Thoughts about our National Pastime and occasional thoughts for the Good and Welfare of the Reader (and maybe the writer)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Chaos Theory Applies to Umpires

Coming out of this World Series there were two major topics of conversation – how the Yankees bought the championship because there is no meaningful salary cap and how bad the umpiring was and what to do about it.

Here is what bothers me about the umpiring debate. I have grown to dislike a phrase

I kept hearing during the World Series. How many times did the announcers say, “It did not affect the outcome?”

That is where chaos theory comes in. Now, I am not a physicist nor do I pretend to be familiar with the full ramifications of chaos theory. But, here is a thumbnail. It holds that a small change in the initial conditions can drastically change the long-term behavior of a system. Most people equate chaos theory with the flap of a butterfly’s wings. The reason is that in describing the theory the phrase, “even the flapping of a single butterfly's wing can produce a tiny change in the state of the atmosphere,” is often used.

But a bad call by an umpire causes change that is a lot more impactful. Let’s consider this.

With one out, a runner on first attempts to steal second is palpably out but is called safe. What change in the condition of the game is altered?
First, the absence of the second out will alter the pitch count. A pitcher who might have used 14 pitches to get through an inning, might now use 21 – thus hastening the point where he will be replaced.

Second, the catcher will now alter his signaling process because he will be concerned about the possibility of a runner on second reading signs. The chances of missed signal is increased.

Third, the pitch selection will be altered because a fly ball to the outfield could result in a run scored much more often than it would if the runner were on first.

Fourth, absent a double play (much harder to achieve with a runner on second than with one on first) a batter who might not otherwise have batted, will come to bat.

So, don’t tell me a blown call does not change the outcome.

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