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August 7, 2013

The Lineup Card

Nine of the Worst Baseball Clichés

by Baseball Prospectus


1. It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint
“It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Nothing against the sentiment, which is true in its way, it’s just that the language is imprecise and, in relative terms, unconvincing. The NBA and NHL calendars are longer {lockout joke} than MLB’s. So is the Premier League’s. The point made by marathon-not-sprint isn’t actually about duration, it’s about frequency: you have to play baseball almost every day, whereas the other sports give you more days off than on—that “padding” what makes their seasons longer. The cliché’s intent, which includes mild disdain for the sporadic scheduling of other sports, would be better expressed by something like: “It’s a job, not a hobby.” —Adam Sobsey

2. The Improper Use of "Patient" and "Disciplined" to Describe Hitters
Patience is a virtue, or so we're told. And when announcers tell us that a hitter is patient, it's usually meant as a compliment. Or at least it's supposed to be. See also: disciplined hitter. The thing that always grinds my gears is that patience and discipline have come to be exclusively synonyms for hitters who take a lot of pitches and have high walk rates. That can be the mark of someone who is patient and disciplined. If the ball is three feet outside, a player should have the discipline to let it go by. But suppose that the ball is a nice hanging curve about belt high. There's no discipline in letting that one sail by.

The point of plate discipline is not letting pitches go by for the sake of letting them go by. It's recognizing what you are capable of and then figuring out whether a particular pitch is worth swinging at. If you recognize the first pitch in an at-bat as one that you can deposit in left field for a single, then by all means, swing. Walks and high pitch counts (while they have their benefits) are not necessarily signs that you are a patient or disciplined hitter. It might simply mean that you are a passive hitter. It might also mean that pitchers don't want to really challenge you because you might hit the ball a long way. On the flip side, if a hitter is capable of reaching a lot of pitches (a la Vladimir Guerrero about 10 years ago) and getting hits on them, then that's disciplined as well. The point of the exercise is not to walk in every plate appearance. It's to do something productive with your at-bat. And while we might all worship at the altar of "drive up the pitch count," if you can score 10 runs and the pitcher only throws 60 pitches, you'll still be okay. —Russell A. Carleton

3. Must-Win Games
Undeniably, there are games of greater importance or added significance than others. Rarely, however, are there true must-win games. The term implies a do-or-die dynamic, and is overused and, in a literal sense, misused. Games are said to be must-win so often that the actual must-win games almost have to be called something else in order to differentiate them from the imposters. —R.J. Anderson

4. Professional Hitter
There is no shortage of baseball terms that we all know the meaning of, even though they might not make the most sense in the world. The one that bothers me the most is when (usually) veterans who step to the plate are referred to as "professional hitters." We get it, they are often players who have at some point either hit for high average or seen a lot of pitches in their plate appearances. They probably also fouled a lot of balls off. Maybe they can still be productive, but they're likely past their primes. With that said, literally every player who has an at-bat in the major leagues (or minor leagues, for that matter) is a professional hitter. Let's go to the video tape:

pro·fes·sion·al [pruh-fesh-uh-nl], adjective:
  1. following an occupation as a means of livelihood or for gain: a professional builder.
  2. of, pertaining to, or connected with a profession: professional studies.
  3. appropriate to a profession: professional objectivity.
  4. engaged in one of the learned professions: A lawyer is a professional person.
  5. following as a business an occupation ordinarily engaged in as a pastime: a professional golfer.
Last I checked, everyone who comes up to bat in a major-league or minor-league game is there because it is their occupation, not out of the goodness of their own heart. There has to be a better term for this that we can all start using for guys like Paul Konerko, Michael Young and the like. We can't just call them veteran hitters, as that's just "a person who is long-experienced or practiced in an activity or capacity," and it has no direct ties to performance. I mean, Yuniesky Betancourt is a veteran for crying out loud. We can't call them good hitters, as while there may be a decent amount of overlap in that Venn diagram, it's certainly going to be inappropriate some of the time.
My proposition: let's just label the good ones as good hitters and the ones who used to be good as pesky hitters. Maybe the professional broadcasters will heed the advice. —Bret Sayre

5. Even the best hitters fail 70 percent of the time
“Baseball is a game of failure,” people sometimes say, and while trite, there’s plenty of truth to that. The real problems pop up when people try to quantify that failure. A 70 percent failure rate suggests that a hit is the only positive outcome of a plate appearance. It’s a relic of an era when batting average ruled the roost and no one worried about walks or on-base percentage. Sixty percent would be better, though even that might be an exaggeration; Joey Votto and Miguel Cabrera, for instance, make outs about 55 percent of the time. And maybe “making an out” is itself too broad a definition of failure: a hard line drive that lands in a glove is in some sense a success for the hitter, who did everything right and was robbed. (Though you could say the opposite about a blooper that falls in.) No matter where you put the percentage, it’s potentially misleading. Let’s just leave it at “game of failure.”

(Then again, what sport, or human endeavor of any kind, doesn’t involve failure? And isn’t every failure someone else’s success? Maybe it’s time to rebrand baseball as a game of success.) —Ben Lindbergh

6. Selective Aggression
Admittedly, my hated for "selectively aggressive" is irrational. I know what it means, I understand the deeper concepts, but it drives me nuts.

If you're a poker fan you probably know what "selective aggression" is. More than an oxymoron, it's a philosophy that encourages players to go for a pot when they have a chance.

Maybe the concept makes sense to you, but there is a problem with oxymorons: they can lead to confusion, especially when translating the concept to another language.

So, why is the term used when it comes to hitting? Well, hitters want to find pitches they can do damage with, and lay off of ones they can't drive. It makes sense, and it avoids the confusion created by a clumsy figure of speech. —Mike Ferrin.

7. "You Talk About ______"
I am actually not talking! I am listening. You are the one talking. Continue with your thought, Mr. Broadcaster. —Matt Sussman

8. Bryce Harper Plays Too Hard, Unlike Mike Trout/Pete Rose
Now that Bryce Harper is in his second season and new exciting rookies have appeared on the scene, the wunderkind is expected to mature and round out his potential. One aspect of Harper’s play—one of Harper’s defining aspects, it seems—that has been under discussion this season is whether he plays too recklessly and aggressively. In an earlier Lineup Card, no fewer than four esteemed BP colleagues cited Harper’s forceful style of play as an injury risk that would lead them to take Mike Trout as a franchise player over him.

Harper’s aggressiveness has been compared many times to that of Pete Rose. Rose himself weighed in on this topic with BP’s own Mike Ferrin last week: “There’s a difference between playing hard and playing recklessly. And Bryce plays recklessly.” This is coming from the guy who dislocated Ray Fosse’s shoulder in an exhibition game. Rose bruised his knee on that play and missed three games as a result.

The misadventure that sticks out most in people’s minds is when he crashed into the Dodger Stadium wall. But there’s nothing wrong with Harper’s “mindset” or “style” that will have him colliding full-steam with unpadded walls his whole career. He got a bit lost in the outfield—which, as Rose pointed out, is still a fairly new position for him. Less than two weeks later, the mortal Harper may even have cost himself an important catch because the Dodger Stadium episode was still in his head.

I have not seen Bryce Harper play recklessly this year. In fact, Harper has matured in much the same way people expected he would. Last year, he was prone to high-intensity, low-percentage throws when there were smarter plays available. (Adam LaRoche gave him a talking-to in the dugout after one error on an overthrow led to a run against Colorado on June 26 last year.) This year, he’s been throwing back to the infield more often instead of trying for every play at home.

Harper has proved that concerns about his emotional maturity from the minor leagues were overblown. People will hopefully soon realize that he’s not a danger to himself physically, either. —Dan Rozenson

9. Change-Piece, Slide-Piece
I’ll start off with a confession: I’ve caught myself using a couple of the clichés chosen by my colleagues here. In fact, while working TV color commentary for the Rangers’ Double-A affiliate just last weekend, I described Rangers prospect Luis Sardinas as having a “professional approach,” or being a “professional hitter,” or something of that sort. It’s vague and carries little meaning, but my brain was running on autopilot in an attempt to fill the three-hour telecast. I cringed a bit as the words left my mouth, at least. Sorry, Bret.

Now that we’re beyond that, I’ll talk about my pet peeve: adding “-piece” when referring to an off-speed pitch. It doesn’t add anything, it means nothing, and it actually makes the original word longer, yet I often hear people––including players and coaches––saying “slide-piece” or “change-piece.” I also heard an AZL Angels pitcher say “changy” last week––that’s a new one for me. In the long run, this is harmless and it’s nothing more than a personal pet peeve. Perhaps I’ll eventually be sucked in. Anybody else see Verlander’s fastball-piece last night? —Jason Cole

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