Wednesday, March 19, 2014

How Unpredictable Is Baseball?

I had jury duty today and the courthouse is right down the block from Yankee Stadium. As I waited for the subway at the end of a rainy Bronx afternoon, I couldn't help getting excited for baseball season. I figured I would write a post about a bunch of games on the Yanks' schedule that I'm already looking forward to. For example, I'm hoping to drag the wife to a mid-week game against the Cubs in April under the guise of "seeing her hometown team" play against my favorite nine.

Here's the thing about baseball, though. We don't know which games will hold particular intrigue. Unlike in the NBA -- whose marquee games are easy to foretell -- baseball is extremely unpredictable. I don't mean unpredictable over the entire season. We can probably anticipate whether most teams will have good, mediocre, or bad records after the 162-game marathon. Sure, there will always be teams that defy expectations, like the 2012 Orioles or the 2013 Indians. But MLB's half-a-year campaign usually forces the cream to rise to the top of the league.

What I mean by unpredictable, instead, is the chance of seeing a great game on a day-to-day basis. I've written before about how I missed Dwight Gooden's no-hitter in 1996 because my mom didn't want us out late on a school night. How could we have known, though, that a washed-up former superstar would toss such a gem on a Tuesday night in May? The same concept holds true for David Wells' perfect game, which was witnessed by throngs of little girls who only attended to receive a Yankees Beanie Baby.

You never know if the 4-train is taking you to a good game. (Photo via zackhample.mlblogs.com)
Another example, this one from NCAA baseball: One of the best games I've ever seen was a relatively meaningless early-season matchup between Notre Dame and Purdue. The two schools barely even have a football rivalry, and the baseball series features even less allure. On a random Wednesday in April 2007, I was assigned to cover the game for the school paper. I was looking forward to the free press box hot dogs more than the action on the diamond. Then, both pitchers took no-hitters into at least the eighth inning, and Notre Dame pushed across the game's only run in the tenth. My indifference toward that game grew into exuberance by the end of the night. And so it goes.

There are a few reasons for baseball's unpredictability. Most obviously, pitching matchups dictate much of the allure of singular games. Also, even if two great teams face off, there's always a chance that you'll see a crappy game. Meanwhile, Crash Davis taught us long ago about the impact of dumb luck over the course of a season.

The daily grind of baseball means we're just as likely to witness greatness in an otherwise meaningless game as we are at times when we'd most expect it.

I definitely didn't want this to turn into a John Sterling-esque "You just can't predict baseball, Suzyn"-type post. I hope it didn't read that way.

Just remember this post if Jacoby Ellsbury blasts four homers in a game this season, or if Masahiro Tanaka strikes out 18 opponents one night. And if either of those things happens, please remember that I predicted it.

3 comments:

  1. Idk if you remember but two falls ago, you bet my buddy Doyle at L Street Tavern that the Red Sox wouldn't win 90 games, and he said they would.

    Doyle just read this and texted me: "Ya know, Fran really could have mentioned me in his unpredictability of baseball blog".

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    1. Haha, I guess the whole "excited for baseball season" thing kept me from mentioning the defending champion Sawx. Do we still need to settle up on that bet? I don't remember the exact wager.

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