Numbers vs. Mojo
The Phillies are playing just really, really shitty baseball right now. As I write, they're about to be swept by Los Angeles of Anaheim of the Angels of Orange County of Nixonland, a defeat that will be their fifth straight, seventh out of eight, and ninth out of twelve. Depending on what happens in the Marlins-A's game now underway, they'll either be tied for the NL East division lead or one game ahead. Perhaps most exasperating is that the pitching has been relatively decent through most of this slide--much-maligned Opening Day starter Brett Myers gave them a good effort last night in a 6-2 loss, and ace Cole Hamels was great but for one pitch in seven innings today... and, as tends to happen when you hit a skid like this, the pitch was clobbered for a two-run homer.
I probably watch on average something like three out of every four games, thanks to mlb.tv. But owing to a flukish departure from my usual practice of not much leaving the house, I've missed a bunch of the recent losses: one of the Boston games, the first two against the Angels. Probably because of that, until today's game, which I've watched in its entirety, I was able to view the skid with relative equanimity: over the course of a six-month season, every team hits stretches where they lose a lot. The Phillies have a very good offense, but over the last week or so they've totaled something like 15 hits. Their best hitter, Chase Utley, was 0 for 24 until a double earlier today... and just now, as I was typing this sentence, a bench player for Anaheim, Reggie Willits, made a diving catch to rob Pat Burrell of a double that would have put the tying run at second with one out in the 8th.
This premise--that baseball on a day-to-day basis shows near-infinite randomness within a broadly predictable framework over a longer stretch of time (or a vast number of simulations)--is at the core of the revolution in statistical analysis that has overtaken the game in the last 30 years, and especially in the last ten. But when you're watching it--when you see Reggie Willits make a diving catch to take one away from Burrell or Chase Utley visibly sag after another poorly executed at-bat--it doesn't feel like something that's rationally explained. It just sucks, and makes one want to sacrifice a chicken or artificially manifest a rainout in hopes of prompting some supernatural reversal of fortune.