In his first plate appearance last night versus CC Sabathia, well-known Walkaholic Bobby Abreu did his thing: he walked on four pitches, all fastballs. His second plate appearance began similarly — two fastpieces for balls (although GameDay appears to have the latter in the upper-inner part of the strike zone).
It’s an interesting situation, this: Sabathia, facing the only lefty in the Angels righty- and switchy-stacked lineup, has thrown six straight balls. Granted, we know Abreu is an uber-patient hitter, but this is CC Sabathia he’s facing. The same CC Sabathia, that is, who walked only about seven percent of the batters he faced this season. It’s certainly possible, but indeed unlikely, that Sabathia would throw six straight balls to Abreu, let alone walk him twice.
It was at this point that Mister Avuncular himself, Tim McCarver, said something along the lines of: “Sometimes, when you face a lineup of all righties, it’s harder to face the lefty.” His justification? Because the pitcher wouldn’t be used to it. A possibility, for sure. Certainly something to consider.
But here’s the thing: why state it as fact? This is the sort of thing that a thousand nerds in a thousand mothers’ basements all over this great nation are so ready to check. I don’t know exactly how they’d do it, but it seems like you could just find all the instances in which a lefty faced a lineup of all righties but one. Then, I’m surmising, you’d find out how the lefty batters fared in those games versus what you’d expect given their normal platoon splits and the platoon splits of the pitcher. Or something like that. Point is: there’s data. It’s check-up-on-able.
Of course, one could argue that by “harder,” McCarver intended only to comment on how it might feel to a pitcher — that is, as opposed to what the actual outcomes were of such situations. Players-turned-broadcaster are useful for this exact reason. But I think such an argument would be disingenuous in this case. It’s my contention that, in the context of the situation (Abreu having walked already and now halfway to a second walk), McCarver fully intended to comment on the outcome.
Let me make one point clear here: this is not to pick on Tim McCarver, per se. I’m almost positive that Tim McCarver is an excellent grandfather and probably also does a lot of good work with his local chapter of the Rotary. Tim McCarver isn’t really the bad guy here. He’s participating in a different national pastime besides baseball, one particularly native to television. I don’t know exactly what you’d call it, but it’s a pastime that values volume and the appearance of assuredness over dialogue and curiosity. It’s this same pastime that keeps Angry Shouting People like Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly in business and upon which George Saunders comments in his book The Braindead Megaphone.
How do we rival this influence? By asking questions. Modern Philosopher Bill James has built his entire empire on a single premise: that, instead of making claims, we ask simple, almost childish questions. That’s it. Just ask the question. Instead of saying, “Immigrants are bad for the country!” you ask, “How does immigration affect our country?” Instead of saying, “Facing only one lefty can make it hard for the lefty pitcher,” you say, “I wonder if, just maybe, facing only one lefty in a lineup of all righties could make it hard for a lefty pitcher.”
You couch it. You resist the temptation to make a claim. You ask a question. And you allow yourself to be amazed by the answer.
(P.S. Abreu struck out in that plate appearance and ended up 0-for-3 versus Sabathia with 2 K and 1 BB.)
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