Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Go Ahead, Throw Your Outs Away

Billy Beane and Michael Lewis Laugh in the Face of Baseball ConventionI'm not a bitter man (this is completely untrue, I'm more bitter than a pint of Guinness cut with Iodine), but the more I convince myself that bad luck and/or general cosmic misalignment caused the Jays to underperform their various expected records, the more I've begun resent the teams I deem lucky. Teams buoyed by soft schedules, lucky bounces, and general disregard for common decency.

I've made my feelings towards the Twins well known; I will beat that horse no more. The Angels are different. The Angels have some interesting pieces and excellent pitching. All season long they played "Angels baseball." An exciting brand that puts a great deal of pressure on the defense by forcing the issue with daring and guile. A great mode of attack when you are playing a bad team or one that doesn't prevent you (through bad pitching or poor defense) from scoring runs. The other side of Angels Baseball, as was on display during the series with the Red Sox, is the tremendous pressure they place on themselves.

Baseball is simple - you have 27 outs to play with, try and score as much as you can before they're all gone. When the team you are playing is excellent, you are playing fast and loose with your valuable outs. The Red Sox are definitely an excellent team. Their defense was good WITH Manny, adding the average Jason Bay only improved it. Once you start giving away outs trying to stretch singles into doubles, trying to go first to third when you are down 2 runs, you are making their job easier.

This style works well against terrible defensive teams like Seattle and Texas, the kind of teams the Angels made their hay against all season. Those were also bad pitching teams that will give you ample opportunity to recover the outs you lost by walking people and surrendering hits to all sections of your lineup. Once again, the Sox don't allow the Angels this luxury. Without the opposition handing out base runners and chances, the pressure is now on the Angels. You only have so many opportunities to drive in the key runs or you're fucked, especially when you don't hit many home runs coughBlueJayscough.

Fast forward to the 9th inning of Game 4, and the Angels find themselves with the go-ahead run on second base with nobody out and the game tied. Their number 8 and 9 hitters are due up, two decent fellows that Play The Game The Right Way but are either mired in horrible slumps or not just not capable of delivering a base hit. Bunt one precious out away to move the runner to third; now a run stands but 90 feet away. One failed suicide squeeze later and you've got the number 9 hitter up with 2 outs and 2 strikes against. One more quick exit from the playoffs and everyone is talking about a lack of delivery in the clutch. This despite a philosophy that either took the bat out of countless hands or demanded a very specific and difficult task with no margin for error.

I seem to be advocating some kind of Right Way structured baseball principals (how very un-FD of me), which isn't the case. You have to play to your strengths and recognize where your opportunities are most likely to come from. I don't think home runs are the only answer. The Blue Jays, Rays, and Dodgers are good teams that don't bash the opposition into submission. There is more than one way to manufacture runs; and there are many ways to skin a cat. Sadly, the Angels are yet to learn you can't always convince the cat to do it for you.

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