Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Successes and Failures

Once again Placido Polanco demonstrated this past weekend why he is so valuable, hitting a walk-off home run Saturday night and playing second and third base during the three games against Milwaukee. He is going to be sorely missed.

Then there was Cory Lydle on Sunday. I usually like my crow medium well but before you stock up on it remember that Lidle may have temporarily come back from the dead with his complete game shutout on Sunday, but let us not forget this brought his nine-year career record to an underwhelming 53-51. Nonetheless, a complete game not to mention a shutout are such rarities both of us – Cory and I – should crow about them. . . at least until his next start.

A three game sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers, their second sweep of the Brew Crew in ten days, brought the Phillies back to 65-65 for the season. There is no truth to the rumor that Ed Wade is preparing to make a deal with the Marlins in which he swaps the Phils remaining games with Florida for another home-and-home series with Milwaukee and throws in Gavin Floyd.

The Phillies have had more than their share of injuries this season including major stints on the DL for starting pitchers Vicente Padilla (two months), Randy Wolf (two visits including a likely season-ending one currently), and Kevin Millwood (on the list since August 5 and counting). In the bullpen the list includes Amaury Telemaco (one visit but back in action now) Billy Wagner (two visits including a ongoing one), and Ryan Madson (disabled but scheduled to return soon). Naturally, such a long list of injuries prompts us to wonder what, if anything, the Phillies may be doing wrong in the way they handle their hurlers.

I searched the internet for articles on the subject of injuries to pitchers and related matters and came across this fascinating article on Pitch Counts in Hardball Times that contains a detailed analysis of the impact of this modern strategy on performance and injury.

Fascinating though this article is, there is something about the statistical analyses dominating so many baseball discussions today that ignores the non-quantifiable. The parallel I draw is to modern portfolio theory and technical analysis in investments. Neither can overcome nor fully account for the factors of greed, fear or both and neither guarantees success. Human emotions – their expression and manifestation – cannot be easily converted to statistics; nor can hunches, luck (dumb or otherwise) and, of course, fate and curses.

Baseball is subject to similar human frailties and unpredictable factors and the likelihood one or the other can be neutralized is small. I’m sure the Jamesians have taken this argument into account and quantified it, too. Going forward it certainly will be worth noting how well those teams incorporating his approach to the game fare in the coming seasons. (If I recall correctly, James is currently employed in some capacity by the Boston Red Sox.) As the above-reference article on pitch counts makes clear, the application of strict statistical controls does not insure success, at least not on the field.

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