Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Handling the Truth

Tonight's game has been an old fashioned pitchers' duel - Koufax versus Marichal, Hunter versus Tiant. Johan Santana looked unhittable, and Curt Schilling nearly matched him, until both yielded two-out solo homers in the seventh inning. Both departed witht he score knotted at one in the ninth inning.

One reason the Twins' pitching has succeeded in the past is their stinginess with the base on balls. Tonight has been no exception. Meanwhile, Curt Schilling's 34 inning walkless streak stopped with the Twins' leadoff hitter tonight.

If David Ortiz is the greatest clutch hitter in Sox history, then who are our memorable opponents from the Twins. Most Sox fans will probably say Kirby Puckett, whose eye injury cut his career short, but the two most memorable Twins for me were Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva. Oliva had the sweet swing, three batting titles, and rotten knees that held his career back. Killebrew had 573 homers with that uppercut swing that generated backspin flyballs that seemed to carry forever. He also walked and struck out at least 100 times in seven seasons. From 1965 to 1972 he also received 123 intentional walks. A couple of other memorable Twins were Bert Blyleven (he of the curveball) and of course Frank Viola and Jeff Reardon, who both also wound up on the Sox.

What don't we see this year, so far? As terrific as Johnny Damon was for the Sox, he really struggled in domed stadia.

I'm reading a terrific biography that my daughter Julia, an enormous baseball fan gave me, The Mind of Bill James. Although I don't believe that numbers explain everything, there aren't many mediocre players with good numbers or bad players with great numbers. Sometimes there are valuable players who seem to outshine their numbers, like the Sox Alex Cora, but they're the exception.

In the world of classification, there are lumpers and splitters. I try to be a 'lumper' to make it simple. Baseball is about scoring and preventing scoring. Although there may not be a Holy Grail of baseball offensive statistics, I like OPS (on base plus slugging percentage) as simple and representative, and both K/BB and WHIP ratios (walks plus hits per inning pitched) concerning pitching. OPS reflects both plate discipline and power, and K/BB and WHIP correlate with the ability to make hitters miss and also the ability to keep them off base.

Coming into tonight, Curt Schilling (8.56) and Santana (5.69) were 1-2 in the AL in K/BB, and 4-5 in WHIP (Schilling 1.03, Santana 1.05). So as they say on Nitwit Radio, "you're making my point."

After being on call last night, and getting innumerable phone calls after midnight, I'm finding extra innings something of a challenge tonight...

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