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The Cubs get a little more stat-friendly

Mar 3, 2010, 10:00 AM EDT

Paul Sullivan of the Tribune reports that the Cubs are broadening their minds:

New Chairman Tom Ricketts told fans at the Cubs Convention he
expects the organization to use sabermetrics as a tool more often for
player decisions and evaluating opponents while still valuing the human
component. The Cubs didn’t hire a full-time numbers cruncher until Chuck
Wasserstrom was named manager of baseball information after the 2003
season.

“We’ve always done more than people thought,” Hendry said. “… We’ve
always factored that in. But I’m always going to be a scouting guy
first. You can skew statistics to frame it the way you like it.

That Hendry quote is pretty ridiculous. Sure, you can try to spin numbers any way you want, but at some point the spin becomes implausible because at the end of the day there’s still, you know, a number there.  Scouting, in contrast, can lend itself to far, far more subjectivity because, ultimately, a scout’s assessment is a person’s opinion. An informed one, yes, if the scout is well-trained, but an opinion all the same. 

Here’s a far more interesting quote from Sullivan, which seems to be an attempt to take a swipe at statistical analysis:

According to the numbers, Hendry seemed to make the right moves when he signed free agents Milton Bradley and Aaron Miles last year. Bradley led the American League in OBPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) with the Rangers in 2008,
while Miles hit .392 in day games with the Cardinals, which made him a
perfect fit for a team that plays more day games than any other. But both flopped badly with the Cubs.

Setting aside the fact that I’ve never seen OPS referred to as “OBPS,” anyone who suggests that reckless sabermetrics led to the Bradley and Miles flops is full of beans.

Sabermetrics is about more than on base percentage. Smart sabermetricians were extremely wary of the Cubs signing Bradley due to the fact that he had played so little in the field while in Texas. They acknowledged his upside, sure, because Bradley is talented and has upside, but they also acknowledged the extreme risk he represented from both a health and character perspective and thought that the Cubs massively overpaid for his services.

Only the truly moronic think that scouting and sabermetrics
are mutually-exclusive evaluation tools. Almost every team uses both
scouting and stats, as they should.

  1. Levi Stahl - Mar 3, 2010 at 10:07 AM

    Pointing to Miles’s batting average in day games as an indication that the decision to sign him was sensible “according to the numbers”? That’s just being silly.

  2. Jamie - Mar 3, 2010 at 10:09 AM

    That Aaron Miles thing is insane, and proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Paul Sullivan is a fat wad of fail. Hit .392 in Cardinals day games? Like all twenty of them? You don’t need a statistician to see that Aaron Miles has never had an OPS+ over 100. You just need the Google and one working eyeball.

  3. Grant - Mar 3, 2010 at 10:25 AM

    Seriously. How big could that sample size have possibly been?

  4. themarksmith - Mar 3, 2010 at 11:15 AM

    I was going to make a comment about the ridiculousness of the Miles comment, but you guys have done a nice job. One more thing, though. If you’re going to bash sabermetrics, don’t act as if BATTING AVERAGE is what they care about. If anything, that’s an insult to traditional stats.
    Unfortunately, what this continues to show is a lack of understanding between the two worlds. Sullivan and Hendry clearly fail to understand even though they give it lip service. Not, maybe if they gave it a chance …

  5. Charles Gates - Mar 3, 2010 at 11:21 AM

    The biggest problem I have with Cubbies management is their apparent ignorance of stats. If they came out and said something to the effect of, “Yea, we did a full statistical breakdown on Player X, but honestly, it doesn’t match with what the scouts say and we’re going with our scouts on this one,” I’d be okay with that.
    At least that way, they’re taking all information into account and making a decision with all the relevant facts in front of them. If they decide scouting knowledge is better than statistical knowledge, that’s their choice. But to completely ignore numerical information while running a multi million (billion?) dollar business is truly mind boggling.

  6. Rays fan - Mar 3, 2010 at 12:18 PM

    1908 and Tinker to Evers to Chance seem like just yesterday. None can question a front office with such a track record of success.

  7. DiamondDuq - Mar 3, 2010 at 12:56 PM

    “Smart sabermetricians were extremely wary of the Cubs signing Bradley due to the fact that he had played so little in the field while in Texas…they also acknowledged the extreme risk he represented from both a health and character perspective and thought that the Cubs massively overpaid for his services.”
    Funny, that sounds like an awful lot of “subjectivity” and “a person’s opinion, an informed one…but an opinion all the same.” Where’s their constructed formula or metric to measure that? I’m sure someone can come up with some random combination of suspensions, games thrown out of, umpire arguments, injuries, etc. and concoct some metric so we have a “definitively objective measure” of a player’s “health and character”. It would be just as credible as using sabermetrics to determine the value of a player.

  8. Jonny5 - Mar 3, 2010 at 1:19 PM

    Here’s some interesting Sabermetrics controversy in regards to pitching…. The runner up to the NL Cy young award 09. http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/phillies/20100303_Phillies_pitcher_Happ_would_love_to_rattle_sabermetricians.html

  9. Jonny5 - Mar 3, 2010 at 1:20 PM

    I meant “runner up to the rookie of the year 09′”

  10. Craig Calcaterra - Mar 3, 2010 at 1:27 PM

    So what you’re saying, DD, is that you didn’t read the rest of the post where I said that the smart approach — which no one but the most extreme stat guys disputes — is a combination of both the subjective (scouting) and objective (stats).
    It doesn’t take a formula to see that the Bradley was a head case who can’t really play defense anymore, yet somehow it was the decidedly non-statty Cubs who signed him. It

  11. Joey B - Mar 3, 2010 at 1:45 PM

    A lot of scary stuff out.
    1-The writer doesn’t know the proper abbreviation is OPS? Is there anyone here that didn’t know that?
    2-The writer mentions the fact that Bradley led the league OBSP, but conveniently left out every other negative stats, like a .797 career OPS prior to his FA year, or an average of 95 games played for the previous 5 years, or the annual suspensions. Even the stat heads without access to scouting will review ALL the available data.
    The artice sounds like an attempt to curry favor with Hendry by defending either the signings or the lack of statistical input.

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