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Gabe Kapler: players need to get with the new statistics

Jul 22, 2013, 11:10 AM EDT

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Former major leaguer and former minor league manager Gabe Kapler pens a column over at WEEI today about how, even as people inside the game of baseball have moved on from the old statistics to new metrics when it comes to player analysis, the players themselves haven’t:

Times have changed, but substantially less among players. While progressive front offices have altered the way they evaluate us, we have lagged far behind in the way we grade ourselves. It’s akin to unhealthy communication in a relationship … The player still thinks he’s going to make a boatload of money because he’s hitting .300, and he might … but not because he’s excelling in that statistic. He may be shocked to find that he’s not in as high demand as a guy dominating a peripheral measurable.

Kapler goes on to make a case for the players to get with the times.

He has some good arguments, but even as a fellow traveller of the stat set, I think players getting hip to advanced metrics is pretty unimportant. Sabermetric measures of players are important to evaluate the players, sure, but the players themselves don’t play a huge role in player evaluation. Teams should know these things when building a roster. Agents should know these things when arguing for the player’s value in arbitration or free agency. Analysts and writers should know this stuff in describing what happens in a game and why certain things matter.

But if I’m running a team or advising a player I just want him to play baseball. Yes, he should absolutely know what plays are dumb and what plays are smart. He should, broadly speaking, know what is valuable and should carry out the will of the manager (who in turn is carrying out the will of the front office). But he should, more than anything else, do his own thing the best way he can.

For some that may be taking walks and doing things statheads would love to see him do. But that’s not the case for every player. Pitch recognition has a pretty big talent component to it, for example. If a guy is never going to be a patient hitter because he sucks at pitch recognition I’d hope he’d try to best salvage that by swinging violently at pitches that he thinks are at least close to the zone.

More broadly: stats are about understanding, explaining and in many ways predicting the game. Let the players play and let the rest of us worry more about the stats.  I don’t think Kapler is arguing anything in conflict with that — and I think he makes a lot of good points about how players are not the best at understanding the game even if they are the ones who play it — but I do think players’ study of advanced metrics should be in the broadest possible terms, not in any sort of detailed way.

  1. sandrafluke2012 - Jul 22, 2013 at 11:24 AM

    I trust my fellow jews to understand this

    • Reflex - Jul 22, 2013 at 1:19 PM

      Is this some sort of weird irony or a racist statement I don’t quite get?

      Also, Sandra Fluke was awesome.

      • historiophiliac - Jul 22, 2013 at 3:02 PM

        Shhh, It’s performance art — to illustrate the value of birth control.

        Bravo!!!!

      • Reflex - Jul 22, 2013 at 5:30 PM

        I seem to be getting shushed a lot lately…

      • historiophiliac - Jul 22, 2013 at 6:25 PM

        /whispers

        By me?

      • Reflex - Jul 22, 2013 at 6:36 PM

        By every female in my life. Albeit none are nearly so youthful nor attractive…

        (did I mention in an earlier thread that I find history sexy?)

      • historiophiliac - Jul 22, 2013 at 8:46 PM

        Oh, my.

      • Reflex - Jul 22, 2013 at 8:53 PM

        Something tells me your used to it. ;)

        (or maybe I’m just jealous of all the attention cur68 gets..)

      • historiophiliac - Jul 22, 2013 at 9:18 PM

        Have I been remiss? I do try to treat all my bf’s well. lol

      • Reflex - Jul 22, 2013 at 9:59 PM

        Not anymore, I’ve just graduated to bf status! Woo!

      • historiophiliac - Jul 22, 2013 at 11:23 PM

        ha ha Well, if it makes you feel better, I think you’re the only west coast one.

      • Reflex - Jul 23, 2013 at 1:13 AM

        Wow, I get a whole coast to myself. I feel so privileged.

      • historiophiliac - Jul 23, 2013 at 9:28 AM

        I’m actually older than I look, so you shouldn’t get too excited. BTW, my step-sister lives out your way. She loves it.

      • Reflex - Jul 23, 2013 at 12:43 PM

        Age is just a number. ;)

        And yes, there is lots to love out here. I’ve driven across a lot of the country, but have yet to see somewhere I’d rather live. And this was not where I was born.

        Visit sometime, Safeco is amazing to catch a game in, and unless Houston is in town you get to see at least one major league team!

  2. Bryz - Jul 22, 2013 at 11:25 AM

    Kapler seems to be echoing the very reason why Jermaine Dye was forced out of baseball. He saw he had hit 20+ homers the prior season and thought plenty of teams would be calling for his services to man their outfield, but the teams saw him as an aging slugger that was a statue on defense. Since Dye was unwilling to DH or take a minor league contract, he found himself without a job.

  3. micknangold - Jul 22, 2013 at 11:32 AM

    Gabe Kapler was a minor keague manager?

    • jwbiii - Jul 22, 2013 at 11:50 AM

      Yeah, it was an odd case. He was injured and bad and he managed for a season, felt better, got an NRI from the Brewers, made the team, and played for three more years.

    • abaird2012 - Jul 22, 2013 at 2:19 PM

      Yeah, it was right after he did “Welcome Back, Kotter’”

    • jwbiii - Jul 22, 2013 at 7:19 PM

      Kapler had the reputation as a real workout beast and the magazine covers to prove it.

      http://famewatcher.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/Gabe-Kapler-speedo-bulge.jpg

      My guess is he worked too hard trying to rehab his surgically repaired ankle and cut down on his activity level when he was managing, allowing it the rest it needed to heal.

  4. jonrando - Jul 22, 2013 at 11:49 AM

    Gabe Kapler is a great man who knows what he’s talking about. I actually got to interview the other week. It’s not necessarily about baseball, but you can tell he’s a real smart guy who knows his stuff. If anyone’s got some time and likes Fantasy Football, you should check out the interview. He drops some great knowledge:

    https://soundcloud.com/leagueplus/episode-11-gabe-kapler

  5. churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jul 22, 2013 at 11:50 AM

    but I do think players’ study of advanced metrics should be in the broadest possible terms, not in any sort of detailed way.

    Except there are many specific studies that would greatly increase the value of many players. Understanding the value of a walk for instance. Or reading MGL’s piece on fangraphs about sac bunting. Lots of players like to state “the book” for reasons behind their actions, but many times those actions are directly detrimental to scoring runs.

    Not asking them to read Tango/MGL/Dolphin’s The Book, but learning more about the game should never be a bad thing..

    • cohnjusack - Jul 22, 2013 at 12:33 PM

      “If on-base percentage is so important, then why don’t they put it up on the scoreboard?” — Jeff Francour

    • grumpyoleman - Jul 22, 2013 at 4:16 PM

      I’d love to see the guy who won’t sac bunt when the coach calls for it because some nerd told him not to.

  6. km9000 - Jul 22, 2013 at 12:15 PM

    Ballplayers take to sabermetrics about as well as the Sweathogs would, amiright?

  7. yahmule - Jul 22, 2013 at 12:31 PM

    Gabe Kapler was sort of the Roger Bernadina of his day.

  8. raysfan1 - Jul 22, 2013 at 12:38 PM

    I’d like them to understand the stats at least by the time they get to be coaches, managers, or announcers so that they don’t perpetuate ignorance.

    • km9000 - Jul 22, 2013 at 2:12 PM

      Funny how it’s probably the money guys (agents) who will be the driving force in getting the jocks to realize it’s the nerds who will help them get paid.

      Then coaches will be stuck in the middle, but since they’re much more ingrained in old school ways, they’d be the last to adopt (in general, while they’re still around).

      • grumpyoleman - Jul 22, 2013 at 4:26 PM

        The agents job is to get the player the best deal possible and sometimes they have to wade through tons of stupid stats to find one where their player seems to excel.

      • km9000 - Jul 22, 2013 at 6:48 PM

        Wouldn’t that be more of an arbitration thing? Like with the Dye example, I’d think agents have to know what GMs across the league look at and how they determine a player’s value, and give their clients an idea of what offers they can realistically expect.

  9. Baseball Beer Burritos In That Order - Jul 22, 2013 at 12:42 PM

    First of all, many players ARE using advanced metrics to evaluate themselves and to study their opponents. A great example of this is Joey Votto’s all-fields hitting philosophy – he knows that he is artificially decreasing his slugging percentage but increasing his OBP and BABIP by trying to pull the ball. Paul Goldschmidt’s rise from non-prospect to elite 1B has been attributed to his intense scrutiny of pitcher tape and combining that data with Pitch F/X to get a mental advantage.

    And to counter you point that players should “just play ball” – that’s a reductio ad absurdum argument, Craig. Stats don’t detract from a player’s ability to play ball, unless a guy gets so wrapped up in the mental aspect of the game they sacrifice their physical ability (See: Bauer, Trevor). The future of baseball is the marriage between tradition and new knowledge – I really hate to see what seems to be an argument that the players should just stay ignorant while front-office geeks do all the number crunching for them.

    • paperlions - Jul 22, 2013 at 2:27 PM

      I don’t believe that was his suggestion. He wasn’t saying (I don’t think) that players shouldn’t work to understand how they can maximize production with the tools they have. Rather, the suggestion was that if you don’t have the ability to maintain good plate discipline, then don’t worry about that aspect of the game and focus on what you are good at.

  10. vanmorrissey - Jul 22, 2013 at 1:25 PM

    Kapler co-hosted a segment on MLB Radio last week and was excellent. Very intelligent and informed and I don’t doubt he’ll make it in the Baseball media world. When he played I don’t think he cared much about it but that’s because he was full bore, full speed ahead, max player all the time and got out of baseball all he possibly could, something that sabremetrics may or may not be able to tabulate, but needs to be made aware of when reading the data.

  11. historiophiliac - Jul 22, 2013 at 2:24 PM

    I’d say that MVP Miggy does well enough hitting w/out worrying about the numbers — and even watching video apparently — but I’m sure some grouchylions would just use that as an excuse to dump on his defense. Boom!

    • km9000 - Jul 22, 2013 at 6:50 PM

      In an interview during the all-star break, he did insist he cared about his numbers.

      • historiophiliac - Jul 22, 2013 at 6:55 PM

        Oh, right, that qualifies as advanced sabermetrics.

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