Mathematics is not a friend of baseball

Posted Monday, Jun. 03, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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engel The counting craze that once was cute and chic is now all but ruining America’s second favorite pastime.

Scores of math whizzes, nerds and live-in-their-parents’-basement geeks are threatening to turn Royals at Rangers into a Bobby Fischer vs. Boris Spassky chess match, minus the intellect.

This absurd baseball math obsession is now spilling over into basketball, hockey and football; in a few months, this trend will turn your child’s dodgeball game into a series of where is the best place to put little Jimmy so as to ensure his greatest chances of being able to dip, dive, duck and dodge.

Baseball was never intended to be math homework, but now baseball fans are watching pitch counts more closely than we do wins/losses, strikeouts or ERAs.

Kids, don’t listen to your parents or teachers. In this case, math is not your friend.

Math has made us all paranoid that our favorite player is going to get hurt the moment he reaches a certain figure, or be reduced to trash if he goes a little too far.

There is no better example of this than Texas Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish, who threw 99 pitches against the Royals on Sunday.

So that’s terrible because he only threw 99, and he was “gassed,” according to his manager.

A few weeks ago, Rangers manager Ron Washington was the second coming of noted arm destroyer Dusty Baker, when he had the audacity to allow Yu to throw 130 pitches against the Detroit Tigers.

Let the man pitch the baseball on the baseball field.

Let them play baseball and quit being a prisoner to all of these bleepin’ numbers.

Throwing a baseball is an unnatural and demanding activity for the human arm. The shoulder and elbow were not intended to throw a little object at a high velocity over and over and over again.

The activity alone begs for injury.

The same goes for the recreational runner who suffers shin splints, plantar fasciitis or a turned ankle.

We weren’t designed to run 26.2 miles, and we are not supposed to throw a ball 100 mph.

We do these things because we can and, often as a result, we are probably going to get hurt at some point.

For most of us who participate in physical activity, it is simply a matter of time before something goes wrong.

I spoke with former big-league pitcher and ex-Texas Rangers pitching coach Orel Hershiser about what he says has become part of baseball’s culture.

His take on this goes back to the ’80s when the media (they ruin everything!) started to ask about pitch counts, and then it became a cover-their-butts move by managers and coaches.

A little counting clicker has completely changed what is expected of the starting pitcher and, in the process, made managers, GMs and fans all scared to death of the ramifications of throwing “too many pitches.”

“Not every pitch is as strenuous as the last pitch or the next pitch,” Hershiser said. “There are some times 130 pitches can be easier than 60. If you throw one or two pitches with bad mechanics and tweak your back, the wear and tear on your next 30 pitches isn’t even close.

“You said, ‘If someone is going to get hurt, they are going to get hurt’ — there is some validity to that. The weather, the inning, the ballpark, the lineup he is facing, mechanics, all of these things have validity, but none of them are the reason.”

We are panicking for no reason and obsessing over Yu’s pitch count is fruitless.

A few weeks ago it was a big deal that he threw 130 pitches.

Today, it’s a big deal he threw only 99.

All of this number-watching obviously does work or sports teams would not be spending millions and creating new departments to research tendencies, strengths, weaknesses, etc.

But it is still sport, and nothing will ever be able to trump the inherent unpredictability of baseball. After all, the stats say Nelson Cruz makes that catch in Game 6 in the 2011 World Series. But he didn’t, so where is your math there?

That is why we watch, for the precise reason that it is not a math assignment.

Math is never wrong.

Baseball very much is, which is why I love it.

Hershiser is right when he says all of this math is based on the past.

And if we knew exactly how it all was all going to turn out, why would we watch?

Mac Engel, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @macengelprof

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