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.
Aug 23, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT
Jacob Turner will start on Wednesday, taking over Edwin Jackson’s spot in the Cubs’ starting rotation.
Aug 23, 2014, 1:24 PM EDT
Saturday’s match-up between the Rays and Blue Jays pits Jeremy Hellickson against Mark Buehrle, who are very dissimilar.
Aug 23, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
Outfielder Nate Schierholtz is expected to join the Nationals in time for Saturday afternoon’s game against the Giants.
Aug 23, 2014, 12:05 PM EDT
Xander Bogaerts was hit in the head by a Felix Hernandez pitch on Friday night, but the rookie says he is fine. He is not in Saturday afternoon’s lineup.
Aug 23, 2014, 12:04 PM EDT
The Reds have lost seven straight and are currently on pace for their worst season since 2008, but Walt Jocketty is expected to return as general manager next season.
Aug 23, 2014, 11:05 AM EDT
Nationals right-hander Doug Fister revealed last night that he had skin cancer removed from the left side of his neck this week.
Aug 23, 2014, 10:12 AM EDT
Many around the game were underwhelmed when the Rays acquired Drew Smyly, Nick Franklin, and Willy Adames in the three-team David Price deal last month. It will probably take years before we can make a fair assessment, but the early returns are positive for Tampa Bay.
Aug 23, 2014, 9:32 AM EDT
The Tigers turned to infielder Andrew Romine to pitch in a blowout last night.
Aug 23, 2014, 8:56 AM EDT
A quick recap of a busy Friday around MLB, including an important AL West battle.
Aug 22, 2014, 11:55 PM EDT
Garrett Richards had surgery to repair a torn patellar tendon in his left knee, meaning he’ll be out between six and nine months.
Aug 22, 2014, 11:05 PM EDT
The frustrating blackout restrictions could come to an end as early as 2015, according to Maury Brown of Forbes.
Aug 22, 2014, 10:10 PM EDT
Felix Hernandez has struck out 200-plus batters in each of the last six seasons, something no other starting pitcher will have done when the season is over.
Aug 22, 2014, 9:17 PM EDT
Mike Minor is on point in Cincinnati against the Reds on Friday night.
Aug 22, 2014, 9:15 PM EDT
The Giants don’t have any plans to move Buster Posey out from behind the plate just yet, even though his numbers are much better as a first baseman.
Aug 22, 2014, 8:20 PM EDT
The Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate will reportedly move from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma for the 2015 season.
Aug 22, 2014, 7:25 PM EDT
Kyle Lohse was dealing with a sore right ankle, but is expected to rejoin the Brewers’ rotation on Monday to start against the Padres.
Aug 22, 2014, 6:33 PM EDT
Manny Machado’s season is likely over, as he is expected to undergo season-ending knee surgery within a week, according to a report.
Aug 22, 2014, 6:20 PM EDT
According to Peter Gammons, the Orioles and Yankees are “claiming everyone” on waivers, which will make it difficult for the Angels to improve their starting rotation after losing Garrett Richards.
Aug 22, 2014, 5:28 PM EDT
His latest, a solo shot off Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman.
Aug 22, 2014, 3:45 PM EDT
Sometimes the life of a player with a minor-league option remaining just isn’t fair.
- Settling the Score: Friday’s results 9
- Mike Minor loses his no-hit bid with two outs in the eighth 5
- Manny Machado to undergo season-ending knee surgery 32
- The Cubs grounds crew was short staffed because the Cubs were trying to avoid Obamacare 242
- Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo to sign with the Red Sox for $72 million 96
- And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights 31
- The Nationals extend their winning streak to 10 games with another walk-off victory 12
- Garrett Richards out 6-9 months with torn patellar tendon 14
- The Cubs grounds crew was short staffed because the Cubs were trying to avoid Obamacare (242)
- Mike Matheny addresses turmoil in Ferguson: “It’s a sad situation. It’s a tough situation for our city” (127)
- Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo to sign with the Red Sox for $72 million (96)
- A pitch clock in Major League Baseball? No thanks. (92)
- Even if he’s reinstated, does Pete Rose make the Hall of Fame? (86)