BY DANNY MAJEROWICZ
I love baseball statistics. Being able to watch a game, then make a hypothesis about how a certain player or team is performing and then look at the stats to see if what my eyes were telling me was correct or not, is fun for me. Using stats to try and predict how a player will perform is another tremendous use of mathematical equations with a flavor of baseball. But it is flawed. All of it. There will never be a way to perfectly predict a baseball player’s performance. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try but the results will never be one hundred percent. Why, with all the math and effort being poured into this area of the game, do we still see outcomes that shock us? The answer is simple. Human beings cannot be predicted.
Baseball is a torturous game. If you don’t love it, it will eat away at you until you can’t bear to even think about it. The mental fortitude it takes to play major league baseball is nothing short of incredible. One hundred and sixty two games of failure is what they have to survive. Because that’s what baseball is. A game of failure. That is also what makes it so rewarding when you succeed. But just think about what it has to feel like going through a slump. You haven’t recorded a hit in your last twenty five at bats and the guy on the mound is throwing a ninety-three mile per hour two seamer with a slider that looks like the exact same pitch out of his hand. How in the world do you still show up to play with the confidence you need to be successful? I have no idea and that is part of the reason they are the best in the world. It also goes back to the point you cannot predict how a human being will perform.
In the first two games on the Tigers series, Darren O’Day made Detroit hitters look foolish as he usually does with most hitters. But these weren’t just league average players. He twice had to get the middle of their line-up out to hold the Orioles’ lead and turn the ball over the Zach Britton. This part of the line-up features the best right handed hitter in the game in Miguel Cabrera, followed by bat magician Victor Martinez and the guy who lead the American League in hitting coming into this series Nick Castellanos. For two straight games O’Day made this task look easy. And that is exactly what everyone expected. Through May 13th, he had only given up three earned runs in 14.1 innings pitches while only allowing one home run and striking out 18 batters. On May 15th he entered to once again go through the top of the Tigers line-up.
It started off just as everyone expected. O’Day struck out pinch hitter Jarrod Saltalamacchia and followed that up by punching out Ian Kinsler, who had homered earlier in the game. Next up was J.D Martinez and if O’Day could get him out he wouldn’t have to face Cabrera for a third time. As O’Day got to two strikes it almost felt inevitable. He was locked in. The frisbee slider was darting hard and the he was getting his fastball up over the hitter’s hands whenever he wanted. Martinez had no idea which was coming. It was the slider, perfect placed as it broke low and away. Martinez was fooled and tried desperately to check his swing. And he somehow, some way held up, according to the first base umpire. Everyone on the Orioles started walking towards the dugout thinking it was strike three. But O’Day is a veteran. He has had bad calls go against him before, this wouldn’t faze him right?
“I tried to get him to swing at it and I did. Mark Wegner absolutely embarrassed himself." Darren O’Day’s comment says it all. On the next pitch he went with a high fastball that had worked twice in the same inning, only this time he didn’t elevate it enough and Martinez crushed it over the center field wall. Distraught by the missed call and homerun, O’Day’s focus went south. And with Miguel Cabrera at the plate it was the worst time for it to happen. Cabrera hit a screaming line drive out over left field and the Tigers had the lead. A pitcher who almost never gives up home runs just gave up two back to back. Completely out of sync, O’Day walked Victor Martinez and was pulled from the game. Baseball is a game of failure. And it was the blown call that was on O’Day’s mind after the game. He still had every opportunity to make a good pitch and get Martinez out but for some reason that call got into his head. And the seemingly predictable pitcher became very unpredictable.
This is what makes baseball and sports in general great. If we knew what was going to happen every time there would be no sense in watching. There would be no reason to cheer. Nothing to make us believe the impossible can happen. Nothing to break our hearts. Even grown men at the highest level of the sport let their emotions get the best of them. And it’s those emotions that throw the math and predictions off course. It can lead to an all-star reliever getting hammered or a no name prospect starting the year hitting over .300. Baseball can give you all the confidence in the world but then in a blink of an eye take it all away. It’s frustrating and boring when it is going bad. It is satisfaction and rewarding when it’s going good. And it just might be the most unpredictable, predicted game in the world.