Mar 4, 2013, 1:24 PM EDT
So, get ready for a bit of a shocker. I was on a panel with Farhan Zaidi of the Oakland A’s. He’s a great guy. A’s general manager Billy Beane often calls him “Emotional Stat Guy,” which he says will be the name of his fantasy baseball team (though I personally think it would be a better band name.*) Zaidi is utterly brilliant — economics degree from MIT, Ph.D from Cal Berkeley in economics — and a lot of fun to talk with about baseball.
*Zaidi told a great story about his interview with Billy Beane, who he idolized. It was 2003, and he was doing some consulting and fantasy sports work — basically, he was overqualified for whatever he was doing. He heard about an Oakland opening. He fished out an old resume and, without really reviewing it, sent it off to Billy Beane. One thing he had forgotten was that in the personal section of the resume, he had mentioned that he liked Britpop — you know, Suede, Sleeper, Oasis, a bunch of those Wonderwall bands that were cool in certain circles in the mid-to-late 1990s. Unfortunately, it was now 2003.
First thing Beane said to Zaidi was, “So, I understand you like Britpop.” Zaidi felt his face go white hot as he sunk into his chair. He started to hem and haw about how he had not updated his resume in a while and that, you know, er, well, it’s just kind of …
At which point, Billy Beane said: “I am the biggest Oasis fan.”
How that scene was left out of Moneyball, I’ll never know.
So before the panel began, we were talking about all sorts of things, when the 2012 American League MVP argument came up. Yes, we’re still talking about it. In very general terms, the argument seemed to split baseball fans between those who embrace the new baseball metrics and those who do not.
That’s a sweeping generalization and does not tell the full story — there were brilliant mathematicians in the Cabrera camp and staunch traditionalists in the Trout camp. But in general terms, the traditional statistics (Triple Crown!) and general principles pointed to Cabrera. And the advanced statistics seemed to show that Trout wasn’t just better than Cabrera but markedly better.
Baseball Reference WAR
Trout: 10.7 WAR
Cabrera: 6.9 WAR
Trout: 10.0 WAR
Cabrera: 7.1 WAR
That isn’t all that close. Basically WAR — and some other advances metrics — showed that whatever advantages Cabrera had in terms of power and batting average and timely hitting were swamped by Trout’s advantages as a fielder, base runner and player who gets on base. The argument made sense to many of us who champion the advanced statistics and their power to get closer to a player’s true value.
The Cabrera arguments, for the most part, were more about gut instinct, intangibles and the power of old statistics. Cabrera won the Triple Crown. Cabrera hit better down the stretch. Cabrera’s team made the playoffs. These arguments made sense to many baseball fans.
The two sides basically talked around each other for months. The gut arguments meant nothing at all to the sabermetric people, who feel like those gut arguments are shallow and often wildly off. The sabermetric arguments meant nothing at all to the people who do not trust a lot of these new statistics and feel like they are draining the fun out of the game. Back and forth it went, but neither side seemed to move any closer together.
Zaidi and I were talking about this when he told me something that I found utterly staggering. He said that Oakland’s objective model for measuring a player’s value — remember now, we are talking about the Oakland A’s, the Moneyball people, Jonah Hill and so on — found that Miguel Cabrera, NOT Mike Trout, was more valuable in 2012.
Well, that’s not exactly right. He was quick to say that the difference between the two was so slight as to be almost invisible — they were, for an intents and purposes, in a virtual tie. But their system did have Cabrera ahead by the tiniest of margins.
I thought that was a pretty big deal. I know last year, a lot of people were spending a lot of energy trying to find a convincing statistical model that showed Cabrera was better than Trout. If there was one, I didn’t see it. Now, it turns out that Oakland (Oakland!) has such a statistical model.
We did not have time to get into details — and Zaidi might not have done that anyway since the A’s model for measuring players is proprietary — but I think the point comes through. Statistics are tools. People use tools differently. People see the world differently. Give someone a pen and paper, she or he might sketch out a breathtaking mathematical formula … or scribble a prescription … or write down the amazing story of a young boy who has discovered he is a wizard … or a sketch of a flying car … or draw a Calvin and Hobbes panel … or a million other things.
Give a lot of different smart people the Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout data, you should get different ways of using that data. And you just might get different answers. It’s an important thing to remember, I think.
My sense, based on my reading of the numbers, Trout was better than Cabrera. I also readily concede Zaidi and the people in the Oakland front office are a lot smarter than I am.
Jul 22, 2014, 10:24 PM EDT
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter made a little more history on Tuesday night against the Rangers …
Jul 22, 2014, 9:37 PM EDT
Casey McGehee entered play on Tuesday evening with a batting average (.322) that is 54 points above his career mean (.268) and an RBI total (56) that ranks ninth in the National League. The 31-year-old third baseman fits the mold of a sell-high candidate. But it doesn’t sound like he’s going to be moved.
Jul 22, 2014, 8:41 PM EDT
Watch as Rangers outfielder Leonys Martin leaps above the right-center field wall at Yankee Stadium to rob Brian McCann of a home run in the bottom of the second inning Tuesday night …
Jul 22, 2014, 7:53 PM EDT
Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker will be called back up from Triple-A Tacoma to start Wednesday night against the Mets at Seattle’s Safeco Field.
Jul 22, 2014, 7:08 PM EDT
Oscar Taveras has started just two of the Cardinals’ last seven games and the left-handed-hitting outfield prospect is not in St. Louis’ starting lineup on Tuesday night against Rays right-hander Jake Odorizzi. Getting the nod instead is the right-handed-hitting Allen Craig. What’s the deal?
Jul 22, 2014, 6:14 PM EDT
According to Brian Stull of CBS Sports 920, left-handed reliever Kevin Siegrist joined back up with the Cardinals on Tuesday in St. Louis and is expected to be activated from the disabled list on Wednesday.
Jul 22, 2014, 5:27 PM EDT
Troy Tulowitzki exited Saturday’s game with what the Rockies called a “cramp” in his quadriceps, but now the star shortstop is out of the lineup tonight for the third consecutive game and it’s clear the injury is more serious.
Jul 22, 2014, 5:15 PM EDT
Could be cool?
Jul 22, 2014, 4:46 PM EDT
A’s outfielder Josh Reddick is off the disabled list after missing all but one week of the past two months with knee problems.
Jul 22, 2014, 4:31 PM EDT
Apparently, one does not ask Kirk Gibson about the decisions he and his coaching staff make about on-the-field decisions.
Jul 22, 2014, 4:16 PM EDT
At this point the Rangers’ injury situation is absurd.
Jul 22, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
After a bit of a dance, it seems like the early favorite to take over for Bud Selig is the favorite when it really matters.
Jul 22, 2014, 3:45 PM EDT
Darwin Barney logged 500-plus plate appearances for the Cubs each season from 2011-2013 and was the Opening Day second baseman this year, but today he was designated for assignment to make roster room for Emilio Bonifacio’s return from the disabled list.
Jul 22, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT
Justin Masterson tossed five innings in a minor-league rehab start Sunday, but rather than welcoming him back from the disabled list the Indians will have the right-hander make another rehab start.
Jul 22, 2014, 2:05 PM EDT
The softer side of Roy Halladay.
Jul 22, 2014, 1:22 PM EDT
Two seasons ago Headley smacked 31 homers, led the league in RBIs, and finished fifth in the MVP balloting, but his production plummeted last season and this year he’s been mostly injured and ineffective.
Jul 22, 2014, 12:46 PM EDT
Cuddyer, who won the batting title last season by hitting .331 with a .919 OPS in 130 games, hit .317 with five homers and an .866 OPS in 31 games before the injury this year.
Jul 22, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
Murray Chass — yes, Murray Chass — has an excellent article about this today.
Jul 22, 2014, 11:50 AM EDT
After letting Matt Cain pitch (poorly) through a “cranky” elbow since spring training the Giants finally shut him down yesterday, placing him on the disabled list with elbow inflammation.
Jul 22, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT
That’s some real Nattitude right there.
- Rockies place Troy Tulowitzki on the disabled list 17
- Rob Manfred “heavily favored” to be Bud Selig’s replacement 25
- Yankees acquire Chase Headley from Padres 105
- And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights 39
- Cliff Lee struggles in first start back from disabled list 15
- On the 10th anniversary of his MLB debut, let’s appreciate David Wright 29
- And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights 36
- Odrisamer Despaigne loses his no-hitter with two outs in the eighth inning 8