Cliff Lee just doesn’t know how to pitch to the score, apparently

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There’s a humdinger of a column over at the Philadelphia Daily News. It’s from Sam Donnellon.  The premise: a very 2003-era column excoriating stat nerds — he makes a non-ironic allusion to mother’s basements — who have the gall to tell him that the things he sees with his own two eyes aren’t true. You’ve heard it all before a zillion times, so there’s no sense in sharp-shooting every willfully ignorant point.

But if Donnellon is going to rest his world view on the value of his two eyes and his memory, it’s probably worth seeing how good those two eyes and that memory is. Let’s take one easily checkable assertion.

Donnellon talks up Jack Morris by talking up the value of the won-loss record. He cites his colleague David Murphy’s arguments that a won-loss record is one of the more irrelevant measures of a pitcher’s value. Then:

Murphy has mentioned Cliff Lee’s 2012 season as recent evidence of this. There is no doubt that Lee deserved better. But the naked eye, the one that watched the season in its entirety, recalls at least a handful of times when he received substantial leads and could not hold them. Morris would say, I suppose, that in those cases, he failed to pitch to the scoreboard.

Clearly, statistics are not irrelevant. But they should be used to support the naked eye, not create an alternate reality.

I don’t know what you would consider a “substantial lead,” but if you call it three runs or more, Lee blew such a “substantial lead” exactly once last year. On June 10 against the Orioles, when he frittered away a three-run lead. And that game he left with the score tied and got a no-decision. In contrast, he left games that were tied or with the Phillies ahead nine times.

But yes, I’m sure it’s all because of his poor moxie or inability to pitch to the score or something that Donnellon could tell you that he saw with his own two eyes.

Why Ryan Zimmerman skipped spring training

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All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.

The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.

It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.

It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.

Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉