— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Friday, June 13, 2003
June 13, 2003
Schadenfreude, snake dancing, and whining snakes.
Schadenfreude: I am not a fan of interleague play. I don?t like the contrived, gimmicky feel of the games. I don?t like the goofy contortions required with regard to scheduling. I don?t like the mixing of leagues prior to the World Series. All in all, I mostly dread the entire debacle, and no amount of "look how many more fans show up for these series" rationalization is going to change my mind about it. As with wild cards, expanded playoffs, the DH and front-wheel drive, I savor of my own crotchetiness like an extra-bitter beer, huffing off new-fangled atrocities with the time-tested ease of a professional grouch. None of this is really open for debate, which makes my recent brush with enjoyment of an interleague game particularly noticeable.
I speak, of course, of no mere run-of-the-mill interleague game, but of The Game, the convergence of all things right and holy by which a string of six otherwise unassuming men joined forces to beat back the minions of Evil for an entire night. Not that I?m normally a rabid Yankee hater or anything. As a Braves fan I can?t bring myself to hold sustained success against another team (though I do discard all of the success that came prior to free agency as tainted.) My only truly bitter memory of the Yankees is from 1996 and a World Series banner that by all rational rights should be hanging next to the ?95 version in Turner Field. But other than that, I feel no great disgust for pinstripes.
Still, watching the Astros? pen snake dance through the Bombers? order again and again Wednesday night, there was something noticeably warm and glowing alight within. Maybe it was Dial?s reaction when I messaged him to drop the Mets game and tune in with the rest of baseball-dom. Maybe it was Szymborski?s gleeful play-by-play as Octavio Dotel mowed down any who would oppose him in the eighth. Or maybe it was indigestion. Regardless, there was, it seemed to me, something greater than the sum of parts going on, some proto-Jungian collective unconsciousness raised in joyful unison, cheering, cheering, as if the entirety of every baseball fan other than the Yankee faithful were joined together, a gigantic astral umbilical chord of schadenfreude rising up unto the heavens.
I?m just saying.
My only question is this: in the eighth, Jason Giambi stands in with two out and a runner on. His team hasn?t recorded a hit all night and the Astros, for reasons beyond my kin, shift on him. 3B plays short, SS is behind the bag at second and 2B is in short RF. Down by six, in desperate need of base runners and trapped under the growing spell of the no-no, how do you not serve a fungo down the 3B line? Fear of Bob Brenly calling you a chicken[ship]? Give me a break. Tino Martinez would have laid down the bunt double?
Mirror World: Braves vs. A?s. One team leads their league in offense, beating the ball around like a red headed stepchild. The other cobbles together a below-average offense and depends on their three-headed ace-monster to pitch them through. I am so very confused. It has been argued many times that Atlanta?s "failures" in the postseason are due to the team?s basic architecture. Great pitching with limited offense will carry you through 162 games with optimal success, but when you get to the playoffs, tougher competition wears down your great pitching earlier and shifts the burden of success onto the rest of your team, notably your offense and bullpen. Having watched this theory turn more or less into a truism year after year in Atlanta, I am very interested in how a similar model might play out in Oakland over the next five years. Yes, the A?s are famous for their sabrerifficolicious offense, but their real success since 2000 has come courtesy of their rotation. Strangely enough, they?ve found themselves on the outside looking in during all of those playoffs, too?
Building a Better Mousetrap: Now that Curt Schilling is on the DL, assumedly in a soundproofed trainer?s room where his whining can?t be heard, much of the brouhaha over Questec?s Umpire Information System (UIS) has died down. The Braves? Ray King took up the good fight in Schilling?s absence, bemoaning the system at Shea Stadium after a particularly galling loss (as if any loss to the Mess isn?t galling), but for the most part the true wailing and gnashing of teeth has subsided. In the lull, I decided to take a cursory look at what effect the UIS was actually having on games.
Working on the assumption that, if UIS was really forcing umpires to squeeze the corners and call fewer "borderline strikes," there would be some noticeable change in the box scores of the teams that hosted the Questec technology. With fewer strikes being called you?d expect to see more hits and more walks and less strikeouts. Of course, sample sizes for individual pitchers would be obscenely small here, so what I did was take every pitcher from Questec "home teams," teams that play home games in stadiums with the UIS in place, and dump their combined stats into Excel. I then added up all ten of the hosting teams to get home and away splits for UIS. None of this is park adjusted, there is a little wiggle in the pitchers home vs. road workloads, and some of the "road" games probably took place in other Questec parks (NYY visiting Fenway, for example,) but in the big picture I think it all comes out in the wash.
Now I?m not any kind of superfly stathead pimp or anything, but it doesn?t look to me like UIS is causing any real damage to pitchers (unless the UIS is working so well that umpires are calling "squeezed zones" while the Questec hosts are on the road. In that case, then the system seems to be doing exactly what it says it will do?.) Teams that host the UIS in their home parks are giving up slightly fewer hits and walks and striking out slightly more batters (per inning) than they are doing on the road. That seems like exactly the opposite of what you would expect if the UIS was squeezing plates as Schilling, King and company are claiming.
WPG Hipper Than Thou Music Throwaway Hour: Now playing: Nada Surf, Malcomb Middleton and The New Pornographers. Avoiding like the plague: Hail to the Thief.