Roger Marolt: America’s pastime is statistically dead
Where did baseball’s magic go?
Clayton Kershaw pitched seven perfect innings of Major League baseball last Wednesday afternoon. The performance was on the verge of magical, magnificent to say the least. In an instant, the thrill was gone. As many similar pitching gems end, this particular chance at baseball lore was not ruined by a Texas League blooper off the handle or a seeing-eye single up the middle. This romantic dance with history was ended by the manager and a MacBook Pro.
Los Angeles Dodgers’ skipper Dave Roberts, whose role is reduced to tracking analytics, sent Kershaw to the showers because he had thrown the preordained 80 pitches. It was his target even before the team arrived at the ballpark and started grazing at the pre-game buffet. So don’t blame Roberts for the decision to rob Kershaw of his shot at Cooperstown immortality. He was just doing his job counting pitches. I suppose it beats counting sheep in bed wondering if he made the right decision. There was no choice. The computer played the game before the players took the field, as is the norm nowadays.
In almost 218,500 Major League games played for America’s pastime, there have been just 23 complete perfect games. Throughout the same period, there have been 117 World Series winners. Which is a bigger deal? The front office vote is for the championship.
And, yet, that battle cry is an emotional one, not consistent with everything else about this modern game played by the numbers. The odds of winning it all are long. How can that be the one statistic the suits ignore? It’s the analytics, stupid. They tell you everything you need to know. Swing for the fences every time. The base hit is as worthless as drawing a walk. A .250 batting average is good enough, if your slugging percentage is over .435. Who cares if you strike out half your at-bats, if your exit velocity when you do make contact regularly tops 95 mph?
It’s an all or nothing game these days, hit it far or strike out. There is no room on the base paths allowing runners a perch before attempting a hit and run or, digital baseball gods forbidding, a stolen base. Moving a runner with a ground ball to the right side is a wasted at-bat. A sac fly with a runner on third? Ha! That’s a big fat nothing in the stats.
So, go ahead and argue that it was the correct decision to pull Kershaw after seven and on his way to becoming the GOAT. You will win the debate. The numbers are all on your side. Even Kershaw himself knew there was no point stewing over the decision to take him out. The pitch count stands impervious to a heart tug and is immune to cross examination of conscience. To question it is to be a jack fan, utterly ignorant of the metrics.
This is what’s wrong with baseball. The magic has disappeared. Where did it go? I bought into the theory that the games were too long, the reason espoused in the hierarchy of Major League Baseball itself. But that’s not it. The problem is that the games are too boring, and that has nothing to do with time in a game that was born enchanting precisely because it is not beholden to a clock.
With Kershaw staying in the dugout as the top of the eighth inning emerged, I finally saw clearly that the alluring mystery in the game is gone. Kershaw was denied, for certain, but the fans and history ultimately got robbed — keep moving, nothing to talk about here. Seven innings of delightfully growing suspense in what could have been the greatest game the fans would ever see ended up just another Dodger win. Ho hum. Instead of walking back to the car feeling part of a dream, they were left to gripe about the price of a hot dog and cup of beer. Traffic on the way home was brutal. They should have left early, tomorrow’s a work day.
Modern life is defined by numbers in everything from health care to mapping the quickest route for a Sunday drive. I accept that, and much of it is for the better. But, in a game that has historically thrived by immersing itself in statistical analysis through the morning box scores, at the office water cooler, after championships and across eras, things went haywire when we let those numbers get ahead of the game to dictate how it is played.
Roger Marolt is a lifelong, diehard baseball fan bored completely out of his mind with it today. Email him at email@example.com.