Today's sports story comes from an unlikely domain on the Internet: The Friendly Atheist, a blog by Hemant Mehta.
As you can guess by the title, this blog isn't a sports blog, but a blog related to (usually political) secular issues.
I enjoy the work Hemant does there, but this article on an awesome call Seattle Mariners commentator Mike Blowers made doesn't jive with me.
For those of you who may not have seen or heard about the call, the clip (which is the same one Hemant uses on his blog) is below:
Totally a lucky call, and judging by the laughs Blowers was getting from his boothmates, probably not the type of call he makes very often. But despite the luck, pretty awesome, right?
Well, not according to Mr. Mehta.
Let's take a look at his rationale and debunk his debunking.
1) He would hit his first major-league home run that day…
Not an unusual prediction to make for a promising rookie. I do wonder if Blowers ever made this prediction anytime before… but let’s give him credit here.
He’s 1 for 1.
I'd also be interested to know if Blowers had ever made that prediction about Tuiasosopo before, because it makes it less impressive if he has. And I'll even agree that it's not exactly uncommon for a commentator to predict a home run for a rookie.
Still, it DID happen on the day Blowers called it, so I'm going to agree with the 1-for-1 score here.
2) … off pitcher Brian Tallet…
Well, Tallet was the starting pitcher. It doesn’t take a baseball expert to know Taller will be pitching for most of the game, barring a really bad day. Blowers doesn’t get credit for this.
He’s 1 for 2.
True, but Blowers also predicted that it would be during Tuiasosopo's second at-bat. Converted reliever Brian Tallet has kind of sucked this year, and his average start length is 4 1/3 innings.
Tuiasosopo, batting eighth in the lineup, didn't get his second at-bat until the fifth inning, meaning it was probable Tallet wouldn't have even been in the game at that point.
Also, it happened and Blowers predicted it would. So, I'm going 2-for-2 here.
3) … during his second at-bat of the game…
A nice, specific prediction, right? Not really. There’s a good reason he made that particular call. Blowers said, “I thought he would take some pitches in his first at-bat, because he’s a rookie.”
Indeed, players are less likely to swing early in the game so they can see more pitches, get a feel for the pitcher’s style, and take advantage of it all later.
He’s 1 for 3. (Though this one is arguable.)
Sure. And Blowers, like many fans, knows this kind of thing about baseball. Never did he claim he was a psychic...he's just using the knowledge associated with his occupation to help guide him in a prediction. Nothing wrong with that.
Hemant says it's arguable, and I'm going to argue it. Blowers predicted it would happen, and it did. 3-for-3.
4) … on a 3-1 count…
Blowers gets no credit for this one. Typically, a pitcher will make difficult pitches early in the count to see if anything works against the batter.
But if the batter doesn’t swing, a 3-1 count (3 balls and 1 strike) isn’t out of the question.
Not only that, but pitcher Tallet was known to be “a little wild” according to Blowers himself. That is to say, he’d work himself into a 3-1 count more often than other pitchers.
When the count gets to 3-1, a batter can expect to see something hittable. You can assume pitchers don’t want to walk a player with a fourth ball, so they try to throw something in the strike zone. Indeed, a 3-1 count is known as a “hitter’s count.”
He’s 1 for 4.
This is all true, but it precludes the idea that Tallet would get the count to 3-1. Against a rookie, no less. The exact type of person most likely to swing at a ball outside the strike zone.
Blowers was predicting not only wildness from Tallet, but discipline from Tuiasosopo. And again, yes, this isn't a shot in the dark; he's using his knowledge of the game - but again, so what?
If it were already a 3-1 count and THEN Blowers said "I smell a home run," yeah, it would be less impressive, because Tuiasosopo is already looking at a hitter's count. But he predicted before it happened that Tuiasosopo would be in that position in the first place and THEN hit a home run.
5) … it would be a fastball…
On a 3-1 pitch, one would expect to see a fastball. As stated a little bit ago, the pitcher doesn’t want to walk the batter. He’s not going throw a curveball or a slider that could get away from the plate.
A fastball has the best chance of fooling the batter… in fact, the commentators even say right before the pitch “It’s going to be a fastball.”
The upside to this for the batter is that he knows what’s coming and he prepares to swing fast and hard at the ball.
I don’t have the stats in front of me, but I would suspect the number of home-runs hit on 3-1 fastballs are higher than you would find for just about all other pitches and counts.
He’s 1 for 5.
All true, and again, so what? Blowers knows things about baseball. That's his job. The thing that's cool about this is that each of these predictions separately are mundane, but when put together make up a very specific prediction that happened. The odds against Blowers are huge.
Hemant's fallacy here is again in assuming that Tuiasosopo was already in a 3-1 count when this prediction was made.
The prediction so far is actually four predictions rolled into one: Tuiasosopo is going into his second at-bat, he's going to work the count to 3-1, which will force Tallet to throw a fastball, which Tuiasosopo will then hit for a homer.
Several of these steps are based on knowledge of baseball itself rather than, say, psychic ability, but again, Blowers never claimed psychic ability.
Why is it not impressive that his knowledge about baseball could lead him to form a domino-effect prediction that then by mostly luck and part skill happens?
6) … and the ball would land in the second deck of the Blue Jays’ stadium…
This one just didn’t happen. Rachel Maddow was actually wrong in the clip above when she said Blowers nailed every prediction.
He’s 1 for 6.
OK, that part is true. No disputing that.
7) … in left center field.
Tuiasosopo is a right-handed batter. Most of his balls are going to be hit toward the left side of the field. Blowers doesn’t get credit for pointing out the obvious.
He’s 1 for 7.
According to the hit data on Baseball Reference, most of Tuiasosopo's batted balls this year have gone either up the middle or to right field. He's actually not a pull hitter.
Conventional baseball knowledge would suggest Hemant is right here, and may have led Blowers to make the into left field prediction, but in the case of Tuiasosopo it's actually less likely for that to happen.
Of course, I don't think Blowers has any type of divine powers or anything like that. Knowledge of baseball combined with a whole lot of luck is what led to this event happening. But it's still pretty cool, and there's no need to rain on the parade.