First things first: my well-intentioned tribute at the end of yesterday’s
column went horribly awry when I mixed in the wrong Robert. It was
public-address announcer Bob Sheppard who the Yankees honored with a plaque
in Monument Park on Sunday. Robert Merrill is well known as well, and also
closely associated with the Yankees: he sings the national anthem at the
Thanks to Kenny Gelfand and Ly Dang for pointing out the error.
Now, on to less embarrassing topics. Well, for me, anyway, if not perhaps
for a whole bunch of relief pitchers who are currently cowering in fear in
the corner of the Oakland A’s bullpen. Over the weekend against the Texas
Rangers, the A’s blew leads of 15-7 and 16-10 in one game, and 6-1, 8-6 and
10-9 in another. Tonight, the team has coughed up an 8-3 edge over the
Anaheim Angels, losing 9-8.
One of the pervasive misunderstandings that keeps the mainstream media and
people within the game from being more open to
analyst–"stathead," if you must–methods is the idea that using
these methods ignores human factors. Analysts do not claim that the whole
of baseball can be reduced to numbers. Rather, the idea is that the human
factors–the famous "intangibles"–are not measurable and do not
have any predictive value. If analysts are guilty of anything in this
arena, it’s staking out the position that these factors are
"meaningless," in an effort to counter the overemphasis on these
factors by others.
Having suffered through consecutive devastating losses on Friday and
Saturday, the A’s barely held on to a 6-2 lead Sunday, winning 7-6. And now
tonight, they once again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
I don’t think we know everything, and I have to think that this is one
situation where outside analysis may fall a bit short. We can talk about
the strikeout-to-walk ratio of the A’s relievers, and the likelihood of
improvement from certain pitchers, and talk up the replacements that could
be in green and gold by midseason. We can point out the disaster this
weekend occurred in a good hitters’ park. I myself have hammered home the
point that the biggest factor in close games is luck.
There’s no way we can know what is going through the mind of Art Howe, or
of Luis Vizcaino or of Jason Isringhausen. Still, if you go
through the same negative experience enough times, it can have an impact on
our psyche. We know that in our own lives, our own experiences, be it
dating or a job hunt or installing Windows 2000.
What we don’t know is whether it will impact this group of people in
this situation. That’s where the mainstream coverage goes wrong, in
insisting on analyzing and predicting the behavior of a group of
individuals. It’s guesswork, and it’s lousy journalism.
Everything and everyone has limits, and what the A’s are going through
right now shines a light on the limits of performance analysis. "I
don’t know" is a lousy answer, but sometimes it’s the best one. I
don’t know what impact, if any, these games will have on the A’s, and
anyone who tells you they do is wrong.
Joe Sheehan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.