I just finished up a fun weekend at the lake with family. While enjoying sunshine, water, and loved ones, I was also thinking a bit about baseball statistics. Not specific stats, but the more general topic. My mother (not a sports fan by any means) has a budding interest in baseball because I chatter about it constantly. But her eyes glaze over when the talk turns to numbers. Not all baseball fans enjoy (or even understand) the vast array of statistical information spouted by announcers, scribes or die hard fans.
Lately the volume of statistics and analysis has become overwhelming for me as well. Focus on the slumps and situational batting has replaced the experience of enjoying a game. Sports announcers tell us how difficult Yadier Molina is to strike out (right before he strikes out) or that Albert Pujols has not had much success against a pitcher (just as Pujols hammers the next pitch out of the park). Relevant? Not often.
Statistics in baseball have a life of their own. Even though numbers cannot accurately predict future production, players, managers and fans still pour over them as if seeking biblical truth. While reading the book Three Nights in August, I have been amazed by the sheer volume of research that Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan put into each and every Cardinals game. Every detail of previous history with an opposing batter or pitcher is used in preparation for the series. And yet with hours and hours of research, not to mention video tape and scouting reports, batters still only get on base an average of 1 out of 3 times at bat – if they are lucky!
Statistical splits do make great trivia – such as the success a particular batter has versus a certain pitcher on a particular field during the month of June. But for numbers that do not predict the future, are they overrated?
What would baseball be without the incessant discussion of stats and figures? I am beginning to think that sounds like a pleasant scenario.
Baseball is most definitely a game of strategy, a battle of the minds. My question is this: does an abundance of data cloud the issue or make it clearer? Would a batter with a great record against a pitcher have less advantage if he were unaware of his previous success? Does a slugger hitting poorly with the bases loaded then feel extra pressure to perform when that situation arises again? I am curious if the game would be played differently (for better or worse) if players and managers did not fixate on the numbers.
Last season was glorious – my first true summer of pure baseball love. Oblivious to lefty-lefty matchups, intricacies of Tony LaRussa’s lineup fiddlings, or the alphabet soup of WAR, RISP, OBP and OPS, I fell in love with the game.
The more I learn about the game and delve deeper into the business of baseball, I wonder if I am losing touch with the beautiful simplicity of it all. Part of me misses those days when I was unaware of which player was slumping or whose batting average with runners in scoring position was faltering. Each game was a new beginning with a chance to watch the action unfold, to see who would be the game’s MVP; and the only stat I knew was the score.
When Brendan Ryan or Matt Holliday steps into the batters box, I want the same excitement and anticipation that “this might be the time.” The feeling that there is always hope, always a possibility. After all, nothing is a foregone conclusion, no matter how convincing the pregame numbers were. Just this past week for example, could any statistics have predicted Brendan Ryan would hit a 3-run home run on Friday?
Stats are really irrelevant to the enjoyment of the game. Why, even a team on a prolonged losing streak could rally late in the season and battle into the playoffs – unless of course that team is the Cubs.
Maybe I will just ignore baseball stats for a while and let Tony LaRussa fuss over them and work his magic. I think I might just enjoy savoring baseball “in the moment” for now.
Play Ball! =)