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6.22.2004

Luckyball 

It is absurd, as my girlfriend loves to point out, to feel good about yourself through affiliation with a winning sports team. Why is it that when the Giants win, my good cheer for the rest of the evening can be reasonably expected, but when they lose, all bets are off?

It is absurd. And nothing points this out more than last night's game. The Giants won because, essentially, Cody Ransom hit a ground ball where no one happened to be. If he had struck it harder and pulled it to second base, the inning would have ended and, with the inequities in the Giants and Dodgers' bullpens, the Dodgers might well have won the game, sending my mood swinging low for the evening. Sure, Ransom was likely told, as Kuiper said in the post-game rap, "Don't try to do too much with it, just go back up the middle," and if he indeed followed those directions, fine. But in terms of a ground ball getting through to the outfield, going back up the middle is really no different than hitting the hole between third and short, or between second and first. In fact, it's probably worse: a ball must travel farther to get past the infield up the middle. The angle to left or right field, and the shorter reaction time afforded the first and third basemen, means a better chance for a base hit. (Hitting note: "Thinking up the middle" is more a psychological tool to keep hitters from pulling their heads out and opening their hips too early in an attempt to pull everything.)

A ground ball made me happy. Luck made me happy. Cody Ransom's ability to put the ball in play was important (i.e., he didn't strike out), but really, there is no difference between a hero whose ground ball somehow trickles through the infield and a goat whose one-hop smash right at the shortstop starts a game-ending 6-4-3 double play.

Statheads love to talk about the luck inherent in baseball, such as the difference between a team's actual record and Pythgorean record (projected from total runs scored and allowed). In basketball, a player gets a lucky bounce once in a blue moon off the rim and back in the hoop; in football, perhaps a fumble will take a lucky bounce. But baseball...is there any sport with as huge an element of luck as baseball? How many times per game is there a disconnect between a well-executed play (a solidly struck ball, a perfect pitch) and a lack of reward for that execution (the solidly struck ball goes right to a fielder; the perfect pitch fools the batter so badly he pops it up where no one can reach it)? Five times a game? Ten? And how many times does that disconnect have a direct effect on the outcome?

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