There is no statistic that represents a fan's confidence. You may know Omar Vizquel's Zone Rating or his Fielding Percentage or his Shoe Size, but none of these adequately explains why you feel that, when the ball was hit to the hole between short and third in 1998, you knew it was an out. There is nothing that adequately represents why you "knew" that Bob Wickman would weasel out a save but Eric Plunk with Far Superior Numbers would not. In short, there is no "It" statistic, no number that adequately explains why you "know" this player has "It" and that player doesn't.
That's one of the reasons we watch.
When Jim Thome faced Troy Percival in the ninth inning, he had "It."
When Kenny Lofton led off and everyone in the stadium knew he would steal and he did anyway, he had "It."
When Casey Blake walked to the plate with runners in scoring position and two outs, he lacked so much "It" that a large whooshing sound could be detected as far away as Lima, the sound of "It" rushing out of the stadium at supersonic speeds.
This article has little background in stats or supportable evidence: in fact, you probably don't agree with all the "Ittitude" I have had, or can think of some I wouldn't necessarily agree with. That's the essence of baseball fandom, in a way: the incontrovertible feeling that This Time, You Know.
Watch. You'll see.
There was no team more full of "It" in recent years than the 1995 Indians. Albert Belle had loads of "It." When Belle came to the plate and something dramatic was required, you knew that something dramatic was forthcoming. If you look in the record book, you'll see that Belle struck out in some of these circumstances, and grounded into some double plays, and … ah, who cares what the damned book says? Albert Belle hit four hundred sixteen home runs that season. I know it. I remember it. Every time he went to the plate, it was a double off the wall or a home run. And how.
Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez had not yet been infused with "It," but Kenny Lofton sure was. When he squared around to bunt, you knew there was no chance he'd be thrown out. And when he took a lead, he was certain to steal on the next pitch. If he didn't, he was simply taunting the pitcher. If he was called out, it was a bad call. Kenny Lofton hit .753 that season and stole nine hundred thirty two bases. I saw it with my own eyes. The record-keeping was spotty in those days. Pay no attention to Retrosheet.
The bullpen was overflowing with "It." Individually, you could get heebee-jeebees watching Eric Plunk make the Eric Plunk Face or Paul Assenmacher making the Chinless Wonder Face or Jose Mesa making the I Have Forgotten That I'm Jose Freaking Mesa Face, but collectively, you had starter, Tavarez, Plunk, Assenmacher, Mesa, ballgame. It was a lock. Jose Mesa would have saved one hundred sixty two games that season, except that:
We clobbered people frequently, winning by no fewer than fifty-three runs, which is not a Save Opportunity
2) We only played 144 games
So who are the candidates for "Itness" in 2006? Here's how I feel today:
Grady Sizemore in Center Field ("It" factor: 8.9): If a ball is hit in the air to center field, it is an out. Quoth me not speed rates or zone ratings or any such rot, it is an out. Huzzah!
Travis Hafner facing a right-handed power pitcher ("It" factor: 9.3): Home run.
Ron Belliard at Second Base ("It" factor: 6.5): I still have to overcome my natural aversion to agility from roly-poly guys, but does he even have a "range?" Doesn't "range" suggest there is an outer boundary? Belliard doesn't have one that I've seen.
Bob Wickman with runners on base ("It" factor 4): I still wait for someone to simply poke the ball over an infielder's head. I think I'm scarred by the ghost of Ernie Camacho.
(As an aside, David Riske had an "It" factor of negative 6.)
Aaron Boone facing a right-handed power pitcher ("It" factor: negative 9): Which will be more psychologicially devastating, a weak ground ball to short or third, or a strikeout? That's what will happen.
Every White Sox Starter in 2005 ("It" factor: infinite): In the spirit of Will Farrell imitating James Lipton, I must invent a new word for this. I will call them, "Fucktacular."
Every Tribe Bench Player ("It" factor: negative 8): It's a bad bench.
Casey Blake with runners in scoring position ("It" factor: negative infinity)
Casey Blake with bases empty ("It" factor: 7)
Rafael Betancourt ("It" factor: surprising): I am somehow still surprised when Raffy blows people away. How many times will it take before I believe it? I don't know.
If we get some "It" from Sabathia and Lee, some more from Victor and Jhonny's bats, and a boost from someone we don't expect yet … well, it'll be a fun season. Did I mention that I hate Minnesota's bullpen?