GOP Hopes Lie in Small Ball
While Republicans have dominated the Congressional Baseball Game over the past half-century, 33-18-1 in the Roll Call era, Democrats go into this year’s matchup as the odds-on favorite to continue their four-game winning streak, led by Rep. Cedric L. Richmond on the mound.
For the past two years, the congressman from Louisiana has served gumbo that’s too hot for Republican batters. While it’s easy to contend such analysis of Richmond’s performance is based on a small two-game sample, his dominance can’t be denied.
Richmond’s complete-game, 16-strikeout performance last year is second only to the one-hitter that he threw in 2011, which was the best pitching performance in the past 11 years and arguably the best ever in a CQ Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game.
If he were pitching in the major leagues, Richmond’s 16 strikeouts in seven innings would be one shy of the MLB record, held by Roger Clemens, who had 17 over seven innings. There are six other pitchers who have had 16 strikeouts through seven innings, including five-time Cy Young Award winner Randy Johnson and Cy Young winners Cliff Lee and Jake Peavy.
Also, Richmond’s two-game strikeouts-per-walk average of 4.14 would have been second in the MLB last year.
On the Republican side, there has been little to brag about in the past two years. There was one bright spot in the Republican bullpen. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., shut out the Democrats in two innings with no hits and three strikeouts. He was the only pitcher on the Republican team with no earned runs.
Although statistics compiled for the game can at times be hard to measure, what with multiple substitutions per inning and the large rosters, some trends have become noticeable. To wit, the GOP could excel if it focused on playing small ball, which emphasizes speed and strong defense. Over the past 10 years, GOP players have stolen double the amount of bases as the Democrats — 32 to 16 — with Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., leading the way with six steals. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., trails Graves with four. Last year, Republicans had nine hits but only managed to convert them into five runs.
When it comes to fielding, errors have been breaking the Republicans. In the past five years, the Republicans have had 22 errors to the Democrats’ 12.
A key to a Republican victory is to take pitches, particularly in the early innings. In his first game, Richmond threw 122 pitches for 76 strikes (62 percent). In last year’s game, he had 136 pitches for 82 strikes (down to 60 percent). Richmond is rapidly approaching his 40th birthday, so increasing his pitch count would be a good strategy for the GOP.
One of the keys to the game is whether the Republicans can stop the onslaught of early inning runs by the Democrats. In the past five years, the Democrats have scored 38 runs in the first three innings and 26 runs in the last four innings.
Republicans also need to find a way to stop the bleeding once they get scored on. The Democrats have scored six or more runs in five innings during the past five games. Republicans have had only two innings with six or more runs in the past 13 years.
The 52nd Annual CQ Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game is Thursday at 7:05 p.m. at Nationals Park. Tickets can be purchased at congressionalbaseball.org.