Enjoy the Moment

added 10/21/2005 by Scott Barzilla

When I read my column on the website, in the context of recent events, it occurred to me that the timing was pretty off. No, I’m not blaming Ray because he published it in the same amount of time he always does. It just occurred to me that events that occurred after my column was written rendered it meaningless. The same feeling struck me today as I watched my students come in with their Pennant champion t-shirts from Academy. Even when the Rockets were winning their titles, I never bought the Conference Champion t-shirts. The moment seemed so fleeting.

You see, on Saturday this whole mess is going to start up again. As much as I say “I’m happy to be here and I support the guys in whatever they do.” I know in my heart of hearts that I and most others will forget temporarily about the magic and struggles of the past two rounds. Sure, when November hits I’ll take it all in, but be honest: how many of you thought of the 18 inning thriller on Monday night after the game?

On Wednesday night, I didn’t watch the post-game hurrahs or run down the street naked in celebration. I quietly went back on that back porch and smoked a good cigar. The exercise relaxed me and it was worth it, knowing that the whole circus would start up again soon. So, when I say enjoy the moment it is not a statement that the best has come, but that the tension will be more intense and the analysis will be even more paralyzing. Stating my claim

One of the more interesting activities now is assigning seats on the bandwagon. Astros fans are stating their claim on how long they have been Astros fans. Personally, I have been a fan since 1982 when I was eight years old. Yes, that doesn’t put me near the same time as some of the veterans I know well. I give them their due because they went through some really tough times. However, someone sent me an email message questioning my devotion for the Astros.

My first response was to be angry. How dare anyone question my loyalty? When I thought long and hard about it I discovered the attack was valid in the sense that my last column made a vague reference to serendipity. The emailer even suggested I was arrogant for using the term in connection with these Astros. Sometimes people email me stuff that urges me to respond with fire, venom, and every pithy expression I have at my disposal. That email deserves a thoughtful response.

For most people, serendipity is a big word for luck. I have a different connotation for that word. To me, serendipity is the simple convergence of factors that leads to an improbable result. You don’t get any more improbable than a pennant or World Series championship. If it was probable then the Yankees would win every year. No one in their right mind can say they KNEW the White Sox would go in March. The same is true for Houston. Now, some experts gave them good chances, but simple probability states two out of thirty is improbable.

If I were to say that the Astros were lucky it would be saying that they were worse than everyone they played. I can understand that line of thinking when serendipity and luck mean the same thing. In my mind they do not. Unless you have a dynasty, it’s hard to argue that you don’t have to have a lot right things happen in order to win a title. Some of them are tied to luck (injuries, key close games) but others are just impeccable timing. It has often been said that you have to have several players have career seasons in order to win.

The Youngsters

In this same email, the critic asserted that I think the young players won’t get any better. This was based on my statements that Dan Wheeler and Chad Qualls could be selling insurance three years from now. Of course, the operative phrase there is “could”. They also could become solid setup men or closers on a perennial basis. Coming into this season, these were Dan Wheeler’s career statistics.

             W-L     G   INN      ERA    SO   BB   SV
1999-2004    6-9   111   187.1   4.95   151   66    2
2005         2-3    71    73.1   2.21    69   19    3

Please don’t tell me that many of you saw 2005 coming for him. While it is true that Wheeler is 26 and could continue to pitch well, it is also true that he could return to his career norm after this season. My point is not to argue either way, but to return to the general theme of the column and enjoy the moment. It doesn’t matter what Wheeler was or what he will become. It only matters that he has proven through 162 games (or 75 if you want to count games he has pitched) and two playoff series that he is one of the best setup men in the game this season.

The same thing could be said of Chad Qualls. He has had more success early on than Wheeler had, but we never know what the future will bring. I can’t say that any plainer. My wife convinced me that I’m a pessimist. I’ve always held out hope that I was a realist, but I suppose it’s best to admit to what I am. Unfortunately, that kind of outlook is easily misunderstood. I do believe both can continue to improve. The point is that they are really good right now. Enjoy the moment.

The same goes for guys like Willy T, Chris Burke, and Jason Lane. All three have served huge roles this year. History tells us that most first year players (Lane is a first year regular) will improve. So, I would never argue the contrary. All I’m saying is that each has performed better in the playoffs than they did in the regular season. They may or may not sustain that or build on that in the future. Enjoy the moment.

The Role of Sabermetrics

Again, my allegiance to sabermetrics was questioned in an unusual way. The sentiment was, “you see, it wasn’t sabermetrics. It was pitching.” I fully take the blame for this one. I have focused too much on the Astros offensive struggles this year and it has led some of you to think sabermetricians are all about hitting. Pitching and defense is half of the game. That being said, it was the “you’re probably rooting for them to fail so your ideas will be justified” statement that had me stirred the most.

To me, sabermetrics is more than a tool. It is a way of thinking about baseball. It is a scientific way of thinking about baseball. It takes what has occurred in the past and applies it to the future. So whenever someone says, “you just don’t understand what wins baseball games” it makes me wonder where that sentiment is coming from. Two things happen when I study the past: I learn more and I’m able to predict more. More is not everything. The questioning of my fanhood bothered me on two different levels. First, it asserted that I would rather see the Astros lose than see them win because I would be validated. The simple fact is that I would rather be wrong any day of the week. Yet, this is where my pessimism rears its ugly head. There’s a difference between believing something will happen and wanting something to happen. Often times, that distinction can get blurred.

The second level of frustration comes from the fact that I cannot become the best baseball fan/analyst I can be if I hold onto ideas that are wrong. That is why sabermetrics started in the first place. We challenged conventional thinking and found it to be sometimes right and sometimes wrong. What would we be if we didn’t apply the same rigor to our own ideas? I am not ashamed to admit it. The Astros proved me wrong this year. I hope I’m not the only one to admit it.

Enjoy the Moment

A lot of times I get too caught up in my own ideas to speak plainly. It doesn’t sound like I enjoy baseball because my wheels are constantly spinning. I’m constantly thinking ahead of what should be done in the future. The message of “enjoy the moment” is more for me than anyone. I will have plenty of time to spin my wheels in the off-season. I like the off-season almost as much as the season because it affords me the time to process the things that I’ve learned along the way. The Astros have taught me a lot this season. There will be time to articulate that later. There will be time to apply that to my off-season analysis. Now is not that time. So, until then, everyone light em up, drink em up, or eat em up as you desire. The moment is now.

Scott Barzilla is the author of “Checks and Imbalances” and “The State of Baseball Management.”