Feel.

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I got lots of feedback from Friday’s brief report on
what Michael Young contributed over the last week, generously helping me see the
light on the existence vel non of
“clutch.”  There were some very nice essays, impressive doses of condescension
and fist-banging and pity, and a smackdown or two grounded in formula and my
apparent failure to appreciate the significance of sample
size.

 

I’ve been writing this report for nearly 11 years now,
and it’s all documented: there are plenty of objective numbers and percentages
on which I’ve hung various points, and there always will be.  But those will
always be balanced by two things: one, my frequent leaving of the journalistic
objectivism card (which some of you are quick to point out I’m not worthy of
anyway) at the door, since I write as a fan, occasionally driven by emotion, and
two, my belief in “feel.”

 

I always believed, in Little League and Legion, and in
middle school and in high school, and in college and draft tryouts, and even in
Sunday softball, that feel, confidence, groove, zone, all play a part. 

 

Obviously, I didn’t know that David Murphy would hit
that home run off Brad Bergesen to lead off the fifth today.  I wasn’t even
convinced he would get a base hit in that spot.  But I felt good about his
chances of having a good at-bat, despite his 0-for-2009 to that point, knowing
from my stupid little subjective
experience playing this game at the stupid little level that I did that there’s
nothing better than coming up to bat right
after
making a huge defensive play, whether it’s laying out to snare
a ball you have no business catching, or gunning down a runner at the plate.  If
you weren’t locked in before, making a play like that will go a long way, and
you’re lucky enough for it to be the third out, and on top of that to be leading
off the next inning, all the better.

 

Even though I’m pretty sure there’s no formula for
that.  Or any evidence whatsoever to support my stupid little
premise.

 

Hang on.  Let me go grab this from about a month ago so
I don’t have to spend any time rewording it.

 

This is not a suggestion that . . .
any sabermetrician or fan who eats up the crunchy numbers is wrong, or is even
looking at the wrong things.  It’s not a declaration that they’re missing a
point that I’m uniquely privy to.  But when it comes to defense, and
particularly when it comes to judging defenders I see play 150 times a year, I
trust my eyes.  When the ball leaves the bat, headed in the general direction of
Davis or Kinsler or Boggs or Young, or toward a place that one of them has a
chance to intercept it, there’s a gut feel I have on whether the range and the
grab and the throw will be made.  I’m not going to take time to look down at my
Dewan report while the ball is in play.

 

I don’t have a problem with people whose worship for
this game is heavily numerical.  I use statistics freely and often, though
admittedly (and deliberately) not often enough to satisfy that camp.  I’m a
baseball fan, driven by emotion.  Clearly, I will say things that aren’t
researched on occasion, I will ignore objectivity enthusiastically, and I will
celebrate things like a player stepping up so frequently in the ninth inning
over a five-day span that teams and reporters are scrambling to call Elias for
some perspective.

 

When Murphy stepped in to start the fifth today, my
faith – numbers be damned – was that he brought with his bat and his helmet and
his batting gloves an extra little edge that he didn’t have five minutes
earlier.  I won’t sit here and try to persuade any of you that I’m right about
this.  But I won’t concede that I’m wrong, either.

 

I doubt Jacoby Ellsbury knew the percentages when he
broke for the plate as Andy Pettitte went into the windup, after the veteran
lefty had surrendered two unintentional walks, a double, and an intentional walk
in the inning, putting his club behind 2-1 in the fifth frame of a game that
could end up completing a Red Sox sweep.  Doubt Ellsbury cared about the numbers
as much as he knew Pettitte was probably mentally on the ropes, and to an
extent, maybe Terry Francona was right there with
him.

 

When Jimmy Johnson would open the second half with an
onside kick, that wasn’t sabermetrics.  It was
feel.

 

Please don’t hesitate to fire back again, sharing with
me how ashamed you are at my blindness to numerical reason, my misplaced respect
for the concept of “clutch” and the importance of feel.  It won’t change my
mind.  And I won’t try to change yours, because believe it or not, I do believe
in numbers and rely on them a lot.  Just not all the
time.

 


You can read more from Jamey
Newberg
at www.NewbergReport.com.

 

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