Dear Commentariat – Phillies Nation
Dr. Strangeglove

Dear Commentariat

Dear Commentariat-

You’ve been a bunch of assholes. The lot of you. Assholes. Even me, I’ll admit it. There seems to be a lack of understanding about these parts, and I think it’s time to do something about it. It seems to me that a lot of the arguments that take place down there revolve around statistics, as is, regrettably, so often the case these days. I think I’ve made it clear over my time writing here that I fall on the side of sabermetrics rather than what I like to call “baseball card stats” (pitcher wins, RBI, batting average, and other stats that are, you know, found on the back of a baseball card) in that debate, but I don’t take any sort of normative view on people who don’t. What gets me is that it’s turned into an orgy of ad hominem attacks and evolved into the kind of passionate, dogmatic shouting match that has made the discussion of religion and politics into a chore.

I’ve tried to address this issue before, but I think I’ll give it another crack. I think it might be useful to try to explain where those of us who prefer advanced statistics are coming from. If you prefer to be more old-school, I hope that, if you’re not converted, you’ll at least understand why we approach baseball, and evaluating it, the way we do. I know that some of my more devout brethren might take exception to this olive branch, but screw ’em. I’m sick of the crap that goes on in this comment section.

Why We Disagree
Believe it or not, what the baseball card set and sabermetricians spend their lives yelling at each other about is often surprisingly subtle. Most of the time, a good player is a good player by any measure, whether it’s FIP or pitcher wins, RBI or wOBA. If a player hits .300 or drives in 120 runs in a season, that usually (but not always) means he’s had a good year by advanced stats as well. It’s also difficult (but not impossible) for a pitcher to win 20 games without posting good advanced numbers. Where we wind up screaming at each other is when we argue about whether CC Sabathia was the best pitcher in the AL in 2010, or, like, the fourth-best pitcher. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter a whole lot. It’s not like we’re making up stats as we go along.

We Don’t Make Up Stats As We Go Along
No self-respecting sabermetrician cares about “batting average vs players from Cleavland born on Wednesdays with a last name starting with K.” That’s not a straw man–someone actually said that in yesterday’s comment section. Things like WAR and win expectancy not only have to pass a smell test before gaining widespread acceptance, but they are created and examined with much the same rigor required by social scientists: does it tell us something useful? Is it a fluke, or is it repeatable? Ridiculous characterizations like the one above don’t hold water because they have no bearing on actual performance and that is why statheads don’t actually make those characterizations.

Of course, I love stats like that (I used to bandy about a theory that tied the Phillies’ playoff success to the height of the opposing shortstop until Troy Tulowitzki ruined it in 2009), but only because I find them personally intriguing and not because I find any larger scientific significance. A player’s batting average against pitchers born in Cleveland whose names start with K is a trivia question, not an instrument of sabermetric precision.

If someone references K/9 ratio as an important factor in pitching success or talks about a prospect’s age in relation to his expected performance in the future, it’s because past observations have proven those to be relevant indicators about a player’s performance. Wilson Valdez grounded into a lot of double plays in the past, for instance, and all things being equal, he’ll ground into a lot more in the future. Real, useful statistics don’t come out of nowhere. Although, funnily enough, throughout baseball history, pitchers have had a lot of trouble against left-handed outfielders born in Donora, Pennsylvania on November 21 (see here and here). Though that could be a fluke.

What We Evaluate
In the comment section to the post that finally set me off, there was a debate about Wilson Valdez, a player about whom I’ve gotten into more shouting matches over the past year or so than any other. The argument was, more or less, whether Valdez’s performance in Wednesday night’s game was important to the Phillies’ success. Valdez was hugely important, singling in the bottom of the eighth and scoring the winning run in a 2-1 game through some smart baserunning and a little bit of luck. Did he contribute to the Phillies’ win on Wednesday? Enormously, and that’s not in dispute. But that’s not really the kind of thing we’re after with sabermetrics. Advanced stats are better-suited to 1) explaining long-term trends in the past, 2) predicting performance of players and teams in the future, and 3) identifying optimal strategy and tactics. Like I said, it’s kind of like social science. When the likes of Wilson Valdez help your team win a game, you cheer and order another round of drinks. It doesn’t mean that, after more rigorous examination, it looks like Exxon will come through in the clutch tomorrow.

The Myth of the “Winning Player”
Scott Brosius got a reputation as a “winning player” because, in 1998, he showed up at third base for the New York Yankees and they won 114 games (then an American League record) and the World Series. In Brosius’ four years in New York, the last four of his career, the Yankees won four straight pennants and three World Series. Don’t get me wrong–in 1998, Brosius was a very good player: .300 batting average, 98 RBI, 121 OPS+ and 5.7 WAR, good numbers by any measure. However, in the next three years, 1999 to 2001, Brosius hit a combined .254 with a meager .316 OBP, less than one win above replacement per year. How “winning” was Brosius in those years? Well, not enough to hurt the Yankees’ chances much, but they would have won more games if their third baseman in those years was, for instance, Chipper Jones. Notice also that in the first seven seasons of Brosius’ career, when he was in Oakland, he didn’t have a reputation as a winning player. Know why? Because he had bad teammates and in that time, the A’s made the playoffs once, when Brosius only had 92 plate appearances and didn’t make the playoff roster.

One of the favorite whipping boys around here is Bobby Abreu. Did Abreu look lackadaisical from time to time? Sure. But he is the Phillies’ all-time leader in on-base percentage, a statistic no more advanced than batting average, and hit 195 home runs and stole 254 bases in his eight years and change here. Of course, Abreu doesn’t get a reputation as a “winning” player, because the Phillies didn’t make the playoffs at all when he was here, and started their run of dominance almost immediately after he left. Of course, that may have something to do with the fact that he arrived on a team with one other good position player (Scott Rolen), one good starting pitcher (Curt Schilling), and 22 players who ranged from Biblically awful to more or less average. The Phillies finished six games under .500, and if Barry Bonds had been playing right field for the Phillies in 1998, they may just have finished with a winning record. The trend continued for Abreu’s entire stay, and the team improved after his departure not because Abreu was some sort of karmic albatross, but because Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Ryan Madson, and Chase Utley matured into all-star-quality players, and the team started acquiring the likes of Roy Halladay, Jayson Werth, and Brad Lidge. So what does the label “winning player” mean? Good taste in teammates.

One more note, about wins as a statistic. Those who evaluate players by baseball card stats often say that wins are the most important statistic, and to oversimplify a little, that’s absolutely right. When evaluating a team holistically. But when evaluating players, the question gets more complicated. The job of a pitcher is not to win games, per se. The job of a pitcher (and his fielders) is to prevent batters from reaching base. Of course, if the pitcher does his job well, the team ought to win, because you can’t win games if you don’t score runs, and you can’t score runs if you don’t reach base. Of course, that all depends on his batters, whose job is the opposite, to score runs by reaching base. That’s why stats like wOBA aren’t so much based on team performance as by how often a player reaches base and how many bases he gains when he does.

So when we say that wins aren’t important, don’t  misunderstand. They’re supremely important, and any argument to the contrary is silly. But one player is only a part of a team, so it’s unfair to judge the man by the outcome of a game in which he only plays a small part. It’s more useful to judge him by something over which he has more control: reaching base and preventing the opposition from doing so.

Above All, We Enjoy the Game as Much as Anyone
This one you’re just going to have to take my word on. If sabermetrics were Christianity, Bill James would be its St. Paul and Joe Posnanski would be its C.S. Lewis. Both of them are rabid Kansas City Royals fans. Mark Simon of ESPN’s Stats and Info blog lives and dies with the New York Mets and has the same kind of irrational likes and dislikes about the team as a grocer from South Orange who can barely add up Francisco Rodriguez‘s assault arrests. So people like me, or Bill Baer, or Paul Boye, or the Seidman brothers, who piss people off on the internet by throwing around baseball-related acronyms that would make the United Nations blush, are perfectly capable of having an emotional attachment to a team. We go to games, we swear at the TV, we buy jerseys and hats, we rejoice when the Phillies win and we despair when they lose.

What advanced statistics offer the average fan, then, is a deeper understanding of the game. It’s more information, and that means more ammunition in arguments about whose team is better, whose cleanup hitter you’d rather have up with the game on the line, and what free agent you wish your team would sign in the offseason. These are the kind of arguments that make up the lion’s share of being a baseball fan. For me, arguing about baseball makes up 60 percent of what I talk and think about, so qualitative concepts like “Wilson Valdez sure has a great throwing arm” and “Ryan Howard strikes out a lot” get a little worn out and left me looking for something deeper.

That’s really, at the risk of sounding needlessly grandiose, what sabermetrics are about: finding truth, understanding, and meaning in baseball. That’s all. It’s not some conspiracy by a bunch of sports-hating nerds who are trying to exact revenge on you for the way you treated them in high school by stealing the beauty from the game you love. That’s really what bothers me most of all about this argument: that someone’s going to accuse me of wanting anything from baseball statistics other than to understand the game better.

To sum, because I’ve gone on for nearly 2,000 words about an argument on the internet, here’s a novel idea: if you don’t understand a statistic, don’t reject it out of hand without understanding it; you’re only exposing your own ignorance and immaturity. I’m sure if you ask, someone will explain it. I’ve never seen a serious question get mocked by a stathead, even on the internet. So try out some of these stats for size–they’re not actually all that complicated to understand because numbers are numbers, whether it’s RBI or VORP–and if you don’t like them, you can say you tried it and didn’t like it, and everyone will leave you alone.

Or you can keep making dick jokes and referencing a misstatement of gambler’s fallacy when someone who’s done his homework makes an argument you don’t understand. But if you do, you’re on your own–I just can’t be bothered to put up with that kind of nonsense anymore.

Love always,
Baumann

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0 Comments

  1. Bill Baer

    May 20, 2011 at 5:17 am

    I must have missed some big brouhaha here, but if anyone here has any questions about Sabermetrics, I’d be happy to explain the concepts, or direct you to someone else with more expertise.

    http://crashburnalley.com
    http://twitter.com/CrashburnAlley
    – crashburnalley [at] gmail [dot] com

    I’m sure Michael and the others he mentioned towards the end of his article would be equally as happy to help.

  2. Dark Leviathan

    May 20, 2011 at 5:33 am

    Very well said, could not have said it better myself. As someone who gets more interested in baseball every year, sabermetrics allow me to gain a greater understanding, and also give me context for the game as a whole. Some of the stuff that’s figured out really is cool.

  3. YDRsouthpaw

    May 20, 2011 at 6:37 am

    Well thought and well said.
    I look at it this way:
    1. Card stats tell us what happened in a game. Those stats were never designed to evaluate a player. They were set up to record what happened.
    2. Sabrmetrics tell us what a player is capable and incapable of.

  4. R.C. Cowie

    May 20, 2011 at 6:44 am

    I look forward to reading all the hate mail we will receive today.

  5. bfo_33

    May 20, 2011 at 8:00 am

    Hey Pub, do you live in Snohomish County?

    http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/blog/big_league_stew/post/Police-find-Kyle-Kendrick-8217-s-World-Series-r?urn=mlb-wp6967

    Michael, nicely stated, but I think you’ll win few converts overnight. Understanding and utilizing advanced statistics are tough, and often conflict with memorial moments (Travis Lee hit a home run the day my son was born, Bobby Abreu ducked the wall on what should have been an easy out the night I got laid off,…). Plus, it is easier to site intangibles to make a point (how can you prove that stuff wrong?).

    I can understand Pub’s attachment for sabremetrics – being a Mariner fan, watching some of the worst signings in the past 10 years that would have never happened if someone in the org had knowledge of advanced statistics (Washburn, Batista, Johjima, Silva) – all these guys had decent traditional stats, but a ton of warning signs (whip, adj era, ….).

    Keep it up though, bombard people enough with WAR, UZR, xFIP,…, and it will slowly take root.

    • Publius

      May 20, 2011 at 9:44 am

      Haha no way! I had no idea that was in Washington state, weird.

      As for my part, I apologize for anything I have said or commented that took us down the path of baseless ad hominem attacks, which contribute absolutely nothing to the debate. Baumann hits the nail on the head for me and what us numbers nerds try to do (and not do).

      And bfo you are absolutely right, being a Mariners fan has probably driven me even further towards the numbers camp. Things like the Carlos Silva signing, the Erik Bedard trade and other incredibly dumb moves which were backed up by more “traditional” thinking only furthered the salience of stats like xFIP, WAR and other stats.

      These stats also help keep me grounded when I see a player on one of my teams overperform. Take Doug Fister, SP for the Mariners who pitched 8 innings of 1-run ball vs. the Angels yesterday. He has a really shiny ERA of 2.93, and some M’s fans are already thinking they can trade Fister for people like Swisher, Montero or other sorts of awesome players. The truth is he has an xFIP of 4.07, and most likely will turn into a pumpkin sooner rather than later.

      Again, excellent article Michael, and my humble apologies if I have detracted from the discourse of this blog.

  6. The Dipsy

    May 20, 2011 at 8:12 am

    I don’t understand this whole article. What does Commetariat have to do with the Phillies? How does WAR apply to the greatest race horse that ever lived? If you get a chance, youtube the 1973 Belmont Stakes. Talk about an unbrakeable record. What a horse. Lets get some Phils chatter goin. Like why in the world Dom Brown is still down in LV? Non sensical.

    The Dipsy

  7. Pat Gallen

    May 20, 2011 at 9:32 am

    MIke brings up a few good points. I take both sides, not that anyone should have to.

    With sabermetricians, I feel like the eye test is no longer there, and that, to some, takes the fun out of watching a game, enjoying it, and making quick assessments on what you see.

    With the old school folks, they are slow to grasp the added element of tons of cool new stats that help us figure out a complex, beautiful game.

    I side with the sabr heads in that it’s time to move on from Wins for a pitcher being a valid arguing point. 30 years ago it was because we didn’t know any better. I also side with the old-schoolers because there are a TON of ridiculous stats out there, and it’s tough to sift through.

    Baseball is like a religion. We have both sides arguing for it’s faction and beliefs. But that’s what makes it so beautiful, there is no wrong and no absolute right. No matter what side you’re on.

  8. Josh

    May 20, 2011 at 9:39 am

    As you alluded to in the article, its hard from some fans to embrace advanced stats especially when they show evidence that their favorite player(s) may not be as good as they think they are. Or that a rival player may be better. It takes a more objective mindset to accept this sort of thing. I don’t say that to insult anyone but, more often than not, it’s the fans that have a more difficult time letting go of the emotion they have for players and or teams that have a harder time with advanced stats.

  9. Don M

    May 20, 2011 at 9:59 am

    Quite possible the best piece i’ve ever read on here… no offense to Pat, Tim Malcom, Corey, The BEERMAN, or anyone else ….You took a very tough subject and said how you see your side of the coin, and why.. nicely done.

    Like Pat, I think the eye test is a very useful tool…. heart and hustle, and heads-up play aren’t something that can always be calculated.. That said, there are stats that can prove, that certain players are very good, but unlucky, etc. . . . I want to say that as short as 5 years ago, I don’t think Felix Hernandez would have won the Cy Young Award – so that is a little victory for the Saber people..

    Probably my biggest problem with Saberfolks is what Corey said to me the other day, about how my views are “unsubstantiated” – basically, anything that I can’t prove with a formula, is wrong – and that’s not the case.. Just anything everything can be proven with statistics isn’t neccessarily right, its all about how you use those stats, since there are ways to lie with everything.

    **More people die in plane crashes today than in the 1960’s … therefore, airplane travel is more dangerous today than it was 50 years ago.

    While the fact remains that more people DO die in plane crashed today than they did in the 1960s – we didn’t mention the fact that there are many times more people traveling, etc… i know that doesn’t relate to baseball, and im not trying to argue anything here – but there are two sides to every story – and like a wise man (Dave Matthews) once said, “the ground beneath is nothing more than my point of view” …. Its a shame to everything turns into arguements, but the non-saber folks are all too quick to dismiss everything, and the saberfolks think everyone else is dumb for not sharing their opinion, thinking its all facts … Im sure this debate will continue for a long time to come – but hopefully we can all find that middle ground, and agree to disagree when we need to

    Again, great work on this article!

  10. Dropped Strike Three

    May 20, 2011 at 10:23 am

    When you learn to swim, you don’t just jump right into the deep end. Sabremetrics have to be eased into. Doggie paddle around in the shallow pool with VORP and WAR for a while. Those two stats alone give you mountains of insight to a player’s true value, but they don’t bog you down with so many numbers that you lose the “eye test.”

    As far as I know, no stat is going to tell you that Ross Gload broke the wrong way before catching a fly ball to right last night. So your eyes are still as important as ever, but advanced stats are far more than just numbers manipulated to prove any happening.

  11. Manny

    May 20, 2011 at 10:41 am

    My favorite saber-stat is SIERA. LOVE that stat and learned about it relatively recently (last year or so). Gives you a very good idea of which pitchers are simply awesome and which are not. It makes it easy to identify guys with elite stuff who were sorta flying under the radar until now (think Kershaw, Weaver, Nolasco).

    At the same time, I’m a guy who was/is a big fan of a pitcher like Happ –partly because of the results he got, partly because of his demeanor and poise. I know that advanced stats say that he’s a mediocre pitcher (while “baseball card” stats say he’s pretty decent) but the eye test said so much more in this case…

    All in all, it’s a compromise. Normally I rely on advanced stats, but every now and then I make an exception when I believe that those stats don’t fit well with what I’m seeing with my own eyes.

    PS. I know Valdez is a pretty sub-par player, but I think that all in all he’s better than what advanced stats say he is. 😉

  12. Don M

    May 20, 2011 at 10:51 am

    I think like 3 weeks ago, WAR said that Carl Crawford was the 3rd worst OF in baseball . . . a few days ago, he improved to be only the 4th worst OF in baseball

    So sometimes, stats don’t tell the truth… or maybe we’re just too quck to try to measure from small sample sizes.. that’s why I like to look at Career Averages of the “baseball card stats” – I feel that represents a true look of what can be done … as everyone’s had their fair share of luck at some point – so what is the average – what is your best, are you improving or declining, etc.

    Rollins will never be the MVP again, and while he’s looked (I don’t want to say “shakey”) less than himself in the field the past 3 weeks – he’s still an above average player and helpful to any team in the big leagues .. According to WAR, Rollins is the 8th ranked SS so far this year, and when you see him below names like Jose Reyes, Alexei Ramirez, Troy Tulo – you think that makes sense … but then you see that Hanley Ramirez is 20th among SS ….

    So while it gives a great indication of who is great in that given time frame, it leaves something out of the picture … I’d love to know more about how the DEFENSIVE stuff gets rated

    • Publius

      May 20, 2011 at 11:38 am

      The key to stats is to know when to use them. WAR is really only an effective measure after at least half a season, if not even later than that. I’ve tried to avoid using WAR this season because it’s simply too early to use it effectively. Come trade deadline time I might use it simply to get a rough (and admittedly very limited) look at some of the proposals y’all come up with. So saying that one stat showing one thing this early in the season invalidates the stat is a flawed argument. The sample size is simply too small. Though you would be right in chastising people who used it this early.

    • Phylan

      May 20, 2011 at 12:16 pm

      With any statistic, what’s most important is that you know the strengths and weaknesses of what you’re wielding, and therefore how to use and how not to use it. You’re right that WAR (the Fangraphs flavor) right now has Carl Crawford as the 4th worst qualified OF in baseball, and I think we can all agree that this is not the case. But this isn’t isolated to WAR. He’s also (tied for) the 5th worst if you go by RBI or batting average, and tied for 4th worst by runs scored. It’s obvious to us, of course, that all of these numbers will improve. So it isn’t WAR that is failing here, it’s the way we’re attempting to use WAR — to evaluate a player using a sample of 174 plate appearances. WAR can’t do that, nor can any statistic. What you can conclude from that is that Crawford has not been very valuable to his team so far. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that.

      If you expand the time frame, I think WAR starts to tell more of the stories you are looking for. Just as a random example, who have been the most valuable shortstops from 2006 to present? By WAR, it’s Hanley Ramirez, Derek Jeter, Jose Reyes, and Jimmy Rollins. These are reasonable results, right? Who is the most valuable position player in Phillies history? By WAR, it’s Mike Schmidt, and it’s not close. Or the most valuable centerfielder in the MLB since 1900? Willie Mays. Pretty often, these will agree with general impressions of fans and also a lot of traditional stats; it’s not like any of those are groundbreaking assertions. But like Mike said, WAR helps us out for the finer things, like who was the 9th or 10th most valuable centerfielder in the MLB since 1900 (Richie Ashburn and Willie Davis, respectively).

      Part of the reason sample size is important when you’re talking about WAR is because of what you asked about — the defensive component. Fangraphs WAR uses UZR, which is the subject of some scrutiny and disagreement among saber-heads. The general consensus is that you need at least 3 years of data for UZR to become stable, so often for single season data people will use Baseball Reference WAR (for which the defensive component has its own issues). Basically, defense is not easy to quantify — but it’s going to get easier. Stadiums are beginning to implement new tracking systems that collect data on the position of every player on the field, the position of the ball, and all of their velocities. When that data starts to trickle down, a lot of stat minds will probably be able to do amazing stuff with it.

      So the larger the sample, the better, for WAR.

  13. TheDipsy

    May 20, 2011 at 10:58 am

    The “eye test”, or also known as the “sniff test” is a very important thing. WAR seeks to place a value on a player while “old school stats” on record what the players has done. I see the difference. But I think where the rubber meets the road, and where the schism occurs, is when WAR attempts to fill the gap that traditional stats don’t by purportedly placing an absolute value on a player, which is impossible to do.

    Bobby Abreu is a perfect example. Great stats. Great WAR numbers. But when you apply the “sniff” test, and we did a lot of sniffing when Abreu was here, he’s just not as good as any number you wanna put on him. Contrary to what many think, there is such a thing as having “IT”. The thing that can make players around you better that is unquantifiable. Some guys with great numbers just don’t inspire, engender trust and loyalty, are likable, or make you wanna be there teammate and play with them. Abreu never had it. Not a bad guy. Bottom line: When you over at your teammate and you wanna bust your ass for him, theres real value in that. I’m not getting all cotton candy…its true. No number can be put on it. WAR or otherwise.

    But we as fans know it when we see it. So when a WAR guy says “Abreu has a better VOR than

  14. TheDipsy

    May 20, 2011 at 11:06 am

    ……Garry Maddox, well, thats great. But no one in the world would take Abreu over Maddox. Maddox had, for lack of a better term IT. Rose, Munson, Jeter, Utley, Fisk, Clemens. These guys are examples. Bonds, Abreu, Palmiero, Canseco, did not have IT. They were the anti-IT.

    Old timers go with what the see and perceive and old time stats and watching games is all they need. WAR guys watch games, too And love baseball. But they can’t capture a very important aspect of a player’s value. And that gap is where the arguments are, for the most part. And ne’er the ‘tween shall meet.

    The Dipsy

  15. Don M

    May 20, 2011 at 11:06 am

    Well said Dipsy . . . kinda relates to the talk before about Charlie Manuel… he’s clearly not the best X’s and O’s guy , BUT when players openly, repeatedly say how much they love playing for him (might be smoke, but we didn’t hear this nearly as much when they played for Francona, Bowa, etc..) …. If these guys feel comfortable with Charlie, and they know how loyal he is, they play loose, which im pretty sure everyone would see Does/Would/Should contribute more to winning than guys that are tense all the time – being in a clubhouse that doesn’t get along etc..

    We don’t think that stuff matters that much but look at those LA Lakers are all the drama they have going on…

    Again, not saying Charlie is great, or Abreu wasn’t . . . but some things that effect the game of baseball just can’t be measured – I think that’s a great point that The Dipsy makes (but realize there are A LOT of things that CAN be measured too)

  16. Sweet Dee

    May 20, 2011 at 11:17 am

    Holy crow, that’s a lot to read on a Friday morning, but this is unbelievably well written! Great job, Baumann!

    My dad didn’t raise me on stats, and I don’t think he really believes in them, so trying to learn the names and formulas has been, well, interesting. Sabermetrics is definitely useful, I’ll never deny that, and shows you an incredible amount of information about a player, a team even, but I’ll always maintain that no player, or the game of baseball, will ever be able to be predicted. Yes, the simple W is outdated but we, all of us, have to remember that there are different ways to look at a “winning player,” just as there are always going to be multiple views on anything else.

    The only thing fans can do is accept how others view the game and the criteria with which the view success and loss… whether it’s by stats or by day-to-day performances of their players.

  17. TheDipsy

    May 20, 2011 at 11:21 am

    Hey Sweey Dee! You’re pretty foxy. Gotta boyfriend?

    The Dipsy

  18. Chuck

    May 20, 2011 at 11:24 am

    Michael, great piece. As one of the “old-schoolers” let me say that I DO look at and apply and embrace some of the sabr-stats that are out there. They are not only informative, but clearly very necessary. The example of King Felix illustrates that perfectly.

    My issue has always been the sort of “shoving it down everyone’s throat CONDESCENDIINGLY” approach that some of the sabr guys use on here. I won’t mention names but I think we know who they are. At least YOU, Michael, had the ba!!s to admit that Wilson Valdez played a HUGE role in Wednesday night’s win.

    Your words: “Enormously, and that’s not in dispute.”

    Kudos to you for being a man and admitting that. Again, and I won’t mention who, there are
    a few that just can’t seem to do that, instead CONSTANTLY finding fault with him and other
    players, too.

    And, for the record, I get that Valdez is nothing but a utility player that can EASILY be replaced.
    And I get that some of Raul’s stats are hard to look at and that MAYBE a move needs to be made at some point (although he is hitting better as of late). All well-founded arguments that have some great stats to support those arguments.

    I just have a problem with all the constant negativity and only hope that some of you can see BEYOND all the fancy stats at least SOMETIMES. I think, Michael, that you have done a very good thing here by extending the olive branch. I agree that this is one of the best articles written here. Well done!

    Go Phils!!

    • Michael Baumann

      May 20, 2011 at 12:20 pm

      I’m glad you brought that up, because sometimes people who follow advanced stats could do a better job of being more ecumenical. That’s the basis of the post from two years ago I linked to in the opening. My point is only that it’s disheartening for me, at least, as a writer and a fan to see the comment section turn into what it’s become.

    • Phylan

      May 20, 2011 at 12:29 pm

      I think part of the problem of the Wilson Valdez battle is that you and I are not communicating clearly on this point.

      It’s happened in multiple threads where I make some reference to Wilson Valdez being bad, and you accuse me of not recognizing his contributions. But I do, and I think we even agree on the level of his contributions. The thing is, it’s still accurate to say that he’s bad while recognizing that he was a useful piece in 2010. And I don’t disagree with Michael that he was vital to the win on Wednesday. But in yesterday’s thread, I wasn’t really talking about that game — it was a discussion of the roster as a whole, so it didn’t seem relevant.

      And to that last point about Wednesday’s win, I liked this comment:

      Card stats tell us what happened in a game. Those stats were never designed to evaluate a player. They were set up to record what happened.

      When I look at a box score for a game I didn’t see, I do look at the RBI column. I would never use it to evaluate a player or draw conclusions for anything more than a single game, but for single games I want to see who had the hits that drove in runs. It’s useful as a narrative of that single game. So I wouldn’t say that Valdez didn’t make a huge contribution to Wednesday’s win — that would be silly. What I would say is that, in the larger context, that doesn’t tell us anything about him as a player.

      • Chuck

        May 20, 2011 at 12:41 pm

        Absloutely. That makes sense. “larger context” are the key words here. As I said, I recognize that he’s a utility player and a utility player only. He has contributed well in his time here but can obviously be easily replaced.

        That said, I will maintain that, despite that there are others that can do his job, Valdez helped the Phillies in a big way last season when we had MULTIPLE INJURIES to Polanco, Rollins and Utley. It’s probably too much to say that he was a “savior” (and I know I’ve said that very word myself) ….but…..I’m damn glad that he was able to do what he did when he did it.

    • Publius

      May 20, 2011 at 12:35 pm

      You’re a good man for not singling me out. I apologize if I come across as condescending and will work on my tone in the future.

      • Chuck

        May 20, 2011 at 12:44 pm

        Hey, I can be condescending, too. Like I said, I think we all have the ability to be a d!ck sometimes. I accept your apology and extend the same to you.

    • Phylan

      May 20, 2011 at 12:50 pm

      That said, I will maintain that, despite that there are others that can do his job, Valdez helped the Phillies in a big way last season when we had MULTIPLE INJURIES to Polanco, Rollins and Utley. It’s probably too much to say that he was a “savior” (and I know I’ve said that very word myself) ….but…..I’m damn glad that he was able to do what he did when he did it

      And I don’t disagree with any of this, so I think writing it out in a very clear way helped.

  19. Manny

    May 20, 2011 at 11:26 am

    My favorite saber-stat is SIERA. LOVE that stat and learned about it relatively recently (last year or so). Gives you a very good idea of which pitchers are simply awesome and which are not. It makes it easy to identify guys with elite stuff who were sorta flying under the radar until now (think Kershaw, Weaver, Nolasco).

    At the same time, I’m a guy who was/is a big fan of a pitcher like Happ –partly because of the results he got, partly because of his demeanor and poise. I know that advanced stats say that he’s a mediocre pitcher (while “baseball card” stats say he’s pretty decent) but the eye test said so much more in this case…

    All in all, it’s a compromise. Normally I rely on advanced stats, but every now and then I make an exception when I believe that those stats don’t fit well with what I’m seeing with my own eyes.

    PS. I know Valdez is a pretty sub-par player, but I think that all in all he’s better than what advanced stats say he is. 😉

  20. TheDipsy

    May 20, 2011 at 11:37 am

    Olive branch Never! This is WAR! Actually, it is WAR. WAR….HUH! What is it good for……?

    The Dipsy

    • Chuck

      May 20, 2011 at 11:40 am

      Well, like the old saying goes, “Make love, not WAR”

      Peace, all.

  21. Mark

    May 20, 2011 at 11:41 am

    TheDipsy – maybe you can define the “IT” for us because it sure sounds pretty subjective. Seems to be a way for people to reinforce an opinion of a player they already have. It does nothing to help with the evaluation of a player.

  22. Bob in Bucks

    May 20, 2011 at 11:41 am

    Nice article but I reject the broad brush of “The Commentariat”. Let’s face it, it was primarily a note to Andrew and perhaps Pub for continuing to bait him. Most of us here appreciate the stats

  23. tavian

    May 20, 2011 at 11:43 am

    Whew !!!!!

  24. TheDipsy

    May 20, 2011 at 11:43 am

    Mark – You’re comment is also the best illustration of the point I was trying to make.

    The Dipsy

  25. Chuck

    May 20, 2011 at 11:48 am

    I think the title “The Commentariat” is actually right on. We ALL are guilty at times of being argmentative on here. Yes, maybe Andrew and Publius moreso, but we all at times can act like a d!ck.

  26. Jay aka Phillyboy

    May 20, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    GREAT ARTICLE!!!

  27. Phylan

    May 20, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    Probably my biggest problem with Saberfolks is what Corey said to me the other day, about how my views are “unsubstantiated” – basically, anything that I can’t prove with a formula, is wrong – and that’s not the case.. Just anything everything can be proven with statistics isn’t neccessarily right, its all about how you use those stats, since there are ways to lie with everything.

    **More people die in plane crashes today than in the 1960′s … therefore, airplane travel is more dangerous today than it was 50 years ago.

    I have two problems with this assertion, that “you can prove anything with statistics.”

    The first issue is that, well, you can’t. You can, indeed, incorporate a statistic into your argument in anyway you like, using any combination of calculations and numerical manipulations that you desire. But unless the statistic a) has widely-recognized credibility and b) is relevant to and supportive of the argument you’re making, then your “proof” is flawed. So have you really “proven” anything? The point is that, the only way I could use statistics to prove anything is if the person I was talking to was completely incurious and unskeptical, willing to take anything and everything that I say at face value. Almost everywhere, and especially here, that is definitely not the case. I leave a comment that says “Matt Harrison has induced the most popups of any pitcher so far in 2011, therefore he has been the best pitcher so far this year,” and not a single commenter would let me get away with that. So I haven’t “proven” anything, despite the fact that I made an argument and offered a statistic that supposedly supported it.

    The second issue is that this implies some kind of attempt at deception on behalf of the person wielding a statistic. Like Michael, I don’t want anything out of statistics other than to understand the game better. And when I talk about players and teams with other people, I don’t use statistics for any other reason then to convey that understanding to the person I’m talking to, and see if they agree or not.

    • Phylan

      May 20, 2011 at 12:45 pm

      And just to be clear Don, I’m not arguing with you in particular, that sentiment is just something I see a lot and I disagree with it.

    • Don M

      May 20, 2011 at 1:24 pm

      The other day you posted something like how since 2010- Ryan Howard’s OPS is ….. a stat line that had him seem as productive as Billy Butler on the Royals. So in that case, you did attempt deception – to use it to your advantage to say that Ryan Howard isn’t that much better, if at all, than Player X …

      WE ALL DO IT … that’s my point. Any stat can be used in any way, and every argument has people searching for points to help prove their point.


      Regarding the box score watching, etc.. you said above that you check it to see who had a key hit to drive in a run that game, and “It’s useful as a narrative of that single game” …. so the keys that REGULARLY have hits to drive in runs, yea they benefit from having guys on base, but they are still getting the job done and driving in those runs – taking advantage of holes created by runners on base, etc… So that’s why RBIs shouldn’t be discounted, and a strong arguement for Howard – who going from 2005-2010 had the most RBI in MLB Howard 743, ARod 735, Pujols 726, Teixiera 710, Miggy 705

      As the article pointed out though… the great players are usually great no matter what formulas we use.. I’ve learned a lot from a lot of the pitching stuff on here over the past year – won some decent coin in fantasy baseball (riding Chacin, Kennedy, Kershaw, etc this year too) … I learn from you guys,

      • Phylan

        May 20, 2011 at 2:15 pm

        I wasn’t the one that posted the thing about Howard’s OPS, but since you brought it up:

        Howard’s OPS since 2010 is .844. Billy Butler’s is .849. From that, it’s perfectly reasonable to say that Howard has been about as effective as Billy Butler at the plate over that time period. I don’t see what’s deceptive about that at all.

        And I can’t agree with you on RBI. It is just not a useful metric for comparing or evaluating players. It depends on your spot in the batting order, and the talent of those around the hitter. There is too much variance in the amount of RBI opportunities available to hitters. In the right set of circumstances, even a fringe hitter can rack up 100 or more in a season.

      • Don M

        May 20, 2011 at 2:56 pm

        my bad, I think that was Pubs that said that…

        Anyway, what I forgot to say about the “since 2010” thing is that if you do it only from that time, they are really close in OPS (not sure how I left this out since it was the main thing floating around my head)

        But if you take if from their Career Numbers . . .. Howard .937 (ranked 31st ALL TIME for Career OPS leaders)…. Butler = .816
        So using Bill James’ ratings… Howard rates as A = EXCELLENT.. Butler rates as C = GOOD


        But to defend the people that are anti-OPS-is-Everything here…. TODD HELTON ranks 10th all time… ahead of 11 – Mickie Mantle, 12- Joe Dimaggio, 13 – Stan Musial …

        so it doesn’t prove anything, you can use it to say its great if you’re a Howard fan and look, see how good he is …. or you can use it to say its BS because in no way, shape or form is Helton better than those three, unless of course people trust OPS above all else

  28. Lefty

    May 20, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    Okay… so I woke up to find out I was an asshole? “The lot of us” if I remember correctly.

    I don’t know how to respond, except to say that my name is in that thread, and I’m not what you say I am.

    Is a comment section a bad place for lively debate? If so, maybe I do meet the requirements of your assertion. I mean- I’m not blind, I see the occasional “I’m superior” type of comments, as well as the personal attacks. And although I don’t partake in either, I do find them amusing. And I’m guilty of a snarky sarcastic comment now and then too.

    An example would be last night’s Game day thread when someone suggested we should not be pitching to Giambi in his subsequent at bats after his three home runs. I took the stand that we have to pitch to him otherwise it would look to the entire world this morning as an act of cowardice. After they retorted, I was a bit snarky to the other person- not the first time, but after they made their (weak) case a second time. But I don’t know that that makes me an asshole.

    Michael, before finish, let me just say that you have always been my favorite read on this site. The piece with the Dark Knight/Joker reference and many others were absolute gold.

    As to your post last night, like I said yesterday in that thread you have taken such offense to, there are no absolutes. No one is absolutely right or wrong. And no statistic or eye test can absolutely predict future performance. I gave a couple of examples yesterday, – I think I used Steve Stone and Jose Bautista, neither of whom showed any sign during mediocre careers of becoming a Cy Young winner, and a power hitter. But I believe all tools at our disposal should be used to determine our opinions. Opinions, not absolutes.

    Yet people can be so entrenched in their corners. I wish you the best of luck in changing that. Anyway, I’m going to go tell my wife I’m an asshole now, she’ll get a real kick out of it.

    • Chuck

      May 20, 2011 at 1:23 pm

      Hey, asshole…..why did you suggest trading Hamels for Bautista the other day?? Just kidding. But….I really thought you were serious when you suggested that. I didn’t pick up on your sarcasm. My bad.

    • Michael Baumann

      May 20, 2011 at 1:48 pm

      We’re surrounded by assholes, Lefty.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PNcDI_uBGUo

      • Chuck

        May 20, 2011 at 1:53 pm

        Good stuff, Michael. Thanks for that.

      • Lefty

        May 20, 2011 at 2:38 pm

        Ha Ha – it seems we are!

  29. Pat Gallen

    May 20, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    Im surprised the word asshole get through on here. Thats fun. Lefty, I dont think youre an asshole if that helps.

    • Chuck

      May 20, 2011 at 1:43 pm

      Since the site was upgraded I think d!ck even does too. Let’s try it. Dick.

      • Chuck

        May 20, 2011 at 1:45 pm

        Yeah, it does. But I’ll still be nice and say it the other way.

      • Lefty

        May 20, 2011 at 2:42 pm

        So we can now actually refer to the knuckle-balling pitcher on the Mets that we can’t hit without being thrown off?

        R A Dickey

  30. The Dipsy

    May 20, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    Hey Lefty, I think you’re an asshole for whats it worth :0

    The Dipsy

  31. The Dipsy

    May 20, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    Didn’t someone once say “Stats are for losers”?

    The Dipsy

  32. Manny

    May 20, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    ASSHOLES

  33. RichieAllen

    May 20, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    I am exactly one of “the old school”people that is turned off by the use of modern baseball stats.I dont care if you use them,but the enjoyment of baseball itself loses something when it gets too scientific.
    And before all you guys start to get all warm and fuzzy and look for curtains together,listen to this….
    JRoll yesterday said something to the effect that they were THINKING like a last place team.
    Now I’m Worried..

  34. Joe Morgan

    May 20, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    Stats? i don’t need stats – I played the game! Moneyball – I don’t need to read that book to know it’s wrong! (sound of head burying in sand…….)

  35. Lefty

    May 20, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    I am laughing so hard I can’t get my work done, you bunch of assholes. 🙂

  36. Manny

    May 20, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    Hey Pat, my comments aren’t going through when I log in. I don’t know why! I have to logout and “comment without logging in.” Help? Thanks, asshole… (jk)

    🙂

  37. Andrew From Waldorf

    May 20, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    I guess this is basicly in a good portion imed at me.
    I am not offended at all.
    I also know some people take stuff to serious and in a way I make fun of it.
    I have really tried to be ” nice” this year.

    Carlos Ruiz has a career WAR of plus 7. Wins above replacement is based on the replacement being a league minimum bring up from triple A, So they are saying Dane Sardinah. Accoridng to WAR Ruiz has been worth 7 more games in his career over Sardinah. I think some of the stat stuff is foolish.
    Say what you want about Abreau but the team got better the day he left.

    But I am not going to argue. I mean no offense when I poke fun etc etc.
    I am sorry some take it more seriously then it is meant.
    And when I post in a stupid manner it is often intentional.

    Regarding the current state of the Phillies

    “What, me worry?”
    – Alfred E. Neuman

  38. Andrew From Waldorf

    May 20, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    I am considering changing my moniker from Andrew from waldorf to Andrew the Asshole or Commentariet.

  39. The Dipsy

    May 20, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    Lefty, I find it hard to believe that it took until just this morning for you to realize that you were actually an asshole.

    The Dipsy

  40. Don M

    May 20, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    A$$hole, Sh!t, D!ck, Phuck … I feel like Frank the Tank in Old School

  41. krukdriver

    May 20, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    The enjoyment I got out of reading this tread cannot be measured. 🙂

  42. therookie300

    May 20, 2011 at 11:45 pm

    What’s with all the hand-holding on this thread? I’ve never seen anything like this on here. Am I on the right site? j/k

    This has actually been one of the most enjoyable articles and commentaries I’ve read on here in awhile.

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