First Weekend Passes Us By

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Having children has made me more cognizant then ever of time and how quickly it moves by.

Such, it seems, is a baseball season.

I’ve been so ready for the season to start up and, in winter, 162 games seems like forever.

But now here we are and we already are past our first weekend and many teams have already put four games under their belts.

It seems like too many.

I honestly want the season to slow down.

I took in the final game of the four-game series between the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays. The two teams split the set that was played North of the border and it lived up to my expectations to kick off the 2018 season.

Though neither starting pitcher made it past the 5th inning, both New York’s Sonny Gray (4+ IP, 1 ER, 7 H, 3 BB, 8 SO) and Toronto’s Marcus Stroman (5 IP, 4 ER, 3 H, 3 BB, 8 SO) had significant moments where they looked strong.

Gray put men on the corners in the bottom of the 1st inning, only to then strike out the side and get out of it. In the 4th, he struck out three in a row after a lead-off single.

Stroman finished off by retiring 7 men in a row and also had several great plays off the mound, including a putout on a 3-4-1 liner off the bat of Tyler Wade.

Seriously, how many pitchers make this play?

https://www.mlb.com/video/travis-makes-nice-play-at-second/c-1902156783

The game is ultimately going to be best remembered for the hitting of Justin Smoak, who pulled Toronto within one run in the bottom of the 7th with this…

https://www.mlb.com/video/smoaks-two-run-homer-in-the-7th/c-1902483883?tid=69808956

…and then capped it off with this in the 8th.

https://www.mlb.com/video/smoaks-go-ahead-grand-slam/c-1902580883

Sure, home runs are fairly commonplace these days, but Smoak still finished 5th in the American League last season by belting 38 of them and he’s off to a nice start in 2018.

The move by new Yankees manager Aaron Boone was questioned by David Cone in the YES Network broadcast booth.

Sure, hindsight is always 20/20, but here was the situation…

New York led 4-3 in the bottom of the 8th with right-handed reliever David Robertson on the mound.

The Jays had men on 2nd & 3rd with 2 outs and Josh Donaldson stepping up to the plate.

Historically, Robertson is a bit of a better pitcher against lefties, allowing a .541 OPS versus LHB and .679 OPS versus RHB.

The right-handed batting Donaldson had a .917 OPS versus RHP last season, while the switch-hitting Smoak was on deck, coming off an .856 OPS.

You combine the numbers (Robertson versus a LHB or RHB and Donaldson/Smoak versus a RHP) and you get the following very dirty calculation…

Donaldson versus Robertson: .798 OPS
Smoak versus Robertson: .699 OPS

On the surface, you say “okay, walk Donaldson and face Smoak”, just as Boone did.

However, bases loaded in a one-run game is a scary place to pitch.

Especially if you end up in a full count situation, which is exactly what happened.

I don’t know if it was the worst call, but it was certainly open to second-guessing.

Cone seemed to think the decision was made based on Donaldson’s history against Robertson (3-for-8, 2 HR, 1 BB) and I sure hope that wasn’t the case.

One of my pet peeves is folks like Cone who bash analytics with a complete misunderstanding of what Sabermetricians actually espouse.

He ripped Boone’s decision as being purely numbers-driven and this was an example of Sabermetrics costing the Yankees a win.

But if you actually follow Sabermetrics, you’d know that the average writer on Fangraphs would say that making a decision based on 9 head-to-head plate appearances is an awful idea and that it has just about zero predictive value.

There’s been numerous studies done by analytic types that show just when, exactly, head-to-head match-ups yield something that has some measurably significant predictive value and, while I don’t have the numbers right here in front of me, I can assure you that 9 plate appearances is not the number.

Again, Cone seemed to zero in on the head-to-head stats, but it’s worth noting that Robertson is historically a slightly better pitcher against left-handed bats. Not all right-handers are better against right-handed batters and not all left-handers are better against left-handed batters.

(Please queue nightmarish flashbacks to Dusty Baker’s handling of LHP Mike Remlinger while managing the Cubs.)

This week I’ll plan on catching some games between the Cleveland Indians (1-2) and the Los Angeles Angels (3-1).

I didn’t catch a whole lot of games with the Angels last season, as they were pretty much a non-factor throughout 2017.

But the addition of Shohei Ohtani makes them more than just a one-player team.

To be fair, any time you can catch a game with an elite defensive middle infielder out there, that’s not such a bad thing.

Tonight’s pitching match-up isn’t the most thrilling, but the immensely-talented-but-oft-injured Garrett Richards (0-0, 7.20) goes for LA tomorrow and Corey Kluber (0-1, 2.25) is out there on Wednesday.

Should be a fun time out there.

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