective terms than the Reds pitching of 1916.    We can’t measure things in purely objective terms; we can only measure them relative to the other teams in the league.  

            I have been working with John Dewan on Win Shares and Loss Shares, and as a step in that process I was measuring the quality of the "pure pitching" numbers of every team, every team since 1900.    If a team had more strikeouts (as a percentage of batters faced). . .if they had more strikeouts than the league average, I credited them with .30 runs per strikeout.   If they walked LESS than the league average, I credited them one run for each three walks (above or below the league average.)   Hit batsmen, the same as walks.   If they had a Wild Pitch or a Balk, that was a charge of 0.25 runs; fewer wild pitches and balks than the league average (based on batters faced), that would be a positive.   If they gave up a home run above the league norm, that’s 1.40 runs per home run.   Six categories—strikeouts, walks, hit batsmen, wild pitches, balks and home runs allowed.  

            I didn’t do this to pick on the 2016 Cincinnati Reds; I was just doing the Reds as I was doing every team.    Also, it should be noted that in a hitter’s year, in a hitter’s era, the numbers go up.   If you’re 10% worse than league in 1930, that’s more runs than if you’re 10% worse than league in 1968.  But the study concluded that the worst pure-pitching stats of all time by far belonged to the 2016 Cincinnati Reds. 

            33.5 runs for below-average strikeouts,

            33.6 runs for above-average walks,

            5.9 runs for above-average hit batsmen,

            1.7 runs for balks,

            Saved half a run (0.5) on wild pitches, but

            104 runs for giving an all-time record number of home runs. 


            Taken together, it’s 179 runs, the worst ever.   Second-worst ever is the 2002 Rockies, and they at least could blame some of it on the park.     The 2002 Rockies are at negative 145 runs, the 1996 Tigers at negative 140 and the 1955 Kansas City A’s at 140.  

            The Reds didn’t have the worst ERA in the National League, but they didn’t miss by much, either, with a 4.91 ERA.   The Diamondbacks were also at 4.91, the Rockies were at 5.09.     But the Rockies and Snakes play in the two best hitter’s parks in baseball, with Park Run Indexes (based on 2016 data only) of 137 and 122.    The Reds Park Run Index was 99.    Park Adjusted, the Reds’ ERA was far worse than Colorado’s or Arizona’s. 




My Research Stinks


           ​ Also related to that research, I figured the "Expected Double Plays" turned by each major league team in 2016.    Expected Double Plays are figured as:

            Estimated Opposition Runners on First Base, divided by the League Average of the same,

            Times the number of double plays turned in the league,

            Times the relative assists rate of the team. 


            If the team has a lot of ground balls, hence a lot of assists, they are expected to turn more double plays.     Anyway, when I did this a couple of things hit me between the eyes. 

            1)  The Texas Rangers, who led the major leagues in Double Plays (190), also led in Double Plays over expected (28.1).   Their expectation is high (161.9—about 11 above average), but their performance easily exceeded their expectations.

            When I rated the second basemen for MLB TV a month ago, I didn’t focus on that, and wasn’t aware of it.    I didn’t list Rougned Odor among the top ten second basemen in baseball.   But that was a mistake.   If I had been aware of the Ranger’s high Double Play number—which I should have been—then Odor would certainly have made my top 10 at second base.  

          &nbs​p; 2)  Both of the 2016 World Series teams, the Cubs and the Indians, were very poor at turning the double play.    In fact, they ranked 27th and 30th in the majors in double plays compared to expected double plays.   The Cubs turned only 116 double play against an expectation of 138 (-22), and the Indians turned only 126 against an expectation of 151 (-25).

           ​ This was the second straight season when the World Series combatants were relatively weak at turning the double play.   In 2015 the Mets ranked 20th, the Royals 25th.  

            At this point I launch into my endless war to prevent people from misinterpreting the data in a thousand different ways, although trying to prevent people from offering wild speculative misinterpretations of the data is like trying to prevent a one-year-old from getting applesauce on his chin.     But

         &nb​sp;  a)  It is NOT generally true that successful teams do poorly in this area.   A + total in double plays correlates with winning at about the level you would expect it to.   Successful teams are better than unsuccessful teams at everything; most World Series teams over time do well in this area.   In 2010 the two World Series teams (the Rangers and the Giants) were #s one and three in the majors in double plays vs. expectation.  The 2011 Rangers, back in the series in 2011, were first again, and the 2013 Cardinals and 2014 Giants were both second.

            b)  This is NOT because the Cubs and Indians have high fastball pitchers who get strikeouts instead of ground balls; we adjust for that.   High strikeout teams not only don’t get LESS double plays than expected, they actually get MORE than expected, on average.  

            It was just a fluke of the 2015-2016 seasons.    But I wasn’t aware of it before, so I thought I would share that with you. 



COMMENTS (31 Comments, most recent shown first)

Les--I am laughing harder just at the IDEA of John Wayne in "Blazing Saddles".
8:07 PM Feb 20th
Actors were often type cast in the past because they were often tied to a studio and had to take whatever came along. They also missed opportunities because of this. For example, Fes Parker was supposed to get the number two role in "The Searchers," but Disney wouldn't allow him to work for another studio. It went to Jeffrey Hunter instead. Parker said it was a big setback to his career.

Incidentally, Mel Brooks wanted John Wayne to star in "Blazing Saddles." Brooks ran into Wayne at the commissary, gave him the script, and asked for Wayne to respond the next day. Wayne told Brooks that he stayed up all night laughing, but he couldn't appear in a vulgar movie that used the N-word. Wayne said that appearing in such a movie would have disappointed his fan base, which would have expected a conventional western. Gene Wilder was very good, but Wayne would have been interesting casting.
4:31 PM Feb 20th
Part of the difficulty of comparing previous generations of movie actors with the current ones, is that modern movie stars are generally better at insisting on avoiding being type cast. Perhaps, they have greater talent to able to do that as well. Comparing Sidney Poitier to Denzel Washington may be Bill's weakest match up, but if it has any truth, it is an illustration of how much more versatile actors are these days.
2:49 PM Feb 20th
"After John Wayne was gone in the 1970s there were 15 people picking up John Wayne-type roles, but I was shocked to realize that now there are none; has that hit you? There is nobody left in Hollywood who plays John Wayne-type roles, and who has had a high-impact career."

"I said no one is John Wayne NOW, dorks."

I don't want to draw Bill's ire, but to me there's some space between those two statements. There's a core of John Wayne-ness that runs through Wayne's entire career, yes, but I think there are clear variations along the way (just as the Tom Seaver of 1969 and 1981, and 1986 aren't the same pitchers). The fresh-faced John Wayne of Stagecoach isn't the Wayne of Red River (getting ornery), The Searchers--his character in the Searchers is hateful, vengeful, and, according to lots of people who've written about the film (in other words, I don't want to get into the subject myself...), racist; he's partly the blueprint for Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle, and he definitely seems like a loner to me (hence the famous ending with the door closing behind him)--or the elegiac, dying Wayne of The Shootist, his last film. That's why I think the Tommy Lee Jones in No Country for Old Men is an excellent modern-day version of one kind of Wayne--I could absolutely imagine the twilight Wayne in that role, trying to puzzle out a world that makes no sense to him anymore: "I always knew you had to be willing to die to even do this job. I don't want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don't understand." But I agree with the comment below that says Eastwood is more of a Gary Cooper-type.

I saw The Perks of Being a Wallflower for the fifth or sixth time this afternoon. Today's Audrey Hepburn is absolutely Emma Watson in The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
6:54 PM Feb 18th
Praps the question is more like why aren't manly hero movies being made with punchers and gunman? It seems that those movies are now all superheroes with superpowers...Batman, Superman, Ironman, SpiderMan, Cold Mountainman.

All that said, I toss Kevin Costner into the discussion.
2:27 PM Feb 18th
Mel Gibson is the current John Wayne.
1:17 PM Feb 18th
Jeff bridges as the new wayne. Capable, if anyone would write the role... And that's the trouble, eh?​
1:11 PM Feb 18th
Bogie was the best actor ever. Guy had nothing going for him. As you said, ugly, thin and bony, horrible New York accent. Yet he was instantly believable in every role. Why, because no man had more confidence in himself. That was his gift. Cool story, when filming African Queen, the crew were mainly English and played cricket on off days. Bogie was invited to join in. He didn't know how to spell the game, let alone play. After 1 game he was so good the crew member team captains would fight over who got to pick him. They gave him a signed bat when filming was done.
12:36 PM Feb 18th
Re TJNawrocki's comment on the two Cubs second basemen, and how the double play numbers differed according to which one was in there:
Very easy to assess on bare stats, providing we're not worrying about any other factors, like whether there tended to be different pitchers for each, or what amounts of their DP's were types other than "turns":
Javier Baez: 383 innings at 2B, 23 DP's
0.54 DP per 9 innings

Zobrist: 976.1 innings at 2B, 52 DP's
0.48 DP per 9 innings

The quick guy had 1 extra DP every 17 games.
I guess we call it a tie.
10:17 AM Feb 18th
I know there will be some opposition to this but the new John Wayne is - Vin Diesel. They basically play small variations of same idealized character in each action movie . Most of their dialogue is one simple line and physical action - guns,fights - takes the place of monologues. Cars take the place of horses in your standard Vin Diesel western, excuse me car movie. Etc. Etc.
9:21 AM Feb 18th
I nominate Keanu Reeves for the modern John Wayne, though Denzel is certainly another candidate. Part of the problem is that there are few John Wayne movies - Westerns where good, handsome, physical, non-verbal men are the leads. Clint Eastwood movies have a more conflicted hero. Denzel was in two movies about runaway trains where he saves the day; Keanu Reeves does the same thing in Speed and the Matrix movies. Will Smith and Matt Damon have also come to the rescue, but they are much more verbal.​
9:05 AM Feb 18th
The Cubs shared their second base position between Javier Baez, who is young and wonderfully quick, and Ben Zobrist, who is old and not so quick. It would be interesting to see how the DP numbers changed between the two of hem.
8:41 AM Feb 18th
Or would he have been allowed to use his own name? Marion Robert Morrison might not look great in lights, but drop the first name: Robert Morrison. Bob Morrison. Rob Morrison. Could work.
8:32 AM Feb 18th
Tom Cruise or Matt Damon is the big, open-a-movie action star. Neither of them is a John Wayne type. If they remade The Quiet Man, they'd do it as a fish out of water comedy with Joseph Gordon Levitt and Amy Adams. Tom Hanks always struck me more as a Henry Fonda than a Jimmy Stewart
8:18 AM Feb 18th
John Wayne would be named Chris today.

Chris Evans, Chris Pine, Chris Hemsworth.

3:53 AM Feb 18th
DeNiro in some roles. DeNiro or Cheech.
2:45 AM Feb 18th
I haven't seen many of the man's films, but Chris Evans embodies a lot of the aforementioned John Wayne qualities when he plays Captain America. I'd also go so far as to say that the superhero film may very well be to the 21st century what the western was to the 20th. I dunno, maybe that means that Hugh Jackman is the new John Wayne? It's certainly not Christian Bale.
2:23 AM Feb 18th
How bout Liam Neeson as the new old John Wayne?
11:46 PM Feb 17th
1) Bogart played roles that would not seem natural to him on a certain level. He really was NOT handsome. He had bad teeth, a sort of irregular face and bad posture--but he played leading men, and very successfully. He was not large, athletic or muscular--but he played tough guys, and very well.

2) I said no one is John Wayne NOW, dorks. Clint Eastwood is 86 years old.

After Wayne retired/died there were a bunch of guys who stepped into that role--Eastwood most successfully, but also Steve McQueen did a lot of John Wayne-type roles, Charles Bronson did roles that Wayne would have been better at, and others did as well.

But there was an important difference. THE John Wayne character had a strong social conscience. He was a leader in his community; he was THE leader in his community. He cared about others.

I have seen critics say that Wayne played "loner" roles, but that's just nonsense; he virtually never did. THE Clint Eastwood character was like John Wayne, but he WAS a loner, certainly in the spaghetti Westerns, but also in some of his other movies. Even the character he played in his greatest film, Unforgiven, does not have the social orientation that Wayne almost always had. He had SOME social conscience in some movies, but not much.

After the Eastwood/Bronson/McQueen generation, the Western tough guys became SO tough, so brutal and conscienceless, that you couldn't see John Wayne in those roles at all.

11:44 PM Feb 17th
I always thought it Star Wars had been made in the 40s, Han Solo would have been a Humphrey Bogart part. Ford carried that further by taking the Bogart role in Sabrina and even some of his other roles fit that pretty well. I suppose it is a little hard to picture Bogart as Indiana Jones, but there is SOME Bogart in there.
9:54 PM Feb 17th
I think the most phenomenal transformation is the way Matthew McConaughey has evolved into Harry Dean Stanton. Now, McConaughey is a guy who really benefited from getting older. When he was younger he was just too goddamned pretty to be taken seriously. He needed to take a little of the edge off that.

In a way it's fitting that John Wayne should have no successor; the character he played in movies was a particular kind of man whose historical moment would be so short that he'd live to see it end.

Clint Eastwood might be a better match with Gary Cooper than John Wayne. Sergio Leone once said of Eastwood, "He has two expressions, with a hat and without a hat."
9:35 PM Feb 17th
3 for 3 beat me to it--Eastwood:

"I agree that no one quite fills the John Wayne role - big man of few words, but whose words carry authority when he speaks, able to use violence when necessary, slow but decisive in doing so" (MidnighttheCat's comment below).

I'm not a big Eastwood fan myself, but he does fit that description extremely well (especially later in his career, in something like In the Line of Fire--he's not especially slow in using violence in the Dirty Harry films). I can also see aspects of Wayne in late-career performances from Tommy Lee Jones (No Country for Old Men especially) and Jeff Bridges.
7:10 PM Feb 17th
Isn't (wasn't) Clint Eastwood the new John Wayne?
6:18 PM Feb 17th
Sorry, I meant that to read Saturday.
5:19 PM Feb 17th
Punchline. That was the Tom Hanks movie. I'll never forget Punchline because I was in a movie theater watching that movie when I should have been watching Kirk Gibson hitting his World Series HR. A friend and I had the game on and Canseco hit his grand slam in the 2nd.... The perception of the A's being unstoppable was very strong at that moment. We were like, "OK, we knew it, the A's are going to win. What's playing?" Friday of Punchline's debut weekend...... I wish I'd watched the game.
5:18 PM Feb 17th
I think Samuel L. Jackson is today's James Cagney. I don't think Denzel Washington is today's Sydney Portier at all - I can't recall him playing a sophisticated intellectual type as Portier used to. Chiwetel Ajiofor doesn't either, but he is today's Henry Fonda: the actor whom, when we see him on the screen, gives us the sense that there is at least one person of good will on the scene that will use his intelligence to try to improve the situation if they can.

I have thought for a while that, once one looks past the whole media feeding frenzy about her sexual preference, Ellen Degeneres is actually Bob Newhart. If you look at her comedic style, the kinds of humor she likes, she fills that slot in the culture, deadpan, everyday knowledge sort of humor.

I agree that no one quite fills the John Wayne role - big man of few words, but whose words carry authority when he speaks, able to use violence when necessary, slow but decisive in doing so.

I think the person who has most taken Cary Grant's spot is George Clooney, though not consistently.

Angelina Jolie has taken some action role, maybe Bruce Willis'.

Spencer Tracy? I could see Hugh Grant being closer to that model, but there is another one that no one quite fits anymore. Harrison Ford has tried on occasion, as in Sabrina.

Audrey Hepburn?

I see Brad Pitt more as having the Kirk Douglass roles (whether in Troy or in Moneyball) than as Paul Newman.

4:52 PM Feb 17th
Second and third the motion by Maris about Tom Hanks--in fact, I would say that I have NEVER had a stronger feeling like that. The first time I saw Hanks in a leading role was "Nothing in Common", playing Jackie Gleason's son, early 1980s. I just thought that he was TOTALLY out of his depth as a lead actor, that he was a sitcom actor who didn't have the heft to carry a role like this. I had a similar reaction, not as strong about another movie he made not long after that, about a stand-up comic. . .with Sally Fields. Movie just didn't work; Hanks didn't carry his weight. But as you say, we proved to be wrong.

I think both Lindor and Addison Russell set up deep and a LONG way from second base. I would suspect. . .can't prove it. . .but I would suspect that both of them are losing double plays by setting up so far from second that they lose a quarter of a second when they have to cover.
3:24 PM Feb 17th
A few days after Trump's election, I watched Two Weeks Notice, with Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock. It was much funnier than I expected, putting enough oomph into the "com" part of "romcom." Grant plays what is explicitly referred to as a Trump type in the movie and (of course) who shows up for a minute at the end but Donald himself. Grant is quite good in that one.
3:17 PM Feb 17th
Another actor who we might say had a similar evolution -- more rapid and greater, although it didn't seem rapid at the time -- is Tom Hanks. My impression was that early on, he was seen as a lightweight-type, to the extent that it was even seen as surprising that he got his Bonfire of the Vanities role (1990), which isn't that much non-lightweight.
BTW I happened to be at a talk/discussion at that time by the author of the book (Tom Wolfe), who fielded a question about the casting of this actor who was thought of as a relative lightweight, and FWIW, no part of his answer was "he isn't considered a lightweight" and nobody in the audience challenged it either, plus that's what I had thought of Hanks.

P.S. If your research "stinks," what verbs are there for everybody else? :-)
3:00 PM Feb 17th
Interesting to hear that the Indians and Cubs graded out so poorly in expected double plays. I know Lindor is a huge defensive asset and thought that Addison Russell was above average at least.

Could it be that because they have exceptional range they get to more balls that are less likely to be turned anyway? Or did both teams just have exceptionally weak armed second baseman?
2:58 PM Feb 17th
I'd say Denzel Washington might be the new Poitier AND the new Wayne.
2:57 PM Feb 17th
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