The Red Sox have been working for a while now towards having a great balanced line-up. They, along with the rest of baseball really, have shied away from a lineup of a couple mashers and some extra parts. The idea it to have every player on offense put up a tough at-bat. To have the order progress from one tough out to another. No longer should Ortiz and Manny carry the team. Every player needs to do his little part for the team to win.
It’s a great plan, really. If for no other reason than it gives some insurance. If your line-up depends on Manny and Ortiz driving in 150 runs a piece, and something happens to Ortiz, you’re in a ton of trouble. If, however, you’re asking nine guys to drive in 70 runs a piece…losing one of them doesn’t seem as damaging. Want the ultimate example of that? Imagine the 2013 World Series without Ortiz. The Sox won those games almost entirely because Ortiz just wasn’t getting out. It would have been a lot nicer if everyone else helped out a lot more.
But, there’s one big problem with that approach. It’s sometimes not pretty.
Let’s say for the sake of discussion that you’ve built what the Sox would probably consider the perfect team. Every batter in it has a .500 OBP. That means that every time to the plate, there’s a 50-50 chance they’ll reach base somehow. So, they could very easily put up this mythical inning.
Or this one.
In each case, half the batters reached base. The team, overall, would have a .500 OBP. But, they would have left the bases loaded in each inning, and not scored a run.
That would frustrate fans to no end. But, really, who are you going to blame? Are we actually expecting every batter to reach base? Are we really going to complain that a guy with a season OBP of .500 happened to hit a groundball in a particular at-bat? Is that really fair? Don’t you just have to accept that those are the beaks somehow?
Of course, that won’t be the exact order of things every time. The laws of probability don’t work out perfectly all the time…unless you’re Gregor Mendel. So, sometimes everyone will be getting their hits in bunches, sometimes they’ll be evenly spread out like these examples, and sometimes nobody will be getting their hits. It’s the way the dice roll. When everyone gets hits at the same time, you can get innings like the bottom of the eighth last Sunday. Sometimes that lasts a month, like it did in April. Or, a whole season like in 2013. When, nobody’s getting their hits, you get shutouts, or months like May.
It gets even worse when you don’t have .500 OBPs for every batter. And, really who does. So, run those same examples, but use a .400 OBP. Suddenly in order to get those three or four hits you need to score, it takes a lot more batters. It’s a much rarer occurrence…just by probability. Then, replace one or two of those .400 OBP with a .300.
That’s what happens with balance. It’s the very thing the approach is supposed to solve. True, instead of just waiting for Ortiz and Manny to save you, any number of players can produce. The problem is that you really need everyone else to produce. Otherwise, it looks pretty darn ugly.
Which is why the Sox are 5-5 in their last ten games, but all anyone can think about is how terrible they’ve been. It’s depressing. It’s disheartening. It’s a harder game to watch because there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. You can’t watch a scoreless inning end, and comfort yourself with thoughts of Manny and Ortiz batting second and third the next inning. Every inning is the same. Every inning you just need three or four guys to string something together. There’s nothing to depend on. So, it seems hopeless. Even when it’s not. Even when you’re getting exactly what you want. It just doesn’t always work. For every May, there’s an April. For every 1-2-3 inning, there’s a rally. If the Sox are down at the moment, it’s because the ups are coming. It’s the way things go. It doesn’t mean it’s awful. Or pathetic. Or emotionless. Or hopeless.
It just seems that way sometimes.
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