Games » Cleveland IndiansAug17
Another one-run win for the Royals (and the ninth one-run win in which Jason Kendall has blocked a ball in the dirt with a runner on third). I pointed out when Kila Ka’aihue got a couple of soft hits that didn’t mean his swing had improved, so I should point out that the two hits he got in this game were smoked. He also saved teammates a couple of errors with nifty plays around first, something that’s been fairly rare for Billy Butler.
Thoughts on the system
I’ve had a few readers object to this system, usually on the grounds that it didn’t make sense mathematically: Why is a swinging strikeout -1 and a strikeout while looking -2 when they’re both one out?
That objection makes sense if you’re analyzing the system with a calculator, but not from a baseball perspective. So here are baseball perspectives on some of the categories and why Ron Polk set them up the way he did:
• A strikeout looking is penalized more than a strikeout swinging because it indicates bad baseball. With two strikes, the hitter is expected to go from looking for “his” pitch to trying to get the ball in play. Even (and sometimes especially) a poorly hit ball puts pressure on the defense. Watching strike three go by does not. It irritates every coach to have a player tell him how bad the umpire is and then leave strike three up to the same umpire. Swing the bat.
•A player who gets a single (+1) and then gets picked off first (-2) suffers an overall penalty, even though both events represent one base, because the hit was not entirely within the batter’s control, but getting picked off was. You’ll find that logic throughout the system (triple +3, getting picked off third -6). The player doesn’t entirely control the triple, but should be able to entirely control getting picked off third. It’s a mistake that should never happen. Coaches are always out to control what they can, and this system punishes players who don’t do that.
•A sacrifice bunt is worth the same as a double, partially because of the same logic (you don’t control the double, you do control the bunt), but mainly because Ron Polk puts a high value on teamwork. Sacrifice bunts don’t register in any fantasy league I’ve ever heard of, but in the real world are very meaningful. Watch the dugout after someone gets one down: He’ll be greeted like he hit a 400-foot bomb. It’s because someone sacrificed an at-bat for the team. Ron Polk thinks that’s important, and so do I.
•Mental mistakes are real, even if you can’t spot them. Making the first or third out at third, failing to go to an assigned spot in a defensive rotation, these things are noted by the Royals, and the offending player gets fined in “kangaroo court.” Some of the fines are just funny (I’ve been fined twice in a minor-league team’s kangaroo court without ever playing…once for reading a book during a no-hitter, the other would take too long to describe), but some are for bad baseball. I don’t know enough to spot every mental mistake, but I’m doing my best, and the category gives you a rough idea of who’s playing smart baseball and who isn’t.
•Giving defensive points to the people who handle the ball the most isn’t arbitrary: They handle the ball the most. Ron Polk knows that the guys who do that well are valuable in ways that their offensive numbers might not reflect. And the system doesn’t give them points for routine plays; they have to do something above-average to get points (don’t forget the same players also have more opportunities to lose points).
•The outstanding play category is important because it balances out an evaluation of someone’s defense. If a player makes an error, but gets you two other outs you might not have expected, overall the team’s better off, even though the box score doesn’t show it. (This is one of the most difficult categories to score, but I’ve settled on balls that look like trouble when they leave the bat…shots in the gap, bleeders to the infield…or outs that would not have been errors had the play not been made. One reader objected to a player being given points for making a play on a “routine pop fly” in the sun. When I told this story to bench coach John Gibbons, he laughed and said, “Have him come on out. I’ll hit him a few fungos and we’ll see how he does.” In that instance, I’m awarding points when a player shades his eyes and then makes a turn at the end of the catch. The turn tells you the ball never came out of the sun and the catch was extremely difficult.)
•A save is worth as much as a win because anyone who has played the game knows those last three outs are the hardest. The pressure is at its highest, and some pitchers can’t handle the idea that they can blow everyone else’s hard work over eight innings by being lousy in the ninth. Listen to baseball people talk about Joakim Soria, and they don’t start by talking about his stuff: They start by talking about his attitude. We can all walk down a foot-wide plank with ease. Put it 100 feet in the air and the job looks a little different. Anyone who can consistently handle that situation is worth their weight in gold…or at least points.
•Same with the game-winning hit: Coach Polk only rewards extra points to the hit that puts your team in the lead in the last at-bat. That situation is a pressure-cooker, and not every player can handle it. Those who can are rewarded.
•Also RBIs (+3) versus runs (+1). There’s more pressure on the guy at the plate who needs to hit the sacrifice fly than the guy on third who needs to tag up and score.
•Some more pitching: A complete game is worth +6 because it sets up your bullpen for the next few games. After conferring with Coach Polk, we threw in the less-than-perfect “quality start” stat because the system was created when complete games were more common (that’s how long teams have been using this system). And a pitcher gets +6 for a win even though a win is not the best measurement of a pitcher’s performance. (On the other hand, over the short run, neither are hits: a broken bat bleeder, a pop fly in the sun and a flare off the end of the bat is not great hitting, but might leave you three for three…over the long haul, baseball men believe it all evens out.) Coach Polk recognized this problem by creating other categories that reward good pitching that might not include winning.
•Finally, no minus points for losing, earned runs or blown saves. It took me awhile to get my mind around this idea. It slowly dawned on me that Ron Polk wasn’t going to punish you for approaching the game correctly. If a pitcher throws strikes, the system doesn’t punish him, or at least doesn’t punish him much (-1 for giving up more than four earned runs). I tinkered with this and managed to screw the whole thing up during some spring training games and finally decided to trust Ron Polk’s experience. The results have been eye-opening: You might get beat if you don’t walk anyone, but you usually don’t get beat badly. A pitcher who throws strikes usually keeps his team in the game.
Ron Polk doesn’t think there was anything magical about the categories he chose and thought there were stats that could be added or eliminated, depending on what the observer felt was important. Most pro teams keep similar stats. You might legitimately disagree with his list, but it’s not dumb.
In fact, I think it’s a great chance to understand how a great coach thinks about a great game.