Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Vanity, Thy Name Is Verducci

Tom Verducci is an accomplished sports writer and current senior baseball writer for Sports Illustrated. He also appeared on TBS' postseason coverage and is rumored to be a favorite to replace Tim McCarver for Fox Postseason broadcasts going forward. He continues to leave an impression on baseball through the media, unfortunately, like many in this age of expanded statistical access and cheap seat's general managing, this is not enough for him. Verducci is back trying to modernize the game, and once again he has failed miserably.

Verducci's first stab at immortality came about with the "Verducci Effect," that, in a nutshell  "define[s] an at-risk pitcher as any 25-and-under pitcher who increased his innings log by more than 30 in a year in which he pitched in the big leagues." This Effect has been dismissed by nearly everyone outside of Sports Illustrated and Tom Verducci himself in no small part due to small sample sizes and confirmation bias. To learn more, check out great articles from Baseball Prospectus here and here, or at Deadspin here.

Undaunted by something as trivial as near-universal public rebuke, Verducci has once again delved into changing the game, this time with the "Bonus At-Bat." Briefly, "the Bonus At-Bat, in which a team could use a player like Ortiz for one strategically advisable plate appearance out of his regular turn in the order without removing anyone from the game." On the one hand, he should be applauded for thinking outside the box and deciding the game could be "more exciting" with an expansion of the Designated Hitter. On the other, I wonder if he is even watching the same game as me.

He tries to defend his position with the notion of power pitching and grinding out at bats do not make for good entertainment. From experience, 2 of my favorite moments watching a game live involved Mark Buehrle's Perfect Game and Randy Johnson's 300th win, I enjoy good pitching.

More than that, I appreciate the strategy that baseball requires. Teams willing walk the number 8 batter to face the opposing teams pitcher early and often. They pitch around sluggers because the guy behind them is hitting .200 with runners in scoring position. From the first pitch to the last, every thing is part of the whole in-game strategy. October's are made by unlikely heroes. Imagine 2011 if Freeze was pinch hit for, the result might not have changed, but a star would not have seen the light of day. Players on both sides have to rise to the occasion and it is not easy, but everyone appreciates cheering for the underdog, the unlikely star, when the come through. To make all that strategy moot does more harm than good.

Elsewhere in his article, Verducci mentions, but fails to address other ways to improve the game. Notably pitchers stepping off the mound and rubbing the ball or getting a new one at 21-30 seconds between pitches and at 150+ pitches per side that adds up. There is a rule in baseball, 8.04, which states:

 "8.04 When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 20 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call "Ball." The intent of this rule is to avoid unnecessary delays. The umpire shall insist that the catcher return the ball promptly to the pitcher, and that the pitcher take his position on the rubber promptly. Obvious delay by the pitcher should instantly be penalized by the umpire"
Enforcing this rule (especially when the Yankees and Red Sox play on ESPN Sunday Night) would immediately speed up the game and make it more exciting. Mark Buehrle's Perfect Game I mentioned up above? Finished in 2:03...a mere 2 hours and 3 minutes, that barely gets you into the 4th inning of those NYY-BOS ESPN games. Anyone can come up with a "new" idea to "improve" the game, but a seasoned sportswriter with the wealth of knowledge he possesses should look for ways the game should adhere to its own rules (in this case sticking to the "written" rules would suffice) before looking outside the box for an unnecessary fix. 

There is a measure of ownership to any project, task, or assignment one works on and the more time one spends working on it the stronger that ownership feels right. From staff who think they know more than the boss, to students who challenge professors, we have all run across many incarnations of this phenomenon. We may even find ourselves falling victim to it ourselves from time to time. By and large it is what it is. When you have Verducci's audience however, one should keep in mind the Rock's words:

Baseball is constantly evolving and it will evolve all the better without undue influence from sports writer Tom Verducci.