Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sabathia Victim of Obsolete Scoring System

This afternoon, Milwaukee Brewers' ace CC "Don't Put No Periods" Sabathia threw an absolute gem. A complete game shutout, giving up just one hit, with eleven strikeouts and just three walks-- a great game in this day of relief pitchers. His Game Score of 96 is the best of the season, beating even John Lester's no-hitter. And yet, the Brewers will be appealing the judgment of the game, because they feel Sabathia should have gotten the no-no. The lone hit came in the sixth inning, when Andy LaRoche hit a dribbler back to the mound. Sabathia picked up the ball, was about to fire to first, and dropped it. Bob Webb, veteran official scorer, immediately scored it a hit, explaining that LaRoche was 2/3 up the baseline before Sabathia even bent over. The Brewers think Sabathia was robbed.

Before we get to my take on it, let's run through a truly awful paragraph in the AP story:

"Despite the Brewers' protests, the play in question is routinely called
a hit and fielders often get angry when they are called for errors on
easier plays."

This is my first, and most important point: Errors are stupid. I recently went to a baseball game and had to explain my favorite sport to a number of Chinese students who were watching the game for the first time. Despite the language barrier they were able to pick up the vague idea of the game. But when they heard my explanation in response to "What does the E mean on the scoreboard," they looked at me funny. Now, in the progress of an individual game, it may make sense to assign blame for a particular play, in the process of deciding why an out was not made.

What bothers me is that errors are used in two ways that hide the true value of players. Most directly, they affect the defender, whose number of errors has almost no bearing on the number of outs he actually does make. While advanced fielding metrics are far from perfect, they at least make an effort at quantifying the level of skill in out-making a defender has. Errors, on the other hand, are arbitrarily decided by some dude in a booth. Second of all, the "earned-run" is a bastard child of the error, and has led talent evaluaters astray in believing that some runs are more important than others, when judging a pitcher. Ok, rant over, let's move on to the next sentence:

"The Associated Press polled eight writers who have
reported on the majors for 10 years or more, and six would have called
it a hit."

Great job, Associated Press! Way to immediately poll a bunch of sportswriters about what an official scorer should have done. I don't care if they polled eight construction workers who have watched baseball for 10 years or more, they would have been equally qualified to speculate about a completely different profession whose primary function is to make judgment calls on baseball games. Two of these judgments are errors and wins, which are both stupid, primarily because they are subjective. Still, Bob Webb's job is to judge baseball games, and the baseball writer's job is to write about baseball games. Why are these somehow overlapping, to the AP?

"Also, Sabathia pitched with almost no pressure with a multiple-run lead
in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, which wouldn't have been the
case if he had a no-hitter going and every late-innings pitch would
have been critical."

Ah, clutchitudiness. Or something similar, I suppose. Sabathia shouldn't be credited with a no-hitter because if he knew he were pitching a no-hitter, the whole rest of the game would have changed, somehow! Sabathia would be pressing, or some other silly notion. Well, what if, after the sixth inning, Ryan Braun assured Sabathia that he was going to make a big stink about that error the rest of the game? Then, Sabathia would be under pressure to continue to hold the Pirates to just one hit, so they could get on with the protesting! Isn't that the same amount of pressure?

That was just about the dumbest three consecutive sentences I've ever read from the Associated Press. I guess they all must have gone to UNC journalism school.... Last month, the Immaculate Inning recognized those pitchers who had been "robbed by their defense," losing a perfect game because of an error. It's too bad that doesn't have a search feature for "plays that should have been errors but weren't." But, there have been 48 one-hitters since 2000. If just a fraction of them featured a hit that should have been called an error, how many more no-hitters would that add to the annals of baseball?

In the earlier post, I dismissed a few near-perfect games because the pitcher himself was responsible for the lone baserunner, and this case may. Even if the hit were changed to an error, the onus would be on Sabathia. It brings up an interesting point; if you, the pitcher, are in a no-hitter, and you think that someone may get an infield hit, do you drop the ball on purpose? Do you fling it into the stands? One does not have to go far to find precedent for a no-hitter featuring an error by the pitcher-- John Lester had an error in his no-hitter earlier this year. But, the error was on a pickoff throw and did not allow a baserunner.

The last time a no-hitter featured a runner reaching on an error was for Anibal Sanchez of the Marlins on September 6, 2006. In the fifth inning, Carlos Quentin reached on a throwing error by Miguel Cabrera. Before that, it was Cal Ripken, Jr reaching on a throwing error by Shea Hillenbrand in the second inning of Hideo Nomo's no-hitter for the Red Sox in 2001. Kirk Gibson dropped a fly ball in the fifth inning of Bret Saberhagen's no-hitter in 1991. That last one is included in this article by Baseball Digest recording questionable no-hitters in baseball history. Apparently the ball just tipped the top of Gibson's glove as he leaped for the liner off the bat Dan Pasqua. Initially called a hit, it was later changed to an error by the official scorer. Phil Rizzuto remembered a similar occurance in a no-hitter by Virgil Trucks in 1958.

In all, I think what this demonstrates is the power of the official scorer, regarding baseball immortality. A no-hitter is a big deal, and it's a shame that remembering such an event is dependent not upon the pitcher responsible, but upon a man in a booth high above the field. Sabathia is a great pitcher and with his ability to get deep into games, he'll certainly have another chance at an official no-hitter. Unless, of course, the Brewers make his arm fall off trying to get their money's worth on their half-season rental....

1 comment:

Xenod said...

Here's the video of the play.

In the spirit of my last post on pitching, I see an error by the pitcher as the equivalent of a hit.