Ramblings on LCS Eve
Since the dance cards were set for the two League Championship Series, there's been no shortage of interesting baseball content being generated around the web. With three of the four LDS series having ended abruptly - of the LCS participants, only the Phillies failed to sweep their opponent - there was time to step back, reflect on what took place in the LDS and even shift gears a bit.
To start, there's been no shortage of controversy surrounding the umpiring thus far in the post-season. C.B Bucknor was atrocious in the Boston-Los Angeles series, while a horrible foul ball call compromised the Twins' chances of taking Game 2 of the ALDS at Yankee Stadium. With K-Zone type features viewable on nearly every pitch now for post-season telecasts, the practice of placing a human being behind home plate to determine if a 95-mph pitched passed the plate while in a tightly defined area known as the strike zone seems, well, antiquated. It's not hard to envision baseball turning to sensors and cameras like the ones tennis uses to help determine if balls are in or out or foul balls. And for calls on the basepaths, how much longer would a quick overrule take when video evidence clearly refutes the call on the field?
Jonah Keri took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal and wondered if umpires are even necessary. The whole piece, including a history of why umpires were deemed necessary to begin with, is well worth a read. But the following excerpt hammers home a critical point:
At the end of the day, Mr. Port [VP of Umpiring for MLB] says, the whole argument about umpires comes down to this: "Do we want the tradition of 18 people on the field doing their best to help their teams win, officiated by four trained gentlemen also doing their best? Or do we want to translate over to some sort of technologically advanced video endeavor that removes human elements from the game?"
To the extent that a wholesale technological officiating solution would be cost-effective or otherwise feasible, contrary to Port's contention, it would do nothing to "remove the human elements from the game" that any fan cares about. Humans compete hard all season long in baseball, only to have their fate determined by other humans. Only the latter are humans the paying customers do not come to see, and they also turn out to be ill-equipped and incapable of administering the rules appropriately. Keri's point here is that the human we care most about as it relates to the 11th inning play at Yankee Stadium is Mauer and not Phil Cuzzi. Let's get it right so Mauer and every other competitor in post-season play gets an honest shot at pursuing a World Series championship.
I will admit that the thought crossed my mind. With A-List Closers Huston Street, Jonathan Papelbon and Joe Nathan faltering badly in their respective Division Series appearances, it occurred to me that it must be nice to have a relief pitcher operating on an altogether different plane when the time comes to nail down a win. Mariano Rivera once again looked dominant in the Yankees 3-0 sweep of Minnesota.
So yes, that thought crossed my mind - that it sure must be nice to have Rivera. What did not cross my mind, however, was to draw overarching conclusions about the nature of post-season pitching based on a handful of innings of work from some very good relief pitchers in the first round of the 2009 playoffs. But that's why we have Tom Verducci. Tom, take it away!
Why is the ninth inning so much harder for pitchers in October than in the other six months? There is the element of pressure, of course. But there are also so much more detailed scouting reports and so much studying of that information. (Players couldn't possibly absorb and apply that much information over 162 games without frying their brains, but it works for a five- or seven-game series with off days.) Finally, there is also more intense focus by the batters in the postseason. No one gives away an at-bat in the ninth inning of a postseason game. No one. Yes, it does happen during the regular season.
So there's "pressure", there's "scouting", and there's "more intense focus" by the hitters. Got it. What about the prospect that the hitters are also just better in the post-season? Or better yet, maybe it was just random. Maybe with another 18 innings to look at, since these guys are excellent pitchers, we would see entirely different outcomes? Why don't we look historically at how relievers have fared in the 9th inning of post-season play versus the regular season to see if we're working with anything meaningful? That way there, we aren't devoting a full paragraph of conclusions drawn from 18 innings of work. Someone missed sample size class at baseball school.
Let's play a quick game. I will re-write that paragraph:
Why is the ninth inning so much harder for hitters in October than in the other six months? There is the element of pressure, of course. But there are also so much more detailed scouting reports and so much studying of that information. (Players couldn't possibly absorb and apply that much information over 162 games without frying their brains, but it works for a five- or seven-game series with off days.) Finally, there is also more intense focus by the pitchers in the postseason. No pitcher lets up for a hitter in the ninth inning of a postseason game. No one. Yes, it does happen during the regular season.
See what I did there? Doesn't make any less sense, does it? And in Verducci's world, it may have even been applicable had Street, Nathan and Papelbon pitched as they usually do. Assertions are fun!
The Arizona Fall League is under way. This is a very good thing, as most anyone who ever has attended will tell you. Promising players, beautiful weather, relaxed atmosphere. It's supposed to be just great fun. Your best source for real time information, at least as far as I can tell, is going to be Keith Law's Twitter feed. I am sure his column over at the World Wide Leader will be excellent as well. Law's on the ground in the Grand Canyon State, and updating frequently. MLB.com's AFL page is terrific, too, with the neatest feature of all being that there is Pitch f/x installed in Surprise and Peoria, home to 3 of the 6 teams. Here's Harry Pavlidis at Beyond the Boxscore recapping the first day's data.
Stephen Strasburg and Dustin Ackley are there. Jason Heyward, Mike Stanton and Buster Posey are there. Pitch f/x is there. You're going to want to keep tabs.
We're back with a full NLCS preview tomorrow and a special ALCS look on Friday featuring our resident Southern California and New York natives going back and forth. There are four terrific teams still standing, and we can't wait to share our thoughts as the action unfolds.