Friday, March 19, 2021

Baseball History's Impact on Interpreting Today's Game 3/19/21

 Hey baseball fans!

One of the reasons I enjoy baseball history so much is that it puts modern baseball into perspective. I always preach that understanding the precedence or background of a current subject is paramount if you want to be an expert in it. I don't consider myself an aficionado when it comes to talking about all 30 rosters of the MLB, but I do know how to judge teams, players, managers, and championships because of what I've learned about baseball's past. So, I figured that for this post, I would share some of the guiding principles I've picked up that will help you understand modern baseball a little better. 

I'll start with my calling card, the saying that I repeat on most episodes of the podcast I do with some of my friends, Baseball for Breakfast: Batting average wins MVPs. Mathematically speaking, it clearly doesn't. OPS (on-base-plus-slugging) or OPS+ (a scaled version of OPS which puts the average OPS of the league at 100) are more indicative of Most Valuable Player winners than any other stat in modern baseball, and I'm including WAR in that grouping. But as history has shown, if a player has a high/higher than career-average batting average in a given season and is in the MVP conversation, chances are that they'll win it. This isn't a proven science, but it just goes to show how tough it is to hit a baseball, especially in a modern age when batting averages are going down and homers and strikeouts are on the rise. There are productive ways to get on base besides getting a hit, yes, and any hitter can get screwed over by a spectacular fielding play, yes, but batting average is the best raw stat that answers the question of whether or not the guy who's up can hit off the guy on the mound. It's that primitive, but it's also that simple. Onto the next topic!

I don't like the GOAT debate across any sport. I think it's useless and doesn't provide any knowledge to a given sports fan, other than the knowledge of when the analysts that are having the debate grew up. But in baseball, the GOAT debate is different because the GOATs in conversation all have "what-if" factors. For example, what if Babe Ruth didn't start off as a pitcher? What if Ted Williams didn't serve in the army? What if Barry Bonds never took steroids? Because these "what-if" factors exist perpetually, you can't play the what-if game in baseball. It's unfair, no matter which hypotheticals you look at and which ones you choose to ignore. And this mantra isn't just for the GOAT debate. It works for a lot of topics. Look at the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. There were a lot of stars that had down years. Is it justifiable to use the 60-game season as an excuse for their slumps? No, because although it's fair to say that they could've rebounded had they played 162 games, we'll never know, so there's no point in bringing up the suggestion. 

And finally, winning isn't everything. I definitely sound like an entitled Yankees fan with just that sentence, but hear me out. At the end of the day, the small moments of a season have a lot more magnitude and fondness attached to them than the climactic finishes because only one team gets the ultimate finish. The same thing goes for the players, the announcers, the ballpark dimensions, and even the dumb songs stadiums play for certain outcomes. Championships feel great, but I'm certainly not a baseball fan because the Yankees have 27 rings (sorry, I had to). That would be petty and disingenuous of me as a fan to say. I love baseball because I get to find my heroes through it, I get to learn from it, and I get to make connections with it. It's a distractor from the real world, sure, but I like to think that all pastimes have some subliminal messaging, and to me, reading between the foul lines indicates a lot more about baseball's impact on any generation than watching your squad lift the Commissioner's Trophy does. 

Thanks for reading this post and I hope you enjoyed it. Check back soon for more of "all the buzz on what wuzz."

Friday, March 5, 2021

5 Bold Predictions for the 2021 MLB Regular Season 3/5/21

 Hey baseball fans!

We are officially in Spring Training, which means the 2021 regular season is less than a month away! Because of this, as is customary on Baseball with Matt, it's time for some of my bold predictions for the upcoming campaign, five of them to be exact. 

Although they have catchy-sounding nicknames, Belli and Yelli will not escape their season-long slumps at the plate from last year. Yes, Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich have won two of the last three NL MVPs, but they both had really terrible seasons last year. I'm here to tell you that these bad seasons are here to stay, at least for 2021. Bellinger's golf-like baseball bat swing has always been fluky to me and Yelich's eruption of power since he arrived at Milwaukee was never going to stick around; he was a contact hitter with the Marlins and only exhibited enough power and potential to barely crack 20 homers a season. I'm not saying these slumps will end forever, but let's just say that I wasn't surprised to see them both struggle in the shortened 2020 season. 

Now, while these two sluggers will not rebound, Luke Voit will lead the league in homers again. I feel like the baseball media didn't talk enough about Voit's crazy season as much as they should've and still forget to mention that he led the league in dingers. Ever since he got traded to the Yankees from St. Louis, he's shown immense gravitas with the bat, sending balls flying at an impressive pace. I guess the main reason he gets buried in the Yankee talk is because of the stars in the rest of the lineup, but you heard it here first: Nuke Voit will be back and better than ever. 

I'm just going to come out and say this: if Aaron Nola wins the Cy Young, the Phillies win the NL East. Although this is not the most competitive division in baseball, the National League East is a bit of a toss-up. The Braves will probably win it, in my opinion, but the Mets, Nationals, and Marlins have solid rosters, too. And then there are the Phillies, one of the most underachieving teams in baseball that had a historically bad bullpen in 2020. However, they do have a bona fide ace in Aaron Nola, and if he can prove all the doubters wrong, Philadelphia's pitching will catch up to its hitting, propelling the Phils to the top of the East for the first time since 2011. 

Let's stick in the NL and talk about batting average, one of my favorite statistics in baseball. Who will win the NL batting title? Donovan Solano, of course! Solano is a veteran second baseman on the Giants who sneakily batted .326 last year and .330 in 2019. Sure, he's 33, and sure, those impressive marks might be as fluky as Bellinger and Yelich, but this is a real shot in the dark, and if it sticks, I'll be over the moon. 

And finally, the World Series. I end up being close with this pick every year, but in the sense that the matchup usually ends up in the playoffs. This year, I'm hoping for a different outcome, but we'll have to see. Anyway, without further delay, my 2021 World Series picks are the Padres and White Sox. Why? They are the two youngest and most exciting teams in baseball with great rosters and even greater swagger. They were Wild Card teams this past year, but with their amazing players, they could easily meet up in late October for a chance at the Commissioner's Trophy. 

Do you agree with my bold predictions? Let me know in the comments section below. Thanks for reading this post and I hope you enjoyed it. Check back soon for more of "all the buzz on what wuzz."