In the Major League Baseball system, certain plays are represented by two separate, but unequally important groups. The broadcasters who announce the plays and the people who understand them. These are their stories.
I've been watching too many 'Law and Order' re-runs this weekend as I dog sit. (I can only assume that the New York District Attorney's office has some kind of appearance prerequisite based on the ADAs for Jack McCoy.) Bad lede aside, there were two distinct moments during yesterday's game where I thought to myself, "I am not going to like the lay person's explanation of this event."
In the sixth inning with one out and Matt Holliday on second and Carlos Beltran on first, Lance Berkman grounded out to second base starting a double play that would end the inning. While unfortunate, those things happen and with one of your big bats at the plate that's a risk you run. That risk, of course, is countered by the reward that Berkman offers: namely getting an extra base hit and/or reaching base. That latter act is something that, other than Matt Holliday and Skip Schumaker (?!?), no one on the team is better at doing than Lance Berkman.
Following the double play, Al Hrabosky and Rick Horton promptly commented that he should have bunted. There comment seemed to be in jest -- though the half hearted kind of jest where you're really testing the waters to see if you'll get a positive reaction to more forcefully make the assertion -- but it was too quick by half to think that this wasn't a thought that actually occurred to someone as preferable option.
There are a plethora of caveats to dropping a bunt and it is not a universally bad play. The application of the play this year has been far to prevalent, however. Questions like batter handedness, batter quality, pitcher quality, baserunner's speed, etc all play into the decision on whether to bunt or not. When your 3rd or 4th best hitter is at the plate, there is almost no scenario* where a bunt is warranted. It's rare to hear someone like Hrabosky or Horton articulate these caveats or make a compelling argument for the bunt.
The second item from yesterday's game that made me cringe was the 12 run 7th inning. It's hard to feel too terrible when your team is dropping a hard dozen on the opposition in a single inning but these types of anecdotal events are difficult for many to parse as consistent within the framework of the game. Hypothetically, there could be a team that, in every game it won, scored double digit runs in a single inning. They didn't score runs any other inning and in all the games where they didn't score double digit runs in a single inning, they lost the game. If that was patternistic behavior or predictive behavior, firstly, that would be incredibly bizarre.
Secondly, it would make comments like this much more palatable:
We disagree. RT @jtwhite99: @JoeStrauss Another example as to why run differential does not matter.— Joe Strauss (@JoeStrauss) July 22, 2012
A 12 run inning does not invalidate the premise of run differential. There are a few reasons for this. The Cardinals have played 838.2 innings this year. Random chance would argue that at some point they will put together a big inning. The other important thing to keep in mind is that good teams, like the ones with the second best run differential, are more likely to put together big innings because they are more likely to be better than their opposition.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this is the inability of anyone to articulate, on air, the mundane explanations I've given above for these events. (I find this almost as frustrating as the inability of politicians to articulate and defend view points but that's a post for Viva El Politicos.) Baseball is a strange game and strange things happen within that game. That isn't to say that they aren't explainable.
*I've seen Beltran drop a bunt against an extreme shift. I'd argue that the suicide squeeze is a valid application for walk-off purposes even with your best hitter at the plate.