Saturday, October 10, 2020


* I used to get emails when there were comments awaiting moderation. This stopped at some point, and so there were a handful of non-spam comments that had been lingering for some time. I want to thank Tango Tiger and David Pinto (along with a couple anonymous readers) for their comments and apologize for neglecting to publish them until now.

* I’ve watched the overwhelming majority of playoff games played since 1997, and I think Game 5 of the TB/NYA ALDS was possibley one of the ten best games I remember. I say I think because a) recency bias is real and 2) I haven’t sat down and comprehensively reviewed past games to make sure I didn’t miss any. Some that stood out off the top of my head are:

1997 ALDS Game 4 (CLE/NYA)

1997 ALCS Game 6 (CLE/BAL)

1999 NLCS Game 5 (NYN/ATL)

2001 WS Game 7 (ARI/NYA)

2003 ALCS Game 7 (NYA/BOS)

2004 ALCS Game 4 (BOS/NYA)

2005 NLDS Game 4 (HOU/ATL)

2005 NLCS Game 5 (STL/HOU)

2006 NLCS Game 7 (STL/NYN)

2011 WS Game 6 (STL/TEX)

2012 NLDS Game 4 (WAS/STL)

2017 WS Game 5 (HOU/LA)

I think the Rays/Yankees tilt belongs in the company of those games. So imagine my surprise when I perused some comments online and saw people using the game as an occasion to recite their evergreen complaints about modern baseball, particularly in this case focused on the fact that the game wasn’t decided by the starting pitchers, and that all of the runs scored on home runs.

In looking at the above list of eleven games that were particularly memorable, you know what I can tell you about only a handful of them – the identities of the starting pitchers (Nagy/Mussina, Schilling/Johnson, Pedro...that’s about all I got). If you are complaining that pitchers rarely complete games in October, well, you missed the boat twenty-five years ago. While one may aesthetically prefer games determined by starters, I think the Rays/Yankees game is an odd one to find flaw with on that front. The fact of the matter is that the playoff format preordained that a decisive game would not be decided by the starters. Gerrit Cole started on short rest and made about as many pitches as could have reasonably been expected. And the lack of an obvious choice of starter actually contributed to one of the great features of this game, namely Kevin Cash’s perfectly executed plan to essentially use one of his best pitchers for each time through the order.

As to the aesthetics of the home run/strikeout game, I think there is a lot of projection going on. People know that they don’t fancy high-HR, high-K baseball, which is certainly their prerogative, but they pretend to know universally what all potential consumers of baseball find aesthetically pleasing. I have not seen any convincing evidence that the current style of baseball is driving people away from the game – arguments that focus on TV ratings are guilty of presupposing that a multi-faceted phenomenon can be boiled down to the stated aesthetic preferences of those who advance them.

You know what wouldn’t have made that game any more memorable? If five strikeouts had been replaced by five ground balls rolled over to second.

When I flip over to the NBA Finals for a few minutes and see Anthony Davis shooting threes, I think that I would much rather see Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing battling each other in the post. Whenever I watch a NFL game, I think about how much more pleasing it would be to watch if teams occasionally lined up in the I or the Pro Set on 2nd & 7, and the quarterback was under center unless it was third & long. But I don’t suppose that my own preferences in these regards are indicative of those of the audience at large, or somehow representative of the manner in which basketball or football “should” be played.

Do the aesthetic flaws I find with those games reduce my interest in them from previous levels? Sure, although the primary reason I watch less NBA or NFL than I did previously is that as other obligations and interests reduce the total time I have available to devote to sports, I choose to achieve that by holding the time I allot to baseball reasonably constant, thereby crowding out the lesser sports. Even if the games returned to styles that I preferred, my time investment would not significantly increase – and I think the same is true for many of the complainers about baseball. In fact, I think many of them use the aesthetic argument as an excuse. For whatever reason, many of them have less time to devote to baseball, or feel that it is in someway childish or otherwise a waste of time. Aesthetics makes a nice excuse to justify to yourself why you invested all that time in the past (it was a different game!) or to try to not save face with your internet baseball friends who you fear are judging you for abandoning the thread that brought you together in the first place.

* I am strongly opposed to expanded playoffs. Yet I find hand-wringing about the Astros advancing to the ALCS to be bizarre. Yes, I realize that the Astros carry with them baggage for reasons beyond their 2020 performance, but these lamentations are ostensibly grounded in the fact that they had a 29-31 regular season record.

The fact of the matter is that a sixty-game season is very much incapable of producing the same level of certainty about a team’s quality that a 162 game season can. It should not surprise anyone that a good team could have a sub-.500 record over a sixty games. As fiercely opposed to expanded playoffs as I am, the fewer games are played in the regular season:

a) the more justification there is for an expanded playoff field b) more importantly, the more a team’s performance in the playoffs should change our perception of their actual quality

When the 2006 Cardinals just barely scraped over .500 and went on to win the World Series, I would argue that their performance in the playoffs should have positively impacted our perception of their quality – but only slightly so. Their mediocre record spoke more to their quality than their eleven playoff wins. But if the Astros obtain comparable success, it should provide a much greater positive lift to our perception.

In the preceding paragraphs I have been discussing the matter as if the 2020 regular season was the only information we had by which to gauge the Astros true talent. Of course, this is untrue, and I would argue that the Astros are a good baseball team (even with the injury to Justin Verlander which couldn’t be factored into pre-season assessments) that had a poor sixty games. Another playoff team, one that will be a very trendy pick for 2021, that had the inverse of Houston’s record (31-29), is one to which I would make the opposite argument. The Miami Marlins are a bad baseball team that had a lucky win-loss record over sixty games despite playing like a bad baseball team. (Their Pythagenpat record, based on runs per nine innings, was only .431; based on runs created, only .417. I know some of you are screaming right now about the 29 runs allowed in one game, but of course you can’t just throw that out – perhaps it should be truncated, but it can’t be ignored). The Marlins on paper before the season projected to be one of the worst teams in the NL. I can’t imagine a better under bet on team wins for 2021.

Yet because of a measly two game difference in their records, the Astros get scorn for advancing, while a Marlins advance would have been treated as a heart-warming story. In my world, the inverse is true. There’s no team I wanted out of the playoffs more than the Marlins; while I would have preferred that the A’s had beaten the Astros, and would prefer the Rays to do so, Houston’s success to date is a fantastic troll job of some very odd ways to think about baseball.

* Warning: what follows is not sports-related, and I don’t presume anyone reading this blog is here for anything other than my opinion on sports. The thoughts in this post would have been better expressed succinctly on a platform like Twitter, but I can no longer in good conscience use Twitter – it’s been two years since I tweeted regularly and a few months since I completely deleted my account.

Ostensibly, social media platforms like Twitter exist to facilitate free speech; in practice, regardless of whether it is/was the intent of their creators (and it now seems quite clear that it is the current intent of their owners), they serve as a mechanism for the suppression of free thought. It is their prerogative to do so (although I do not believe for one moment that this recognition of principle would be reciprocated), and it is my prerogative to refuse to use their service. I realize that I am writing this on a Google platform; the only thing I can say is that the value proposition of a free blogging platform makes getting in bed with the devil more attractive than getting in to participate in the cesspool that is Twitter circa 2020.

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