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April 1, 2014

Overthinking It

Takeaways from Opening Day

by Ben Lindbergh


There are only two possible stories to tell about Opening Day. There’s the boilerplate, “Boy, isn’t it swell to have baseball back” story, which is accurate (It is swell!) but nothing you haven’t heard after every other opener. And then there’s the small sample, confirmation-bias-based conclusion: Team X’s bullpen blew the game, so they’re bound to struggle to hold leads all season; Player Y had a three-hit day, so just as we suspected, he’s bound for a breakout. The fact is that there’s only so much about this season that we weren’t aware of before the first of Monday’s 13 contests kicked off, and we shouldn’t make too much of any occurrence (save for, say, a serious injury) just because five months of baseball withdrawal makes each pitch and swing seem momentous. It’s okay to let it all wash over us for a while, making the occasional mental note about things that could become significant, someday.

This article, then has no narrative. Behold, a bunch of bullet points from opening Day:

  • Tigers shortstop Alex Gonzalez—who made a meh diving play to his left in the seventh, then won the game with a walk-off single—started off on a more negative note when he flubbed a soft grounder in the fourth, prompting one patient, forgiving Tigers fan on my Facebook feed to post, “Alex Gonzalez [expletive] blows.” That statement may well turn out to be true, but it’s worth noting that the grounder he bobbled came off the bat of Norichika Aoki, the reigning king of the reached on error.

    As I noted this winter, Aoki easily leads the majors in reached on errors in his two major-league seasons; if we had added ROE to every hitter’s on-base percentage, Aoki’s OBP would’ve risen 12 points relative to the league. Aoki almost never strikes out, hits a ton of grounders to the left side of the infield, and has the speed to make fielders try to rush. A player with that profile will get more than his fair share of these:

    Aoki went 0-for-5 on Opening Day, but one of those outs is hiding some skill.

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