Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Incisive analysis

I listen to sports talk radio when I'm in the car, which means, here in Middle Georgia, that I often hear the Bill Shanks Show. He didn't bother me too much until recently, when he was criticizing Atlanta Braves' manager Bobby Cox for platooning players at a certain position. "Platooning" means playing one player against right-handed pitchers and the other against left-handed pitchers. Shanks hates the idea, explaining, "Hitting is hitting, and pitching is pitching."

That's the kind of serious thinking that he gets paid for. Who can argue that hitting is not hitting? That sounds like the kind of paradox Zeno of Elea would come up with. Of course hitting is hitting. But right-handed hitting is not the same as left-handed hitting, at least not against the same pitcher. Baseball players usually hit significantly better against pitchers who throw from the opposite side of the plate, i.e., right-handed hitters bat better against left-handed pitchers. Often the difference is quite significant: a player might be an All-Star if he only had to bat against pitchers, who throw with one hand but would be back in the minors if he only had to bat against pitchers who throw with the other hand. Therefore, platooning makes a great deal of sense. You can probably raise your team's batting average significantly by platooning at one position. You might well platoon at four or five positions if you had enough players on your roster.

I admit that there might be other reasons against platooning. Perhaps players hit better if they're in the lineup every day, for instance. But "hitting is hitting" is not a reason. It may be that much of the audience agrees with his line of thinking, but I'd like to believe that the radio station could find someone a little more interesting to talk about sports for several hours a day. There may be good reasons why they can't, and I'd like to deal with those in another blog entry.

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