Tonight — in about three and a half hours, in fact — the Norfolk Tides will begin their final homestand of the 2010 season. It’s hard to believe that the entire season will already be over; it seems as though it just began. Of course, minor-league baseball runs a month less than major-league baseball, so there are still games to be followed; but I won’t likely be attending any more games in person after Friday.
Before I started datacasting and scoring, I didn’t attend nearly as many games — typically 5 a year or so. When I saw that few, it was pretty easy to remember at least the highlights of each game. Now that I’m seeing more games, it’s becoming harder to remember more than just a few events. While going to the ballpark is enjoyable, and certainly not just a job, it’s stopped becoming a special event.
Now, I enjoy the games more for the people I watch with rather than to watch the game. The inhabitants of the press box and my fellow scorers in the seats know and have opinions on baseball and what we’re seeing. Before, I would go alone to the games, observing the contest and hoping not to be near loud drunks. Now, when I’m there alone, I miss the chance to share my opinions and learn from others.
I think that’s what I may be trying to get at. Not everyone has to be, or is, a dedicated fan. Not everyone attending the game needs to track every pitch. But I have found others like me who are dedicated fans and enjoy tracking every pitch. And I thank them for making my life better.
Norfolk is hosting Durham for a five-game series, ending this afternoon (as I enter this.) I worked the Thursday and Sunday games for BAM from the press box, and the Friday game for BIS from the seats. Friday’s game was notable for some dominating pitching, and Sunday’s game was just plain fun.
Both Friday starting pitchers, Old Ramon Ortiz for the Bulls and Young Zach Britton for the Tides, were sharp. Relief pitchers Jake McGee for the Bulls and Jim Hoey for the Tides were dominant. McGee pitched 1 2/3 innings, striking out four. Hoey was even more dominant, also pitching 1 2/3 innings, striking out all five batters he faced. Even more interestingly, in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings — covering a total of eighteen outs — there were eleven total strikeouts and eight balls hit into play. Of the eight balls hit into play, four did not reach the infield dirt; and three of those would not have reached the infield dirt even if the fielders did not interfere.
Unfortunately for Hoey, he unleashed a wild pitch during one of his strikeouts that allowed the eventual game-winning run to score. This run was abetted by an egregiously bad call on a stolen base attempt by an out-of-position umpire. There are only three umpires in an AAA game, and with runners on first and second, the third umpire takes a position near second base. J.J. Furmaniak broke for third base, and the Tides catcher Adam Donachie delivered an ugly throw toward third. Despite that, Scott Moore corraled the throw and clearly applied a tag while the diving Furmaniak was still a foot from the bag. But the umpire, apparently overly influenced by the lack of aesthetics on Donachie’s throw and hindered by his position, hesitatingly called Furmaniak safe. It was Furmaniak who scored on the wild pitch.
Sunday’s game — well, let’s look at the linescore to start:
DUR 0 0 0 2 2 4 0 0 1 9
NOR 0 0 0 2 4 2 0 0 0 8
It was a pitcher’s duel at the beginning, and at the end, and a slugfest in the middle. Pat Egan pitched the sixth inning and was done in by back-to-back errors, leading to another unusual pitching line — 1 4 4 0 0 0.
You hear it said all the time … “There’s just not enough pitching these days.” “Every team is short of pitching.” Based on what I’ve seen, there isn’t a shortage of pitching; in fact, there’s probably too much pitching around. And, paradoxically, if there were a true shortage of pitching, there’d probably be better pitching all the way around.
There are a couple of reasons why I don’t think there’s a shortage of pitching. First, thanks to Tony LaRussa, teams have been using more and more roster spots for pitchers. When I started following baseball, forty years ago, teams carried nine pitchers, sometimes ten. Thirty years ago, teams carried either ten or eleven pitchers. Fifteen years ago, it became eleven or twelve. Now, it’s twelve or thirteen. As teams demand more and more pitchers, it stands to reason that the twelfth and thirteenth aren’t as good as the ninth and tenth. So, if teams can’t find that twelfth and thirteenth pitcher, they cry that there’s a pitching shortage.
But the real reason I don’t think there’s a pitching shortage is because the major league organizations keep shuttling pitchers between the major league team and the minor league teams. They would only do this if they believed that the pitcher being called up was as good as, or almost as good as, or better than, the pitcher they were shipping out. Every team has an example of this — for the Orioles, it’s Frank Mata.
Frank Mata was signed out of Venezuela by the Twins in 2002; after the 2009 season, he signed with the Orioles as a minor-league free agent. He was assigned to Norfolk, and became the closer after a couple of week. He was called up in late May. He allowed one earned run in the seven innings of his first seven appearances; then started to struggle. He was sent down after his last outing on July 18, having pitched 15 games, 17 1/3 innings with a 7.79 ERA.
But. His ERA was blown up by three appearances. Appearance 8, June 14 — four runs in 1 2/3 innings. Appearance 12, July 1 — 4 runs in 1/3 of an inning. Appearance 13, July 3 — three runs in 1 1/3 innings. Shortly after that, the Orioles decided to return him to Norfolk and try someone else. But, overall, Mata didn’t really pitch badly. The Orioles over-reacted to a small sample size.
And they could overreact because there isn’t a shortage of pitching. Mata was “struggling” — so they sent him down and tried someone else. But, if there was a shortage of pitching, there wouldn’t be anyone worth trying. The fact that teams keep trying to catch lightning in a bottle, giving up on anyone when he has a slight hiccup, demonstrates that there isn’t a true shortage of pitching.
And, if there were a true pitching shortage, pitching would probably be better. It takes time for pitchers – indeed, for all players — to get acclimated to the major leagues. When a pitcher knows he’s essentially interchangeable with three or four other guys, it puts more pressure on him to be perfect – have a bad game, down you go to Norfolk. If he knew that a bad game didn’t mean the end of his career, he’d relax and likely pitch better. And, because his good games and bad games would be more in balance, his stats would be better and he’d have more confidence.
Sometime, some non-championship caliber team is going to pick its eleven-man pitching staff on opening day and commit to it, save for injury, for half a season. I suspect that team will be quite successful.
By the time August rolls around, the games tend to blur into each other to some degree. What happened in that mid-June 5-2 win against Pawtucket? Was it the 3-2 loss or the 4-3 loss when the winning run scored on the balk? It takes quite a lot to distinguish a game from the others in the season. Last night’s 11-6 Tides win over Indianapolis had quite a lot of distinguishing characteristics:
· The Tides scored only one run more than twice the number of errors they committed. Now, it’s never a good thing when a team scores only twice as many runs as it commits errors. If they didn’t commit a lot of errors – say 0 or 1 – then the offense didn’t score many runs. Conversely, if the team scored a lot of runs, and still only scored twice as many runs as it committed errors, then they committed a LOT of errors. Last night, the Tides did score more than twice as many runs as they committed errors – but just barely. While the Tides scored 11 runs in their 11-6 victory over Indianapolis, they also committed five errors.
· POCS2(13E6).3-H(NR);1-3(E6/TH). That’s the BAM scoring code for one of the more peculiar plays I’ve seen. It took four people to get the official scoring right and three people to get the code right. With runners on first and third and two out, Tides pitcher Zach Britton threw to first to pick off the runner. Alex Presley, on first base, broke for second. First baseman Michael Aubrey threw to shortstop Robert Andino, and Brian Bixler on third base broke for home. Andino dropped the throw, and Presley scampered back to first. Bixler scored. Andino, trying to catch Presley, threw back to first but heaved the ball into the dugout. Presley was awarded third base. Brandon Moss, the batter, followed with a home run. We decided that Bixler’s run should be earned, because he would have scored before Presley would have been put out for the third out; but that Presley’s run (and Moss’s run) should be unearned because had Andino not dropped the throw and threw wildly, then Presley would have been the third out of the inning and Moss wouldn’t have hit the home run. Obvious decision – charge Andino with a throwing error allowing Presley to move from first to third. If that’s the only error on the play, then we’re in a bind. We can’t give Bixler a steal of home, because he scored as the result of the misplay. So he’d have to score on the throwing error, which would ultimately make his run unearned. We decided that we had to charge Andino with two errors – one on the dropped catch and a second one on the throw. That served justice, but made for some complicated coding.
· We’re convinced that the home-plate umpire overlooked a pitch. All of us in the press box were convinced that the batter had a count of 3 balls, 1 strike. The batter took a pitch and the umpire called it a ball, but the batter stayed put. Okay, it must have been a count of 2 balls, 2 strikes, and we missed a signal – except that the next pitch was called a strike and the batter still stayed put, with a 3-2 count. I was recording each pitch as it happened, and the others in the press box were paying attention, and we still don’t know what happened. Eventually the batter struck out.