How MLB.tv and stat sites turned me into a pessimist

This is going to sound a lot like whining. And I apologize in advance. And I know that I am supposed to be more journalistically inclined. But I am not. If I was getting paid to write, I would do that. But there is a reason on my other writing home that the word, “Fan,” is in the title. I have always written about the game from a fan’s perspective. And right about now, this team from the Bronx has me about as pessimistic as a fan can be.

Our own Matt Bove and Kevin Ducey made me think about this new realization about my world view as a fan. This was our recent Twitter conversation:

There was more to the conversation but the gist of it was about my pessimism and Matt trying to get me to stop being that way. So it made me think: How did I get this way?

I was a fan back in 1978 when the Yankees came from way behind in the standings to end up in the World Series. I never gave up that season. And the team went to the World Series and won it all. I was a fan back in 2000 when the team lost fifteen of its last eighteen games and still won the division. I was not a pessimist heading into that post season and the Yankees won it all.

So why am I a pessimist now? What was different about 1978, 2000 and now? Those teams were flawed and I didn’t think the sky was falling. The current team is flawed and I expect every line drive the team hits to end up in the fielder’s glove after a dive and for every bases loaded situation to end up without any runs scored.

I expect the worst and an awful lot of the season, the worst has happened.

Bad things happen in baseball. The entire sport is steeped in failure. Six out of ten times the best on-base guys in baseball are going to go to the dugout as failures. Even Scott Kazmir is going to give up nine runs against the Mets. You watch enough baseball and bad stuff happens.

You watch enough baseball…

Hmm…maybe there lies the problem. I watch all the games now. With MLB.tv I don’t have to miss a single game no matter where I am. There was no MLB.tv in 1978 nor in 2000 or even in 1998 when one of the best teams of all time had ten games where they allowed ten or more runs to score. Hideki Irabu was involved in three of them.

There were perhaps a dozen times during that season when I could watch the teams on national television. All I had were box scores. Things didn’t seem so bad in 1978 after a 7-6 loss when looking at a box score. Hey, tomorrow will be better. Hey look, Willie Randolph got three hits!

Now I can see every wart, every pattern and every weakness the team has. And if the broadcast hasn’t convinced me, the Twitter commentary along with the broadcast will. The 1998 Yankees had four pitchers who made major contributions that season who gave up 1.1 homers per nine or more that season. That would drive me crazy today. Back then, I might not have noticed.

And that brings me to another reason I have become a pessimist. We now have stat sites that compare players I root for against other players. I can see how badly they might stack up. Back in 1998, I probably would not know that Chad Curtis only had a 90 OPS+ or that Mike Stanton gave up homers like a Yankees’ version of Phil Hughes.

In the past, I might have read about a bad play that led to the other team’s victory, but it would seem like an isolated thing. Watching every game and seeing the statistics, I know that the Yankees’ infield defense is awful and a 7-6 loss because of that defense is not an isolated incidence. So when I see Melky Cabrera lay down a bunt, the pessimist simply knows that the throw will get into the outfield and lose the game.

Watching the box scores in the past might show me that ten men were left on base, but they didn’t tell me that one player left five of those himself and that this was a pattern. It was just one game where the ball didn’t drop in the team’s favor. If there was a losing streak in the past, it was just a bad stretch. Now I can not only see the stats that tell me the team is batting .183 for the season when runners are on first and third but I can see it unfolding every night right on my computer screen.

And everybody has this information. Even Michael Kay can go all negative talking about negative trends in the statistics Such knowledge makes a Twitter full of educated snarks to remind a fan about his or her team’s weaknesses. How do you stay positive through all that and not fear the worst every time a situation presents itself?

And don’t even get me started about Derek Jeter. All I want is for his season to end somewhat on the average side. All I want is to see him end his career better than Willie Mays did. But the stats are spit out and the snark abounds and there on my screen every ball grounded into a double play, every failed bunt that shouldn’t have been attempted, every running mistake, every failure with men on base and every error Jeter wouldn’t have made six years ago just kills me inside. And I see it coming. I expect it.

But I also know that Matt has a point. There is a lot of season left to go. As long as a team is not eliminated, there is hope. I just want to go back to being some kind of ignorant fan that root, root, roots for the home team and if they don’t win it’s a shame. I have spent decades watching this team. They have come in first and last and many times in between. But I always enjoyed the experience. I need to find a way to make it so in this age of patterns, spray charts and watching every game of the season.

William Tasker grew up in Bergenfield, New Jersey but has lived in New England since 1975 and in the far reaches of northern Maine since 1990. Tasker is the author of nine (non-baseball related) books and, besides writing here for three years, has written for his own site at www.passion4baseball.blogspot.com since 2003.