Mr. Phanatic Goes to Washington

So there’s been a few fun stories about Supreme Court nominee Sam Alito’s encounter with his childhood boogieman, Jim Bunning, in a Capitol bathroom earlier this week.  It kinda reminded me of the time my roommate and I flanked Arlen Spector in a Vet bathroom a few years back during an Eagles-Cardinals game.  It was the day the U.S. invaded Afghanistan so we asked him if he was in favor of the war.  He replied, "I support the President’s decision," shook, then walked out – I don’t recall if he washed his hands though.  Well, what I was getting to was Bunning’s quote that, "this jurist is probably the biggest Phillies fan in the world."  Though I take exception to that superlative bestowed upon Mr. Alito, I’ll let it slide because as I recall from the March steroid hearings Sen. Bunning can get a little cranky.  Anyway, Alito claims his answer to "what do you want to be when you grow up" was commissioner of MLB.  That’s quite an imaginative, in not nerdy, young boy.  However it’s not the first time government types have eyed baseball’s top prize.  President Taft was considered for the first commissioner position in 1920, but instead it went to a judge from Illinois, Kennesaw Mountain Landis.  Governor Bush was similarly considered while Bud Selig was still interim commissioner but I guess G.W. had bigger aspirations then Mr. Alito.  Still, once his reign as president is done I wouldn’t be surprised if he takes over the post.

Speaking of government nominees with an interest in baseball, have you heard about Ben Bernanke (Bush’s nominee to replace Alan Greenspan) and his mission to change the way E.R.A. is calculated?  Earned run average, he says, needs to be calculated in a way that is more fair to pitchers who leave runners on base.  Currently, if one pitcher leaves runners on base and another pitcher allows them to score, the runs are charged to the first pitcher. Pitchers unlucky enough to be followed by ineffective relievers, as the Yankees’ Randy Johnson was in 2005, have unfairly high E.R.A.’s. Pitchers who are bailed out by their bullpen, as Roy Oswalt often was this season, end up with artificially low E.R.A.’s.  A better system, he argues, would divide blame, depending on where the base the runners were stationed when a pitcher departed as well as the number of outs. 

A few weeks ago, NPR’s All Things Considered talked to Dwight Jaffee a close friend and squash partner of Bernanke who explained how they had "discovered the error" in E.R.A.  Their example consisted of a scenario where a reliever who inherits a runner on first gets the next batter to ground into a double play; the two outs are accounted to the reliever but if that runner on first scores it counts against prior pitchers’ E.R.A.  Bernanke and Jaffe would like to see statisticians compile more data on situations such as this so that the earned run would be shared between the two pitchers.  They even went as far as weighing the earned run depending on where the inherited runner was positioned. For instance, if the inherited runner scores from first the majority of the earned run should count against the reliever; but if he scored from third it should be counted more towards the E.R.A. of the initial pitcher.  Also they discussed factoring in how many outs the reliever inherits since it is easier to end an inning and prevent runners from scoring when brought in with 2 outs rather than 0.  This is an interesting concept and I would like to see if the debate is meritorious.  Bud Selig already dismissed the adoption instant replay this week, much to the chagrin of a few commenters, so I doubt he’s in any mood to revise such a long standing statistical institution.

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