I’m BACK! After over a two week “hiatus” which consisted primarily of being forced to do what’s known in some circles as “work”, I’m back and worse than ever. Fear not, though. It’s not like I used my time wisely and tried to make the world a better place or volunteered to help Carlos Lee avoid buffets. No, I did exactly what you would expect me to do. I watched baseball when I wasn’t spending time being brainwashed by the corporate people who were determined to make me spend every waking moment wearing different versions of khaki pants and polo shirts to the home office in Butte, Montana (aka Houston, TX).
While using my time as unwisely as possible, I uncovered yet another pet peeve of mine. Important moments in baseball games aren’t necessarily “highlights”, and no amount of MLB Network repackaging them will change my mind. Just because some guy goes 3/5 with 4 RBI, it doesn’t necessarily mean that his contribution had anything at all to do with winning (or losing) the game. It’s quite possible that all of his 4 RBI came long after the outcome was no longer in doubt. It’s just that his last 2 hits came in highlight-worthy fashion, or maybe the deciding blow was struck by someone much less famous who slapped a hit down the line in the first inning while the park was just filling up. Who cares if the game ended up 8-0, and that 3-run double in the 1st was really all the starter needed? Who cares about context within the game itself?
That’s why I’ve developed the quite possibly the most useless stat ever. I’ve named it “ECI” which stands for “Explanatory Contextual Index”. The index is my way of assigning a semi-meaningful number on a scale from 0-5 that matches the value that a play actually has within the game itself. Consider these examples on the scale:
0 – A common example is that 3-run monster shot that just pads the stats in the top half of the 9th inning when the visiting team already has something like a 6-run lead, and the home team already has a spare position player (*cough* Aaron Miles *cough*) warming up in the pen. The “no lead is safe” mantra only goes so far with me, and the odds are heavily against a 6-run comeback. A less common example is something like a double that gets stretched into a triple or a stolen base that really should be “defensive indifference”. Official scoring is really a joke these days, but that’s a whole different blog piece (one that I’ll write soon enough). In the grand scheme of things, the play does nothing more than look good at the end of the year when “Mr. I Want A New Contract” is making a push for 100 RBI. This is also known as the “Adrian Beltre Baseline Value”.
1 – This is for that ground-rule double that gets bombed into the gap right after 7thinning stretch in a 3-0 ballgame to lead off when the cleanup hitter’s team is trailing. If this happens to be the inning that the home team scores 5 runs, way too much is made of this double. Context is always lost. Even if this hit broke up a no-no, there is still too much made of this. This guy accounts for just one of the runs, and he didn’t even drive in one of them with this hit. At best, he crossed the plate. That’s it. A lot of leadoff doubles are followed by walks, anyway. It’s usually a big hit later in the inning that causes most of the real damage. That’s why there are bigger numbers in the index.
This number also works for instances in which a guy known for stealing bases reaches 1st and gets “gunned down” trying to take 2nd base. Yes, it’s obviously easier to score from 2nd base than it is from 1st, but slow down for a moment. It’s not like the league average for catchers throwing out attempted base stealers is somewhere around 10%. Under the right circumstances (pitcher reputed to have good move to 1st, advantageous count for pitchout, or good pitch to handle), the catcher isn’t exactly bringing a knife to a gunfight all the time. Additionally, the runner doesn’t always get a great jump, and sometimes he doesn’t start the day with a good breakfast. Finally, factor in the possibility that scoring from 2nd isn’t necessarily a “lock”. That’s not to say that I’d want to see Jose Reyes sashaying his way down to 2ndbase with nobody out on a regular basis, but it’s not a death sentence if he doesn’t get caught, either. The game situation is important as well. Someone just needs to remind the broadcast teams of this from time to time.
2 – Typical play that contributes to the game in a positive way. It’s an RBI single or walk. It’s a really nifty catch that robs somebody of a base hit. “It’s like 10 thousands spoons when all you need is a knife.” Oops, sorry. Got a little carried away there. Apologies to you all (and Alanis Morrisette).
3 – Not-so-typical play that contributes to the game in a positive way. We’re talking about finally getting that clutch hit or 2-out opposite field double. This is for that double-play that keeps the other team for tying the game or getting the go-ahead run, and you turn it with someone like Elvis Andrus flying down the line to 1st.
4 – Advancing the runner when your team absolutely just needs 1 run to tie the game, and then your team gets that run. Hitting a fly ball when your team just needs a sacrifice fly to tie the game. Hitting the ball to the right side of the infield when you just need to hit the ball to the right side of the infield. Bunting when you absolutely need to get a bunt down. Just like all drains lead to the ocean; all good situational baseball play tends to lead to good things on the field. If nothing else, it tends to endear players to the fans and their managers.
5– This is the really high value category, and you don’t necessarily see a 5 in every game. It probably goes to the guy who hits the walkoff HR. Probably. Then again, what if that same guy was responsible for a 2-base error that allowed the other team to tie the game in the previous frame? If that created the situation in which his team even needed to bat in the bottom half, then there is no way I award a 5. It MAY go to the guy who snares the ball that is about to go over the fence for a slam. It might. It’s all about context. If that same guy has gone 0-6 and left 9 runners stranded, then he probably gets a 4. Hey, I’m a tough scorer.
So, what’s the real point of “ECI“? There is none. It’s not about the stat at all. It’s about looking at the game from a different perspective. It’s about looking at the really important moments in a game to determine what the really important moments are, instead of consuming the highlights that are so neatly packaged and ready for YouTube and the postgame analysis. It’s just to remind you that the game is fluid, and every missed opportunity is a chance to change the direction the game takes in a significant way. It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure book in real life, except you can’t flip to the different endings to see which one you like the best and work your way backwards (not that I ever did that).
Next time you watch a Cardinals game and Albert Pujols deposits one over some bullpen around the 6th inning or later, keep this post in mind. Was his HR a real difference maker, or was it Berkman’s single in the 3rd inning? Was it Jaime Garcia getting out of a jam in the 4th that mattered more? Which play would rate highest on your “ECI“?
TIDBIT: I’ll admit to being impressed with Lance Berkman‘s start this season to a point, but his overall numbers hide the real truth. He’s not much of a switch hitter. He’s hitting .389/.450/.778/1.228 vs RHP with 6 HR and 15 RBI. He’s now hitting .333/.444/.533/.978 with 0 HR and 0 RBI against LHP, but he was hitting .111/.273/.111/.384 with 0 HR and 0 RBI vs LHP just a few days ago. Platoon. Before the “Big Fat Elvis Puma” defenders jump on me for this, keep in mind that this isn’t the whole story. Berkman has stepped to the plate with a total of 45 runners on base this season, so he’s had a ton of opportunities, and 9 of those runners have scored. Holliday has only come to the plate with 32 runners on base. It’s not like he’s getting the same chances that Berkman is, so just imagine the damage he could be doing with the same opportunities. More importantly, imagine what will happen to Berkman’s numbers, if Holliday does start getting those opportunities. If teams have to pitch to Holliday with runners on base more frequently, Berkman’s chances with runners on base may actually decrease. That might be the unintended consequence of shifting RBI opportunities as Pujols heats up. Just a thought.
FYI – Until last night, Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte had combined to throw more innings than Jake Westbrook. That’s the practical definition of the unword “ungood” in my book. Kyle Lohse is leading the team in innings pitched, and Garcia was leading the team in strikeouts until Carp got his 5th start.
Like it? Got the song “Ironic” stuck in your head? Follow gr33nazn on Twitter and complain to me about it there! After a hiatus, I’m back on Twitter. I spent over two weeks working inside the mother ship, and social media is strictly forbidden there. Many thanks to our 3 loyal readers for their collective patience.