We Still Haven’t Learned

This is where 99% of baseball fans are.

I hope everyone had a nice July 4th weekend. I spent most of it serving beer, but it was fun and made a bit of money, which is always nice. The only bad thing is that it left zero time for posting, but I figure everyone was too busy to read anything anyway.

However, the All-Star selections irked me a bit. I made my AL and NL selections early last week. Now, I didn’t expect that the rosters would mirror mine. I didn’t expect my starters to be the real starters, and I knew some of my reserves or extra pitchers were bound to be left off the list. I didn’t expect the rosters to leave off star power in favor of who was actually the better player right now.

But I guess I expected the baseball world to learn. All of this talk about UZR, OPS, and FIP seemed to indicate the baseball world was becoming more knowledgable. But what I realized was that the baseball world in general has not learned a thing, even in the dugouts. What makes me say this?

1) Glaringly bad starter? Josh Hamilton. He of the big Home Run Derby has used his big performance on one night in a meaningless competition to propel himself in a totally undeserving All-Star start. His .746 OPS and 5.7 UZR (up considerably from a horrible -13.2 last season) earn him 0.9 WAR points, nowhere near enough for an All-Star berth. I’m not opposed to having “Hall of Fame” choices that get in though they really don’t deserve it, but I refuse to give players with a good year and half a bid without some sort of substance.

2) Wins do not indicate pitcher performance, but no one told Charlie Manuel. Example? Jason Marquis. He of the 4.19 FIP, 3.85 ERA, and 10 wins made it over Javier Vazquez, who has superior numbers everywhere but wins. Literally. Another? Ted Lilly and his 4.00 FIP, 3.36 ERA, and 8 wins is taking away Jair Jurrjens’, who has a better ERA and FIP (though Lilly’s K/BB is much better), spot. Okay, I might be a bit miffed about the Braves only getting one All-Star nod, but Ubaldo Jimenez, Joel Piniero, and Yovani Gallardo would have been much better selections as well. And Gallardo has a better record than Lilly!

3) Saves, saves, saves. I will always say that a closer deserves more respect than the average reliever, and their job is harder than most sabermetricians would argue. However, the save is one of the most overrated statistics in baseball. My hated selection in this category? Brian Fuentes of the 3.11 FIP and 28.1 IP (not bad but not as good as …) is no better than JP Howell (2.47 FIP and 38.1 IP), David Aardsma (2.60 FIP and 38.1 IP), Mike Wuertz (2.64 and 37.1), or DJ Carrasco (2.75 and 48.2 IP). But Fuentes and his 23 saves already are nice and shiny too I guess.

4) Power is not everything. Ryan Howard. Need I say more? Okay, a) he kills roster flexibility as there are 4 first basemen, b) his .328 OBP is awful, and c) his WAR is worse than Andy LaRoche’s. Need I say more? I guess he does have 20 HR and is playing at least solid defense.

5) Defense does matter. Let’s go pick on some people. Jason Bay (-7.4 defensively and 1.4 WAR) is actually a worse selection than JD Drew (5.0 on defense and 2.1 WAR). And then we have Michael Young. With all the outfielders, Marco Scutaro (6.5 defensively at a hard position and 3.0 WAR), Brandon Inge (8.3 and 3.2), or Scott Rolen (2.5 and 2.7) would have been much better decisions that would have given increased flexibility. In the NL, see Brad Hawpe (-10.1 and 1.5) and Miguel Tejada (-5.1 and 1.7), and then, insert Matt Kemp (10.1 and 3.5), Mike Cameron (5.1 and 2.6), and Ryan Theriot (3.2 and 1.8). Honestly, I’ll let Tejada slide because the NL SS were just awful this year, and he was the token Astro.

6) Oh nepotism, how I love thee. Ryan Howard but not Werth? Jonathan Papelbon (4.17 FIP) and Tim Wakefield (4.34 FIP)? I should have included Wakefield earlier in my wins rant because about 20 other pitchers are better selections, including fellow Red Sox Jon Lester and defending Cy Young winner Cliff Lee. Heck, even Carl Pavano would have been better. And don’t get me started on Mark Buerhle. And no, I don’t think Tim Wakefield fits under “Hall of Fame” choice unless we were in Boston, and then, I might have thought about it.

7) It’s still all about the offense. None of the 10 Final Vote players are pitchers. Brandon Inge is the easy choice in the AL, and Matt Kemp is the same for the NL. But no pitchers? Cliff Lee (3.2 vs. Inge’s 3.1 WAR) is at least comparable in the AL, and Javier Vazquez is the best choice for the NL (3.7 vs. Kemp’s 3.5). All of this completely misses out on the fact that either Lee or Vazquez would be better choices than almost any of the actual All-Star picks. Starting pitchers pitch only in 1/5 of the games, but they have at least 5 times the impact on the game when they pitch. Do the math.

I won’t quibble about starters. McCann is better than Molina, but it is St. Louis. Other examples exist, but I don’t care who starts. I care who makes the team. And honestly, I don’t care all that much who makes the team. I’ve said before that I don’t really care who gets chosen, and that’s not really the point of this post.

The point is that even though sabermetrics is starting to get around, it has a long way to go. Casual fans, and even strong fans, still don’t know about any of this stuff. In our own communities, we know about this stuff, but the baseball world is still largely ignorant. It’s not really a criticism. The media still doesn’t broadcast this stuff, and players and coaches (who did some weird voting by the way — apparently Orlando Hudson received a lot of votes over Chase Utley) have no more idea than anyone else. I find it funny when Boog Sciambi tries to explain things to Joe Simpson. Simpson scrambles for some piece of argument he can make while Sciambi tries not to call him a complete idiot. Simpson probably sees himself as Sciambi’s mentor, but Sciambi is doing the actual teaching. Sometimes, people just haven’t heard of any of these statistics, and criticizing them is like condemning a non-believer to eternal damnation because they haven’t heard of that religion before (or were born hundreds of years before it).

Anyway, the point of this post is — what can we do? Obviously, no one is really listening or has heard of these statistics. Yes, a lot of the choices were actually pretty good, but most of the position players are good offensively (which gets them in) and not all good pitchers get screwed on their record. Most of the worthy will get in. Maybe that’s okay, and as I said, I don’t really care. But I know a lot of people do. What can the internet/blogging/sabermetric community do to educate? Is it necessary to educate? Or is this just the beginning of a large, slow process that really can’t be accelerated, and we’ll just have to wait? Because this vote is just further evidence that sabermetrics and advanced analysis haven’t reached far outside of a minute sample of baseball fans.

Oh, not exactly relevant and just for giggles — Ryan Franklin and Miguel Tejada were named in the Mitchell Report. Where’s your outrage now?

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4 Responses to “We Still Haven’t Learned”

  1. Dan Says:

    Well, if the worst thing that happens when people are ignorant of secondary baseball metrics is that a handful of different baseball players are selected to play an exhibition game, so be it.

    There's a billion different ways to enjoy baseball, and I'm not going to bemoan any of them. If Joe Q. Fan wants to vote for Josh Hamilton, that's his choice.

    It's one thing for baseball management to be ignorant of the different methods of assessing a player's true value.

    But in the cosmic scheme of things, I can't see how the education level of the average fan matters much. Sure, Baseball Prospectus would sell more books. Fangraphs would get more hits. But I'm not sure how it would translate to the play on the field in games that should matter.

  2. tHeMARksMiTh Says:

    You're right in a lot of ways.

    As I said, I don't particularly care who makes the All-Star team. If the fans want to see Josh Hamilton, then let's see Josh Hamilton. I'm not sure how Jason Marquis fits into the "All-Star player who makes it in on rep" or "Player with a hot half" over other pitchers, so I'd be a bit more peeved about that. But an exhibition game's roster isn't that big of a deal.

    However, I have to ask why the education level of the average fan doesn't matter. The average fan attends games and supports teams. Shouldn't they know what they're really getting into? Shouldn't they know who they're rooting for? I don't see how being blissfully ignorant is a good thing when the answers are sitting there in front of your face.

    And I don't see how this changes how a person enjoys a game. It isn't forcing you to enjoy a particular part of the game. You could still argue about the value of offense vs. defense, but I don't think that you can argue that defense plays a critical role in a player's value. You can still love a player because he hits a lot of home runs. You can love a speedy guy that's "scrappy". I don't care what particular way you enjoy it. But every fan is a make believe GM, criticizing and praising his team based on the moves it makes. Shouldn't they know how to properly evaluate those moves? It doesn't mean they have to change their favorite player to the most valuable player of all-time. My brother loved Tom Pagnozzi regardless of his faults. Why? Who knows. But he should still know that when it comes time for the team to decide to keep or release the player which is the right and wrong decision, regardless of emotional attachment.

  3. Dan Says:

    What impact does it have on baseball if an average fan is better able to evaluate a team's roster moves? Compared to an undereducated fan, does a fan buy more tickets if they understand the new centerfielder's UZR should compensate for his lack of power? Does that fan buy more merchandise? Does that fan enjoy a diving catch by that outfielder more and keep his TV tuned to the game longer? I dunno.

    I guess I'm rubbed the wrong way by the annual "woe the ignorant masses" ritual the internet baseball community does every All-Star game.

    I'm cool with sabermetrics as a way of understanding and analyzing baseball. It's one of the many ways I enjoy baseball. But seeing sabermetrics as some sort of crusade to educate the masses of fans strikes me as haughty. If people want to gain a deeper understanding of player valuations, there's plenty of paths to go for those with curiosity. But if others enjoy sticking with the 100+ year-old descriptive stats (which rarely give the complete opposite impression of a player's worth), that strikes me as an amoral decision.

  4. tHeMARksMiTh Says:

    I don't know what sort of real impact it would have on the game itself.

    But I would say that most of the fans out there don't ignore sabermetrics because they want to enjoy the game a different way. They ignore it because it tells them that Howard really isn't that good because of his defense and OBP, that Bay and Hawpe aren't that good because their defense is just atrocious, and that Millwood didn't deserve to be an All-Star because of his FIP. They don't like it because it provides an inconvenient truth. As long as they ignore it and even criticize it, they can hold on to what they've known. Is that wrong or immoral? Does it hurt the game? Probably not. But I think most reaction against it is due more because it says something bad about their favorite player/team that refutes other stats or shows them to be "lucky".

    I don't really think that understanding sabermetrics would even change how a person enjoys the game. It's not exactly rocket science (unless you get into pitch f/x and some of the other stuff), and most is just common sense. I only really started learning about it over a year ago, and while I certainly don't understand all of it, it has helped me learn a lot more about the game.

    Is not paying attention to sabermetrics a sin? Is it going to hurt the game? No, but I'm not sure it helps to have fans that don't really understand their game.

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