Royals Nightly
Tuesday, July 20, 2004
Life Imitates the World Series
Last night, after I saw that the Mariners-- a team thats about as good as the Royals-- had rallied with three late game homers to beat the Red Sox, I decided to check around some Red Sox sites to see how they were taking it. Not surprisingly, there were lots of anti-superlatives being thrown around, which is of course why I was poking around there. Beyond the usual wailing, there was a huge amount of anti-Bill James, anti-stathead, anti-progressive analysis being thrown around.
In a game in which the Red Sox allowed 8 runs, and three homers in the final three innings, the main cause for concern seemed to be Gabe Kapler's inability to get a late bunt down. ESPN's Sports Guy epitomized the current "thinking" on the Red Sox two weeks ago, with an uninformed screed against a team that is setup like a slow-pitch softball team, incapable of doing the blessed "little things" and lacking in team chemistry. Brian Gunn at Redbird Nation did a wonderful job deconstructing the numerous flaws in Simmons' argument (scroll to the July 1 entry), albeit, to a much smaller readership.
Heres how the thinking works:
Reality: The Red Sox are 4th in MLB in runs scored; Revision: This offense is flawed, they don't bunt and steal enough, can't "manufacture runs".
I really can't understand it, theres just an inherent bias against some kinds of runs being scored. A run involving a bunt, hit-and-run or steal is a brilliant "manufactured run". A run involving a single and then a double (as opposed to a bunt) is nice, but just not what winners do.
Of course, the Yankees went through a similar chasm early in the season. When the YES network and Buster Olney took it upon themselves to bitch incessently that the Yankees offense is flawed because they don't bunt enough. (The Yankees now have the best record in the AL and are 3rd in baseball in runs scored.)
Anyway, after seeing another flare up of ignorance all over the internet, I stumbled upon my dog-eared copy of Thomas Boswell's How Life Imitates the World Series. Boswell's gone soft in recent years, always ready to blame the Yankees or the greedy players for all the games supposed woes, but in his day, late 70s-early 80s, he was as good as anyone. Boswell famously espouses his new stat in the book, Total Average, which is total bases+steals+walks divided by outs+GIDPs+caught stealings. Essentially, a ranking of the top25 players in TA is nearly identical to a top 25 in OPS. In other chapters, through his Washington Post proximity to the Orioles, Boswell gives us lots of Earl Weaver strategy- playing for the 3-run homer, avoiding for playing for one-run early in the game. Beyond chapters that read just like a Joe Sheehan entry in baseball prospectus, Boswell's handling of the famous Red-Sox/Yankees one game playoff is as wonderfully smaltzy and melodramatic and old-school baseball-is-life extended metaphor as anything you'll read.
Approaching baseball the right way, with the right attitude, isn't about being a Bill James clone; There have been entire decades in which today's Jayson Stark fueled "conventional wisdom" wasn't conventional. Its not just about Billy Beane, Theo Epstein and the Oakland A's. Its bigger than that. Well... then again... fans is fans, and being dumb and irrationally and freaking obsessed with bunting is what we do.


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