In which I get the final word: Keeping score of Manny, pt. 3

March 21st, 2007 → 10:57 am @ // No Comments

Right. So: here’s part 3 of this whole imbroglio. I’ll sum up my position as follows: stats are enormously useful, and the intelligent use and analysis of statistical information has revolutionized the appreciation of and understanding of baseball, just as it’s revolutionized the way smart front offices put together their on-field teams. As Murray Chass knows, I think people who argue to the contrary are, to put it bluntly, Neanderthals.

But we should be as careful in our use of (and as wary of our over-reliance on) statistics as we should be about old-fashioned scouting. The statistical analysis of baseball is most effective when it’s one part of an integrated-arsenal, and that arsenal includes scouting, player relations, and a healthy dose of skepticism. Ergo: when the very people compiling the raw data for defensive stats tell me there are situations in which it’s all but useless, I’ll be skeptical.

And we should also take care to consider the human element of the game. There are plenty of times when a player’s comfort level/happiness can effect his play and/or the general mood around the team (see: Garciaparra, Nomar). Ortiz has been vocal enough about what he sees as the advantages of DHing and the disadvantages of his playing in the field that I think that option is pretty much a non-starter.

Does that mean, as I likely implied, it hasn’t been considered? Absolutely not. But I think it’s been discarded as a serious option. And if it hasn’t, I think it should be.

Post Categories: Dan Rosenheck & Keeping Score & Manny Ramirez & New York Times & Statistics

One Comment → “In which I get the final word: Keeping score of Manny, pt. 3”

  1. DanRosenheck

    17 years ago

    Dear Seth,

    With all due respect, your “final word” appears to be a bit of a cop-out–you say we’re “talking past each other” and then conveniently sidestep all of my arguments. I’m still eagerly awaiting your responses to the following questions:

    1. If PBP metrics are as unreliable as you say, what do you believe accounts for the broad agreement between the STATS and BIS databases, which are compiled by different observers using different methodologies who are not in contact with each other? Unless you can offer a convincing alternative explanation and support it with hard evidence, it seems to me the only possible conclusion to draw is that they are both accurately recording what happens on the field.

    2. Why do you believe that David Ortiz would hit worse if he had to play first base? Has he ever said that he would not try as hard at the plate if he had to play the field? If so, I’d trade him the next day for a bag of baseballs. The guy’s being paid $12.5 million–he should do whatever it takes to help the team win, and not complain about it either.

    3. Why do you believe that other players on the team would play worse if Ortiz were moved to first base? Can you give me any example in major league history of a player’s teammates’ performance decreasing due to the player’s disgruntlement over a position switch? If not, this is pure fabrication.

    4. What do you think the Red Sox would lose by testing Ortiz at first for a trial period, and seeing if a) he was an absolute butcher in the field, worse than Manny b) his hitting got a lot worse or c) his teammates played worse than expectations, and cited the sour grapes in the clubhouse as the reason for their inability to concentrate? If any of the above were true, Boston could simply switch them back. And if, as I suspect, none of them were, then Boston would likely win another one or two games, which could absolutely make the difference in baseball’s most competitive division.

    5. Baseball players are human beings, but they are also professionals. We expect surgeons to save lives even if they are suffering nasty divorces. Why don’t you think we should expect the same of baseball players, who get paid far, far more? You’re asserting that “a player’s comfort level/happiness can effect his play an/or the general mood around the team.” That very well may be true, but I don’t see any reason to accept it without evidence. Maybe teams should interview players about their moods at one-week intervals and see how that correlates to their performance for the following week. I highly suspect you would find that except in literal cases of “dogging it,” such as Gary Sheffield or Vince Carter in basketball, you would find players happy after they’ve had a good week and unhappy after they’ve had a bad one, and that that would have no predictive value to determine their performance for the week to follow. But I’d be fascinated if you could prove me wrong.

    6. In your e-mail to me, you said that “it’s laboratory, number-crunching arguments like one that would have Ortiz move to first for all the reasons you laid out that allow Chass and his ilk to ignore the enormous advances made vis a vis our ability to use statistics to better understand and evaluate baseball.” This statement seems to contradict itself. What is the difference between “using statistics to better understand and evaluate baseball” and making a “laboratory, number-crunching argument?” The phrase “laboratory, number-crunching argument” sounds to me exactly like the type of Luddite rhetoric that all of us who truly want to understand this game we love should be fighting against, not deploying ourselves.

    A final word about scouting. No sensible person argues that scouts are worthless. But scouts should be subjected to the same type of objective performance analysis we apply to players! Which scouts have successfully identified the highest percentage of major league and particularly superstar talent at the amateur levels, especially players whose high school or college statistics were not immediately impressive? Which scouts have correctly predicted that some aspect of current major league players’ skill sets were likely to improve or deteriorate, particularly when that would not be expected from a standard aging curve? Just as statistics enable us to determine who the best players are, they should enable us to determine which scouts are actually worth their salaries (and the great ones are worth big, big bucks) and which ones are simply taking up space.


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