Thursday, October 10, 2019

The Dodgers Lose | Lefsetz Letter

This is what happens when you play by the odds.

You pull your starting pitcher and you load the bases and lose.

I remember the dark days of baseball. When they expanded the leagues from eight to ten teams, the season from 154 games to 162. When the season ended in September and the World Series was oftentimes done by now, certainly by October 15th.

Then again, they play hockey in June and basketball too.

It’s very simple, it’s about the money.

That’s what privatization will do. Owners who only care about the buck will do what’s right for them, the fans be damned. Raise ticket prices to the point where it’s better to stay home and watch on TV, extend mid-inning breaks to contain more commercials, such that a game lasts longer than it took you to take your SATs.

And now the game has been ruined by Moneyball.

Sometimes, you’ve got to trust your instincts.

Today it’s all data, it’s all odds, but players are not machines, they’re human, they’re fragile, that’s why we watch sports to begin with, because we don’t really know how it will all turn out.

We know if we click on Chrome it will launch. We’d be stunned if our smartphones didn’t wake up. When cable poops out it’s a crisis. Yup we depend upon our devices, those run by technology, to work, all the time, from the very first time, out of the box.

But not people.

People start as babies. They’re influenced by their parents, their schools, their friends. Some end up winners and some end up losers. Some rich people are pricks and some poor people are saints. It’s a crapshoot, and you do your best to influence the game, but that doesn’t mean you always win.

You work hard to get into a good college. But that does not mean you’ll have a successful career.

But the elites don’t want to go into sports, unless it’s in the front office, doing sabermetrics. As if data could determine the outcome of every game.

So, Walker Buehler is in complete control of the contest, he’s whomping the Nationals.

But the data says he’s got to come out. He’s thrown 117 pitches, he’s got to go!

But Tommy Lasorda did not pull Orel Hershiser. The Dodgers went on to win the World Series. Lasorda is a legend and so is Hershiser, even if his arm broke under the strain.

Which game are we gonna play? And who is in control, the players or the managers/owners?

We’ll never know if Walker Buehler insisted on coming out, but if you know any sports stars, one thing’s for sure, when the going gets tough, the best always say…GIVE ME THE BALL!

So now maybe Walker Buehler will have a longer career.

Or maybe he’ll just be forgotten.

But the strange thing is last year the same thing happened, the Dodgers were winning and the statistics, the data, said to pull the pitcher and they lost.

So, the Dodgers win 106 games and are out of the playoffs. Done. Zip. Over.

How can this be?

Now the season is long, as I pointed out, 162 games, do they not mean anything? Oh, home field advantage, the odds say you’re better off, BUT NOT ALWAYS!

They call them odds. They were in Hillary’s favor. But Trump won anyway. Because they’re just odds, the numbers are not set in concrete, and even though you might only have a 40% chance of winning, even a 1% chance of winning, you still could, win that is.

That’s one of the great things about baseball, unlike football and basketball, it’s never over ’til it’s over, you can always come back.

But after the grand slam it was clear the Dodgers would not. They had no momentum, they’d expended what they had at the beginning of the game.

If you win, you win, right?

Not in today’s sports, losers can triumph. Of course the supporters of said teams cheer, but how about those who did the best during the season?

I can see playing division off against division, but within the division? YOU ALREADY WON!

Oh, no, you’ve got to prove it one more time.

So what have you earned in 106 victories?

Very little.

But football became the national pastime and baseball took a back seat. So what did MLB do? Play more games at night! Because they make more money! But this is like the “Innovators Dilemma”…if you keep raising prices for your usual customers, at some point someone comes along with something cheaper and not as good but it gets better and then, seemingly overnight, it steals you’re thunder, you’re toast. Can you say video games?

So tonight’s game ended after midnight on the east coast. My parents would let me stay up that late for a Yankee or Met playoff game, but not one on the west coast featuring different teams.

Sure, when I grew up the World Series was played during the day, meaning if you were lucky and rode your bike right home from school you might catch an inning or two. But we watched, we believed.

And a game was so cheap your parents took you.

In trying to make the game modern, the major leagues have screwed it all up. Sure, data is helpful, but it’s not EVERYTHING!

Just like Steve Jobs said, the computer is a TOOL! It’s what you do with it that matters. Sure, you can use data to assemble the best team, but sometimes you’ve got to go with your gut.

Data says to load the bases for a force-out at every bag.

But, that goes out the window if a batter gets a hit.

And the chance of runs scoring is increased. A three run lead now becomes a four run lead, nearly insurmountable.

So, the Nationals won fair and square.

But if you’re a Dodger fan…

I’m not even a Dodger fan, I believe in the American League. Sure, I grew up with the ’61 Yankees, but eventually the team turned sour and started to lose, did I still believe? OF COURSE! Otherwise the buildings of losing teams would be completely empty, but they’re not.

But ever since Steinbrenner everybody’s a Yankee fan, because they love a winner, no matter how you win. And winning is nice, but a lot of losers are left behind, and there’s always next year.

But next year, you double-down, you improve, you win 106 games, and then in a short playoff series, the best of five games instead of the subsequent seven, you could lose it all.

Of course I hate Dave Roberts, he pulled the same thing two years in a row, blow him out. As for his predecessors, who can remember them, some were good, but they didn’t win, Lasorda won. That’s the public trust, we invest our time, we root for you, but you’ve got to do your best.

But Roberts didn’t even let Buehler do his best, he hewed to statistics, and he blew the game and the whole damn season.

Our world is screwed up in so many ways. One is in the denigration of the liberal arts in favor of STEM. Liberal arts teach you how to think, and adjust for situations. Which is why your future will not be made up of AI songs or movies, because a computer can beat you at chess, but it cannot create artistic breakthroughs. You can teach a computer about the past, but not the future.

Then again, if you’re not a rich data scientist no one will listen to you anymore.

The Dodgers earned the right to be in the World Series, at least the NLCS. Sure, the Astros might have murdered them, but they deserved a chance.

But now they don’t have one.

As for Kershaw blowing it…his agony on the bench, his self-hatred, that’s humanity, that was almost worth the loss.

We can’t guarantee outcomes, but we can guarantee chances.

I’m not sorry for the Dodgers, but the fans. Life is based on belief. And you cannot believe in machines, you can only believe in people, and when cash supersedes people…

It’s hard to believe.


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