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.
Oct 20, 2014, 5:17 PM EDT
Hudson revealed during today’s media session that the Royals actually made him a “very good offer.”
Oct 20, 2014, 5:09 PM EDT
Wanna buy the Royals’ recyclables?
Oct 20, 2014, 4:48 PM EDT
He was determined to leave the A’s either way.
Oct 20, 2014, 4:33 PM EDT
Someone asked Sergio Romo what country he’s from at media day today. Last I checked, California was still part of the United States.
Oct 20, 2014, 4:16 PM EDT
Morse has yet to start a game in the playoffs, but he hit .279 with 16 homers and an .811 OPS in 131 games during the regular season to rank second on the team in OPS behind only Buster Posey.
Oct 20, 2014, 3:40 PM EDT
Jay played through the injury since July, yet he hit .325 in August and September before going 14-for-29 (.483) in the postseason.
Oct 20, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
Because it is unheard of for Yankees players to have outside interests.
Oct 20, 2014, 2:48 PM EDT
Keller spent 16 total seasons coaching in the Yankees organization, the last six of which have been on the MLB staff.
Oct 20, 2014, 2:14 PM EDT
“Taijuan is completely healthy and was very impressive in his two outings, but made a personal decision that he needed to return home at this time.”
Oct 20, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Every time there’s a bad call, Don Denkinger’s name gets mentioned. Now that the Royals are in the World Series, it’ll be mentioned more.
Oct 20, 2014, 1:47 PM EDT
His overall numbers, while not as ridiculously amazing as 2013, included a 2.52 ERA and 80/8 K/BB ratio in 64 innings.
Oct 20, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
Oakland is looking to replace Chili Davis.
Oct 20, 2014, 12:45 PM EDT
This former Royals is a big part of why the current Royals are where they are.
Oct 20, 2014, 12:12 PM EDT
The second baseman, that is, not the Marlins pitcher.
Oct 20, 2014, 11:38 AM EDT
College and Major Leagues, that is.
Oct 20, 2014, 10:52 AM EDT
Hint: he doesn’t think it’s Buster Posey.
Oct 20, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
You’d think such knowledge would be pretty valuable to have. Maybe they should license it to other sports teams.
Oct 20, 2014, 9:46 AM EDT
History’s Greatest Monster strikes again
Oct 20, 2014, 9:23 AM EDT
His new employer is, apparently, quite generous with allowing vacation time.
Oct 20, 2014, 8:47 AM EDT
Frank White is possibly the Royals most popular player in franchise history. But he and the team have not been on speaking terms for several years. And not even an A.L. Pennant has changed that.
- HBT Daily: How the Royals and Giants were built 2
- Two radio stations in San Francisco are refusing to play Lorde’s “Royals” during the World Series 38
- Royals tab James Shields, Yordano Ventura to start first two games of World Series 1
- Brian Roberts is retiring 13
- So, if you’re not a fan of the Royals or Giants, who ya got? 119
- Video: Watch Travis Ishikawa’s pennant-winning homer 13
- Travis Ishikawa sends Giants to World Series on walk-off three-run homer 79
- NLCS, Game 5: Cardinals vs. Giants lineups 30
- So, if you’re not a fan of the Royals or Giants, who ya got? (119)
- Pedro Martinez has some opinions about who the new “face of baseball” is (94)
- “The Kansas City Royals Are the Future of Baseball” — someone actually said that. (93)
- Andrew Friedman leaving the Rays to take over as Dodgers President of Baseball Operations (83)
- Quit making a big deal out of anomalies. Most of what happens is meaningless. (82)