Friday, April 14, 2006

The Four Questions of Baseball

by Rob Hyman
As I sit here eating my matzoh – which always seems exciting to eat for the first day or two, but by the end I’d rather eat cardboard - I’m getting myself into the spirit of Passover. That being said I’d like to pose to the world Rob Hyman’s four questions of baseball. These are aspects of the game that have always baffled me, and just like religion leaves us with no clear answers, these questions have no answers as well.

1) Why do batters insist on sliding into first base?

It’s pretty clear to me that they don’t teach physics in the minor leagues. When I buy the Mets some day, my first order of business will be to explain the simple momentum formula: p = m * v (My vodka drinking Physics professor Mr. DeCordova (Deeker) would be so proud). Unlike second and third, the runner is allowed to over-run first base. Therfore, one should want to build up as much momentum as possible. When sliding, the runners mass stays the same, but his velocity decreases since the dirt becomes a force pushing against him, thus decreasing your momentum. Additionally, picture it – a runner has to propel himself with the leg that he just stepped forward with. So instead of moving the other leg forward, the runner is wasting time by bending his front knee and pushing down in order to propel himself forward. The time it takes to propel one’s self into the head first slide would be better served by take that next step with the other leg.

2) Why do managers take out their best hitters in close games?

I understand the idea of a defensive replacement in a close game. It’s my opinion based on my own anecdotal information, that more times than not, it’s not worth making the replacement. Art Howe used to do this with Mike Piazza all the time when the Mets were up a run or two in the eighth or ninth. The problem (which we will discuss further in Question #3) is that when you have a closer like Braden Looper who was blowing saves left and right, very often, Piazza would have had another chance at the plate with the game tied. I get it – Piazza can’t throw out Cecil Fielder with an anchor attached to his leg, but how often does a team down a run or two in the late innings try to steal? The better throwing arm is not worth giving up the chance for Piazza to potentially come up in a vital situation. This year, I’ve noticed the Nationals doing the same thing with Alfonso Soriano (editors note: Soriano is on my fantasy team, so it irks me that much more). Two times already, Soriano has been replaced in the late innings, only to have the game go to extras, denying the Nationals of their best bat. While Soriano is new to the outfield, he seems quite able to hold his own and I think Frank Robinson is making a mistake by having this as part of the team’s strategy

3) Why does the closer position exist?

Somehow middle relief has become the purgatory of baseball. I guess the seventh and eight innings just aren’t that important to winning a game. Okay here’s the scenario – you’re up 4-3 in the 7th inning and your starting pitcher is tiring. There’s two outs and runners on the corners. Do you really want some guy coming in that wasn’t good enough to start or close? If the closer is the best short-work man you’ve got, this is where you need him most. Not in the ninth when nobody is on base. I think the initiation of the save has hurt baseball because it keeps the best pitchers on the bench when they are often needed most, just because they would not be there at the end to get an arbitrary statistic.

4) Why does interleague play exist?

I agree there is some intrigue to the Yankees / Mets; Cubs / White Sox or A’s / Giants. But that’s where the intrigue ends and the boredom begins – and to me, frankly, there’s not much intrigue there to begin with. I would much rather see another series against each division opponent than the 15 games played against the other league. Usually the example is that one can't get riled up for the Twins / Marlins or the Pirates / Devil Rays game. True, but do we really get that excited for the Twins / Devil Rays or Marlins / Pirates either? No - but my problem is that even though I get excited every day for the next Mets game, come interleague time, the traditionalist in me actually makes me dread watching the games. I can't stand the idea of the Mets in Toronto or even Fenway. I know people say its good for the game because it gives fans a chance to see teams they otherwise wouldn't see, but that just doesn't do it for me.

So, now that the questions have been posed, let's eat!

Rob Hyman's column appears alternate Fridays


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"I've had a pretty good success facing Stan (Musial) by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third base."
- Carl Erskine