Tuesday, August 03, 2004

The Age of Euphemism

We live in the Age of Euphemism. Take quality starts for example. Baseball managers are delighted if a starting pitcher goes six innings and allows 3 or fewer earned runs. Never mind that works out to a 4.50 ERA, hardly something to write home about. In addition, six innings out of one’s starter who, hopefully, departs with a lead (no lead, no “quality” in my book) means two additional pitchers may appear in a close game, the set-up man and the closer. Where is the quality in that scenario when played out over a week’s worth of games?

Pitch counts are the hand maiden of quality starts in that both are deliberately self-limiting approaches. Many a manager who declares he wants six good innings out of his starter may also, under special circumstances, have that starter on a pitch count. More often than not the pitch count is imposed on a pitcher coming back from an injury not necessarily having anything to do with having previously exceeded a pitch count. Some times a pitcher is lifted from a game even though he is in the midst of a quality start because he has exceeded his pitch count. Some times hurlers throw a lot of pitches and simply run out of gas.

Closers don’t work with pitch counts so much as innings counts (not yet part of the baseball lexicon). It is not uncommon for a closer to tell his pitching coach or manager he can give them one inning, no more. Ultra-specialists may only be available for one batter if they have been worked excessively hard in the recent past or if they are southpaws and simply cannot get right handed batters out.

Another favorite of mine that fortunately has fallen out of favor is the hold, defined as a relief pitcher preserving a lead by not allowing any runs (earned or unearned) and handing the game over to the closer with the lead preserved. What is usually meant here is “halting the carnage.” Despite its infatuation with statistics, even the lords of baseball have declared “hold on” regarding this dubious statistic.

OBP or on base percentage is one of the current offensive favorites among baseball cognoscenti. It denotes how often a player reaches base for any reason other than an error or fielder’s choice. Its calculation requires advanced math skills. I guess it no longer suffices to say that a player hits for average and draws a lot of bases on balls. I don’t know a single fan who can quote the on base percentage for current players. (Furthermore, I doubt the average fan can accurately guess within 100 basis points of the OBP for any player.) However, I do know people who can tell you what so-and-so is hitting or that such-and-such has an ERA under 2.00. And, no, these people do not use a an abacus.

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