Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hey Colby, Your Wife Called, She Said It's a Girl and To Pitch Magglio Down-and-Away

By The Common Man

The Common Man is going to try very hard to write this post without using the “You’re not a parent, so you don’t understand,” card. That card is incredibly easy to play, of course, but it’s just as unfair. Because how is someone going to argue with that? And, in playing it, you’re casting a moral judgment against someone who has probably chosen to not become a parent. And if they made that choice, because they knew they would not be a good parent, or simply didn’t have any feelings one way or the other, they chose correctly. It also does a disservice to all the non-parents out there who are inclined to think that becoming a parent is a pretty damn important thing.  And it does a disservice to all the excellent step-parents out there.

But Colby Lewis did, apparently, make the choice to be a parent, and by luck or design his second daughter was due right at the start of the 2011 season. This created a conflict, as it became apparent that Lewis would have to skip his start last Wednesday to accommodate the birth.
This wasn’t really a big deal. Baseball allows for a short paternity leave for expectant fathers, and the Rangers slotted in Dave Bush (who pitched well, though the Rangers ultimately lost when Darren Oliver gave up a run in the 9th).

So this was a non-story until, as you may have heard last night, a Dallas Observer columnist, Richie Whitt, wrote an article critical of Lewis for daring to take a game off to attend the birth of his daughter (mazel tov, by the way, to Colby), saying,
“Imagine if Jason Witten missed a game to attend the birth of a child. It's just, I dunno, weird. Wrong even.

Departures? Totally get it because at a funeral you're saying goodbye to someone for the last time. But an arrival is merely saying hello to someone you'll see the rest of your life…. Baseball players are paid millions to play baseball. If that means "scheduling" births so they occur in the off-season, then so be it. Of the 365 days in a year, starting pitchers "work" maybe 40 of them, counting spring training and playoffs.

If it was a first child, maybe. But a second child causing a player to miss a game? Ludicrous.”

Frankly, The Common Man thinks (along with most of the rest of you) that Whitt’s take is pretty odious, and that Whitt is trolling for attention. But Rob Neyer, basically TCM's blog-father (and a real-life step-father himself, if TCM remembers correctly), chimed in in support of Whitt’s position, saying,
“As a human being, I think this is fantastic. As a baseball fan, though? If my team's in the playoff hunt, I'm sorry, but I don't want one of my starting pitchers taking the night off. We're not talking about some guy who works on the assembly line for the Integrated Widget Corporation. We're talking about one of the most talented pitchers on the planet, not easily replaceable. What if your team finishes one game short of the playoffs? Was it really worth it?

Or as a sage philosopher once observed, The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

And last I checked, there were many fans of the Texas Rangers.”

Daddy no!

Let’s just think about how much Colby Lewis’ absence cost the Rangers. For one thing, this is not a game in a pennant race. It is a game in mid-April. Now, of course, games in April count just as much as those in September, but the odds of this single game turning the pennant race are incredibly low. For another thing, we’re talking about roughly 1/30 of a pitcher’s season. Depending on what system you’re using (fWAR, rWAR, or WARP), Lewis was worth something like an average of 0.11-0.14 wins above replacement per start in 2010. So, assuming he doesn’t make up this start elsewhere in the Rangers’ schedule, Lewis cost his team roughly one-tenth of a win above replacement. How selfish of him!

And let’s not forget that the Rangers were not obligated to lose last Wednesday simply because Lewis was not pitching. Instead, a bevy of Rangers pitchers held the Tigers to just two runs through eight innings. Could Colby Lewis have done better? It’s possible, but Colby Lewis hasn’t allowed fewer than three runs in any of his three starts this year, and allowed fewer than two runs in a game in 10 of his 32 starts in 2010. The chances are excellent that Lewis couldn’t have matched the performance of the Rangers relief corpse on Wednesday, even if he had pitched. The real problem in the game was Texas’ much ballyhooed offense, who couldn’t summon up more than two runs against Max Schrezer, Brayan Villarreal and Jose Valverde.

Also, note that Valverde got the win in this game, because his manager was willing to use him in a tie ballgame. Meanwhile, Rangers manager Ron Washington let righty closer Neftali Feliz sit in the bullpen on Wednesday as lefty Darren Oliver served up a walk-off homer to right-handed Brandon Inge in the 9th. And it’s not like the increased use of the bullpen hurt the Rangers either. The team had a scheduled off-day on Thursday, and Matt Harrison pitched eight innings on Friday. Even Derek Holland went more than 7 innings on Saturday. In fact, the Rangers haven’t needed more than two relievers in a game since then.

Meanwhile, Lewis got to attend the birth of his daughter. His second child. As strange as that may seem to some people, The Common Man is sure that’s incredibly important to him. And the fact that the Rangers didn’t give him a hard time about missing a start will probably endear them to him in both the near and long term (particularly important given how underpaid Lewis is relative to the rest of the pitchers of his age and stature). And, given how important this undoubtedly was to him, would Lewis really have pitched well if he were distracted by thoughts of his wife giving birth as he’s supposed to be pumping fastballs past Brennan Boesch?

Teams pay their players to be professionals. To play in rain, in sleet, when they’re in a bad mood, and when they got plugged in the ribs the night before. Some teams even pay their players to fight through injuries for the good of the club. These players, yes, are incredibly well compensated to ignore their personal feelings on a nightly basis. But the one thing that you can’t pay a player to ignore is their own humanity. These guys aren’t robots. Especially in April. Especially when your absence costs your team, maybe, a 5%-10% chance at a win. Especially when you’re talking about the birth of a child.

And “the needs of the many?” How many Rangers fans need to see their team win? How many of them had their lives irreversibly altered because Colby Lewis did not pitch? How many of them are suffering and sad, disappointed and despondent over it? In a game they watched from their homes, because the Rangers were in Detroit anyway? Let’s weigh that “need” against that of Lewis’ family. Did they “need” him there? Does that child and that mother need to know that her father loves her so much that career and team are secondary concerns to being there to see her birth?

The Common Man would argue that, unequivocally, that family needs to be together at that moment. That shouldn’t be so hard to understand, even if you haven’t made the decision to have kids yourself. I don’t know. Maybe you just have be able to have at least a modicum of perspective to not make that argument. Maybe you need to not be tone deaf. Maybe you need to be a little sympathetic. Rob Neyer usually has it in him to be those things, even if Richie Whitt doesn't.  And TCM can't help being incredibly disappointed in his blog-father, like finding out dad had a whole 'nother family in the next county.


David said...

Solid post, TCM. You're absolutely right.

Dan McCloskey said...

Excellent post, TCM.

Isn't that Billy Beane in the photo?

I did a Google image search for both Billy Beane and Rob Neyer and that photo is in the results for both. Hmmmm...

The Common Man said...

That's funny. The Common Man was doing his best to find the most flattering picture of Neyer he could, and he accidentally substituted a picture of Billy Beane. Who knew they were twins? Sorta. Anyway, embarrassing problem solved.

William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

Perfectly stated. All of this happens because we attach more importance to sports than is logically necessary. Not that we can help it if we are fans, but it's true. It's entertainment. It doesn't change the world. Lewis made the right choice. The Rangers made the right choice in the graciousness with which they allowed him the time and everyone else should just shut up.

Anonymous said...

I think Rob Neyer lives alone?

Anonymous said...

The blog-father. I like it.

Anonymous said...

I 100% agree with you, TCM.