There's this guy I work with. His name's Frank. If you're reading this, hey Frank.
Frank's a good guy. We talk baseball, and he's more of a traditional guy than I am. He set me dead-to-rights one day with a question that seemed to cut to my sabremetric existential core.
He asked me, "So, what's it like when you watch a game?"
Topically, the answer is easy. I'm thinking about the run expectancy matrix, tiny regression trends, projecting how the pitcher is doing to how far he can go, win expectancy and how any possible given individual event could swing it -- things like this.
That doesn't mean I don't marvel at Elvis' range, or Cruz's arm, or any pitch Yu Darvish throws, or anything Jurickson Profar does; it's just the background of my mind is saying 'Yeah, sure, Darvish is awesome, but if Beltre homered here, you're probably still only looking at a 70ish win expectancy...'
This is a long way of saying I have no idea what Neal Cotts is going to do (or, as it were, continue doing).
See, the beauty behind advanced stats, to me, is seeing what's going to happen before it happens.
Witnessing Matt Harrison's transformation over the last two years was a joy, because you could see that type of pitcher in the peripherals before it materialized.
And Yu? He might be better than he is now. And, yes, I say that knowing there's not a ton of room between Yu Darvish in 2013 and Pedro Martinez in 1999. I know what I'm saying.
The downside is just as harsh as the upside is beautiful, though.
Knowing that Taylor Teagarden was likely going to come back to Earth after that amazing run he had in 2008 hurt. Julio Borbon, Brandon Boggs, (hopefully not) Joe Ortiz -- seeing these guys crash back down, and knowing it was going to happen during the high times -- those times are rough.
The point is, not believing in magic is pretty central to my baseball philosophy. Sometimes, magic happens, though. And it would be more fun if magic would happen for longer than it tends to.
And what Neal Cotts is doing is magic.
But, see here's the thing with Cotts: I have no idea what's going to happen. For several reasons.
First, there is really no book on Cotts. I mean, there is, I guess... he had three seasons where he pitched at least 54 big league innings, and another with 35, but the last of those came five years ago.
Five years is a long time in the real world, let alone in the strange world relievers live in. He had a different tendon in his elbow, then, and about 35 less scars on his hip.
Second, in those five years between his last productive MLB season and now, he found an extra five miles per hour on his fastball. To a pitcher, a reliever especially, adding five miles onto your heater is the equivalent of me swapping in my looks for those of Jeremy Renner.
I know most women don't consider Jeremy Renner that attractive, but, "not very attractive" is a massive upgrade for me.
Third, the aforementioned weirdness of life as an MLB reliever.
Quick, guess who's leading all MLB in fWAR for relievers? If you guessed former Ranger Jason Grilli, you would be very correct. Yes, the same Jason Grilli who is four years older than Cotts, who throws 100 percent less left-handed than Cotts, who throws three miles per hour less on average than Cotts. And when Grilli started the run he's on as a dominant reliever, he had a streak of seven years saying that he was, at best, a middling reliever.
So if Jason Grilli can decide at sometime in 2011, at 35 years old, that he's going to be one of the top relief pitchers in MLB for a few years, after 350ish pretty forgettable MLB innings, why can't Neal Cotts decide in 2013, at 33 years old, after five years of riding buses and throwing at imaginary hitters, that he's going to do the same?
After all, it took magic for Cotts to get here. We know the magic will run out, because it does for everyone not named Mariano Rivera, at some time. But it's not silly to think the magic can last at least five more months, which is all we can ask for at the moment.
Do you take your baseball with a side of nerd? Blogger Joe Ursery would love to talk sabermetrics with you anytime on his creatively-named Twitter account, @theJoeUrsery.