Toronto at Washington, May 3-5

Friday, May 03 2024 @ 03:25 PM EDT

Contributed by: Magpie

After a less than optimal homestand, a road trip is called for. Two fourth-place teams meet for three games in the District.

I'm going to talk about "swing decisions." (WARNING - Magpie rant, possibly imminent.) Now I know people say "swing decision" all the time - it's become part of modern baseball terminology - and I understand why, but still... It's not really the best way to think about what's going on. A major league fastball travels the 55 feet from the pitcher's hand into the hitting zone in roughly 350 milliseconds. That's about the same amount of time as a human blink. The baseball is actually travelling at a speed beyond what the human eye can properly track in real time. The hitter is obliged to take what are effectively a series of snapshots at where the ball is at various moments in its - nearly instantaneous, I remind you - path. And of course the assessment of where the pitch is going to be and how fast it will be travelling is necessarily made very early on, in the first 100 milliseconds or so, while the ball is still closer to the pitcher than the hitter. The hitter makes his best estimate, based on all the pitches he's seen in a lifetime of hitting, as to where the baseball will ultimately end up. In a very real sense, everybody is a guess hitter.

Television distorts things, and makes the outlandish and impossible - like hitting a major league fastball - seem comparatively normal. If you're far enough away - and the camera is always very far away - you can sometimes see more and see it more clearly than the person on the ground, with the limitation of human eyes. Novak Djokovic whips in a serve at 115 mph, and it looks quite ordinary on my television. I'm not the poor sod who has to leap after the damn thing and hit it back to him. Formula One cars zip around corners at speeds approaching 200 freaking mph and if you're watching on television it doesn't look enormously different from cars cruising down Lakeshore. Up close it's a little different. And it's not just television, of course, as anyone who's ever watched the leisurely course of an airplane passing overhead. Up close it's very different.

So is it still a "decision" when the front part of the human brain that is normally involved in the decision-making process isn't even engaged? It doesn't really seem so, and there may be implications to a phrase like "bad swing decision" that may not be intended. I've made some bad decisions in my day, but they were actual decisions - I thought about it, and messed up. What we're seeing on the diamond isn't really a decision at all- it's a motor reflex, from somewhere else in the cerebral cortex.

Blink... and you miss it. And you're hoping it doesn't hit you in the face. Or as Ted Williams once said "don't you know how hard all this is?"


Fri 3 May - Kikuchi (2-2, 2.94) vs Corbin (0-3, 6.82)
Sat 4 May - Gausman (1-3, 4.50) vs Irwin (2-2, 4.28)
Sun 5 May - We Don't Know vs Gore (2-3, 3.19)