Thursday, October 23, 2008

Innovative Blog Post Alert: Sometimes Sports Analysts Say Stupid Things

The last thing the internet needs right now is another blog criticizing the dumb things sports broadcasters say. But it seems like all the cool kids are doing it now.

I want to be cool.

Here's the game situation from last night's World Series contest: The Phillies (from Philadelphia) are leading the Rays (from Tampa Bay) by one run, in the bottom of the ninth. There are two outs. Carl Crawford is batting for the Tampas, facing Brad Lidge of the Philadelphias. I don't think I stressed this enough, but there are two outs. Out of three. That's like a major tenet of baseball. Tim McCarver, who holds the most prestigious analyst position in baseball, has this to say (quoting loosely):
It's really important that Crawford get on base in this situation, because with his good speed, he has a chance to steal second base, moving him into scoring position. Lidge has been relying heavily on his slider this inning, which is a good pitch to run on because--to be effective--the slider needs to be low in the strike zone, making it harder for the catcher to throw.
The end of this thought is somewhat enlightening (it's easier to steal against slider-heavy pitchers) even if it might be smarter to wait until, you know, Crawford reached base. But the beginning is really inexcusable: the important reason for Crawford to reach base is not so that he can get himself into scoring position. It's important because if he doesn't get on base somehow, that means he made an out, which would be the third one of the inning (and, remember, this was the ninth inning, the last in regulation play), and the GAME WOULD END if Crawford didn't get on base. He could have used his good speed to run all over the bases after he popped up in foul territory to make the third out and it wouldn't have mattered because the game would be over, and that fake run wouldn't have counted.

As Eric Walker, as quoted in Moneyball (pg. 58) put it:
Analyzing baseball yields many numbers of interest and value. Yet far and away--far, far and away--the most critical number in all of baseball is 3: the three outs that define an inning. Until the third out, anything is possible; after it, nothing is. Anything that increases the offense's chances of making an out is bad; anything that decreases it is good. And what is on-base percentage? Simply yet exactly put, it is the probability that the batter will not make an out. When we state it that way, it becomes, or should become, crystal clear that the most important isolated (one-dimensional) offensive statistic is the on-base percentage. It measures the probability that the batter will not be another step toward the end of the inning.
Walker happens to be a former aerospace engineer, but this concept isn't so difficult to understand that you need to be one to grasp it. Surely this country could produce one person to analyze baseball games on TV who is able to appreciate the value of outs.

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