Sunday, June 24, 2007

Statistics Aren't Always Lies

Alex Rodriguez, cleanup hitter for the New York Yankees, leads the major leagues in home runs, RBI, runs scored, and is batting .333. Manny Ramirez, cleanup hitter for the Boston Red Sox, has 11 homers, 41 RBI, and is hitting .304. Not bad numbers, but well below his accustomed standard. For that matter, Rodriguez has 4 more home runs and only 11 fewer RBI than Ramirez and David Ortiz combined.

And yet, a glance at the American League East standings show that the Yanks are a .500 ballclub, while the Sox have one of the best two record in the game. What do these apparent analogies teach us, class?

You there, the Mack kid what the the straw hat, your hand is up. Very good, Connie. Pitching IS important. More important than hitting? Well, if forced to pick one thing my team's good at, it would be pitching, sure. But it's not a cure-all.

The only thing baseball has more of than numbers is cliches. Here's today's trite-but-true lesson. It's a team game. An odd team game where individuals most often act alone, but a group endeavor nonetheless. No matter what heroics an individual performs, he cannot compensate for the subpar performance of more than one of his teammates. A-Rod cannot make up for Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera, Robinson Cano, and the injuries to more Yanks than the Internet has space to mention all by himself. Babe Ruth couldn't, either. On the flip side, Josh Beckett's 10-1 record is pure Boston gravy. Mike Lowell and Kevin Youkilis are more than making up for Manny hitting like a marginal All-Star instead of a first ballot Hall of Famer.

The idea that "most valuable player" equals "best player on a winner" is a custom only. As thought, it's arrant nonsense. If A-Rod had Manny's numbers, the Yankees would have a worse record than the Royals.

Of course, baseball is as much a game of custom as it is one of numbers and cliches. The best player on a team always gets an unfair share of the blame for failure. I'm sure that back in presidency of hard-core ball fan William Howard Taft, Ty Cobb got the blame for the Tigers losing, and Senators fans went home cussing Walter Johnson for losing another 1-0 13-inning complete game.

Fans are irrational by definition. They get a pass. Professional or would-be professional observers like us bloggers have no excuse. Any sports reporter who trots the "it's the star's fault" wheeze should be taken off baseball and given a less intellectually challenging assignment, like prep softball, or the state legislature. Any blogger who does so can be safely de-bookmarked.


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