Let’s start by understanding that baseball is unpredictable. That’s what makes the best game ever invented by man so fascinating. You never know what might happen next.
For evidence we offer the last week or so when two of baseball’s more difficult tasks – pitching a no-hitter and hitting four home runs in a game — were achieved by two longshot candidates.
First there was Edinson Volquez, throwing a no-hitter for the Miami Marlins. That pushed his record for the season to a sorry 2-7. The Marlins are his seventh Major League team and his career earned run average is a bulky 4.41. He does, however, own the first no-hitter pitched this season.
Shortly after Volquez’s achievement, Scooter Gennett of the Cincinnati Reds became the 17th player in Major League history to hit four home runs in a game. He joins a fraternity that includes Hall of Famers like Willie Mays and Mike Schmidt and non-Hall of Famers like Mark Whiten and Pat Seerey.
Whiten had 105 home runs in 11 seasons. Seerey had an equally modest 86 homers in seven seasons. But for one great day, each of them hit four to get in the record book, right alongside Mays and his 660 homers and Schmidt and his 548.
Gennett had 10 runs batted in his memorable game and the four homers pushed his total for the season to seven. This is a guy the Reds acquired on waivers from the Milwaukee Brewers earlier this year.
There are some other anomalies to consider this season.
Rick Porcello went 22-4 with a 3.15 earned run average for the Boston Red Sox and won the American League Cy Young Award last season. He is 3-8 with a 4.46 ERA this season and will not win the Cy Young for 2017.
On the other end of the pitching puzzle is Houston’s Dallas Kuechel. He won the Cy Young Award two years ago when he went 20-8 with a 2.48 earned run average. The next year, he disappeared, struggling through a 9-12 season with a 4.55 ERA. This season, the same guy has become unhittable again, winning his first nine decisions and pitching to a 1.67 ERA.
For a batting example, consider Aaron Judge, who has been all the rage with the New York Yankees, flirting with the league lead in home runs and batting well over .300 as the regular right fielder.
This is the same guy who struck out 42 times in 95 plate appearances last season when he batted an anemic .179. This is the same player with vastly different numbers.
What does this tell us about the fancy formulas and algorythms whipped up by baseball’s in-crowd of analytical whiz kids who toss around Sabermetrics like WHIP and WAR around so casually? This game cannot be reduced to fancy formulas. Those things are cooked up to complicate a simple sport.
Do we really need to know the velocity of the ball off the bat another Sabermetric favorite?
In 1954, Dusty Rhodes won a World Series game for the New York Giants with a pop fly home run that barely made it to a home run overhang in the Polo Grounds. The ball traveled so slowly that Bobby Avila, Cleveland’s second baseman, drifted back, thinking Rhodes’ hit was nothing more than a lazy pop fly. How quickly the ball reached that overhang did not matter. What mattered is that it got there.
So the next time the analytical crowd start throwing fancy formulas around, ask them exactly which one would predict Edinson Volquez’s no-hitter and Scooter Gennett’s four home run game.
Those accomplishments were, like the rest of baseball, unpredictable.