MESA, AZ : Marlon Byrd #24 of the Chicago Cubs runs the bases after hitting a solo home run against the Kansas City Royals in the third inning against during the spring training baseball game. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Everyone is in the best shape of his life before spring training. Marlon Byrd, though, just might be better. Here's why.
I am not in the best shape of my life. I have asthma, and I'm a little soft in the middle. I used to lift weights -- longest day of my life -- but now I get sore when I bring in the groceries. As such, this column you're about to read is likely to be awful. If I were in better shape, maybe something would have come together. Instead, this is sort of a disgrace.
But a lot of baseball players are in the best shape of their life. Hardball Talk has been doing yeoman's work, collecting all of the mentions that come across the wire. Look! Dexter Fowler is in the best shape of his life as of today! Who'd've thunk? This cliche will continue until robots replace us all, and even then the robots will be in the best programming of their life.
Sam Miller also did a fine service by introducing taxonomy to the best-shape stories, breaking them down into various subcategories. He collected stories of players who pointed to their low body fat as proof that they were in the best shape of their life. Hard, cold, indisputable numbers. This is the sabermetric revolution of best shape of his life.
But this Marlon Byrd article made me realize that there is still more taxonomy to go. Within the best-shape-of-his-life sub-genre, there can be different ways that players get into that shape, but there needs to be something above that. The phylum to getting-fit's class. Here, then, are three introductory categories of the burgeoning science known as thisplayeristotallygoingtobebetternowology:
Player X got in shape
This is the big one, of course. Just like insects make up the overwhelming percentage of the animal kingdom, so do getting-fit stories make up the bulk of thisplayeristotallygoingtobebetternowology. Since January 1, Hardball Talk has documented five such stories, and we aren't even that close to spring training, when they explode. Aubrey Huff, for example, has been doing Pilates, the exercise developed by the famous Roman praetor who creeped everyone out when he wouldn't stop touching his toes in crowded areas. That's an interesting way of getting in the best shape of your life! But it's still just a best-shape-of-his-life story.
In that Byrd article that we'll dig into later, this gem is buried:
(Tony) Campana has added some good weight working out in Mesa, as did second baseman Darwin Barney, who put on 18 pounds of muscle.
Eighteen pounds of muscle. Eighteen pounds. I'm skeptical about that one -- the only way Barney put on 18 pounds of muscle is if he killed a drifter and wore his body as a hat. Eighteen pounds of muscle.
This one always amazes me. If I'm running a business that completely revolves around eyesight and hand-eye coordination, and I'm paying someone hundreds of thousands of dollars -- millions of dollars in most cases -- to make the business successful, I'm making monthly eye tests mandatory.
Instead, you'll get quotes like this:
"I'd come back, and guys would ask me what the pitch I struck out on was," said (Denard) Span, 24, the 20th overall pick in 2002. "And I'd have no idea what I swung at."
A trip to an eye doctor revealed he was nearsighted and had an astigmatism in his right eye.
Span was in AAA by that point. When I was in the first grade, the school had an eye doctor come to us. I don't mean to be glib -- maybe there is some sort of protocol that every organization has when it comes to regular eye tests -- but it seems like every year a player returns with new and improved eyesight. The weird thing -- it just might work, this seeing thing.
A serious, previously undiscovered affliction
This is where the Byrd one falls. The headline of that article is a misdirection, referring to Byrd's dedication to Muay Thai. It hints that by kicking things in the offseason, he'll come back and kick baseballs better with his bat. Or something. It's just a variation of the BSOHL story that we've read so often.
But it buries what is, to me, the lede:
The first step in the transformation regarded Byrd's diet, and he saw New York nutritionist Robert Pastore in New York on the recommendation of Raul Ibanez and Jayson Werth. Tests revealed Byrd was allergic to milk and wheat, and very close to having celiac disease. His wife, Andrea, had the same allergies. Pastore advised the Byrds to change their diet and both saw instant results.
and then the nutritionist said hey you are probably just eating like a byrd lol
This BSOHL story is the one that's going to get me every time. A headline of "Professional Athlete Is Now Stronger" doesn't interest me. Maybe it's true, maybe it ain't, and even if it is, it still doesn't help a guy lay off an 0-2 slider. But "Professional Athlete Corrects Serious Physical Malady" will get me almost every time. Do you know how miserable Byrd must have felt if he was legitimately allergic to milk and wheat? He would have felt awful constantly.
In a similar vein, Andres Torres started taking medicine for ADHD two seasons ago, and he broke out in a huge way.
The nonsense detector goes off every time I read a BSOHL story. But when it comes down to something like ADHD or food allergies -- I'm in. I think Byrd will have a great year now, and not because of his new kicking prowess. Dude was allergic to everyday foodstuffs. Now he's not going to feel awful every day. How in the world can that not make a difference? Not being sarcastic -- just naive, I think.
All thisplayeristotallygoingtobebetternowology studies aren't created equal. Most of them you can ignore, but I'll always fall for that last taxonomic rank. It's the Moneyball of thisplayeristotallygoingtobebetternowology.
(And if you have ideas for additional categories, please leave them in the comments.)