Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Real Flu-like Symptoms

Mark Teixeira was a wrecking crew last night, smacking two homers and collecting six RBIs. Of note: Teixeira says that he had been barfin' his guts out all day before the game, suffering from a flu bug of some sort.

I can't think of a way to really analyze it statistically, but it certainly seems like we have seen an awful lot of great sports performances by athletes who were suffering from the flu at the time. The classic example is MJ against the Jazz back in the 1998 finals, but it seems to happen really often.

I always wondered how that was possible, but Teixeira has an explanation:

When you [play with the flu], for some reason you get more focused, because you know you can't do everything you're used to doing. You're slower and your body hurts a little bit. So you focus and you're going to have nights like this.

That makes sense to me. It also reminds us that, despite the monster athleticism of anyone good enough to make the majors or the NBA, focus and mental discipline is what separates those who are simply gifted with athletic prowess from those who are truly elite.

Speaking of Teixeira, his line since being acquired by the Braves is .294/.388/.745, with 9 home runs and 25 RBIs in 18 games. The Braves haven't been setting the world on fire since they acquired him and haven't made up any real ground on the Mets, but that's certainly through no fault of his own.

Even with their middling play, however, they now stand only a game back in the wild card standings. With two strong starters, a lot of bats, and Teixeira in tow, the Braves may have a better chance of making more noise in the playoffs this year by squeaking in than they did in most of the years in which they coasted in.


Mr. Thursday said...

Last year, Ryan Howard was suffering "flu-like symptoms", and Charlie Manuel rested him for a game against the Reds. Howard was brought in to pinch hit, however, and promptly his a home run. He stayed in the game, and hit another in his second at-bat.

Howard's comments after the game were similarly interesting. The basic message was that he was feeling so weak, it took so much energy to swing the bat, that he had to be very selective with the pitches he swung at.

Given the big guy's whiff rate this year, maybe he could do for catching another cold, but regardless, the idea seems the same: you're sick, so you can't do everything as well as you normally can, do you spend only as much energy as necessary doing only that which you can do very well.

Brett said...

Surely there are many, many accounts of athletes suffering from the flu and... grounding weakly to second. It's just that these incidents are less salient because they fit into our accepted world view and we don't think about them much. They are certainly less likely to be written about, because they are relatively uninteresting (with the exception perhaps of suffering from flu-like symptoms and being unable to get into field goal position at the end of the Super Bowl).

I'm skeptical of athletes' accounts of causation after the fact because I believe that the outcome sincerely affects their interpretation of events. A pitcher will often feel completely differently about a particular pitch based solely on whether or not the batter managed to put it into play - if he put the pitch *precisely* where he wanted to but Vlad crushes it into the seats, he may honestly feel that he left it hanging. If Vlad swings and misses, then of course he had his location and felt great about it.

I suppose what I'm saying is that I am extremely skeptical that suffering from the flu could possibly be an advantage. Suppose that suffering from the flu makes you 10% as likely to produce a spectacular athletic outcome than if you were fully healthy. It would be hard for me to argue that, when that 10% comes in, the flu in any way aided or assisted you in achieving that outcome. But if it was nearly guaranteed to be written about in an account of the game, we're going to have lots of women's college basketball articles to Google, and it's going to leave us with a flawed estimation of the phenomenon of "flu-inspired" transcendence.

Shyster said...

Brett -- I agree with you on that. Hidden data problem. We always hear about when something happens, and never hear about something, er, not happening. One of my favorite books of all time is a book called How we Know What Isn't So, which deals with this and all manner of other fallacies.

64cardinals said...

What they call the flu today was called a hangover in the '60's and '70's.