Balancing the scales

Otto Greule Jr

Luck and randomness are an excruciatingly large part of baseball. The Mariners have already experienced both sides of the coin this year.

Lloyd McClendon, on last week's visit to the Demon Barber of Coliseum:

""You turn the page and get ready for the next one," he said. "Over the course of a 162 game schedule, you are going to lose some you should have won and win some you should have lost. You turn the page. Learn from it. Forget about it and move on."

That's not a particularly insightful or revealing quote. It's certainly not a groundbreaking concept. But in a young season each game lingers in the mind longer than when the season is dozens upon dozens of games old. The Mariners had lost a game they could have easily won. That's not to say they deserved to win. Any game where pitching runs a 3/10 K/BB ratio, regardless of the dodecahedron nature of the strike zone, diminishes the burn of righteous indignation. Also no baseball team ever merits victory for allowing Hector Noesi's participation.

Still there is a portion of the psyche that, no matter how much we understand how these things work, feels owed a victory after a game like that one. Watching last night's game my deeply rooted need for cosmic justice was slaked, albeit slightly, by the Mariners winning a game they didn't play particularly well in. Consider:

  • The Mariners 1-3 hitters combined to go 0-12 with 2 BB and 6 K. Robinson Cano spent the night doing what what recent Mariner 2B have done in Safeco: Rolling over pitches and grounding out to the right side of the infield. Abraham Almonte and Brad Miller each K'd three times.
  • The one major offensive contribution from those three players occurred when Brad Miller struck out but the ball ricocheted off Mike Muchlinski's shin guard. At the beginning of that at bat the Mariners Win Expectancy was 18%. Without that bounce the series of events that culminated with Corey Hart's 1st home run (and a resulting 64.2% Win Expectancy) never occur. Thanks, flapping African Asian butterfly.
  • About that 1st Hart home run. I knew it was gone. I thought it was landing in the second level. But as it came down I was less sure. It ended up landing in Edgar's Cantina, which is an odd thing to call it since balls hit there prior to 2013 were outs, and Edgar Martinez never made outs. It was the exact kind of home run that wouldn't have existed without the fence adjustment. Two years ago Corey Hart is staring at left field, hands on hips and regretting ever signing with the Mariners. Last night he's a hero.
  • In the 5th inning we had Josh Hamilton settling under a line drive, catching it, transferring the ball to the his left hand and dropping it. The play was ruled an out on the field, a call I feel comfortable estimating is made at least 80% of the time in this scenario. Still Lloyd McClendon challenged it and somehow some guy in New York, perhaps strictly adhering to the letter of the rule book, overturned the play, Josh Hamilton was given an error and Corey Hart awarded 1st base. 

    It was a weird and rare, if possibly correct, call. Mike Scioscia stuck around to complain, which was funny because the umpires on the field don't make the call and Mike Scioscia complains about everything. The Mariners ended up not scoring, but the inning further ran up the pitch count for starting pitcher Hector Santiago, who is not good. Well, not good but better than the Angels bullpen. Ha. Angels bullpen.

So last week we had the Sean Barber game. A game that felt winnable and where luck and randomness aligned to instead produce a loss. Last night we had a game where the team's Win Expectancy was below 25% before they even took an at bat. They mixed some skill with a fair amount of good luck and pulled out a win. Now look back at that Lloyd McClendon quote at the top of the article. It's still pretty banal and cliche. It's also very damn true.

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