Should We Be Happy?

Weird game, baseball.

In what other sport would doing something legal–something that players do multiple times every day–provoke so much condemnation?

Yeah, I’m talking about last night’s Mariners’ game. Through the first five innings, the Ms looked a lot like my nephew’s Little League team at the plate. All credit to Justin Verlander of the Tigers; he had everything clicking, and he had a perfect game going.

Granted, there was a lot of game left. The chances that he would have stayed perfect the rest of the way were slim. Remember, there have only been 23 perfect games in MLB’s century-plus history.

Not to unduly prolong the suspense, with one out in the sixth inning and four runs behind, the Mariners’ Jarrod Dyson bunted himself aboard. No more perfect game. Five batters after that, the Mariners were only one run down, and Verlander was out of the game. The Ms picked up four more runs the next inning, and won the game.

Pretty smart move by Dyson, huh?

Well…see, baseball has this thing called the “unwritten rules”. That’s no different than any group, really. There’s no law forbidding you to pick your nose in public, but you probably don’t, fearing the scorn of society. Same thing here. The unwritten rules say you don’t bunt to break up a perfect game.

So, Dyson was violating the rules?

Maybe not. The problem with unwritten rules is that they’re unwritten. There’s no Moses carrying a carved tablet down from Cooperstown, New York after his interview with Abner Doubleday.

Some people say the rule only applies in the eighth and ninth innings. Others say it applies all the time–unless you’re down by less than three runs. Still others say “What the hell are you talking about? The only rule is ‘do what you have to to win’!”

Take your pick.

As far as the Mariners and their fans are concerned, though, the most important result of Dyson’s bunt and the team’s subsequent rally is that the Mariners are at .500.

Yeah, 37-37. The last time they were respectable was May 10, when they were 17-17. Before that? 0-0.

The All-Star Break is approaching. The actual midpoint of the season is even closer. And the Mariners have a chance to go over .500 for the first time all season.

That’s big, folks. Really big. Right now, they’re only a game and a half out of the Wild Card. Seriously. The American League sucks this year. It’s quite possible that the final playoff spot could go to a team with a losing record. Not likely, but possible. But in any case, the next few games will be a big factor in whether the Ms decide to sell off players to be better next year, or buy to improve now.

And there are the Mariners, winners of four in a row, looking to extend the streak. They’re going to do everything they can to get past that psychological barrier at .500 and turn themselves into winners, right? Go with their best pitcher and everything.

Well…

Actually, tonight’s starting pitcher is a rookie making his major league debut.

The Mariners’ pitchers have been injury-prone this year*, and part of their less-than-stellar record has been the inconsistent performance of the guys who’ve filled in. Making it back to .500 is a minor miracle, all things considered.

* To be fair, it’s not just the pitchers. At times it’s seemed like the entire team’s been on the disabled list–all at once.

But rather than working with the known quantity that’s gotten them this far, they’re going to take a step into the unknown. In a game that, in a very real sense, will determine the direction of the entire rest of the season for the Mariners.

No pressure, Kid.

Weird game, baseball.

Goin’ All the Way 2017

Trust the Tigers to sow confusion. After all, they are cats, and you can count on a cat confuse matters given even a microscopic sliver of a chance. Detroit beat the White Sox 6-3, and that three-run difference is enough to bump the Red Sox out of the Wild Card game.

Here, for easy reference, are our playoff teams. I’ve included their current Won/Loss records for your amusement.
National League

Team

Won/Loss

Run Diff.

Mets

4-3

25-25 (0)

Cardinals

2-5

25-39 (-14)

Dodgers

4-4

42-25 (17)

Rockies

5-3 31-35 (-4)
Nationals 4-3

40-43 (-3)

 
American League

Team

Won/Loss

Run Diff.

Rays

5-3

34-34 (0)

Twins

5-1

30-13 (17)

Astros

4-4 21-30 (-9)
Indians 3-3

28-35 (-7)

Tigers

4-2

25-28 (-3)

As Eric pointed out on Facebook, one game is a very small sample size. I agree, but that’s what makes this exercise amusing. That said, if I were to use the results of Opening Week instead of Opening Day, our playoff teams would change just a bit.

National League: Phillies (+9), Reds (+14), Dodgers (+17), Diamondbacks (+16), Cubs (+9)

American League: Yankees (+7), Twins (+17), Angels (+6), White Sox (+5), Red Sox (+2)

That’s not any more appealing. Yes, it gets the Cubs into the playoffs, but it also lets the Yankees and Red Sox in. Worse, it still doesn’t help the Mariners, Orioles, or Giants. Feh.

So I’ll stick with the original, one game, predictions and see how the playoffs will run.

The first thing I see is that we’re going to have some really close games. The Cardinals will get slaughtered while the Twins and Dodgers are slaughtering, but all the other games are going to be tight, defensive battles as the teams struggle to score.

That ought to make Commissioner Manfred happy. After all, low-scoring games are typically short. Unless they run to extra innings. But in the playoffs, extra innings draw viewers. So, again, a win.

The bottom line is that the Twins are going all the way to the World Series. They’ll breeze through the AL, probably in something close to the minimum number of games, and there will be much rejoicing in Minnesota–it’s been a quarter of a century since the Twins were in the World Series.

Meanwhile, the NL playoffs are going to play out as a mirror of the AL with the Dodgers playing the part of the Twins. It’s been even longer since the Dodgers played for the championship–granted, only three years, but it still counts–so the cheers in LA will be even louder.

Based strictly on run differential, the World Series won’t ever end. Clearly, that’s a low-probability outcome. The Dodgers have those additional three years of futility on their side. But I think it’s a mistake to overlook the teams’ won/loss records. Despite a +17 run differentials, the Dodgers are 4-4. They’re clearly scoring their runs in bunches. The Twins have turned that same +17 into a 5-1 record–obviously scoring just enough to win comfortably.

So after a tight, high scoring, seven game World Series, the Twins are going to be the champions. You heard it here first.

And the Mariners will just have to wait until next year. Again.

Happy New Year (2017)

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”

Of course Solomon was a baseball fan.

I compare you, my love,
  to a well-turned 6-4-3 double play.
Your cheeks bulge with chewing tobacco,
  your neck with ire over a missed tag.

Something like that, anyway.

The point is that we’ve once again arrived at the beginning of the baseball season, and that means it’s time for predictions.

Over at her blog, Jackie has called on a panel of experts to help her select this year’s playoff teams and eventual World Series winner. I’m pleased and honored that she asked me to be a member of the panel.

But such predictions, made before the season even begins, are a matter of guesswork. And so, once again, I’m turning to SCIENCE! to make my own.

For the past two seasons, I’ve used a formula based primarily on margin of victory in the first games of the season. In 2015, I achieved 40% accuracy in picking the playoff teams; last year I upped that to 70%. I’ve made further tweaks to my methodology this year, and I’m aiming for 90% or better.

Until now, I’ve been vexed by having to deal with pre-Opening Day games giving some teams a longer track record than others, while other teams have had their first games rained out. That’s definitely hurt my accuracy.

Fortunately, this year all of the teams that played Sunday had Monday off, so nobody’s played their second game yet. Unfortunately, Monday’s Tigers/White Sox game was rained out. So we’ll use the results of today’s game instead. Assuming, of course, that it doesn’t get rained out too.

So, enough background. What are the predictions?

Let’s start with the National League this year:

  • East – The New York Mets are the clear leaders, thanks to their six run victory over Atlanta.
  • Central – The St. Louis Cardinals are the only NL Central team to win, and that was only by one run. Clearly, it’s going to be a slow year in this division.
  • West – The LA Dodgers are going to build on their 14-3 shellacking of San Diego and run away with the NL West.
  • Wild Cards – This prediction system loves the Colorado Rockies. For the second year in a row, it thinks they’ll grab a wild card, while the other slot goes to the Washington Nationals.

As for the American League, it looks like this:

  • East – Who would have thought it would be the Tampa Bay Rays taking the division? But a convincing 7-3 victory over the Yankees can’t be dismissed.
  • Central – The Minnesota Twins‘ 7-1 victory over Kansas City puts them in the driver’s seat. But with no games played by Detroit and Chicago, we could have a quick change of predicted victors here.
  • West – Many of the conventional predictions have the Houston Astros winning the West, and some have even penciled them in for the World Series. Thanks to their 3-0 clobbering of Seattle, my system also has them taking their division.
  • Wild Cards – The Cleveland Indians will take the first slot on the strength of their 8-5 win against Texas. Both Boston and Oakland had two-run victories; as in the past, we’ll use their preseason records as the tiebreaker. That means it’ll be the Boston Red Sox on the strength of an 18-14 record. Unless, of course, Detroit or Chicago rearrange matters to their liking.

Interesting, wouldn’t you say? The Cubs won’t get a chance to defend their title, the Giants won’t win the World Series* either, the Orioles will be on the outside looking in, and the Mariners will extend their “missed the playoffs” streak to 16 seasons.

* Not that anyone expected them to: the last time the Giants won a World Series in an odd year was 1933.

Forget that “aiming for 90%” thing. This year I’m in the peculiar position of hoping my system implodes spectacularly.

But I’ll go with the predictions as they stand, subject to correction once the White Sox and Tigers actually play a game.

Who’ll be the World Series winner? It’s too early to tell. Last year I took a week’s games as my baseline and that worked well, so I’ll do the same this time. Thursday, I’ll have something of interest for the hereticsnon-baseball fans, and my playoff predictions will go up next Tuesday.

Back On Track

Baseball is back!

Well, for suitably generous definitions of “back”.

Spring Training has started. Pitchers and catchers for all teams have reported to camp, and the position players are coming–the reporting date is today for nine teams and tomorrow for eleven more. Since some players show up early, it’s safe to say that by the time the sun sets on Friday, more than two-thirds of players will be with their teams in Florida or Arizona.

Actual preseason games, meaningless as they are, don’t start until the twenty-second (the Arizona Diamondbacks will be taking on the Grand Canyon University Antelopes in a game that will, no doubt, give us a good idea of whether the consensus of 76-78 wins for the Diamondbacks this year is accurate.)

MLB is sending out reminders that MLB.TV subscription renewals will happen at the end of the month. However, despite the email’s announcement that subscribers will be able to watch more than 300 Spring Training games, the information about which games will be streamed hasn’t been posted yet. Annoyingly, audio-only streaming, which has traditionally included almost every game, is also still a black hole at this point. There’s no information about which games will be available–and, in fact, I can’t even find anything to support the notion that there will be any radio broadcasts.

But I’m not worried. I have faith that something will be worked out by the time two putative major league teams take the field against each other on the twenty-fourth.

I say “putative” not because of the teams involved (the first games, all at 10:05 Pacific, feature the Mets, Red Sox, Orioles, Tigers, Phillies, and Yankees), but because it’s usual for the first few games to feature players who will probably be starting the season in the minors. Gotta protect those name-brand players, and indeed, anyone who’s a probable lock to be on the twenty-five man roster, on Opening Day.

Of course, the World Baseball Classic may put a wrinkle in the works. With so many players leaving camp early, teams may have to decide between playing major leaguers earlier than usual or cutting games short.

But in the first couple of weeks, I really don’t care who’s playing, and I doubt I’m alone in that. For many fans, it’s the presence of the game that matters, and many of us tend to binge-watch or binge-listen through Spring Training and even into the first days of the season. All part of the process of emerging from our baseball-deficient hibernation.

I’m especially looking forward to being able to put a game on in the background this year. It may be biased observation, but I believe I write faster and more fluidly when I’m listening to baseball. I haven’t done exhaustive word count checks, but I think the totals are highest in March–the time of year when there are multiple games during my writing hours every day. I have no idea why that is; speculation about the rhythms of the game relaxing the logical parts of my brain and letting the creative parts take charge are completely unscientific.

But, regardless of why it works, I’m looking forward to exceeding my writing targets for a few weeks. Even if it’s just the placebo effect, the words on the screen will be real.

It’s too early to say “Go Mariners!” How about a resounding “Go Baseball!”?

Small Victories

Another season over. If it had to end–and it did–there couldn’t have been a better ending. A Cubs comeback from a three games to one deficit* to force a Game Seven, extra innings–OK, one extra inning–and even a rain delay to keep the season going for an additional seventeen minutes. Plenty of excitement, and enough controversial managerial decisions to keep baseball conversation alive until spring.

* There was a lot of press at the beginning of the World Series about Cleveland trying to put together NBA and MLB championships in the same year. Interesting that the Cavaliers won their title after coming back from a three games to one deficit. So now it’s on the Bulls or the Bears to give Chicago multiple championships for the 2016 season. Don’t hold your breath, though. Halfway through the NFL season, the Bears are 2-6 and would need a major turnaround to even approach .500. It’s early in the NBA season, and while the Bulls are 3-1, they’d have to get past the Cavaliers to make the finals. I suppose Chicago fans could pin their hopes on the Blackhawks, but does anyone outside of Canada and Minnesota really care about the NHL?

With the Cubs’ victory, we can look forward to a couple of years of articles about “The Curse” being broken and speculation about their next title. But, just as nobody mentions Babe Ruth’s piano when talking about the Red Sox anymore, we can expect that to settle down soon enough. Despite the media’s best efforts to create a curse for the Indians, I don’t think it’ll catch on.

So with that out of the way, it’s time to check in on my early season predictions for the playoffs.

How did my formula, based on run differential do in predicting the ten playoff teams and their performance in October?

Last year, I picked 40% of the playoff teams. This year, after a few tweaks to the formula, I was hoping to exceed 50%.

You may recall that I dismissed the impact of two games being postponed. That was a mistake on my part, and I’ll need to find a way to account for that possibility next year. I said that the Red Sox and Indians wouldn’t make the playoffs. Oops. On the brighter side, I was correct that the Yankees wouldn’t make the playoffs. I also said the Astros might go 86-76 again, but wouldn’t make the playoffs. They fell a couple of games short of that mark, but the Mariners went 86-76 and didn’t make the playoffs. Call it a moral victory for my predictive skills.

Moving on.

In the AL, my formula picked Toronto, Texas, Chicago, Kansas City, and Baltimore. The White Sox and Royals faded after their first game victories, but the other three picks came through.

Over in the NL, I had Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Colorado. Darn you, Rockies! My only incorrect pick. (I find it amusing that the Rockies’ 75-87 record is the exact opposite of the Mets’ 87-75 Wild Card-worthy record. Clearly, I’m easily amused.)

Seven of ten correct picks, well above my 50% target! Excuse me while I pop open some champagne. No, I won’t spray it wastefully around the room. Mimosa, anybody?

On to the playoffs.

At least my picks for the league champions both made the playoffs. Imagine my embarrassment if I had called a Rockies/Royals World Series.

I certainly muffed the AL, where I predicted the Orioles would storm to the pennant. Instead, they lost the Wild Card game to Toronto. I correctly called the Blue Jays win over the Rangers, but thought it would be a narrow victory, rather than a three-game sweep. As I pointed out earlier, though, the eventual AL champion Indians were one of my predictive failures.

The NL playoffs went rather more as I called them. The Dodgers did, in fact, knock the Nationals out before losing to the Cubs. The Giants didn’t win the Wild Card, but Chicago had no more trouble with the Mets than I thought they’d have with San Francisco.

So I was half right in picking the World Series teams. 50%!

And I did pick the Cubs to break their curses, based on that early season run differential.

Seems like there’s some validity in the method behind my madness. I’ll spend the off-season working on a way to handle rainouts, and we’ll see if I can call all ten playoff teams next year.

Enjoy your winter, everyone. Only a little more than three months until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training.

Checking In

Yes, I watched the AAA All-Star Game yesterday. Did you?

It was pleasantly like going to a minor league game between two teams whose success I had no vested interest in. I was able to root for whoever was behind, and when the International League came back from a two run deficit to win, I was delighted. Of course, I would have been just as happy if the Pacific Coast League had mounted a ninth inning rally to take the game back.

Moving on.

As I promised, here’s the mid-season report on my predictions for the playoffs.

I had to make some ex-cathedra predictions about the teams whose first games were postponed due to weather. So far, those predictions are holding up well:

  • The Red Sox are doing better than I expected, at eleven games over .500, but they’re still trailing the Orioles by a couple of games. No AL East pennant for them.
  • The Indians are the surprise of the season so far. I thought they’d be lucky to make .500; they’re currently twelve games over, with the second-best record in the AL.
  • The Astros are seven games over .500, nicely in line with last year’s record, but they’re five and a half out in the division and two out in the Wild Card.
  • And, joy of joys, the Yankees are 44-44, seven and a half out of the AL East lead and five and a half out of the Wild Card.

As for the rest of the predictions, my method doesn’t seem to be doing very well.

Texas is currently leading the entire AL, so they’re well-positioned to take the West as predicted. After that, however, my predictions are in serious trouble. The White Sox and Kansas City are currently tied for third in the Central, and their Wild Card hopes are fading badly. Toronto, who I picked for the AL East title are third, albeit only a couple of percentage points behind Boston. And the Orioles, my second Wild Card pick, are leading the division. Ouch.

On the NL side of the ledger, the SenatorsNationals and Cubs are leading their divisions, as predicted. I called the Dodgers and Giants to finish first and second in the West; currently they’re second and first. Colorado, however, predicted to take the second Wild Card, are at 40-48, seven games out of the Wild Card race.

Add it all up, and–if the season were over right now–I’m three for ten in my predictions. If we just look at the playoff teams regardless of position, I’m doing quite a bit better, six for ten. If that hold up, I’ll have met my goal of getting over .500.

Stay tuned to see how well the numbers hold up through the second half. And who knows, maybe the Blue Jays, Rockies, White Sox, and Royals will get their acts in gear and bump my score up even further.

Goin’ All the Way

Last week I promised my MLB playoff predictions. Never let it be said that I don’t live up to my promises.

Remember, we’re testing the theory that run differential on the first day of the season is a good predictor of teams’ ability to make the playoffs.

Here, for easy reference, are our playoff teams. I’ve included their current Won/Loss records for your amusement.

Team

Won/Loss

Run Differential
Toronto

3-4

29-30 (-1)
Texas

4-4

32-35 (-3)
Chicago

5-2

28-19 (9)
Kansas City

4-2

21-19 (2)
Baltimore

6-0

31-17 (14)
Team

Won/Loss

Run Differential
Washington

4-1

21-16 (5)
Chicago

6-1

47-18 (29)
Los Angeles

4-3

42-26 (16)
San Francisco

5-2

43-25 (18)
Colorado

3-3

35-51 (-16)

The first thing we notice is that Colorado is lucky to have scraped together a .500 record. If they’re going to make the playoffs, even as the second Wild Card, they need to beef up their defense.

OK, playoffs.

The Orioles are obviously the class team of the AL this year. They’ll demolish the Royals in the Wild Card game, crush the White Sox in the Division Series, and mutilate the Blue Jays (who squeaked past the Rangers) in the League Championship.

The NL playoffs are going to be even less competitive. The Giants will shred the Rockies in the Wild Card, then be flattened by the Cubs in the Division Series. So much for the “Even Year Dynasty”. The Dodgers won’t have any trouble bouncing the Nationals out of the playoffs, but they won’t get anywhere against the Cubs in the League Championship.

That gives us a Cubs/Orioles World Series.

On the face of it, the Orioles should coast through the series, riding their record-breaking 162-0 regular season performance, but that pesky run differential tells a different story. The Cubs may only have gone 138-24, but their run-scoring and run-prevention, nearly twice as good as the Os’, will make the difference.

The Cubs’ curse will be broken, only one year later than the Back to the Future movies predicted. Congratulations, Chicago.

Now, how about a World Series win for Seattle next year?

Happy New Year (2016)

And here we are at the beginning of the season again. All the signs are there: reminders that “everyone is 0-0,” worried perusals of the weather report for such tropical climates as Milwaukee and Cleveland, my semi-annual haircut…

As usual, the proverbial anyone and everyone are making their predictions for the season. Jackie, who is not just anyone or everyone, has hers up. Not to take anything away from her panel of experts, but I entertain some doubts about their conclusions.

So I’m going to pretend to be anyone and everyone myself, offering my own prediction. Last year, my Sooper-Scientific Algorithm, based largely on margin of victory had a forty percent success rate calling the playoff teams. That’s actually pretty good. This year, I’ve applied a few tweaks to the methodology. My goal is to get over .500. (What can I say? It’s a rebuilding year.)

MLB has thrown a bit of a monkey wrench into the works, however. In years past, we’ve been given the spectacle of a game the night before Opening Day. It didn’t affect my process last year, since the two teams involved, the Cardinals and Cubs, took an off day, so all teams had one played one game when I ran the numbers. This year, we got three games on Sunday, and only four of the teams took yesterday off; as a result, the Rays and Blue Jays have two games under their belts. Fortunately, Toronto won both games, so we’ll simply use their combined numbers for the two games and treat it as one 10-6 victory.

Also, note that two games were postponed. The Giants/Brewers game went on as scheduled, despite a raging blizzard–hooray for domed stadiums–but the Astros/Yankees and Red Sox/Indians games were scrubbed because of “inclement weather” and “cold and wet” respectively*. I’m not going to lose any sleep over that, however. I’m going to assert ex cathedra that the Red Sox aren’t going to go cellar to ceiling, the Indians will be lucky to crack .500 again (sorry, Cleveland fans), and the Astros might reproduce last year’s 86-76 record, but it won’t be enough to make the playoffs. The Yankees? Trust me, the Baseball Gods won’t be tasteless enough to let them make the playoffs two years in a row.

* This isn’t the first time the weather in Cleveland has caused problems at the beginning of the season. Ask any Seattle fan about the winter of ’07 when the Mariners/Indians Opening Day game was snowed out. The same thing also happened in 1996 when the Yankees were in town to open the season. Unlike other commentators, I’m not suggesting that all Opening Day games should be scheduled for warmer climates. I think it would make more sense for the entire city of Cleveland to look into relocating–team, fans, Progressive Field, and all–to someplace warmer.

Moving on.

In the AL East, Toronto is the clear division winner, thanks to that 10-6 rout of Tampa Bay. The West is obviously going to Texas, as they’re the only team in the division that managed to win a game. Kansas City and Chicago both won 4-3; to break the tie, I looked at their preseason records*. On that basis, the White Sox take the Central on the strength of their 17-13 preseason, far better than the defending champion Royals’ 14-21 mark. We’ll give KC the first wild card; the second, Jackie will be happy to hear, goes to Baltimore thanks to their 3-2 victory over the Twins.

Moving to the NL, Washington grabs their division by virtue of winning their game, a feat no other NL East team could manage. In the Central, Chicago will be returning to the playoffs. And the West is clearly the toughest division in baseball, with three teams racking up convincing victories. LA will win the division, as shown by their 15-0 trouncing of the Padres. San Francisco’s 12-3 pounding of the Brewers gives them the first Wild Card, and Colorado takes the second by virtue of their 10-5 win over the Diamondbacks.

* As we know, preseason results are a poor predictor of regular season success, but this is a case where poor data is better than no data.

Of course, this is all well and good, but making the playoffs is only the beginning. What everyone really wants to know is who’s going to win the World Series? We’ve got the chance for an all-Chicago World Series this year. Is it going to happen? Can the Giants continue their pattern of winning it all in even-numbered years?

Much as I’d love to answer those questions, I can’t. Not yet.

In the immortal words of every sportscaster who’s covered a baseball game, the season is a marathon, not a sprint. I need a longer baseline than one game to properly assess teams’ ability to handle the additional month of baseball once they make the playoffs.

Tune in again next Tuesday for my fearless World Series predictions.

NL DH?

Enough about death. Time for something more positive. Around here that means baseball. You saw that coming, right?

We’re a month away, give or take. Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training between February 17 and 21, depending on their team. The first Spring Training game, between the Phillies and the University of Tampa, is February 28.

So how do we fill the gap? What do we do for this next month? Same thing we do every year: we argue about possible rule changes. And, since there aren’t any significantly controversial rule changes going into effect this year, we’re back to our perennial argument: should the National League adopt the designated hitter?

This year’s iteration of the debate was triggered by the Cardinals’ GM saying that there’s “momentum” behind the idea. That’s pretty vague, but the baseball press is running with the story, and the Web is full of articles pro and con–mostly pro.

Count me as being a con. I don’t want to see the DH come to the NL. Not, as you might think, because of my respect for tradition, but because–well, I’ll get to that.

The primary arguments for the DH are that the current state of affairs gives the AL an advantage when the leagues meet, and that pitchers risk injury when they bat. They’re both legitimate claims, but they’re not, IMNSHO, sufficient.

It’s true that the interleague won-lost records do show the AL with a better record. The AL has won twenty-three of the forty-two World Series since the DH was introduced. On the other hand, that’s a four game margin in a small sample. The AL’s overall 2,565-2,299 record is more significant, but again, it’s not a huge margin: somewhat more than 52%. No interleague game is a foregone conclusion because of the DH.

I don’t want to minimize the issue of risk to pitchers, but realistically, the biggest threat isn’t batting a couple of times a game. It’s the act of pitching itself. The rate of pitcher injuries has climbed to the point where it’s almost harder to find a veteran pitcher who hasn’t had Tommy John surgery.* In an opinion piece at The Sporting News, Jesse Spector points out that pitchers are getting fewer and fewer at bats. That being the case, he suggests, let’s just jump to the endgame. I think he may be putting the cart in front of the horse. Several writers have noted that the rise in pitcher injuries is correlated with the increasing specialization of pitchers (segregation into starters, closers, set-up men, and so on), a trend that’s been gaining momentum since around the same time the DH was introduced. Granted, correlation doesn’t equal causation, but maybe having pitchers spend more time in the batter’s box–and in the batting cage, exercising their eyes and arms in a way that differs from what they do when pitching–would reduce the risk of injury and make them more effective hitters.

* Yeah, I’m exaggerating for effect, but it’s true that more pitchers are having surgery and at younger ages than ever before.

I’ve got two arguments for keeping the DH out of the NL.

First, there’s value in variety. Managerial strategies differ between the leagues–they have to if they’re going to maximize the effectiveness of their differing lineups. Just as intraspecies diversity helps life adapt to changes in the environment and a variety of operating systems helps the Internet fight off malware, so too does a range of strategies keep baseball interesting for the fans. Watching players and managers struggle to handle conditions they don’t normally face is one of the biggest attractions of interleague play. And on a slightly less-elevated level, watching pitchers hit allows fans a moment of superiority. Never underestimate the power of the “I could swing a bat better than that guy!” to sell tickets. Don’t believe me? Do a quick Google search for websites devoted to Bartolo Colon’s at bats.

Second, where are you going to find enough designated hitters? Admittedly, MadBum aside, just about any player would be an improvement over pitchers. But consider this: over the first four years of the DH rule, the DH raised the AL batting average by .0005–from .2567 to .2572. And, as best I can tell, the situation hasn’t changed much since then. It’s true that batting average isn’t a great way to measure a hitter’s effectiveness, but it’s a modest indicator that reinforces what intuition should tell us: there are only so many Edgar Martinezes and David Ortizes to go around. Most teams use the DH slot to give their position players a partial day off, in effect, exactly what NL teams do when they under AL rules.

A DH in the NL? Just say no.

Pull Up a Seat

The playoffs have started well, with the Astros and Cubs both shutting out their Wild Card opponents. Is it just me, or does everyone find a zero on the scoreboard magically makes the game more exciting? I know I’ll watch a 3-0 game with much more interest than a 4-1 game, even if there isn’t a no-hitter or perfect game on the line.

AL Division Series games start tonight, giving us our first post-season looks at Texas, Toronto, and Kansas City. We can’t, of course, expect all three teams to win with shutouts tonight, since the two non-US teams are playing each other*. But we can hope for a couple of close shutouts. Why not? 2014 was the Year of the Sweep, thanks to the Royals. Let’s make 2015 the Year of the Shutout.

* What, you mean you don’t consider Texas to be a foreign country?

But shutouts aren’t really what I set out to talk about. Consider for a moment the plight of the Yankees’* and Pirates’ fans. They’ve followed their teams all season, cheering, crying, no doubt swearing at times. They felt the joy of making the playoffs, and now it’s over, and they have to join the rest of us at the “Wait Until Next Year Table”.

* Yes, I really do have some sympathy for fans of the Yankees. Not particularly for the team, but the fans. Some of them, anyway. Mostly the ones young enough to have avoided infection by the sense of entitlement that plagued the House That Ruth Built and now runs rampant in its successor.

This isn’t a complaint about the Wild Card being a one game series. That horrible realization that the season is over is the same whether it comes after one game, seven games, or one hundred sixty-two–and, realistically, for most of us it came partway through the season.

No matter when it happens, it’s the same tire-iron to the kneecap. And it happens to all of us. Yes, even the fans of the eventual World Series winner. The season has ended; the sun has set on the British Empire; someday the sun will burn out. The glories of the past belong in the past. The World Series winners have one advantage over Ozymandias: as long as there is baseball, they’ll be remembered. But then, so will the losers. There’s never been a sport documented in as much detail as baseball. Arguably, if baseball ever forgets its past, it won’t be baseball any more.

But right now, those Pirates’ fans’ knees and those Yankees’ fans’ knees hurt just as much as the As’ fans’, the Phillies’ fans’, and all the fans of the other twenty-three teams that didn’t make the playoffs. Pull up a seat, folks. Have a drink. Grab a plate of turkey (brined in the tears of millions of disappointed fans).

We’ll get ’em next year.