Thursday, October 23, 2008

Maybe We Have It All Wrong

You watch a game like this, and you wonder if Bill James was shaking his head.

I know all the theories, and I've crunched the numbers. I know about the importance of taking a walk, and hitting for power, and run differential, and high correlation factors. I laugh at ridiculous stats like 'productive outs'. I roll my eyes as Dick Bremer praises Twins players for the outs they make.

But then then I watch the Phillies piss a game like this down their leg, and I think how much different this game could've been if they just chopped the occasional pitch towards second base.

The Phillies didn't lose this game because they didn't hit for power or get on base. They lost it because they couldn't advance runners when they didn't hit for power or get on base. I count one opportunity in the second inning, one in the third, and one in the fourth. And those aren't times that they needed a clutch hit. Those are times that they just needed a dribbler, a sacrifice fly, a simple ground out, to advance a runner.

We can claim that clutch hitting is not a skill, but putting a ball in play? That's a lot harder to write off. And we can claim that this is small potatoes, that these "little things" come out in the wash of a long season, but the season isn't long anymore. And, frankly, the season is never long when one is in the playoffs, and like it or not, the playoffs are the most important part of a season for a quality team. And, for that matter, for an organization. And a community.

Tonight we saw two very good teams match up, but only one of them played good baseball. Appropriately, they won. That isn't something that Bill James would be able to predict. But I like to think he would approve of the result.

Reasons to Root for the Phils - #6
They have the single best mascot of all time, the Phillie Phanatic. This sounds like faint praise. It's not. He's clever, athletic, fun, obnoxious, crude and genuinely funny.

Still have doubts?

OK. Imagine the toughest, most cynical crowd ever - that's the entire city of Philadelphia. These guys don't just boo Santa Claus - they pelt him with snow balls. And now imagine needing to dance around like a clown in front of them and keep them entertained. Just how entertaining would you need to be to do that for, say, 30 minutes?

The Phanatic has done it for 30 years. And he's absolutely beloved in that city. That's how good he is.

I'll give an example. The Phanatic likes to spend time on the corner of the opposing team's dugout, leading the crowd in "jinxing" the other team. One time, a member of the other team hit a fairly hard foul ball towards the far end of the dugout. After taking one bounce off the hard Veterans Stadium turf, it bounded over the dugout and into the stands....

where it was caught by the Phanatic?

At the crack of the bat, the Phanatic had started running on top of the metal dugout to the far end. Midway, he broke into a feet-first slide. After sliding 10 feet or so, he stuck out one hand and timed it perfectly, stabbing the ball in mid-bounce as it flew past him. And THEN he popped up like you're taught to do when sliding into second base, just before he got to the end of the dugout.

I'm a fairly athletic guy with decent hand-eye coordination. I could practice that with a friend throwing the ball exactly where I wanted it and not make that catch one times in ten. He did it with a batted ball, without any warning, on one try, while wearing that ridiculous green suit. Trust me when I say this to you - if you have any exposure to him at all, you cannot help but love the Phanatic.


SoCalTwinsfan said...

Don't forget that the third run the Phillies scored in the first game, a 3-2 victory, came on a ground ball hit by Carlos Ruiz, who is having a fantastic series so far. I think that run was set up by a (sort of) hit-and-run that advanced the runners on another ground ball. So, execution has won both games so far.

Anonymous said...

Is the Phanatic the mascot that got into it with Tommy Lasorda years ago?

TT said...

we can claim that this is small potatoes, that these "little thing" come out in the wash of a long season, but the season isn't long anymore.

The season was never that long. There is no objective evidence that things even out over the course of a season and plenty of evidence they don't come close.