Ryan Howard’s ability to hit lefties is not a matter of opinion

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I was just reading this profile on Ryan Howard over at Philly.com. It’s your standard spring optimism piece. Howard feels way better now than last year and is ready to return to form. Nothing all that notable in the story.

But midway down the story, a poll appears:

source:

Internet polls are all pretty meaningless, especially the actual results. But this one is particularly astounding to me inasmuch as it treats something which is wholly empirical — whether or not Ryan Howard can hit lefties — as though it were a matter of opinion or belief. Which may not seem like a big deal, but when you think about it this is the exact reason why so much sports conversation is stupid.

For better or worse, people have been conditioned to think that their opinions and beliefs, no matter how loony they are, are just as valid as anyone’s else’s. So when one challenges a given opinion or belief, one understandably gets an extreme amount of pushback and intransigence. That’s well and good when we’re talking about a lot of opinions or beliefs. I believe that “Tonight’s the Night” is the best Neil Young album. I don’t care how many of you ninnies think “After the Gold Rush” is better, I’m simply not going to buy it and if you insist on it I’m ultimately gonna think poor things of you and ignore you. For your part, I hope you feel the same way about me in this respect.

But when someone treats something that is purely empirical as thought it were belief, that’s the road to lunacy and ignorance.  No matter how big a Phillies fan you are and no matter how badly you want to see Ryan Howard take Clayton Kershaw downtown the next time they meet, it is inescapable — it is a matter of pure, immutable fact — that Ryan Howard has struggled mightily against lefties for his career and that he has gotten worse, not better, at hitting them as time has gone on. This is true whether he has been healthy or injured. With few, long ago exceptions, he has always been a liability against lefthanders.

Sports fans — and even a lot of sports writers — treat empirical things as though they were matters of belief. They believe Howard can hit lefties. They believe Jack Morris was the best pitcher of the 1980s. They believe that Michael Young’s leadership and professionalism make him an MVP-caliber player. They believe that Derek Jeter is a good defensive shortstop.  And if someone says “he can’t,” “he wasn’t,” “it doesn’t” and “he isn’t,” you’re not just wrong, you’re assailing one’s belief system, and that makes you an awful person.

Empiricism vs. Belief. It’s the core of a lot of political arguments. It’s also the core of a lot of baseball arguments. If only we could all agree which things are matters of which, imagine how much better everyone would get along.

And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Brewers 9, Reds 4: Milwaukee beats the Reds for the sixth time in seven tries this year. Orlando Arcia homered and drove in three. Jett Bandy had three hits and two RBI. The Brewers had 14 hits in all. Some bad news: Eric Thames left the game with a tight hamstring. He says he’ll be OK, however. And get manager Craig Counsell’s explanation of the injury is quite the humble brag:

“It just kind of tightened up over the day,” Counsell said. “It is really the on-base stuff. He’s just been on-base a whole bunch, running the bases, scoring from first, so just a whole bunch of baserunning.”

“He’s just been so awesome that all of his awesome beat-the-Reds muscles are tired. Maybe he’ll be better when he’s done beating the hell out of the Reds.

White Sox 5, Royals 2: It was tied at two until Avisail Garcia’s two-run home run in the sixth. Jose Quintana struck out ten in only six innings of work, allowing only an earned run. Rick Renteria said he was going to let Quintana pitch the seventh if the game was tied, but took him out once Garcia hit that bomb. At only 99 pitches I’m sure a veteran like Quintana would’ve been OK for another inning, but I always do scratch my head when the W is what determines when a starter is taken out.

Indians 7, Astros 6: Michael Brantley had an RBI double in the first inning and added a two-run single in the fifth. He’s hitting .318/.384/.561 with four homers and 15 driven in in 17 games. They should probably just award the Comeback Player of the Year Award now.

Yankees 3, Red Sox 1: It was Aaron Judge‘s birthday. In celebration he hit a two-run homer and made this spectacular catch, diving into the stands at Fenway:

The ump initially said it was no catch, but it was overturned on replay. The Yankees have won 11 of 14.

Orioles 5, Rays 4: Not a great night for the Rays. First, they gave up two runs on this little league homer of a disaster of a play:

 

Then, with a 4-3 lead in the 11th inning, they let the O’s come back and win it like this:

single
single
walk (bases now loaded)
sac fly (run scores)
walk (bases now loaded again)
walk

Alex Colome did everything until the second-to-last walk, then Danny Farquhar came in and walked in the winning run on four friggin’ pitches. I’m guessing Kevin Cash put his foot through a soda machine or something. At least I would’ve.

Phillies 7, Marlins 4: Maikel Franco hit a grand slam and the Phillies won their fifth game in a row. Franco had three hits in all. Sellout crowd too. No, not because the Marlins were in town. But because it was $1 hot dog night.

Pirates 6, Cubs 5: Pittsburgh needed six pitchers to get through this one, but they got through. Jon Lester allowed five runs on six hits and still hasn’t won a game this year. I suspect we’ll soon be hearing a lot about how it’s all attributable to David Ross being gone, whether there’s any truth to that or not. The game was most notable for Pirates second baseman Gift Ngoepe becoming the first player from Africa to play in the majors. He singled in his first at bat, too. The South African said this after the game:

“To accomplish this only for me but for my country and my continent is something so special. There are 1.62 billion people on our continent. To be the first person out of 1.62 billion to do this is amazing.”

Pretty cool.

Mariners 8, Tigers 0: James Paxton has been one of the few bright spots for the M’s in the early going. Here he tossed seven shutout innings, striking out nine and allowing only four hits. Two driven in a piece for Jean SeguraGuillermo Heredia and Nelson Cruz.

Braves 8, Mets 2: Julio Teheran allowed only two runs while pitching into the seventh while Mets starter Robert Gsellman didn’t fool anyone, allowing five runs in the first inning. In all he allowed six runs — five earned — on ten hits without making it out of the fifth. The Braves end a six-game skid.

Rangers 14, Twins 3: The Rangers avoid a sweep. It was relatively close until late in the game when Ryan Rua hit his first career grand slam and Shin-Soo Choo hit a three-run homer in Texas’ eight-run eighth inning. The Rangers also had a four-run sixth inning in which they only recorded two hits. A hit-by-pitch, a wild pitch and a passed ball helped things along.

Nationals 11, Rockies 4: On Tuesday night Trea Turner hit for the cycle. Last night he fell a triple short of doing it again. Bryce Harper had four hits as he continues his early season tear. The top of the Nats’ order is brutal for opposing pitchers. Adam Eaton, Turner, Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy combined to go 13-for-24 with three homers and all 11 RBI on the night. It’s not surprising the Nats have the best record in baseball right now.

Padres 8, Diamondbacks 5: Down 5-3 in the ninth, San Diego put up a five-spot to come from behind. Ryan Schimpf did most of the damage, hitting a go-ahead, three-run homer off of Fernando Rodney. You’ll be shocked at his strategy in that situation:

“Just try not to do too much, really. Just trying to get ready for something to hit, trying to square something up.”

No word on whether he’s happy to help the ball club.

Angels 8, Athletics 5: Matt Shoemaker picks up his first win since being cracked in the skull with a comebacker last season. He tossed five innings, allowing two runs while scattering seven hits. Cameron Maybin helped his cause by going 3-for-4 with three driven in.

Giants 4, Dodgers 3: L.A. had a three-run lead heading into the bottom of the seventh but the Giants came back. Michael Morse, back with the Giants for the first time since 2014, hit a tying, pinch-hit homer in the eighth inning. Then in the 10th, Hunter Pence hit a game-winning sacrifice fly with the bases loaded.

Blue Jays vs. Cardinals — POSTPONED:

I can’t sleep tonight
Everybody’s saying everything is alright
Still I can’t close my eyes
I’m seeing a tunnel at the end of all of these lights
Sunny days, where have you gone?
I get the strangest feeling you belong
Why does it always rain on me?
Is it because I lied when I was seventeen?
Why does it always rain on me?
Even when the sun is shinning I can’t avoid the lightning

Video: Gift Ngoepe singles in his first major league at-bat

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
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Pirates infielder Gift Ngoepe, just called up from Triple-A Indianapolis, singled in his first major league at-bat on Wednesday evening against Cubs starter Jon Lester. It was a well-struck ground ball up the middle in the bottom of the fourth inning. Unfortunately for him, the Pirates could not bring him around to score.

Ngoepe, who was pinch-hitting, stayed in the game to play second base.