Forget Pitching, Hitting, and Fielding! The New York Mets’ Most Glaring Area Of Weakness May Be Statistics

It’s difficult to believe that Major League Baseball’s New York Mets won 11 of their first 12 games this season. Earlier today, the Chicago Cubs completed a four game sweep of the club, continuing a stretch in which the Mets have lost 29 of 45 games.

During this woeful period, fans have witnessed displays of poor pitching, hitting, and fielding skills. And to make matters worse, earlier this week, they witnessed a managerial display of poor statistical skills.

At a critical moment in a game against the Milwaukee Brewers, Mets Manager Mickey Callaway removed an effective pitcher and replaced him with an ineffective one. The change enabled the Brewers to score four runs and convert a two run New York lead into a two run Milwaukee surplus.

So why did Callaway bring in Jerry Blevins to replace Robert Gsellman? Given that Blevins has struggled all season, while Gsellman has delivered periods of clutch pitching? Callaway explained:

The seven times [the Brewers batter] faced Gsellman he got three hits. He’s never gotten a hit (0-for-2 with a walk) off Blevins. The overall numbers suggest Blevins has a much greater chance to get the hitter out and you have to go with those. It is part of managing the game today.

At first glance, it does seem reasonable to bring in a pitcher who has experienced success against a batter. But “0 for 2 with a walk” means that the pitcher had only faced the batter three times in his entire career!

That isn’t even close to a statistically meaningful number of past attempts. Callaway himself acknowledged the “small sample size” that he relied upon to make his decision.

In all fairness, there is no single numerical minimum of observations that must be considered when making a statistically valid decision. The minimum number varies by one’s willingness, in any particular situation, to tolerate risk and uncertainty.

And yet no mathematician would agree that a counter-intuitive baseball decision could be made on the basis of three prior outcomes. Thus, the Mets can now add Statistical Analysis to their List of Necessary Improvements.

The Genuflecting Athletes

Are you noticing all of the National Football League players who are “taking a knee” during the American National Anthem this weekend? The gesture is being interpreted as a sign of protest against the recent comments of the President of the United Sates.

Until recently, though, the gesture was never defined as a symbol of protest. Quite the contrary, it always represented a symbol of extreme respect and reverence.

The physical position is called “genuflection.” Most Americans will recognize it as  the traditional posture that people assume to propose marriage.

And throughout history, individuals assumed the stance when meeting royalty, noblemen, and high priests. The practice can be traced back to the time of Alexander The Great, and perhaps even further.

People of the Catholic faith also genuflect at certain times during Mass. There is certainly no hint of protest in that venue!

So why is the gesture now utilized as a sign of dissent during the National Anthem? Perhaps the kneeling players wish to indicate that they continue to honor their nation, even as they protest some of its flaws.

That’s a complicated interpretation, isn’t it? And yet it’s no more complex than the origins of the players’ decisions to engage in it.

Houston Cheers

Battered by the torrential rains and destructive winds of Hurricane Harvey, the citizens of Houston undoubtedly needed a morale booster this weekend. Fortunately, Major League Baseball’s struggling New York Mets franchise obliged by delivering one.

The Mets visited the Houston Astros yesterday and played a doubleheader. The two games were the first professional baseball events to be staged in the United States’ fourth most populous city since last week’s catastrophic storm.

The result? The moribund Mets lost both games. And to the delight of Astros fans, Harvey himself lost the first one.

That’s right. Believe it or not, the Mets starting pitcher in the opening match was a player named Matt Harvey. He was pounded by the Houston batsmen and gave up seven runs in only two innings.

Harvey (the pitcher, not the hurricane) has been repeatedly injured throughout his career. Yesterday marked his most recent return from an extended recovery period, and he clearly wasn’t feeling his best.

Nevertheless, his brief return to the pitching mound served to cheer Houston’s baseball fans. Indeed, let’s hope that the citizens of Texas’ largest city will find many more opportunities to cheer in the near future.