The More Things Change…

September 4th, 1993 was a Saturday afternoon.  I know this because of two reasons:

One, I just recently watched Jim Abbott’s no-hitter replayed on the YES network (the original broadcast was on MSG) where they reminded me of the date.

Secondly, I was in my early twenties at the time and worked in retail, which means I don’t think I saw any weekend day games for the entirety of my retail career.  But I do remember a co-worker coming up to me and telling me that Jim Abbott threw a no-hitter. Of course, my reaction was “Seriously?!?  Is there another Jim Abbott of whom I’m not aware?”

Because the Jim Abbott I knew was a below league average pitcher in about every way imaginable in 1993.  He had worse than league average ERA and adjusted ERA.  He walked almost as many batters as he struck out.  He gave up more than a hit per inning and somehow managed to give up a lot of home runs despite being a predominantly sinker/cutter pitcher.

But he did throw a no-hitter that Saturday afternoon while I was being abused by old people who wanted to return the cookware they bought that couldn’t overcome their lack of cooking competency.

So I watched the replay of Jim Abbott’s no-hitter the other day and one thing jumped out at me, in several parts:

26 years have passed, and the more things change, the more they stay the same.  In no particular order…

The more things change…Yankee announcer Tony Kubek continually harped on the Yankees’ lack of speed on the bases.  “They’re last in the league in stolen bases”, “Now would be a good time to put a runner in motion, but they can’t”, “They’re a good power-hitting team but they have to rely on station to station baseball”.

And just like today’s announcers, Tony omitted some important details and was dead wrong about others.

Yes, the Yankees were last in stolen bases.  But they were also last in the league in stolen base success rate, which of course means…they should have run even less, not more.  For the one-millionth, billionth time – is speed nice to have?  Of course.  Is it a big factor in runs scored and winning games?  It is not.

For some more perspective on this, the Expos that same season led MLB in both stolen bases and in stolen base success rate… and were 16th in runs scored.

The Yankees?  That slow, station to station awful base running team was 5th in MLB in runs scored.

I’m sure you’ll be shocked to learn that the ’93 Yankees were 2nd in MLB in both OBP and SLG.

So just like today and just like 100 years ago, if you get on base at a high rate and if you hit with power, you’re going to score a lot.  Every other stat is just eyewash.

The more things change…I don’t mean to pick on Tony Kubek, because he certainly is in the majority of announcers to have said silly things but I’m going to kick the dog when he’s down anyway.

After a Randy Velarde failed bunt attempt that was popped up, Cleveland catcher Junior Ortiz made a very nice lunging grab to catch the bunt for an out.  Tony Kubek then went over the top exclaiming “…and then he HAD THE COMPOSURE…to pop up immediately and check to see if the runner was trying to advance!”

(Insert finger in throat…)

He had the composure, he had the presence of mind, blah blah blah…Imagine how stupid a professional athlete would have to be, to be completely unaware there’s a runner on the field who may advance.  And yet, every time a fielder makes a nice catch and doesn’t just lie on the ground like a moron, some announcer has to proclaim “OH MY GOD, THE COMPOSURE, THE PRESENCE OF MIND!!!”

I know it shouldn’t bother me that much, but it really does…

The more things change – You down with OBP?

Of course, it must be noted that the ’93 Yankees went 88-74 despite an abominable pitching staff.  Four below league average starters and a historically bad bullpen kept the Yankees from winning the division that season (Jimmy Key was very good as usual, but the rest…OOOOO boy…)

And as noted, the ’93 Yankees scored a lot of runs in large part to a very high OBP.  Lest we forget, this is when Gene Michael called the shots for the Yankees after Steinbrenner’s (second) suspension and emphasized getting players who can get on base over all else.  The ’93 Yankees had nine players with a .360 OBP or better with at least 250 PA – up from ONE player with that criteria the season before when they went 76-86.  And despite what Michael Kay tells you, Gene Michael isn’t “the one who started” the craze of OBP infatuation – hell Branch Rickey kicked the crap out of the National League for three decades with that strategy, and there were others before him – Stick still deserves a ton of credit for implementing the right approach.

Back to base running for a sec: Wade Boggs was a very good baserunner.  In ’93 he was 4 runs above league average, which is pretty good under any circumstances – for a slow baserunner, it’s great.

I bring this up because in the game, with Mike Galego on 2nd and Boggs on 1st, Dion James singled up the middle.  As Indians CF Kenny Lofton came charging in to field it, Boggs rounded 2nd and headed for 3rd immediately.  This is a much tougher read than you might think, because in addition to judging your own pace, Lofton’s pace and Lofton’s arm, you have to know if Gallego is trying to score or not.  If he is and you stay at 2nd base that looks bad.  If he stops at 3rd and you keep moving to 3rd, that’s even worse.  So you have to take your eyes off Lofton long enough to confirm that the runner in front of you is going.

Boggs read Gallego and Lofton perfectly, caused a poor throw from Lofton trying to get Boggs at 3rd, which not only allowed Boggs to score but since it went out of play, allowed Dion James to score.  The Yankees scored three runs on a ground ball up the middle.  (It may have been more if Velarde didn’t pop up a bunt with nobody out 🙂

The more things change…The ’93 Cleveland team had Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Albert Belle, Randy Milligan (.425 OBP), Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome in the lineup that day.  Felix Fermin batted 2nd in the order for them.  When your enemy is making mistakes, don’t interrupt him…

The more things change…Jim Abbott throwing a no-hitter is a reminder that randomness and luck have a far greater impact on the result of the game than most of us like to admit.  Abbott walked five batters that day and only struck out three.  That means 24 Cleveland batters put the ball in play with five runners on base, and the ball was hit to a fielder every time.  And due respect to Abbott, this wasn’t Greg Maddux maddeningly inducing tapper after tapper back to the mound or Mariano breaking bat after bat.  The Yankees fielders had to make 24 plays without an error, and this just happened to be a day they did it.

There is only so much you can control on a baseball field – a lot of it is completely random.

Did I miss something?  Let me know…

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