In a sad state of affairs, the Washington Capitals closed out the Vegas Golden Knights in five games to win the Stanley Cup last night. I had them in six. Tonight, the Golden State Warriors can sweep the Cleveland Cavaliers, the thought of which curdles Charlie Red‘s blood. If that happens, sports fans who can’t make it through 45 minutes without a commercial and will thus skip the World Cup, will be left with two options: Major League Baseball or going to the drive-in every night to binge-watch the new Halloween reboot.
One is a frightening prospect. Assuming you’re not an Orioles fan, that would be the drive-in. Baroness Haden-Guest, aka Jaime Lee Curtis, is still kinda hot at 59, but shouting “Don’t open the damned door!” might get old after a week or so. There’s always going to be a lunatic in a mask behind it, and he’ll never say a word.
Baseball gives us two lunatics in masks. The umpire speaks but its gibberish. Mostly, you understand what he means by the violent gestures he makes. The catcher crouches in front of him, frantically signalling for help that never arrives.
The most frightening thing in the 2018 baseball season, however, is seeing Chris Davis at the plate. The Baltimore first baseman is on pace to have the worst batting season in baseball history. Through 55 games his line is .152/.232/.232. His slugging percentage is equal to his on-base percentage, which is sabermetrics for the slugger is not slugging.
He has four home runs and 15 rbi, meaning he has driven in 11 teammates. ESPN’s David Schoenfeld helpfully relates 109 runners have been on base when Davis has batted. Worse, he has scored only five times when not driving himself in. That’s from 22 singles, four doubles, 19 walks and one base reached on an error. In other words, he’s picking up runners roughly 10% of the time and being driven in by his teammates at an 11% [rounding up]. Davis is bad but his teammates aren’t much better.
Baltimore is probably reluctant to send their slumping infielder to the minors on a one-way $23 million/year contract. They are hoping the problem can be solved at Camden Yards. If it isn’t, Davis may produce the worst negative Wins Above Replacement score the game has seen. Worse, he may break Leo Cardenas’ 1972 record for fewest runs scored in a season. The Angels Cuban-born shortstop touched home plate 25 times that year. Davis projects to only 24.
It’s one thing to say you can never go home in life. In baseball, though…
The data shifts on shifts
Today is my day for learning from ESPN writers. Stat geek Bradford Doolittle reported on the data upgrade for shift analysis in MLB. Before the addition, numbers were only available for balls put in play when a shift was on. Now, every pitch is documented.
Whereas the consensus had been defensive shifts produced more outs by overloading whichever side a pull hitter favors, the new numbers show more walks are surrendered than hits saved.
Seeing four infielders in their hitting zone has intimidated hitters into being more selective about swinging at inside pitches. With an imbalanced defence behind them, pitchers are reluctant to throw strikes the batter can send the opposite way. Instead, they throw off the plate and put the runner on.
Unless pitchers can find a way to get pull hitters to bite, the new numbers may result in fewer shifts being put on, if any at all. If it results in more pitches put in play, that can only be good for the game.
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Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.