Weird Column of the Day

Dave · March 7, 2007 at 8:15 am · Filed Under Mariners 

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.


22 Responses to “Weird Column of the Day”

  1. msb on March 7th, 2007 8:20 am

    and Matt Olkin held up the banner well when talking to Rizzs last night on KOMO

  2. CSG on March 7th, 2007 9:49 am

    Wait, shouldn’t we be blasting Hargrove for our poor start in spring training?

  3. Ralph Malph on March 7th, 2007 10:05 am

    Ummmm…if (as Beane apparently believes) closers are overvalued in the market wouldn’t it be a good thing to sign one to a below market 3 year $13.1 million contract that you could then sell off if you wanted to? As opposed to giving him one year in arbitration at a higher salary?

  4. davepaisley on March 7th, 2007 10:05 am

    I didn’t see that as a shot at Beane. Maybe the smugness part, but then that’s more of a shot at Beane’s personality (deserved by all accounts) than his baseball smarts.

  5. Manzanillos Cup on March 7th, 2007 10:52 am

    It’s funny, somehow baseball columnists always know exactly what Billy Beane thinks about something.

  6. Evan on March 7th, 2007 11:08 am

    If people knew exactly what Billy Beane was thinking, he’d never pull off some of those amazing trades.

  7. MedicineHat on March 7th, 2007 12:53 pm

    Well, Dave may not talk abot any other “daily” stories, but there actually was a decent one. Over in the Everett Herald there is a story about how Travis “Blackley is last of the next great M’s arms.” It’s actually a pretty good read…

    “PEORIA, Ariz. – They were part of the wave of talent known around Seattle as The Mariners’ Next Great Pitching Staff.

    Clint Nageotte, Matt Thornton, Jeff Heaverlo, Aaron Taylor, Bobby Madritsch and Rett Johnson all came through the Mariners’ minor league system with the highest of hopes, especially after they helped the Class AA San Antonio Missions win two straight Texas League championships.

    Then they drifted away.”

  8. MedicineHat on March 7th, 2007 12:54 pm
  9. Johnny Slick on March 7th, 2007 1:11 pm

    In fairness, at least he figured out that Michael Lewis authored “Moneyball”. That’s something Joe Morgan has still not figured out yet. I imagine that if you asked Steve Kelley he’d probably think it was Beane as well.

    That is, if he read Moneyball.

    Steve Kelley is not a thinker.

    Steve Kelley is a writer.

  10. The Ancient Mariner on March 7th, 2007 1:30 pm

    No, Steve Kelley isn’t a writer either; he’s a “writer,” a hack who moves ink around on a page.

  11. msb on March 7th, 2007 1:30 pm

    #7– I was a little baffled by the Herald headline writer who felt that Travis was “the cant-miss phenom”

  12. Ralph Malph on March 7th, 2007 2:23 pm

    Anybody else notice that David Bell has been named (along with John Rocker) in the steroid/HGH story involving the pharmacy in Alabama? Supposedly (according to the story) Bell had a prescription for HCG — which he admits and says it was for an undisclosed “medical condition”.

    Wikipedia says HCG is prescribed as a treatment for certain male fertility problems. As well as in connection with steroid use.

  13. Johnny Slick on March 7th, 2007 2:36 pm

    Maybe David Bell’s undisclosed medical condition is that he’s a 30something 3rd baseman with marginal power who needs every little edge to stay in the major leagues?

  14. Ralph Malph on March 7th, 2007 2:49 pm

    I’m guessing this won’t stop people from saying the M’s would win the World Series if they would only bring back David Bell.

  15. msb on March 7th, 2007 3:26 pm

    #12– Geoff Baker did.

  16. msb on March 7th, 2007 3:27 pm

    #13– or he is a long-married ballplayer who, unusually, has not yet reproduced?

  17. terry on March 7th, 2007 4:12 pm

    There are alot of valid reasons to take GH (none of which reflect upon his manhood) and since he is upfront about it, Bell deserves the benefit of the doubt.

  18. David J. Corcoran I on March 7th, 2007 8:08 pm

    that, and he’s David Bell. He would never do evil.

  19. Typical Idiot Fan on March 7th, 2007 10:11 pm

    I’d have a pretty hard time believing David Bell was taking HGH to try to improve his game. I think he knows he’s a no power slick fielding third basemen. If anything, it’s only helping him to maintain some form of longevity, which I have a hard time believing is a crime.

  20. Johnny Slick on March 8th, 2007 8:42 am

    …except that David Bell using HGH to maintain longevity is exactly the kind of thing that shows that perhaps the illicit-drug issue is getting bigger. It’s no longer about high-profile guys juicing to get an extra few homeruns a year or a mile or two on their fastball, it’s relatively minor players doing it too.

    Granted, given Ryan Christensen and Mike Morse, it may never have been just about the Barry Bondses of the world. That being said, I am much, much more wary of scrubs and semi-decent players doing this stuff than guys like Bonds or McGwire or Canseco, who presumably could stop using and still be a solid player. When you see guys start to do it for their own livelihood, I think that’s when you start to get real abuse.

  21. terry on March 8th, 2007 9:49 am

    Baseball Between the Numbers essentially argues that marginal/developing players have a more compelling motivation to use performance enhancing drugs than a guy like Bell who is well established.

    David Bell is on record as stating he has a medical justification for GH. His being linked to HGH, reveals absolutely nothing about the scope of illicit drug use by professional baseball players.

  22. Ralph Malph on March 8th, 2007 10:07 am

    Not HGH. The story was not that Bell was using HGH. It is that he was using hCG, which is not (as far as I can tell) performance enhancing. It is used, as I understand it, to conceal steroid use but it is not, in and of itself, performance enhancing.

    It also has legitimate uses in the treatment of both female and male infertility. So let’s not jump to conclusions just yet.

    It is, of course, slightly suspicious that he got the prescription from some sort of aging clinic in Arizona and ordered the stuff from an Internet pharmacy in Alabama when he is from Cincinnati, lived in Philadelphia, and trained in Florida.

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