Mar 4, 2013, 1:24 PM EST
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.
Dec 13, 2013, 2:05 PM EST
Arguments from authority are always worth questioning. Just because someone is of a certain status or experience doesn’t make them right about things. But when it comes to home plate collisions, I’m sorta inclined to defer to the greatest catcher in the history of the game. Hall of Famer Johnny Bench was on the Dan…
Dec 13, 2013, 1:48 PM EST
David Ortiz is under contract for $11 million in 2014, which will be his age-38 season, and Rob Bradford of WEEI.com reports that the designated hitter is talking to the Red Sox about adding another year to the deal. Obviously all teams would prefer not to make unnecessary commitments to players nearing 40, but Ortiz…
Dec 13, 2013, 1:16 PM EST
Mat Gamel, who was a top prospect and the heir apparent at first base for the Brewers before multiple knee surgeries derailed his career, has signed a minor-league contract with the Braves. Atlanta isn’t a great landing spot for Gamel because the Braves have Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson locked into corner infield jobs, although…
Dec 13, 2013, 1:00 PM EST
Bob Raissman of the Daily News spoke with Curt Schilling, ESPN’s new Sunday Night Baseball color commentator. They talked about style and stuff, and Schilling, quite characteristically, does not lack confidence: “I can watch a pitcher for an inning and have a deep and wide understanding of who and what they are and what they…
Dec 13, 2013, 12:30 PM EST
The divorce is over and each of them has found a new love, but Robinson Cano and the Yankees have still decided it’s worth trading barbs about “disrespect” in the past 24 hours. Here’s Robinson Cano at yesterday’s press conference when asked about his dealings with the Yankees before accepting the Mariners’ $240 million offer:…
Dec 13, 2013, 11:44 AM EST
Jason Kubel left Minnesota to sign a two-year, $16 million deal with Arizona following the 2011 season, but after one good year and one bad year Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN.com reports that he’s returning to the Twins on a minor-league deal. At this point in his career Kubel should really be a platoon designated hitter,…
Dec 13, 2013, 11:33 AM EST
The handsome manager post from the other day made its way around the Winter Meetings lobby on Tuesday and Wednesday. That inspired MLB Network to invite me on the “Hot Stove” show yesterday morning to talk about it all. The highlight? A fist-bump with Harold Reynolds: That’s going in the scrapbook. Oh, and here’s…
Dec 13, 2013, 11:19 AM EST
Aw, shucks: Joe Girardi on Jacoby Ellsbury: “You no longer are a thorn in my side. You are a flower in our clubhouse.” — Andy McCullough (@McCulloughSL) December 13, 2013 Hey girl, you are a flower in our clubhouse. Follow @AaronGleeman
Dec 13, 2013, 11:03 AM EST
Jeb Lund was at the Winter Meetings this past week, writing some stuff for SB Nation and having the bad sense to have drinks with me in the lobby until way too late. Or early. Depends on your point of view. Good guy though. He also happened to be in great position to see the…
Dec 13, 2013, 10:47 AM EST
Mike Pelfrey was awful for the Twins this year, going 5-13 with a 5.19 ERA in 29 starts, but LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that Minnesota has made him a two-year offer to return. According to Neal the deal would be worth around $12 million, which … well, as a…
Dec 13, 2013, 10:30 AM EST
This is pretty awesome. Because the posting fee for Japanese players is now capped at $20 million, teams have a way lower incentive to post their players, as they used to be able to get way more. That’s been the holdup for Rakuten, the team which is trying to decide if it will post Masahiro…
Dec 13, 2013, 10:15 AM EST
Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports that the Diamondbacks are close to re-signing rehabbing right-hander Daniel Hudson and backup catcher Henry Blanco. Hudson is expected to miss most of 2014 following a pair of Tommy John elbow surgeries and the Diamondbacks non-tendered him last week because they ran out of time to work out…
Dec 13, 2013, 9:50 AM EST
Jon Heyman reports that the Rockies will sign Boone Logan to a three-year, $16.5 million contract. Troy Renck of the Denver Post reported that the deal was close last night. Logan — a lefty reliever — is an eight-year veteran having spent time with the White Sox, Braves, and Yankees. Over the past three seasons in…
Dec 13, 2013, 9:01 AM EST
Boca Raton, Florida police announced the arrest of a tanning salon worker for the theft of the Biogenesis documents Major League Baseball is now using to go after Alex Rodriguez. His name is Reginald St. Fleur. He’s a known associate of Porter Fischer, the former Biogenesis employee who initially obtained the documents and who, at one time…
Dec 13, 2013, 7:10 AM EST
A week in the sun and warmth is over. A week of the hottest hot stove action in recent memory preceded it. It’s pretty easy to say that a great bulk of the work teams needed to do before Opening Day 2014 has been accomplished since we tossed the last of our Thanksgiving leftovers. But…
Dec 12, 2013, 11:00 PM EST
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is enjoying a nice season. His team is 11-2 and has already clinched at least a Wild Card spot, and will likely soon wrap up the NFC West. What many have forgotten is that he was once a fourth-round pick by the Rockies in the 2010 Major League Baseball draft. He…
Dec 12, 2013, 10:05 PM EST
The Montreal Gazette is reporting that one of Canada’s great cities could once again be a home for a Major League Baseball team as long as a new stadium is built in the downtown area. A study was performed by Ernst and Young and the law firm BCF, which found that it would cost Montreal…
Dec 12, 2013, 9:20 PM EST
Troy Renck of the Denver Post is reporting that the Rockies are close to signing left-handed reliever Boone Logan on a deal believed to be three years in length and around $15 million. The deal will not be finalized until Logan passes a physical. Logan, 29, is an eight-year veteran having spent time with the…
Dec 12, 2013, 9:15 PM EST
MLB.com’s Britt Ghiroli confirmed a report that the Orioles have put a multi-year contract offer on the table with free agent closer Grant Balfour. Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun reports that a team has offered him a third-year vesting option, but it’s not the Orioles. He also adds that the right-hander has a two-year…
Dec 12, 2013, 8:25 PM EST
Jeff Blair of the Globe and Mail is reporting that the Royals and Blue Jays have discussed a trade involving first baseman-slash-DH Billy Butler. He clarifies that there has been no movement on a deal beyond the initial discussions, and adds that the Jays would receive prospects along with Butler in such a deal. It’s…
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