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Can Baseball's Obsession With "Analytics" Be Controlled? + Potpourri From The Baseball Scene

On the first Saturday in June I happened to flip the channel in time to see the top of the ninth inning of a close game between the Chicago Cubs and the SF Giants. With the Giants holding a two-run lead but the Cubs threatening, veteran third baseman Evan Longoria instinctively dove to his left on a hard smash towards the shortstop hole. 

 

Because of one of these new-fangled shifts, shortstop Brandon Crawford was positioned very close to Longoria who must have not been aware of it.  Crawford also went for the ball and the two veterans collided head-on.  Longoria got the worst of the deal, and he has shoulder damage that could keep him out for over two months.  

 

As far as I know, none of the Giants made a public comment questioning why Longoria and Crawford were aligned so close together.  Manager Gabe Kapler, one of more analytic-obsessed managers, did say afterwards that it was a "very emotional" clubhouse when they learned that team leader Longoria, the former Tampa Bay Ray with World Series and regular playoff experience, would be out for such a long time. 

 

Ballplayers are tough guys especially a gamer like Longoria so I hope he returns sooner than expected. But it raises the question of why so many players are abandoning traditional defensive positions in the supposed search for more statistical certainty.  

 

The basic double play is rarely seen now because infielders are shifting way out of their normal positions. There is now the frequent bizarre occurrence of a third baseman positioned near second base before a pitch. So to catch a routine foul ball, he must run like a 60-yard dasher to have a chance at corraling it. 

 

Analytics and shifting are getting out of hand and I don't know what it will take to bring that rarity known as common sense back to the game.

 

One thing I would do is to ban all players from carrying crib sheets of "tendencies" in their pockets and caps.   Baseball shouldn't be an "open book" exam!

 

The lord high commissioner Manfred just announced on June 15 a ban on foreign substances pitchers have been using on the baseball to increase movement and spin rates. Such a prohibition has been in the official rules for decades.  We'll see, of course, how it is enforced by the umpires.  

 

Let me repeat my call for another reform:  BAN THOSE CLIFF NOTES!  

 

Back to the Giants and how they may deal without Longoria for a good chunk of the summer. One of his replacements will likely be the former Met Wilmer Flores who is a versatile guy to have on your team. 

 

For me, Wilmer is the poster boy for "Yes, There Is Crying in Baseball!"  No one in the NYC area, Mets fan or not, can ever forget Flores weeping on third base when he thought he was being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers at the July 2015 trading deadline. 

 

It turned out to be a false alarm. He wasn't traded after all, and the valuable utility player, who had signed with the Mets as a teenager out of Valencia Venezuela, helped the team move on to the 2015 World Series.

 

Here's one last gripe against analytics.  Do we really need to know the percentage of swings and misses on different pitches from a pitcher?  Baseball is a very hard game and there is such a thing as TMI Too Much Information. 

 

TMI is a plague that is affecting writers, broadcasters, fans, and worst of all, players who forget about the "feel" of a game and how sight and sound are more important than those damned crib sheets they carry in their pockets and caps.

 

The fun element in baseball should never be forgotten. So let's hear it for one of the better new nicknames in the sport: the Jamestown (NY) Tarp Skunks in the Perfect Game Wooden Bat Collegiate League.

 

A tarp skunk is a regular denizen of that southwestern New York town near the Pennsylvania border and the Double-A Erie Sea Wolves.  The animal is an underdog that only sprays when faced with danger so it is an apt name for a scrappy team of collegians. They will be playing until the end of July, and early August if they make the playoffs.

 

THIS 'N' THAT FROM VARIED LEVELS OF BASEBALL:

**Update on Masahiro Tanaka still pitching well in Japan for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. In the last blog I did not give the full correct name of his team so here is the correction.  

 

Although his record is only 2-4 and he hasn't won since early May, he has been an innings-eater. He has averaged seven innings in his last five starts and his ERA is 2.90.  Most important, the Golden Eagles are in first place.

I leave it to Yankee fans to decide if he would have fared better than Jameson Taillon or the now-injured Corey Kluber. 

 

**Remember Mo'Ne Davis from the Little League World Series seven years ago?  She is now a softball infielder for the historical black college Hampton University in Virginia. In the off-season, she is broadcasting games of the DC Grays in a summer college league and aspires to go into the media business.

 

I learned about this story in Barry Svrluga's fine piece in the June 9 Washington Post..

Speaking of the WaPo, the brilliant columnist Thomas Boswell will retire on June 30 but hopefully not stay away from sports permanently.  He certainly has left an enviable legacy of game stories under deadline pressure and thoughtful commentaries.  Some appeared in such books as "Why Time Begins On Opening Day". 

 

**Here's hoping for a memorable College World Series starting on June 19-20 in Omaha.  I still find the sound of  aluminum bats jarring, but the pairings look very enticing.  All games to be aired on the "family" of ESPN networks.

 

The double-elimination tourney starts with red-hot Stanford vs. North Carolina State who knocked off #1 national seed Arkansas despite losing the first game 21-2.  Shades of the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates against the Yankees! 

The second game will feature perennial contender/former champion Vanderbilt vs. Arizona. 

 

Sunday's pairings are Mississippi State, which came from an 0-1 deficit to knock out Notre Dame, vs. Texas

Followed by Tennessee vs. perennial contender/former champion Virginia.

 

**And here's a salute to Bryant (Rhode Island) catcher Liam McGill who led all of Division I with a .471 batting average.  The former Columbia star certainly put to good use his last year of eligibility.

 

Here's hoping that all Ivy League sports return starting in the fall.  The loss of two full Ivy League baseball seasons has been one of the most hurtful consequences of the pandemic.

 

That's all for now.  Always remember:  Take it easy but take it!     

 

 

 

 

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White Sox and Giants Not Ready For Prime Time and Other Pre-Memorial Day Musings

Memorial Day this year comes on May 31. It's fine with me because the original Decoration Day was May 30 - to honor African-American dead in the Civil War - and by end of 19th century all Civil War dead.  Memorial Day didn't become a national holiday until 1971. 

 

How well I remember MLB's practice of doubleheaders on every May 30, July 4, and Labor Day.  Twin-bills are now ancient relics or at most seven-inning games under the new pandemic rules. 

 

The end of May remains a good first guidepost on how baseball's pennant races are developing.  The White Sox came into Yankee Stadium riding high in a weak AL Central division and got swept by the revived Yankees.

 

The first and last games were tight pitchers' battles but the Yankees prevailed, not even needing to go to the bastardized extra-inning format starting with the unearned runner on second base.  

 

This is an innovation I will never get used to.  Ditto the allowing of a baserunner to use an oven mitt to enhance his sliding into bases.  

 

The Yankees have been getting extraordinary starting pitching, solid defense, and just enough offense. As the last week in May begins, the Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, and Red Sox all have only 19 losses, the Yanks with one less win. 

 

At this juncture, they don't seem to miss Masahiro Tanaka who has returned to his former team the Rakuten Golden Eagles in the Japanese Pacific League.  

 

Thanks to info provided me by our Japanese correspondent Jun Ogawa, Tanaka is 2-3 in 6 starts with a 2.84 ERA.

He has an outstanding 5:31 walk:strikeout ratio, and has given up 4 HR and 32 H in 38 IN.  HIs team is only a 1/2 game behind the first place Nankai Hawks. 

 

The Yankees decision to gamble on the return to form of Corey Kluber, former Cy Young award-winner with Cleveland, is paying off.   He threw a no-hitter at Texas, one of seven so far in 2021.  

 

That's too many this early and a sad commentary on batters' inability to adjust to good pitching. If there is a blessing in disguise in all the no-hitters, it is that pitchers are at least going nine innings.  

 

I often think that pitchers today have been brainwashed into thinking that they can't go through a lineup three or God forbid four times. It becomes an unfortunate self-fulfilling prophecy.

 

The Orioles' only reliable pitcher, John Means, said after his no-hitter that just getting into the eighth inning for the first time in his career was a big thrill.  Means' inability to hold on to a five-run lead against the streaking Rays - 10 in a row as I post - started the O's latest descent into oblivion, 6 losses in a row as I post. 

 

In the National League West, the surprising Giants were riding high until the Dodgers came to town. Three losses later, the Giants find themselves in third behind both Padres and LA.

 

The only possible bright spot for SF is that they have an immediate rematch with the Dodgers in LA starting on

Thursday.  The White Sox don't meet the Yankees again until Th August 12 when they play the Field of Dreams game in Dyersville, Iowa.  After a day off they finish the weekend in Chicago.

 

I still maintain that baseball and any sports and art event must be experienced in person.  Two weeks ago,  

I paid my first visit to CitiField since the 2019 season. 

 

I saw a fine pitcher's battle for six innings between the Mets' Marcus Stroman and John "No-Hit" Means.  

It was the game where Albert Almora of the Mets almost made a great catch at the left center field wall but a collision with the fence knocked the ball free.   

 

Almora is still on the IL as are unfortunately virtually half of the Mets.  They remain in first place in the mediocre NL East but have played fewer games than any of their rivals.  The division is still wide open for every team.

 

Outfielder Kevin Pillar was the unacknowledged hero of that Met game.  With the Mets trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth, Pillar led off with a screaming first-pitch liner close to the left field foul pole. 

 

It was called a home run by the third base umpire and he circled the bases only to find out that after an umpires' conference it was called foul.  I don't think I have ever seen a player trot the bases on a phantom home run.

 

Pillar showed me a lot by digging in for the rest of the at-bat against soft-tossing Oriole closer Cesar Valdez. He singled to start the eventual two-run game-winning rally. 

 

A few days later, Pillar was hit in the face by a fastball by young Braves reliever Jacob Webb.  He suffered multiple nasal fractures and won't be back for a while.

 

If anyone can beat the doctor's estimates, it wil be Pillar.  He was more than gracious to pitcher Webb who was

visibly distraught at his misplaced pitch.

 

I also saw the Liberty home opener at the Barclay's Center.  After going 2-20 last season, the Liberty are off to 4-1 start in 2021.  The return of the justly heralded Sabrina Ionescu has been a big factor. The entire roster remake is also paying off in the early going.   

 

ONE WORD TO THE WISE:  Make sure you carry proof of vaccination with you on the card and/or your cell phone. 

 

Here are two tips for Memorial Day weekend viewing on TCM:

Sat May 29 12M/repeated Su 10A:  "Act of Violence" 1949 with Robert Ryan out to avenge a POW betrayal by

Van Heflin; and Mon May 31 3:15p  "The Steel Helmet" 1951  Sam Fuller's searing view of early Korean War

 

Always remember:  Stay positive, test negative & take it easy but take it!

 

 

  

 

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