Jan 28, 2009

My World of Baseball-Part IV: Discussion and Analysis

Baseball is not a continuous sport. It flows in a stepwise manner with discrete events building upon each other so that the anteceding event is dependent upon all preceding events....or at least that's how I tend to think of it. For example, the pitcher walks the first batter in the inning. This influences the oncoming events because the layout of the field changes: (1)the first baseman moves over to cover first base (2)the second baseman and shortstop could be in motion for an attempted steal or move back into "double-play depth" (3)the pitcher begins pitching out of the stretch instead of the windup (4) the signals from the catcher probably become more disguised. Also, the mindset of the defense changes and the mental process of each fielder involves more options. The score of the game and which inning this occurs in at the time this happens also has an impact on the events to come in the future.

This type of thinking has both been observed by observers and quantified by analysis. The interesting point is how many times the intuitions match up with the analysis. For example, when watching a game, you can sense that a team has a much greater opportunity to score when there is a runner on 2nd and 0 out vs when there is a runner on 1st and 1 out. But the analysis shows, based on empirical data, how much of a difference this opportunity actually has been historically in an attempt to predict what can happen "on average". That is fascinating to me.

Also fascinating is anything having to do with the historical perspective of baseball. I mean, I don't necessarily fall for the romanticized version of the game, but the build-up of playing legends set against the backdrop of their time and how they would compare against players from before and after their time is something wonderful to discuss. I have an obsession with reading articles about the Hall of Fame. I don't care if I agree or disagree with their viewpoint, it's amazing how so many people can interpret an individual's career performance. The same could be said for a season performance. Justin Morneau? 2006 MVP? Really? I disagree obviously, but I love to see people either lay out their case rationally or irrationally. Both have merit in the world of baseball because baseball at its heart is both a mental grind and an emotional intensity.

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