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.
Mar 6, 2014, 11:28 PM EST
FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports that Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig has hired Adam Katz and Andy Mota of Wasserman Media Group as his new agents. He was previously represented by Jaime Torres. Puig signed a six-year, $42 million contract with the Dodgers in June of 2012 and remains under contract through 2018, so there’s no…
Mar 6, 2014, 10:31 PM EST
Sad news to pass along this evening, as Tommy John surgery pioneer Dr. Frank Jobe has passed away at the age of 88. Jobe worked for the Dodgers for 50 years and is best known for performing the first-ever unlar collateral ligament reconstructive elbow surgery on left-handed pitcher Tommy John on September 25, 1974. While…
Mar 6, 2014, 10:20 PM EST
It was originally thought that Padres outfielder Cameron Maybin would be lost for 2-3 months after he suffered a torn left biceps tendon while making a diving catch Sunday, but there’s a chance he could be back sooner. According to Corey Brock of MLB.com, Padres general manager Josh Byrnes said that Maybin opted against surgery…
Mar 6, 2014, 9:30 PM EST
Troubling news for the Angels this evening, as Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com reports that right-hander Dane De La Rosa has left Angels camp to undergo an MRI on his right forearm. De La Rosa was hit hard in today’s Cactus League game against the Dodgers before he was pulled due to right forearm tightness. Gonzalez…
Mar 6, 2014, 8:20 PM EST
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? You decide. Baseball fans were provided with a heaping slice of awesomeness in this afternoon’s Cactus League matchup between the Dodgers and Angels, as Mike Trout‘s attempt at an inside-the-park home run was dashed thanks in part to a throw from Yasiel Puig. In the bottom…
Mar 6, 2014, 7:11 PM EST
Earlier this week, Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson named left-hander Patrick Corbin and right-hander Trevor Cahill as his starters for the upcoming two-game season opening series in Australia from March 22-23. The Dodgers have yet to make an official announcement on their starters for the series, but Ken Gurnick of MLB.com writes that things are starting…
Mar 6, 2014, 6:09 PM EST
Perhaps Ervin Santana‘s frustration is beginning to boil over as he remains unsigned with the start of the regular season just weeks away. FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal has an interesting new wrinkle on his situation: Sources: Free-agent RHP Ervin Santana considering a change of agents. Currently represented by Bean Stringfellow of Proformance.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal)…
Mar 6, 2014, 5:02 PM EST
Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. Next up: The Los Angeles Dodgers. The Big Question: Can the deep-pocketed Dodgers be stopped? After a midseason turnaround led to 92…
Mar 6, 2014, 3:48 PM EST
According to Juan C. Rodriguez of the Sun Sentinel, the Marlins will be contacting the league office after the Red Sox declined to bring any of their established regulars to Palm Beach for Thursday’s spring training game. While teams are supposed to bring at least four “regulars” to road spring games, the rule has always…
Mar 6, 2014, 3:22 PM EST
Non-roster left-hander Rich Hill had been away from the Red Sox since the start of camp due to a family health issue. On Thursday, he arrived in camp and elaborated on his absence, passing along the sad news that his newborn son has died. “We had a son on December 26 and he was born…
Mar 6, 2014, 2:56 PM EST
Courtesy of Hunter Pence‘s instagram account comes this little gem, in which the 5’11″ Tim Lincecum and the 6’8″ Kameron Loe swapped jerseys.
Mar 6, 2014, 2:32 PM EST
Bob Nightengale spoke with Albert Pujols and Pujols mentioned a question someone asked him early in spring training. The question: “are you motivated to put up the same numbers as Mike Trout?” Pujols, remembering it and obviously still mad, went off: “Can you imagine someone saying that to me?” Pujols tells USA TODAY Sports in…
Mar 6, 2014, 2:16 PM EST
With J.A. Happ struggling and reportedly dealing with back issues, the number of openings in the Toronto rotation has increased from one to two. According to MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm, Drew Hutchinson is now looking like a good bet for one of those spots, with Happ, 2012 first-round pick Marcus Stroman, Todd Redmond and Esmil Rogers…
Mar 6, 2014, 12:51 PM EST
Jon Niese saw his first game action since undergoing an MRI exam on his sore shoulder last week, throwing two innings in a Mets intrasquad game today. And he seemed very happy with how things went, telling Adam Rubin of ESPN New York: I felt great. It’s a great feeling to go out there and…
Mar 6, 2014, 11:51 AM EST
BRADENTON — It’s raining harder now, and someone just told me that they’ve issued a tornado watch for the area. Yet they still haven’t banged the game. Crazy, but it’s their ballpark. They can do what they want. The Pirates did, however, open their clubhouse to the media at 11am, maybe because everyone knows that…
Mar 6, 2014, 11:19 AM EST
Once the Orioles surrendered their first- and second-round draft picks to sign Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz there was speculation that they might decide to punt a third-round pick too in order to sign Ervin Santana. It hasn’t happened yet, but Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reports that the Orioles “maintain interest” in Santana…
Mar 6, 2014, 10:47 AM EST
Matt Carpenter had a breakout season in 2013, handling a position switch to second base just fine and hitting .318 while leading the league in hits (199), doubles (55), and runs scored (126). Now this season he’s moving again, this time to third base, and Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch reports that…
Mar 6, 2014, 10:34 AM EST
BRADENTON — It stinks that there’s probably not going to be baseball here today, because this park is pretty sweet: I love McKechnie Field. It’s old, and despite recent renovations, it still has that old-timey feel. And of course the renovations make it more comfortable. And the food here is great. Just a wonderful park.…
Mar 6, 2014, 10:15 AM EST
Bronson Arroyo‘s durability was his primary selling point as a 37-year-old free agent, but his stint with the Diamondbacks has started with an injury. Steve Gilbert of MLB.com reports that Arroyo has a bulging disk in his back and is expected to be out for 7-10 days. He was scratched from Tuesday’s scheduled start and…
Mar 6, 2014, 9:38 AM EST
BRADENTON — I thought the day was going to go better than this. I woke up and, magically, the R key on my keyboard was working again and all was right with the world. Then I saw this: That little marker is where I’m sitting in McKechnie Field right now and that stuff to…
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