Talking Heads

Baseball season is here, so from time to time, you’ll also find my musings on the game in this space. Frankly, I don’t think my wife or kids really want to hear it, but I have to share it with someone.  You don’t have to pretend you care; you don’t live here (unless you’re my wife reading this right now, in which case: Hi Honey!).

I love a lot of things about the MLB Network.  The “baseball men” they have rambling on in their studios aren’t really on that list.  I’m pretty consistently amazed how many things are said by baseball analysts (for that matter, analysts from every sport) which show such a total lack of analysis – you know, the thing that’s supposedly their job.

To wit: I really wanted to watch the “30 Teams in 30 Days” series on MLBN, but I couldn’t do it.  As soon as you tell me Mitch Williams is on the scene to give me insight into what’s happening in Rangers’ camp, I know that my time will be better served turning off the TV and having a conversation with my dog about Yu Darvish.

I did watch the episode on the Washington Nationals, both because I wanted to learn more about Bryce Harper and because I think Davey Johnson is pretty brilliant, and I wanted to hear what he would say when they interviewed him.  Which made it pretty funny when Larry Bowa wanted to question Davey Johnson on the wisdom of decisions like not over-pitching Stephen Strasburg.  See, Davey Johnson has a career winning percentage of .561 as a manager; that means his average team has finished with a record of 91-71.  Larry Bowa has a career winning percentage of .460 as a manager; that means his average team finished with a record of 75-87.  If you’re not a baseball fan: that’s not as good. 

Which brings me to the real point of this post.  Larry Bowa was talking about a relief pitcher the Nationals who they acquired, who pitched in the American League last year.  I don’t remember who it was, but Larry’s point was that this guy was likely to find it easier to pitch in the National League than the American League, because (paraphrasing) “in the National League, you get to face the pitcher every time through the order, while in the American League you have to face all those designated hitters, hitting 20 to 25 home runs a year.”

What’s wrong with that statement?  Well, for one thing, Larry seems to have missed that most teams haven’t had much success finding an everyday Designated Hitter.  In fact, among the 14 AL teams in 2011, there were only 8 players who managed to both play at least half of their games as a DH and get enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title (502 plate appearances).  In other words, 6 of 14 teams didn’t really have a full-time DH; they filled the position with an assortment of players.  Of the 8 teams who had full-time DHs, only six of those players were above average for the league (measured by OPS).  And, only one DH hit over 20 home runs in 2011: David Ortiz.  Larry Bowa thinks that every team has a David Ortiz, but they don’t.

The other problem is that Larry was talking about how relief pitchers who come to the NL get to face pitchers instead of DHs.  Except most relief pitching happens in innings 6-9, and the average starting pitcher goes less than 7 innings (in fact, only 9 starting pitchers made at least 30 starts [and thus was a full-time starter] and averaged 7 innings a start [and two or three of those were rounded up to 7 innings a start]).  Which means relief pitchers aren’t facing other pitchers in the batting order – they are facing pinch hitters!  So, they aren’t really getting it easier – they’re facing the guys who would be Designated Hitters if the NL had the DH.

All of this is beside the fact that the NL and AL have a minimal difference between them offensively, at this point – roughly .25 runs per team per 9 innings.  All of which means…relief pitchers face no meaningful disadvantage pitching in either the American League or the National League.

Now, why can I figure all of that out in the time it takes Larry Bowa to say it (then check the stats to confirm), but Larry Bowa can’t figure it out when, you know…it’s his job?


In Praise of The Kid

Today is a special day for me.  The Chicago Cubs pitchers and catchers reported for Spring Training, which means it is now baseball season in my world.*  However, it’s also been a sad couple of days for many baseball fans: on Thursday, Gary Carter died, less than a year after his doctors discovered brain cancer.  I’ve been sad about this too.

*For most of you, baseball season will start when the actual season starts in April, or perhaps a few weeks before in late March, or perhaps sometime later in the year if you are not gripped by baseball.  To all of you, I say: you should try my way of doing things.  You see, not only does baseball season start now, but Spring has begun.  It’s a happy place.  Granted, our winter has been more like spring this year, but we’ll probably get one more big snow, and lots of you are going to be plunged back into the winter that never happened.  I’ll be enjoying Spring.  

Being sad about Carter’s passing surprised me a little.  He started his career playing for the Montreal Expos, a team that meant nothing to me*, and then he moved to the New York Mets, who were in the midst of a season of spiteful rivalry with my Cubs.

*Well, not nothing.  That’s what it meant to Bud Selig and Jeff Loria.  But not much, since I am a Cub fan, and didn’t spend much time thinking about the Expos.  I did always love their funky M logo. 

Gary Carter wasn’t the most unlikeable member of those Mets (that, of course, would be Doug Sisk) (Just kidding, Doug!), but disliking Mets was what we did.  As I’ve been thinking back to those years, my recollection is that the thing I disliked Gary Carter for most was his sincerity.  Almost anything you read about Gary Carter will talk about his joy at playing, and that was annoying (as an opposing fan).  But that was pretty much it – the man was happy to be a baseball player, he seemed completely sincere about it, and he was really good at it. I look back at that now, and I’m reminded one thing: I had some dumb ideas as a kid.  I suppose we all did (or do, for the many teens who just love to read what I write – hi, young adults!).  Dislike someone because of their sincerity and joy?  I’d rather now celebrate him for those same things.