Jeremy Hellickson

Jeremy Hellickson doesn’t believe in BABIP. Which is fine, because he doesn’t have to.

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Interesting article in the Tampa Bay Times. Marc Topkin spoke to Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson about BABIP — batting average on balls in play.

The idea of BABIP, in case you’re unfamiliar, is that a pitcher can control walks, strikeouts and homers, but once the ball is in play, the fates and team defense have a bigger bearing on whether it’s a hit or not. This has been shown to be out of control of the pitcher by virtue of it not being a predictable stat. Meaning that the batting average on balls in play allowed by any one pitcher varies wildly from year-to-year.

That part of it is often referred to as a pitcher having “good luck.” I kind of don’t like that because most folks in our society — especially athletes — don’t like thinking that the things they do are the result of luck. At least the positive things. They like to believe it’s all innate skill and moxie, so when you refer to things as being a function of luck, they bristle. That’s what Hellickson did too:

“Yea, I just got lucky on the mound,” Jeremy Hellickson says dryly. “A lot of lucky outs … I hear it; it’s funny,” Hellickson said, not quite sure of the acronym. “I thought that’s what we’re supposed to do, let them put it in play and get outs. So I don’t really understand that. When you have a great defense, why not let them do their job? I’m not really a strikeout pitcher; I just get weak contact and let our defense play … I can either handle my business or I don’t …”

Some of my statistically-oriented friends may make light of Hellickson’s comments here. And will definitely make fun of another one he makes at the end of the article — “Wins are by far the most important stat” — but I don’t think that’s warranted. It would be if the words came from an analyst or anyone else trying to objectively assess Hellickson’s performance for, say, awards purposes, Hall of Fame purposes or the like.  But when the athlete himself says it, who cares?

While collecting wins does not make Hellickson a better pitcher objectively speaking, Hellickson’s job is to get outs and, ultimately, help the team win games. It matters no more that he fully understands and appreciates BABIP theory than it matters that an eagle understands aerodynamics.  They do what they do and they try to do it the best they can. Leave it to the analysts — both on the outside and those inside the Rays organization — to figure out why it happened and predict whether it can happen again.

But I would ask Mr. Hellickson one small favor:  if you’re not going to credit the happenstance of a good batting average on balls in play for your success in 2011, please don’t let us find you being quoted someplace about all the bad luck you had,  if your BABIP goes haywire in 2012, OK?

James McCann is in The Best Shape of His Life

Detroit Tigers catcher James McCann blows a bubble while warming up during a spring training baseball workout, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016, in Lakeland, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
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As I note every spring, “Best Shape of His Life” stories aren’t really about players being in The Best Shape of Their Lives. They’re about players and agents seeking to create positive stories.

We know this because the vast majority of Best Shape of His Life claims are about guys who were either injured the season before, guys who had subpar years the season before or players whose conditioning was a point of controversy the season before. These folks, or their agents + reporters who have little if nothing to write about in the offseason = BSOHL.

James McCann hurt his ankle last season and had a subpar year at the plate. So not only is he a perfect BSOHL candidate, he went old school with the claim and hit it right on the money, verbatim:

Spring training is less than a month away, folks!

Bo Jackson is not gonna change kids’ minds

1989:  Bo Jackson #16 of the Kansas City Royals practices his swing as he prepares to bat during a game in the 1989 season.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Last week Bo Jackson said that, if he had it to do all over again, he would have never played professional football and that he would never let his kids play. The sport is too violent, he said. “I’d tell them, ‘Play baseball, basketball, soccer, golf, just anything but football.’”

Fair enough. Thom Loverro of the Washington Times, however, thinks that Bo could do more than simply give his opinion on the matter. He thinks Bo should become an official ambassador for Major League Baseball:

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, pick up the phone right now and call Bo Jackson. Tell him you have a job for him — vice president of something, whatever you would call the man in charge of converting a generation of young athletes to baseball. And pay him what he wants.

You won’t find a better symbol of the differences between the two sports than Bo Jackson. After all, he was an All-Star in both. Bo knows football. Bo knows baseball.

Bo, tell the children — baseball over football.

The Children: “Who is Bo Jackson?”

Yeah, I’m being a bit flip here, but dude: Jackson is 54 years-old. He last played baseball 23 years ago. I’d personally run through a wall for Bo Jackson, but I’m 43. I was 12 when he won the Heisman trophy. While he may loom large to middle aged sports writers, a teenager contemplating what sport to play is not going to listen to someone a decade or more older than his parents.

This isn’t terribly important in the grand scheme of things, but it’s indicative of how most columnists process the world through their own experiences and assume they apply universally. It’s probably the biggest trap most sports opinion folks fall into.