With a better understanding of baseball’s machinations has come a steady decrease in my fanaticism. Which, of course, is not to say I enjoy the game any less, but rather that I’m more rational in the way I approach it.
A firmer understanding of OPS, BABIP and VORP has rendered me less inclined to flip an ottoman when Luis Castillo can’t corral a game-ending popup, as Dad nearly did on Friday night. In fact, well aware of Castillo’s rapidly decreasing range in recent seasons, I barely batted an eyelash. Although, in fairness, his dropping a seemingly routine popup had less to do with his range and more to do with the circuitous-at-best route he took.
I was a baseball zealot since about age 8, when the Braves and Twins went from worst to first and met in the 1991 World Series. It was a great Fall Classic. Rooting for the now-hated Braves came easy, as they then played in the since-realigned NL West. But I was an ignorant zealot (I know, who’d have thought the two go hand in hand). I thought good teams were made of clutch players and performances, and they won with small ball and attention to detail. It was common baseball knowledge; I learned it through newspapers and announcers and Little League the way we learn arithmetic and cursive in school.
Turns out, good teams are made of good players, who produce better than their opponents. They score more runs and allow fewer. It has little, if anything, to do with grit and determination and the “timeliness” of hits (Yes, a run counts just as much in the first inning as one does in the ninth).
And, in some ways, this pill is a bitter one for someone who wants to watch the game and pull for a team with little or no objectivity. After all, fan is short for fanatic. I want to be a fanatic. But that entails little logic or reason. But, ultimately, I am happy with this new knowledge; I hate to be ignorant of any greater truth. I don’t mind saying that I’m almost always accepting of correction and instruction for this reason.
But, knowing what I do now, I watch games with the proverbial jaundiced eye. The Mets, for example, are not a very good team, especially with two of their better players out due to injury. Reason tells me Jose Reyes’ VORP is off the charts and Alex Cora’s is embarrassingly low.
I really want Omir Santos to be as good as Brian McCann or Joe Mauer. It would make for a great movie (the screenwriters are tripping over themselves to get to their laptops): The 28-year-old career Minor Leaguer gets a shot in the bigs due to an injury to a starter and grabs the opportunity by the throat, never letting go. The underdog exceeds all expectations and gets the girl in the end. But, I know there’s a pretty good reason Santos was a career Minor Leaguer prior to this season.
Mine’s not much of a mathematically inclined mind (I’m more concerned with musings in the guise of metaphors, as you may or may not know — that is, the sinewy strips of meat between life’s ribs), but I can’t help but to consider corrections and sample sizes and outliers these days.
Photo credit: Frank Franklin II/AP