Sunday, March 15, 2009

Thoughts on Peavy and the WBC

What makes baseball great?  A million things.  But here's one I'm thinking about this morning...

Baseball is the game that simultaneously offers the most and least variance.  What do I mean?  In any given baseball game, given that the skill levels are at least of a baseline level, any team can get the better of another.  The 63-99 Padres can beat the 97-64 Cubs, and make them look bad, on a particular Sunday.  But over the course of a season, the best teams win, the flaws are revealed, the strengths play out.  

The power of knowing this is understanding that you just can't read too much into any one game or performance.  You really just can't.  Even a handful, even a set of results are too little.  It  takes time and a large sample size to really get an accurate judgement on a player or a team.  And people who throw out wild proclamations after a game, questioning a player's heart, talent or conviction after any one performance, are just revealing themselves as reactionaries.

I lay all this out to wade into the discussion of what I saw last night in the World Baseball Classic against Puerto Rico.  Jake Peavy got strafed, again.  The pitcher who has been one of the loudest and biggest fans of the WBC was lit up for six runs in two innings, including a bombastic HR from Felipe Lopez.  Jake had that deer-in-the-headlights, uh-oh look that I've seen from him so many times before.  Early in his career on the road.  In the playoffs against St. Louis.  In the play-in game against the Rockies.  Throw it, spin around and see where it lands.  

Another big game, another big stage for a great young pitcher who we see at his greatest, but the rest of the nation often sees faltering.  Why did Peavy fail yesterday?  Did he want it too bad?  Did he not train well enough in the offseason?  Did he fall victim to a spring training mindset in a championship tournament?  Is he "not a big game pitcher"?  What does it all mean?

Er, sorry.  It probably means nothing.  It probably means he left some pitches up.  It probably means Javier Vazquez pitched well for Puerto Rico yesterday and Jake did not.  It might be just that simple.  There might be nothing more to learn.  

I was thinking of all sorts of excuses this morning, for Team USA and for Peavy.  The Latin players have an advantage over the Americans, because they play baseball all winter long and have a Caribbean World Series before the major leagues open camp.  They are ready, while our guys' bodies are just naturally geared to be ready for the summer, not the spring.  Their pitchers have their arms stretched out and they're used to pitching at 100% right now.  

But if that's true, what about the Dominican team?  Why did they lose, and to the Netherlands for goodness' sake?  TWICE?  Why can Mexico get mercy ruled one game and then mercy rule their opponent the next?  

The simple truth is the one that's hardest to accept: there's no rhyme or reason to any of it.  Let the 16 teams of the WBC train and play each other for an 80-game season.  Then, you will find out who has the best team, the best pitching staff, the best offense, etc.  What, you don't have time?  Want to play the 2009 MLB schedule instead?  I don't blame you.  Me too.  

So we're left with a double-elimination crapshoot where no result can be taken too seriously.  Is Japan really the best team in the world?  They won in 2006.  If Venezuela, or the U.S., or Cuba, or Puerto Rico wins this year, are they the best?  We will never know.  The Netherlands beating the DR just makes the point more than anything else I can write.  In an 80-game schedule with their pool region as their division, the Dutch win 10-15 games.  They may beat the DR 1-2 times in 16 tries.  But they go 2-0 in a two-game season in the WBC.  

It's fun, it's dramatic, it's enjoyable, just not particularly insightful.  So I'm going to try to shelve any big thoughts on Jake Peavy and what this latest subpar performance says about his ability to win a big game, and whether it's buyer beware for a playoff team that wants to trade for Jake, and whether all the hue and cry about keeping or trading him matters much if he only pitches big in small situations...because all of that would be reactionary and needless.  I'm going to root on Team USA tonight against the Netherlands and hope they win.  I'll hope for Jake to get another shot to pitch in the WBC Finals.  But beyond that, reading too much into the WBC is probably just an invitation to look foolish later.  

1 comment:

  1. Back in 1991 at the all star break (maybe 1992 but pretty sure it was 1991) there was a pitcher who had amazing stuff but the results weren't quite there...he visited a shrink during the break to try and get his mind right.

    The results: a team that went on to dominate their division for the next 15 or so years and a pitcher who became a CY Young winner and one of the most dominant post season performers of our generation.....John Smoltz.

    The point is that Jake's not a head-case but I think he gets so amped up for the occasion that his emotion betrays him. He needs to harness his energy during the big games...and I too hope he gets another chance at redemption.