Monday, October 01, 2007

Re: Long-Winded Baseball Reflections [Christian Amport]

Here's my rough assesment, unecumbered by empirical evidence and more supported by anecdotal evidence and conjecture. I'm open to criticism, these are just first thoughts.
I think the rules difference in format between the leagues accounts in large part to the difference in game outcomes and to the ability of some teams to excell above and beyond. And not due to the "designated hitters hit better than pitchers" argument (but that does play some part, see below), or that AL teams are able to consistently secure better pitchers than the NL.
I formulated this theory last spring playing softball. Now, I personally haven't played baseball since I was about 11. (With the brief exception of my stint with the Appeals softball team at DANY). And I was never a pitcher. So this never occurred to me until this past spring when I found myself as the replacement (and subsequently the regular) pitcher for my roommate's softball team.
My realization was this: pitching is exhausting. Being a good pitcher relies heavily on being able to pace one's self and stay relatively fresh. In softball, everyone bats. And the unfortunate situation of batting, or more specifically, having to potentially run bases right before you pitch makes a serious impact on one's ability to pitch well. I think the reality that AL pitchers have a full inning to sit on their ass and do nothing but relax between innings of pitching can be the difference between a good night of pitching and a great night of pitching. I for one know that my command, accuracy, and rythm were all affected in innings after having to bat and run bases. I always pitched better when I had a full inning's rest before pitching again.
I think that the fact that pitchers in the NL have to bat affects their performance and makes them more hittable, but it also may prevent them from pitching longer. Here's where you stat gurus can test my theory. If I'm right, then certain averages should be appreciably different across pitchers in either league. But maybe not. I would think strikeouts per inning pitched would be higher in the AL due to increased command. But Nl pitchers have th eoppurtnity to strikeout the opposing team's pitcher, so maybe not. I would think average pitches per inning would be higher in the NL, but given a separate theory about blowout wins and lop-sided games, that may not be the case either. Also, NL pitchers might get more outs off of fly balls and such, which have the potential to be easier outs (fewer pitches) than strikeouts. I think many of these statistics don't pinpoint what is going on and may be misleading though. So I won't spend too much time discussing them.
In general however, innings pitched per start at a first glance might be lower in the NL than in the AL. I would think that the AL would have more shutouts, more complete games and more 8 inning runs than the NL due to my "Tired from batting and running" theory. That also means that those same teams with longer-pitching starters would have stronger bullpens because they have to pitch fewer innings, less often. So the number of innings pitched by starters should be higher in the AL, and the number of innings pitched by middle relief should be higher in the NL.
So in the AL, you end up with a compounding effect over the course of a season is that if you have a few super star pitchers on your team, you get not only better quality starts, but longer starts, less reliance on relief, more rest for your bullpen and therefore a stronger team in a multi-play game theory situation. If your pitchers have to bat as in NL, you may still get a good start out of them, but it won't be as ice-cold as it would have been if they didn't have to bat and run bases. So a pitcher who might have pitched 8 shutout innings in an AL game now gives up 1 run over 7 innings to lose a close NL game (see also: Roger Clemens with Houston Astros). It's a subtle difference, but I think relevant nonetheless. But the point I'mt rying to make is that good pitching in the AL has the oppurtunity to to be better than good pitching in the NL.
I think the ripple effect of pitchers having to bat affects not only their ability to be rock solid starters, but it also disrupts the batting order while the starter bats, and it disrupts the batting order while various replacement batters cycle through the pinch hitting in later innings between relievers. As opposed to the AL where the DH can hit all game in the same place and maintain momentum.
My next point about that has to do with closeness of games. I think the AL has more one-sided blowout games because there is less interruption in momentum of batting in the AL. I think we'll all agree that superstitions aside, "momentum" is huge in baseball. When pitchers have to bat, it can break that momentum, particularly when there are 2-outs. So another thing I would suggest is simply that batting momentum is felt more uniformly as a team, good or bad in the AL. With a DH, there is no excuse for anyone who is batting. When the pitcher gets up in an NL game, no one expects too much, and when we get back to the top of the order, it's a new start for everyone. So to some degree, I view an AL batting order as more circular, and an NL batting order as linear. With a circular batting order, I think you have more potential for a blowout game as well as deeply felt team slumps because there is less built-in interruption in the batting quality (good or bad). So there's another couple stats to look up, is the average margin of defeat. So I would say that the NL has more hits due to pitchers being more hittable, but more runners left on base than the AL which would have more runs batted in due to the potential for continuous batting momentum. I think this is supported by the stats from Aaron where you see the ERA and scoring averages are both higher for the AL. I think that is due to more frequent high-scoring games against the mediocre or low end of any given team's starting pitching.
So what we end up with is better potential batting, and better potential pitching in the AL. But you have to look at the whole picture. When you have a lousy pitcher against an AL line up that's on fire, there's more potential to get totally shelled without the interruption of a pitcher having to bat. When you have an all star pitcher who can rest every inning against a slumping AL line up, you get more shutouts. So I think this way of looking at it supports the team records we see above. Is the good teams are better and the worse teams are worse in the AL. You get wider extremes. The NL hobbles the batting and the pitching simultaneously by forcing pitchers to bat, and you end up with, in my opinion, a different game.

Quality discussions are like this: I hate the Yankees, and am frustrated by the Mariners. Both are very streaky, something I think is indicative of the AL. I love the Mets, but I can appreciate the annoyance of runners left on base when there are 2 outs and the pitcher bats. has nothing to do with the Mets per se, but it goes with territory in watching the NL.

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