Monday, June 28, 2010

Keeping Score With L.L. Bean

In The Joy of Keeping Score, Paul Dickson describes a number of novel scorekeeping systems that have been developed over the years. One, to which he gives particular attention because of the notoriety of the developer, is a system devised by L.L. Bean, and published in 1954 in a scorebook billed as "L.L. Bean's Simplified Baseball Scoring".

Unfortunately, all that I know about this system is taken from Dickson's book. It's hard to track down a copy of a scorebook from 1954--it's not the kind of book that is usually available from libraries, and while I'm sure one pops up on EBay from time-to-time, my interest is not up to the hassle and resources that would be required to acquire one. In any event, Dickson describes enough of Bean's system (including reprinting one of Bean's example games) to implement at least a crude approximation of it.

Bean was right; his system is simple. It doesn't allow for tracking the process of runners around the bases and in some cases it doesn't identify the specific fielders involved in recording an out, or even making an error. A walk is simply "W", an error "E". A hit is a line with a dot on the end in the direction of the hit, and numbers (2, 3, 4) to indicate the number of bases it was worth. This is the only place where numbers appear in the scoring.

The main symbol for an out is a circle. Groundouts are marked with a line in the direction of the baseman who made the play. A groundout to third thus has a line drawn from the center of the circle to a west compass direction. A groundout to first is the opposite; groundouts to the middle infielders have lines that intersect the circle near the top.

Flyouts are indicated by solid dots around the circle, so a fly to center is marked with a dot above the circle, centered. Flies to left and right have dots off to the side, while a popup to pitcher would have a dot directly in the center of the circle. The boundaries of the circle sort of represent the boundaries of the infield.

That covers most outs; strikeouts are marked with a small, unfilled dot in the center of the circle, while double plays just have a capital "D" in the center of the circle.

The cover of Bean's scorebook brags that it is "especially adapted for night scoring". This is a wonderful anachronism; apparently in the early days of night baseball, L.L. Bean felt that the light was not bright enough to take down detailed notes on a game. I wonder if this was a personal idiosyncrasy, or a common complaint of 1950s baseball fans.

Bean's system really doesn't do much for me, personally, but scorekeeping is an intensely personal pursuit, and it might be something that interests others. It's a visual system, and a pretty decent one at that; the little pictures with circles, lines, and dots that you draw for outs do a pretty good job of representing the play. The sheet is not cluttered with all manner of numbers and letters as a Project Scoresheet scoresheet or a detailed traditional scoresheet will be.

On the other hand, it just leaves out to many details for my taste, even to use on occasion as a lark. I can't bring myself to just ignore whether a groundout to first was unassisted or whether it was a 3-1. I can't just mark down a double play without noting whether it was 363, 543, or unassisted by the first baseman on a line drive, and I can't go without noting how runners advance around the bases.

So I worked up a compromise system, using Bean's symbols, and used it to score a spring training game between Boston and Minnesota (I've actually been using it on rare occasions for a couple years now, but this is the game I scored to serve as the example here). I marked the number of bases on a hit as I normally do, by using the appropriate number of dashes (one for a single, three for a triple, etc.), but in order to avoid letters or numbers I marked the location of the hit with a solid dot. If the dot is on the left side of the dash, the hit was to left; on the right side, to right. If the dot was on the dash, it was a line drive; below the line for a groundball and above the line for a flyball. For extra base hits, the line drive dot is worked in between the lines--there's no reason to draw the dot over a line when you already have multiple lines. Infield singles are marked by a "+" with a dot in one of the quadrants formed indicating the direction the ball was hit (lower right = first base, upper right = second base, upper left = shortstop, lower left = third base, bottom = catcher, middle = pitcher).

I marked outfield and middle infield foulouts with a "`" mark and line drive outs with a dash rather than a solid dot. Infield foulouts to catcher, first, and third are marked by drawing the appropriate solid dot on the outside of the circle rather than on the border of the circle. Any sort of out made on the bases was so indicated, but circled so that the circle stands as the universal symbol of an out throughout the scoresheet.

I stuck with K and backwards K for strikeouts, but written within the universal out circle. For groundouts with unusual or unimplied putout/assist strings (like 31 or 41), I marked them as one would mark a normal groundout to the initiating fielder, then put the numerical clarification inside the circle. If a sacrifice was credited on a play, I also noted this inside the circle.

Here is the sheet, and the written description for each plate appearance for each lineup slot which can serve as a key:

BOS #1: fly to left, strikeout swinging, infield single to first, fly to right, strikeout swinging
BOS #2: strikeout swinging, flyball single to center, groundball single to left, fly to center
BOS #3: fly to right, groundball single to left, line drive single to left, flyball double to right
BOS #4: strikeout swinging, popup to short, 363 double play, groundout to first (unassisted)
BOS #5: groundout to short, line drive double to right, flyball single to left, groundout to short
BOS #6: fly to right, fly to left, fly to center, strikeout looking
BOS #7: strikeout swinging, hit batter, foul pop to short, strikeout swinging
BOS #8: line drive to short, fielding error by shortstop, strikeout swinging, grounder to short
BOS #9: strikeout swinging (completed 23), walk, flyball single to center, infield single to second

MIN #1: walk, groundout to short, walk, groundout to short, strikeout swinging
MIN #2: flyball double to right, fly to right, 163 double play, fly to center, fly to right
MIN #3: walk, fly to right, walk, fly to left, groundout to first (unassisted)
MIN #4: fly to center, walk, walk, fly to center
MIN #5: line drive double to left, flyball single to right, sacrifice fly to left, groundout to short
MIN #6: line drive to third, groundout to second, walk, fly to left
MIN #7: foul pop to catcher, flyball single to right, strikeout swinging, fly to center
MIN #8: strikeout looking, pop to short, strikeout swinging, fly to center
MIN #9: fly to right, walk, foul pop to first, fly to center

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Great Moments in Yahoo! Play-by-Play

I didn't realize trading players to your opponent in the middle of a non-suspended game was permitted.

Great Moments in Yahoo! Box Scores

Perhaps they just didn't believe that Josh Wilson started at first base, or wanted to spare the rest of us that knowledge.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

New Coach: Greg Beals

Ohio State has hired Greg Beals to replace Bob Todd as head baseball coach. Beals is a forty-year old 1995 graduate of Kent State and spent three years (1991-93) in the Mets system as a poor hitting catcher (.250/.334/.311, all in A ball). He became an assistant at his alma mater and obtained a master's degree before taking the head coaching position at Ball State in 2004, where he replaced Rich Maloney. Maloney had left BSU for a certain school of questionable repute in Ann Arbor.

Beals led Ball State to its first NCAA appearance since 1969 in 2006, and his program has produced a number of high draft picks including Red Sox 2010 first rounder Kolbrin Vitek. He will now inherit a Buckeye programming coming off a disappointing season, and losing a lot of talent to boot. Of course, he also inherits the support of one of the wealthiest athletic departments in the country, and one which is as committed to baseball as any northern program.

Since Beals began his coaching tenure in 2004, it might be worthwhile to examine the record of his BSU program as compared to those of the Big Ten schools and the MAC's top dog, Kent State. Here are the team's places in the ISR rankings, published by Boyd's World, for those twelve schools over Beals' tenure:

And the average rankings:

A couple points based on these figures:

1. OSU has ceded its top dog status in the Big Ten to the forces of evil over this period, but contrary to the belief of some critics of Bob Todd, the program clearly stands in the conference elite. Minnesota may have won more conference titles over this span (the Buckeyes took just one regular season title in 2009), but OSU's overall annual record is quite comparable with that of the Gophers. None of the other seven baseball-playing Big Ten schools (sorry Nebraska, you don't count yet) come close to OSU, MIN, and those other guys.

2. Some other people seem to think that Kent State is the state's premiere baseball program. That's not the case either. KSU did compile a better ranking in three of the seven seasons, but OSU had three seasons with a higher ranking then KSU's best (sure, one was by only two spots, not a significant amount, but then OSU's fourth-best performance was only two spots behind KSU's best). KSU has produced more pro players, but that is an inappropriate measuring stick for a college program.

3. Beals' record at Ball State is solid but unspectacular. Ball State has not challenged Kent for MAC superiority, but their overall performance is comparable to that of an average Big Ten program. While the gap between resources available to Big Ten and MAC programs in baseball is relatively small, it's still encouraging that Beals could assemble the same quality of teams at OSU that he did at BSU and hold his own. However, it is discouraging that his two best seasons came shortly after inheriting the program from Maloney.

Obviously, it is not my intent to evaluate the hire based solely on a crude ranking comparison of twelve programs. However, the comparison does nothing to move me off my gut reaction when I read last night that Beals' appointment was imminent: solid, safe, underwhelming. Underwhelming is not meant to be a negative reaction, just to convey my lack of excitement beyond what I usually exhibit for Buckeye baseball--which is fairly substantial. I wish Coach Beals nothing but the best, as there is no baseball team on the planet that I have more emotional investment in than that of The Ohio State University.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The End of an Era

There are few phrases overused in sportswriting as much as the "era". Writers love to declare the end of an era, often announcing eras closed that most of the world had no idea had even opened--like the "Mike Lowell era". Occasionally, though, the phrase does a pretty decent job of describing the historical significance of a change, without falling into the hyperbole trap.

One of those cases is the retirement of Bob Todd, who since 1988 has been the baseball coach at The Ohio State University. Todd is the most successful coach in school history by practically every relevant standard except College World Series success (and given that the nature of the game now essentially ensures that teams from northern conferences will never reach Omaha, this shortfall of his record is trivial):

* Todd's 23 year tenure is exceeded only by that of Marty Karow (25 years)
* His 901 career wins tower over Karow's 479
* Todd's .654 W% is the best by any coach with a multi-year tenure, beating out Lynn St. John who compiled a .653 W% from 1913-1928
* His .636 W% in Big Ten play easily bests St. John's .599
* Todd won seven Big Ten regular season titles, two more than Karow
* Todd also led the Buckeyes to eight Big Ten Tournament championships, although only his predecessor Dick Finn had the opportunity to do so

Todd's number eighteen jersey was retired prior to his final game against Minnesota, an honor well-deserved. Unfortunately, the 2010 season was a poor way for his career to end.

The Buckeyes came into the season as consensus favorites to win the Big Ten title, with some idle chatter about it being one of Todd's best chances to reach Omaha. Such talk was only natural given that the team was coming off a highly successful season that featured a Big Ten title and a second place finish to Florida State at the Tallahassee regional, enabled by OSU knocking out Georgia. Most of the key players returned, with the main exceptions being first baseman Justin Miller and closer Jake Hale.

The season started well enough, with Ohio winning its first five games. But as the non-conference campaign wore on, the team began losing to opponents they should have handled (St. Louis, Marshall, Bethune-Cookman, Weber International, and Rollins), and sometimes by disturbing margins (the Thundering Herd laid a 17-1 smackdown on the Bucks). OSU was able to right the ship in Big Ten play, staying right at the top in what was shaping up as a wild race at 6-3.

The highpoint of the season came on April 23, a game I was lucky enough to attend between PSU and OSU. Alex Wimmers, OSU's ace, made over 130 pitches in a complete game 3-1 victory, and at 7-3 OSU maintained first place. In the final two games of the series, the lowly Nitanny Lions battered the Buckeyes 18-10 and 14-6.

The next weekend saw OSU at UM in a key matchup between two teams near the top of the standings. But Wimmers was scratched with a hamstring injury that would keep him sidelined until the final weekend of the regular season. From that point on, the Buckeyes held on for dear life. They were never swept in a weekend series, but they failed to win one either, going 1-2 in all of them.

The Big Ten race remained insanely close, with the Buckeyes three games out of first going into the final series with Minnesota while clinging to a spot in the top six (only the top six finishers qualify for the Big Ten tournament). A sweep would give Ohio a share of the title; losing the series would likely mean elimination.

The latter is what happened, as despite a heroic effort (spread across two days due to a weather delay) by Alex Wimmers in the second game, the Bucks lost the first two and were eliminated from tournament contention. The 9-6 win that closed the season was a welcome end for Todd and the seniors but ultimately meaningless.

OSU finished with a 28-23 overall record; the .549 W% was fourth in the Big Ten (MSU led the way at .642), but the non-conference schedule was weak. The Bucks' .532 EW% ranked fifth (MSU, .652), while the .563 PW% was good for fifth (Purdue, .632).

Bill Davis Stadium is a fairly strong pitcher's park, but sticking with unadjusted numbers, OSU's 6.63 R/G lagged behind the league average (6.85). OSU did an excellent job of getting runners on base (their .397 OBA and .12 walk/at bat ratio both led the league), but the power output was putrid. The team managed just 84 doubles (last), 12 triples (last), and 38 homers (tied for sixth) to produce a .095 ISO (eighth). The power outage continued a multi-year trend that had temporarily abated in 2009. Still, the component statistics indicate that the offense should have been more prolific--my rough BsR formula indicates that the team should have averaged 7.2 R/G.

Catcher Dan Burkhart, the Big Ten's Player of the Year in 2009 and a tenth-round pick of the Giants, had a solid offensive season at +17 runs, but his power loss mirrored that of the team as a whole--from a .234 ISO to .127. At first base, Matt Streng failed to duplicate his surprising 2009, hitting just one longball and hitting an anemic .265/.319/.305 (the league average was .311/.375/.420). Second baseman Cory Kovanda closed his career with a typical season (.346/.407/.449). Third base was split between senior Cory Rupert, who was a solid +3 runs heavy on OBA, and redshirt freshman Brad Hallberg who struggled (.273/.357/.333). Junior shortstop Tyler Engle brought reliable fielding, but no offense outside of walks (.224/.342/.276).

Left fielder-leadoff hitter and A's 29th-round selection Zach Hurley was the team's best hitter, leading in BA (.385) and SLG (.602) while compiling +20 RAA. In center, Michael Stephens was the team's biggest homer threat with 10 and his .196 ISO ranked second on the team, but his low walk rate (just 11 in 189 at bats) held back his overall contribution to +11. Right fielder Brian DeLucia did not achieve full-time regular status, but his .302/.395/.503 line made this puzzling. Senior DH/1B/RF Ryan Dew was also effective (.348/.420/.498). Those players took the bulk of the PA; reserve outfielder Chris Griffin was mainly a defensive replacement with a poor performance at the plate (.265/.319/.305 in 54 PA) and Eric Cypret auditioned for the 2011 open second base position with a .267/.353/.289 line in 51 PA.

Alex Wimmers was brilliant again, and the Twins agreed by snapping him up with the #21 overall pick, making him just the second Buckeye (Nick Swisher was the first) selected in the true first round of the June draft. Wimmers became just the second pitcher to win Big Ten Pitcher of the Year honors twice (despite missing three starts) and the first to do it in consecutive seasons (OSU's Justin Fry won the award in 1997 and 1999). He went 9-0, striking out 86 and walking 23 in 73 innings. He won every game he pitched except his final effort against Minnesota which he left after six innings with the lead, and was a whopping +42 RAA.

Behind him, things were shaky. Drew Rucinski began the season as the closer, but was soon put into the rotation out of necessity and had a solid +4 season. Third starter Dean Wolosiansky finished right at 0 RAA and allowed 131 hits in just 95 innings despite a BABIP only .01 points above the team average. Brett McKinney began the year as the third starter, but lost that spot to Rucinski and wound up at -7 RAA in 59 frames.

Senior Eric Best began the year as the team's most experienced reliever and the #2 option behind Rucinski, but the lefty finished at -2 RAA and was passed in importance by junior Jared Strayer. Strayer, featuring a revamped sidearm delivery, pitched 40 solid innings (+4) over 18 appearances in relief. Lefty Theron Minium was average and relied on a low .303 BABIP for much of his success.

What really hurt OSU was the lack of any outstanding pitching other than Wimmers, and any depth to speak of behind the cache of mediocre arms described above. It was the second straight season that OSU lacked the pitching depth needed to hold serve in mid-week games while saving the premium arms for conference play on the weekends.

As of this writing, the coaching position remains vacant. Names that have been mentioned include assistant coach Eric Parker, former pitching coach and current Akron coach Pat Bangston, Kent State coach Scott Stricklin, former Tennesee coach and Netherlands WBC manager Rod Delmonico, and Ball State coach Greg Beals.

Whoever winds up taking the job for 2011 will have their work cut out for them, as there is a lot of talent leading. This was a team built to peak in 2010, and the next year could be an unpleasant time as inexperienced players take their lumps. However, the long-term outlook for the program is still bright, and the shape of the program is such that I would not at all be opposed to a Todd disciple being handed the reins. On the other hand, after twenty-three great years, it may be time to look outside of the program to new blood that will be able to use OSU's resources to build a program with the potential, far-fetched as it may be, to best Todd's success.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Great Moments in Yahoo! Box Scores

Doubles?  Who said anything about doubles?

Monday, June 07, 2010

Comments on "Baseball Prospectus 2010"

For the second year in a row I have some thoughts to share on the BP annual, and I am not going to write them up in such a way as to feel comfortable calling it a "book review" (although I did give the post that label). It's not nearly formal enough, nor timely enough, nor extensive enough, to qualify for such a description. It is also a list of quibbles rather than a balanced look that praises the strengths of the book. I assume that anyone reading my blog is familiar with BP and doesn't need me to restate the table of contents.

Last year, I along with many others decried the lack of a player index in the book. This, happily, has been rectified, and now I'm just left to fume that Eric Fryer was not given a comment. On the other hand, the book contains no extra essays, for the first time since 1998 at least. Though the essays have been of uneven quality the last few editions, and have drifted away from sabermetric topics, they were always one of my favorite parts of the books. There have been some really good ones through the years, like Keith Woolner's piece on replacement level and Michael Wolverton's on pennants added.

Ditching the essays allows BP to devote more room to player comments (and an index!), and put essay content on their website, but I like baseball annuals that give you something to go back to in the years to come. In 2020, no one is really going to care what BP or anyone else thought of the Orioles or Yovani Gallardo in 2010 (let alone Yuniesky Betancourt). Essays about sabermetrics or the game in general are what give the Abstract or the Hardball Times Annual a shelf-life past June each year. However, I realize that BP is not attempting to be another Abstract (and their cover blurbs finally seem to recognize it too), so to some extent I am wishcasting the kind of book I prefer upon them.

The biggest quibble I have with the BP annual can be boiled down to confusion and contradiction with respect to the statistics used. Go to their website and take a gander at their glossary. It is next to impossible to use, it's disorganized, and it is largely devoid of formulas--even for metrics for which the formulas have been published previously.

The disarray of the glossary is mirrored by the haphazard use of statistics in the book. Written comments often diverge from the statistics listed just above. This is not new to BP 2010, which only makes it more annoying. Here are four ways in which the broad problem manifests itself, three of which I'll illustrate with examples drawn from the Reds team chapter alone:

1. Using both VORP and WARP, which both measure the same thing (value above replacement), with the major differences outside of the respective offensive metrics used being the unit (runs or wins) and fielding (ignored by VORP, included by WARP). This requires clarification of how players rank relative to replacement level, as in the case of Paul Janish:

As poor a hitter as Janish is, he's that good with the glove, enough so that he was able to keep his head above replacement level last year (note the difference between his VORP and WARP totals above, as WARP includes defense and VORP doesn't).

There is something to be said for displaying hitting and fielding value in separate columns when using an uber-metric due to the wider differences in estimates of fielding value between systems, but instead BP lists two separate metrics with two different scales.

2. Comments that use untranslated numbers, juxtaposed with the translated numbers just above them. See Willy Taveras:

Taveras's -14.3 VORP in 2009 was the third-worst in the majors.

Taveras's VORP is listed as -8.0 just seven lines above.

3. Using different metrics than the ones listed, that measure the same thing. See the Joey Votto comment:

Despite all that, August was his only poor month, and he finished the year fourth among all qualified major leaguers with a marginal lineup value per game of .397

MLV/G was previously listed by BP; it was taken out this year. The elimination of MLV/G cleaned up an issue with overall offensive rate duplication analogous to the doubling-up of VORP and WARP discussed above, as EqA is a measure of the same thing. There are significant methodological differences and significant unit differences, but unless there are special circumstances in which those differences are important, there's no need to use both (and simply pointing out that Votto was one of the most effective major league hitters is not one of those cases, as EqA surely concurred with that assessment.)

4. Ignoring BP fielding metrics in favor of other fielding metrics like UZR and Plus/Minus.

I think the authors are well within the mainstream of the sabermetric community if they trust UZR and Plus/Minus more than the BP fielding system, and they should be applauded for being willing to cite metrics published outside of BP. On the other hand, though, if you have so little faith in your own metric that you don't even want to quote it, why include it at all? Why pollute WARP with its presence?

The statistical introduction to the book is not immune from confusion. This year they do acknowledge that they now use Pythagenpat rather than Pythagenport, but the editor still missed a slip-up within just a couple of sentences. This was unintentional, but the issue is further confused by the use of the term generically without specifying whether what BP calls first, second, or third-order inputs are used.

I have to quibble with their choice of ERA-style metrics listed, although this complaint lies squarely in the realm of opinion and not methodological error. Included are Matt Swartz and Eric Seidman's new SIERA, which is based on batted ball inputs, and DERA, which adjusts actual ERA for team defense. That leaves an ERA estimator based on component statistics (H, W, HR, etc.) out of the annual for the first time in many years, as they previously included Peripheral ERA. I would like to see PERA included alongside SIERA, at the expense of DERA if necessary.

The most puzzling glossary comment comes on page xii:

We've transitioned this year to using a measure of VORP that is based on EqA; this has appeared for years on the BP Web site under the label of "RARP".

If true, I would heartily applaud this, as the old VORP is fueled by MVP, which is based on the flawed OBA*SLG*AB model of basic Runs Created. EqA is essentially linear weights-based, and thus a much more robust metric when applied to individuals. However, it doesn't seem as if BP contributors are at all clear on whether this change was actually made for the annual, and the VORP report on the website still appears to be MLV-based.

If in fact VORP listed in the annual is EqA-based, it makes the listing of both VORP and WARP even more curious, as they would be identical except for the inclusion of fielding and the conversion to wins. If both are going to be displayed, it would make all the sense in the world to display them in directly comparable units (be it runs or wins).

I am a fairly hard-core sabermetrician, and I am bewildered by the array of metrics used, so I can only assume that the average reader of BP has absolutely no idea what the difference between VORP and RARP is, let alone how to calculate them. While that may not be necessary to understand the implications of the results, it is necessary to enable people who are interested (like myself) to understand the differences.

Sometime after the book was published, BP changed the name of "Equivalent Average" to "True Average". The timing makes it seem as if this was a spur-of-the-moment choice, as the new annual presumably presents a perfect opportunity to change names. In any event, I'm not particularly fond of this change. I don't really care, as others do, that EqA has a long history--if something can be improved, I don't think there should be a statue of limitations, even when it comes to a name. I just don't think that "True Average" is a very good name.

For one thin, they abbreviate it as "TAv" (the other obvious choice would be "TA"). If I see a sabermetric stat with an abbreviation in that vein, the first one that pops into my head is Tom Boswell's Total Average. While EqA is obviously a better constructed and more useful metric than TA, TA has a much longer history, dating back about thirty years. While I have no problem with changing the name of one's own metric, I'm not crazy about doing so in a manner which potentially impedes on someone else's.

Secondly, "Equivalent Average" was a great name for what the statistic is. It is a measure of the rate of overall offensive production designed to look like an equally impressive batting average--an equivalent batting average. To call it "True Average" misses the mark for me on two counts:

1. A "True Average" should be expressed in meaningful baseball units--not units that have been assigned great meaning by custom (as in the case of BA), but units that actually have a great deal of meaning. Examples that work for me would be runs per out, runs per game, runs per PA, even OBA.

2. Batting average, for all its flaws, is straightforward. It truly is hits per at bat. To call another metric "True Average" implies (to me at least) that it is a truer measure of BA. Of course, it's not attempting to replace BA in the role of a measure of base hit frequency, but just in BA's role as a measure of offensive production.

Ultimately, the name of the statistic really doesn't matter, and this is admittedly a petty quibble. I still think "Equivalent Average" is a much better name.

Again, I'd like to reiterate that this is not a review of BP 2010 as a complete work, just a comment on the performance metrics employed, and the accompanying confusion. As usual, I'm glad I bought the book--I just wish I had a better understanding of where the numbers came from.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Re-Joyce Indians

Disclaimer: This could be might be read by some as an apology for Jim Joyce. It is not intended to be. Also, I am an Indians fan, and obviously I had an interest in my team avoiding the ignominy of being retired in order by Armando Galarraga. My initial reaction was relief. My second reaction was rationalization--"Call me a homer, but he bobbled that ball." Sorry P, but he didn't. Jason Donald should have been called out, and the Indians surprisingly dreadful offense was in deed set down in order by Armando Galarraga.

That being said, I think it is instructive and a little disturbing (if such things were actually disturbing) that the outcry over this call from the general public appears to be greater than it was for some of the equally egregious calls in the 2009 postseason. Baseball fans have an unhealthy obsession with feats, sometimes elevating them above the objective of the game itself, which is to win. Some of the biggest controversies in baseball are not about calls that decide ballgames, but calls that decide interesting, impressive, rare, but ultimately insignificant feats.

This is another point at which this is going to sound like an apology, that I'm saying it's okay to blow a call that ruins a perfect game but not a call that decides a game. That's not what I'm saying. It's not okay for umpires to make terrible calls in the ninth inning of a 15-3 game, in the ninth inning of a perfect game, in the eleventh inning of game seven of the World Series, or in the first inning of a September game between the Pirates and Astros when both are twenty games out of first place. But for a call that affected an individual feat and not a game outcome to be the catalyst is a case of twisted priorities.

Suppose that Jason Donald's "hit" had occurred in a 3-2 game with a runner at third. This play would have stolen a victory right out of the jaws of the Tigers and extended the game. What would the outcry have looked like? It probably would have been pretty tame.

Sure, Baseball Tonight and MLB Tonight would have shown the replay several times, talked about what a bad break the Tigers got. Tiger fans would have vented their frustration in cyberspace and over talk radio, and advocates of expanded replay would have justifiably used it as another case in point. But it would not have dominated the conversation. It would not have come close to knocking Ken Griffey's retirement out of the lead position on the baseball wire.

I realize that I might be in the minority, but I think it is a sad commentary on the general mindset when a call that ultimately has no effect on the outcome of the game is considered a greater injustice than the similarly bad calls that do effect the outcome of games. It is a mindset born out of an unhealthy emphasis on the individual feat.

It may seem incongruous for a sabermetrician to dismiss the importance of the individual feat, when so much of sabermetrics is based on evaluating individual performance. I don't believe that it is, because sabermetrics embraces probability and large sample sizes. Whether the play was called correctly or incorrectly will make no measurable difference in any proper sabermetric evaluation of Armando Galarraga. It is only on the micro-level of the evaluation of the individual game that Galarraga suffers--and other players suffer every day in the majors.

And let's be honest--the call was not the worst call that was or will be made in the majors this year. I heard people say he was "out by a mile". No, he was out by a step or 3/4 of a step. That's a wide enough gap that the call should be made properly, but that's not the way it works in practice. It was unquestionably the wrong call, but it was not a particularly egregious blown call relative to the standards that have been set.

That does not excuse Jim Joyce or excuse MLB for allowing bad calls to persist. Instead, it illustrates the futility of giving this play special treatment, elevating this play to being worthy of breaking an entire game's history of precedent and creating ex post facto rules. Rule 9.02(a) is clear: "Any umpire's decision which involves judgment, such as, but not limited to, whether a batted ball is fair or foul, whether a pitch is a strike or a ball, or whether a runner is safe or out, is final."

Does it have to be this way? No, not necessarily. If this event serves as a catalyst for a reconsideration of instant replay, a renewed scrutiny on the process by which umpires are selected and evaluated, or any related area, then at least something positive will have come of it.

Another sentiment that I heard which I find disturbing is that the umpire should have, if he had any doubts, sided with Detroit because of the magnitude of the situation. I cannot imagine a worse guideline to put in place for umpires. I have no doubts that umpires do sometimes let their emotions cloud their judgment, or let the situation influence their call. This should be discouraged as strongly as possible. The umpire should always make the call to the best of his ability and as free from outside pressure as humanly possible. In some cases, the policy of erring on the side of the extraordinary will produce a better outcome, and tonight was one of them. In the vast majority, it would produce worse outcomes, and outcomes that would make a mockery of fair play.

That's another example of where I doubt the outrage would be far less intense--if the play was a mirror of itself, and Donald was truly safe by the same margin he was out by, but was incorrectly ruled out. This would have gotten a healthy amount of attention, and for the next five years or so it would be remembered as the Perfect Game That Wasn't.

There are actually serious suggestions that the commissioner step in and somehow change the call. I feel like I'm beating a strawman even responding, because I'm dumbfounded at the notion that anyone could think that was a good idea, but against my better judgment I'll list some of the many reasons why that is a terrible idea:

1) It ignores precedent and gives the commissioner ex post facto authority

2) It undermines the authority of the umpires, with their judgment calls now up for outside review (this does not mean I'd be opposed to a rule change that would allow review (i.e. replay))

3) It gives the impression that a call altering an individual feat is more important than one altering the outcome of a game

4) It turns MLB into something akin to the NCAA or the Olympics--a competition in which you can't leave the park with confidence that what you've seen will be recognized as actually happening. Trevor Crowe's plate appearance that followed would be wiped from existence.

Many will think I'm going overboard here, but I can only speak for myself--I take this very seriously. I don't watch any NCAA sporting events except those that involve my alma mater, with a secondary reason being that I don't have any confidence that what I'm watching won't be declared meaningless by an infractions committee someday. (*)

On an unrelated note, I have been extremely impressed with Galarraga's comments. He seems to be a class act. No one should be robbed of a perfect game, but if it had to happen, it's a shame it didn't happen to Dallas Braden instead.

(*) I realize that when games are protested, sometimes they are played over or replayed from a certain point, and what came before is wiped out. But this happens if and only if the umpires error in enforcing the rules, not whenever they make a simple error in judgment. There's a big difference between the two, and it has an enormous impact on the frequency of such rewrites.