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.
Dec 17, 2014, 11:35 PM EST
According to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, the Orioles, Reds, and Mariners are among the possible landing spots for the 32-year-old free agent corner outfielder.
Dec 17, 2014, 10:18 PM EST
Jeff Samardzija, former Cubs starter and recent White Sox trade acquisition, was welcomed back to the Windy City prior to Tuesday night’s NHL game between the Chicago Blackhawks and visiting Minnesota Wild …
Dec 17, 2014, 9:24 PM EST
David Hernandez looked like a non-tender candidate after undergoing Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery in April, but the Diamondbacks decided to keep him around …
Dec 17, 2014, 8:10 PM EST
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Marlins, Braves, and Giants have all expressed interest in free agent starter Jake Peavy …
Dec 17, 2014, 7:02 PM EST
From CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman comes word that the Royals have agreed to terms on a two-year, $20 million free agent contract with Edinson Volquez.
Dec 17, 2014, 6:16 PM EST
A three-team, 11-player trade has been agreed upon between the Rays, Padres, and Nationals. It centers around outfielder Wil Myers.
Dec 17, 2014, 5:08 PM EST
He is expected to be able to resume baseball activities before Spring Training begins.
Dec 17, 2014, 4:16 PM EST
One-time Red Sox prospect trying to snag a bench gig.
Dec 17, 2014, 4:05 PM EST
If you don’t love Pedro Martinez there is no helping you.
Dec 17, 2014, 2:51 PM EST
Sticking together after seven seasons.
Dec 17, 2014, 2:31 PM EST
The pitcher denies there were issues. But now he’s off to Boston, so I guess it doesn’t matter.
Dec 17, 2014, 2:01 PM EST
Wil Myers’ replacement in Tampa Bay?
Dec 17, 2014, 12:53 PM EST
And if it blows up, it could impact the Jimmy Rollins trade too.
Dec 17, 2014, 12:30 PM EST
The Sox are getting themselves a handy reliever.
Dec 17, 2014, 12:12 PM EST
Seattle is looking for right-handed bats.
Dec 17, 2014, 11:53 AM EST
Right team, even if he picked the wrong position.
Dec 17, 2014, 11:15 AM EST
They’re getting lots of calls on him, though.
Dec 17, 2014, 11:10 AM EST
It appears as though it’ll only be a two-team trade, with Myers heading to San Diego.
Dec 17, 2014, 10:03 AM EST
Which could have some baseball implications
Dec 17, 2014, 9:46 AM EST
But he could start the home opener
- Royals sign Edinson Volquez for two years, $20 million 20
- Rays, Padres, Nationals agree to 11-player trade 75
- Sergio Romo re-signs with the Giants for $15 million 13
- So, apparently we’re sweating the Matt Kemp physical now 45
- The United States will seek to normalize relations with Cuba 141
- Marlins complete Michael Morse deal: two years, $16 million 18
- Padres, Rays, Mariners discussing trade involving Wil Myers 36
- It is perfectly clear that A-Rod is the Yankees’ DH. At best. So there will be no drama, right? 37
- Baseball’s highest-ranking Hispanic woman employee sues for discrimination (163)
- The United States will seek to normalize relations with Cuba (143)
- Cubs, Red Sox, Dodgers, Padres, Rangers, and Astros interested in Phillies’ Cole Hamels (110)
- Done Deal: Yoenis Cespedes and two players traded to Detroit for Rick Porcello and a minor leaguer (105)
- Chase Headley signs a four-year deal with the Yankees worth at least $52 million. (95)