Derek Zumsteg chimes in with a handy, dandy guide to identifying your local sportswriter. Not to be taken internally.
One of baseball’s most-mocked rules is the Infield Fly rule. Bad comedians making fun of baseball will say they understand quantum mechanics but don’t understand infield flies. Announcers frequently get it wrong, fielders don’t use it to their advantage, baserunners sometimes get confused by it. In fact, the only people who seem to consistently know what’s going on are the umpires.
There are two parts to this: An infield fly, as defined in Rule 2, and the infield fly rule, where in certain situations, the batter is declared out when he hits an infield fly, to remove the force play. With zero or one out and runners on first and second, or first, second, and third, when a ball is popped up, and the umpire declares the ball an infield fly, the batter is out no matter what happens. This is 6.05 (e): No force is on, so the infield can’t slyly let the ball tick off a glove and try to force the runners into a double or triple play. The runners can frolic about how ever they like–tagging up to try and run if it’s caught, or running on the chance it will drop–but they usually just stand on the bag and wait for the next batter to come up. Sometimes, though, things go wrong.
Tuesday night, we got to see a great example in the Giants-Expos game.
There’s only one game this season I’ve gone back and watched again from start to finish: Mike Mussina’s May 7th start against the Mariners, where he pitched eight innings, gave up five hits, one a homer, struck out 12, and walked none. Mussina’s been otherworldly so far this year, and watching him I know that it’s not that he’s particularly lucky–he’s working with top-shelf stuff and great command. Batters are left walking back to the dugout shaking their heads and asking their hitting coach: “What am I supposed to do with that knuckle-curve he’s throwing for strikes?” And the coach shrugs, because he doesn’t know either.
It was a great game, because it made me sit and think about what pitchers are and become: Mussina was almost forgotten last season, his years of excellence not recent enough, and now he’s offering a traveling clinic on how to pitch.
And this, in turn, leads me to wonder about Freddy Garcia’s failure to move from future ace to ace. I wrote about this a little last September and found that Garcia had been lucky in his good seasons with seeing balls put into play turned into outs by the fine Mariner defense of 2000-2001.
I’ve been talking lately to fans of different sports, and thinking about what makes baseball fans–seriously fanatical baseball fans, the people who would identify baseball as their favorite sport and might have to think about it if you asked them who the runner-up was–different.
Baseball is so special, in its season, that it seeps into the follower from day to day and week to week. Football fans, for instance, get one three-hour game a week and then speculation on who’ll be the starting quarterback and other scraps of news. Baseball offers us nearly a game a day, each day a fact: my team won or my team lost. There’s news, streaks broken and started, debuts to watch, slumps, hot streaks, every morning you get up and read something new in the sports section.
There are few things in this world that confound me more than our obsession with other people’s opinions.
Honestly, why is it that we spend so much time caring if Martin Sheen is anti-war, Dennis Miller is pro-war, or if Leonardo DiCaprio is pro-hazlenut? So what if a reliever having a somewhat surprisingly good year is uncomfortable with guys who like other guys, in a different way. Big deal.
I’m referring, of course, to last week’s comments in the The Denver Post from Rockies pitcher Todd Jones, which read: “I wouldn’t want a gay guy being around me. It’s got nothing to do with me being scared. That’s the problem: All these people say he’s got all these rights. Yeah, he’s got rights or whatever, but he shouldn’t walk around proud. It’s like he’s rubbing it in our face. ‘See me, hear me roar.’ We’re not trying to be close-minded, but then again, why be confrontational when you don’t really have to be?”
Things I’ve Learned Watching Baseball on TiVo:
This year after talking to Jonah Keri and his wife, I put down money to buy a TiVo before the season started, and I’ve found that besides its general life-enhancing qualities, it’s taught me a lot about baseball. I love, for instance, being able to do the instant eight-second replay on third-out close plays when the broadcast goes almost immediately to commercial. So here’s what having unlimited replay capability, along with slow-motion and freeze-frame, and all the other amazing TiVo features, has revealed to me.
First, ties do not go to the runner. Ties go to the defense. The runner needs to clearly beat the throw to the glove to be safe at first. After that, there is an enormous swing in the out threshold of different umpires. Baseball has hugely increased the quality of the umpires in the last few years–you’ll see second base umps run out to cover fly balls and make better calls on traps than they ever did before, for instance–but there are as many standards for caught stealing as there are men who put on the uniform. I’ve seen the standard on out-calling take many forms:
“Derek,” people sometimes ask me, “you drink a lot of beer. And I by that I mean a frightening amount of beer. What should I, the casual beer drinker, enjoy while I sit at home and watch my Rangers get their ass handed to them game after game?”
So at great personal expense which, my accountant tells me, I will unlikely be able to deduct as a cost of business, I took the time to drink a lot during baseball games so that I could offer this report to you in the hopes that it enhances your enjoyment of this season.
Looking at outfield defenses, I found that the difference between the best and the worst outfield defenses worked out to around 150 hits, given an average pitching staff and equal chances. These are the fly balls that skip past Carl Everett and are devoured by Darin Erstad.
For purposes of this column, figure 33% of those go for doubles. Generally, doubles are about 20% of all hits, including ground-ball hits, so if anything, that’s a little conservative. And also for purposes of this example, we’re playing in an average park with an average pitching staff backed up by an average infield. The average AL team last year hit .264/.327/.424, while the average NL team hit .259/.327/.410.
Let’s say that you’re in the NL, with an average outfield, and you replace those players with all-stick immobile outfielders and punt outfield defense–we’ll call these guys the Kahrls. What happens to your pitchers?
Would you kill someone for $1,000? What about $10,000? How far do I have to go before you start thinking “Well, do I know them? Are they bad people?” Or the opposite question: How much would you pay to prevent someone from being killed?
This is the choice baseball faces when they consider their security. It’s much like the choices architects make when they construct ballparks: price, speed, and ease of construction each weighed against comfort, quality, security, earthquake resistance.
Baseball this last week was forced to re-assess the balance it had struck, when four fans ran out onto the field during a White Sox game, including a guy who apparently was really fond of umpire Laz Diaz’s leg (and was stomped for his love).
I’ve recently written a couple of columns sketching a general measure of outfield fielding by looking at putouts the outfield turns as a percentage of team fly balls, using 2002 season data.
What about unit defense in the infield, though? Can we do the same thing there, except with ground balls instead of flies? And can that lead us to some really strange conclusions?
Yes on all counts, with some problems. While outfield putouts are context-neutral–each time a putout is recorded the batter, and only the batter, is out–infield putouts are context-heavy. A man on first means a successfully turned ground ball to short goes to the second baseman for the first out, and then (if possible) a second putout is recorded by the first baseman if the ball arrives there in time to get the batter.
For my purposes, though, I’m only interested when the infield turns any out, and only that first out. I’m going to try and isolate that by looking at infield unit POs by making a few adjustments:
Did baseball’s leaders conspire to white-wash the All-Star game? BP’s Derek Zumsteg speculates on the subject, while resting comfortably atop the grassy knoll.
Some time ago, I wrote a column on a few of the new ballparks, and using the available evidence on their dimensions, speculated on how they’d play. In response to that column, I got a particularly cool question from a number of different readers. That is: “What would the best pitchers’ park look like?”
I love the questions that stick in your craw. How far back do you push the fences before today’s home runs and many line drives become inside-the-park four-sackers, for instance?
In order to answer this question, I took the liberty of persuing our list of historical park factors, and did some sorting, some grouping, and some determining of thresholds.
It’s a good week. I’ve got the MLB Extra Innings package, and after a long day of tinkering and swearing, my TiVo can now record up to 220 hours of baseball. I’ve seen so much fine baseball I feel like I’m in a pleasure coma–being able to sit down and watch NL teams I hardly ever got to see, while knowing that every Mariners game will be archived for my off-season amusement.
Derek delves deeper into the mystery of the Twins outfield while lamenting the wearing of pants.
Derek Zumsteg suggests an alternative to Major League Baseball’s toothless drug policy, and a better use for Pete Rose’s services.
Outfield defense is, at first glance, one of the easier things to measure. If there’s a fly ball and an outfielder catches it, they get at least one out, which is recorded statistically as a putout. But outfielders will almost never get a putout on a ground ball–the best they can do is pick it up and throw it to someone who will touch the base, or tag the runner. Can something that easy provide useful information?