Thursday, August 5, 2010

Oh, It's All So Easy

  • Stat Zombies---the radical right wing of baseball:

I received a link on Twitter yesterday from Joe at StatMagician. Yes, he's a stat zombie; and yes, he's a Red Sox fan; but despite all that, he can think reasonably when he decides to. He also has a borderline disturbing affinity for Keith Law, but that's whole other tale.

The link was on FanGraphs and extols the virtues of Wins Above Replacement and----as is the easiest, cheapest and least imaginative thing to do these days----uses the Mets as the team in question to flog for ignoring WAR; and of course the whole premise is taken horribly out of context to convenience the argument.

First, the title "Why Not Understanding Marginal Utility is a Circular Problem" is so pompous and condescending as if to imply that the Mets----who do have numbers crunchers in the organization----don't process the concept of WAR. It's as if the stat obsessed are patting on the head any club who dares to think differently, thereby minimizing any savvy they might have; that teams who don't put numbers above any and all other possible player attributes require WAR to be explained to them as if they're a slow, dimwitted child.

On the surface, what the author Pat Andriola says makes sense. In reality, he's picking and choosing his facts to serve him rather than taking all circumstances into account to understand why the Mets did what they did. Perhaps he doesn't follow the club closely enough to have a grasp on these nuances; or perhaps he ignored them in pursuit of an easy example to "prove" his point.

Andriola posts the Mets "opening" lineup (and screws it up because Jose Reyes was on the disabled list to start the season, but let's not nitpick): C-Rod Barajas; 1B-Mike Jacobs; 2B-Luis Castillo; 3B-David Wright; SS-Jose Reyes (Alex Cora played on opening day); LF-Jason Bay; CF-Gary Matthews Jr.; RF-Jeff Francoeur.

Then, he adds the following:

Do you see the weak logs? It shouldn’t be that hard. Mike Jacobs is now a Triple-A player for the Jays after proving he can’t hit major league pitching during his brief stay with the Mets. Gary Matthews Jr. had a .234 wOBA for the Mets, striking out in 41% of this plate appearances. Rod Barajas is currently on the DL, but has been below average with a .292 wOBA and 0.5 WAR on the season. Jeff Francoeur honestly doesn’t deserve to play baseball at any level professionally, despite how affable he may be. His .284 wOBA is made even worse by his tendency (or just self-afflicted rule) to swing at everything often and early. I won’t even mention Alex Cora.

Many of those players have been replaced. Josh Thole has been very good during his limited time at catcher, Angel Pagan has been one of the best players in baseball this season, and Ike Davis is having a nice rookie year at first base. Still, this unsurprisingly hasn’t been enough for the medicore Mets. When you see that it took months for R.A. Dickey and Hisanori Takahashi to replace Oliver Perez and John Maine in the rotation, nobody should be surprised at the record of the Mets.

The implication is that the Mets randomly decided to go with the veterans Jacobs and Matthews when they had other, better options at the positions in Ike Davis and Angel Pagan and should have seen this statistically and practically and known not to play them to begin with.

Naturally, this interferes with the facts. Despite Davis's superlative spring performance and solid rookie campaign, how many times have we seen a young player thrust into the spotlight----especially in New York!!----and slumped terribly because of the pressure and lack of readiness? Did the Mets think Jacobs was the answer to their first base/power problems? No. It was a low risk/low money shot in the dark to see if Jacobs was going to open the season hot and do the one thing he does----hit a few homers. It didn't work and Jacobs was sent packing a couple of weeks into the season.

Regarding Matthews, has Pagan shown anything more than sparkling ability in recent years? Had he done much to warrant being placed in center field on opening day? He's fulfilling his talent now and showed flashes of what he could do in recent years, but with Pagan there was always the issue of brainlock that still occasionally crops up. They got the veteran Matthews for nothing (Brian Stokes pitched poorly for the Angels and is now on the disabled list with shoulder problem) and were only paying a minuscule fraction of his lofty salary. No one expected much; the Mets got nothing and dumped Matthews, who quickly lost his job to Pagan.

Criticized for their "automatic scholarships" given to pitchers who ended up not deserving such status in Maine and Perez, were the Mets supposed to make a similar error with Pagan and give him the job automatically without him truly earning it? Did they lose all that much by seeing if the veterans had anything left? If there was any contribution they could provide before dispatching them when it was evident that they didn't? No.

Both Jacobs and Matthews were short-term stopgaps; and who's to say that because Pagan had to fight his way into the lineup, he wasn't further motivated to stop with the mental mistakes?

No one expected anything from Barajas other than what was always on the back of his bubblegum card. A few homers; no walks; a low batting average; a terrible on base percentage; solid pitcher-handling skills and good overall defense. Were they supposed to start the season with a rookie, Josh Thole with two pitchers in Maine and Perez that needed to be babied? Were they supposed to acquiesce to the ridiculous contractual demands and block Thole for 2010 and 2011 with the whiny Bengie Molina?

With Alex Cora, he does very little to help his team on the field any longer; but to think that Cora is the genesis of the Mets woes is nonsense. Every team----good, bad and mediocre----has players for whom the question can be asked, "why is he here?" The Phillies won the World Series with Eric Bruntlett on their roster; is Cora worse than Eric Bruntlett?

Then we get to Jeff Francoeur.

To make such a silly and intentionally glib statement as he "honestly doesn’t deserve to play baseball at any level professionally" is indicative of someone who's trying to be funny or knows nothing about baseball other than the statistics staring him in the face and directing his life.

I can no longer defend Jeff Francoeur's on-field performance; but my defending him had little to do with his affability; my defending him had to do with his natural talent and that he's a player worth trying to salvage. The Mets got him for nothing (Ryan Church); he played well and infused the clubhouse with enthusiasm and excitement late last season; he's reverted back to his free-swinging ways that got him run out of Atlanta; but to say he doesn't deserve to play professionally? Francoeur is a "tools" player who, if he was 17, would be looked at with his build; his power; his arm; his aggressiveness; and his likability and would again be drafted in the first round as he was when the Braves took him in the 2002 draft!!!!

Francoeur's flaws are so glaring because of his reputation and because he's having a hard time changing, although he is trying. If he played for a better team for whom he could be more easily hidden in the lineup----the Yankees; the Red Sox; the Phillies----and scoring isn't a problem, he wouldn't be as much of a sitting duck to exemplify the zombie hatred; or if he played for the Pirates where no one would even notice he's there, it would be a similar situation.

The Mets were hoping that his good play from the last few months of 2009 would carryover; it hasn't. They hoped he would be able to handle being an important part of their lineup; he hasn't. A decision is going to have to be made with Francoeur; a decision to give up on his latent abilities at age 26 and move on or to keep trying to straighten him out. To suggest that he's worthless because he needs to be rebuilt (especially mentally) is another agenda-driven assertion; a lame attempt to be funny; or both.

Perez is a disaster and another player who was retained based on talent and need. There's no saving him for the Mets; but what were they supposed to do with him at the season's outset other than hope for "good Ollie" to show up? To possibly get something for the contract they bestowed upon him? Unlike Francoeur, whose talent is slumbering but present, it's clear that Perez is never going to have any use for the club.

Maine is a veteran who has been beset by injuries. The solution provided, that the Mets open the season with Takahashi and Dickey in the rotation, is absurd. Takahashi had a great spring, but that means what exactly? Plus he is far more valuable in the bullpen than he is as a starter; Dickey is a knuckleballer in whom the Mets might have discovered a Tim Wakefield of their very own, but did they know that then?


Maybe I'm wrong about relying on talent; in trying to save that which may not be savable; that it's better to look at the hard reality of a player and say, "this is what he is and I can't use it to win"; but there is reasonable justification for the talent theory.

There was a pitcher years ago----a big lefty----named Brad Pennington. A journeyman who bounced around with six organizations and was finished at 30, he had quite possibly some of the most devastating stuff I've ever seen. There were pitches he'd throw that made the hitters look inert; Babe Ruth himself couldn't have hit them. He received chance after chance because of that potential; but he never fulfilled it. It happens. Sometimes there are players for whom you can say, all he needed was a chance (Casey Blake for example); then there are the Francouers, the Penningtons, the James McDonalds who may or may not make it, but are not garbage to be tossed away and abandoned.

Andriola adds the caveat in his piece, "the best example I can give here is the Mets, although I’m sure you can think of examples with your own favorite team."

They're the "best" example? Where are the Mariners? Is the "best example" status of the Mets helped along because they have a GM who's reviled in stat zombie circles? A club that has the money (like the Red Sox) to cover up any mistakes-----personally and professionally----that would be made if one of their own was placed into a position to run the club, thereby validating---through specious means-----that their argument for the numerical way of running a team is superior?

Jack Zduriencik of the Mariners was labeled a genius almost immediately upon taking the job as the club's GM because he was replacing another loathed totem in stat zombie circles, Bill Bavasi; but the Mariners are a catastrophe; they're in-fighting; they're badly constructed on and off the field; and are going to lose 100 games. Wouldn't they have been a better target for ridicule? The reasons for what the Mets did are clear; it's also understandable that the Mariners chose to focus on pitching and defense in their big ballpark and decided to go for it with Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee fronting the rotation; and they also managed to get out from under Carlos Silva's contract and took a viable risk with Milton Bradley; but nothing's worked.

Is this objective analysis or is is agenda-driven hyperbole to twist reality in the chosen direction?

Outsiders who attack dissenters and refuse to account for the transitory nature of human beings think it's, "trade him; sign him; release him; bring in that guy; hire this guy" and POW!!!! We have a winning team. It doesn't work that way. Look at the plans of the likes of Zduriencik (with whom I have no issue personally, he's smart, but not a genius) and Billy Beane; they've failed.

Considering the expectations before the season started from the "experts", are the Mets in that bad of shape?


But they're easy to pick on and will be so as long as they struggle to move on from the contending years of 2006-2008 and the collapses that have labeled them a "joke"; then the media members advancing their clear talking points will find someone else upon whom to rain down their vitriol.

It's the way of the world.

  • Viewer Mail 8.5.2010:

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE team chemistry:

How could the new guys on the Yankees possibly be responsible for upsetting the team's chemistry? They've been there for like five minutes. Every team goes through slumps. Period.

I floated it as a possibility of why they suddenly started flopping around; it is too soon to make a judgment on that; but new players absolutely can have an immediate and negative impact on their clubs and it can have little to do with on-field performance.

A new face; a new personality; a new dynamic can influence a team in a myriad of ways. Players who cause problems off the field (David Wells) or players who cause problems on the field (Kerry Wood who's not any good----poetry!!!) may bring their troubles with them and infect the team.

It's not something that can be seen immediately, but it happens. Bottom line, the Yankees didn't need to make those acquisitions and they did, so whatever happens from that point on will have a frame of reference as to where things changed for the better or worse. We'll see what happens in retrospect.

I was a guest with Sal at SportsFan Buzz on Tuesday talking about the trade deadline, Ozzie Guillen and the pennant races. Click the link above or go to the site to download it on I-Tunes. Or you can get it directly here.

Tonight I'll be on with Jeff at Red State Blue State and his crew. It promises to get a little out of control----right up my alley.

My book is still available on Amazon, I-Universe and Barnes and It's available for download as an E-book here. You can also now get it for less that five bucks on BN via download here.


Jeff said...

"Why Not Understanding Marginal Utility is a Circular Problem"

These titles they come up with are probably responsible for why they are not getting laid.

And for the record, I was asleep by the second paragraph of Mr. Andriola's article.

Brooklyn Trolley Blogger said...

I'll throw Statso Andriola a bone and say it's fair to pick on the Mets. Having said that...I wouldn't even let him near my coloring books. Choosing the players he did was convenient but quite uninformed. That is clearly work of an outsider looking in. Matthews, Jacobs..etc were stop-gap players. But if he wasn't too busy polishing his abacus he would have known that.
I tried unsuccessfully to e-mail you yesterday; undeliverable to address. It had to do with Ozzie...and one of the players mentioned above. No biggie. Just wanted to clue you in about something not necessarily for mass consumption.