Friday, October 25, 2013

Saberfans and the Narrative

Is David Ortiz clutch?  Or is that just a myth?  (Photo source: Wikipedia)

Some saberfans get really hung up on "the narrative" in baseball.  They seem to feel that announcers and writers often fixate on a particular storyline and continue to talk about it, even though THE NUMBERS DON'T BACK IT UP!

What the saberfans they don't seem to realize is that this can be a two-way street.  For instance, saberfans enjoy debunking the theory of "clutchness" in baseball.  They enjoy debunking this narrative so much that "there is no such thing as clutchness" has become a narrative in itself.

For a good example, let's check out this recent Tweet by noted saberdouche Bill Baer of the blog Crashburn Alley:
Bill was presumably watching the World Series and listened as Red Sox DH David Ortiz was repeatedly described as being a clutch player.  Bill has made no secret of his dislike of the clutchness narrative, so he was probably all to eager to prove it false.

In this case, Bill's disdain is obviously merited because he has numbers on his side.  This proves that he is correct and the stupid people who insist on supporting this narrative are wrong.

Or maybe not.  Another Twitter user helpfully pointed out that Bill's Tweet might not be telling the whole story:
So yes, Ortiz's excellent numbers are not quite as good in the playoffs as they are in the regular season.  But, considering that just about every at bat in the playoffs is high pressure, and a guy like Ortiz is almost never going to get an easy at bat against a weak pitcher, it's impressive that his numbers are even in the same range.

By the way, Ortiz's postseason OPS of .912 would have ranked 5th in the American League this season.  A guy who puts up postseason numbers like that would certainly seem to qualify as "clutch," right?

If you were curious to how Bill responded to this:

Apparently, he's too lazy to do any research when it might not support his particular narrative.

So remember, following the narrative isn't just for traditionalists.  Saberfans can enjoy the wonders of the narrative too!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Fun With Rob Neyer: Let the players vote for everything. Wait, no don't!

Angst over All-Star selections is not something that is limited to saberfans.  Baseball fans of all types get riled up about who was selected and who got snubbed.  Part of the problem is that just about everyone has a different opinion as to what the criteria for making the team should be.

This doesn't stop saberfans from being especially annoying about it.  Saberfans tend to think that because they have advanced stats to back up their argument, they KNOW who the deserving players are.

Naturally, Rob Neyer isn't going to let the All-Star debate go by without putting in his two cents.

I wasn't going to pick on Neyer, because the douchiest part of the column is actually a quote from Joe Sheehan.  Then again, Rob makes a point to mention how much he agrees with Sheehan, so I won't cut him too much slack.

Neyer isn't content to just agree with Sheehan's douchieness.  He needs to add some of his own:

But they're not qualified to evaluate the overall value of players they see a few times a year, because they've got little or no interest in doing the actual work that would require. How many of the players, before filling out their ballots, actually sat down and looked at or any other source listing something other than batting average and RBI's and wins and losses and ERA? A dozen, maybe?

Is Miguel Cabrera worthy of being an All-Star? 
It's impossible to tell without hours of research.
According to Neyer, only through extensive research can it be determined who deserves to be an All-Star.  Since the players are either unwilling or unable to put in the hard work that is necessary, that responsibility should be reassigned.

Bud Selig should take the All-Star selection duty away from the players and the fans.  He could then assign it to someone who would tirelessly scour reference sites in order to identify the players who are truly worthy of the All-Star honor.  Obviously, there is only one man capable of handling this crucial responsibility: Rob Neyer. 

If Neyer was assigned this sacred duty, he would construct the ultimate All-Star team rosters.  Players would not be foolishly named All-Stars simply because they have a high RBI total. The result would surely be the greatest All-Star Game ever played; one that would be talked about for years to come.

Sigh...if only.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Fun with Rob Neyer

There's going to be a a change here at Sabermetrics Suck.

Since I created this site, updates have been sporadic.  That is mostly because I try to make thoughtful arguments and not resort to the usual taunts of "Sabermetrics are stupid because...Grandma's basement!"  Unfortunately, thoughtful arguments require time and energy which I don't often have.

Fortunately, I have found a muse that will allow me to post more regularly.  I had a lot of fun making fun of Rob Neyer in my last post.  So I asked myself, "Why don't I do that more often?"

Neyer makes an ideal target because he is prolific and comes off as unbearably smug.  The mockery practically writes itself!  And because Neyer shows no reluctance to mock others, I don't even feel any guilt.  It's a win-win situation!

Nice shades (Photo source: Gawker)

Let's take a look at this recent piece where he questions some of the decisions made by Dodgers manager Don Mattingly:

If you've read much of Neyer's work, it becomes obvious that he thinks is smarter than most Major League managers.

Neyer begins by praising Mattingly for using the team's best reliever (Kenley Jansen) instead of the team's closer (Brandon League) in a key situation.  In typical Neyer fashion, the compliment is served in a backhanded manner: 
Hey, that's great! Mattingly figured Jansen's his best reliever and used him against the Diamondbacks' best hitters! Bravo!
But wouldn't it still make sense to use a good pitcher in the ninth?
Neyer takes issue with Mattingly's use of League in the ninth inning since League hasn't proven to be effective in that role.  The criticism is confusing because Neyer goes on to admit that none of the Dodgers' relievers are especially good. 

So what's the problem?  So far Neyer has praised one of Mattingly's moves and defended another.  Shouldn't this article be titled "Don Mattingly: Doing a Swell Job?"

The problem comes when Mattingly gives part of the reasoning behind his moves: League had better career numbers against the scheduled hitters than Jansen did.

I think that Mattingly's rationale was solid.  While the sample size wasn't large, it wasn't like he had many good options.  Why not go with the guy who has had success against those hitters?

Naturally, Neyer disagrees:
... and you really have to wonder about your manager's marbles, since 0 for 5 and five for 10 are utterly meaningless in this context. If tiny batter-versus-pitcher samples are your rationale for bullpen decisions, you're doing it wrong.
But then again, when you're bullpen's got 15 losses, you're probably doing something wrong. Or you're making a lot of solid decisions that just didn't work. That's possible, I guess.

So even though he already admitted that the Dodgers don't have good relievers, the team's problems are obviously the fault of Mattingly because he uses such ridiculous logic.

I'm impressed that Neyer was able to restrain himself.  Here's what he probably wanted to write:

That foolish manager!  The ignoramus actually uses batter-versus-pitcher samples?  Sabermetrics has declared that such things are not definitive therefore they must not be considered in any decisions!

Those 15 losses are clearly all his fault.  If I were the manager, I would have found a way for the team to have won all of those games.  For I am Rob Neyer, Baseball Genius!

Thank you for holding back, Rob.  And thank you for the inspiration!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Saberdouchery: Rob Neyer and Dustin Ackley

In my last post, I mentioned that my goal was to find examples of saberdouchery on the web.  Instead, I found an article by Keith Law that made me reconsider my whole anti-sabermetrics stance.

I started to wonder: Have I been too hard on saberfans?  Are they really not as bad as I have made them out to be?  Is this whole site completely misguided?  (That sound you hear is the saberfans who stumble across the site nodding vigorously)

Fortunately, Rob Neyer restored my faith by providing this excellent example of saberdouchery:

The article has everything: Snark!  Mockery of announcers!  An irrational defense of sabermetrics! Instant dismissal of a person who criticizes sabermetrics!  More snark!

Let's take a look at all the douchey goodness.

The article begins with Neyer taking issue with Braves announcer Joe Simpson.  Simpson suggested that there is a mental aspect to pitching and that it might be tougher for some pitchers to succeed in late game situations.

According to Neyer, this is absolute nonsense.  He probably would have been gracious enough to allow this comment to pass, but then Simpson had the nerve to suggest that sabermetrics (gasp!) might have been wrong about something. 

That obviously crossed a line, and Neyer wasn't going to let Simpson to get away with it.  He dismissed Simpson a Luddite who "wasn't interested in facts" and only sought to impress his fellow non-believers.

Next, Neyer takes a shot at Mariners' manager Eric Wedge.  Wedge tried to explain the struggles of young hitter Justin Ackley, and implied that sabermetrics might be partially to blame.

Uh oh.  Neyer's not gonna like that one bit.

Wedge notes that some people in the Mariners' organization are encouraging a more sabermetric friendly approach while at bat.  As a result, Ackley has been too concerned with taking pitches and trying to draw walks rather than relying on his natural instincts.

I'm not going to deny that patience and a high on-base percentage are good qualities for a hitter to possess.  But it is foolish to think that all hitters will succeed with a patient approach.  There are some hitters whose success is based on a more aggressive approach at the plate

Ackley could be such a hitter.  If he is indeed trying to be more patient in order to please some organizational figures who are stressing high OBP, then it seems entirely possible that the change could be affecting him negatively.

Neyer dismisses this possibility, and there seems to be no real point to the dismissal except for the fact that Wedge criticized sabermetrics. 

Apparently, in Rob Neyer's world, Sabermetrics are perfect and never to be criticized.  It's slightly frightening how obsessed he seems.  He comes off like a top lieutenant in a cult. 

"What do you mean The Leader is not perfect?  How dare you spread such blasphemy!  We must silence the non-believer!  Burn him!"

"Bill James - I mean, The Leader - is all knowing and all seeing!"
Thank you, Rob Neyer.  I feel much better about everything now.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

In Defense Of: Keith Law???

I'll be honest.  I was trying to find something to write about, so I perused the web in search of saberdouchery.

Saberdouchery is when a baseball analyst makes some sort of argument that goes against traditional baseball thinking.  He'll make a point to deliver the message in the most arrogant way possible, letting everyone know how much smarter he is than the Luddite traditionalists.

I figured that Keith Law was a good bet to supply me with some material, so I looked through his article archive on

I expected to find saberdouchery.  Instead, I found this article: 

The Stats I Can't Live Without 

(Article requires an ESPN Insider subscription to read. Sorry for all you non-subscribers)

Law starts out by putting a disclaimer on WAR, pointing out that without knowing how the WAR value was calculated, it doesn't really provide much insight into a player's value.  Next, he points out that because players build their WAR in different ways, it's not necessarily a great tool to analyze players going forward.

What? Was I reading this correctly?

He uses Michael Bourn as an example.  Much of Bourn's value is based on speed.  As he ages, his speed is likely to decrease, meaning that Bourn's value will likely decrease faster than other players with a similar WAR value.

Michael Bourn's WAR may not be indicative of future performance

He then goes on to talk about a few key statistics, what they are designed to do, how they can be misleading, and why they are useful in analyzing and predicting a player's performance moving forward.

I was shocked.  This was a helpful and accessible article from an unlikely source.

Despite what some people may think, I have made an effort to understand and appreciate sabermetrics.  I feel I have gotten a solid grasp on how most of the more prominent statistics are calculated and why they are considered valuable.  But it certainly wasn't easy for me to do so.

If analysts like Law really want sabermetrics to fully gain mainstream acceptance, they need to produce more articles like this one.  This article should have been placed on the front page of and been made easily accessible to everyone who wanted to gain a better handle on sabermetrics.

I'm not saying it's a perfect article.  Law can't completely avoid showing some disdain for the non-believers when he makes a comment about the Trout vs. Cabrera debate.

But had I read something like this a few years ago, it's possible that my whole outlook on sabermetrics might have changed.  Maybe this site would be called "Sabermetrics Rule" instead!

Well...probably not.  There still would have been plenty of saberdouches out there doing their best to earn my disdain.

Regardless, I look at this article as a step in the right direction.  Good job, Mr. Law!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

In Defense Of: Ruben Amaro - Part Two

As expected, many saberfans did not enjoy my defense of Ruben Amaro.

Sadly, I think many of them saw the name of the blog, got their hackles up, and were simply determined to hate anything I had written.

So I thought: How can I make the blog more accessible for them?    How can I show them that I'm not just full of anti-sabermetric hate?  How can I show them that I actually hear and value their opinions?

The answer came to me: I need to bring in a lovable character from pop culture to help me out!

Fans of the book The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy will be thrilled when I introduce today's special guest.  He's short.  He's shiny.  He talks like Hans Gruber.  He's Marvin the Paranoid Android!


Much like many saberfans who follow the Phillies, Marvin is pessimistic about this year's team.  (Although to be fair, Marvin is pessimistic about everything)  And much like many saberfans, Marvin behaves like a robot.  He can analyze numbers and statistics with precision, but sometimes he has some trouble understanding how to put those numbers in the right perspective.

It may have been unfair to saberfans when I didn't give them a voice in part one.  So this time around, Marvin will serve as their spokesperson.

Thanks for joining us, Marvin!

Marvin: I wish I could say that it's a pleasure being here.  But it isn't.  It isn't a pleasure being anywhere.

Cutter: Well, thanks regardless.  Let's get started.  What's your first complaint about Amaro?

Marvin: He's overpaid for players and now the Phillies have no money left to improve the team.

Cutter: Overpaid is a funny word to use.  If you're just making your judgements based on some sort of dollars-to-WAR scale, then I'm sure the Phillies have overpaid.

While it is great to have money available, it's even better to spend that money on good players.

I get the impression that some Phillies fans would prefer that the team act like a small-market team who has to try and find market inequities so that they can outsmart the big boys.  They seem to think that it would somehow be more fun if the Phillies were made up of a bunch of Ben Zobrist types who have been unappreciated by the market, but are super valuable according to WAR.

I think it's more fun that our GM can say, "We need a reliever.  Who's the best one on the market?  Papelbon?  I'll take it!"

Finances in baseball aren't equal.  A Papelbon might not be a wise signing for most teams, but for a team in the Phillies' position, it does make sense.

If Ruben wants a Papelbon, then Ruben shall get a Papelbon!

Marvin: I thought you weren't going to use negative stereotypes regarding saberfans?

Cutter: You're right.  That was probably a bit of an exaggeration.

So why are you under the impression that the Phillies have been financially restrained?

Marvin: Amaro didn't make any moves to improve the team this offseason.  He didn't sign one of the free agent outfielders who were available.

Cutter: But wasn't the consensus that just about every free agent outfielder got "overpaid" this offseason?  You're criticizing Amaro for overpaying players...because it prevented him from overpaying other players?

Remember all the panic last season that the Phillies wouldn't be able to re-sign Cole Hamels?  Well, they re-signed Cole Hamels.

Still a Phillie

Marvin: Even that was a bad move.  Had they signed him earlier, they could have gotten him cheaper.  Players get more expensive the closer they get to free agency.

Cutter: That's usually true.  But there's no indication that Hamels would have signed any earlier than he did.

Some players sign early extensions because they're very comfortable in their situation and they'd rather have immediate financial security. Other players would rather take the risk that they'll stay healthy and productive and be able to make more on the open market.

I'm sure that at some point, Amaro did indeed say something to Hamels' agent along the lines of, "Here's what we think you're worth.  Please sign this contract."

Hamels' agent probably responded, "That's sweet and all, but if Cole becomes a free agent, some team is going to offer him more money than that."

So what's your next complaint?

Marvin: The Phillies are an old team because Amaro let them get old.

Cutter: The Phillies are indeed an old team.  But that's mostly because they've had a very good team for a few years, and now that core has gotten older.

But could that have been avoided?

When you've got a team in contention, is that the time to start rebuilding?  Was he supposed to break up a 102 win team after the 2011 season?

Championship quality cores don't come around all that often.  Amaro needed to do all he could to help that core to win another championship.

Besides, being an old team doesn't necessarily keep a team from being good.

Marvin: But he seems to go out of his way to make the team older.  All of the players he's picked up over the years have been older like Raul Ibanez and Placido Polanco.

Cutter: Once again, when you've got a championship level core, would you rather add younger, unproven players, or proven veterans? 

It would be nice if the Phillies had picked up some young stars who were about to enter their primes, but those players aren't readily available, especially if they're really only supporting pieces to the core of the team.

I don't recall the other available options, but I don't think there were any 28 year old All-Star outfielders on the free agent market.

Speaking of 28 year old All-Star outfielders, want to talk about Hunter Pence?

Many saberfans regard the Pence trade as a bad idea

Marvin: Ugh, yes.  What a horrible trade. Amaro traded some top prospects for one year of a player who would be only a marginal upgrade.

Cutter: Let's re-visit the 2011 trade deadline.  The Phillies were essentially a lock to make the playoffs.  However, the lineup was still a slight question mark.

In the 2009 and 2010 playoffs, the team's fatal flaw was probably it's vulnerability against left handed relievers.  Opposing managers used lefty specialists to great effect against the Phillies hitters.

Pence was an attempt to correct that flaw.  He was a 28 year old right handed hitter in the midst of an All-Star season  Was he overachieving that season?  Probably.  Was he the best available option to improve the Phillies' chances of winning the World Series?  I think so.

And here's the part that people seem to forget: Pence wasn't supposed to be a one-year player.  Part of the reason Amaro wanted him was because he was under team control through the 2013 season.

Did they trade away a top prospect in Jonathan Singleton?  Yes, but keep in mind that Singleton is a first baseman, and the Phillies have a guy signed long-term at that position.  (No matter how you feel about the Howard contract, that was the reality at the time of the trade)

Personally, I thought it was a bad move to trade him away last year, as he would have been a solid part of the lineup this season.  But maybe Amaro felt like a top catching prospect (Tommy Joseph) was too much too pass up.

Marvin: If they hadn't traded for Pence, they would have been able to trade for Justin Upton this offseason.

Cutter: That's probably true.  But trading for Justin Upton now wouldn't have helped them win the World Series in 2011.  (And yes, I know that they didn't.  But as I've said, I think the trade for Pence helped their chances)

Marvin: It was just one example of Amaro's insistence on destroying the team's farm system.

Cutter: No, it was an example of Amaro using those prospects as ways to help his current team.

Marvin: But then you have nothing left for tomorrow.  This is the reason that teams have "championship windows."  Doing things like trading away prospects causes those windows to close.

Cutter: I'll ask again: Which would you rather take a chance on?  Adding a piece to a championship caliber team or a bunch of prospects who might never pan out?

Every team has a window.  The only way to truly extend it is to have the minor leagues develop players as good as the ones who have gotten old or departed.

Marvin: Yes, and Amaro hasn't done that.

Cutter:  That is indeed an issue.  It certainly doesn't look like the Phillies are producing new talent that can capably replace the aging core.  Part of that is because they Phillies have given up both draft picks and prospects in an attempt to "win now." 

You should remember that the draft system is designed to promote parity.  It's much easier for losing teams to build a good farm system.

Losing teams get better draft position.  Losing teams can trade away players for prospects or obtain extra draft picks when their players leave as free agents. 

The Phillies have been in the opposite situation and it has hurt them.

Marvin: It doesn't matter why the minor league system is weak.  You admitted that it is, and therefore, there's no chance to rebuild, and therefore there's no hope for the future.

Cutter: Why are you acting like Amaro has failed at a rebuilding process that hasn't really begun?

The way I see it: The core of this team has one more chance in 2013. If they fail, then veterans like Chase Utley, Roy Halladay, and maybe even Carlos Ruiz are likely gone.  They'll then have plenty of money to spend to build around the remaining core.

And even though the farm system looks a little weak right now, as I mentioned in part one, that can turn around in a hurry. If Dom Brown pans out, and if prospects like Jessie Biddle and Tommy Joseph continue to develop, then all of a sudden, the Phillies farm system looks pretty good.

Marvin: Dom Brown?  He's not going to pan out because the Phillies signed Delmon Young, and Young is going to take all of Brown's playing time without providing any value.

Cutter: Why are you so upset about Delmon Young?  Young is signed to a one-year contract for less than a million.

He also was once a top prospect and minor league player of the year (What was I saying about prospects not always panning out?) who is still young enough that he might fulfill his potential given a second chance. If not, then the Phillies can easily part ways with him.

Not worth the angst

Marvin: I doubt that. Amaro and Charlie Manuel will always favor veterans. Just look at Chad Qualls last year.

Cutter: Always? How many games did Luis Castillo or Dontrelle Willis play for the Phillies?

As for Chad Qualls, he wasn't blocking anyone's progress. He was pitching because Antonio Bastardo was inconsistent, and guys like Michael Stutes and Justin DeFratus got hurt.

If Dom Brown (and Darin Ruf as well) prove more worthy of playing time than Delmon Young, then they'll likely receive it.

I don't think that the Phillies success hinges on Delmon Young.  And it certainly doesn't hinge on Yuniesky Betancourt, another low risk singing Amaro made this offseason.

This year's team will depend on their expensive players playing up to their capabilities. If Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Roy Halladay, and Cliff Lee all play well, then I think the Phillies make the playoffs.

Marvin: Your optimism depresses me.

Cutter: I know.  It does the same to me sometimes.  But thanks for coming here, Marvin.  I had fun!

Marvin: That makes one of us.

I'll conclude by saying this:

Am I making guesses and assumptions regarding Amaro's motivations and thought processes.  Yes, but I think that's no different than what most of his critics have done.  I think that if you like Amaro, then you'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume the best.  If you hate Amaro, you'll do the opposite.

We can speculate over which moves were the right ones, but all we know for sure is the results. And despite what some Amaro critics might have you believe, Amaro has gotten results.

The team improved its record every year from 2009-2011, and in each of those seasons, Amaro made moves which increased the team's chances of winning the World Series.

Did those moves all work out?  Obviously not, since the team didn't win the World Series.  But there's a difference between a bad move and a good move that didn't work out.

I feel the 2012 Phillies missed the playoffs because Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard, and Chase Utley suffered injuries that caused them to miss time and be less effective.  I feel they also had some veterans suffer disappointing seasons.

I am optimistic that given good health (Which I know is certainly no guarantee for an older team), the Phillies will rebound in 2013.

If the Phillies fail, then I think that Amaro needs to concentrate his efforts towards rebuilding.  But he should certainly be given a chance to do that.

My point is this: Until the Phillies actually encounter failure under Amaro, I don't see any way that you can declare him to be a failure as general manager.

A failure?  No.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

I Am Not a Troll

Since I've had a lot of new readers come by the site in recent days, I thought it was appropriate to re-state and clarify the intention behind this site.

I realize that by naming the site Sabermetrics Suck, it makes it appear that this blog is either an attempt to instigate, or a parody of an anti-sabermetrics traditionalist.

I assure you that it is neither.

Unfortunately, the title "Sabermetrics Are Good When Used in Moderation But Some People Take It Too Far" seemed a bit clunky.  Also, "Sabermetrics Suck" is definitely catchier.

The goal of the site is not to whine about "geeks with calculators sitting in their mother's basement."  I am not complaining that "these newfangled stats have ruined baseball."   

I accept that the battle between traditionalists and saberfans is pretty much over, and the saberfans have won. 

It's pretty tough to deny that fact when I look at and see several baseball writers who focus on advanced statistics.  They even include WAR on their statistics page!

So then what is the point of the site?

In my eyes, the empowered sabermetric crowd has become the new arrogant elite.  It feels like many saberfans were held down and mocked by the traditionalists for so long, that now that they've gained acceptance, they carry themselves with a know-it-all attitude.

Prominent saber-minded writers like Rob Neyer and Keith Law certainly aren't helping that reputation.  Instead of educating and enlightening people to the ways of sabermetrics, they seem to drive people away with their snarky arrogance.

Saberfans portray traditionalists as stubborn, unyielding old fools who refuse to give up antiquated ways of thinking.  Yet from my experience, saberfans can be even more stubborn and refusing to yield.

The best I can tell, this stubbornness comes from the saberfans having "numbers on their side."

Ah yes, numbers and statistics.  I believe Homer Simpson said it best:

“Oh, people can come up with statistics to prove anything. 14% of people know that.”

The typical sabermetric thought process seems to be along these lines:
  1. Come up with a hypothesis.
  2. Find a statistic that backs up that hypothesis.
  3. Convince yourself that the statistic offers irrefutable proof.
  4. Refuse to yield.
It's kind of fun to do, actually!  Here's an example:
  1. Hypothesize that RBIs are an important measure of a player's offensive production.
  2. Check the rosters of every team in baseball, and add up the number of RBIs for each player.
  3. Find that the teams with the highest player RBI totals were the highest scoring offenses.
  4. Conclude that RBIs are a good measure of offensive production.
  5. Refuse to yield.
I'm not advocating abandoning statistical research in baseball.  I think it has indeed provided people with more insight about the game.  I regularly read sabermetrics-focused sites to try and gain more knowledge, and have learned some things that I find fascinating.

What I'm trying to do is to remind people that while baseball is about numbers, it is also more than just numbers.  It's about team chemistry, luck, clutch plays, and moments both amazing and bizarre that make it fun to be a baseball fan.

It's about a team having a "1 in 100" chance of winning, and still finding a way to pull out a victory.

I think that some people have just gotten a little too deep into the numbers to see what's really going on.  I'm trying to help people see the big picture.

The "pendulum has swung" to the side of the saberfans.  The blog represents the start of the back swing.

I just hope some of you stick around to enjoy the ride.

Friday, January 25, 2013

In Defense of: Ruben Amaro

One of the sites I frequently visit is Crashburn Alley.  It is a Phillies site that looks at the team from a sabermetric perspective. 

Most of the site's writers and readers are not fans of the Phillies' General Manager Ruben Amaro, and the way he has handled the team.  The dislike seems to come because the Phillies have taken a mostly non-sabermetric approach towards the construction of the team. 

They seem to hold Amaro responsible for the Phillies falling from a championship contender to a team that some people think will be lucky to finish in 4th place in the National League East in 2012.

Ruben Amaro
The devil?

First off, it seems a bit premature to write off the Phillies.  They finished at .500 in a 2012 season that saw them suffer quite a few injuries.  It isn't a huge stretch to think of them as at least contenders for a playoff spot in 2013.

And considering the success that the team has had under Amaro, to declare him "a complete failure" is absurd.  While some of the success can be attributed to his predecessors Pat Gillick and Ed Wade, Amaro has done more than his fair share as well.

I am not going to claim that Amaro has been flawless.  He's made some moves which I have disagreed with, and that in hindsight, look like mistakes. 

But I will defend Amaro by saying this:

He took over the team immediately following the championship season of 2008.  He identified that the core of the team was capable of winning a championship.  (A sound assumption since they had just won the World Series)  He recognized that the core would only have a limited window, so he would have to do his best to maximize the team's chances of winning within that window.

Obviously, his efforts have fallen short, but it is hard to argue that in any given season from 2009-2011 he didn't make moves which would presumably increase the team's chances of winning the World Series that season.

The pessimism heading into 2013 is because the Phillies have an expensive roster of players who mostly appear to be on the downsides of their careers.  Worse, the minor league system doesn't appear to be flush with talent ready to replace them.

According to many readers and contributors at Crashburn Alley, this was all due to Amaro's missteps.

Some claim that the Phillies' underwhelming moves this offseason were due to the team not having enough money to spend on more expensive free agents.

I am amazed at how many people in the blogosphere seem to have inside knowledge regarding the Phillies moves.  For example, they seem to know for a fact that the reason the team didn't sign BJ Upton or any of the other expensive free agents was because their payroll was already too high.

For instance, most saberfans think that closer Jonathan Papelbon was overpaid in the 2012 offseason since according to sabermetric principles, a relief pitcher can't affect a team's fortunes all that much.

Jonathan Papelbon

I will counter with my best guess as to how Amaro approached the signing:

Amaro assumed that the Phillies rotation would match their sterling performance of 2011.  This would mean that the starters would regularly be providing seven or eight quality innings.

Perhaps it was foolish to assume that the starters would be as good as they were in 2011, but when you have as much money invested in starting pitching, that's the assumption you have to make.

Based on this assumption, it became extremely important for the team to have a solid option in the ninth inning, (to finish off all those strong starts) but not as important to have many other reliable relievers (because there wouldn't be too many relief innings to go around).

Therefore, Amaro paid top dollar to get the best, most reliable ninth inning option he could get, and tried to use cheaper options for the rest of the bullpen.

Did Amaro overpay for Papelbon?  It looks that way, since Papelbon did receive a much larger contract than any other free agent reliever, but perhaps that was because he was the best option available.

Some people have a naive belief that all a team has to do is offer a player a contract and that player will sign with them.  That's not how the free market works.  If another team was also pursuing Papelbon, maybe Amaro felt the only way to sign him was to "overpay."

Aside from the payroll, the other main criticism of Amaro is that he has ruined the Phillies future by trading many of the team's minor league prospects for veterans over the past few seasons.

Here's a comment from Crashburn Alley which implies that Amaro's trades were shortsighted:
There was absolutely no need to "win now" because a smart team with lots of assets, both financial and talent-wise, can sustain their success nearly indefinitely.

Trading players to put you over the top for some near-term goal is the act that actually creates the window you're talking about! Read this:

This comment and the linked article make one very foolish assumption: That you can depend on prospects to develop into major league contributors.

Some people seem to think that success in baseball is a simple three step process:
  1.  Call up minor league prospects
  2. Have them play well in the majors
  3. Win!
Unfortunately, it isn't quite that easy.

For a good example, look at the Oakland A's under Billy Beane.  The famed General Manager's teams experienced success in the early 2000s thanks to a core of star players like Jason Giambi, Barry Zito, and Tim Hudson.  All of these players were eventually deemed too expensive, so they were either traded away or allowed to leave as free agents.

In return, the A's received several highly touted prospects and were the beneficiaries of many high draft picks.  Yet, the team went five years without a winning record.

The main reason why?  Because the players they developed or called up turned out to be inferior to the players who left.

Prospects might be the biggest uncertainty in sports.  Even the most heralded prospects might not pan out in the big leagues. 

Just look at Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg.  He might be the most "sure thing" prospect ever, and yet he's already missed a season due to injury, with the team scared to death of him suffering another.
Stephen Strasburg
Even Stephen Strasburg wasn't guaranteed to be successful

If you're going to take risks, I'd rather take risks on established players.

In 2009, the Phillies had two top prospects in their system named Kyle Drabek and Travis d'Arnaud.  They were both traded away for Roy Halladay.  While Drabek and d'Arnaud may some day develop into major league stars, it wasn't too much of a stretch to say that Halladay gave the team a better shot to win the World Series over the next few seasons.

Considering the Phillies went 28 years between developing championship caliber cores, why are people so sure that they can easily develop another one?  Maybe some of the prospects he traded away might become stars one day.  But at the time, Amaro felt like the Phillies needed an extra piece to win the World Series.

I'll say that it takes a lot less time to rebuild a pool of minor league prospects than it does to build a core of major league talent capable of winning.

In 2008, the Phillies were rumored to want to make a trade for pitcher CC Sabathia.  But they simply didn't have enough valued prospects in their system to make it happen.  Yet over the next couple of seasons, they had some minor leaguers develop to the point where they could trade for Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, and Roy Oswalt.

Some may counter that the postseason is a "crap shoot" and the Phillies shouldn't have made those moves since they only minimally improved the team's chances of winning a World Series.

As a fan, I much prefer the "All in" approach rather than the "Let's just give ourselves a chance and hope things break our way" mindset  Did the moves pay off?  Obviously not, since the Phillies have fallen short, but I can't say that management didn't make an effort to win.

Maybe the Phillies are truly finished as contenders.  If that is true, was there any way to avoid that fate? 

The Phillies conceivably could have let some of their now expensive players leave as free agents or traded some veterans for prospects. But considering the Phillies were championship contenders and were being supported by a rabid fan base who was selling out the stadium every night, was this truly an option?

There's a reason that teams don't regularly experience the kind of sustained success the Phillies have recently enjoyed.  Inevitably, the star players who fuel such success either become too old or too expensive.  Unless you have a truly great farm system that keeps providing the team with new top talent, the run will have to end at some point.

If the Phillies' championship window is truly closed, then instead of lambasting Amaro for his failure to magically sustain it, we should applaud him for doing his best to maximize the team's chances while the window was open.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

WAR is not the Answer

It would be great if we had a universal statistic that took all of the players in baseball and gave us a fair way to compare them.

Arguments about baseball would practically cease.  There would be no reason for them, as this one magical statistic would settle everything.  It might usher in a new era of understanding that could eventually lead to world peace.

Unfortunately, I don't think such a statistic is possible.  But even if it was, WAR is certainly not it.

This is not the stat you are looking for.

A quick primer for the uneducated:

WAR stands for Wins Above Replacement.  It is supposed to measure how many wins a given player has contributed to a team compared to a theoretical replacement player.  For a more detailed explanation, please check the WAR section on

I understand why people want WAR to work, and I will concede that the statistic does have some worth.  For instance, it rewards players who are versatile and help their team in many ways, as opposed to statistics like home runs, which only measure one particular skill.

But does it accurately determine a player's value to his team?  I don't think so.

Admittedly, most saberfans do not claim that WAR is the ultimate statistic, or that it is the best measure of a player's value.  They claim that it should only be used as a "conversation starter."

And yet, it seems like every time a saberfan debates a player's value, WAR is the first thing they point to.

Don't believe me?  Check out some of the things that were written during the 2012 AL MVP debate:

WAR backs up Trout's MVP candidacy

Stats Revolution doesn't have enough clout

Mike Trout is your AL MVP

It seems like every saber-minded writer was required to do two things when weighing in on the MVP debate:
  1. Make it clear that WAR is not perfect and they are not basing their judgement solely on it.
  2. Use Trout's WAR value as evidence that he deserved the MVP.
Some of these guys would make great politicians the way they endorse WAR while also refusing to fully commit to it.

On the other hand, I will take a firm stance: I don't like WAR.

I don't like it because I don't like the fundamental concept of a replacement player that the statistic is based on.

I tried to determine just what makes someone a "replacement player."  I've searched the web, and I've never been able to find an answer that isn't vague at best.  From what I can gather, a replacement player is a borderline major league player who can be easily obtained from the minor leagues.

But should a judgement be made based on a theoretical player?  If you're going to try to determine how many "wins" a player is providing over his replacement, then shouldn't you consider the actual player who would replace him?

For example, let's say that the Dodgers have Joe Shortstop playing the shortstop position. (Crazy coincidence, huh?)

Pictured: Joe Shortstop, or as some people call him, "Hanley Ramirez."

Joe puts up solid numbers both offensively and defensively.  According to the formula behind WAR, shortstops are more valuable than most of the other positions, because it is typically more difficult to find a good shortstop than a left fielder or first baseman.  Since he performs well at an important position, Joe has a high WAR.

Unfortunately, Joe suffers and injury and has to miss a few months of the season.  At first glance, it seems like the Dodgers are screwed because based on Joe's WAR, it will be very tough to replace him.

Thankfully for the Dodgers, they have their top prospect Billy Shortstop playing at AAA.  The Dodgers call up Billy, and he ends up playing about as well as Joe did.

According to WAR, Joe is more valuable simply because he plays shortstop.  But if you're going to reward him based on his position, don't you also have to deduct him some points because he doesn't actually provide much more value than his replacement?

Of course, there's no way to accurately determine just how well a given player's replacement would perform.  The best that could be done would be to project the production of all of a team's potential replacements, and make a calculation based on that.  But even that would be mostly guesswork, and nearly impossible to measure.

That impossibility is the main reason why WAR doesn't really work as a measure of true value.

As I said, I understand the motivation for coming up with a universal statistic.  But in this case, much like Marvin Gaye once said: WAR is not the answer.