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 17, 2014, 4:24 PM EDT
Slow starts for the well-paid are beginning to be reversed.
Apr 17, 2014, 3:46 PM EDT
Twins right-hander Kyle Gibson was fantastic this afternoon against the Blue Jays, shutting them out for eight innings of four-hit ball. Gibson struck out four, walked one, and lowered his ERA to 0.93 on the season.
Apr 17, 2014, 3:09 PM EDT
This is some good nonsense for a slow day.
Apr 17, 2014, 1:46 PM EDT
It’s really, really cold in Minnesota right now and they’re playing outdoor baseball.
Apr 17, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
Your mileage may vary, but a 1-0 game in which each starter go the distance is baseball at its most sublime.
Apr 17, 2014, 1:14 PM EDT
St. Louis has placed right-hander Joe Kelly on the disabled list after he injured his hamstring trying to beat out an infield single Wednesday.
Apr 17, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
Two big features in one week suggest we have hit Peak Puig.
Apr 17, 2014, 11:46 AM EDT
Blue Jays closer Casey Janssen began a minor-league rehab assignment by throwing a scoreless inning Tuesday at Single-A, but now Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com reports that he’s been “temporarily shutdown” with more back soreness.
Apr 17, 2014, 11:33 AM EDT
This fight was precipitated by a pitcher being deliberate and a batter stepping out. Which, unlike today, was kind of unusual in 1974.
Apr 17, 2014, 11:17 AM EDT
Trevor Bauer was impressive in his one-start call-up to the Indians last week and kept things rolling in his return to Triple-A yesterday, throwing six shutout innings with nine strikeouts versus just one walk.
Apr 17, 2014, 11:03 AM EDT
If you’re an off-duty cop who plans to kill the Queen in Turner Field, you had best do it quickly.
Apr 17, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT
Two injury stories so far today, two bits of good news.
Apr 17, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
Working in a non-save situation with a five-run lead last night Jose Valverde served up a pair of home runs to the Diamondbacks before eventually finishing up a Mets victory.
Apr 17, 2014, 9:50 AM EDT
Bullet: Dodgers. Er, I mean dodged.
Apr 17, 2014, 9:20 AM EDT
I’m guessing 95% of the security guards working in the state of Texas played at least high school football. It’s probably the last place you want to find yourself out on the field. You’re gonna get yourself tackled, dude.
Apr 17, 2014, 8:55 AM EDT
An oufielder, made more famous for injuring someone else than his own hitting, is now trying out pitching.
Apr 17, 2014, 8:23 AM EDT
Everyone wants to tell Henry Aaron who he is and what he stands for. But as a great new song tells us, They Don’t Know Henry.
Apr 17, 2014, 6:06 AM EDT
Lots of shutouts yesterday. Including one that was the Platonic Ideal of a baseball game. At least if you have taste and stuff.
Apr 17, 2014, 2:21 AM EDT
Notes from a wild game in Chicago.
Apr 16, 2014, 11:32 PM EDT
The Diamondbacks lost another game to the Mets on Wednesday afternoon and are now 4-14 on the season with by far the worst run differential (-48) in the major leagues. But the manager and GM are not on the hot seat … yet.
- Hank Aaron is getting vile racist hate mail in retaliation for pointing out that racism still exists (244)
- “They Don’t Know Henry” (157)
- The Red Sox are still steamed that a PED guy played against them in the playoffs last year (130)
- Doug Glanville’s story about being racially profiled at his own home (125)
- There is still a racial divide in baseball (112)