Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Mets vs. Dodgers Game 5 Is Not "deGrom vs. Greinke" Because Pitchers Don't Face Pitchers, Duh

Mets vs. Dodgers.

New York vs. Los Angeles.

The Big Apple vs. Hollywood.

Good vs. Evil.

deGrom vs. Greinke.

Wait. Stop. One thing NLDS Game 5 isn't is Jacob deGrom vs. Zack Greinke. That is not how baseball works. Baseball is quite literally never pitcher-vs.-pitcher because that would be two people throwing baseballs at each other, which may be amusing, but hasn't happened since Frank Drebin got caught in a rundown with the second-base ump:

(I'm going to engage in a little nit-picking here -- this is a blog, after all -- then hopefully by the end we'll actually talk about the game. But no promises.)

deGrom vs. Greinke. I get why these games are pitched (heh) that way. The idea of a one-on-one, ace-vs.-ace matchup is easy to grasp -- that's the way it's always been done and baseball hates change. deGrom vs. Greinke is a way for baseball fans and broadcasters and, in this case, the MLB marketing department to speak in shorthand.

But Jacob deGrom isn't facing Zack Greinke, other than for maybe three probably inconsequential plate appearances. Jacob deGrom is facing the Dodgers' offense, just as Greinke will face the Mets' offense. deGrom and Greinke may well have the most individual influence on their teams' overall performances, but they will have little to no effect on their teammates' hitting, baserunning and defense; little to no effect on how the bullpens get hitters out once they're removed; and little to no effect on much of each manager's in-game decision-making.

Unless you're one of these people who still thinks "pitching is 90 percent of the game" (or even 75 percent), it's hard to see how one player's impact could be anywhere close to the sum total of the other 24 players plus the manager. Even if deGrom or Greinke throws a perfect game, that'd still be less important than the sum of what all his other teammates do in support of that performance. Think it through: baseball games are 50 percent about run scoring and 50 percent about run prevention. Pitching falls solely on the run-prevention side, and within run prevention duties are divided among the pitcher and the eight defenders. Even if a pitcher struck out all 27 opposing batters, you'd still have to give at least, say, 1 percent of the credit to the catcher, right? So there you go: the maximum effect a pitcher could theoretically have on a game is 49 percent. Realistically, a great pitching performance should earn a pitcher only, what, 35-40 percent at most? Bill James says pitching is 37 percent of the game. Another study says it's more like 25 percent. Whatever it is, it's way the hell less than 90 percent. Someone's gotta field all those grounders and make all those throws and hit all those doubles and score all those runs.

Regardless of how we carve up the responsibility, the idea of "starting pitcher vs. starting pitcher" remains appealing and obvious, but it is nevertheless a completely incorrect way to describe how a baseball game works. A baseball game is not like a boxing or tennis match, which is clearly player-vs.-player. A baseball game in no way resembles two people racing through the same obstacle course or shooting arrows at identical targets or competing for the best score from the judges. Now, if Jacob deGrom and Zack Greinke lined up side by side next to Usain Bolt, and all three sprinted their hardest for 100 meters, one could quite fairly say this was "deGrom vs. Greinke" in a race to be the second-fastest runner out of three. If Jacob deGrom and Zack Greinke put their hands behind their backs and tried to consume the most blueberry pies within a set time limit, this could accurately be described as "deGrom vs. Grienke", though Lard Ass would obviously win.

What Jacob deGrom has to do on Thursday is try to get the Dodgers' hitters out, which is an entirely different task than that set for Zack Greinke. They are both pitching, yes, but each will be doing it under isolated circumstances where the other player is almost completely uninvolved. So please, let's stop calling it deGrom vs. Greinke. Calling baseball games pitcher-vs.-pitcher matchups is lazy, misleading, just plain incorrect, and we're better than that.

Anyway, I guess it's time to talk about the game now.

I hope the Mets win!

P.S.: One similar and equally infuriating thing you'll hear all the time is how quarterbacks face off against each other in football. Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning! Ben Roethlisberger vs. Joe Flacco! Aaron Rodgers vs. Russell Wilson! That's even more ridiculous than pitcher-vs.-pitcher, as quarterbacks don't even get a measly three plate appearances against each other. The idea that Tom Brady has some kind of record against Peyton Manning is utterly silly, since Brady and Manning have literally never been on the field at the same time in a game. How exactly you can "beat" another player if that player never lines up against you is, well, odd. Much as pitchers face the other team's offense, quarterbacks face the other team's defense. (Note: This is null and void when it comes to the Giants and the Patriots, as Eli Manning has personally defeated Tom Brady every time they have met in Super Bowls. Also, Brady is a cheater.)


Side Bar said...

Hooray for the Mets. And hooray for pedantry. If you like the Mets and you like pedantry, you will like this post. You will also probably like OpenBar, but not as much as I do.

Open Bar said...

I knew you secretly loved Tom Brady.