I agree with Dave. What frustrates me about the criticism of statheads is that people who believe that performance analysis has merit are somehow devoid of human emotion, that we would as much watch someone play Strat-o-matic, or a computer generate numbers, as we would a baseball game. And that’s wrong. Not to pump myself up, but I watch more baseball — more Mariners baseball, even — than anyone else I know outside other Prospectus guys and Dave. No one loves baseball more than those who want to understand it.
Also, Dayn Perry wrote a really good article in the BP Basics series called “Integrating Statistics and Scouting” in which he talks about how the quest for knowledge is really viewpoint-neutral. The greatest advances in baseball understanding have come not from a dogged adherence to any side, but from questioning everything. Is there such thing as clubhouse chemistry? If there is, no one’s been able to prove it, and if it doesn’t show up in the stats, then what effect does it have?
Say I have a dragon in my garage.
You come over to see it, but don’t see anything.
It’s an invisible dragon, I explain.
You produce all kinds of detection equipment that shows nothing.
It’s undetectable, because of magic, I explain.
You ask if it can breath fire.
Of course, I say. Except that it’s odorless, colorless, heatless fire that also can’t be detected and doesn’t affect anything.
At what point does my claim of a dragon become meaningless?
The world of performance analysis has long been neglected in favor of tools and feel, and the rise of sabermetrics has led to many of those who join the cause becoming too attached to the banner — walks at all costs, for instance — and miss the turn as everyone else finds out that for young players, the ones that really succeed take some walks, but are fast and hit for power, and that maybe walking is an almost natural side effect to aging, through experience or loss of bat speed.
Those people aren’t any more use than those who would tell you that Joe Carter belongs in the Hall of Fame for his RBI talent, because they’re not interested in the discovery of new ideas.
Here’s the thing: if I came out tomorrow with a whiz-bang defensive metric that indicated (uh…) players who scored high on a repeatable, easy “makeup test” were superior defensive players, and it was good research, I’d win everyone over: it proves what the old school guys think, and it’s true and provable.
If I came out tomorrow with a whiz-bang defensive metric that showed something really astonishing and contrary to established thought, only the statheads would accept it quickly. It would take years to leak into the mainstream basebal media.
That’s not an overly broad statement, it’s happened before. BP’s articles on catcher defense, and how pitch-calling doesn’t carry over. Voros’ crazy-cool work on pitcher control over balls-in-play outcomes. Work on translating Japanese leagues, or the minors, or… these are things that are true, innovative pieces of work that aren’t just mocked, they’re not even considered as possible by many people.
And while I’m at it, I want to pick up something else: there is no stathead view. There are no stathead endorsements. “Each proposal on its merits,” as my cousin said. Billy Beane is lauded for his ability to deal and make the small moves to help his team win, but it’s recognized he couldn’t win more games than the M’s on half the payroll if Grady Fuson hadn’t given him such great drafts. Beane’s been lambasted for some of his signings (Hatteberg, Long, particularly). There’s huge debate over whether their minor league rewards system is working or is even the correct way to go about things. Beane doesn’t wear some kind of SABR endorsement pin on his lapel, nor should he.
There are countless examples of topics that are openly debated by people who want to find out what the truth is, to better understand baseball so baseball can be better. That those with open minds are viewed as close-minded by close-minded people seems appropriate, but no less sad.
Do not try and explain the M’s plan. That’s impossible. Instead… only try to realize the truth.
There is no plan.
Cruising around the sphere tonight and catching up on the blogs I donâ€™t read regularly, I saw that the Mariner Optimist felt like I challenged him (for the second time, apparently, since he took one of my earlier comments personally as well), and went on to post his explanation for the offseason weâ€™ve just been subjected to. I felt compelled to respond, and the next hour of my life and several thousand keystrokes of my computer created a pretty typical reply, with arguments and statements sprinkled with statistics to back them up. Then, about five minutes before I was ready to hit post, my connection went away. And it stayed away for the rest of the night. Given this new-found-time to ponder, I thought about the words I had put down, and decided to post this instead.
I donâ€™t agree with nearly anything he wrote, and I think the gaps in logic are big enough to drive a truck through. But rather than drive that truck, Iâ€™d rather go down the path of least resistance. Heâ€™s a Mariner fan who wants the team to win. Believe it or not, so are we. If Quinton McCracken launches a game winning grand slam in the World Series, Iâ€™ll be jumping up and down hugging strangers just like he will. We wonâ€™t be arguing over whether his 2002 season was a fluke or if heâ€™s really a replacement level talent. Weâ€™ll be celebrating the teamâ€™s success. In the end, we want the same thing. Weâ€™re all fans here, and hostility towards people with opposing viewpoints isnâ€™t going to get us anywhere. Calling us pessimists and statarazzi simply affirms the fact that you don’t really know us very well. Keep reading, browse the archives, and keep an open mind about our intentions.
Perhaps when I get back from Florida (yes, start your jealousy, as I leave for the Grapefruit League tomorrow), Iâ€™ll post the thoughts on the place of statistical analysis in the game that Iâ€™ve been having lately. Between the Optimist and those Olympians, the sphere has finally added some viewpoints from people who don’t feel that statistical analysis is all its cracked up to be. There’s enough truth in their criticisms to make their point kinda-sorta-valid, but we must be careful to avoid throwing out the baby with the bathwater. In the end, blind optimism is just another shade of ignorance, and I don’t subscribe to the ignorance is bliss theory.
I’ll be back next week, tanned, and ready to knock out a big ‘ol season preview that will probably surprise the heck out of you who think we can only say bad things about the club. Until then, enjoy Jason and Derek holding down the fort.
Hi, folks, Derek here. People sometimes email me and say, “Derek, I notice you’re not posting as often. You’re not down at Slugger’s already, claiming a primo bar stool for Opening Day, are you? Because I thought I saw you there.”
And the answer is “maybe”.
I want to talk for a minute about the state of the team and how recent decisions reflect the amazing paucity of foresight, planning, and talent evaluation.
Nothing the team has done indicates that they consider the future products of the farm system as potential assets. Take, for example, the prospect closest to the majors, Chris Snelling. Snelling is a left-fielder. He can’t play centerfield well enough defensively and I’m not sure you’d want him to, given his injury problems. The team signed Raul Ibanez to play left field for three years at much more than anyone else comperable got this off-season. The team won’t consider moving Ichiro! even if it’s the right solution to their problems. So Chris Snelling has no place to play for the Mariners for years, unless you figure that Raul Ibanez will move to first after this season, when he would be almost as bad relative to others at his position as Olerud is, except without the defense. The team’s given no indication that they’ve thought this far ahead, though. Plus, that new guy at third presents a corner IF dilemma, too…
This isn’t necc. bad: prospects frequently flame out, or get injured and never come back, or they’re used as trade bait. But the best teams (like the dominant Braves teams, or even the early versions of the current Yankees) make way for their best players to contribute, because that’s a great way to building a winning team: cheap good prospects allow you to spend around your other problems.
In this way, for each situation where you think someone is close, especially the super-prospects, the good teams do this:
– bring in one servicable veteran or patch together a platoon, one year at a time, while you
– let the prospect force their way up
Now, take Jamal Strong. He’s going to be 25, and there’s not a whole lot of development left for him to do. He’s not going to be a star, and… well, he’s probably not going to be a particularly good player, either. Speed guys with no power who get on base with walks have a pretty bad track records. But in the past we’ve seen Strong adapt at each level, and maybe he can offer the Mariners something for $0 that they badly need — a backup OF who can play passable defense anywhere, pinch-run and pinch-walk as needed, and since he’s a righty, potentialy spot for Ibanez once in a while, since Ibanez is really, really bad against lefties.
Still, BP’s PECOTA pegs him at 200 ABs, .243/.317/.336. That’s not a lot of contribution. Oh, but wait, the guy we traded Colbrunn for, McCracken — he’s got a projection of .258/.314/.370, which isn’t much better.
Both players do have more potential: McCracken coud, as some speculate, do better with more playing time (where? the magical playing time fairy). But PECOTA’s high-end projections for both of them are about the same — OBPs about .380 with little power.
Meanwhile, bringing in McCracken sent Colbrunn out. Now, a disclaimer: Colbrunn’s health is an open question. The team may believe he’s never going to be effective again. If that’s the case, though, you wonder why Arizona’s doctors cleared the trade. But Colbrunn’s a right-handed hitter who can play first and (spotted occasionally, in a pinch) third. The M’s sent Colbrunn away with cash to get back a player who is so much like Jamal Strong it’s uncanny.
The team now needs a a right-handed hitter who can play first to spot Olerud. Given the vast array of choices available to them, they brought in nobody.
So they traded away something they needed for something they had, paying enough money to make that work out as well. Then to replace their newly-created need, they did nothing.
Right-handed hitting first basemen available this off-season, off the top of my head: Wil Cordero, Andres Galarraga, Eric Karros, for starters. The team brought *none* of them in. These were guys looking for work, who signed short, cheap deals, not with the M’s. If the team really had any plan like “sign short-term guys to keep positions open”. And there’s no argument that these guys all signed with the Yankees, because they all came pretty cheap.
For extra outfielders, there were a ton of interesting choices. Former star prospect and Snelling-like injury magnet OF-R Ruben Mateo is only 26 and signed a minor league deal with Pittsburgh. C/OF-R Ben Petrick is probably never going to get his shine back, but if he does, pow! (PECOTA, for instance, doesn’t see him getting many ABs in any situation, and his average hitting is .222/.306/.403, but the 90% is .253/.386/.469 (!)). I don’t like him, but OF-R Shane Spencer’s been a good platoon partner and can play the corners, he signed for a spring training invite.
For a spare bat, the Yankees sold 29-year old 1B/DH-B Fernando Seguignol (.261/.332/.476) to Japan (!) which, unless I misunderstand my transactions, means any MLB team could have snagged him (and even if that creates bad vibes, a- it’s the Yankees, and b- they sold him, and the M’s have money). He’d have been a fine choice to sit on the bench and mash the ball, step in for Edgar every couple of games…
There is no rational reason the Mariners could not have easily assembled a good bench offering better options for Melvin, even obeying his platoon-split obsessions, while providing better defense and flexibility around injuries.
This is the case with almost all of the Mariner moves. No philosophical set of beliefs about what they’re doing or why they’re doing it explains anything. Trying to justify what’s gone on this off-season is like the increasingly convoluted theories astronomers came up with for celestial motion when they were tied to the earth-as-immobile cosmology: the other planets revolve around the Earth in differing rotations, with tiny retrograde rotations to explain the wobbles, and weird hitches of long duration to explain eclipses…
Similarly, you can construct theories of the off-season that make the team seem okay.
The team wants to construct a bad bench so minor leaguers can take bench spots soon, if they’re ready, and they picked the worst bench players possible because they want those players to be easily discardable, and uh… they traded Colbrunn because they knew his wrist would mean he can’t hit for power anymore, and they didn’t fill that hole in the bench because… uh…. their secret plan for a mid-season acquisition will take care of that…
There is an alternate explanation: there is no plan.
“Plurality should not be posited without necessity.”
The simplest solution that fits the facts is the one that should be selected.
This is going to be kind of funny, given that Dave and I took essentially opposite sides of a similar argument before, but I don’t really pay any attention to spring training noise about playing time or roles this early. Now, I agree that Bavasi has managed to haul in such an amazing group of non-prospectus and non-players that it would be difficult to do worse without offering minor league contracts with non-roster invites to retired and/or dead players. But while I’d like to see Bavasi able to cogently explain the organization’s philosophy or plan (or anything to give us hope that someone other than Toonces is at the wheel), I really don’t expect Melvin’s going to have a discouraging word about anyone. Managers always make noise about how no one’s job is safe, everyone has a shot, even Bret Boone could find himself sitting on the bench if Wee Willy Bloomquist hits .600 with good power during spring training… it’s hilarious that he has to say these things about some of these guys, but Toonces, look out! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!
Well, BP ’04 arrived at my house today. I haven’t had time to look at very much of it, outside the M’s chapter and a few players from my fantasy team, but so far I like what I see.
One thing did jump out at me, though — Justin Leone’s translated stat lines. In real life, Leone hit .288/.411/.541 last season. BP tells us that, despite the fact that he played in a pretty extreme pitchers’ park last season, that line would have been .235/.341/.455 had he played in the majors instead of the Texas League. I’m not saying they’re wrong, I’m just saying I’m surprised. I mean, ouch. That’s one heck of a translation.
Then you have the bullpen. Assuming everyone is healthy (that means you, Eddie Guardado and Rafael Soriano), we know the following pitchers are locks: Guardado, Soriano, Hasegawa and Mateo. That leaves two spots, at least one of which will be a left-hander, probably one of Mike Myers, Terry Mulholland or Ron Villone. Of those three, Villone is an easy pick because he’s the only one on the 40-man roster. I also think he potentially has value as a long reliever or even as a starter, whereas Myers is good for just a batter or two. That said, Myers has been the toughest by far on left-handed batters over the past three seasons, and right-handers haven’t hit him nearly as hard as they have Mulholland. So there you go; Villone and Myers it is.
Let’s talk about the bench, shall we? We know who the starters are going to be, and we know Ben Davis, Dave Hansen and (shudder) Quinten McCracken are going to be on the bench. After that you’ve got two spots — an infielder and some sort of utility guy who can play a little of this and a little of that. As of right now, I’d guess those two spots will be filled by Ramon Santiago and Willie Bloomquist. Is that the best allocation of talent (and I use the term loosely)? Nope.
Santiago and Bloomquist are redundant, in that they’re both infielders. Except that Santiago can legitimately play shortstop, whereas Bloomquist can’t. Looking at the roster, this team needs a backup shortstop. I know it will be considered blashpemy by many, but Willie Bloomquist shouldn’t be on the opening day roster.
For the fifth and final bench spot, I’m going to endorse a player Dave ripped yesterday — Hiram Bocachica. Like Bloomquist, Bocachica plays both infield and outfield, except that he has more outfield experience than Wee Willie. He also has some pop in his bat, which I think is something Dave missed when discussing his offensive shortcomings. In his 333 career major league at-bats, better than 41% of his hits have gone for extra bases.
There you have it. Just say no to Willie Bloomquist and Eric Owens, and yes to Ramon Santiago and Hiram Bocachica. Hey, I never said it was a good bench, just the best one the M’s can carry given their current personnel.