By Bill Chuck
Special to CSNNE.com
While writing Nation STATion twice a week, and reading stats seven days a week, I have just reaffirmed my belief that there is a never-ending collection of numbers that can be shared about baseball in general, and the Red Sox in particular.
Author Pat Conroy wrote, and I quote, Baseball fans love numbers. They love to swirl them around their mouths like Bordeaux wine. And I consider it my responsibility to find interesting ways to present those numbers so that when swirling, those numbers dont taste boring or bitter.
Thats why Im always looking for creative ways of presenting stats. Trust me, with the tools available today on the web, it easy for anyone to throw out numbers for quick consumption. For example:
When Josh Beckett is behind on the count, batters are still hitting only .245. When he is ahead on the count though, they are hitting just .128.
Or, J.D Drew, this season, in Sox losses is hitting .233, but inexplicably in Sox wins hes hitting .218.
Finally, the pitchers in AL average 3.80 pitches per plate appearance; Jonathan Papelbon and Jon Lester average 3.96.
So there were three for you to think about, perhaps to mention to someone, and then quickly forget. They are interesting, but not satisfying because as the great baseball columnist for the New York Times, Arthur Daley wrote, and I quote, A baseball fan has the digestive apparatus of a billy goat. He can, and does, devour any set of diamond statistics with insatiable appetite and then nuzzles hungrily for more.
Thats why I believe that presentation makes a difference. "Presentation is crucial when serving any meal," says Michael Crane, corporate executive chef of ARAMARK,which is clearly why those hot dogs look so gosh darn appealing at Fenway.
A stat to me is always more interesting when there is a little more to a stat than just a number. Telling you that the Sox are now first in the majors in runs, batting average, and on-base percentage is like a three-pitch strikeout and I always remember Crash Davis quote from Bull Durham, "Quit trying to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring and besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls. They're more democratic."
I could only wonder how Crash Davis would feel about Jon Lester who leads the team with 110 strikeouts and has induced 12 double plays, the most on the team. Josh Beckett is next in both categories, with 100 whiffs and he has forced 10 batters to ground into 10 double plays.
To me stats are a tool to tell a story and sometimes the story is about us. For example, this morning the Sox are in first place with a record of 59-37, a .615 winning percentage. Last year, at this point in the season, the Sox were 54-42, a .563 winning percentage, sitting in third place. Now, I know the Sox have the AL MVP this year in Adrian Gonzalez, but like Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez last year, one or two great hitters are simply not enough.
So what has made the big difference in this offensive explosion this year? I turn to the words of Hall of Famer Lou Brock, and I quote, A good leadoff man sets the tone of the game. He sets the table, as I call it, and also can arrange the way the other players sit at the table. He jump-starts things, is an igniter. You usually can't rattle a leadoff guy.
Jacoby Ellsbury is the guy Red Sox Nation ripped last year and is the guy who is ripping opposing pitchers now. Last year, the amalgam of Sox batters who led off hit .265, with 11 homers and 57 RBI. So far this season, when Jacoby has led off he has hit .328 with 12 homers and 46 RBI. Red Sox Nation owes Jacoby a big apology.
Its hard to beat a team who has Ellsbury, the Muddy Chicken, A-Gon, Youk, and Big Papi as the first five guys in your regular lineup. Thats why the Sox are thriving despite a starting pitching staff that ranks 26th in the majors in Quality Starts. The great Jackie Robinson said, and I quote, Baseball is like a poker game. Nobody wants to quit when he's losing; nobody wants you to quit when you're ahead.
The Sox dont quit when they are losing. They have 22 comeback wins as compared to just 14 blown leads. And they certainly dont quit when they are ahead, despite Yogi Berras insistence that, and I quote, It ain't over 'til it's over. When the Sox lead heading to the ninth, its over. They are now 50-0 when leading going into the last inning.
Well, I hope you enjoyed the presentation and learned a few things along the way. I can tell you that I feel about writing baseball the same way the great Tom Seaver felt about playing it, and I quote, In baseball, my theory is to strive for consistency, not to worry about the numbers. If you dwell on statistics you get shortsighted, if you aim for consistency, the numbers will be there at the end.