Meaningful baseball, or at least as meaningful as baseball gets when the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners are competing at it, began today in Tokyo, Japan, or more pertinent to me at least, at far too early an hour in North America. As one would expect to occur more often than it does early in the season, the ace pitchers of both teams held batters in check, sending the 1-1 tied game to extra innings, where Dustin Ackley drove in the winning run to match his previous RBI from a solo home run in the fourth inning. And also, Ichiro (!)!

The two teams will conclude their season opening mini-series tomorrow.

The Anatomy Of A Ground Ball Pitcher

Rob Neyer recently wrote about Brandon McCarthy for Baseball Nation, questioning whether or not the new poster boy for inducing gopher balls was really what should be referred to as a ground ball pitcher. I had the opportunity to hear McCarthy and Neyer speak with each other at the SABR Analytics Conference. I found two things especially noteworthy over the course of their conversation:

1) McCarthy idolizes Roy Halladay, and purposely adapted his game to be more like the Philadelphia Phillies starter, throwing an onslaught of sinkers and cutters low in the zone, which have a tendency to induce poor contact from hitters resulting in an increased number of ground balls.

2) This season, McCarthy had planned to throw more cutters higher in the zone with two strikes as a swing and miss strike out pitch.

In his first game, he definitely followed through on his ground ball strategy, with almost 70% of the balls put into play against him being of the worm burning variety. Batters got 16 ground balls against him, compared to three fly balls and one line drive. However, he only managed to strike out three batters.

Overall, he threw 82 pitches over seven innings, 58 of which were for strikes.

The Most Important Play Of The Game

Brendan Ryan’s lead off double in the eleventh against Andrew Carnigan was mathematically just as important to the Mariners winning as Dustin Ackley knocking him in with a single two batters later. Both increased their team’s win probability by 17.3%.

The Beyond PG-13 Nickname Of The Game

Collin “Reverse” Cowgill came into the game as a pinch runner in the bottom of the tenth inning and was promptly thrown out trying to steal second base. The caught stealing reduced the A’s win probability by 12.9%, right after Brandon Allen increased it 7.5% by reaching base on a Dustin Ackley error leading off the bottom of the tenth.

The Shamsky Award

Named after Art Shamsky, who single handedly increased the Cincinnati Reds’ chances of winning by 150.3% in a losing effort during a game in 1966, The Shamsky Award is given to the player on the losing team who contributes the most to them winning.

Yoenis Cespedes may have struck out twice, with Felix Hernandez making him look foolish with his change up, but the pricey Cuban rookie was one of only two players in Oakland’s lineup to have a positive WPA. He earned that distinction through a double in the seventh inning and getting hit by a pitch in his second big league at bat.

Weclome to The Show.

The Statistic You Won’t Believe

After today’s game, Ichiro (!) is on pace for 648 hits, and 162 deep drives that look as though they might break a tie in the ninth inning before finding the glove of a left fielder right in front of the warning track.

Twitter Traction

I’m not sure I can explain exactly why, but it was somewhat humourous to consider that the broadcast crew for the first game of the season on ROOT Sports was plying their trade without the benefit of actually being in Japan. It became more hilarious when Dave Simis and Mike Blowers began passively aggressively connoting that they should be there.


The Aggravating Thing That The Manager Did

In the bottom of the ninth inning of a tied baseball game, Seattle Mariners manager Eric Wedge decided to not put his best reliever in the game, instead opting to wait until his team had a lead to protect. The thing is, that opportunity will never arise if an inferior reliever gives up a run before your best reliever gets to pitch. It ended up working out for them this time, with Brandon League coming on to close things out in the eleventh inning, and collect the very first save of the 2012 season.

When the eighth hitter in the order leads off the bottom half of an extra inning by getting on base, I can understand a manager calling for the bunt. What I can’t understand is asking the runner on first to attempt a steal unless the odds are clearly in the favour of it being successful. In today’s game, A’s manager Bob Geren sent Collin Cowgill in the bottom of the tenth in what appeared to me to be a straight steal attempt. As previously mentioned, he was caught, Eric Sogard then flew out to leave the top of the order to come up with none on and two out.

The Unanswerable Multiple Choice Question Of The Game

Is the man seated behind home plate at a unique angle compared to everyone else in attendance:

A) Really, really, really into the game?

B) Acutely aware of the framing of the television broadcast in Seattle?

C) Suffering from the early onset of osteoporosis?

D) Simply living his life to the beat of a different drum?

Stray Observations

Once again, Ichiro (!)!

After one game, and only five plate appearances, I’m confident that Dustin Ackley has never heard of the sophomore slump.

I’ve got a feeling that it isn’t nearly as shocking that Japanese people eat Japanese food at baseball games as the producers of the broadcast might believe it to be.

Felix Hernandez had a great game today, striking out six batters and not walking any over eight innings. His performance is probably worth a bigger mention in the write up, it’s just that King Felix is so good, the exceptional has become ordinary.

I’m confident that the come back liner in the bottom of the eleventh that went between Brandon League’s face and his glove took off more whiskers than a six blade razor. Let’s call it a Gillette ball.

The Concluding Sad Girl Fact Of The Game