If Yankees first baseman, Greg Bird, gets ten consecutive hits off an opposing pitcher, what are the odds he’ll get a hit the next time he faces the same pitcher? It’s not a trick question, but the so-called baseball geniuses would have you believe it is.
One of the reasons why the Yankees parted ways with Joe Girardi is that Brian Cashman felt he wasn’t centered on baseball analytics enough. Thus, Cashman is now in the process of finding someone who has a doctorate in quantifying mathematics, or at least someone who can answer the question posed above about Greg Bird.
The Bird thing is the same as if I flipped a coin 99 times and it came up heads every time, what are the odds it’ll come up heads on the 100th flip? The point is there is no probability “odds” when there is only two possible results. Bird will either get a hit, or he won’t, and the coin flip can just come up heads or tails, meaning there’s a 50-50 chance in both cases.
But just to be fair, let the “Moneyball” experts have their say:
Are you convinced? Ah, if life were so comfortable. Baseball, my friends, is not something that is measurable, predictable, or finite. And if the Yankees, and in particular, Brian Cashman, insist on pushing the envelope that way in choosing a new manager with a slant on analytics, they are making a big mistake.
Baseball is a game of trends
Trends are commonplace in baseball, and they always have been. In one day, the stolen base was a treasured commodity and the likes of Joe Morgan, Maury Wills, and Carl Crawford were paid handsomely for that talent. Now, with the exception of the one-tool guy in Cincinnati, no one pays any attention to who steals and who doesn’t, and the big bucks go to players who can pop 30-50 home runs, even if they do strike out 200 times a season.
Today, the hop on the bandwagon trend is the bullpen. Pity the starting pitcher who has 80 pitches in the fourth inning, even if he’s pitching a shutout. But that’s a topic for another day.
Let’s get back to the Bird thing. And what if the Yankees are scheduled to face that same pitcher Bird has beat up ten times in a row, but Bird arrives for work with a blatant case of the flu, or perhaps reporting the death of a close relative in his family to Mr. Analytics, the new Yankees manager. What to do?
Mr. Analytics knows if he doesn’t list Bird in the lineup, two things are going to happen almost immediately. One, he’s going to get a blistering text message from Brian Cashman, suggesting in less than professional language than this, “Are you nuts? Are you paying attention to what I’m paying you for?”. And second, he can be assured the postgame press conference will be all about his decision not to play Bird. Even though, no one else had the background generating his decision.
It’s just a bit too much, don’t you think? How many times does it have to be emphasized that baseball is a “mental” game and what you did yesterday, good or bad, does not factor into an algebraic equation, which in any way predicts what you will do tomorrow? Treating the players as though they were simply “data” entered into a computer is a sin or at least a violation of human trust and respect.
Why not make the game entirely automated, eliminating umpires and trusting computer imagery to make the right call? Why not have the Elias Sports Bureau make up the lineups for both teams in all games played next season. Why not have the ball taken out of Rich Hill‘s hands as it was after four innings in the seventh game of the World Series because – for me – this is getting way out of hand, and the legitimacy of the game, ultimately, will fall into question if the trend continues.
Just because it rained today doesn’t mean it’s going to rain again tomorrow. It might, but then again it might not.
Baseball and the human touch
Joe Girardi, and let it be said, did not have a perfect last season managing the Yankees, but he did have the pulse of the team at all times. He didn’t measure it as each player walked into the clubhouse. He “felt” it. He knew it. Who was down and who was up. Who was flaying badly at pitches because he had seen it with his own eyes the night before? And who had gone 0-4 but had hit two screaming line drives right at a fielder and was on the cusp of a streak, no matter what the stats said.
That’s baseball as it has been played and, hopefully, will return to being played again soon. And after all, You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows is a message long ago received from Bob Dylan.
And maybe that’s reaching a bit, but Brian Cashman is making a big mistake if he selects an automaton as the next Yankees manager.
Because baseball is a sport played and managed by human beings, people or men if you will. And the game is tarnished by the presence of these analytical intruders.