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.
Apr 1, 2015, 4:50 PM EDT
Jenna and I continue to preview the divisions. Next up: the NL East.
Apr 1, 2015, 4:26 PM EDT
Matuella started six games this season, throwing 25 innings with a 1.08 ERA and 24 strikeouts.
Apr 1, 2015, 4:15 PM EDT
With a new GM and questions surrounding the futures of Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, where are the Rockies headed?
Apr 1, 2015, 3:58 PM EDT
Allen Craig hit one today. Yawn.
Apr 1, 2015, 3:03 PM EDT
Now you all will know when it is time to “MAKE SOME NOISE!!!!!!”
Apr 1, 2015, 2:14 PM EDT
Are we there yet?
Apr 1, 2015, 1:40 PM EDT
Verlander has never been on the disabled list in his 10-year career.
Apr 1, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
The Phillies are going to be bad in 2015. But just how bad?
Apr 1, 2015, 11:50 AM EDT
Philadelphia’s pitching staff isn’t exactly stacked, but Gonzalez blew his chance to make the team by allowing 12 runs in 14 spring training innings.
Apr 1, 2015, 11:19 AM EDT
Rendon injured the knee on March 9.
Apr 1, 2015, 11:03 AM EDT
The Mets are locking up one of the best defensive center fielders in the game.
Apr 1, 2015, 10:47 AM EDT
If he crushes Triple-A pitching he’ll be back soon enough.
Apr 1, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT
And it’s as random as it usually is.
Apr 1, 2015, 10:15 AM EDT
Miami gave up left-hander Brian Flynn and minor leaguer Reid Redman to get Crow from Kansas City.
Apr 1, 2015, 9:46 AM EDT
Jenna and I talk about whether the Tigers can do it again.
Apr 1, 2015, 9:05 AM EDT
So don’t listen to the rumors about how it’s not fit for man nor beast nor Cubs fan.
Apr 1, 2015, 8:37 AM EDT
The Cardinals and Pirates are the class here, even if the Cubs get all the chatter these days.
Apr 1, 2015, 7:06 AM EDT
That’s a lotta burritos.
Mar 31, 2015, 11:58 PM EDT
A’s left fielder Coco Crisp has been bothered by discomfort in the middle of his right arm for much of spring training, limiting him to seven Cactus League games. And the injury isn’t getting any better.
Mar 31, 2015, 11:02 PM EDT
Is the fun over in Cincy?
- 2015 Preview: Colorado Rockies 0
- 2015 Preview: Minnesota Twins 13
- 2015 Preview: Philadelphia Phillies 23
- 2015 Preview: Cincinnati Reds 43
- The average Major League Baseball salary this year will be more than $4 million — a record 22
- 2015 Preview: Tampa Bay Rays 21
- The Cubs assign Kris Bryant and Addison Russell to the minors, option Javier Baez as well 70
- 2015 Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks 8
- Ex-Cardinals outfielder Curt Ford was assaulted in St. Louis and told to “go back to Ferguson” (122)
- David Ortiz: “Nobody in MLB history has been tested for PEDs more than me” (118)
- Rob Manfred says it would be hard to reinstate Pete Rose in a limited way (91)
- The MLBPA releases a statement on Kris Bryant, mentions possible litigation (90)
- Did David Ortiz admit to more than he realized with his Players’ Tribune editorial? (88)