Baseball is a game of odds.
Each situation, each at bat, each pitch is a chess match based on statistics and probabilities, carefully calculated by both players and managers.
What pitch is thrown in what count? Should I be sitting fastball in this count from this pitcher? Should the runner attempt to steal? Should I go with a lefty or righty out of the bullpen? Should I lay down this bunt to move the runners over (no)?
The answer to each one of these questions comes as a result of the history of the game; with a massive sample size providing direct and accurate answers to the probability of success of any given baseball action. In recent years, the math has gotten more advanced with the creation of sabermetrics and a devout following of newly developed statistics.
FanGraphs has become the go to source for modern baseball statistics and projections, using Dan Symborski’s ZiPS to provide projections for both teams and individual players.
Before the 2015 season, FanGraphs had the Texas Rangers listed as having a 3.1% chance of making the playoffs.
That’s a lower number than the Rangers’ current 3.5 game lead in the AL West with ten games remaining.
As of June 2, that percentage changed to 8.8 percent.
The statistics said that the Rangers had virtually no chance of making the postseason. The numbers let us know that we should start thinking about the return of Yu Darvish and the 2016 Texas Rangers.
Jeff Banister had other plans.
The beautiful thing about baseball is that regardless of probabilities; the game must be played. Whether it’s swinging at a 3-1 curve, trying to take 3rd with no outs, or having your 2-hole hitter lay down a bunt, sometimes things don’t happen the way that everyone expects.
The game, much like life, often proves to be far more than numbers.
Going into the final ten games of the 2015 season, the Texas Rangers now sport a 97.6% chance of making the playoffs, with an 86.9% chance of winning the AL West.
The Texas Rangers are winning Against All Odds.
As the Rangers go into Houston for a three game series, they are presented with a chance to make their division lead basically insurmountable, even having an opportunity to clinch as early as Monday. However, although the math is now in the Rangers favor, don’t believe that the Astros cannot beat the odds themselves (for those of you who don’t believe me, think back to the 2012 Rangers collapse, where they lost a 4 game lead with 6 games left. Now go vomit and promise to never speak of that ever again).
Beating the odds is not something that is limited to baseball teams or even to the baseball field, but is something that individual players often do within their lives, and far too frequently, their stories are lost in the drama of the game. As fans, we often forget the work, desire, and struggles that players go through to reach the point of playing in the big leagues.
We forget that they had lives before baseball. We forget that their roots are often far from the cities in which we play. We forget that they have off field lives and that they deal with the basic challenges that face humanity.
As the Rangers head into Houston, I was reminded of a book by former Astros centerfielder, Charlton Maxwell Jimerson, Against All Odds: A Success Story, which gives the most honest and thorough explanation of those very things which we often forget.
The Texas Rangers are beating the odds. CJ did too.
To the casual baseball fan, Charlton Jimerson is most likely someone that you have never heard of, a September call up who was around long enough to have a cup of coffee and head back out. However, CJ’s story of how he reached that point is remarkable, and once he made it to the Bigs, he made the most of his limited time there.
Jimerson, and African-American athlete from Hayward, CA, overcame odds in every step of his baseball journey, as well as his life. The challenges faced by the 2015 Rangers are nothing compared to those of Jimerson.
Born in northern California, Jimerson could have easily fallen into a life of temptation, falling victim to the predicaments provided to his life by the unhealthy, and often violent, relationship of his parents, being surrounded by a culture of drug addiction, or the constant recruitment from the various gangs in the area.
But CJ was not just a statistic. CJ had talent, he had promise, and he saw a way out.
During his teenage years, Jimerson moved in to his sister Lanette’s two bedroom apartment and began attending Hayward High School, where he would excel on the basketball court. After some time away from the game, Jimerson returned to the baseball field as well, where he dominated during his SR year, hitting .424 and catching the attention of Houston Astros scout Gene Wellman, who decided to draft him in the 1997 MLB draft, going in the 24th round.
But Jimerson was not just a statistic. He wanted more.
Jimerson decided that there may be more to life than just baseball and wisely chose to walk on to the University of Miami baseball team, receiving an education while pursuing his baseball dreams.
Even as a walk on at Miami, Jimerson was not just a statistic. He finished his career with two college World Series rings and was the 2001 CWS Most Outstanding Player (and made one of the best homerun robbing catches in CWS history).
Jimerson went on to be drafted again by the Houston Astros, but this time in the 5th round. He then struggled with the life of a minor league ball player, trying to find his role within the Astros organization and dealing with a number of race issues that were part of what resulted in the declining percentage of African-American baseball players.
But Jimerson was not a statistic. He did not give up on his dream to play in the majors.
On September 4, 2006, Jimerson was finally given the opportunity to have an at bat in the Major Leagues. Called up to an Astros team that featured a rotation including Roger Clemens, Andy Pettite, and Roy Oswalt; Jimerson was looked to as a potential offensive spark and pinch runner on a team that was basically relying on Lance Berkman for their offensive production.
During the sixth inning, Jimerson was called on to pinch hit in the pitchers spot for Roger Clemens. This was no normal first plate appearance though, this was a plate appearance against emerging Phillies ace Cole Hamels, who had a perfect game through 5 2/3.
The odds were against CJ, but he was not just a statistic.
As he had his entire life, Charlton Jimerson defeated the odds, crushing a 2-0 Cole Hamels changeup 434 feet over the centerfield wall. Perfect game, shutout, lead; all gone. Dreams of achieving a Major League at bat; achieved.
Against All Odds, Charlton Jimerson achieved his dream.
Against All Odds, the Texas Rangers are 10 games away from making the 2015 playoffs.
As I look and see that, as of today, the Texas Rangers are given an 8% chance of winning the World Series, I remember that 8% is just a number, and the 2015 Texas Rangers, as well as Charlton Jimerson, have taught me that being just a number can be easily overcome.
For more information about Jimerson's book, Against All Odds, visit http://www.amazon.com/Against-All-Odds-Success-Story/dp/1496156412
Buy the book, you won't be disappointed.
Follow CJ on twitter, @TruthAboutMLB