Oh boy, it’s World Series time again! I’m paying close attention this year because we have a real shot at a new major league stat. We could witness the first non-Dominican to four-hit in two consecutive games while Uranus, Neptune, AND Chiron, which is barely even a planet, are in retrograde, with the Dow above 35,000.
There’s A Stat For That
Baseball statistics. It’s how you can tell a regular enthusiastic fan like myself from a serious fan who is pretty far along on the autism spectrum. The serious fan hoards statistics like a pika hoards hay. Statistics are the difference between Holy crap that big dude really crushed that ball! and Yankee slugger Giancarlo Stanton tied his own record for the hardest-hit baseball in history at 122.2 mph in a game against the Royals in August 2021 and retains the record for the hardest-hit home run at 121.7 mph.
We have this statistic courtesy the Statcast system, which has only existed for six years, and yet it is considered safe to assume that no one has ever hit a baseball harder than Mr. Stanton for all of recorded baseball history. It is safe to assume that because it is demonstrably unsafe to quibble with a 6’6″ 245-pound man with a big stick. How big his stick is might conceivably be of interest to a number of fans but that is not the sort of statistic we are now compiling.
The Statcast system employs two cameras to replicate binocular vision and that, apparently, provides death perception to easily distinguish between bodies on the field. Oh wait, that’s the Civil War. Statcast provides depth perception.
I became aware of this new layer of baseball stats last year when the announcer blithely reeled off the induced vertical break of a particular pitch. Well. That turns out to be a measure of the amount a pitch sinks in relation to where it would have crossed the plate if it just came out straight from the pitcher’s hand, taking gravity into account. In inches.
The inches and miles-per-hour thing is important because it underscores baseball as being a great American sport and not some sissy metric-ass lollygag-in-the-park.
Your serious fan might note that the pitcher had achieved an induced vertical break of over seventeen inches. Your casual but enthusiastic fan would just say he had a wicked curveball. Or something. There are all kinds of pitches. There’s a slider, which is actually a sandwich. There’s a cutter, which is a ship; a changeup, which will cost extra when you’re remodeling, a forkball, which is just plain rude, or an eephus, and nobody knows what the hell that is.
Anyway, with this new Statcast system, you get all different stats like the Catch Probability. This is the likelihood a fly ball will be caught based on such things as how far the fielder has to run, how much time he has to get to it, and whether he’s in any danger of smacking himself into salsa on the outfield wall. All of this is information readily available to the regular enthusiastic fan using her own eyeballs but now the serious fan can tell you Tampa Bay right fielder Margot Manuel is currently in Outs Above Average based on his cumulative catch probability stats; and somewhere in a dank basement a nerd wearing stretch corduroys and an accountant’s shade is working out an ideal roster for the Boss and not watching any baseball at all.
It’s getting to where baseball is entering the same territory as that one dang butterfly that causes a hurricane halfway around the world by flapping its wings. Can we quantify how much the weight of the second-baseman’s tobacco wad pulls him aside in his initial step toward the ball in play? Stay tuned.
In the meantime, with Statcast, at least we know exactly how it’s hanging. They’re talking about a fly ball, but it seems promising.