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Friday, June 28, 2013

Fear and Loathing in the Batter's Box.

See the previous post:

Thursday, June 27, 2013
Fear Strikes Out. And "scared shitless".
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One on one competition between two athletes of comparable ability has a single objective to achieve victory: destroy the opponent's will.

Basketball has the illusion of one on one but that can be interrupted at any time by other players.  Among the mainstream sports in the USA there are three one on one confrontations:
- boxing
- tennis
- pitcher/batter in baseball.

Boxing's crushing of the will is plainly brutal by its nature.  Tennis lacks the physical contact and overt brutality of boxing  but is is just as focused on destroying the opponent's will.  Baseball is somewhere in between.  The pitcher and batter are separated as in tennis but the possibility of lethal force is a real and present danger.

The pitcher controls the action and this not a match of equals.  The pitcher stands on a mound throwing downhill.  The pitcher always wins in the long term.  Always.  Since 1916 only two batters have had a .500 batting average (BA) for as many as 40 at bats (AB) in a season.

Rk Player BA AB Year Age Tm Lg G PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH SF GDP SB CS OBP SLG OPS Pos
1 Rudy Pemberton .512 41 1996 26 BOS AL 13 45 11 21 8 0 1 10 2 0 4 2 0 0 0 3 1 .556 .780 1.336 *9/7
2 Gil Coan .500 42 1947 25 WSH AL 11 47 5 21 3 2 0 3 5 6 0 0 0 2 1 .553 .667 1.220 *9
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/27/2013.

Since 1916 only ten pitchers had BA against >=.319 and qualified for league ERA title:

Rk Player BA Year Age Tm Lg G GS CG SHO GF W L W-L% SV IP H R ER BB SO ERA ERA+ HR BF AB 2B 3B IBB HBP SH SF GDP SB CS PO BK WP OBP SLG OPS OPS+ Pit Str
1 Livan Hernandez .342 2008 33 TOT ML 31 31 2 0 0 13 11 .542 0 180.0 257 129 121 43 67 6.05 71 25 811 752 53 3 4 2 5 9 24 3 5 2 1 3 .375 .520 .895 137 2800 1745
2 Rick Waits .330 1981 29 CLE AL 22 21 5 1 0 8 10 .444 0 126.1 173 74 69 44 51 4.92 75 7 578 524 27 2 1 1 5 4 13 7 5 2 0 5 .380 .429 .810 134
3 Carlos Silva .324 2006 27 MIN AL 36 31 0 0 2 11 15 .423 0 180.1 246 130 119 32 70 5.94 75 38 811 759 44 2 4 7 6 7 16 10 2 0 0 1 .354 .538 .892 128 2693 1790
4 LaTroy Hawkins .323 1999 26 MIN AL 33 33 1 0 0 10 14 .417 0 174.1 238 136 129 60 103 6.66 76 29 803 736 40 4 2 1 1 5 16 10 5 0 0 9 .373 .507 .880 120
5 Bill Gullickson .322 1994 35 DET AL 21 19 1 0 1 4 5 .444 0 115.1 156 79 76 25 65 5.93 82 24 521 484 27 6 2 4 7 1 3 8 3 0 0 4 .360 .552 .912 130
6 Lary Sorensen .322 1982 26 CLE AL 32 30 6 1 0 10 15 .400 0 189.1 251 130 118 55 62 5.61 74 19 849 779 40 6 6 3 3 9 25 11 4 3 3 5 .365 .462 .827 126
7 Wade Davis .321 2013 27 KCR AL 15 15 0 0 0 4 5 .444 0 81.2 108 52 45 32 71 4.96 82 10 373 336 19 0 0 2 1 2 13 2 2 0 0 4 .382 .467 .849 133 1477 933
8 Jim Deshaies .321 1994 34 MIN AL 25 25 0 0 0 6 12 .333 0 130.1 170 109 107 54 78 7.39 66 30 596 530 39 5 0 2 5 5 10 18 8 5 2 1 .382 .583 .965 144
9 Brian Anderson .320 2004 32 KCR AL 35 26 2 1 2 6 12 .333 0 166.0 217 123 104 53 70 5.64 85 33 745 679 54 0 4 1 5 7 22 1 4 4 0 2 .366 .545 .911 133 2769 1693
10 Frank Baumann .319 1961 27 CHW AL 53 23 5 1 13 10 13 .435 3 187.2 249 128 117 59 75 5.61 70 22 860 781 40 8 4 2 11 5 18 5 4 3 0 3 .366 .475 .841 132
Generated 6/27/2013.

The pitcher always has the advantage in the long run.  In addition, the pitcher can decide to intimidate the batter.  If a boxer tries that, he'll be treated in like manner.  Boxers adhere to the admonition of the referee: protect yourself at all times.

The pitcher may hit the batter with a pitch but the batter may not hit the pitcher.  99% of the time the pitcher may do this with impunity and any punishment rarely fits the crime.  100% of the time the  batter is punished for retaliating.  The pitcher and batter are never equal in any sense.

By its nature the batter is in mortal danger even if the pitcher is not acting with reckless disregard for human life.  The pitcher might hit the batter accidentally.  The batter might hit a pitch that strikes the pitcher but that is much less likely.

Batters must deal with the basic human aversion to being hit and enduring pain and injury.  We naturally recoil from that.  The batter must act against his own best interests.

How many batters had the talent to hit .400 but could not deal with the intimidation of being hit?  Slow pitch softball to me is the essence of the game: hit, field, run the bases.  The softball pitcher merely facilitates getting the ball in play.  Softball batters can have a .500 BA.  There is zero fear.  When we watch Major Baseball League (MBL) games we rarely notice the fear.  It usually takes a violent act for us to be awakened but the batter is aware on every pitch because the batter may die on each pitch.

Thoughtless announcers use the word plunk to describe a batter being hit by pitch (HBP).  For a ball traveling at 90 miles per hour (mph) released from about 55 feet a more appropriate word might be drilled.

Even worse is the description of a batter being hit in the head: beaned.  Say what?  How about the batter had his skull fractured or his face smashed?

We accept the intimidation.  The pitcher fires a fastball at the batter's head and the batter is expected to use his world class reflexes to flip himself backwards onto the ground to save his own life.  If he doesn't then the batter is often blamed.  After getting up the batter is angry and/or frightened.  He's not thinking straight.  The pitcher throws a curve ball low and away and the batter swings and misses, striking out. Now he's really upset.  But what can he do?  If he charges the mound, he will be suspended.  Possibly worse, his antagonist may beat him up, adding insult to injury.  See Nolan Ryan throwing at Robin Ventura, Ventura charging the mound, Ventura getting pummeled by Ryan who is outraged that his right to act with reckless disregard for human life has been challenged.

If the pitcher is not succeeding enough against a particular batter to satisfy himself, he can simply hit the batter in the head with a pitch.  See Roger Clemens "beaning" Mike Piazza.  Imagine Roger Federer charging the net and hitting Rafael Nadal with his racket because Nadal is winning their tennis match.

Remove fear and loathing from the batter's box.  Reduce the pitcher to a facilitator, not the dominant player on the field.  Or eliminate the pitcher completely, replaced by a machine or tee.

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