Baseball should ignore calls for "competitive balance"

Leave a comment

A must-read article by Joe Sheehan at Sports Illustrated, um, illustrating why arguments comparing the NFL’s competitive balance to baseball’s competitive balance are simply wrongheaded.

The hypothetical which kicks off the article — where baseball’s playoff races would stand right now if, like the NFL, the whole season was 16 games long — perfectly illustrates the insanity of the comparison. If this were football, every team would be in it until the end, because one game means so damn much in football. Baseball has ten times as many games, rendering many of them near-disposable.  The two sports’ respective rules, business models, histories, cultures, atmosphere, vernacular and fan bases all stem from this distinction.

Personally I like baseball better, but that’s just me being provincial. Objectively saying one is better than the other in any given respect is an exercise in prejudices, not reason. I’m told that a few rational people like football too, and good for
them, but it makes no more sense to compare the two than it does to compare salami sandwiches and pumpkin pie. They’re both great in their own way, but they really don’t share the same universe.

Which leads me to the money quote of the article.  It’s borne of the misguided impulse of baseball fans — and believe me, it’s only baseball fans who do this — to reflexively defend their sport to those who say it’s inferior to football.  It’s a call-to-arms of sorts, telling baseball fans to own baseball and its history and to act in the same manner as football fans do (i.e. not giving a diddly durn about how the conditions in one sport impact those in the other):

Instead of cowering when it’s compared to the NFL, MLB and its leaders
should stand up and brag about the differences that make its game great.
It should note the math of the issue, that the NFL’s competitive
balance is the natural consequence of a short regular season and a
larger postseason, and that MLB’s competitive balance, considered in the
context of its own sport, is good.

Henceforth, I’ll engage in any argument that compares baseball’s current competitive landscape to the competitive landscape that existed in baseball’s past or its hypothetical future.  I will ignore, however, those who criticize baseball for not living up to the standards of a sport that, for all of its charms, is utterly alien to baseball and those rules, conditions, culture and history which make it great.

Video: Starling Marte refuses to take first base after being hit by pitch

Tim Warner/Getty Images
4 Comments

Pirates outfielder Starling Marte was hit on the hand by a Jack Flaherty pitch in the fourth inning of Tuesday night’s game against the Cardinals. Rather than take first base, Marte — who came to the plate with a runner on first base — insisted to home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman that the ball hit the knob of the bat, not his hand. Marte was allowed to continue his at-bat, though manager Clint Hurdle came out to discuss the ruling with Dreckman. Marte eventually grounded into a fielder’s choice. He then got caught attempting to steal second base and the Pirates scored zero runs in the inning.

According to Baseball Prospectus, a team that has runners on first and second with no outs is expected to score 1.55 runs. Having a runner on first base with one out yields 0.56 expected runs. Marte essentially cost his team a run by rejecting first base. Oops.