The difference, in baseball, between victory and defeat can be– often is— a matter of inches. We can see this above, with these images of how close Miguel Cabrera was to snagging a pair of key doubles in yesterday’s come-from-behind win over the Tigers. But it was also evident in the mere inches Prince Fielder beat the ball to first base on a pair of hits that didn’t make it out of the infield, in the slight difference between a ball and a strike during Casey Janssen’s impressive ninth, and in essentially every single other play that took place over the course of the six-plus hours from the scheduled first pitch until Andy Dirks lined out to Maicer Izturis.

The difference is so razor thin that the notion of players being able to control the outcome of every action is obviously absurd, and yet expecting such control, precisely at the most crucial times of a game, is exactly what many fans often find themselves doing. That’s just the nature of fandom, yet if naturalness was the singular prerequisite for something being publicly acceptable, every day there’d be armies of dudes shitting and pissing in the streets. The visceral reactions that sports can provoke have a lot to do with what draws us to them, I think, but… holy shit, the way they get vented sometimes is just bizarre to me– not just for the matters of inches that make all the difference in the games we love, but in baseball, especially, because of how utterly fucking banal all the failure is.

The game isn’t simply an exercise in random chance and “shit happens,” but with the balance between victory and defeat so delicate, it doesn’t take a lot for a poor pitcher to get out an excellent hitter, a poor batter to tag one off a great pitcher, an OK fielder to throw just behind a slow runner, or worse team to beat a better one. Sometimes fortuitous breaks continue to go one way unabated with little rhyme or reason (see: Orioles, Baltimore (2012 season)), but far more than anything else, talent gives a club an edge against these faint margins. It may not do so in a short-run tournament like the WBC, or in out-of-whack early-season standings, over the course of a season, it will show through.

The Blue Jays teams that won the 1992 and 1993 World Series’ won fewer than six games for every ten that they played. Think about that: the greatest teams this club has produced– that they’ve talked about around here for twenty years, and that they’re still talking about– lost sixty-six and sixty-seven times in a year respectively.

That’s a lot of failure. A lot of uncontrollable results.

If this season’s version of the Jays wants to match those accomplishments, they were no less likely to after falling on the wrong side of this game of inches in their first two series’ as they are today, following yesterday’s barely eked-out sigh-of-relief victory. That truth doesn’t gibe very well with the bipolar psychology of fandom, and so maybe that means those of us (say, for example, me) crusading for sanity are really just pissing into the wind. But if the message of yesterday’s delicious utter destruction of panicky idiocy was anything, it’s this: trust in talent. More than anything else– far, far more than looking at playoff odds with 154 games to go– it will determine who prevails.




Top image via commenter Brumfield Wants Noise.

Comments (101)

  1. Bang on

  2. The randomness of baseball can really mess with your head if you think about it too much. It’s nerve wracking.

  3. Why didn’t he (Cabrera) just catch them?

  4. Good article, and I agree completely; but let’s not pretend that the Blue Jays losses so far have been by a matter of inches

    • Of course they have.

    • about 1/4 of an inch is the difference between a homerun and a pop-up

    • Way to miss the point. The only loss that was beyond “inches” was the Dickey massacre last time he pitched.

      And you could almost argue that was a loss by millimetres – as a cracked nail has been posited to be partly to blame.

  5. I don’t know…… this makes waaaaay too much sense.

  6. ‘er’ ‘re’ gardless …… boni is not a 2nd Baseman….. but great write up all the same

  7. Exactly. Even the 1927 Yankees lost 44 games.

  8. I wish DJF and Wilner and everyone else would just stop pandering to the knee-jerk panicmongers among us. Just ignore them, for fuck sakes, and talk about actual baseball. I don’t get this insistence on constantly calling out the idiots and pointing out how stupid they are. You want to rail on about small sample size? Well, the trade-Rasmus crew and the you-suck-Dickey crew and the #fireGibons crew are just that — a very small sample of Jays fans. Trying to talk these morons down off the ledge in post after post after post just lends them legitimacy.

    • There’s not much to talk about otherwise as patterns haven’t developed yet due to the aformentioned small sample size. Also ignoring idiots is difficult when they demand to be talked back from the ledge over and over and over again.

      But yeah Dickey’s a bum and the jay’s are doomed to fail

      • I agree – Jeff Blair did a whole segment last week on “talking people off the ledge”. Fuck it – let the morons jump off the ledge. May Front Street and Blue Jays Way be littered with the corpses of the idiot dead, their ankles crushed as they leapt from the bandwagon!

    • You don’t have to like it, but the conversation about a team is part of it. There are plenty of things you can read if all you want is dry analysis with none of these flourishes, so…

      And pandering? Not exactly the definition I’d use for “calling people idiots.” And what are you suggesting, that Wilner should screen out all panicky calls? Yeah, that’d go over.

      • He tends to engage them a lot on Twitter. That’s really my only gripe with him.

        The wackjob callers make good radio, though.

        • So he can’t engage with them over twitter but he can engage with them over the radio? #smrtbaseball

  9. I agree that, when it comes to writing about and analyzing the game, a more rationale approach such as this far more enjoyable.

    However, when it comes to watching the game – as you alluded to, visceral reactions are part of the experience. I want to yell “Holy fuck Boneface! You couldn’t throw out Fielder?! You’re the worst!” or “Shit! Another walk?! Our season is over now” because, in the end, it’s just sports. We’re making a big deal out of nothing anyways so why not throw in hyperbole and overreaction? It can often serve to make the experience just that much more exciting and the wins just that much more satisfying.

  10. Re the game of inches thing – has anyone else noticed the HIGH number of “ground balls with eyes” that are finding holes out of the infield – and then wondered if Butterfield’s absence is having an impact? I know it’s early but it just seems like last year our defense was perfectly positioned more often than not. And this year so far it feels like the opposite.

    • I think that’s more a function of the crrent IF lack of range than precise postioning.

      • idk, Reyes and boni are two of the fastest guys in baseball……..i believe range has something to do with speed, does it not?

        • Not for an infielder. Range is often side to side..quick bursts of movement, fast twitch action, as well as reaction time to bat hitting ball. Speed is a straight line phenomenon.

          • ya, no, i dont think thats right. side to side speed, and acceleration are all factors common amung fast players and base stealers.

            reaction time maybe, but Reyes is known for his range, not lack of……boni has done a great job of knocking balls down, its picking them up for the throw that are his issue, that has nothing to do with range and everything to do with his arm and glove, or lack there of.

            • Reyes is known for having a bullet for an arm and league average range, what the fuck are you on about?

              Speed is but one aspect of range, that much must surely be obvious or all center fielders would be shortstops.

          • Exactly. Range for an infielder starts and ends with making the right read and getting a quick jump on it.

      • Meh… they’ll be fine once they get Izturis back to second and Lawrie back in.

      • Funny video but I said I know it’s early – that counts for something, doesn’t it? And if we’ can’t talk about anything because of the small sample size thing then all of us should not make any observations at all until when exactly – June? Probably better for my work productivity.

        • Haha, sorry I couldn’t resist. But it really is too early to give that much credit to Butters. Although, it is an interesting thought. Didn’t Butters get a bunch of his analysis from a Jays’ employed stat guru? Does anyone know if that guy went with Butters?

    • I think the Jays’ lack of infield (and outfield?) range is a real thing. Lawrie should really do a lot to help that.

  11. Great illustration of ‘game of inches’. A slightly more athletic 3B catches those balls (or not if positioned differently – see?). They are caught if they are hit an inch or two lower – which the hitter has no control over.

    That being said, Eemeeleeyooo Boneyfaceyoo needs to get on the Delabar arm-strength program. Those be some soft tosses over to 1B on those fielder infield hits.

  12. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a sigh of relief after an early season game than I did yesterday.

    It felt like a season turner (can’t believe I would say that about an April game)

  13. on tv, Buck was talking during this graphic and said “you couldn’t throw a better ball to third than this”
    if this wasn’t a hit, and was in fact thrown to third then thats a terrible throw. A better throw would have been into the third baseman’s glove!

    • Buck said that after the DeRosa copy of EE’s hit. He meant if you had walked out there and thrown the ball, trying to copy EE’s hit exactly, you couldn’t have done it as well as DeRosa did with his bat.

  14. Let us also not forget that Cabrera not catching those balls was not simply luck. He also lacked the ability to jump high enough to catch it.

    • Yep lawrie might be able to make that catch. Thats why he is important to this team. So they dont get fucked by those kinds of hits. Thats the talent part of baseball helping you win games.

    • It is totally luck, because the hitters were lucky to hit it at just exactly enough height to eluce Miggy. Are you saying that with a better leaper at 3B the hitters would skillfully hit those balls a little higher? Dumb.

  15. I agree with this post, and Stoeten’s long-view / rational / (I think it’s also fair to say) somewhat ‘default’ optimistic (based on the talent we have, it makes sense) approach.

    I also understand why us as fans sometimes feel the need to vent in an overly-reactionary way. When shit is going terribly like in the fifth inning yesterday, I think it’s okay (not necessarily intelligent, but that’s not the point) to say stuff like “why is Buehrle so bad? Delabar sucks! Our offense is terrible! etc.” And then those same people will then praise the team when JPA does his thing…

    It can be annoying and it’s futile as well, but that’s just the nature of this thing called fandom. It’s also why we are the pure fans / commentators, and Stoeten is the fan / writer and blogger / journalist, who gets paid to have a more level-headed view. I know he understands this, but I just think we should ALL keep it in mind next time someone (like me, for example) says something in the moment… ignore it!

    Anyway, thanks for the post. Sorry if this seems overly obvious / unnecessary.

    • Obvious but needed. I agree it’s okay to lose yourself in the moment and spout of some silly shit, and it really is what sports is about. But after the game, if one sees themselves as a rational fan they should be able to still view things from the big picture and not just base their opinions on their earlier emotions.

      It’s that latter combination of proclamations of being a rational fan and having opinions based off the emotions of yesterday that irks me personally.

    • I don’t get how you are a fan when you say a guy sucks after 2 bad innings. If I told my wife that she sucked because dinner is a little too salty one day, I promise you she wouldn’t consider me a “fan”.

  16. To be fair, that final Red Sox game was more of a “game of hundreds of feet.” But ya, we’re still gonna be awesome.

    Having said that, its less unreasonable to panic about the Blue Jays than it is about some other teams. No one here would disagree that the Jays’ players’ likely results are more volatile than most other teams’ because of how many players are playing for a new team, or in a new league, or in a less friendly ballpark, or are coming off of major injuries. It’s not like if the Nationals lost a few games and had some shitty performances, because they have basically the same awesome team as ever.

    Of course, having been a Jays fan since 1998, everyone should still be fucking ecstatic because a projection of “unknowably volatile” is infinitely better than “probably shitty.” The WORST case scenario for this team is to be slightly better than every other Jays team since 2008. And that gives me a boner(facio).

  17. I’ve been a fan of this site for a few years now. Have to say though this was an amazing write up, really well done man. Keep it up.

  18. MVP

  19. Great write-up. It all makes sense.

    But Cooper still should have tagged him. JUST TAG HIM!

  20. on an unrelated topic, this game looks like it will be a go today, 1 hr from first pitch, appears to be clear skys, but we may see some light rain. heavy coming later today

  21. on a related topic the nijia himself…..
    “I know that all we have to report on is what we see each day, and it’s going to be a story. You just can’t react to tiny sample sizes at this point,” Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos said prior to Wednesday’s contest.

  22. on a related topic again….

    Brett is playing today in FL…..yaye Brett, hurry the fuck up already!

  23. Just terrific, Stoeten. Exactly why I visit this site, daily.

  24. fuckin eh buddy, fuckin eh

  25. zen

  26. This team is good. We’re just not rolling yet on all cylinders.

    Game of inches. Hit a ball on the sweet spot a quarter inch under the ball, it’s a dinger. Hit it on the sweet spot a quarter inch higher, it’s a line drive out.

  27. Fuck am I getting tired of the term “sample size” being part of my beloved baseball.

  28. Visceral reaction or not I still need someone to unburn my Jays gear that “fell” into the path of my “blowtorch” after Delabar clearly “intentionally walked” in 2 runs.


    • Can I point something out here? While you sat in your comfy couch in your comfy living room watching that, he was throwing with a completely numb frozen hand, attached to an arm with a metal plate or some shit, throwing a ball faster than you have ever come close to throwing it, off a hill, with cameras on him and the bases loaded and freezing rain pelting him.

      All the pitchers get a pass. For both teams. And we got away with about 6 balls that were called strikes in the 9th. Yesterday was completely random. The Jays get credit for fighting all the way. The win itself was pretty much a coin flip.

  29. mass hysteria always begins somewhere, and for the Toronto team fan base it usually spawns from the media.

    • Right? Fuck Stoeten and his media kin.

      • Wait – but he just told us to calm the fuck down… ah sheeit – that should teach me to read the article before commenting. But it won’t.

        Panic on the streets of – cos the baseball that they constantly play – it says nothing to me about my life – hang the blessed Stoeten

    • Social media at least gets an assist in the spawning.

    • I think there is something to this.

      • 50 odd years of hockey futility, 20 odd years in baseball, fairly miserable basketball and soccer teams. Pissing about sports teams and expecting the worst is part of the fabric of Toronto fandom (and media coverage). Not saying it’s a good thing but it is the reality. Until the Jays or Leafs start competing for championships, it’s going to be tough to shake the mindset.

        For better or for worse, people like clinging to an identity.

  30. Very interesting poins were made in that article.
    I just wonder if it would have been written or posted had the Jays lost yesterday.

    • Maybe not the same words, but certainly the same message. Why would you think otherwise?

      • Because we’re fans and we’d been slapped by this post had we lost. We’re in a much better mindset to accept to read that, and maybe you were more capable of nailing it so perfectly because of yesterday ‘s game outcome

  31. Is it raining in Detroit!

  32. Does anyone know how to make a graph like win probability, except instead of the outcome being winning the game, it being making the playoffs, and instead of each point on the graph being an individual at bat, it is an individual team’s win/loss?

    I think that would really well illustrate the point about not over-reacting to being below .500 this early in the season. Sure, we are slightly less likely to live up to expectations that everyone had, but if those expectations were 50% likely to be attained at the start of the season, it’s like 49% now.

    It’s the season equivalent of being down 1-0 in the first; sure you’re a little less likely to win than if you blanked ‘em in the top half of the first, but the WE is like 45% – and no one should be panicking about being down that little with a lineup this good still coming to the plate.

    • Coolstandings has some of that stuff, if you look at individual teams. Here’s what Oakland’s playoff odds looked like last year, for example:

      (Red = Playoffs, Black = WC, Blue = Division)

      • Ya, that’s exactly it, thanks. Nice visual representation that the day-day swings don’t really matter that much this early on (and even those are likely an over-representation w/r/t the Jays this year; it works on historical data and historically teams that start slow are more likely to be actually bad than a good team starting slowly, the latter being the case with the Jays this year).

      • This is fucking amazing.

        Coming into October 1st the A’s had less than 30% chance of winning their division.

      • That site does it nicely too – according to that, a win today adds a +0.1% chance of making the playoffs. Of course I’ll be cheering them on today, but goes to show individual games matter very little next to the long-term trends.

  33. Bonafacio’s lateral movement with balls hit to his right up the middle is rec-ball-esque. He plants his feet at times when he has to throw on the run.

    The question is now, with his dee that bad, where do we put him? Platoon him with Rasmus?

  34. Ultimately it’s about the nature of fandom. The majority of fans, myself included, have a love-hate relationship with the nature of sport. If we actually loved baseball, we’d watch any team and and game, we’d enjoy the unpredictability of the game, and we’d appreciate the skills on display.

    But we’re not really baseball lovers, we’re Jays ‘fanatics’. That means we couldn’t give a toss about the beauty of the game, the skills on display, or the unpredictability of the thing. We want out team to win, 100% of the time, because the rest of the time is no fun. A 14-13 victory is just a good as a 1-0 pitchers’ duel. A lucky bloop is just as satisfying as a line drive. A 0-1 loss where both pitchers go 9 innings will have little enjoyment in it, for all the talent on display. We don’t watch baseball for the entertainment. We watch it for the wins.

    We’re fans, we’re fanatics. We are not logical by definition. So the hope that we can ever look at anything dispassionately is ultimately futile.

    I know in my logical mind that a 3-5 start is no biggy, but I also know that I’ve extracted almost zero enjoyment out of the 1st 8 games of this season, and that even a win is just a temporary relief from worry, until the next game, and not something that actually provides much in the way of pleasure. After yesterday’s final out – I just exhaled and said ‘thank fuck’, because I was spared the stupid amount of disappointment I expected for about 21 more hours. What is that? That’s certainly not logical or proportionate response to my team doing well. That’s not pleasure – it’s just an absence of pain. But it’s what I expect from sport, and what keeps me coming back for more.

    Fandom – like drug addiction, but without the good bit.

    • Some people can be both jays fans and baseball fans, alot on here actually.

      • This. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching the Nats and the Braves so far this year and I’m looking forward to them slugging it out for the Division Title this year. Am I not a Jays fan?

        • Well, maybe I’m exaggerating for effect. Yes, of course you can be a fan of a team and also the sport. I’m just trying to get in the head of the doom-merchants in a way that understands where they’re coming from, and doesn’t just call them idiots and band-wagoneers.

          On the other hand, screw ‘em all. It’s 8 games. Calm the fuck down part-timers.

          The problem is, I secretly pushed the panic button in about the 4th inning of the home opener, and it’s me who I need to persuade to calm the fuck down. So who the hell am I to criticize?

  35. If all fans were rational and we didnt worry about losses because it was a small sample size, things would be boring.
    Talk radio and blog posting is more entertaining when you have different view points.
    What would Wilner do if everyone that called in said be patient the team will get better, its a 162 game season etc etc?
    Having said that, the #firegibbons thing was totally retarded and worse that a MSM reported on it.

    • Are you kidding me? What does MSM stand for?

      Whoever wrote #firejohngibbons can suck on my ass after I spent a full day at a Mexican buffet tainted with lysteria.

      • Kidding you? about what?
        dont you think its entertaining to listen to some guy lose his shit about a loss on jays talk and have Wilner lose it on him?
        Main Stream Media…I.E The Toronto Sun,

  36. Jays are going to start rolling soon. Cant wait to watch/listen/read all the dick-eaters eat dick. No offence.

  37. Right on. This made me Google “best mlb record in history”:

    Fuck, the 2001 Seattle Mariners were good. Ichiro won the ROY and MVP, Boone had 141 RBIs, and Freddy Garcia was outstanding. 116 wins. Lost to the Yankees in 5.

  38. This post kind of says that there are close plays in baseball and that affects the results of these games. With the best will in the world this is fairly obvious.

    I think this is also true in most professional sports.

    I also agree on the ‘don’t bother talking them down from the ledge’ comments.

    As per jays talk most people aren’t on the ledge. The superior tone adopted towards these less enlightened tones does you little credit when repeated ad nauseam.

    There’s lots of great work on this site but please stop whipping this dead horse already. It’s early – most fans know this and there’s other stuff to analyze…

    • You have a point. Much as I like Wilner, really – what do you expect from a phone in? Why would you call in to say something positive? “Hi Mike, Reyes looks good”. Yeah – end of conversation.

      It’s the same principle as a ‘town hall meeting’. Give a microphone to the general population, and nobody is going to use it to say ‘you know what – the town council is really awesome, keep up the good work’. Also – phone ins attract the dumbest of dumbasses, and depend on controversy and negativity to succeed. Why do you think Rush Limbaugh still has a job?

      • Correction re ‘dumbest of dumbasses’.

        The dumbest of dumbasses are commenters on blogs, obviously.

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