Metrics Schmetrics

When I was fourteen years old, my father took me to a night game at Ebbetts Field, the old ball park of my beloved Brooklyn Dodgers. All I remember is the tickets cost $1.25 and the Dodgers lost to the Cincinnati Reds, 5-2, on a home run off reliever Hugh Casey.

Relievers took losses much harder back in the day. Three years later, Hugh Casey committed suicide. He faded from the baseball psyche soon thereafter. Metrics not having made their insidious intrusion into sports at that time, Hugh died not knowing he twice led the National League in saves.

Ever since the statistical patron saint of professional baseball, Bill James, found out, with the help of an old Commodore 8000 computer, that there was literally no end to the way statistics could be applied to baseball performance, fans have gone nuts trying to find out more and more.

Time was, a player was judged on his batting average, home runs and runs batted in. That was all we knew. That was all we had to know.

Take that home run that Cincinnati player hit in 1948. My memory tells me it was a pitch high inside that he got all of, sending it into the left field seats with two men on to beat Hugh. If that game had been played last night, we would have seen through the little white box superimposed on the television screen whether or not it was even in the strike zone. Back then a batter had to swing at any pitch between the knees and the shoulders as long as it appeared on or within the black outlining home plate. Sounds easy, huh?

That is so hard to do that batters who fail 70% of the time make the Hall of Fame.

Not that I am against that outline on the screen. Two nerds from Franklin and Marshall College analyzed hundreds of thousands of MLB pitches thrown and found that 14% of the time the strike call made was wrong. So there’s that.

Back to that Reds home run when Harry Truman was president…..if that pitch had been thrown last night, we would have been told the speed of the pitch, the angle of flight, the distance hit, the time it took to hit the seats, the seat number it hit, the last ten players to have homered into that same seat, and here’s the weirdest stat of all: not only the measured actual speed of the pitch as it reached the plate but, get this, the “perceived” speed of the pitch to the batter’s eye. Don’t ask.

I can see happening, shortly, through facial recognition software at the gate as your ticket is being swiped by the ticket taker, the name and photo of the home run-catching fan sitting in that seat flashed all over the huge electronic scoreboard for everyone at the park or within six time zones to see.

Next week we’ll talk about eliminating the shifting of infielders. That’ll be a lot of fun!

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