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.
Jul 2, 2015, 11:29 AM EDT
Basically you just need to follow Jesse Sanchez and Ben Badler, so here are the links you need to do that.
Jul 2, 2015, 11:02 AM EDT
I hear his [pitch] is nasty.
Jul 2, 2015, 10:47 AM EDT
And place Tim Lincecum on the disabled list.
Jul 2, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT
How YOU doin’?
Jul 2, 2015, 10:15 AM EDT
Even after missing more than a year Fernandez returns to the Marlins’ rotation one month before his 23rd birthday.
Jul 2, 2015, 10:01 AM EDT
A possible win-win-win involving A-Rod and the Yankees? What on Earth is this world coming to?
Jul 2, 2015, 9:45 AM EDT
Spring is hitting .264/.365/.457 with 13 homers and 14 stolen bases on the year.
Jul 2, 2015, 9:20 AM EDT
He was likely not smiling when he discovered the theft.
Jul 2, 2015, 8:56 AM EDT
And the ump was in perfect position to make the right call.
Jul 2, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
He thinks Gerrit Cole hit him intentionally. He’s probably right.
Jul 2, 2015, 7:22 AM EDT
This is what your face looks like when you give up your first hit of the game with two outs in the ninth inning.
Jul 1, 2015, 10:38 PM EDT
Carlos Carrasco had a no-hitter Wednesday with one strike to go. When this happened …
Jul 1, 2015, 10:05 PM EDT
We have some history in the works Wednesday night in Tampa Bay.
Jul 1, 2015, 9:32 PM EDT
You’re gonna want to see this play that Manny Machado pulled off in Wednesday night’s game …
Jul 1, 2015, 8:47 PM EDT
Cardinals left-hander Jaime Garcia was unable to perform scheduled throwing workouts on Saturday and Monday due to cramping in his left groin — the same issue that drove him from his last start Wednesday night against the Marlins.
Jul 1, 2015, 7:21 PM EDT
Stoneman was the Angels’ general manager in 2002, when the the franchise won its last World Series championship.
Jul 1, 2015, 6:38 PM EDT
Young was batting just .270/.289/.339 with two home runs in 180 plate appearances this season for the Orioles. The 29-year-old hit .302/.337/.442 with seven home runs in 255 plate appearances last season.
Jul 1, 2015, 5:23 PM EDT
One of the best hitting prospects in baseball.
Jul 1, 2015, 4:03 PM EDT
Cueto allowed one run over eight innings while striking out eight.
Jul 1, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
Silent Cal chooses to run.
- Bryce Harper is naked in ESPN’s “Body Issue” 10
- Today is the day: Marlins ace Jose Fernandez returns from Tommy John surgery 3
- A-Rod, the Yankees and the union in talks to direct his $6 million home run bonus to charity 11
- And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights 37
- Video: Joey Butler breaks up Carlos Carrasco’s no-hitter with two outs in the ninth inning 12
- Bill Stoneman taking over as Angels’ interim GM 15
- Jerry Dipoto loses power struggle with Mike Scioscia, steps down as Angels general manager 36
- Bobby Bonilla’s isn’t the only deferred money deal in the game. And isn’t even the worst. 49
- With the same-sex marriage decision, the San Francisco Giants get another big win (276)
- Joe Maddon is the latest manager to rip instant replay. He’s got a point. (110)
- Settling the Scores: Sunday’s results (99)
- Report: Jerry Dipoto “definitely out” as Angels GM (77)
- And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights (75)