Strat-O-Matic or: How I Learned to Start Questioning and Accept Sabermetrics
The 1980’s were a simpler time. The internet was not widespread for personal use. Bill Cosby was still a beloved American icon. There was no interleague play and only four divisions. When you got the leadoff man on, you bunted him over and gave your 3 and 4 hitters a chance to knock in the run. It is now 2015 and how we view everything has changed.
When I was a little kid, I remember my Dad opening my eyes to the world of Strat-O-Matic. There was a baseball board game you could play! You could set your own lineup and let the game unfold before your very eyes. I remember the first time I set my lineup I thought I came up with a revolutionary idea that would shock the baseball world . . . I batted the pitcher second! My reasoning was simple. If when the leadoff batter gets on, you want to bunt him over to second. Well, the pitcher is the one guy in the lineup who seemingly bunted all of the time. It made perfect sense to me. My Dad heard my rationale and then explained to me how this was incredibly stupid . . . as only a father can. From that point forward, I know I stopped accepting how baseball was played and really thought about what the team should really do in a particular situation. I began to believe managers should stop being robots and really, truly think about the strategy.
Now, I know, as I assume most do, that bunting the runner over is mostly bad baseball. Sure, there are times when it is a good idea (pitcher at the plate and less than two outs), but overall, the percentages say let the batter swing away. To the older generation, this was the idea of a crazy manager called Earl Weaver. A man so crazy that his teams averaged 94.3 wins a year (highest all time) and was enshrined in Cooperstown. Still to this day, there are people who do not believe this is good baseball. They bemoan how Sabermetrics have changed the way the game is played and how it is no longer being played the “right way.”
Personally, I truly believe Sabermetrics are a tool for evaluating the game for the front office and managers. I think it can also serve to allow fans to develop a deeper understanding of the game. While admittedly I don’t always see how some stats are useful or how they were contrived, it doesn’t bother me. My sole care when watching a baseball game is seeing the Mets win. If Sabermetrics help that, then bring it on.
Overall, I am baffled as to why Sabermetrics or advanced statistics in general bother people. I think it has been great for the sport. Not only has it created more baseball fans (which is always a good thing), but it has really enlivened debate on managerial moves (which is a great thing). Now I can use stats like BABIP to say to my Dad or brother, Daniel Murphy has had some hard luck this year, and I think he may be poised for a better second half. We can sit there and argue about what the Mets should do in a particular situation, including, but not limited to whether the Mets should bunt. This brings me to the biggest debate my family has to this day:
Randolph called for Cliff Floyd to pinch-hit for Heilman rather than, say, Anderson Hernandez, who could have bunted. Floyd, thanks to injury, was also taking just his third at-bat of the series.
WAINWRIGHT: “Looking back, I’m still a little surprised they didn’t bunt. But they’re at home, they’re trying to win the game. They don’t want to go into extra innings there. They’ve got a rookie closer on the mound.”
RANDOLPH: “What went into it is my supreme confidence in Cliff Floyd. He had been swinging the bat well for us. He’s one of our biggest hitters all year. You have that bullet on the bench. I just felt good about using it then. I just felt at the time that Cliff was going to hit a line drive in the gap somewhere and give us a chance to win the ballgame.”
BRADFORD: “I think it was with Cliff Floyd up, I’m thinking, Cliff’s gonna do something big here.”
WAINWRIGHT: “I knew he was in the game for one purpose only. He was trying to end it right there.”
For my money, Willie Randolph made the right call. The reason? It’s the last inning of the NLCS with a chance to go to the World Series, and you’re going to give away an out? I know runners will be on 2nd and 3rd, but you need them both to score just to force extra innings. Think about it this way, would you rather Cliff Floyd at the plate or Anderson Hernandez. Hint, even a hobbled Cliff Floyd could hit for some power; meanwhile Anderson Hernandez just couldn’t hit at all.
Let’s say you bring in Anderson Hernandez and he lays down a successful sacrifice. Even if Reyes still hits that liner to Edmonds, that means it’s 3-2 Cardinals with two outs and a runner on second. Those odds aren’t the best even with a rookie closer on the mound. Keep in mind that rookie was so overwhelmed by the moment he dropped that curveball on Carlos Beltran. Yes, I know it didn’t work out for the Mets in 2006, but we also don’t know if bunting would have worked either. Keep in mind that just because something doesn’t work out the way you wanted, it doesn’t mean you did the wrong thing. I’m sure that’s something every parent and baseball fan out there can understand.