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BCB After Dark: Is it better to be lucky or good?

The late-night/early-morning spot for Cubs fans asks if the Cubs have been bad or unlucky.

Chicago Cubs v Houston Astros Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the swingin’ spot for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. I hope you had a pleasant weekend. We’re getting ready for a big week around here, so we’re glad that you joined us. Come on in and relax. There’s no cover charge. Bring your own beverage.

BCB After Dark is the place for you to talk baseball, music, movies, or anything else you need to get off your chest, as long as it is within the rules of the site. The late-nighters are encouraged to get the party started, but everyone else is invited to join in as you wake up the next morning and into the afternoon.

Off day for the Cubs today.

Last week, I was in a terrible mood as the Cubs had suffered one of their worst losses in years, blowing a 6-1 lead after 7½ innings to lose 7-6. So I asked you to second guess the bullpen decision as to who should have pitched the ninth. In first place with 29 percent of the vote, you would have gone with Jeremiah Estrada. Another 24 percent of you would still have gone with the now-demoted Keegan Thompson. Seventeen percent said Mark Leiter Jr. should have come out for another inning and 14 percent of you went with my “disgust” choice of Miles Mastrobuoni.

Here’s the part where I talk about jazz and and movies. You’re free to skip ahead to the baseball question at the end. You won’t hurt my feelings.

Tonight I’ve found a duet performance from Stockholm in 1974 featuring the great pianist Oscar Peterson and the great bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen. This is “Reunion Blues,” a song written by Milt Jackson. It’s not exactly the best video quality, but the sound is good and that’s what’s important.

I watched Psycho (1960) again over the weekend along with a “Making of Psycho” documentary that came along with the Blu-Ray disc. I don’t think I can tell you much about Psycho that you don’t already know, but I’ll try to say a few interesting things. If you haven’t seen Psycho (and I have trouble believing that many of you haven’t), you may want to go watch it and come back and read this later because there will be spoilers.

The “Making of” documentary—which seems to have been made sometime in the mid-to-late nineties by the fact that Janet Leigh is alive and being interviewed and Anthony Perkins is not—had a lot of interesting stuff about what went on behind the scenes. I think my favorite story was the assistant directed explaining he got calmly reprimanded by Hitchcock for not properly preparing for the scene when Janet Leigh first drives into the Bates Motel. He couldn’t figure out what he’d done wrong—he thought he’d accounted for everything. Hitchcock pointed out that it was supposed to be a dark and stormy night—but there was a bright full moon hanging over the Bates Mansion. He said “I remembered everything but to check the lunar schedules.” They ended up having to attach a black tarp to two long poles and hold it up so that the camera wouldn’t catch the moon.

The genesis of Psycho was Hitchcock’s fascination with all the low-budget movies with trashy subject matter that were making a lot of money in the late-fifties. He wondered what would happen if some really talented people made a lurid low-budget film, instead of the people at the fringes of Hollywood that were making those films at he time. I guess the answer is that they’d make an all-time classic and a whole ton of money.

One of the things Hitchcock wanted to do with Psycho was subvert people’s expectations. I haven’t read the novel the film was based on, but according to the documentary, it was more violent, more lurid and less subversive than the film. The screenwriter, Joseph Stefano, sold Hitchcock on the idea of making the film not about Norman Bates but about Mary Crane instead. (Her name was changed to “Marion” when legal found a Mary Crane living in Phoenix.) Her character is apparently a small part of the novel, but Stefano idea—and Hitchcock loved it—was to make her the star, at least until she wasn’t anymore.

But that played into Hitchcock’s love of subverting expectations with this film. He cast a big star in Janet Leigh as Marion Crane and then killed her off just a little over a third of the way into the film. The whole first part of the film is designed to make you think it’s Marion Crane’s story—and Janet Leigh playing her reinforces that idea. When she meets Norman—played by the also big star Anthony Perkins—then the film leads you to believe the story is about the two of them. It’s only after the shower scene that you realize that the film is about Norman Bates and his mother.

Perkins also gives the audience a real sense of sympathy from the first time we meet him. In the novel, apparently, Norman Bates is described as a pudgy, balding middle-aged man. Basically a stereotypical pervert ordered up from central casting. But the good-looking Perkins plays him as a socially-awkward man who is alone in the middle of nowhere because he has to care for his invalid mother. He stammers and never knows the right thing to say, although he clearly wants to make a connection with the beautiful Marion. It’s only when he spies on her through a peephole that we begin to realize that there’s something wrong with him—but even then I imagine that some of the audience would make excuses for his behavior.

Hitchcock made a big deal out of not letting anyone enter the theater after the picture had started. Theaters had a sign an agreement to that effect to show the film. Yes, it was a marketing gimmick, but he also didn’t want to have anyone walk into the film late and say “I thought this was a Janet Leigh picture” and have already missed her.

I do wonder what it would have been like to see Psycho in a dark theater in 1960. I can’t remember the first time I saw Psycho, but I’m sure it was on a VCR in the eighties. It was probably with friends, some of who had likely already seen the film. In any case, I was well-familiar with the shower scene before I watched the film the first time. There would not have been any shock. I knew it was coming, even if I didn’t know when.

The way that Hitchcock subverted expectations in Psycho would have been lost on me. Janet Leigh wasn’t a big star to me and in any case, I wouldn’t have known that you just didn’t kill off a big star a third of the way through the picture because people started doing that after Psycho. I’d definitely seen violent slasher films such as Halloween, starring Leigh’s daughter Jamie Lee Curtis. So the raw violence of the film would not have been as shocking to me as it was to people who were used to watching films made under the auspices of the Production Code. (And yes, Psycho was approved by the Production Board, but that’s a whole different story. They apparently objected to the flushing of a toilet and the use of the word “transvestite” more than the shower scene—in part because Hitchcock never actually shows the blade going in to Janet Leigh. It’s all in the audience’s head.)

I would also have seen several films that used what they then called “multiple personality disorder” as a plot device by the time I saw Psycho. I remember liking Psycho, although if I watched it with a group of friends as we did watch rented tapes in those days, then my feelings for the film were undoubtedly more about the party we were having than the film itself.

I have been wondering what would happen if I sat down my 15-year-old daughter and had her watch Psycho. I’m not going to do that because I don’t want to deal with the nightmares and the refusals to take a shower. (I realize that some current 15-year-olds would watch Psycho without breaking a sweat. Trust me when I say my daughter is not one of those kids.) But would she find it to be less-than-revolutionary like I did? I imagine she’s knows about the shower scene—it’s become so much a part of the cultural fabric that it’s hard to believe any kid her age hasn’t at least heard about it—but would it shock her like it shocked audiences in 1960? Dissociative identity disorder isn’t the same kind of plot trope that it was in the eighties, so maybe that would surprise her. On the other hand, the idea of a man wearing women’s clothing is less shocking today than it was back then. (To her, at least. I’m not getting into that controversy here.)

Ultimately, however, I think that while we can all enjoy and appreciate Psycho just as much as the people who watched it in 1960, the experience will never be the same. But that’s OK. Understanding how different generations react to the same piece of art is part of the fun.

Welcome back to everyone who skips the jazz and movies.

Tonight I’m going to ask you to diagnose whether the Cubs have been bad or unlucky? Sure, they can definitely be both, but tonight I’m going to ask you which you think is the bigger issue.

The Cubs bullpen has stuck out like a sore thumb this season. The starting pitching has been solid with a 3.94 ERA. That’s the ninth-best in the majors and fourth-best in the National League. That’s a playoff-level starting rotation.

The bullpen, as you may have guessed, has not been as strong. The bullpen ERA is 4.50, which is 24th in the majors and 13th in the National League. While it is a better bullpen ERA than the Dodgers have (which is weird), the Cubs not only have the fewest save opportunities with ten, they have the second-fewest saves with just five. I don’t need to tell you that converting 50% of your save opportunities is sub-optimal. Only the Athletics, who are in contention to be the worst team of all-time, has fewer saves and a worse save percentage.

On the other hand, the Cubs’ offense has been fine—with a caveat. The Cubs have a team OPS of .765, which is eighth in the majors and fifth in the NL. Again, that’s a playoff-level offense. Maybe not a World Series-contender offense and starting rotation, but certainly one that could make the playoffs and be dangerous there.

But as I said, there is a caveat. The Cubs hitting in the clutch has been absolutely atrocious. In fact, it’s historically awful. Fangraphs defines Clutch as:

Clutch = (WPA / pLI) – WPA/LI.

I’m leaving the links in there if you want to break down how they figure that out, but it’s the win probability that a player creates minus the win probability that they could be expected to produce. They define a Clutch index of 2.0 or higher as “Excellent” and a Clutch index of -2.0 as “Awful.” So how are the Cubs doing?

Holy-freaking-cow. The Cubs are so far in last place that if you added the MLB leader in clutch, the Angels and their 2.52 clutch rating to the Cubs, they would still be behind the Twins who sit in 29th place.

This team has been historically bad in the clutch. Epicly terrible.

Now I realize that some of you think that hitting in the clutch is a skill, but no one has been able to show that it is repeatable over a long period of time. Fangraphs writes this about their “clutch” statistic.

Clutch does a good job of describing the past, but it does very little towards predicting the future. Simply because one player was clutch at one point does not mean they will continue to perform well in high-leverage situations (and vice versa). Very few players have the ability to be consistently clutch over the course of their careers, and choking in one season does not beget the same in the future.

So basically, it’s bad luck.

So tonight, I’m asking whether you think the primary problem with the Cubs is bad luck or a lack of talent—and in particular the bullpen. Now yes, I agree that both of them can be and are a problem, but I’m asking you to pick one or the other. If the problem is primarily bad luck in high-leverage situations, that should improve over the course of the season without the Cubs doing much to change it. If the biggest problem is the bullpen (or a lack of talent at other positions), then there needs to be some big changes and the Cubs should probably be selling at the trade deadline.

So have the Cubs been more unlucky or bad?

(And a hat tip to this article in Bleacher Nation that gave me the idea for the poll. You can read that if you want to help you make your choice.)


What has been the Cubs biggest problem this season?

This poll is closed

  • 38%
    Bad luck
    (53 votes)
  • 61%
    Bad players
    (86 votes)
139 votes total Vote Now

Thank you so very much for stopping in this evening. I hope we got you all set for another week of baseball, and that the week will be better for Cubs fans. Please get home safely. Clean up your table and recycle any cans or bottles you may have brought. Tip the waitstaff. And join us again tomorrow for more BCB After Dark.