Throw the Ball, Catch the Ball, Hit the Ball: Break away from the Fantasy Grind

Editors Note: Please welcome Dave Rouleau, a new contributor to LWOS’ Baseball division.  What follows is his first article.  Dave will be bringing your feature opinion and analysis on the world of Major League Baseball.

 

 “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.”

 These days, a baseball player can be a social media sensation with one swing of the bat or by getting enough strikeout calls during his time on the mound.

You know what I need in the mix, when I’m not counting my fantasy points every damn second of the day?  The nuances, the little things that make everything else flow, from errors in the field that can make an inning seem almost endless, to good baserunning from first to third that make sacrifices possible, not to mention the intentional walks, bad calls, dubious decisions by third base coaches, bunting to beat exaggerated infield shifts, weather that wreaks havoc, and the seemingly random nooks and crannies that baseball stadiums these days throws at helpless fielders.

I propose we take a quick break from the daily fantasy that makes it all about the power/speed and delve a little into what makes 2015 tick below the shallow water.  Let’s call this a shift, a defensive shift, of which 1 673 have been made so far in 2015 (prorated to 18 149 for the season), just 25% less than the total of 2010.  Just imagine the kind of impact this is having on the sport, the new strategies to counter this on the hitters’ part and the way a pitcher has to constantly adapt his offerings to the hitter: for example, throwing a bit more inside to a left-handed hitter in order to avoid an infield shift to the right of the diamond that’s taken advantage of by a bunt or soft opposite field hit.

Throw the Ball, Catch the Ball, Hit the Ball: Breakaway from the Fantasy Grind

Give me some strategy baby, won’t ya?  Miguel Cabrera was walked intentionally three times (four walks total in the game for the first baseman) by Terry Francona, the Cleveland Indians’ manager, on April 25.  He never scored, but the next batter in the order, Victor Martinez, he of the .588 OPS (67 OPS+) as of May 1, made them pay with a 2-for-4 night and three RBIs, all of them thanks to singles.  Want more?  The sure-eyed designated hitter saw only twelve pitches the whole game while doing this damage, the fewest of all the Tigers batters that day.  You don’t appreciate those closely-monitored details of the game?  Take your pulse, you might as well be dead.

Mentioning the manager above leads me to bullpen management, a critical part of the game and pretty much the one thing a head coach has full control over and the one aspect that’s really measurable.  Kevin Cash took over the Tampa Bay Rays in 2015 and he has been a pleasant surprise with the strategies, as shown with this great move on April 22 when his team was facing the Boston Red Sox at The Trop and, with the score tied at five at the top of the 7th inning, he put in the closer Brad Boxberger in a high-leverage situation to keep the game close and get his batters at the plate quickly after a 4-run showing in the bottom of the sixth frame to tie the game.  What happened?  He struck the side (Ortiz/Ramirez/Napoli) and the Rays got two quick runs at their turn at bat, on their way to a 7-5 win.  THAT is great bullpen (and for that matter, team) management and a quick middle finger up in the air to the believers that the closer’s role is not evolving quickly and as we speak.  About time, if I may add.

We went larger, we got deeper, now let’s make this sexier: SIERA.  For the uninitiated, this is the brand new sedan by Nissan… No, I’m kidding, but almost as lovely, this pitcher’s nightmare is a new statistic (amazing tool for fantasy baseball fans, sorry, had to put it somewhere) that leaves almost no rocks unturned and gives us the essence of what a hurler does, meaning control what he can (K,BB, IBB, GB%, FB% and HR%).  To look at this season’s rankings is to contemplate the regular standings, unless a team’s terrible offense really kills the mood.  On one side, we have the old Yankees with a 3.21 SIERA, given their bullpen to die for and a rotation holding its own, at least until Tanaka came down fighting.  In the other corner, standing proud, but bloody, the Colorado Rockies that need the big bats to keep them from sinking in this 4.27 SIERA mess.  Talk about two teams who’d LOVE to trade up their strengths and weaknesses.

You know which tool never has a day off? Speed.  I’m dying to see the day when this stat is a more commonly used and I’m talking about BsR, a “run above/below” kind of reference that tells you what makes some good teams, well, great.  Take the New York Mets, with their MLB-leading 5.6 BsR, meaning that if you consider ten runs equals a win, they have added more than half a ‘W’ with their base-stealing percentage prowess, going first to third, home to second, and being able to advance while tagging up, among other things.  Fascinating, isn’t it? That’s also the case with the surprising and AL West-leading Houston Astros, ranking fourth with 4.6 BsR, but we can also use the same measure to better comprehend the inability of the Chicago White Sox to get more wins with a shameful -6.6 BsR and the newly rebuilt San Diego Padres who cannot seem to make things happen while running the bases with a -2.8 BsR.

While the home runs fly and strikeouts pileup, we can still sit and enjoy the details, the basics, that make this game complete.  You see and fear the surface, but the threat lies below, and it always reminds me that Joe Garagiola was right…

 “It’s pitching, hitting and defense that wins. Any two can win. All three make you unbeatable.”