Monday, August 9, 2010

Root, root, root for whoever's on

So how about those sports franchises, both local and non-local? We managed to secure for ourselves a relatively low-key stay-at-home weekend, and as a result watched a lot of televised baseball. For once, this was not because the Yankees and O’s were playing each other but because the Yankees were being broadcast in our market (which in turn was more or less directly because they were playing the Red Sox) and also because the games were conveniently staggered schedule-wise. On Saturday the Yankees played on Fox at 4, and then the O’s were on MASN at 7; on Sunday the O’s were on MASN at 1 and the Yanks were the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball game at 8. Good times.

And of course we can all stand to learn lessons in remaining gracious in defeat but those were all some fun games to catch. The Yankees won on both Saturday and Sunday, and the O’s won on Sunday as well, though they lost on Saturday – but still, that was their lone defeat in the six-game-old Buck Showalter Era so my wife is once again legitimately enthused about our national pastime and her team’s doings therein. She has a self-diagnosed case of Showalteritis, which is apparently not as unpleasant as it may sound.

Really as far as the whole graciousness thing goes, I am a hopeless case anyway. I love watching New York victories, especially when the Bronx Bombers go deep and put up ridiculous run totals, preferably while the pitching staff is punishingly dominant (though that element’s been harder to come by this season). I have to admit, though, when it comes to playing Boston, all those things are still great but what really emerges as the most gratifying scenario is when things go horribly wrong for the Sox, like when New York takes an early lead by scoring on a wild fielding error (which of course did in fact happen last night). That fills me with a certain bitter, fiendish delight.

This would be 'graciously piling on' I suppose
One of the many awesome things about baseball, to my mind, is that its peaks are exciting as hell but the flat plains of very little on-field action in between allow for lots of other pleasant, concurrent lazy activities, whether it’s talking to someone else about the game or talking about something totally unrelated or listening to the tv announcers prattling on about whatever insane thing pops into their heads during the broadcast. (OK, so “activities” really boils down to “talking”, basically.) At any rate, the ESPN announcers were talking at one point about stances in the batter’s box for all-time home run leaders through the years, and my wife and I in turn were marveling at how baseball seems to contain an endless supply of dissectible subtleties just like that. Truthfully, I never stop learning new things about the sport, and this is a decade after I started really obsessively following the game with the help of teh interwebs, to boot. (My wife loves to rib me about how enamored I’ve become of analyzing the impact of pitch count on closely contested games, to the point where if we are watching a broadcast where they don’t flash the pitchcount on-screen often enough, I will fire up the laptop and pull up the same game on MLB Gameday so I can follow the pitch-by-pitch totals.)

So another new thing learned this weekend has to do with the Quality Start. It is slightly mortifying to admit this, but I had always thought that was a purely subjective thing, and when announcers would say “Oh, Joe Blow hasn’t had a quality start since June” I thought it just meant maybe he got chased early here, got shelled in a really bad inning there, gave up too many walks another time, whatever. It’s right there in the name – clearly there’s nothing quantitative about a qualitative judgment call, even though baseball is of course a game of numbers. What constitutes a quality start could be totally arbitrary, or at the very least relative to a pitcher’s normal talent and performance levels, right?

Well … no, obviously, or I wouldn’t be going down this particular trail. What set me off was (unsurprisingly) the Showalteritis epidemic, with the O’s announcers talking about how the starting rotation had turned in five quality starts in a row, which Baltimore (again, according to the announcers) hadn’t managed since some time in 2008. For whatever reason, that was the first time I had heard quality starts referred to in such an analytical, pinpoint-the-trend kind of way and it suddenly dawned on me that there must be an actual definition of this term somewhere. Going at least six innings while surrendering three earned runs or fewer – I know you were dying to know (if you didn’t know already).

So to sum up baseball is fun and educational. And if you disagree, there’s only about fifty more games to go this season, so hang in there, because I will be droning on about football pick’em pools exclusively soon enough.

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