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 4, 2015, 11:13 PM EST
The Mariners won their Cactus League opener Wednesday against the Padres, but it was not a totally problem-free afternoon in Peoria, Arizona.
Mar 4, 2015, 10:26 PM EST
Suspending Hamilton for a year would serve no purpose punitive systems are designed to serve. And would most likely not serve Josh Hamilton at all.
Mar 4, 2015, 9:52 PM EST
A four-person panel appointed by Major League Baseball to decide how Josh Hamilton should be handled following his recent relapse that involved at least cocaine has reportedly reached a stalemate.
Mar 4, 2015, 9:04 PM EST
The deal includes an invitation to the major league side of spring training, though Miller seems doubtful to win a spot on Tampa Bay’s Opening Day roster.
Mar 4, 2015, 8:21 PM EST
Royals reliever Tim Collins missed time last season with a flexor strain in his left elbow and again had an issue with the joint Wednesday in his 2015 Cactus League debut …
Mar 4, 2015, 7:17 PM EST
It was an enjoyable first day of Cactus League competition for Dodgers prospect Joc Pederson.
Mar 4, 2015, 6:22 PM EST
He successfully rehabbed a torn UCL in his right elbow last season and the Yankees’ fingers remain crossed that the 26-year-old from Japan will be able to avoid Tommy John elbow reconstructive surgery.
Mar 4, 2015, 4:50 PM EST
Mar 4, 2015, 4:18 PM EST
While it’s clear that the two do not see eye to eye, Billy Bean is choosing to look on the bright side of yesterday’s comments from Daniel Murphy.
Mar 4, 2015, 3:54 PM EST
A-Rod singled in his first at-bat.
Mar 4, 2015, 3:20 PM EST
What’s a churro dog, you ask? Click, my pretties. Click!
Mar 4, 2015, 1:26 PM EST
Athletes oftentimes, don’t see reporters as people. Reporters, oftentimes, don’t see athletes as people. Reporters, however have a duty of objectivity athletes don’t have.
Mar 4, 2015, 12:26 PM EST
He’ll miss at least a week.
Mar 4, 2015, 11:47 AM EST
The move leaves Craig Gentry and Sam Fuld to platoon in center field.
Mar 4, 2015, 11:20 AM EST
Billingsley hasn’t pitched in a big-league game since way back in April of 2013.
Mar 4, 2015, 11:05 AM EST
Today’s news sucks for Joel Hanrahan, but it’s a good basis for an explainer.
Mar 4, 2015, 10:52 AM EST
Wieters underwent Tommy John elbow surgery in June.
Mar 4, 2015, 10:15 AM EST
Now that David Price is out of the picture the Rays need a new Opening Day starter.
Mar 4, 2015, 9:59 AM EST
. . . it’s worth remembering that Schilling himself has some issues when it comes to sensitivity and enlightenment on social media.
Mar 4, 2015, 9:30 AM EST
Let us applaud one writer’s brave effort to battle the beast that is A-Rod Derangement Syndrome.
- Suspending Josh Hamilton for a year would be obscene 23
- Report: MLB panel split on rehab for Josh Hamilton; one-year suspension is in play 18
- Joc Pederson goes 2-for-2 in Cactus League debut 4
- Braves scratch Mike Minor from start with more shoulder problems 2
- Daniel Murphy on Billy Bean: “I do disagree with the fact that Billy is a homosexual” 359
- Blue Jays sign Dayan Viciedo to a minor league deal 8
- Chris Sale will be sidelined for three weeks with foot fracture 11
- Aramis Ramirez says 2015 will be his last year 33
- Daniel Murphy on Billy Bean: “I do disagree with the fact that Billy is a homosexual” (359)
- If addiction is an illness — and it is — Josh Hamilton shouldn’t be suspended (307)
- Curt Schilling lowers the boom on some men tweeting threats against his daughter (137)
- John Baker, Jeremy Brown, coal mines and class (80)
- Billy Bean responds to Daniel Murphy’s comments (73)