Here Is A Whole Pile Of Nonsense

Dan McGrath writes for something called the Chicago News Cooperative, which apparently is enough of a thing that his work can sometimes be crossposted to the New York Times.

He begins by talking about how great Jim Edmonds was in the field, at least in his younger years. This part is true; he was the man. In truth, much of Edmonds’ career existed before the advent of the most advanced defensive metrics, but there’s simply no doubt that the guy was near the top of the game as far as outfield defense. Then, of course, it degrades into old-tyme baseball nonsense.

Somewhere there’s a number that quantifies how good Edmonds was in the outfield, a number more esoteric than fielding percentage, putouts, assists — the usual suspects.

Why yes, there is! It’s called range factor per nine innings, and it shows that Edmonds did, indeed, outperform league averages quite consistently throughout his career.

There’s just as likely a number that will suggest he wasn’t any good at all, that other metrics like his range factor or his total zone runs or his win-probability-added don’t measure up to the immortal Willie Tasby.

Why Willie Tasby? Willie Tasby wasn’t even a good fielder. In any case, let me disabuse you of this notion, made up by the old school of baseball commentators, that for every number that proves a player was good, there’s another that proves he was bad. NO. WRONG. Can we please stop spreading this completely made-up idea around?

Numbers. They are the lifeblood of baseball, but I fear we have gone too far in our attempts to quantify everything that happens on the diamond, from a pitcher’s ground-ball frequency to a hitter’s productivity when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars.

Murray Chass, is that you?

If you don’t think that ground-ball rate is an important stat for a pitcher — so much so that you’re going to go ahead and put it on the same level of nonsense as some fucking nonsense you just made up, then maybe you should stop right now.

It started with “Moneyball,” Michael Lewis’s 2003 best seller chronicling how the financially ailing Oakland A’s came to rely on cold statistical analysis to shape their baseball decisions. I read it and liked it. Now I hate it, because the numbers revolution that it touched off has overtaken the game and threatens to squeeze the life from it.

Really? The use of advanced statistics is going to “squeeze the life from” Major League Baseball? Really? Dear god, you are fucked in the head.

This has been said a million times, but I’m going to say it again: “Moneyball” was not about relying on “cold statistical analysis.” (By the way, you see what he did there? Cold statistical analysis. Because THEY DON’T CARE ABOUT YOU, baseball player! THEY ONLY CARE ABOUT YOUR NUMBERS!) It was about identifying and taking advantage of market deficiencies in Major League Baseball to build a competitive team on a budget that is, shall we say, not Yankee-sized. Those market deficiencies have shifted as statistical analysis has become more popular in baseball. This is not a difficult concept to comprehend, nor does it or will it suck the life from the game of baseball, you fucking twat.

The other day, an occasionally reasonable radio host shouted down caller after caller, insisting that there was no such thing as a “clutch” hitter, that statistical probability could determine the best man for the job with two on and two outs in the late innings of a tight game.

Do you build your own straw men or do they sell them pre-made at the store?

If by “statistical probability,” you mean that he’s saying the best man for the job is the best hitter on the team, then yeah. Statistical probability is probably the way to go.

“That guy never had to face George Brett,” said Steve Stone, the White Sox’s television analyst and an 11-year major league pitcher. “I’m probably prejudiced, because George hit about .470 off me, but there were times when you just didn’t want to face him if you couldn’t pitch around him.

Yes, and those times were when there were men on base because George Brett was an absolutely spectacular hitter. Why would you want to face an elite hitter like George Brett with men on base? How is this supposed to be an enlightening comment?

Thurman Munson was the same way. Reggie Jackson may have been the straw that stirred the drink, but every pitcher I knew would rather go through a lineup full of Reggies than face Thurman Munson with the game on the line.”

Then every pitcher you knew was wrong.

Yeah, blanket statements! I can make them too, motherfucker!

Stone, one of the most astute analysts in baseball, looks at numbers as part of his preparation, but he’s more reliant on what he sees and what he has learned over 38 years in the game. He had no problem with Derek Jeter’s winning his fifth Gold Glove in 2010, even if it was symbolic, a lifetime achievement award for Jeter, the 36-year-old Yankee shortstop.

Okay, as long as you understand that that makes the Gold Glove a meaningless award.

“I don’t need numbers to tell me Derek Jeter’s range has declined. I can see that,” Stone said.

Yes. We all can.

“I also see him positioning hitters so well that he only has to take three steps to get to a ball, whereas a shortstop with better range, so to speak, might need six steps.

I know I covered this already before, but let’s just quickly recap: THIS DOES NOT MATTER.

Positioning is well and good, and all fielders position themselves with a purpose. Derek Jeter, as a veteran, may have a better feel for pitchers’ and hitters’ tendencies, but that doesn’t make him a good fielder.

Let’s say, just for argument’s sake, that a “normal” shortstop position puts you six steps from being behind the second base bag and six steps from being deep in the hole at short. If you’re positioning yourself to get to that ball in the hole in three steps, then you’re gonna be nine steps away from the ball hit up the middle.

Now that’s science.

Unfortunately, Derek Jeter is not fucking Nostradamus; he doesn’t know where the ball is going to be hit, he just knows tendencies, like everyfuckingone else does. If his positioning let him get to so many balls, defensive metrics would absolutely, 100% reflect that. Do you know why they don’t? Because Jeter’s Magical Veteran Positioning Ability is much, much, much, much, much, much, much less relevant than actually being able to move your fucking legs and get to a ball that’s far away from you.

And I know Derek is going to pick up the hard two-out grounder in the eighth inning.

Unless it’s hit more than three steps away from him (or, if it’s hit to his left, more than one step).

You want the ball hit to him. He wants the ball hit to him. Not everybody is like that.”

That’s because many players not named Derek Jeter can catch the ball even when it’s not hit directly to them.

Sox fans are hoping the free-agent slugger Adam Dunn is like that; their centerpiece off-season acquisition is expected to add some left-handed thunder to a potent lineup.

Huh? Sox fans hope that Adam Dunn also wants the ball to be hit to him even though he’s not very good at catching it? Actually, I’d guess that the probably understands his limitations — in short, that he’s not a very good fielder. I’m sure Adam Dunn would be quite happy DHing every single game this year.

“The projections will say we can expect 35 to 40 homers, 110 to 120 R.B.I.’s and about a .390 on-base percentage,” Stone said. “Those are impressive numbers that have made Adam Dunn a very wealthy man. But I defy Bill James or any computer expert anywhere to tell me how Adam Dunn is going to do in the heat of a pennant race. I don’t know, the Sox don’t know, and Adam Dunn doesn’t know, because he’s never been through one. How do you measure that?”

You don’t measure that. You can, however, reasonably assume that Adam Dunn will pretty much give you the same exact production “in the heat of a pennant race” as he does “in the heat of an April game.”

Gary Hughes, a special assistant to the Cubs’ general manager, Jim Hendry, has been scouting baseball talent for 43 years. A prospect’s “makeup” — his emotional and psychological stability, along with his self-confidence — is as much a part of the assessment process as his physical tools, and it’s an intangible.

“We’re in the information business, and numbers can be helpful in terms of learning about a guy, providing there’s some context to them,” Hughes said. “But there’s no way to measure what’s inside a guy’s heart, and if you’re going to last in this business, you’d better be able to tell.”

Yes. Makeup does exist. And it does matter. No one is saying it doesn’t.

Generally speaking, guys who are massive pussies don’t make it. You know what? It’s quite apparent early on in their careers that they won’t make it. Do you know why it’s apparent? Because they don’t put up good numbers. With a few notable exceptions (which are almost always pitchers like Erik Bedard or Oliver Perez), guys with bad makeup don’t generally make the major leagues — and if they do, eventually it shows in their numbers. Since we’re talking about major league baseball players, we can pretty much throw that away.

Or invent a number that does.

This really is Murray Chass, isn’t it.


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