Franklin Gutierrez Is Baseball
Here’s one thing that’s true about baseball, by design: for every single season, there is a World Series champ. It’s not like there’s ever a year where the commissioner is like “well actually no, no one deserves it this time.” Somebody has to win. Somebody gets a trophy and a dog pile.
Here’s another thing that’s true about baseball, not necessarily by design: in every single season, every single team has a chance of winning it all. Some teams, of course, have better chances than others. And teams like this year’s Astros and Marlins test the extremes of probability. But even the Astros and Marlins have some chance. It is not literally impossible that the Houston Astros are the 2013 world champions.
We all go in with some understanding of our favorite teams’ chances. This year, Nationals fans have high hopes. Mariners fans have lower hopes, justifiably, but hopes are there, present, even if the hope rationally feels somewhat unreasonable. These days a lot of us look at preseason standings projections, and those projections spit out records and playoff odds, but unstated in the projections is the fact that the error bars are huge. Dave has written about this before, but a projected .500 team is really projected to win something like 70-92 games. Maybe the bars are wider than that. If you expect that the Mariners are a high-70s win team on true talent, then that doesn’t mean they can’t finish last, and that doesn’t mean they can’t finish with baseball’s best record. We aren’t actually that good at predicting the baseball future. The error bars overlap in so many infinite ways that any combination of outcomes has a chance of coming true.
And it’s the uncertainty on which we depend as fans. Baseball would be a hell of a lot less popular if we always knew what it was going to do, where it was going to turn and where it was going to twist. Uncertainty leaves room for emotion, for biases, for daydreaming. For being a fan, basically. All of us, every single one of us has the opportunity to let our imagination get out of control, and it’s all based on one simple principle: every single player in the major leagues is amazing.
Yeah, the Astros look dreadful. But in truth, the Astros are amazing, and the talent differences between the Astros and the, I don’t know, Reds, individually, are barely there. The players on the Astros are among the very best baseball players in the entire world, and if you watched them just practicing in your neighborhood or something, you’d be blown away. All of them can pitch really well, and all of them can hit really well. Who’s a guy who sucks? Rhiner Cruz? Rhiner Cruz can throw almost a hundred miles per hour. Rhiner Cruz doesn’t suck. Rhiner Cruz is amazing.
Everybody in major league baseball is great at baseball. Which means everyone’s always capable of having an outstanding game, which means any team can always beat another team. Robert Andino? Unbelievably skilled. Dustin Pedroia? You can’t even fathom how skilled.
Because everybody is amazing, we get to think about upside. Downsides are always present as possibilities, but we try to think about them less. Take just about any team, and consider giving them a 95-67 record. A team that finishes 95-67 probably has an excellent chance of winning the World Series. What would it take for that team to win 95 games? Break it down individually. Maybe this pitcher needs to sustain his gains, or take a step forward. Maybe this hitter needs to break out, or this position player needs to stay healthy. It might be a leap to, say, give the Padres 95 wins. But all that big leap is is a bunch of combined littler leaps, and none of the litter leaps, individually, looks all that far-fetched. Why couldn’t Jedd Gyorko have a solid rookie season? Why couldn’t Chase Headley repeat, once he’s healthy and back in the lineup? It’s so easy to believe in the players by themselves, which makes it so temptingly easy to believe in groups of the players, no longer by themselves.
Even if we don’t want to admit it, at the beginning of every season, some part of us is thinking about the World Series. That’s why we care about wins, after all. Wins wouldn’t mean anything were it not for the playoff structure, and the playoff structure wouldn’t mean anything were it not for the championship. We won’t actually give up on the title until our team is eliminated, mathematically or effectively. Until then, we’ll think about the races. Until then, we’ll think that it could be the year. We’ll look for reasons to believe ours is the team of destiny.
Everybody gets to believe they might be in for an amazing season. Everybody willingly participates in this borderline delusion, and in fact without it, baseball would be duller than it is. Everybody starts with dreams. Ultimately, almost none of those dreams come true. For roughly 97 percent of dreamers, those dreams get dashed at some point. Maybe they’re dashed early on, when a team stumbles out of the gate and never finds a groove. Maybe they’re dashed later, after a crippling losing streak, or a series of injuries, or a bunch of close losses. Maybe they’re dashed in the playoffs. But only three percent of everybody gets to smile at the end. Everyone else is left to consider how they should’ve seen it coming. Most dreams, in hindsight, are nothing but dreams, no more substantial, no more fruitful than a wish on a dandelion.
We know full well that, for most people, the dream won’t come true. Yet we know full well that, for some people, it will. We want to be able to hang onto the dream for as long as is possible. It’s the existence and preservation of that very dream that gives baseball its soul. When the dream is alive, our fandom’s alive. When our fandom’s alive, this whole investment makes actual sense.
It’s only been a few games, but I can’t help but notice that Franklin Gutierrez is batting .412 with a couple of dingers.