Nationals Baseball: Calvinist Sports

Friday, May 02, 2014

Calvinist Sports

Boswell wrote a column yesterday that of course made me mad. But it didn't make me mad because of some sort of terrible uniqueness. Instead it was the banality of it that angered me. It's a column you'll see in a couple dozen cities every year always saying a variation of the same thing:
We won before because we played like winners. We are losing now because we aren't.  It was because we cared more... or maybe less. Or because we had more adversity... or had time to gel under some fortunate circumstances. Or because we were veterans who knew how to play... or youngsters who didn't know any better... or the perfect balance of the two.  Regardless of the reason, one thing is clear, the team could play that well again, if only they got over whatever mental hang-ups are currently holding them back. 
That's not a direct quote from any one of those, but it is the subtext of all of them. It's nothing special to Boz to write a column like this. It's human nature. While I can tell you the "on the field why" of where the success of the 2012 Nats came from (career-type performances from all the bench players and the Top 4 starters) I can't give you the "off the field why". Why did Lombo, Moore, Bernadina, Tracy, Solano, Suzuki, Leon hit like they did all in the same year? Why did Gio and ZNN and Stras and Detwiler all have arguably their best seasons in that same season (well actually the standard performance aging curve would predict that pretty much for Gio and ZNN... but I'm getting off track). I can't tell you for sure. And in the absence of concrete rational explanation, we make up ones that very well could be irrational. That's how our mind works. We need answers.

Dumb luck is probably the right one but there's enough doubt about that, that things like spirit, heart, momentum, leadership, and grit, things we all agree DO effect games (we just can't quantify it), seem like just as good of answers. The problem is when you go in that direction for your explanation it can force you into some logical arguments that aren't fair to the team. If the Nats won in 2012 because they were mentally tough, well then, if they don't win now, it must be because they are no longer mentally tough, right? That does a disservice to the players on the field, as if they could take the World Series if only they had bigger balls and bigger hearts. It also does a disservice by letting management off the hook.

The 2013 Nats didn't lose out because of bad leadership or toughness. They didn't make the playoffs because Rizzo built a terrible bench and never corrected the problem. But to those that believe the former, Rizzo skates. What are the ramifications of that sort of public attitude? Does it cause Rizzo to feel ok building an adequate bench, but not the best one possible? Does it make the Lerners feel enough money was spent to win and it was only because the players didn't try hard enough that they didn't win? Don't know. But in a game where 25-28 teams are honestly trying to make the playoffs in a given year little things like that may matter.

Anyway, here's to sweeping the Phillies and a column after it saying they've won 5 in a row because they are a good team with excellent starting pitching that's beating some mediocre to bad opponents. 


blovy8 said...

Yeah, that was a hacky column. Humans look for patterns, it's tough to resist it. No matter how many columns he writes or Sean Forman goes out to in a table, it doesn't resolve itself neatly.

But that's as obvious and hacky as anything, so screw it.

Bjd1207 said...

Man you're so right. And the language these guys use at the top of the article just draws you in with so many tautologies that you're agreeing with everything by the third paragraph. Then they drop a line like this:

"The biggest disappointment in the Nats since ’12 is the loss of a sense of team play, cohesion, focus on details, the ability to pick each other up and do it smiling. What happened to those guys?"

Wtf does that even mean? They don't do enough 1-2-3 GO TEAM shouts?

Chinatown Express said...

Calvinist Sports would presume that player and team are saved by God's grace alone. Which is actually a pretty good summation of what MLB playoffs are like.

Yeah, Boz is a hack. It's too bad he was in Ken Burns' Baseball. I've got lots of warm feelings toward him b/c of that.

Nick said...

LOL at the last line: "The Nats used to know how to do that. Will they again?"

The only way the Nats can win this year is if they dig deep and learn to be tough like in 2012? This hack "journalism" is why I only read Boz to laugh

Harper said...

blovy8 - Hack commenter!

BJD - It means "they are losing & not because of one obvious thing that I can point to"

CXP - No no. I meant Calvin Murphy - former FT shooting expert. Coolidge?

CXP/Nick - honestly, Boz is a good writer. He writes well. And he's not completely immune to forward thinking. But at this point he's a fan and thus falls into fan traps. And hell - its a long season. Can't write every week and not come up with something hacky.

So hack column, but I wouldn't call him a hack.

Chaz R said...

I watch or attend every Nats game, and have done so since 2011. I've been a fan since the team arrived and season ticket holder since the new stadium opened. I can honestly detect no difference in the team's spirit and camaraderie in from 2012 to 2013 to today. Certainly I don't have insider access, but form my observations they have all largely seemed to get along very well. One thing that has always impressed me is throughout the adversity in the past year, they never got done on each other and largely seemed to stick together and get through day to day, not letting the past affect them- well maybe not Storen :-)

Eric said...

Harper for Pres! ;)

Anyway, I like Boswell. I think he strikes a pretty good balance between praise and criticism. Sometimes he sounds like he's just ranting, but hey, it's a column.

I will say I haven't tried to discern an imbalance between his jabs at players vs. management; it's entirely possible that he absolves the latter at the expense of the former on a regular basis.

Still, I think he's accurate in pointing out that, for whatever reason, the Nats have struggled to play cohesive ball since the beginning of last year, September 2013 and the last 2 weeks or so notwithstanding (I'm very encouraged on this front of late, actually). But, that doesn't in any way absolve Rizzo of anything as far as the 2013 bench goes. Not that I'm asserting he deserves blame for that particular offensive crater; he very well may deserve it, but I'm far from knowledgeable enough to assert as much.

Anonymous said...

Totally off topic, May is looking really nice at the start. The Marlins swept the Braves! Oh yeah and the Nats have enough well spaced days off to go with a 4-man rotation until Fister is ready to go... assuming no setbacks.

I think May is going to be a very good month for Nationals Baseball.

John C. said...

I hope that the Nats sweep the Phillies, but I'd be happy if they won the series and not astonished if they didn't. Not because they're a particularly good team, but because they are at home and have three particularly good pitchers going (Lee, Burnett, Hamels). For a team missing most of the heart of its batting order, that's a tough row to hoe. I'll keep my fingers crossed, though. Go Nats!

Nattydread said...

Déjà vous, baby, déjà vous all over again. But did you notice that Tyler Moore's balls got bigger?

Donald said...

Speaking of tired tropes, you know there are going to be all sorts of stories about another Strasburg meltdown following an error. Yet 2 weeks ago, Zimmermann gave up 3 runs to St.Louis following a Rendon error and no one mentions anything about his mental toughness.

blovy8 said...

What I noticed was that Strasburg pitched pretty well in the rest of the game. If I were pitching for the Nats, I'd feel pretty good about not taking losses regardless of a few mistakes given the way the club is hammering bullpens.

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