Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Sports Ponderings

The other night I listened to the Devils/Lightning Game 6 and a curious call occurred. One player was sent to the penalty box for tripping, and the person he tripped was sent for diving.

This is, of course, a contradictory call. I don't really need to explain the ref's folly here.

The scrutiny of all involved on the various playing fields of sports during the playoffs becomes magnified, and thus every year in every sport, refs are given a good dose of abuse for their questionable calls. I'm not one of those people who ever blame refs for my team losing, but maybe I should. A bad or questionable call can change the way the game is played and tends to have a domino effect or the building blocks of chaos theory. Example: a team killing off multiple power plays gets increasingly tired as a period progresses, and therefore have to face a fresher club that becomes increasingly harder to defend.

I have heard one side say, "The refs aren't calling enough penalties," and the other say, "The refs are calling too many," and probably the same amount saying, "They call enough." And then you have someone say, "The refs can't win." Well, I think they're all wrong. The refs can win by only calling penalties they know for a fact have happened, and not those dubious "after the fact" calls where "something must have happened, so I'll call a penalty." Or calls where the ref thinks they know a player's intent. And clearly, those contradictory calls should be gone. Listening to the Predators towards the end of the year and the playoffs, I heard several coincidental penalties involving diving, much like the tripping/diving example above. Only one player can be wrong in this scenario, so it's got to be one or the other.

Now, I shift focus to baseball. Baseball managers drive me crazy. Little things that make sense aren't being done in games. For instance, when the game reaches the bottom of the ninth and the home team has the winning run in scoring position and first base open, there is absolutely no reason not to walk a batter in order to get more force-play options, unless the next batter is really dangerous, like a cleanup hitter. The reasoning is that the run that counts is in scoring position and no one who reaches base after him matters one bit. Give your defense more options.

Even the best of managers can irk me by being so beholden to typical baseball strategy that common sense goes out the window. Because I follow the Braves the most, I have a couple of bones to pick with Bobby Cox at times. For instance, in a game against the Marlins in which the Marlins had an 8-2 lead that had diminished to 8-7 by the top of the ninth due to a nice two-out rally, Cox played the percentages on pinch hitting for right-handed Matt Diaz, who was 0-4 in the game, for lefty Brian McCann, a typical starter who had been given the day off and had a minor injury. This move is made so that you have a lefty facing a right-handed pitcher, which is great except that you know the other manager is going to put in his left-handed pitcher to face your lefty pinch hitter.

The percentages of lefties hitting lefties is much smaller than righties hitting righties. The move, for good or ill, should have been to keep Diaz in the game and see what the opposing manager would do. The Braves had the current reliever on the ropes and he may very well have been replaced anyway, but a righty-righty matchup is much more favorable than the lefty-lefty, no matter if McCann is OK against lefties or not. And McCann struck out.

Same goes for leaving starting pitchers in too long. In this day and age, you try to keep your bullpen sturdy and use them as little as possible. But when your starter doesn't have it, he's never going to get it, and you might as well put someone else in. Mark Redman, who is a lucky 5th starter on the Braves, gave up a 4-0 lead in the first inning. Then, with the Braves up 6-4 and Redman in trouble again, against a batter who had just hit a 3-run HR off him in the 1st, he should have been lifted before ever getting the chance to face the guy. And he definitely should have been lifted after nearly allowing yet another 3-run HR to the same guy that ended up foul. Managers never seem to want to change pitchers in the middle of an at-bat. I have no idea why. But Redman should have been gone as soon as that ball landed foul. And the guy ends up hitting a double to tie it, a double that was in itself nearly a HR.

These classic baseball standbys lose a number of games each year. And certainly they pay off at times, too. But I think you've got to play chess with these moves. You have to see the other guy's next move before he even does it. Then you weigh the percentages and try to get the matchup that is best, not the one you can merely live with.


At 4/25/2007 05:41:00 PM, Blogger Jonathan said...

I agree with leaving starters in way too long. They always say something like the relievers have had to pitch way too much recently, for instance the Cubs had two extra innings games in three days. But isn't that their freaking job to come in? I remember the 90 Reds where the likes of Dibble and the rest of that clean-up crew pitched at least an inning pretty much every game. What the hell has changed since then? I'm perplexed by talk like this.

At 4/25/2007 08:35:00 PM, Blogger Chris said...

As if to prove my point immediately, Bobby Cox left Tim Hudson in a 3-0 game to try to get a complete game shutout, and allowed him to pitch even as the bases became loaded. Cox finally puts Wickman in, but the Marlins eventually won 4-3 because there was really no room for error. I'm disgusted right now.


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