Keeping Score: The Times weighs in with another boneheaded Sox story

March 18th, 2007 → 9:30 am @ // No Comments

Only the most dyed-in-the-wool fanboys would ever claim that Manny Ramirez is a good outfielder; those folks that claim that he ouwits opponents by goading them into running on his (at best) average arm are as bad as folks that argue that Bush actually has a plan for getting out of Iraq. But his outfield play is not responsible for the Red Sox’s woes over the past six years, as some would argue.

Like, for instance, today’s “Keeping Score” column in the Times, which, in its own way, is just as dumb as Murray Chass’s “I refuse to learn anything about statistics because I’m a lazy toad, er, it would ruin my enjoyment of the game” gem. In today’s piece, Dan Rosenheck tries to smokescreen the reader with lots of impressive sounding, supposed truisms to argue that Manny’s defense is so bad it basically brings him down to the level of a mid-level All-Star. His central argument is this: “Accurate numerical evaluations of defense only became possible in 1987, when Stats Inc. began sending observers to every game to record the location and speed of every batted ball. This play-by-play (P.B.P.) information made it possible to measure fielding ability much more precisely, by comparing the rates that players at the same position fielded various types of balls…”

I’ve spent a fair amount of time speaking with those Stats Inc. “observers.” They are, for the most part, college kids who are given little training and are paid poorly to sit in the stands and carve up the field into zones belonging to each defensive position. The problem is, those zones are about as reliable as Mel Gibson once he’s gotten a few drinks in him. (Right, Leary?) To give Stats Inc’s P-B-P info this much weight is as dumb as, say, giving Derek Jeter the Gold Glove because you think he looks good in the field. Smart observers — and smart teams — make every effort to create their own defensive metrics, and those same observers have made cogent arguments as to why their work should not, on the whole, be considering overly reliable.

Rosenheck solidifies his Chassness with the following, completely asinine suggestion:

“The other solution would be to move Ramírez to designated hitter. That would require switching the incumbent D.H., David Ortiz, to first base. Ortiz is even less mobile than Ramírez, and given his corpulence, the demands of playing the field may substantially increase his risk of injury.”

To which I can only say: Wow. Ortiz has said clearly he’s more comfortable as a full-time DH; there’s also plenty of evidence (anecdotal and actual) that at least part of Ortiz’s prodigious offense results from the time he spends in the clubhouse between at-bats, when he studies previous at-bats against the opposing pitcher and reviews what might lead to success. What’s more — what’s more important, in fact — is the evidence that Ortiz’s well-chronicled injury history resulted from the pounding he took in the field. And bad knees plus first base is a bad combo. Right, Buckner?
Finally, “corpulence”? That’s a fancy way of saying someone’s fat. “Given his size,” maybe. “Given his history of knee injuries and attendant immobility,” maybe. But fat? David Wells is fat. I’ve seen David Ortiz with his shirt off. He’s a big man. But he’s not fat. And I bet Rosenheck is glad he’s not ever going to risk saying that to Papi’s face.

“Keeping Score” is often one of the Times‘s most interesting sports columns, especially when David Leonhardt is weighing in. Today’s is embarrassing. At the end of the day, Manny’s play in the field undoubtedly hurts the Sox. It’d be interesting to find out just what the cumulative effect of this is. We’re not going to learn that from the Times.

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

6 Comments → “Keeping Score: The Times weighs in with another boneheaded Sox story”

  1. sharrock

    17 years ago

    What gives people such an odd take on Manny’s defense is that he plays half his games in the craziest LF in baseball. In Fenway he can play this weird high-risk/fairly-high-reward style. He runs around, barely in control, and uses a quick release to sometimes make unexpected outs. Honestly, he makes a couple plays per year at home that are great. But this is a park factor.

    As a LF in Fenway you can play a wild style or you can play it so well nobody ever tests you or tries to stretch a single into a double. Third base coaches hold up runners because of how well you play bounces and make accurate throws to all bases. Its not flashy but it is highly effective. The wild-ass style is less effective but maybe more fun to watch and more likely to yield highlights.

    I live in Dallas so for the last five years the only live Manny I see is him patrolling a more normal LF in Arlington. It is a disaster. I sit down 3B line and my fiance and I are have to shake our heads at Manny many times in a given series. He takes bad angles, misjudges when and how to position himself for throws, makes it tough on cutoff men and on and on.

    Now, having said that, Manny is still one of the best players around. Lets face it, OF defense is often poor, and Manny is probably the most consistent RBI guy over the last ten seasons. He is our semi-lovable headcase. The now-cliched ‘hitting savant’ who can wow us with his idiocy and then make us cheer with his ability.

    Sunday mornings make me verbose.


  2. PaulZuvella

    17 years ago

    I’m clearly confused. In this article, Rosenheck refers to different defensive ranking systems, including Mitch Lightman’s widely respected UZR. Are you saying that we should completely discount all defensive ranking systems that are tied to P.B.P? What is the basis for your total disregard for Jeter’s defense? I assume it’s not just based on what you see. I’d guess you do rely on some metric to support your rather definitive view of Jeter. What is it? And how do you know yours is superior to ones that Rosenheck cites (which, by the way, are also down on Jeter). Do you offer caveats every time you disparage Jeter’s play in the field: “We do not know for certain that Jeter sucks at short…” Should Rosenheck’s article been filled with caveats? I guess so. But I don’t understand your gripe with him. You detect an anti-Sox bias here, but if this article had been written about Jeter, I’m guessing you wouldn’t have a problem with it. And big whoop! He called “Big” Papi corpulent. Not every journalist in America has had the good fortune of seeing Ortiz half-naked.


  3. PaulZuvella

    17 years ago

    So he called “Big” Papi corpulent? Big whoop! Not every journalist in America has had the good fortune to see Ortiz half-naked. It seems like a nitpick on your part. I think the readers got the point that he might hurt himself if he played out there every day. Perhaps, Rosenheck should have provided a more detailed history of Ortiz’s injuries. Again, it seems like a nitpick. More interesting to me is how this informs the discussion of Ortiz’s value, and why the issue of his DH-dom is a completely valid one to bring up when discussing MVPs. The fact that Big Papi cannot play in the field hurts the team. Manny is stuck out there when he should be DHing given his fielding woes and the fact that he’s getting older and more susceptible to month-long knee injuries. Ortiz is an unbelievable player undoubtedly, but this is exactly why his lack of a position hurts his value.


  4. PaulZuvella

    17 years ago

    Ughh! I thought my first post had been swallowed. My zinger repeated for all to not laugh at.


  5. tinisoli

    17 years ago

    Will anyone ever get enough access to Manny to write the definitive biography of one of the greatest right-handed hitters in history? I hope so. Perhaps the forthcoming New Yorker profile will be worth reading, but until then we are stuck with the same old “Manny being Manny” musings by Shaughnessy et al, which always trot out the same tired shite about what a confounding goofball he is before ending with the revelation that, hey folks, Manny actually studies the game and works hard and isn’t actually retarded.


  6. ygbluig

    17 years ago

    Two things in that article made me laugh out loud.
    1: Manny is such a defensive liability that when you subtract all the runs he allows from the runs he creates, he is on average equal to Nick Swisher of the A’s.
    2:Moving Manny to DH, Ortiz to 1B and Youk to left would be a defensive upgrade for the Red Sox, because no first baseman, no matter how awful, has ever allowed as many base runners to reach through poor play than Manny does out in left. Having seen Mo Vaugh, Kevin Millar and the worst of the worst Jason Giambi misplay the position, I beg to differ.


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