Did you see the Tampa Bay game with all the fighting? And the “fight” that Orsillo and Remy had in the booth? Hands down my favorite moment of the season thus far.
I did, and I didn’t make it to the bathroom in time. I’m bummed that their “fight” isn’t up on Youtube yet, but in looking for it I found this gem of Remy and Orsillo being locked out of Jacobs Field—the best part is towards the end when Manny drives up, walks in, and doesn’t bother to vouch for them.
Okay, so it’s the day after Jerry Remy Day, held at Fenway yesterday to honor twenty years of the former Sox infielder’s gig as the Sox television color commentator. Despite a smattering of fans who are tired of him–especially of his side job as official shill–most people love him. How could you not after watching this:
As someone who probably watches—between local coverage and ESPN Wednesday and Sunday games—over 200 games a year, I’d put Remy up as one of the best color commentators I’ve ever heard. John Lowenstein, from my first hometown team the Orioles, was up there. (Lowenstein once yelled “Holy mud!” after a great defensive play, and I’ve been chuckling about it ever since. He’s also famous as a player for faking being paralyzed after sliding hard into second, being carried off on a stretcher, and then, just before the medics got him to the dugout, jumping up to pump his fists in the air.) But the vast majority of color guys are terrible. Joe Morgan needs to be put out of his own misery. Ron Santo of the Cubs is cringe-worthy on an every-inning basis. Former players have such a tough time making the transition into entertaining, intelligent commentators.
What really sets Remy apart, besides his good humor, is how he understands the nature of the game better than anyone else on TV. Or at least one aspect that intrigues me as much as it intrigued Billy Bean and Theo Epstein: the fact that baseball is still decades behind other sports on employing meaningful statistics to evaluate its talent.
Remy brought up something during last night’s game, though the quote escapes me, that there’s currently no way to measure how—or whether—a single batter can carry his team. This question could be phrased this way: Which batters bat better when their teammates are struggling, and how could this be measured and put to use to improve a team, to better identify underrated players?
An easy example: a player would be worth a few $100k more if it could be proved that he’s a better batter when his teammates are struggling. We already have stats for “clutch” batters: batting average with runners in scoring position; runs batted in; batting average with two outs; and the closest to what I’m talking about: batting in late-inning pressure situations. But, as Remy talked about last night, it’s assumed in traditional baseball statistics that a single batter cannot have a meaningful effect on the performance of other batters. But what if we tested that? What if it turns out a .250 batter gets an unusual number of his one-for-four hits in close games, or when his team hasn’t scored yet, or in any other situation where a runner is desperately needed? How do we track the rally-starters?
Remy got me thinking about this last night, not in any of these terms, but in something much more straightforward: he noted a couple of Red Sox batters who seemed to pick one another up. (“Picking up” in baseball usually refers to batting in a guy on second or third, but not in this case.) What he meant was that some players seem to have a knack for snapping teammates out of slumps. From a rational point of view, that would be impossible. The guy at the plate can’t do anything for the guy on deck, except maybe if he gets on base and is a threat to steal. But it’s possible that statistics might prove it to be true: we define a rally as a string of hits, but a rally starts with one hit, and it just may be that some players’ first hits are more valuable than others. That would be a key stat to identify, or for an agent to push, or for an aging pinch-hitter to bring up just before the trade deadline.
So in a sport where “Ninety percent of the game is half mental,” might it be possible to identify players whose karma is worth more than others’?