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Baseball is learning what value really is

Dec 3, 2009, 11:00 AM EDT

Matthew Leach at has a story up today that explains how baseball’s middle class — average veterans, mostly — is feeling the pinch in the free agent market. It’s a brains thing just as much as it is a money thing:

As teams — and outside
analysts — devise ever-cleverer means of evaluating talent, the wheels
of player acquisition spin differently. Members of MLB front offices
have ever-better tools for assessing the players they’re signing. That
makes it less likely for mediocre players to get big deals.

“It’s a combination of things,” said Brewers assistant general manager
Gord Ash. “Of course there are the general economic concerns, but there
is also more data going around, like FIP [fielding-independent pitching
statistics], and others that give you a better feel for a pitcher
rather than the traditional wins and losses and ERA.”

This is not news to the sabermetrically-inclined among us, as we have been beating the drum against spending big money on anything other than guys who are clearly superstars for a long time. Indeed, a roster filled with a handful of legitimate top-dollar talents and rounded out with rookies, near-rookies and low-dollar veterans on single year deals is probably best suited to compete, both on the field and economically.  It’s clearly not news to most front offices too, as the days when guys like Pat Mears got multi-year deals are a distant memory for almost any team.

But check out that quote from Gord Ash. Then compare it to the aggressive dismissal of advanced metrics by the majority of your mainstream baseball writers and ask yourself if the statheads are really as out-of-touch as they’re made out to be.  If anything, the geeks and the game’s movers and shakers are speaking the same language.

  1. Jason @ IIATMS - Dec 3, 2009 at 11:29 AM

    Does Gord Ash live with his parents and sit in his basement in his underwear, pounding on his computer like the rest of us?

  2. John_Michael - Dec 3, 2009 at 11:50 AM

    Jason, please leave what you and Gord Ash do in underwear clad basement rituals between you and Gord. Thanks a bunch!

  3. Head Bee Guy - Dec 3, 2009 at 12:10 PM

    Gord Ash never played the game, so his opinions are worthless.

  4. APBA Guy - Dec 3, 2009 at 12:37 PM

    Craig, looks like you need some Shysterball support here.
    One of the reasons for AL dominance over the past decade has been the more rapid uptake of advanced metrics over the NL. Examples are Billy Beane’s staff parsing college data for OBP’s of draft eligible players in DIV III schools, Theo hiring Bill James at Boston, etc.
    But as the movement of statistically inclined talent to new opportunities in the NL continues (Jed Hoyer to SD)that will balance out.
    What is evolving in MLB is a fantastic mix of advanced metrics used to complement results driven scouting. By results driven I mean scouts are hired and retained based on how well their guys actually perform in the majors, where performance evaluation is based on advanced metrics as well as winning and scouting.
    You don’t have to have played the game at the MLB level to be able to make major contributions in this environment. If playing at the MLB level were a gating factor, staffs would only be comprised of former MLB players. They are not. Far from it.
    Not only are front office staffs aware of metric based evaluations, so are the players. Both Cy Young winners this year referenced their regular observance of statistical measures to evaluate their performance. Greinke talked about FIP, and Lincecum about WHIP. They emphasized that they actually check those stats after each start and work to improve those numbers as a reference to how well they are pitching.
    Billy Beane talks about sifting data to find new ways of identifying value. That is, performance characteristics that other MLB teams are not weighing sufficiently so that the A’s can compete to their advantage. He and his staff pioneered the teamwide emphasis on OBP, defense, and now young pitching, all from the perspective of value, or cost as a component of performance. But he makes clear, as he did in his post-season interviews (see Athletics Nation)that scouting and metrics are the yin and yang of player evaluation. There is a harmony between the two that yields the best view of how a player is performing, and allows the baseball people to make their most informed guess as to how a player will perform in the future.
    That’s why the better teams don’t do multiyear deals for guys like Jeff Suppan and Carlos Silva for $ 10M plus per year. Fewer and fewer teams are doing that these days. The ones that do, they don’t win consistently.

  5. Joe - Dec 4, 2009 at 8:58 AM

    Remember way back in 2weeksago, when a guy at SB was talking about how Keith Law’s use of advanced stats in the Cy Young vote was a travesty, because the traditional stats had worked just fine for baseball for the last century. Here’s yet more proof that the “average fan” has no idea what stats are working for MLB front offices in 2009.

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