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:
I got to spend the day at the ballpark yesterday, and was immediately reminded that no matter what happens, nothing can go wrong when the sun is out, there’s a high blue sky, and my refinancing clears so I can have a cold one. I sat in the not-so-cheap seats at Victory Field here in Indy, watching Lee Stevens play his last game. It wasn’t the storybook ending for a player that is the definition of “journeyman hitter.” He might be remembered for his hot streak in ’96, or the three-way deal that brought him to Montreal in 2000 or his freakish contract later that year, but Stevens understood that his day in the sun was over and walked out on his own terms. No walk-off home run, no cheering crowds, and not even a win or a hit–but he had class. If only all of baseball could be like that: perfect days and lots of class. On to the injuries…
Byung-Hyun Kim has done well as a starter, but you wouldn’t know it from his W/L record. The Diamondbacks offense can’t hit, while the Royals’ and Phillies’ bullpens are springing holes. Plus closer looks at Kyle Snyder and Marlon Byrd.
With Ramiro Mendoza and Brandon Lyon combining to allow two runs
Wednesday, the Red Sox bullpen has now given up 16 runs in 23 9th innings.
They’ve used seven different pitchers to protect 9th-inning leads (plus
Jason Shiell to hold a 14th-inning bulge), and the question of who will
pitch the ninth is a question that every member of Red Sox Nation has been
obsessing about since long before Opening Day.
Much of this stems from a misunderstanding of the “no-closer”
bullpen that the Red Sox assembled this winter. While the strategy downplays
the save statistic, it’s not about random roles for pitchers, which is how
many people have interpreted it. Roughly speaking, the idea is that the
bullpen’s best pitcher will throw the highest-leverage innings, rather than
being used solely in save situations. This is done in part by trading off
low-leverage save situations—-three-run leads in the ninth inning that can be
protected by lesser pitchers—-for higher-leverage situations earlier in the
There are other principles in play as well, such as minimizing the use of
one-batter specialists, and allowing effective relievers to pitch multiple
innings, but the basic idea is to allow game situations, not Jerome Holtzman’s
legacy, to dictate how the bullpen’s best pitcher is used.
The standings present multiple realities.
At the top, of course, there is the genuine reality, the bottom line, the real deal, terra firma: the actual wins and losses of each team. To a statistician, the actual results are just a little boring: they don’t necessarily reflect the likelihoods that this particular result would happen. The Indians, for instance, are 7-20, as of this morning. Ho-hum.
So the second reality, or the first alternate reality, is found by looking at how many games the team should have won, given how many runs they scored and allowed. There are plenty of ways to make that estimate–Rob Neyer, for one, regularly tracks the standings using Bill James’ “Pythagorean” theorem (in fact, Rob recently wrote an article on pretty much exactly what I’m doing here–and believe it or not, I didn’t read that article until after I’d finished drafting this. It must have been in the air). We’ll be just a little different.