Much of the point of baseball during its ridiculously long history (if you consider any other sport that has since emerged or started at the same time) was to debate it. Most of that was good. Arguing about which shortstop was better or how a pitcher should attack with two strikes or who should trade for whom. The core of baseball fandom was arguing about it in a bar, in the bleachers, or in a living room. A fantasy design is really just one long baseball argument. Baseball has so many facets and textures that you will never run out of material. I have a good friend who will still break all the wrong lineup choices Gene Lamont made in 1993 ALCS, and he is at least a reasonable facsimile of a functioning human. He is hardly alone.
Lately, those arguments have become toxic, although it’s understandable. A lot of this is about how the product is crappy now, or why it isn’t bad, or how the game is being ruined by those who run it (which isn’t really an argument as there’s no pro-Manfred side, but it’s sucks up a lot of the discussion). When you wade into the stinking pool of how to change these things, the zeal with which everyone defends their favorite point or idea and megaphones defend makes it an echo chamber that consumes… well, pretty much every other aspect of our society.
Perhaps at the root of all this is the question of what balls and strokes are called. After all, the whole game depends on the field being delivered and how the results change based on what it becomes. There are people, like me, who long for the automated attack zone, and can’t quite comprehend how in a year where we have a automated offside technology at the November World Cup that we can’t make something called balls and strokes that has only one moving part instead of several. There are many who will tell me and everyone else like me that the technology just isn’t there.
But after watching Doug Eddings last night at the White Sox and Blue Jays game, you have to wonder how what we have now could be worse.
Eddings put on one of the worst home plate arbitration shows seen last night. It wasn’t just like watching someone drown, overwhelmed. It was as if someone was overwhelmed by the current drowning and completely convinced that he was an Olympic-level swimmer. It was nearly four o’clock watching Homer decide to pull his arms out of the tarp with his face.
And it’s one thing to be consistently bad, it’s another to make your attack zone, as Eddings defined it, move like a lava lamp. This is the raw data:
The last stat on that chart is the truly miserable, mind-boggling, and truly brain-melting number. More than a third of the called strikes that Eddings labeled strikes were in fact balls. 25 of 70! We don’t have a technology or a camera or a confused beaver that could do it better?
Maybe you need some video. Maybe you’re not a statistics person. No problem:
But even the missed calls aren’t the whole story. If you watched the entire game, like I did to confirm that I’m really lost, the edges of the zone that only Eddings could see during the game shifted. It’s one thing to be bad, but batters and pitchers will tell you they can grit their teeth and get through as long as the zone stays there for the entire game, even if it extends from Union Station to Hegewisch. But there were several pitches that were, yes, balls, but Eddings had thrown strikes all night and then decided they weren’t anymore. Pitchers, catchers and hitters were stunned all night. Doc Ellis had a better idea of the zone. By the time the game reached the late innings, much less extras, Eddings was clearly just making it up while he was at it. Strange as it may sound, you can’t really market the right midgame when you’ve been that bad. You have to ride it out, because that’s how you explained it to both batters and pitchers and they adapt to that.
It eventually went from a baseball game to a performance artwork that left every viewer guessing at the meaning of it all. Or maybe it was an installation, because Eddings certainly hung over the game in a mysterious and confusing way. If the point was to question our existence and what exactly had brought us there to be subjected to these spasms of confusion, well bravo, Doug. I’m still trying to interpret it.
So really, how can any technology currently available not be better than this one? It would at least keep the zone in one place, rather than reshape based on Eddings’ mood at that particular moment. I don’t care if that one place is different from what we’d expect. That expectation is based on years and years of watching various Pollock umps making their way through games. This just can’t be the way.
Whatever you have, bring it to us.