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 4, 2015, 11:02 PM EDT
O’Flaherty owns an ugly-looking 5.91 ERA in 25 appearances this season, but the 30-year-old has held left-handed batters to a .186/.286/.209 batting line in 2015 and a .201/.266/.263 line for his career.
Aug 4, 2015, 10:50 PM EDT
Shaffer, a first-round pick in 2012 out of Clemson University, was sporting an impressive .954 OPS and 16 home runs through 55 games this season at Triple-A Durham.
Aug 4, 2015, 10:21 PM EDT
Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton robbed Jason Heyward of extra bases on Tuesday night in Cincy …
Aug 4, 2015, 9:13 PM EDT
Walker was selected 24th overall back in June and later agreed to a $1.78 million signing bonus — around $314,400 under his recommended slot value.
Aug 4, 2015, 8:08 PM EDT
Jimmy Rollins received a huge ovation Tuesday evening in his first game back in Philly …
Aug 4, 2015, 7:15 PM EDT
Turner is having a tremendous season for the National League West-leading Dodgers, boasting a .323/.387/.563 slash line with 13 home runs, 20 doubles, and 44 RBI in 87 games.
Aug 4, 2015, 6:32 PM EDT
Tigers owner Mike Ilitch cut ties with longtime general manager Dave Dombrowski on Tuesday afternoon, but it doesn’t sound like anybody else is on the chopping block yet.
Aug 4, 2015, 5:20 PM EDT
After arriving in 2002, Dombrowski rebuilt an organization that was an utter dumpster fire.
Aug 4, 2015, 5:01 PM EDT
Martin heads back to the minors as a 27-year-old with nearly 1,500 plate appearances as a big leaguer.
Aug 4, 2015, 4:14 PM EDT
A shocking announcement from the Tigers today.
Aug 4, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT
He has a strained forearm.
Aug 4, 2015, 3:12 PM EDT
No Royals were suspended.
Aug 4, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT
He calls it a “hail Mary”
Aug 4, 2015, 2:46 PM EDT
In between the DL stints Freeman played just 10 games.
Aug 4, 2015, 1:19 PM EDT
He played two games for the Yankees.
Aug 4, 2015, 12:27 PM EDT
Incredible numbers for a 20-year-old shortstop.
Gregg Zaun to Yordano Ventura: “stop writing checks with your mouth that your skinny ass can’t cash”
Aug 4, 2015, 11:44 AM EDT
Gregg Zaun, as always, providing a voice of reason.
Aug 4, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT
He’s pitcher number two they received in the David Price deal.
Aug 4, 2015, 10:15 AM EDT
“I only have one head.”
Aug 4, 2015, 9:48 AM EDT
Not having access to athletes and coaches would be a bummer at first, but over time the press would do just fine with it.
- Brad Ausmus receives a vote of confidence from new Tigers general manager Al Avila 9
- Title or no title, Dave Dombrowski’s tenure in Detroit was a success 27
- Dave Dombrowski out as Tigers General Manager, team president; Al Avila takes over 59
- Blue Jays’ Aaron Sanchez, John Gibbons disciplined in the wake of Sunday’s plunkings 72
- Believe the hype: Carlos Correa is already a superstar 34
- Gregg Zaun to Yordano Ventura: “stop writing checks with your mouth that your skinny ass can’t cash” 100
- And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights 55
- Adrian Beltre needs just five innings for the third cycle of his career 16
- The benches cleared in Friday’s Giants-Rangers game (208)
- Blue Jays acquire David Price from the Tigers (113)
- Gregg Zaun to Yordano Ventura: “stop writing checks with your mouth that your skinny ass can’t cash” (109)
- Rangers land ace left-hander Cole Hamels from Phillies (106)
- And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights (88)