Fire Mark Gubicza

What's wrong with this picture (besides the haircut)?

Victor Rojas is a competent play-by-play man, but Mark Gubicza makes Angels broadcasts on Fox Sports West exercises in selective muting. His nonsensical circumlocution, empty semantics, and continual blathering of trite slogans, soothing bromides, and shopworn boilerplate are an affront to my twelfth-grade reading level. Your taxes to support the California public education system are all going to waste.

Nevertheless, I'm not really advocating firing Mark Gubicza. This article is actually about Scott Kazmir. Besides, given the state of baseball broadcasting these days, firing Mark Gubicza would only open up the position to someone just as bad or even worse. I can't name a color commentator who actually adds to my appreciation and understanding of the game on the field. Vin Scully seems to be living proof that the two-man booth is a fundamentally flawed concept

Fortunately, I think I've finally figured out how to appreciate Mark's inanity, or at least, how to tolerate it. I just imagine myself transcribing all his ridiculous comments on a blog, then annotating them with incisive criticism line by miserable line. Some might call it "critical thinking" or some other scary thing they were supposed to teach you in high-school English, but it's really just being a sarcastic jerk. Hey, it worked for these guys.

I'd like to share by calling your attention to a conversation which took place in the top of the fifth inning during a home game against the Cleveland Indians on September 6. It was Labor Day evening, an awful time for an awful game between two awful teams, but this particular exchange between Mark and Victor was--in the words of the poets--sweeter than honey, finer than the finest wine, and more precious than pure gold, dipped in gold, then gilded with...pure gold.

Before getting started, you can listen to the whole exchange if you want, but it's probably better saved until after the barbecue.

The conversation starts innocently enough. Victor lays out the pitching match-ups for the two remaining games in the series, the second of which will feature a start by Scott Kazmir, who had done this in his previous start:

IP    H    R    ER    BB    SO    HR    HBP   SB    CS    PO    GB    FB    LD    GIDP
5.2 2 2 2 6 3 0 2 0 1 1 7 8 2 1

For those of you keeping score at home, that's 8 free base runners to get just 14 batters outs (3 outs were made on the bases). Clearly Kazmir deserved more like 6 or 7 earned runs than 2, since on most days you're going to get more than 2 hits on 17 balls in play, especially if you can't throw a strike.

By no measure was that a good start, except maybe for one, which happens to be a measure that people care about even though it's basically meaningless over a 5 or 6 inning sample: earned runs allowed. Nevertheless, Victor is dismayed by the ugly number in the base-on-balls column, and he tells the audience (generously) that Kazmir is "coming off a start in which he walked six."

Mark's baseball sense tingles. He is the broadcast booth's stalwart defender of bad pitching (and also a professional life coach for confidence and aggressiveness). To wit:

It's one of those tough games that if you're a pitcher you feel...well about. (All out but)...Six walks, you only get-- at that point only gave up one run himself another one that came across when he left the game in the sixth inning...Do you build on that? And I think the results as far as the runs allowed...certainly from the last time he was in Oakland, in which he allowed thirteen earned runs, but those six walks in a hundred and one pitches in five and two-thirds innings pitched, you know, he needs to be more aggressive -- because the stuff was there, if you don't give up that many runs it means your stuff is good -- but you have to be more aggressive and more confident by throwing more strikes.

Now, the point isn't to make fun of Mark's manners of speech. Speech is a distinct form of communication, and all of us would look ridiculous if our every spoken word were transcribed and read back to us. But even with that understanding, this statement is so awkward and confused that if you tried to swallow it whole, you'd only choke on the bloated illogic of it all. Let's break down this poignant expurgation of baseball intelligence instead.

It's one of those tough games that if you're a pitcher you feel...well about.

So maybe I lied when I said I wasn't going to ridicule speech as speech. The hesitation here is worth savoring. As the words began to roll off his tongue, Mark hears the voice of Mrs. Brinckerhoff, his fifth grade teacher who is most memorable for her strident grammar fascism. "'Good' is an adjective, 'well' is an adverb," she's telling him in his mind. What's an adjective, what's an adverb? Mark doesn't remember, but he does remember some counter-intuitive rule about "good" and "well."

"Good" seems like the natural choice here, but that grammar rule is counter-intuitive remember? Mark guesses "well," and guesses wrong. Or maybe he doesn't, since English usage of "good" and "well" is idiomatic and really not clear anyways. Now even I'm confused. Thanks, Mrs. Brinckerhoff. Take note of the hesitation, we'll be seeing a lot more of it later.

Six walks, you only get -- at that point only gave up one run himself another one that came across when he left the game in the sixth inning...

Mark means to say that walking guys doesn't matter so long as your ERA stays intact. He even tries to excuse Kazmir of that second earned run because he wasn't on the mound when it scored. Except that particular detail is part of the definition of ERA, which Mark is promoting as a reliable measure of pitching performance. I feel a vicious circle coming on. Let's watch Mark try to prevent the formation of a logical vortex.

Do you build on that?

Build on what? Six walks? What are we building anyways? A better pitcher? Well, you know, if you want Scott Kazmir to be a better pitcher, all you have to do is ask. He's sitting in there in the dugout waiting for you right now. Go ahead, Mark, tell us what you'd say to Scott that would make him all better.

And I think the results as far as the runs allowed...certainly from the last time he was in Oakland, in which he allowed thirteen earned runs

Those 13 earned runs were the most allowed in one game by any Angel starter ever. The team's been around for a half century now, so we're talking about 7,973 starts here. If you want to rank them according to runs allowed, Kazmir's July 10 start is #7,973 on the list. But Mark is developing a brilliant rhetorical strategy: Who's going to argue that Kazmir's September 3 start was not an improvement on the franchise's worst start ever?

but those six walks in a hundred and one pitches in five and two-thirds innings pitched, you know, he needs to be more aggressive

Hey, hold up, Mark! I want to hear where that clause beginning with "six walks in a hundred and one pitches in five and two-thirds innings pitched" is going before you change course. Maybe I can finish that clause for you: "is horrible." Scott Kazmir was a horrible pitcher last season. His September 3 start was a horrible start. So how do we "build on that"? Don't worry, folks, because Mark knows the answer.

You see, Kaz is a pussy. He curls up in a fetal position in the locker room before every game. He's just so damned afraid of the strike zone that even the thought of throwing a pitch over the plate fills him with preternatural dread. He just needs a hug and maybe some therapy.

Okay, seriously though, I get it. Mark has to lean on some platitude like "be more aggressive" because it would be rather untoward to flat out call a horrible pitcher a horrible pitcher during a broadcast. Especially when he's your horrible pitcher. But implicitly calling him a pussy is better than that? I think I like my version better.

because the stuff was there, if you don't give up that many runs it means your stuff is good

Look at me always thinking that "good stuff" meant a dancing four-seam fastball, a late-breaking curve, a power slider, or something like that. You know, pitches that big league hitters swing at and miss. Sometimes they're even located in the strike zone.

Well, Oakland batters swung and missed at all of 4 out of 101 pitches on September 3, and they looked at 20 strikes while taking 50 balls. This is because Kazmir averaged just 89 mph on his fastball that day, and his slider literally does not slide. Here, look at the pitch data. See that 0.08? That's the nonexistent horizontal break on Kazmir's "slider" (straighter?), and it's become such a useless pitch that he hardly even throws it anymore.

But okay, I'll bite. "Good stuff" means "not giving up that many runs." That certainly clears up my confusion, because I looked up Kazmir's pitch data from July 10, and it looked almost exactly the same as September 3.

but you have to be more aggressive and more confident by throwing more strikes.

If you want to do something in life, you just have to do it. Want to be a concert pianist? Be aggressive and confident! It doesn't matter if you haven't seen someone playing a keyboard since that Journey video came out. Want to be a better pitcher? Be a better pitcher, dammit! See the difference? It's not tautological at all, the meaning is all in the italics. Maybe that's why Mark Gubicza has such a tough time expressing himself on the air. No italics.

Anyways, Victor doesn't buy what he's hearing. He's no Bill James, but he seems to be a reasonable man, and he's not afraid to call bullshit on occasion. This booth is about to get a little tense. Here's Victor's response to his partner's lingual vomitus:

You're telling me that there is an opportunity where a pitcher might feel good about the fact that he walked six and only gave up a run? That guy needs to be checked. (4 second pause.) And hit two batters.

You tell 'em, Vick. Don't forget about those two hit batters either, because hit batsmen are just as bad as walks. It might be too much to ask, but maybe you should call attention to this, which also occurred on September 3:

Kazmirfail_medium

No one was on base at the time, so it didn't go for a wild pitch, and fortunately the batter was left-handed, so it wasn't a hit batsman either. Except it nearly was a hit batsman, if you count the guy in the on-deck circle.

The gauntlet thrown, Mark parries thus:

It's a r-- It's a result...game. It's about, it's all about runs allowed...for some people.

Are you one of those people, Mark? Don't tell me you're not. No fair trying to distance yourself from your own words now that Victor has challenged your baseball profundity. I'm even giving you a free pass on the "result game" thing, since I can't imagine what a "non-result game" would be anyways (maybe Global Thermonuclear War?). I just want to know if it's all about runs allowed for you.

Michael Brantley comes up with a base hit here, so you have some time to formulate your response.

Mark?

Hey, you still there, man?

Victor isn't sure what to do with the dead air. You see, he's used to his partner cheering incessantly whenever Scott Kazmir, Fernando Rodney, or some other bad pitcher is the topic of discussion. But Mark is not taking the bait for some reason, so Victor forces the issue:

I'm not saying that's what Scott is feeling, I'm just telling you...there is no way -- I mean, there is, maybe there is in today's game, that there is a guy just based on his own numbers, "well, my ERA didn't take a hit," or whatever -- that you throw a hundred and one pitch--pitches, I think it was, fifty-one for strikes, fifty balls, walked six, hit two -- and feel good about that outing, as a step forward.

Probably not the most cogent statement Victor has ever made in his life. Not sure what to make of that tangent in the middle; it smacks of new-fangled stat-bashing, except that he's talking about frickin' ERA. The intent is clear though: "Hey Mark, I actually swallowed that extra helping of clichéd drivel you just served and I thought it tasted bad, so could you please maybe explain yourself a little more clearly?"

One second passes.

Two seconds.

Three...four...five...

He speaks!

That's a tough argument -- if we were in court right now, it's a tough one to sell.

Good thing we're not in court right now. We're just human beings engaged in conversation. Other people do it all the time. I say something, you say something, I say, "hey, that doesn't make sense," you try to convince me why it does make sense. It's totally normal. Not for Mark, apparently. Rational discussion is some kind of nightmare

Tokillagubicza_medium

.But Mark is right on one account. His argument would be a tough sell in court. That's because it's a stupid argument without any possible justification, except maybe for burbling fountains of baseball nonsense like most color commentators. Let's give him a chance to pull a few trusty clichés off the shelf.

Give him a pause for Victor to make the call on a foul ball and then another five seconds of dead air, that is. At last:

Maybe for a young kid coming up, maybe, but a guy that's established himself already in the big leagues like Scott Kazmir has and...won the strikeout title in '07... (2 second pause) I don't think so, I think the bottom line is he's got to know in his mind, he's got to be more aggressive. (3 second pause) His stuff is there...That many base runners, you only allow two runs, it tells you, you should be...more consistent.

The court shall come to order. Will the defense please restate the defendant's case for the record?

Maybe for a young kid coming up, maybe

Objection! Conjecture.

but a guy that's established himself already in the big leagues like Scott Kazmir has and...won the strikeout title in '07...

Objection! Irrelevant.

I don't think so,

Objection!-- Wait, what?

Didn't you just claim the opposite? Here, let's have the court reporter read it back for us: "It's one of those tough games that if you're a pitcher you feel...well about." That's what we're arguing about. Now you "don't think so"? What are we even arguing about then? Your honor, move for dismissal.

Can the defense state why the case should not be dismissed?

I think the bottom line is he's got to know in his mind, he's got to be more aggressive.

Maybe we're just quibbling over semantics here. Does "be more aggressive" just mean "start to pitch better"? If so, then we are in total agreement. If I'm Scott Kazmir, I'm thinking, "Holy shit, Scott, you really suck! What the hell is wrong with you? You were a pretty good pitcher as recently as 2008. You're only 26 years old, and you should be in the prime of your playing career, so why do you have the highest ERA of any regular starter in the American League by over 50 points? Are you hiding an injury? Do you need counseling? Did you just give up and get lazy? You really need to pitch better, Scott, but it's just not that easy. Turns out, pitching in the major leagues is actually really hard, man."

Goodadvice_medium

So yeah, Mark, I think we can find some common ground there.

His stuff is there...That many base runners, you only allow two runs, it tells you, you should be...more consistent.

The vehemence with which Mark states that Kazmir's "stuff is there" gets lost in the transcription. He sounds like a petulant child who has just been scolded for persisting in one of those cartoonish "is not, is too" arguments with his little brother. After mom gets angry, the little brother says, "fine, this is stupid anyways," but Mark has to utter one last "is too" under his breath while he skulks off to his room.

We can settle whether or not Mark's little brother is actually right by comparing Kazmir's pitch data from this season with the results from 2008, the last season in which he was still a strikeout pitcher. I won't even bother with velocities, spin angles or any other geeky aerodynamic stuff. Let's just look at what big league hitters do to Scott Kazmir's pitches.

Year	Count	Freq.	Strike	Swing	Whiff	Foul	BIP*
FASTBALL
2008 2403 73.8% 65.4% 49.1% 10.8% 24.2% 14.1%
2010 1710 69.7% 63.3% 42.2% 7.0% 17.9% 17.3%
CHANGEUP
2008 523 16.1% 57.0% 43.2% 13.2% 12.8% 17.2%
2010 500 18.3% 56.6% 45.4% 11.4% 10.6% 23.4%
SLIDER
2008 332 10.2% 54.5% 46.7% 13.9% 17.2% 15.7%
2010 326 12.0% 46.6% 38.3% 8.3% 14.1% 16.0%

* BIP = Ball in play

Now it's true that I'm not as good at pitching as Mark Gubicza was when he was my age, even if he was injured and ineffective at the time (sound like anyone else we know?). However, I can read a table.

The above suggests to me that Kazmir's "stuff" just isn't there at all. Across the board, he doesn't throw as many strikes as he used to, he doesn't get hitters to swing as often (probably related to throwing fewer strikes), and hitters put more pitches into play as opposed to whiffing or them fouling off.

So, I'm going to fix this last comment from Mark. "That many base runners, you only allow two runs, it tells you that you had a good day on balls in play." All we had to do was drop the meaningless cliché and call a spade a shovel, because who the hell knows what a spade is anymore?

Rojas apparently doesn't know what to make of his partner's retort. After Mark finishes, the two of them sat in silence for SIXTEEN SECONDS, which has to violate some cardinal rule of broadcasting. Victor is probably wondering if Mark is mad at him for picking on Scott Kazmir, whose struggles must remind him of his younger, injured self. He's got to be expecting more from Mark, but the words never come.

Mercifully, something finally happens on the field (Dan Haren keeping Brantley close at first with a pickoff attempt), and Mark's mind finds a new track to slide on, one of his favorites too. Haren is not particularly quick to the plate, got to keep the runner from getting a good lead, give your catcher a chance to throw him out, etc. It's not nearly as interesting, which is sadly the case with Mark more often than not.

When that happens, you can always fall back on the weapon of last resort.

Vapidgame_medium

Just print some copies for the next time you to visit your grandma's nursing home. She'll think you're really sweet. After sitting in the game room with granny, surrounded by colored bouffants and lacquered nails, oxygen tanks and tennis-ball walkers, you might actually find FSW broadcasts a bit livelier by comparison.

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