Catch Probability is a Spoiler

Let me take you back a few days. Melky Cabrera lines a ball to the left field gap. Jon Jay ranges to left, dives, and makes the catch. It looks like a great play. It has all the markings. A ball that looked like it was going to easily get to the wall as you traced its arc, either in person or on TV. Jay at a full sprint to get to it, closing a gap you didn’t think could be closed. Your pulse raises as the two come together, almost feeling like a two trains careening toward each other, except you want them to meet. And then they do, flashing together in an instant before you realize he made the catch.

And I kind of sat there with a smirk.

I smirked because I knew that Jay isn’t that good of a fielder. I smirked because I know his first step can be a tad on the slow side. I know that his speed isn’t really all that high, therefore his range isn’t that of many others’. So I see this catch, which five years ago might have brought me off the couch or made me exclaim something out loud in my apartment alone, and suddenly I feel nothing.

Of course, the catch probability stats come out a couple days later, and it’s merely a 65 percent, or a three-start catch. Meaning it’s good, but far from great. And that’s where I get the satisfaction. That I was right. What kind of sick attitude is that.

It’s not that I can perceive Jay’s reaction and first step from my couch. Unless an outfielder’s route is noticeable horrible, it’s really hard to see if he’s taken an optimal route or not. Or maybe you have a scout’s eye and you can tell, but I don’t. On TV it looks like any other great catch. But because I’ve read many pieces and seen a lot of stats that tell me Jay isn’t a great outfielder, the whole experience splays out before me in a bemused fashion.

Perhaps it’s a matter of scale. For Jay, that is a great play. That’s the max of his abilities. For Alex Gordon, maybe he just coasts over and catches it barely on the run. Would I be no more impressed by Gordon? Doesn’t the fact that he make that catch look easy impress me and others as much? Would I notice? Isn’t the better way to go about it to marvel that Gordon can make things that other major leaguers strain to do look simple? And if so, shouldn’t I enjoy them both equally?

I don’t want to turn into Ned Flanders and proclaim that Catch Probability and StatCast now the “science is like someone who tells you the end of movie before you’ve seen it.” It is eye-opening to see what should be caught officially now, and what shouldn’t have been. But maybe that should be something I keep for after the fact, not something I actively think about while watching a game. Am I missing too much but dreaming of the numbers when things actually happen? I suppose this the debate all of us have with the wealth of information available to us.

Or perhaps I’ve just died inside.

Lead photo courtesy Patrick Gorski—USA Today Sports

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