Responding To Baker, Yet Again
Yep – here we go again. Geoff Baker’s latest blog entry revives the dead horse of the Adam Jones story, and in it, he lays out his problems with the viewpoints held by most of the M’s blogosphere. So, here’s the response. Note – if you’re as tired of talking about Jose Vidro as I am, feel free to scroll down to Derek’s two excellent posts on Horacio Ramirez below this.
Okay, here goes:
The easiest thing, I realized very quickly upon beginning this blog, would have been to fall in-step with the anti-Bavasi crowd out there.
Is there an anti-Bavasi crowd out there? Absolutely. Am I part of it? I don’t think so. As I’ve stated repeatedly, on a personal level, I like Bill a lot. He’s engaging, funny, and honest, and he’s been tremendous to USSM during his entire time as GM of the Mariners. If he loses his job, there’s a very good chance that we won’t have the same kind of relationship with the next guy that we do with Bill, and to be honest, I like that he’s willing to come hang out with us whenever we ask him to. He’s a stand up guy, and in the grand picture of life, that carries more weight than his analytical abilities.
So, no, we’re not in the Fire-Bavasi-And-Replace-Him-With-Absolutely-Anyone-Else lynch mob. I know it exists, but for the most part, I think its a minoritiy of angry fans and does not represent the consensus of the Mariner blogosphere. Yes, we believe that the Mariner organization has basic fundamental flaws in the way they evaluate talent and build a roster, and we believe there are people in baseball who could do a better job than the current administration (hello Chris Antonetti), but we’ve also recognized a lot of the positives that Bavasi has brought to the organization and acknowledge that the team is in much better shape now than it was when Pat Gillick left.
We’re more accurately described as Pro-Antonetti than Anti-Bavasi. We think the team could do better, but that doesn’t mean that we’re out to get Bill Bavasi.
But not all of it. I do think some of it goes too far and has been thought out from a fan’s perspective rather than a truly analytical one. And that, I suppose is where our views begin to branch off in different directions.
Most of the time, I’m criticized for being too analytical and not enough of a fan. Now, we’re getting criticized for exactly the opposite. Awesome.
Nowhere do I part company more with some of the fan blogs out there than on the subject of Jose Vidro. And this is, believe me, a very important subject because it drives much of the debate where the offense is concerned. Vidro has been targetted for fan criticism from the moment he arrived in Seattle and I suspect much of it has to do with the fact the team traded Chris Snelling and Emiliano Fruto to get him.
I’m going to be totally honest here, Geoff – this statement bugs the crap out of me. With this comment, you’ve veered from disagreeing with our analytical methods into questioning our motives, and that’s something of a sore spot for me. So, if this comes across as defensive or perturbed, well, when it comes to this kind of assertion, I am.
I guarantee you that I would have written exactly the same things about Jose Vidro regardless of who he had been traded for. My opinion of Jose Vidro has absolutely nothing to do with the departure of Chris Snelling. As much as we all love Doyle and want him to succeed, we’re not blind – we knew his chronic injury history was a huge problem.
No – The Jose Vidro stuff is about two things: Jose Vidro’s skills or lack thereof and how became the poster boy for everything that is wrong with how the Seattle Mariners build their roster and evaluate talent. It’s zero percent about Chris Snelling or Emiliano Fruto (who longtime readers know I was never any kind of fan of).
Disagree with our methods all you want – no problem. But when you start going after our credibility and claiming that our analysis is based on a hidden agenda, well, that’s not going to sit very well with me.
So, what happened? Well, the next half of the season is what happened. Since July 1, about when my advocacy of Jones was published on this blog — guaranteeing me weeks of love from the local fan blogosphere — Vidro has produced a .423 on-base percentage and a .459 slugging percentage for an OPS of .882. Now, I don’t know about any of you, but in my book, an .882 OPS from a DH not counted on strictly for power is quite good. It’s excellent, as a matter of fact.
We said so many good things about Geoff during the offseason and spring training – long before this issue ever turned into any real discussion – that people actually asked us to knock it off. We’ve made no secret of the fact that we think Baker is the best beat writer that we’ve ever seen, and his coverage of the team on a day to day basis has been a huge positive gain for the Seattle Times and for the online Mariner community. We didn’t stop liking Geoff when he suggested trading Ichiro for Mark Buehrle or Adam Jones for Dontrelle Willis, even as we were repulsed by the disastrously bad ideas he was coming up with.
So, no, this isn’t an issue of USSM only endorsing those who fall “lock-step” in line with our opinions. We like well thought out rational analysis, whether it comes to the same conclusion we do or not. The problem with the other side of the Jose Vidro debate is that the defenses of Vidro that we’ve seen aren’t well thought out or rational. No, instead, they were based on a constant misuse of statistics and a lack of understanding of how to properly value contributions of different players.
I really don’t want to turn this post into another Vidro/Jones debate that we’ve had a million times, but here’s the short of it – it was plainly obvious by the beginning of May that Adam Jones was a better player than Jose Vidro and would do more to help the team win the rest of the year. That was true in May, June, July, August, and it’s true now in September. Jose Vidro is an inferior baseball player to Adam Jones, and the team is better with Jones in the line-up than it is with Vidro in the line-up.
Which of those numbers bothers you? For the entire season, he’s hit .350 with an .808 OPS against righties. And another .308 with a .786 OPS against lefties. Those are season-long numbers, where the OPS was dramatically impacted by the first three powerless months. And do you know what? Neither OPS split is all that terrible.
What bothers us about Jose Vidro is that he’s keeping a better player on the bench. “Not Terrible” should not be any kind of obstacle to putting a player the caliber of Adam Jones on the field.
So, what to conclude? I’ll let you decide. But I am not about to write off 10 consistent weeks of top-level production by a guy as a “fluke” or a “hot streak”. I’ve heard this same tune being sung for weeks now. It was a “hot streak” two weeks in, then four, then eight and now 10. At what point do we conclude that possibly, just possibly, the first three months of the season were a matter of Vidro adapting to being a full-time DH?
There’s a couple of significant misunderstandings about how to understand statistics in this paragraph. I’ll try to tackle them both without getting too long winded.
1. Jose Vidro hasn’t been “hot” for 10 weeks. You simply can’t look at the actual performances during that stretch and come to that conclusion. Breaking down his post all-star break, you see three distinctly different stretches of baseball.
July 12th to August 15th: 29 games, 125 plate appearances, .413/.484/.500
August 17th to September 5th: 19 games, 86 plate appearances, .263/.326/.395
September 7th to September 15th: 8 games, 34 plate apperances, .464/.559/.679
For a month right after the all-star break, Vidro was a singles machine, building a productive 125 plate appearance stretch out of a massive quantity of singles. We all said it couldn’t continue, since the way he was getting his hits was not any kind of sustainable skill. He proceeded to have a stretch of 86 plate appearances where the balls stopped finding holes and he was, once again, a total drain on the line-up. Recently, he has once again started hitting well, this time actually driving the ball for extra base hits.
But there’s no 10 week hot stretch there. You can use the mean average to make it appear like there is, but that’s not intellectually honest. There’s a four week hot stretch, a three week cold stretch, and a one week hot stretch. Yes, you can pull his numbers since the all-star break and claim he was hitting well the whole time, but I could put a $50 million house in a ghetto and claim that the average home value of all the burned out buildings just increased by 600% too, thanks to the increase in the average home value of the neighborhood. Of course, that wouldn’t actually be true – that would be a misuse of statistics, ignoring the fact that the outliar is skewing the data. Just like claiming that Jose Vidro is on a ten week run of good hitting is a misuse of statistics.
2. The biggest flaw in the quoted paragraph, however, is a lack of understanding of random variation. This is a key point that I plan on addressing whenever I get around to finishing the other post on how to project player performance, but if you don’t know how to account for random variation or refuse to acknowledge its possible existence, you really have no chance of doing statistical analysis correctly.
Over 200 plate appearances, the effects of random variation are still very significant. Thanks to the work done in The Book, we know that if we assume a .330 true talent level OBP, for instance, over 200 plate appearances, 95% of all players will fall somewhere in the range of .264 OBP to .396 OBP. That’s a 130 point swing in on base percentage over 200 trips to the plate that can be correctly described as nothing more than random. If you’re completely unwilling to ever look at a performance change that large in that kind of sample and determine that it’s too significant to be random, you’ll fail at using statistics correctly.
Plain and simple – if every small sample of performance change leads you to believe that there’s been a tangible change of the underlying skill of the player and should change how he should be projected going forward, then you’re making a basic analytical error. And yes, Geoff, this is one of the major problems you continue to run into in your analysis – you’re far too willing to believe that recent performance swings obviously mean something. It’s an analytical problem, and if you want to try to set up a dichotomy where you’re taking the objective analytical approach and we’re just the biased fanboys, you really should look into getting that fixed.
I mean, I looked at his slugging percentage career-wise, in years when his legs were healthy, and concluded that a mark of .450 or higher would not be out of the question. That and his traditionally good on-base numbers would make him a good DH as long as the home run power was acquired someplace else. Well, if you want to point fingers, point them at Richie Sexson, because Vidro has now morphed into exactly what was hoped for when acquired.
This is exactly what we rail against in the Mariners analytical process, as it’s completely and utterly wrong. The M’s organization continually divides production up into predefined roles and expects nothing more or less than what they’ve established from that. They decided last winter that they needed a guy who didn’t strike out to hit second in the order, and so they acquired Jose Vidro with the singular hope that he would “keep innings going” and make a bunch of contact. Power didn’t matter, since that was Richie Sexson’s job.
That’s a ridiculous way to build a baseball team. The goal of every single hitter, regardless of line-up spot or position, is to produce runs. There are different ways to get there – obviously, Ichiro and Albert Pujols both produce runs using totally different skills – but that’s the goal for every hitter. You should never, never, never sacrifice runs for a particular skill. If you’re giving playing time to an inferior player because he does a certain thing that you tend to value, but it puts less runs on the board than what you could get from the other guy, you’re making the wrong decision.
Deciding that Jose Vidro doesn’t need to hit for power because “that’s Richie Sexson’s job” is just a horrible conclusion. Jose Vidro’s job is to produce runs, and he’d produce more runs if he hit for more power. Narrowly defining his job as singles-machine, and then being happy with your below average DH because he performed in your narrowly define target, does not mean that Jose Vidro performed well – it means that you created a ridiculous side goal that was different from winning baseball games.
Name me a team that’s going to sit a hitter, any hitter with a .423 on-base percentage over any prolonged stretch.
Alternately, name me a team that has a player as good as Adam Jones sitting on the bench. There isn’t one. He’s literally the best player in major league baseball that doesn’t have an every day job.
Or “platooning” (Raul Ibanez) against lefties for that one game a week Seattle actually faces one? For what purpose? Maybe some of you would take that risk. I don’t know. But it’s funny, I never see that part of things — the “head game” — discussed when folks talk about moving a player here, or plugging him in there.
Part of the Raul Ibanez Mystique is that he’s this great clubhouse veteran, a true team leader that does whatever it takes to help the team win, right? But the man has so fragile of an ego that we’re legitimately supposed to worry about how he might respond if he was platooned or moved to designated hitter?
Give me a break. This happens all across baseball all the freaking time. Platoons aren’t some neo-con statistical theory dreamed up in a baseball simulation by some nerds who don’t understand human relations. Every other baseball team in the world runs platoons, including the ones going to the playoffs. There are literally hundreds of examples of successful platoons throughout baseball, where amazingly major league players show the mental fortitude to not turn into a pumpkin simply when asked to DH or sit against same-handed pitchers.
There is exactly zero evidence supporting the idea that Raul Ibanez’s performance against right-handed pitching is tied to how often he plays left field or hits against left-handed pitching. It’s a theory – nothing less – that is unsupported by any kind of factual basis and goes against what every other baseball organization on the earth believes in.
Jim Leyland platoons. Joe Torre platoons. Tony LaRussa platoons. I think its fair to say that these guys understand the affects of playing time on a player’s psyche better than any beat writer.
Remember, this is not spring training. The parameters for this discussion began the day Adam Jones was called up and ran through to right now. A six-week period. Who are the guys who can give you the best production over the next six weeks to two months of playoff contention. Over the six weeks since, Ibanez and Vidro have been ripping the baseball, as I’ve shown. There is no need to remove either of them to squeeze a Class AAA call-up into the lineup.
Adam Jones is a better player, right now, than Ibanez or Vidro, and you can’t really come to any other conclusion based on the evidence at hand. You can, I guess, if you create bogus theories about platooning and veteran clutchness and the predictive power of small samples, but those theories lead to last place finishes.
He didn’t run down enough line drives to the gaps, you say? Well, point them out. Tell me which ones lost the game. I’d probably tell you the chances of winning would soar if the starting pitchers stopped yielding line drives to the gaps, but that’s just me.
The idea that some runs are inherently unimportant and should be completely discounted in the analysis of a player’s abilities because of their context is so remarkably wrong that I can’t even begin to wrap my head around it. Geoff goes through a few game scenarios where Ibanez came up with hits that he defines as important, showing how he’s won far more games with his offense than he’s lost with his defense, and essentially settling on the conclusion that the runs he’s allowed defensively don’t really matter.
It’s nonsense. Trying to decide which runs count and which ones don’t is a fool’s errand. Using this type of analysis, you’d have to conclude that Adrian Beltre’s home run yesterday was worthless, as the team ended up losing 9-2, but that Ichiro’s RBI single on Thursday night that put the M’s on the board, cutting the lead to 5-1 in a game that the team ended up winning 8-7, was critical.
Not every run is exactly as important as every other run, but there is no such thing as a run that doesn’t count, and deciding future playing time based on the context of past events is a great way to lose a lot of baseball games.
Geoff blames the pitchers for allowing these line drives in the gap (and, apparently, flyballs down the line, bloopers into shallow left, or routine flys to the alley that Ibanez also fails to catch) and discards any responsibility from Raul for turning those opportunities into outs. But here’s the thing – whether its the pitcher’s fault for allowing that hit or not, that ball in the outfield is still an opportunity to turn a hit into an out, and that has real tangible value. Every single ball in play is a chance to take a hit away from an opponent – some, obviously, better chances than others – and ignoring these opportunities is just a total waste of resources.
Again, I don’t have a stake in Jones failing or succeeding. But some of you want me to rip the team for not rolling the dice over the past six weeks. For me, it’s an easy argument to make. I don’t see there being enough of a justification to get Jones in there. To jolt folks around in the field or lineup when they’re batting well over .300 and hitting for power. You’re right, we don’t know what Jones would have done. Only what Ibanez and Vidro did do.
This is yet another logical fallacy that just clouds the issue. This idea that Adam Jones’ performance was this impossible to predict question mark, this massive risk, while we knew exactly what we were going to get from Raul Ibanez is just completely and utterly wrong. As we’ve shown with plenty of evidence, refuted by no evidence from the other side of the issue, there is no evidence that veterans are any less streaky than a similarly talented young player.
Jones numbers in Class AAA: .968 OPS
Shelley Duncan’s numbers at Class AAA: .957 OPS
Duncan’s numbers since his first three games as an outfielder for the Yankees after a July call-up: 11-for-48 (.229) with a .275 on-base and .396 slugging percentage for a .671 OPS.
Hey – I have an idea. Let’s find the one guy who supports my preconceived belief and use him to demonstrate that minor league numbers don’t mean anything.
I could do this to.
Matt Kemp, AAA: .329/.374/.540
Matt Kemp, Majors: .337/.374/.528
Matt Kemp, of course, is far more similar to Adam Jones than Shelly Duncan. They’re basically the same hitter – same age, same skillset, same development track. Shelly Duncan is nothing like either one of them. But again, that’s not the point. The point is that using one guy who came up from Triple-A and didn’t sustain his numbers doesn’t mean anything in any kind of real analytical discussion. The predictive power of minor league numbers is a well established issue with years and years of evidence.
This isn’t analysis, Geoff – this is cherry picking to support a pre-established belief.
None of us know what Jones would have done short-term and putting him in there would be a risk.
Guess what – none of us knew what Vidro or Ibanez would have done short-term and putting them in there was also a risk. Until you grasp this, the rest of the discussion is moot.
I just don’t get it. Well, actually, I do get it to an extent. But like I said, if you come here expecting an “agenda” where certain players, like Lopez, Green, Morrow, Jones etc. can do no wrong, while others, like Ibanez, Vidro, Sexson, and Willie Bloomquist can do no right, you won’t find it.
You won’t find that here either, Geoff. It’s not hard to search through the archives to find all guys of good things we’ve said about all those guys. Now, we may say more good things about Adam Jones and Sean Green than anyone else around, but that is basically a reaction to the ridiculous amount of positive press the veterans get from the organization and the local media. The entire reason there needs to be a Free Adam Jones Society in the first place is because the organization fails to recognize how valuable he actually is. If the organization didn’t have so many blind spots in their analytical process, we wouldn’t have to continually lobby for them to make better decisions.
And finally, this quote is actually from Saturday’s Baker blog entry, but it’s along the same theme, so I’ll add it here.
Should we bother to point out why they did this? Well, in their absolute foolishness, they worried that a bullpen supported by such young arms — having never been through the stress of a playoff run or arm strain of a full major league season — just might not hold up. Well, guess what? Do I really have to keep pointing out the obvious? OK, I will. The arms in the bullpen did not hold up. Now, we can do one of two things:
We can twist ourselves into pretzels grasping for excuses, explanations, comparisons with older players and all types of theories to justify the conspiracy angle…or…we can simply say, hey, maybe on this one occasion, the folks running the team were actually right. I know it hurts to do it, but just take a deep breath and try it. The team guessed right. The bullpen arms did not hold up. That means, of course, that those who believed they would hold up were wrong about that. It hurts to be wrong, sometimes, I know. We’ve all been there. But this bullpen just wasn’t going to hold up with so many arms not used to throwing so many innings under this kind of pressure. Not with this starting rotation, that’s for sure.
I want this point to come across as clearly as possible, as it’s vitally important to understanding where the disconnect in the two opinions is coming from.
None of us can know the future. We can’t. We just do not have the ability to know what other people are going to do in days that haven’t happened yet. All we can deal with is probability and likelihood. We can make the best decisions possible based on the information we have at the time, and what happens after that is completely out of our control.
No one “knew” how the bullpen was going to perform down the stretch. You didn’t, Geoff, and neither did we. Nor did John McLaren or Bill Bavasi. We all had our opinions, obviously, but unless you just think way too highly of your own opinion (and I’m pretty sure you don’t), you know that there wasn’t a 100% certainty on that opinion playing out as you suspected.
Now, again, this is important – the fact that the results went as you suspected does not mean that you were right. I’m pretty sure you’re going to disagree with this statement, but it’s a key point to understanding how to objectively analyze things correctly, which you’ve already stated is your goal. Let me give you an analogy:
We have a coin that has been altered so that it will come up heads 60% of the time and tails only 40% of the time. It’s designed to give the advantage to the person who calls heads. If you know this ahead of time and call tails, you have made the wrong decision, regardless of what happens after that. That coin can come up tails 10 times in a row and you still made ten wrong decisions.
Why? Because you had no way of knowing what the result of that 60/40 coin flip was going to be. All you can do is make the best decision you can on the available information, and in this example, heads is always the best decision, even though that decision will lead to losing 40% of the time.
This is what I’m talking about when I rail against results based analysis. When you allow your opinion to be swayed based on the results of a small sample that contradicts the conclusion of probability that real analytical processes led to, you’re going to make bad decisions.
Yes, the bullpen melted down, just as you suspected. We could have an entire discussion about whether this was probable or not, but here’s the key – that’s not the discussion we’re having. You’re basing your probability on the results, and that’s bad analysis.
Ironically, however, you’re ignoring the results of the proposed solutions to the problems you perceived. Since lobbying for their acquisition to upgrade the bullpen, every single reliever you were in favor of bringing in has performed disastrously. Eric Gagne, Dan Wheeler, Al Reyes, Octavio Dotel… all of them. And guess what? Since I lobbied for the Mariners to acquire Jose Contreras, David Wells, and Brett Tomko, all three of them have been terrific.
Does this mean that I was right and you were wrong? No, it doesn’t. Why? Because combined, that group of pitchers has only thrown about 130 innings total since the trade deadline, and anything can happen over 130 innings. I didn’t know that Jose Contreras was going to turn it around immediately after I started lobbying for the Mariners to trade for him. I didn’t know that Eric Gagne was going to implode upon leaving Texas. And you didn’t know that Sean Green was going to start struggling as soon as the calendar hit August.
The only thing we can evaluate is the evaluative processes we take to reach the conclusions that we do – everything after that is out of our control.
This is where we differ from both you and the Mariner organization. And this is where, I believe, both you and the Mariners make the most mistakes. This is the heart of the thing that we’ve been arguing for years and years – the Mariners are behind the times in learning how to evaluate players because their processes are broken.
Until the organization learns how to do analysis properly, understand probability, and not buy into cliches that aren’t based on evidence, they’ll continue to lose to better run organizations who are winning with less resources.
Why did we spend so much time on the Adam Jones/Jose Vidro debate? Because it’s 2007’s shining example of the analytical flaws that the orgnaization holds. As long as the team continues to make decisions based on the analytical processes that lead to things like Vidro = Good DH and Jones = Class AAA Callup, they’ll never be able to compete in the AL West. It’s a symptom of a larger problem, and that larger problem is the one that we’re trying to fix.