This is my third season since I ceased scoring games for MLB.com. It was a great job, but especially with my demanding ATT job, and my writing responsibilities, it was all just too much and the reality is by the end I was spread so thin that something had to go.
As it turned out, a year later I did retire from ATT, and I have thought about scoring once again should the opportunity present itself, but the bottom line is I like that I don't have to be at the ballpark two or three days a week for half the year. And, it isn't that I dislike the yard, but rather, I have indeed been to enough games and I like that I can do what I want when I want.
Still, there are things I really miss about being in the thick of the action in the press box at the ballpark, for the statistician gig was one where the data caster had to make sure and notch every pitch, and the relative disposition thereof, in real time. My seat was always next to the Official Scorer, and at ATT Park our seats were directly behind home plate, where we had the premiere view of the incoming pitch and subsequent play.
Breaking baseball down like that, virtually pitch-by-pitch, was a wonderful thing for me in terms of dissecting the game, and more important, for trusting my ability to see a player succeed or fail with my own eyes. And, the truth is, I have noticed players or skills over the years, and have often dismissed what I saw (or thought I saw) in deference to a scout or coach or person whom I thought had a greater knowledge of the game than I.
After all, I did not play the game above a competitive after work mid-week coed softball level ever, so how I would know to watch a player's feet as the first indicator of a potential steal was something I never would have known had Ron Washington not told me.
I do miss seeing little things, though. Like the snap on Sergio Romo's slider, which, when Romo was on, was the most wicked and controlled pitch I have seen short of Dennis Eckersley's version.
I remember the first time I saw both Kyle Seager and Matt Duffy swing the bat, both at spring training, and both with just lovely and easy and graceful line drive swings that just screamed to me, "I can hit. Trust me, I can hit."
Mostly, though, the clues to success I picked up had to do with pitchers. I was fortunate to score Tim Lincecum's very first start (five innings, five walks, five whiffs, if memory serves) and the bulk of Matt Cain's rise to stardom. They had wicked stuff, but I could tell when both were losing their games.
In Lincecum, it seemed he could not adjust to hitters laying off his slider that actually broke a foot before the plate, but ultimately, for both, suddenly one day neither could make the big pitch when they needed to. Say what you will about velocity and control and variation of pitches, but for me, the real strength of the game comes from first the rhythm the pitcher establishes, and second, the said hurler's confidence in being able to simply get the next out.
Because in both Cain and Lincecum, if nothing else, the look in their respective eyes when they made a pitch that said "I own you" to the hitter was a look I saw over a thousand times with each before something happened and suddenly both pitchers slipped into "I hope I can get you out," and then to "you are probably going to get a hit and there is not much I can do about it" that each now wears.
It is a tough game, but when watching one of the new Giants pitchers, Johnny Cueto, do his thing the other night, I was reminded that I did indeed also score the then Reds pitcher his first year, and he had electric stuff. And that reminded me of two other pitchers I saw during their first tour, Nathan Eovaldi and Edinson Volquez.
In fact, one reason I have always been good with rostering any of that troika is that over the last few years of my tracking every pitch, they were the livest arms of all.
And, it is why I still think each has their biggest season ahead of them.
For example, Volquez is still just 32, and while he did get knocked around by the Angels in his last start, he is indeed throwing in the mid-90's. He still has some of that movement, but he has also learned to pitch, something unfortunately it seems Lincecum could never really get. And, Volquez is on a very good team.
Cueto is just 30, with a big contract in San Francisco, where the right-hander has the role of #2 starter behind Madison Bumgarner. He too has that movement, and he too has learned to set up his pitches, so again, I expect a big year with the Giants and for the Giants.
But, the last player, Eovaldi, might still surprise you. When he debuted, Eovaldi was a young Dodger who clocked at a little over 100 MPH with his fastball.
Eovaldi, though, is still just 26, meaning he is just moving into those prime years of ages 28-32. Eovaldi has had two bad innings this year and the results are the 4.38 ERA, but with that is a 1.135 WHIP and 28 strikeouts over 24.3 innings, and Yankees or not, I think Eovaldi is on the verge of becoming the monster arm I anticipated in 2011. And, the no-hitter Eovaldi carried into the seventh inning earlier this week tells me things are changing for the 11th round selection of the Bums in 2008.
In fact, I would own all three if I could, especially the lesser valued Volquez and Eovaldi, who might still be on your league's waiver wire.