NFL V MLB: A Tale of Two Perspectives

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NFL V MLB: A Tale of Two Perspectives
(Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Stop the Madness!  Football is not baseball. 

While “a sigh is just a sigh as time goes by” in baseball, endeavoring to analyze football through a statistical lens is a fool’s errand. 

Allow this clip to serve as the backdrop for the discussion.  In it, the late, great George Carlin adroitly compares the sports.  Even if the reader does not ultimately agree with me, watch it for pure comedic value. 

More to the point, there is no “skill-position” designation for players in baseball like there is in football.  Baseball is, thus, played in a relative vacuum.

One can easily gauge how someone pitches by his easily quantifiable ERA and WHIP.  Likewise, the batter relies solely on his ability to recognize the in-coming pitch before deciding to swing then make contact with the ball in the right place. 

Compare the start of a baseball play to that of football.  While the catcher may “call for” a certain pitch, it is singularly incumbent upon the pitcher to properly deliver the ball to the right spot in the “strike zone.”  Before the quarterback can even make a throw, he must rely on: (1) a proper “snap” of the ball from the center; (2) the entire offensive line to properly block attacking defenders from getting to him; (3) the tail- or fullback to deliver a ‘chip’ block; and, (4) his pass-catchers, better known as eligible receivers, to run effective passing routes.  This otherwise basic play has more complications.  The center must rely on the quarterback for the proper “snap count” before hiking the ball.  Likewise, none of the other linemen can even move, much less pile up stats such as “pancakes,” without the execution of the snap.  Running backs cannot record a single yard without: (a) receiving the ball via the quarterback “hand-off” or directly from center; and (b) linemen, receivers and other –backs blocking defenders from tackling him.  Receivers must also rely on the quarterback to give them the ball. 

Next, one can easily gauge how a baseball player fields a ball with much greater ease than how a football player defends.  A given fielder need only “read-and-react” to the ball as it comes off the bat toward him.  If a throw is required, he earns an assist to the teammate manning the appropriate base, who in turn earns the put-out, should the throw result in an out.  Conversely, he records an error if he misses his teammate’s out-stretched glove.  The runner can prevent the fielders from racking up statistical “points” by beating out the throw.  He can also hit a home run. 

A football player cannot, however, rely on his talent alone to acquire desirable stats such as an interception.  Instead, he needs the other ten players to do his job(s).  While the reader may be quick to point out that a defender can use the same “fielding” ability in baseball to catch a wayward pass, interceptions are typically the result of an effective pass rush that forces an ill-advised throw or tipped pass.   Pass rushers are dependent upon teammates properly executing their tasks.   If the linemen fail to gain penetration up the middle, the quarterback can simply “step up in the pocket” to evade the defensive ends and linebackers, rushing around the outside. 

Unlike with a player’s on-base percentage, a defender’s number of sacks or tackles cannot be taken at face value.   Defensive tackles should not have a lot of sacks because the defensive ends must have failed their principle job of rushing the passer.  As indicated above, tackles are predominantly responsible for absorbing blocks in order to free up the rest of the front seven.  Likewise, if a cornerback or safety has a lot of tackles, that means that the team’s defensive linemen and linebackers failed. 

Further, on a given play, the pitcher or catcher will be assessed the error statistic of either a “wild pitch” or “passed ball.”  Regardless of how an errand throw occurs, the quarterback is on the hook.  For instance, the reader may remember a specific play in which the receiver inexplicably “pulled up” or turned inside versus outside.  The resultant interception is “credited” to the quarterback no matter what. 

 Individual success in baseball, therefore, lends itself to statistical analysis.  No such parallel exists in Football.

Joe Montana of the 1980s will utterly fail to put up the same numbers if he is inserted within the 1986 New York Giants’ roster, for instance.  That is not to say that Montana is better than Phil Simms—it is impossible to accurately determine that.  The Giants were known as a running team, or “Save the Wales.”  They did not run the pass-first offense that Bill Walsh featured. 

Therefore, my fellow “Bleacher” creatures, stop comparing apples to oranges. 

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