Mike Blowers’ “Amazing” Call Debunked October 2, 2009

Mike Blowers’ “Amazing” Call Debunked

***Update***: Some of you take this waaaay too seriously 🙂 I’m not going back on what I wrote below — I don’t think Blower’s call is as impressive as it has been made out to be. It just so happens that many things (that I find relatively predictable) came together all at once. That is pretty cool — I’m not denying it — but it’s not all that unusual. If we took stock of all predictions, with this degree of specificity, made by broadcasters, I suspect we’d find that just about all fall short. But a few will get several points right, as Blowers did. He’s not a psychic, nor did he claim to be. I’m not attacking him.

I’m just saying the hype over the call is overblown.

As I state below, people always tend to remember the hits and forget the misses. In this case, we’re making a big deal out of a hit (that is indeed expected to occur once in a long while).

Don’t forget that events having a one-in-a-million chance of happening still occur thousands of times a day.

I think this is one of the better responses to this posting. It’s by Sixty Feet, Six Inches at Bleacher Report.

The headlines read:

They’re all referencing an “amazing” predicted call made by Seattle Mariners commentator Mike Blowers.

Before a game last week against the Toronto Blue Jays, Blowers predicted several things about rookie Matt Tuiasosopo:

1) He would hit his first major-league home run that day…

2) … off of pitcher Brian Tallet

3) … during his second at-bat of the game…

4) … on a 3-1 count…

5) … it would be a fastball…

6) … and the ball would land in the second deck of the Blue Jays’ stadium…

7) … in left center field.

And guess what happened…?

Seems pretty amazing, right? (You can hear high quality audio of the prediction being made and the actual play’s call here.)

No, it’s not.

It’s far from an “amazing prediction.”

Let’s step back for a second.

Detailed predictions like this are made all the time by sports broadcasters. There are several different predictions every week regarding the final score, the quarterback’s accuracy, and a certain player’s rushing yards, etc. for every football game in the country. Just about every one of those predictions is wrong.

We never talk about those, though, because humans are wired to remember the hits and forget the misses.

Blowers’ call seemed to get a lot of hits, though… so let’s examine them.

1) He would hit his first major-league home run that day…

Not an unusual prediction to make for a promising rookie. I do wonder if Blowers ever made this prediction anytime before… but let’s give him credit here.

He’s 1 for 1.

2) … off of pitcher Brian Tallet

Well, Tallet was the starting pitcher. It doesn’t take a baseball expert to know Taller will be pitching for most of the game, barring a really bad day. Blowers doesn’t get credit for this.

He’s 1 for 2.

3) … during his second at-bat of the game…

A nice, specific prediction, right? Not really. There’s a good reason he made that particular call. Blowers said, “I thought he would take some pitches in his first at-bat, because he’s a rookie.”

Indeed, players are less likely to swing early in the game so they can see more pitches, get a feel for the pitcher’s style, and take advantage of it all later.

He’s 1 for 3. (Though this one is arguable.)

4) … on a 3-1 count…

Blowers gets no credit for this one. Typically, a pitcher will make difficult pitches early in the count to see if anything works against the batter. But if the batter doesn’t swing, a 3-1 count (3 balls and 1 strike) isn’t out of the question. Not only that, but pitcher Tallet was known to be “a little wild” according to Blowers himself. That is to say, he’d work himself into a 3-1 count more often than other pitchers.

When the count gets to 3-1, a batter can expect to see something hittable. You can assume pitchers don’t want to walk a player with a 4th ball, so they try to throw something in the strike zone. Indeed, a 3-1 count is known as a “hitter’s count.”

He’s 1 for 4.

5) … it would be a fastball…

On a 3-1 pitch, one would expect to see a fastball. As stated a little bit ago, the pitcher doesn’t want to walk the batter. He’s not going throw a curveball or a slider that could get away from the plate. A fastball has the best chance of fooling the batter… in fact, the commentators even say right before the pitch “It’s going to be a fastball.”

The upside to this for the batter is that he knows what’s coming and he prepares to swing fast and hard at the ball. I don’t have the stats in front of me, but I would suspect the number of home-runs hit on 3-1 fastballs are higher than you would find for just about all other pitches and counts.

He’s 1 for 5.

6) … and the ball would land in the second deck of the Blue Jays’ stadium…

This one just didn’t happen. Rachel Maddow was actually wrong in the clip above when she said Blowers nailed every prediction.

He’s 1 for 6.

7) … in left center field.

Tuiasosopo is a right-handed batter. Most of his balls are going to be hit toward the left side of the field. Blowers doesn’t get credit for pointing out the obvious.

He’s 1 for 7.

1 for 7 isn’t impressive in the least. Plenty of people have had better accuracy when playing the lottery.

So let’s not make Blowers’ call a big deal. It was entertaining, but it wasn’t impressive.

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  • maddogdelta

    One minor quibble… The kind of pitch used in a 3-1 count will tend to be the pitcher’s most reliable “get it into the strikezone” pitch. For 90% of pitchers, this will be the fastball, but some pitchers will go with sliders, split fingered fastballs or, if we’re talking about Tim Wakefield, a knuckleball.

    However, that means that the call for “what kind of pitch” is doubly easy. If Tallet was known for his slider, then calling a fastball would be a good prediction, but still only 50%-50%, because most pitchers (except Wakefield!) have a good enough fastball for a 3-1 or 3-0 count… Tallet (checking his profile at the Blue Jays website) isn’t a top of the line pitcher, which means he probably has the standard set of pitches, and nothing amazing like a hard slider or split fingered fastball. So, all he would have would be the fastball on a hitter’s count.

    One other “strike” against this prediction… The guy has a 7+ ERA in his last 4 starts….. So if a promising new hitter is going to hit a home run…Tallet would be the guy to try to hit against.

  • What nobody else (that I’ve seen or heard) have mentioned is that Blowers was almost certainly watching the Mariners work out earlier that day, and may have noticed that Tuiasosopo was in a groove, and was hitting some big shots to left centre during batting practice. Looks even less amazing when you figure in that possibility.

    The detailed knowledge of the game that made Mike Blowers a successful major league player is also what makes him a successful colour commentator, and is what makes this “prediction” much less amazing than it seems at first blush.

  • herdDad

    I can see saying he was 6 for 7, not 1 for 7. It sounds like you’re saying he got 6 things wrong, which he didn’t.

  • Why do you sound almost grumpy here? Like someone trying to tell a 3 year old girl that “NO, you’re not really a princess and you’ll never be one.”

    Just let it be a pretty cool happening at least.

  • Kate

    Gahh, another minor fuss. Please don’t use the word “wired”. Too close to “designed” for my tastes. 😛 But yes, we do attend to the hits and fail to attend to the misses. People seem to overlook the fact that if the odds of something are 1 in 1,000…it doesn’t mean 1 in never. It does happen.

  • Peregrine

    A customer calls in. They have a machine that keeps restarting itself over and over, without warning, apparently at random. Immediately, I list off a number of things off the top of my head that could cause the problem. Overheating is obvious; check the cooling system. Low voltage from the power supply. Bad capacitors in the motherboard. I’ve seen the pattern over and over again in my career.

    I’ve seen the symptoms before. I know the systems inside and out, and I work with them nearly every day of my career. Just like Mike Blowers can recognize patterns in baseball, because he works with them every day of his career. I even work with techs who refuse to believe me when I list the possible causes of the problem. (Usually because it mean it’s a hardware issue, and they have to pay for my opinion.)

    But, it never ceases to amaze them when they open the case and find that their CPU fan is clogged with lint. I called it!

    The same can be said for a doctor who recognizes a disease by noticing all the symptoms and putting the pieces together. That’s one of the reasons House is so popular. There’s nothing magic about it. We’re professionals. We know our stuff. And that in itself is astounding.

    Yes, humans are hardwired to recognize patterns, and it occasionally leads us to being spot on. Or at least close enough to do a double-take. And of course we get a little thrill from being right.

    Does that make it any less thrilling? Do we have to kick the magic out of every little thing? Or can we just enjoy the moment?

  • mikespeir

    I probably would have counted more hits, but it still isn’t very convincing.

  • Hughes

    It’s a good call – an element of luck, sure, but still a good call.

    It’s a bit like poker. You can say it’s just luck but Phil Ivey will still beat you 70% of the time.

  • Jack

    This was just a cool prediction that he got lucky on. Stop being so uptight about it. He is 6 for 7 in my book.

  • Andrew Morgan

    Yeah, unless someone is seriously trying to claim he has magical powers, we should probably laud him for being good at what he does.

  • Jason Motia

    I guess I don’t know what your argument is? He didn’t claim to have ESP, he was just having fun. It took some baseball knowledge and some luck. No one is saying anything different. And how was it debunked? He said those things before it happened, and it happened.

  • mikespeir

    The commenters above had made a good point. I guess it’s just that in my experience somebody is going to hold this kind of thing up as evidence of supernatural insight, even if the guy himself doesn’t.

  • Polly

    I don’t follow baseball or any other sport. Maybe it’s because of that, that I found this post fascinating. There’s a lot more going on than just one guy throwing a ball and another hitting it with a stick! 🙂

  • I would give him credit for the 3-1 count. There are twelve different possible counts in baseball. Blowers was right in guessing that it would be a 3-1 instead of 0-0 or 1-2 or 2-1 or 3-0, etc. Stop being a stick in the mud and admit he got that part right.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    The math in this post doesn’t make a lot of sense. Even if some of the predictions are obvious, and you don’t want to count them in his favor, there’s no reason to count them against him. By this logic, if Blowers had also thrown in that Tuiasosopo would be (8) a carbon-based (9) biped using (10) a regulation bat (11) on Earth, you’d lower his score to 1 out of 11. That doesn’t make any sense; maybe you wouldn’t want to increase his score for such obvious predictions, but you shouldn’t lower it.

    But for that matter, unless Blowers is claiming to be psychic, it doesn’t make sense either for you to dismiss predictions because Blowers had rational bases for making them. As other commentators have said, this post reads more “grumpy old man” than “promotional of skeptical inquiry.”

  • Ron in Houston

    Awe, come on Hemant, even if it was an educated guess, it was still a good one.

    We do tend to like to make more of this than we should.

  • Aaron

    Hemant, you’re a complete fucking moron. You should never be allowed to post anything anyone can read ever again. You should just keep your fucking pie hole shut idiot.

  • Rieux

    Goodness, Hemant, I’m a little shocked that you, of all people, are ignoring the simple math of all these things. You’re certainly correct that Blowers missed #6, but refusing to give him credit for any of 2-5 or 7 is just… well, innumerate.

    If I make an extremely detailed prediction about a particular event, the fact that each element/detail of my prediction is fairly likely–say, 40%–to come to pass doesn’t change the fact that the overall prediction is actually quite unlikely. It’s not terribly complicated math, as I’m sure you know: 40% to the seventh power is 0.16%.

    So dismissing all of Blowers’ “safe” predictions is just absurd. (Especially given that perhaps three of the seven were as much as 40% likely to be correct.)

    (1) In one sense, this is actually the least impressive prediction of them all, because it was evident to anyone paying attention that Tuiasosopo had never hit a home run. His first dinger was going to come at some point. But sure, it’s a big deal to have correctly picked the game in which it would be hit, presuming (as you note) Blowers hasn’t done this repeatedly.

    (2) Yes, starting pitchers usually last long enough to get through the opposition’s order twice (Tuiasosopo was batting eighth for the Mariners)–but they certainly don’t always. The home run was hit in the fifth inning, and starters (especially ones who are prone to giving up dingers) are routinely knocked out before then. Blowers just reduced his chances of getting the greater prediction correct by something like 30%, but you pretend he’s done nothing.

    (3) No, it’s not a big leap to think a rookie is likely to be homerless in his second at-bat. But again, Blowers has sharply narrowed his prediction–if Tuiasosopo homers in his first time up, or third or fourth, this is a miss. (In fact, Tuiasosopo was 0 for 3 the rest of the game, including striking out in the ninth with his team down a run.) Sure, Blowers “had a reason,” but that doesn’t change the fact that this one had, what, a 30% chance of succeeding? Blowers says “second at-bat,” the homer happens in the second at-bat, and you call it a miss? Because he “had a reason”? WTF?

    (4) Oy! “No credit” for picking the precise count? Come on! A huge proportion of major league at-bats (especially for rookies!) never reach 3-1, much less result in a home run on that count. Yes, a solid hit is marginally more likely to result from a pitch thrown on that count than on most other counts, but it makes no sense to compare 3-1 to any other particular count–say, 1-2. The proper comparison here is the raw number of homers hit on 3-1 versus the raw number of homers hit on all of the other ball-strike counts combined; and in light of that contrast, the chances that this home run would be hit on 3-1 particularly are extremely small. Even if you think that Tuiasosopo is a rookie and is therefore more likely to take a few more pitches, that can only add a percentage point or two to the 3-1-count odds. “No credit”? Ridiculous.

    (5) Sure, pitchers throw more fastballs on 3-1 than they do other pitches. Still, knocking 35%, or some similar fraction, off of Blowers’ chances of getting the greater prediction correct is not nothing. If I predict it’s going to be sunny in Phoenix tomorrow, and it is indeed sunny in Phoenix tomorrow (as was highly likely), I’m still right. It’s not a “miss,” and if I keep betting all of my money on sunny days in Phoenix, at some point that long-shot rainstorm is going to bust me.

    (6) He was wrong. And Maddow probably should have noticed that.

    (7) Again, batters hit homers to the opposite field (here right) all the time. They also hit them to center and down the line of their pull field. I don’t know whether Tuiasosopo is a “pull hitter”; if so, left-center is perhaps a 50-50 prediction. (If not, far worse.) “Pointing out the obvious”?!? If I walk up to the roulette wheel, bet $100 on red, and it in fact comes up red, have I merely “Point[ed] out the obvious” that it was going to come up red? Sorry, but I’m going to demand $100 from the casino whether you think it was “obvious” or not.

    Yeesh. Blowers was demonstrably right on six out of the seven elements of his prediction. (2), (5), and (7) were relatively safe predictions, but that doesn’t make them “misses”; home runs are hit all the time that violate all three of those. (3) is not nearly as safe as you claim, and (4) is in fact highly improbable.

    So please. The chances Blowers had of seeing six out of his seven predictions come true were extremely long-odds. (And from the audio of him making the call, it’s clear that he is not in the practice of making such detailed predictions; that’s why the other people in the booth were laughing.) Of course it makes more sense to attribute his success to dumb luck rather than, say, psychic ability, but I don’t see how it makes any sense to pretend that this wasn’t a strikingly improbable event.

  • Andrew Morgan

    I think a neat post would be to take this from the angle of, “Here is how you should think about things that seem amazing or supernatural.”

    You’ve made great points Hemant, and this is a great demonstration of the power of human reason to both make the call and determine rationally how he made the call. But I agree with the other comments that the tone is unnecessarily combative.

  • Tyson

    The fact that you had to make this post tells us a lot about human nature. I like this comic:


    I usually do it with a deck of cards, but to be honest, certain cards in a deck are chosen more often than others. And you can say things to narrow the choices they have like, “Don’t pick something like the Ace of Spades… because then you’ll think I just had that one up my sleeve or something.”

  • So, individually, all of these predictions are fairly germane. What are the odds they would all actually happen as predicted in this time in this place? It’s still pretty impressive. Isolated, sure, but still fun to see it happen.

    Keith Olbermann likes to tell the combined stories of how he called Bucky Dent’s home run in the playoff game against the Red Sox before it happened, and he preticted that Kurt Gibson would homer to win for the Dodgers in the opening game of the 88 world series before it happened. He claims he has witnesses, too. THAT impresses me more.

  • Brian

    I’m going to assume that the real purpose of this post is to generate hits on your website because while the points you make are mildly interesting, I don’t see how you could see this as anything but amazing, nor why you would feel the need to “debunk” it as such.

    Of course logic went into the prediction and some of the points (it being his first home run) were almost “no-brainers” but you simply cannot dismiss the fact that the odds of the overall prediction (or even 6/7s of it) to come to fruition were still extremely low, as Rieux pointed out in his excellent comment above.

    I’m also wondering why, in point 5 you say “A fastball has the best chance of fooling the batter” if the batter “knows what’s coming and he prepares to swing fast and hard at the ball”. Those two statements seem contradictory to me. The latter seems to be the more accurate of the two statements, but even if Tui does “know what’s coming”, that doesn’t mean he’s definitely going to hit it out. In fact, it’s just as if not more likely that he will pop it up, or ground out, or just get a base hit, or even swing and miss.

    Paul, just because a player is “in a groove” in batting practice doesn’t mean a player is more likely to hit one out in the game. Batting practice pitches in-game pitches. Ichiro, for one, is known for hitting balls out of the park all the time in BP (which is why a lot of people say he should be in the HR derby) but hardly ever does it in game.

    Peregrine, your analogy is a poor one, IMHO. A tech support guy or a doctor figuring out the cause of a problem by analyzing the symptoms does not compare to what Blowers did at all. In Blowers’ case, there were no symptoms. A more accurate analogy would be to say that at the beginning of the day, the tech support guy randomly predicted that that particular machine would crash today, around 1 pm and it would be due to the fan. You see the difference? One is a detailed prediction that something will happen, the other is just trying to figure out why something already did happen. If Blowers had simply said after the fact that Tui hit the homerun because he got a good swing on a fastball that the pitcher left up in the zone on a 3-1 count (which is the sort of thing that color commentators normally say), then your analogy would be spot on.

  • Andy

    Seriously? This was a sporting event, where they were having some fun. The announcer makes a pick before every game of whom he thinks is going to have an impact on the game. This time he was goaded into being a little more specific. They were laughing throughout the whole thing. It wasn’t meant to be serious. It is baseball, it’s meant to be fun. No one is claiming psychic powers here.

    You’re coming across as a bit of a stick in the mud with this one… It’s some guys having fun, not trying to convince the world he has mystical powers, or Jebus appeared to him in a vision and told him what would happen…

  • Chris

    Not sure what exactly your issue is here. Do some math (dont you like teach it or something?), it’s a pretty intense prediction. Yeah, it’s probably based somewhat on the announcer’s experience with when it’s most likely for someone to hit a pitch, but all predictions are.

    Simply predicting that a rookie will hit a home run in a game is what, a 1/8th shot at best? That’s if a rookie were to be projecting 20 home runs in a season, out of a 160 game season.

    Then add to that 4 or so different at bats – even taking into account that SOME at bats are going to be more likely to produce a home run, it’s not as if the probabilities for the other at bats drop to zero.

    Then take into account the exact pitch count – again, 3-1 may be a good count for a home run and a fast ball, but it’s hardly a sure thing that he’ll even reach that count. Keep in mind also that you only get ONE pitch on a 3-1 count (as opposed to x-2, where you can foul off as many balls as you want without affecting the count).

    It’s like the previous poster said – take each of the predictions individually and they’re not that impressive (i.e. SOMEONE will hit a home run on a 3-1 count, SOMEONE will hit a home run at the second at bat). But all of them combined make for an extremely unlikely circumstance.

    Yeah there’s obviously ton of wrong predictions all the time, but when an improbable one like this occurs, it should be treated as being pretty amazing/funny. Otherwise

  • Bobby

    Definitely agreeing with the rest of the commenters: total statistics lesson fail. You are right about the fact that humans tend to look for amazing and ignore the incorrect predictions. But this–good at his job and a little lucky–called it. No need to piss on him for it. And Rachel compared the prediction to Nate Silver, not Jesus. You, on the other hand, are no Nate Silver.

  • Spurs Fan

    I would agree with the above commenters. The distinction here is that this was a reasoned prediction and not just supernatural. It is clear from the video that announcers were having fun with it and no one was claiming that they were told by god or anything.

  • Nate

    I think it’s fairly obvious from the post that our Friendly Atheist doesn’t watch or listen to much baseball commentary. Pretty safe to say that the entire thing was out in left-field, so-to-speak.

  • Dan

    Wow, this is a terrible analysis. Do you understand probability? How can you say he “doesn’t get credit” for a prediction he got right? Like someone said, if he makes any of these predictions individually it wouldn’t be news at all, but put them all together, and it’s pretty impressive. And yes, sportscasters make predictions all the time, but they’re usually general predictions about the offense, defense, or whether or not a player will have a good game. Very rarely do they make extremely specific predictions like this. So the fact that the analyst happened on that occasion to make a very specific prediction as a joke should also be considered. I’ve read where Richard Dawkins argues that things we think are extremely improbable actually aren’t that unlikely. He made some good points, but if this was an attempt to be like Dawkins you completely whiffed. Even he would say it’s impressive.

  • mikespeir

    Aaron, Blasphemy Day was yesterday.

  • Russ

    It was a lot of fun to watch his completely random prediction nearly fulfilled. Much of that fun came from its being completely random. I think he threw out some thoughts consistent with the game he loves and he happened to be very close.

    I’m entertained, but not impressed because I’ve done it myself in a variety of sports and other areas of interest. One year I correctly guessed ten of that year’s Oscar winners although I knew nothing about the nominees. Pure guess.

    His closeness of his guess was pure luck, but it was fun to watch.

  • Dave Niehaus Jr.

    Atheist also here, but the way.

    All I have to say, sir, is: OH MY GOD.

    Don’t be such a douche. Are you a card-carrying member of the No Fun League? The hyper-analysis of what is obviously a freak fluke call IN A BASEBALL GAME staggers all reason. It’s not like Blowers cried “PRAISE ALLAH” when the homer was hit.

    I know Mike. Dave who made the home call is my dad. This was all in fun, a genuinely chance event and all the giggling on the broadcast is truly “WTF!!!”

    Sir, find something better to pick apart. This must’ve been a REALLY slow week.

  • Brian

    Watching the M’s tonight and Blowers and the guys are having a lot of fun with it. Blowers seems the most surprised by all the fuss. I look at it as just a fun thing in a year when we need a few fun things. He certainly isn’t taking it seriously and neither should we. Have a laugh, it won’t kill ya.

  • Hemant:

    Stop being such a mean-spirited bitch.

    Skepticism is one thing. Sucking the fun out of a popsicle is another thing.

    The man called it. It happened.

    That’s baseball.

    /I hate you.

  • Justin

    Terrible analysis. 1 for 7? Not getting credit for things you predicted and then that happened? Please.

  • Dan

    **Update** It wasn’t that you thought the call was unimpressive. It was because your analysis of the probability of it happening was completely and fundamentally wrong. Saying he was 1 for 7 is absurd. If you would have made an actual analysis of the probability your article would hold more weight. (although I believe an actual analysis would undercut your entire premise)

  • guest

    Lamest post and analysis ever!

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