Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Why the Americans don't Win the World Baseball Classic

I don't watch much baseball since my team moved (Expos), but I tend to watch the World Baseball Classic still. The WBC increases the flavor a bit by putting players on to national teams and playing a tournament to decide the real champion of the world.

Japan has won both times. In fact, the USA does not even have a silver or a bronze medal even.

The first WBC:

GOLD: Japan
Silver: Cuba
Bronze: South Korea

The second WBC:

GOLD: Japan
Silver: South Korea
Bronze: Venezuela

Not even a bronze? How can this be? The first thing to look at is the quality of players going to play for the US team. An easy answer to this question is that no big name players are participating. That doesn't seem to be the case. In fact let's add up the salaries for the starting lineup of this year's USA team to get and idea of the caliber of players participating.

Teixeira, M - 22.5 million
Phillips, B. - 12 million
Rollins, J. - 11 million
Wright, D. - 15 million
Braun, R. - 6 million
Jones, A. - 8.5 million
Victorino, S. 13 million
Vogelson, R. 6.5 million

So that totals 94.5 million bucks for their starting nine this time around. You can't argue that they are not sending prime players to this tournament because they are sending 100 million dollars worth of players to this tournament.

Hmmmmm. So they send prime players....and still lose? Why is that?

I have a theory and I will try now to present it.

Are Homeruns Over Rated?

According to this data: http://www.baseball-almanac.com/hitting/hihr6.shtml,


Homeruns have risen exponentially since 1901. They were around 500 per year at the turn of the 20th century and have increased to over 5000 at the turn of the 21st century.

The question is....is hitting homeruns the most important thing? Is the best asset a team has their power? I don't think so.

Here's a really good example...who won the World Series of Major League Baseball last season? The San Francisco Giants. Now, out of the 30 MLB teams which place did they finish in team homeruns? 30th. Yes, dead last. Did only hitting 103 homeruns all year hurt or hinder them? Obviously not, they won the championship.

When did baseball go overboard on estimating the importance of homeruns? It could have just been a marketing thing.


Chicks dig the longball. It was a successful marketing campaign. Personally, I hated this commercial because it featured three players I personally despised (McGwire, Maddux, Glavine...blech). It's true though, homeruns did bring people back to the park after the strike ('94) and lockout ('95) soured relations with the fans. They took measures to increase the amount of homeruns being hit (tighter balls, steroids, lower mounds, mile-high stadium, etc.).

It's not just the fans that want homerun hitters though. The managers want these types of players too. I think it has to do with statements made by Earl Weaver...that were unfortunately taken horribly out of context.

In Earl's historical classic, "Weaver on Strategy: The Classic Work on the Art of Managing (孫子兵法)," Weaver states that the key to winning games is to rely on the "three run homerun" and he emphasized drawing walks and getting homeruns. (i.e. you have your 1 and 2 hitters guys with high OBP and your #3 hitter someone who can hit homeruns).

Now, this is a good idea, BUT, I believe that managers down the line took this advice TOO FAR. Next thing you know every team is stocked with homerun hitters...and they sacrifice every other skill in order to stock their teams with power hitters. Yet, Earl Weaver was only referring to a small section of the lineup. If we look at Earl's lineups he did indeed have good power hitters but he never sacrificed other skills just to get a power hitter into the lineup. 

Case and point: Mark Belanger

The year Weaver's Orioles won the World Series in 1970, Belanger hit .218 with 1 homerun. His OPS was .562. That's horrendous, but he was the starting shortstop for them and with good reason, he was a gold glove defensive shortstop. Weaver praised the "three run homer" and the "big innings" over small ball...but he never sacrificed defense in exchange for it. Belanger even got some key hits in the playoffs in 1970, picking up 5 runs and 2 RBIs.

Belanger is not going to help you get very many "big innings" but he will make 243 put-outs, get 552 assisted put-outs, and only make 13 errors while doing that (like he did in 1974). 

Defensive stats are important too. If you played a player who hit 10 more homeruns than Belanger but only made 200 put-outs, and 500 assists, while making 25 errors...do you know what that means? That means 107 opposing players got on base when they shouldn't have...that means your pitchers with a 3.50 ERA suddenly become pitchers with a 4.50 ERA. It's a big deal! Defensive stats are a very big deal.

Weaver never took this guy out of the lineup. In 1974, the year Belanger made 243 putouts and threw out 552 runners whilst only making 13 errors...Weaver had two infield prospects on the bench, thirdbasman Enos Cabel and power hitting prospect Doug DeCinces. You didn't see Weaver pushing Belanger out of his spot to get one of these rookies to take over. Why? Because Cabel was 6 foot 5 with hands of stone and DeCinces (though becoming a 30 homerun hitter for the Orioles) could not hack it at shortstop. It wasn't until Cal Ripken Jr. came that the Orioles found a player who could handle the position and hit (though Ripken was over-rated defensively).

Managers obsessed with getting power hitters into the lineup because of what they read in Weaver's ancient stratagems should take note of the Belanger Factor. These present day managers have 100% interpreted his divine texts WRONGLY (as such). They have misinterpreted the late Weaver's scriptures!




Fundamentals

Is this a God Damn?
What is the explanation as to why a fucking god damned team like the fucking god damned 2012 San Francisco Giants can win a fucking god damn World Series trophy without even having one longball hitting cock sucker like Terry Crowley on it? Easy...

Fundamentals.

And you know what? Every other country on earth knows that. Man, I read once that Ichiro Suzuki's dad pulled him out of high school so Ichiro could practice baseball 19 hours a day. That's fucking crazy, but that kid learned the tricks of the trade, that's for sure. Ichiro can do almost everything, he's a good fielder, good hitter, good baserunner, good bunter, has a good arm, and other qualities. He doesn't hit homers, but he's still a great player.

Honestly, I don't understand why Ichiro never added plate patience and walks to his game. That's what seperates him from the likes of Henderson, Raines, (and to a lesser extent Lofton). He could hit .350 but still only have a .380 OBP, which is odd. Anyway, this paragraph is neither here nor there. I just want to keep that picture of Terry Crowley in an Expos uniform in this article but I want to add a pic of Ichiro too...so I need to flesh out some text/words so it's not just two pictures right-god-damn-fucking-next-to-each-other. So yeah, Ichiro would be elite Henderson/Raines class if he learned to draw a walk (.365 career OBP? Not greatest of all time caliber).

I can see yer hair turnin' grey....
Seriously, though. Ichiro is a good example of the Japanese offensive template. It's all slap hitting, running, making the plays, and getting the job done. Offense isn't even the main aspect of Japanese style of baseball though...pitching and defense is of higher value and importance than offense.

Ichiro was the first position player to excel at the major league level, but there were many Japanese pitchers (Hideo Nomo, etc.) who were stars way before Ichiro was. Pitching is paramount to hitting over there, and with very good reason.

Your pitchers and defense have to make 27 outs per game. Meanwhile, your homerun hitters only have about 4 chances per game to hit a homerun and even a 40 homerun hitter only hits a homer every 4 games (162/40). Are you really going to place utmost importance on a player who adds a homerun every 4 games...or should you worry more about the 27 outs you have to make every single game? What about the 3 (out of 4) games where your star homerun hitter doesn't hit one out? Then what?

Most games are won with pitching, and sound defensive fundamentals....not longballs.

Conclusion

Will the Americans win this year's WBC? I don't know....but I think their love for longballs acts as a major hinderance to their overall chances though.

I understand that homeruns bring people to the park, but that doesn't explain why present-day managers are obsessed with homeruns too. Basically, word to the wise, when you read divine tomes from master tacticians of the past such as Weaver on Strategy you should not jump to conclusions. You must take all the verses into account whilst making your final-most interpretations of them and formulating your respective opinions on the subject matter.

MASTER TACTICIAN

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