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An Object at Rest

David Murphy has written a very thought-provoking piece for his High Cheese blog for the Philadelphia Daily News. If you follow both the Phillies and Sabermetrics, then you’re probably well aware of the regression lefty J.A. Happ is likely to face in 2010. Those in the non-stats crowd were impressed by his poise last season and think he’ll perform better than do those of us who fancy numbers. Murphy tries to meet all of us in the middle, citing “The Pendulum Effect”:

[…] refers to the tendency of folks on opposite sides of an argument to make increasingly extreme statements […]

Staying on the science theme, I’d like to direct Murphy towards Newton’s first law of motion:

[…] an object at rest will stay at rest unless acted upon by an external force.

All right, so I’m stretching a bit. But the point is sometimes moderates become so concerned with being moderate that they become just as extremist as those on opposing ends. With all due respect to Murphy, I think he is an object at rest and he is willingly guarding himself against being affected by external forces, or the thought processes of those on either end of the stats/scouts spectrum. It’s evident about halfway through when he posts his “moderate’s creed”.

I am not going to go into the math as to why Happ will regress in 2010. Mostly because I’ve researched and written an article about it that may be printed elsewhere and I don’t want to blow my stack, and also because you can probably read the various reasons with some simple Google searching. So if you are interested in the methodology behind that, I suggest staying tuned for my article (I will post details as they come in) or checking out the work of some other writers who have covered the subject.

Simply put, the reasons behind Happ’s likely regression are statistically sound. The Sabermetric stats that frown upon him are based off of DIPS (defense-independent pitching statistics) initially developed by Voros McCracken and DIPS has evolved many times through the years. Each new advancement shines a little more light than its predecessor.

The reasons behind saying “Happ will regress” are facts. This is not akin to a liberal saying that a woman should have the right to choose or a conservative pushing for his right to carry a firearm. Those arguments are based on morals which are neither right nor wrong. Meanwhile, taking one particular side in the Happ debate does not mean you are an extremist; it means you are either right or wrong. Compromising between the two, as Murphy does, still leads to a wrong answer, albeit to a slightly lesser extent.

I don’t want to sound like the brainwashed stat-nerd that mainstream writers so often characterize. However, Sabermetrics have gone a long way towards enlightening us as to the truths in baseball. Many smart people have put in long hours of data analysis to reach these conclusions. As it pertains to the Happ debate, the stats crowd is right: he is likely to regress.

As Murphy points out, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible that Happ will have as productive a 2010 season as in ’09, it just means it’s unlikely. To say otherwise for any reason whether it’s sincere disbelief or to simply attempt a compromise is to be wrong.