September 23, 2017

NESN: The Mindlessness And Ignorance Of O'Brien & Gomes Makes My Brain Hurt

During the bottom of the fourth inning of today's game against the Reds, NESN's Dave O'Brien and Jonny Gomes were talking about Cincinnati first baseman Joey Votto:
O'Brien: All-Star for the fifth time. Go back to August 1 and since then, his on-base percentage is .502. And isn't that a goal of his, to have a season on-base percentage of .500?

Gomes: It is such a far stretch and I don't think many people could even argue that a player could do that, but if there was one guy than can legitimately set that goal, of having a .500 on-base through 162, it's this man right here.

O'Brien: On pace to lead the National League in walks for the fifth time. He's going to walk about 140 times.

Gomes: In 2010, he was giving it a run, all the way down to the last week. He was going to triple-crown the league. That's the highest batting average, the most homers and the most RBI. And he was going up against Car-Go, over there in Colorado, who had a little more, a couple more, I think, home runs.
"Car-Go" is Carlos Gonzalez, something you probably know, but I'll bet a lot of NESN viewers were in the dark. Back in late August, Gomes explained what an "inherited runner" was. Today, he broke down the Triple Crown, something most baseball fans know at a very young age (they also learn that it's not a verb), but he didn't bother saying the actual name of the player he was talking about.

Gomes was wrong about the 2010 season. Votto was not all that close to the Triple Crown (and his numbers did not tail off in the final week.) Gonzalez and Votto finished 1-2 in batting average, but they were separated by 12 points (.336 to .324). Votto was third in home runs, five behind Albert Pujols (Gonzalez was tied for 8th with 31, six fewer than Votto). Pujols had 118 RBI, with Gonzalez at 117 and Votto at 113.

Also, Gomes said that Votto could "legitimately set that goal". Well, anyone can set a goal. It's "achieving that goal" that is the important part! And why switch gears to the Triple Crown? That has no connection to OBPing .500. (As long as I'm piling on Gomes, I'll say that he also referred to something as "extremely unique".)

Votto singled down the left field line. O'Brien said his hit was "probably [for] extra bases", but Votto was easily thrown out at second base by Andrew Benintendi. (Good call, Dave.)

Gomes then said two bizarre things. He called Benintendi's play "a great throw for the home crowd". But Benintendi plays for the "away team", so I don't think the home crowd was too pleased. And: "Talking about Joey Votto, .500 on-base, he gets out his first at-bat, gets a knock right there, he's sitting at a .500 on-base." Yes, Gomes compared two plate appearances with an entire season (which for Votto is almost 700 PAs).

In the top of the fifth:
O'Brien: You and I were talking about Joey Votto's stated dream one day to have a .500 on-base percentage over an entire season, how unlikely that is this day and age. He's a huge Ted Williams fan. Huge Ted Williams fan. Ted Williams did that five times in his career.

Gomes: I'll bet if you asked Joey, he'd be able to tell you the years that he did it.

O'Brien: I'll bet he could.

Gomes: And that's all Joey needs, man. He just needs the im-possible taken away. And it's no slouch, Joey can hit, he can walk, he can do all those things. So if Ted can do it, in his mind, he thinks he can do it. And I'm not going to question Joey Votto.
In the bottom of the ninth:
Gomes: You go back to that conversation we had about Joey Votto and his .500 on-base and how extreme that seems, but as the game ends today, he sits at a .500 on-base. One hit, one walk, two outs. I mean - that's pretty darn good.

O'Brien: We talked about how rare that is in the history of baseball. Ted Williams did it five times in his career - and two other times, his on-base percentage finished at .499.

Gomes: I'll tell you what, Ted's my favourite player of all-time, as well. And when you go and you look at his numbers, it is just truly mind-boggling.
Besides saying AGAIN that one game is an appropriate sample size when talking about achieving something over a six-month season, Gomes believes a player going 1-for-3 with a single and walk is "pretty darn good". I searched Baseball Reference's Play Index for games in which a player had at least four plate appearances, one hit, and one walk. If you're thinking "That has probably happened a whole lot", you are correct. In fact, it happened 44 times yesterday! And 269 times in the past week (September 16-22). I think Jonny Gomes needs to raise his bar of what constitutes "pretty darn good". (Or maybe that was a good day for him, when he played.)

Also, Gomes initially says that most people (and he sounded like he was including himself in that group) could not even put forth an argument that a professional baseball player could have a .500 OBP season. Then, only four innings later, he says when he looks at Ted Williams's stats, the numbers are mind-boggling. They are, but if Gomes truly knew anything about Williams's numbers, then he would know that Williams had an OBP of .553 one season! (That was in 1941. Over his last 52 games, his OBP was .591.)

If Williams was really Gomes's favourite player, Gomes would know that a .500 OBP is extremely rare but not impossible. It's happened 13 times (by five players) since 1901. One of those five players, Barry Bonds, had a four-season OBP run of .515, .581, .529, and .609 (2001-2004). Less than 15 years ago! And Gomes is acting like .500 is a pipe dream! (Also: Why, after saying that a .500 OBP is all-but-impossible, did Gomes not express any degree of surprise when OB said Williams did it "five times"?)

Now ... about that "five times".

O'Brien was likely reading something that was handed to him. He does this often, whether it's a factoid he saw in that day's press notes or something a guy in the production truck tells him. He passes it along without thinking much about it. That's why he calls attention to a player's "four-game hitting streak" or he makes a big deal about a player's batting average "against the AL West" or notes the Red Sox's impressive record when Sandy Leon drives in a run. None of those stats mean anything; they are hot air, noise pollution; but O'Brien announces them with the utmost seriousness.

If O'Brien had actually looked at Williams's stats, he would have seen that in one of those five seasons, TSW started two games and came to bat only 12 times! In 1952, Williams went 4-for-10, with two walks (all by the end of April). Yet O'Brien counts this as a full season of a .500+ OBP! I'm surprised O'Brien did not breathlessly announce that Williams had slugged .900 - a "forgotten" major league record!

Williams did pretty much the same thing the following season. In 1953, Williams debuted in August and played in 37 games. He played an entire game only three times. His batting line: .407/.509/.901. I'd like to ask O'Brien if he believes Williams's .407 average should be the standard answer to "What was the last .400 batting average?" rather than Williams's more famous .406 from twelve years earlier?

The facts: Ted Williams had three seasons in which he finished with an American League-leading OBP over .500. He also had full-season OBPs of .499, .499, .497, .497, and .490.

Here's something else I discovered this afternoon about Williams's extraordinary ability to get on base.


Since 1901, there have been only ten players who had even one season with an OBP that high. There was Williams and nine other guys:
Babe Ruth      -  9  (1920, 1921, 1923, 1924, 1926, 1927, 1930, 1931, 1932)
Barry Bonds    -  4  (2001, 2002, 2003, 2004)
Ted Williams   -  3  (1941, 1954, 1957)
Rogers Hornsby -  3  (1924, 1925, 1928)
Mickey Mantle  -  2  (1957, 1962)
Ty Cobb        -  1  (1915)
Tris Speaker   -  1  (1920)
Arky Vaughn    -  1  (1935)
Norm Cash      -  1  (1961)
Frank Thomas   -  1  (1994)
.482 is Ted Williams's career average OBP.

Only Ruth and Williams achieved a .500+ OBP at such different points in their career. Ruth did it 13 seasons apart; for Williams, it was 14 seasons, and then 17 seasons.

O'Brien said: "We talked about how rare that is in the history of baseball."

Actually, Dave, you did nothing of the kind. You said absolutely nothing about how rare a .500 OBP is, how often it had been done, who had done it, who had come close in recent years (or decades), etc. No context, no history, nothing. Well, not nothing. You did repeat some incorrect information. At least twice.

Joey Votto has been an on-base machine for years. His .428 career OBP is 12th all-time. NESN knew months ago that the Red Sox would be playing a series in Cincinnati. Why didn't someone at NESN prepare what I posted above? It would have taken very little time and been a perfect opportunity to inform viewers about (a) a legendary Red Sox player and (b) a current underrated superstar who they probably don't know that much about. But NESN did nothing, and gave false and misleading information.

(Thanks to Jere for bringing the on-air conversation (and the absurdity of the "five times") to my attention!)

1 comment:

allan said...

Twice in his career, Votto has had five walks in a game. Both times he went 0-0.

September 23, 2013 vs Mets
1st inning: 6-pitch walk
2nd inning: 4-pitch walk, RBI
4th inning: 6-pitch walk
7th inning: 6-pitch walk
9th inning: 4-pitch intentional walk

August 27, 2017vs Pirates
1st inning: 11-pitch walk
3rd inning: 11-pitch walk
5th inning: 9-pitch walk
7th inning: 6-pitch walk
9th inning: 6-pitch walk
(43 pitches seen)

Williams walked 5 times in a game once: May 23, 1951. He went 0-for-1, scored two runs, drove in two runs! (No one else has ever had a game with those numbers.)