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 20, 2014, 9:10 PM EDT
Oh, nothing, just Dexter Fowler being coached by arguably the greatest hitter in baseball history.
Apr 20, 2014, 8:25 PM EDT
Ryan Braun likes hitting in the state of Pennsylvania.
Apr 20, 2014, 7:55 PM EDT
Jeff Francoeur is known for his arm, but who knew he’d be useful as a pitcher?
Apr 20, 2014, 7:15 PM EDT
The Red Sox and Orioles teamed up for a touching tribute at Fenway Park on Sunday.
Apr 20, 2014, 6:58 PM EDT
40-year-old Bobby Abreu is expected to join the Mets on Monday.
Apr 20, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
Chipper Jones is not a fan of Carlos Gomez.
Apr 20, 2014, 5:20 PM EDT
Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw threw a 51-pitch, three-inning simulated game on Sunday in Los Angeles and could soon be cleared to embark on a minor league rehab assignment.
Apr 20, 2014, 4:12 PM EDT
The Cardinals have decided on a fill-in for starting pitcher Joe Kelly, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list Thursday with a strained left hamstring that he suffered Wednesday while trying to beat out a groundball. It’ll be 26-year-old lefty Tyler Lyons.
Apr 20, 2014, 3:07 PM EDT
A pretty vicious brawl just went down at PNC Park after Carlos Gomez of the Brewers went into home run celebration mode after slugging a Gerrit Cole pitch to the top of the center field wall …
Apr 20, 2014, 2:43 PM EDT
As first relayed by FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, the Twins have claimed outfielder Sam Fuld off waivers from the A’s. Fuld was designated for assignment by Oakland last Saturday.
Apr 20, 2014, 1:51 PM EDT
MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat reports that Cubs top shortstop prospect Javier Baez is back in the lineup Sunday afternoon at Triple-A Iowa after missing a little over a week with soreness in his left ankle. He’ll serve as Iowa’s DH initially.
Apr 20, 2014, 1:08 PM EDT
Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira is recovered from his Grade 1 right hamstring strain and is starting Sunday for the first time in over two weeks.
Apr 20, 2014, 12:14 PM EDT
The Tigers acquired Alex Gonzalez from the Orioles in late March after losing Jose Iglesias for the year and the veteran shortstop smacked a walkoff RBI single for Detroit on Opening Day. But he managed just three hits in 28 plate appearances after that and was officially released from the 25-man roster on Sunday.
Apr 20, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT
Jose Valverde allowed three runs in an inning of work Saturday night against the Braves — the latest in a string of rough outings. So manager Terry Collins decided Sunday morning to make a change …
Apr 20, 2014, 10:49 AM EDT
Yankees starter Ivan Nova has been diagnosed with a partially-torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow — an injury that almost always leads to Tommy John surgery.
Craig Kimbrel struggles in return from right shoulder issue, apologizes for reaction to being pulled
Apr 20, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
Craig Kimbrel was called on Saturday for the first time since complaining of discomfort in his shoulder last Monday. The appearance did not go smoothly.
Apr 20, 2014, 9:37 AM EDT
Watch as Angels first baseman Albert Pujols moved to within two home runs of the big 500-homer milestone on Saturday afternoon against Tigers closer Joe Nathan …
Apr 20, 2014, 8:52 AM EDT
Mark Buehrle pitched seven innings of shutout ball and Jose Reyes had an RBI single in his first game back from a hamstring strain as Toronto rolled to a 5-0 win over the Indians on Saturday afternoon in Cleveland. Buehrle yielded just four hits and is now 4-0 on the season with a 0.64 ERA in 28 innings.
Apr 19, 2014, 11:45 PM EDT
Ike Davis makes a good impression with his new team.
Apr 19, 2014, 11:10 PM EDT
Evan Longoria climbs to the top of yet another Rays franchise leaderboard.
- Boston Marathon heroes remembered with pregame ceremony at Fenway Park 3
- Benches clear in Pittsburgh after the Brewers’ Carlos Gomez bat flips a third-inning triple 136
- Yankees activate Mark Teixeira from the disabled list 4
- Ivan Nova diagnosed with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow 30
- Settling the Score: Saturday’s results 35
- Hank Aaron is getting vile racist hate mail in retaliation for pointing out that racism still exists (248)
- “They Don’t Know Henry” (167)
- Benches clear in Pittsburgh after the Brewers’ Carlos Gomez bat flips a third-inning triple (137)
- Doug Glanville’s story about being racially profiled at his own home (127)
- There is still a racial divide in baseball (112)