Bernstein: Baseball's Sprint Is Just Crazy

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By 670 The Score
(670 The Score) Forget everything you think you know about big league baseball. That's what I'm doing ahead of this insane 60-game festival of randomness that will do almost nothing to determine how actually good any of MLB's teams are in 2020.

We now must take the truth of the playoffs -- Variance Swamps Everything -- and apply it to the portion of the year that usually provides enough time for quality or lack thereof to be revealed fairly and sufficiently. Bad players have great weeks, great players have terrible weeks and the aggregated performance of those players in scoring and preventing runs that manifests in the subsequent game outcomes needs ample time for regression to any number of respective means.

But absent that, we get this, a fraction of a season that means both everything and nothing at the same time, if it even ends up getting played.

Let's get that part out of the way, the acceptance that COVID-19 is raging unchecked in much of the world and there's a decent chance we never even get the first game. We probably shouldn't even be doing sports at the moment, but we're apparently bored and stupid and selfish enough to continue on despite obvious danger to public health.

So even if this all happens and even if rosters aren't decimated by the virus in a way that renders them largely an ongoing churn of replacement-level players or below, we have no handle on the unknowns -- those themselves known or not.

Baseball is a game that can't be played harder by those in uniform, but it can be managed with more urgency and intensity both from the dugout and the front office. That's where a real difference may be most tangible. While every out was already precious over 162, the value means more than ever with every franchise essentially part of a pennant race -- but with a full complement of healthy players instead of those strained physically by five months of uninterrupted action.

Our assessments of what constitute high-leverage situations change when chasing every win, closer to the equivalent of the all-hands-on-deck mentality for deciding playoff games. There's no good way to take a loss unless it's a true blowout unfolding, and such opportunities to rest regulars or use less valuable pitching arms will have to be maximized advantageously to make a next day's victory more likely. More often, a three-run deficit will play like one run or a tie game.

At the executive level, let's not forget the Aug. 31 trade deadline that will focus attention on just how hard a team may want to push. A general manager could operate on a wide continuum of risk management -- anywhere from rushing prospects up and unleashing raw talent before opponents can make their usual adjustments to not bothering to fortify an apparent contender due to the chance of a shutdown that could occur at any time, making the unconscionable trade of something for literally nothing.

To add to the confusion, new rules are in play beyond the health and safety protocols that will already render baseball largely unrecognizable. Extra innings start with a runner on second, and the collected data and wisdom from the minors' use of this rule only goes so far to inform best practices at this level. There will be trial-and-error in when to bunt and when to issue a walk, with scant time to figure out what's best for a given team. There's also the three-batter rule for relievers, once enacted to shorten games no make them easier to consume, now done so to get everyone out of the building faster.

All that time with our favorite projection algorithms like PECOTA, Zips and Steamer to give us a range of likelihoods for individual statistics? Forget it. Same goes for any subjective power rankings and the like. Buyer beware.

Whatever is about to happen is just going to happen, with far less rhyme or reason than ever. Those of us who have spent years fine-tuning our sensibilities and availing ourselves of the best analysis of why certain events occur will now be forced mostly to abandon such things, consuming baseball with the full awareness of our new life in the middle of a pandemic.

MLB 2020 will be remembered as a quirk, an artifact of our scary and troubled times. We don't need to be far removed from it to know it now.

Dan Bernstein is the host of the Dan Bernstein Show on middays from 9 a.m. until noon on 670 The Score. You can follow him on Twitter @Dan_Bernstein.