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Tracy, Tracy, Tracy…
Posted By Bill Baer On October 16, 2007 @ 12:21 pm In MLB,Sabermetrics | No Comments
I E-Mailed this to the good folks at Fire Joe Morgan, since they are experts at dissecting articles, but this article by Tracy Ringolsby of FOX Sports was eating away at my insides, so I had to rebut it.
I’ll approach this like FJM does: the author’s words in boldface, my words under it in regular font.
Then the simplistic work of “Moneyball” was published, taking a shallow view of the complex approach Billy Beane had taken to having success on a moderate budget in Oakland[…]
Moneyball, written by Michael Lewis, was about finding value in an area in which the current market deems worth less (note: not worthless) than other aspects. At the time the Oakland Athletics were reeling off NL West pennants, on-base percentage (OBP) was rather undervalued, so they picked up guys like Jason Giambi (OBP of .476 and .477 in 2000 and ’01, respectively; career .411 OBP), Scott Hatteberg (.374 OBP in ’02; career .363 OBP), and Erubiel Durazo (.374 and .396 OBP in ’03 and ’04, respectively; career .381 OBP).
[…]suddenly front offices were being filled with guys wearing pocket protectors.
I must have missed the memo where it said that anyone who values statistics over random, unverified assumptions (like grit and determination winning championships) is a pocket protector-wearing nerd. I also must have missed the memo where all anti-statistics journalists impersonate elementary school bullies, taking the lunch money from us nerds, too busy punching away at our calculators to actually watch the games.
Pocket protectors were last prominent in the 1970’s and ’80’s, so I cordially invite Tracy to join us here in the 21st century, where math and science have greatly advanced the human species.
I’m surprised Tracy didn’t throw in a slide rule reference. C’mon, Trace!
Now, maybe, the game is going to get back to its roots.
Ah, yes: the roots of baseball. Rough players (meaning their skills aren’t honed) with second jobs playing a game that kept the African-American players in a separate league. The game where the analytical approach hadn’t been heard of, where managers allowed their pitchers to ruin their arms by pitching 350 innings in a season, making one start every three days in a 154-game season. That was a much better game since there weren’t any nerds doing any thinking for us.
Now, maybe, some owners will realize that for all the efforts to find new and improved versions, round is the best shape for a tire, and a home-grown product is the best method for success in baseball.
What is the difference, really, between a home-grown product and a non-home-grown product? A player isn’t better for the Rockies because he’s been in the Rockies’ system for his entire Minor League career.
Some teams are better at scouting, drafting, player development, and such. The Pittsburgh Pirates are notoriously horrible at scouting, drafting, and developing pitchers. But their talent was home-grown, that’s why John Van Benschoten has been a rousing success in the Pirates’ rotation and hasn’t encountered any injury problems. Zach Duke has been progressively better with each passing season. Did I mention Cy Young candidate Paul Maholm?
What Tracy is guilty of is not heeding the “correlation is not causation” axiom. The Rockies made the World Series with a lot of home-grown talent; therefore, all teams should be promoting their Minor Leaguers instead of trading and signing free agents, right? The Yankees grew multi-MVP winner Alex Rodriguez. The Tigers grew MVP-candidate Magglio Ordonez. The Giants grew the best player in baseball history, Barry Bonds. See how wise Tracy is?
This is a team that tried quick fixes and high-priced free agents and failed, miserably.
What I infer from this is that signing free agents is a bad thing because it didn’t work out for the Rockies. What doesn’t work for one team most definitely won’t work for the other 29 teams. And the Rockies’ failure with free agents doesn’t have anything to do with their upper management, scouts, or injuries, does it? Nah, of course not. Free agents earn more money than young Minor Leaguers, so all free agents have to put up better numbers. Exhibit A: Alex Rodriguez, abysmal failure.
It’s a team that got caught up in overanalyzing statistical analysis and failed, miserably.
Notice in the article how Tracy illustrates how the Rockies used statistical analysis and then showed why it didn’t work out. No wait, that never happened.
Finally, general manager Dan O’Dowd, took a step back. He reshaped his front office, bringing in some old-school baseball minds to go with the new analytic types.
Yes, those smart old-school guys that measure everything in terms of a pitcher’s win-loss record and a hitter’s batting average. Those guys actually watch the games! Their analysis cannot be wrong, since it is based on human perception, which, as we all know, is perfect. Isn’t that why eyewitness testimony alone is enough evidence to convict a criminal?
Hey, anyone want to bunt that runner over to second base with no one out? That’s such a winning play. I know because an old-school guy told me so. Run expectancy charts? Feh!
Fifteen of the 25 players on their postseason roster are home-grown, tops among the postseason teams.
This is an excellent cherry-pick. I can do the same thing coming from the opposite direction. 19 of the 25 players on the post-season roster of the Boston Red Sox are not home-grown. Everyone: don’t home-grow your talent!
And they [won 21 of 22 games; the Wild Card; the NLDS; the NLCS] as a team.
As opposed to those un-home-grown Red Sox, who won the AL East as individuals. When the Red Sox were jumping up and down on the mound after clinching the East, you could hear Jason Varitek screaming, “Yay me!” and see Jonathan Papelbon holding a giant foam hand with “I’m #1!” written on it.
While Arizona manager Bob Melvin sits back and watches like he’s in spring training, making sure people get their work in[…]
While Melvin’s D-Backs are indeed a fluke (check out their run differential), this snipe at Melvin is unwarranted. I’m sure Tracy knows this, but the D-Backs won their division with a 90-72 record, best in the National League. I’m pretty sure Melvin doesn’t approach any game like a spring training game, let alone one in the post-season. And, if anything, Melvin is a genius with his bullpen management.
Rockies manager Clint Hurdle sees a chance to take command against an obviously less-than-full-speed Micah Owings. So with two out and two on, he sends up Smith to hit for rookie Franklin Morales, even though Morales had thrown only 64 pitches and allowed only one run.
Smith fights off a pitch up and in, sends it the opposite way, just inside the left field line for a two-run double.
What Tracy fails to mention is that this hit was one of those “lucky” hits that hitters sometimes get. Smith is left-handed, the pitcher Micah Owings is right-handed, so what do you expect most left-handed hitters do when they get a pitch right over the middle of the plate, like Smith did? Pull? Of course not. We always expect a weak blooper down the left-field line! (You can watch the hit here, titled “Smith’s two-run double”)
Gosh, that Smith is so clutch. That hit he got to set up Kaz Matsui’s grand slam in Philadelphia in the NLDS? A screamer right down the third base line (click here to see it under Oct. 4 titled “Smith’s infield single”).
There you go, folks. Another fine example of great journalism by a sportswriter. Stick to rodeos, Trace.
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