Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Baseball, Theory & Practice

Playoff defeat breeds overanalysis at the same rate swamps breed mosquitoes, so it's no surprise the Los Angeles Angels of the Delta Quadrant are being microscrutinized in the wake of their loss to the Red Sox.

Some of the more aggressive statistically-obsessed observers out there have laid the defeat to the Angels' style of play. In contrast to current dogma, Mike Sciosia lets his team swing away and run aggressively. The Red Sox could hardly be more different. Their victory has been in some quarters touted as the triumph of the Sabermetric Way.

The Sabermetric Way could be the percentage means to winning baseball over the long haul of all teams playing all games. The Angels' defeat however, has nothing to do with their baseball IDEAS. It can be laid to a more prosaic but fatal cause. They played poorly. Style had nothing to do with it.

In this world, it never hurts to restate the obvious. A team that wins 100 games in a season isn't going to change its approach in the playoffs, nor should it. The Angels did not provide a valid test of the merits of their approach because they failed to give their approach any merits. Bad baseball sinks any team, whether it takes more pitches than Jason Giambi times nine, or if its a lineup of Manny Sanguillen clones.

The most notable stat in the Angels' regular season was their success in close games. That is not random chance, at least not all random chance. A gaudy record in close games means that one thing a team consistently did was not fuck up. It played tight (in the poker sense) baseball.

It didn't get thrown by 80 feet on the basepaths, or let pop flies drop for three-run singles. And it didn't grab itself by the essentials and squeeze hard in a clutch game.

In their elimination game, the Angels messed up two cinch double play balls and whiffed on a suicide squeeze. That's not due to incorrect baseball theory. That's just horseshit baseball, period. If the Red Sox had turned in similar rocks, they'd have lost, no matter how high their team OBP.

It's a beautiful sport, maybe the most beautiful. And of all baseball's beauties, simplicity is the one that gives the rest their meaning.


At 7:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, Bill James pretty conclusively proved that the record in 1 run ballgames *is* in fact, a product of luck and not skill. What you really want to see is blowout wins - good teams have far more blowout wins that lucky teams.


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