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Baseball Superstitions and Pieties

David Eckstein is the scrappiest scrapper who ever scrapped. His OPS+ may be a mediocre 87, but his gWAR (grit above replacement) is an otherworldly 10 and his VORS (value over replacement scrapper) is an amazing 96.5. He's so tiny, he sacrifices bunts with his own body.

To the people who feel an obligation to share their opinion that “baseball is boring,” I say, fine, go watch something else, and come up with a better argument than the “X is boring” narrative that everybody, everywhere, uses to say why they don’t like something. I happen to think baseball is great. But, due in no small part to media dilettantes like Doris Kearns Goodwin and George “I hate blue jeans” Will who go slummin’ and wax poetic about baseball’s “majesty” and “beauty” and “rhythm,” and idiot announcers like Joe Morgan and Tim McCarver who prove through their verbal diarrhea that playing baseball in no way makes one qualified to talk about the game, baseball has developed its own superstitions and insufferable pieties, which sadly give ammunition to the arguments of baseball haters everywhere. Let’s look at a few of these.

A rational person would think a no-hitter could only be broken up by a base hit. A rational person would be wrong. Every broken-up no-hitter happens because someone, somewhere, broke the rule against talking about a no-hitter in progress. No one is allowed to say “no-hitter” while one is happening, or the baseball gods will strike and a slow roller will just get by the outstretched glove of the shortstop.

Next on our baseball piety list is batting average, “the true measure of hitting prowess,” “what separates the men from the boys,” or what I like to call the worst stat ever. If one guy hits six singles in 20 at-bats, and another guy hits three homers and three doubles, they have the same .300 batting average. It’s like saying two people with an equal number of coins are carrying the same value, without checking to see if one has dimes and quarters while the other has nickels and pennies. Batting average doesn’t even account for walks, which, ya know, count. And this brings us to an underrated stat that is way more important than batting average: on-base percentage.

In baseball, there is no game clock. Outs are the game clock. Every out brings a team 1/27th closer to losing, which means a batter’s number one job is to not make outs. A .250 hitter with 4 hits in 16 at bats, plus 4 walks for a .400 on-base percentage, is a way better offensive player than a .300 hitter with 6 hits in 20 at-bats, but no walks and a crappy .300 OBP. And if that .250 guy hits for power, he’s even more valuable compared to our scrappy .300 singles hitter.

OBP’s unrecognized value leads players like Adam Dunn to be undervalued. Dunn has been despised by traditionalists for his high strikeout total, low batting average, and for not doing the “little things” like choking up with two strikes and hitting grounders behind the runner. But, until Dunn fell apart last season, he was good for 40 homers and, thanks to his patient eye and high walk total, a great on-base percentage every year.

So, then, who do traditionalists like, if not great offensive players like Adam Dunn? They like “gritty,” “scrappy,” “gamers,” usually white, like David Eckstein, who “get the most out of their abilities,” sprint to first base, get their uniforms dirty, and, thanks to empty .280 batting averages devoid of walks or extra base hits, are terrible at baseball.

Finally, let’s finish with the worst pitching stat ever, pitcher wins, or why idiot baseball writers think Jack Morris should be in the Hall of Fame for his magical ability to pitch to the score. Pitcher wins are stupid. You know this. If one guy gives up 10 runs, but his teammates score 11, he gets a win. If another guy gives up two runs, but his team only scores one, he loses. Yet the same narrative of “grit,” “hard work,” and “scrappy” determination gets thrown at pitchers who rack up victories.

I love baseball, yet with all of its pious nonsense, I understand why many Americans have gravitated toward an inferior sport like football.

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About keithstache

I'm Keith Hernandez's mustache. And you're not. I like bad baseball teams and good beer.

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