When baseball fans huddle together and complain about the masses one of the biggest complaints about Washington DC’s sports fan base is that there are too many football fans. That they view baseball through the football colored glasses of a short season and reactionary moves. A player has a bad week or two to start the season and it is time to get rid of them, or a pitcher has a bad inning and it is time for the manager to come get them. The type of responses to baseball that a baseball fan wouldn’t have. The lack of understanding that it is a long season riddled with small sample sizes and that players that are slumping at one moment can suddenly not only regress to the mean but past it and become the hottest player on the team.
The Washington DC fan base is reactionary, but explaining baseball to a football fan shouldn’t be that difficult. In some cases baseball may even be behind football when it comes to understanding some of the complexities of the game and what leads to winning. Nearly every football analyst on the planet talks about clock management and time of possession as being keys to the game. Baseball is no different. There is no clock in baseball but the team that ends up with the most base runners is most likely to win. Time of possession in football and OBP in baseball are close enough that one can be used to explain the other.
Think about all the casual baseball fans that are starting to think Joey Votto is a bad baseball player because he walks too much. That he is bad at his sport because he doesn’t give up possession. That he avoids making outs. Could you ever imagine a football fan, casual or otherwise, saying that a running back is bad because they don’t fumble enough? That is completely ridiculous but so is the idea that the middle of the order batters are RBI men and their job is to drive in runs and if that means making outs then that is what they should do. And while it sounds great to put a run on the board the thing left unsaid in the sac fly vs. walk debate is that the pitch a batter is walking on is out of the strike zone and therefore not a pitch a batter wants to swing at. Sac flies are happy accidents. They happen on either line drives or fly balls deep enough in the outfield that the outfielder can’t throw out the base runner. In both of those cases the pitch needs to be squared up by the batter and that is much harder to do on a pitch out of the strike zone or the type of pitch a batter would take a walk on.
Now imagine yourself having to explain this to a football fan. It would be very easy. Trying to hit a sac fly on a pitch out of the strike zone would be like a football team trying for a 50 yard field goal on third down. It simply doesn’t make sense. Taking the walk doesn’t lead to immediate points, but neither would running a play and trying for a first down on third down as every single football team in the world would do, and swinging at a bad ball has as much if not less of a chance of leading to scoring as the attempt of a 50 yard field goal. Yet there are analyst in baseball, employed by major networks, that insist a sac fly is greater than a walk. I cannot even imagine Jon Gruden saying that going for a 50 yard field goal on third down is a good idea.
Even with a good kicker that can make a majority of his 50 yard field goal attempts the idea of attempting one on third down is laughable. It is putting points on the board but it is giving up on a potential touchdown and last time I checked seven is still greater than three. Think about the walk in this way. It is putting an additional runner on base and therefore an additional run. If the first batter does get the sac fly and the next man up hits a double then there would still be only one run on the board whereas if the first batter walks and then a double is hit there is the potential that two runs would be scored or at the very least the situation is runners second and third with one out instead of a runner on second with two outs. The first situation is much better, still has a run across the plate, and has the potential to lead to an even bigger inning, and that is really the thing. When settling for a field goal a team is giving up the chance at seven points to settle for three and the same goes in baseball. A sac fly over a walk is settling for one run instead of trying for a big inning and again the sac fly is no guaranteed thing. The batter isn’t swinging at the pitch he takes a walk on because it isn’t a pitch he can drive anywhere and likely won’t lead to a sac fly in the first place.
Washington DC is full of football fans and with that football team in continued disarray and a baseball team that is supposed to be pretty good more and more of the Washington sports fans are going to flock to baseball. It has already started to happen and has lead to some frustration as the football fan mentality has been blamed for the increased anxiety over players in slumps and love for players that really aren’t that good (Steve Lombardozzi). Remember that there are concepts in both sports that are similar enough that one can be used to explain the other. Time of possession and OBP is what I choose to look at, but there are others and understanding the two sports in the same manner isn’t as hard as one might think. In both sports the team that wins the majority of the time is going to be the team that spends more time on offense and less time on defense. In football that is achieved by converting first downs and in baseball by getting on base. To put it another way a football team wants to avoid getting to fourth down as long as possible and a baseball team wants to avoid the third out as long as possible.
More and more Washington football fans are going to turn to the Nationals for a sports fix in 2014, but instead of writing them off as neanderthal fans of a lesser sport use their favorite sport to illustrate the beauty of baseball.