Stumbling down the rabbit hole

If you haven’t yet, I’d strong recommend you check out the blogs that were able to attend PirateFest over the weekend (Bucs Dugout, Raise the Jolly Roger, Pirates Prospects, McEffect, and RumBunter, with too many posts to link individually at this point) and all of the content that they generated from their time talking to, among others, Neal Huntington, Frank Coonelly, and Chris Resop. The Pirates have really gone out of their way the last two seasons to accomodate the non-traditional media and I think that the Pirate blog community has responded by generating some really interesting content. 

What I’m particularly interested in today, in more of an internal monologue fashion, is this post that Charlie just wrote about losing and how the fans perceive losses differently with Mike McKenry than they do with, say, Ronny Paulino. The opening passage, which is about a fan asking Clint Hurdle what he writes in his little notebook during the games and Charlie’s approximation of Hurdle’s answer, is really what caught my eye: 

Charlie Morton was on the mound and in some sort of situation that required him to make a tough pitch in an important situation. Morton made his pitch in the right location, but the batter hit it anyway. But that wasn’t what Hurdle wrote in his book. Instead, what he wrote was that Morton’s catcher, Michael McKenry, noticed that Morton had made his pitch and made some demonstrative gesture that conveyed frustration while also letting Morton know, ‘Hey, we’ll get ’em next time.’

See, this kills me. Writing down that Morton made a good pitch that got blasted is a noble pursuit. It’s not exactly sabermetric, per se, but trying to find the big picture behind a pitcher’s performance that’s unbiased by individual box scores. If Morton makes a great pitch to Ryan Braun and Braun hits it out of the park for a three-run homer, it’s certainly reasonable to assume that the next time he makes that pitch to a lesser hitter, Morton may get an out. Similarly, if Morton makes a bad pitch to Braun and Braun hits it to the warning track, it’s worth noting that he might not get away with that mistake again.

It’s a slippery slope to note these kinds of things subjectively during games and it’s dangerous to try and assume what a ‘good’ pitch is in isolation and without context it’s all meaningless. If a guy makes ten ‘good’ pitches that all get whacked, you have to start noting that he’s just a terrible pitcher and it doesn’t matter if he makes ‘his’ pitch or not. But if you worked at it over the year and cross-referenced your notes with PitchFX data after the game and created a strict standard for what a ‘good’ pitch is and maybe computerized everything, you would eventually start to learn things that aren’t apparent just from the box scores and you could probably draw some real conclusions about which pitchers got lucky during the season and which ones were just plain unlucky. You can do the same things with strikeout rates and walk rates and flyball rates and home run rates, of course, but tracking pitches like that may give you a deeper understanding of your pitching staff. This is probably the sort of thing I’d be interested in trying to do if I worked for a baseball team and it was my job to track these things obsessively, rather than just a hobby. 

But Hurdle is instead writing down when someone notices that a teammate got crappy luck and tries to pick him up. I have so many questions. What if McKenry is just a legitimately nice guy trying to pick up a teammate after he makes a bad pitch? What if Morton makes a fantastic pitch and strikes out McKenry’s best friend and McKenry doesn’t compliment him? Does that go in the book? 

This is ultimately unimportant in the grand scheme of things, of course, and I’m guessing that Hurdle going out of his way to notice guys doing little things for their teammates is exactly why the players seem to really legitimately like the guy in a way that they never did with the prior two managers. Which confirms your suspicions: that I’m a bored stats nerd that’s killing time in lab before I head home to PA and it’s a slow time of year for baseball news so I’m nit-picking. 

Instead, let’s all watch this weird holiday e-card the Pirates sent out and laugh about it!

Pat Lackey

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.