Weird Column of the Day
I promise, this is the last local daily article I’ll talk about today.
Over in the P-I, Ted Miller writes an article that both bemuses and amazes. The premise – J.J. Putz is really good. The ending just finishes totally different than the introduction begins.
It’s J.J. Putz, who, with a brilliant 2006 season, earned a spot on a short list of first-flight, young closers that includes Minnesota’s Joe Nathan, the L.A. Angels’ Francisco Rodriguez and Toronto’s B.J. Ryan.
Not everyone is bullish, though. A’s GM Billy Beane, who fancies himself the original contrarian investor when it comes to closers, is probably rolling over in his smugness. He first introduced the “closers are like volatile stocks” analogy. In “Moneyball,” writer Michael Lewis paraphrased Beane’s belief:
“You could take a slightly above average pitcher, drop him in the closer’s role, let him accumulate a gaudy number of saves, and then sell him off. You could, in essence, buy a stock, pump it up with false publicity, and sell it off for much more than you’d paid for it.”
Beane’s theory would make the Mariners’ decision to bypass arbitration this offseason and sign Putz to a three-year, $13.1 million contract with an $8.6 million club option in 2010 appear unsound. After all, Putz’s 36 saves last season upped the 30-year-old’s career total to 46.
In these four paragraphs, we get the standard shot at Beane and Moneyball, a misunderstanding of how the closer-myth applies to J.J. Putz, an untrue characterization of sabermetric reactions to the Putz contract, and the use of saves as a statistical barometer of anything important.
Not a good start. Here, Miller sets up the argument as Putz vs Moneyball, when those of us who would be considered “Moneyballers” love J.J. Putz and acknowledge how valuable he is. But it’s not because he’s a closer. His value comes from being a true relief ace, a dominant out-machine who can be used in high leverage situations and whose results translate directly into wins. Moneyballers love the Relief Ace. We just don’t think they have to pitch in the 9th inning to be one.
Miller goes on to write about why Putz is different than fly-by-night closers who racked up save totals and then disappeared. Here, he does a nice job, and even includes this paragraph:
He also pencils out well with sabermetricians. Nearly all his esoteric numbers from a year ago — from measures of the number of line drives he surrenders, to his ground-ball percentage, to his ERA compared to the league average, to his FIP (fielding independent pitching: an attempt to measure all elements of pitching) — range from good to fantastic.
FIP shows up in a print article in the local dailies – Be still my heart. That he transitioned from taking a shot at Billy Beane to using FIP to support his argument in a few hundred words is remarkable.
So, a hearty well done to Miller for putting an esoteric stat like FIP in front of the masses. With Miller writing stuff like this, to go along with Stone, Baker, and Hickey, we’ve got a multitude of local writers who are not only acknowledging the influence of statistical analysis, but are, to at least a degree, embracing it.
The sports page has come a long way in the past few years. It’s good to see.