2013 Reds / Aroldis Chapman / Chapmania

The Canary in the Coal Mine

The sign says otherwise. It still feels more like the corner of Vada and Votto to me. Or the intersection of Yesterday and Tomorrow, if you will. Putting aside a fairly meaningless Spring Training record, the signposts are almost all pointing in the right direction for the Reds, as we wait for the gun to go off April 1st, signifying the start of the marathon—another Big 162, as Scott Rolen calls it.

I have a confession to make. As the seasons have crept up and overtaken me, my receding hairline has revealed more of the seamhead I have begun to turn into. I’ve come to it a bit later in life than some, but nevertheless, the Sabermetric movement has penetrated my thick head and taken root. If you are a disciple of advanced metrics, you know Mr. Red and his bosses aren’t exactly on the vanguard of the analytic movement. In fact, I’m more than a little surprised the powers that be haven’t banned the seams in Mr. Red’s noggin the way they once banned facial hair on the Big Red Machine.

Yeah, the Reds aren’t the Tampa Bay Rays and it’s wishful thinking to expect their front office to turn into them overnight. I’d personally settle for an undergraduate degree in Forward Thinking. And at times, it certainly seems the Reds are heading in the direction of their more enlightened brethren, however tentatively. Upon close examination, it really is one step forward followed by another step back. For instance, this spring we’ve discovered that the Reds have a highly-valued analytics guy on staff named Sam Grossman—but, then we also heard our slugger [Bruce] obsess with yesterday’s measure of hitting—in the shape of his ongoing quest to hit .300. We’re told the erudite Joey Votto is currently reading a book lamenting our reliance on too much human judgment, in favor of a careful evaluation of situations over periods of time that yield better decision-making—but then we read Dusty Baker is itching to practice his OBP-adverse voodoo on Billy Hamilton. One day, the front office announces they are no longer buying into the Myth of the Closer and plan to move He Who Must Not Be Named out of that overrated role—only to see them appear to waffle as manager Baker, his ox gored by the decision, takes his case to the media in a divisive fight that looks to go nine full innings, if not to the Supreme Court.

It’s discouraging to me. Yet, I remind myself I can feel the ocean liner turning, however slowly.

And yet, too often it feels as if the Reds are falling back into old ways, modes of thinking about the game that are being seen by the advance guard of Baseball as faulty and obsolete. In truth, the move to a greater reliance on advanced metrics is one that takes years to achieve. You cannot merely head down to Best Buy, set yourself up with the latest Dell, then start cranking out cutting edge player evaluations. You have to know what data is valuable and what to toss. You have to know how to use it. You have to wait. You often have to accumulate years of data before drawing meaningful conclusions. Metrics can help adjust the things your lyin eyes will tell you, but it won’t ever replace traditional forms of scouting. It’s a tool. Some organizations treat that tool as a hammer, good for one task and one task only. Other organizations see it as a swiss army knife, getting much more out of their analytic investment.

The war over Sabermetrics exists primarily on blogs these days. No matter how you feel on the subject, the inescapable truth is that almost all teams are using analytics to one degree or another. And for the ones who’ve stepped to the forefront of the wave, the payoffs have been measurable. The real question these days is not whether to use it, but how.

GMs lead the way in embracing advanced metrics, but they don’t always have managers who feel the same way. Whatever Walt Jocketty’s feelings are about analytics, modest as they may be, it’s hard not to believe he’s still a chapter or two ahead of his manager, who sometimes seems as if he’s still managing the Cubs—Tinker, Evers and Chance, that is.

To complicate things, it’s not just managers, but players too, who seem resistant to this new era. David Ortiz has an opinion:

“You know, I think the computer is [expletive] up this game a lot,” Ortiz says.

Big Papi seems to have forgotten that it was a Boston computer that told management his career might not be over when his previous team, the Twins thought otherwise.

Many sportswriters—whose job it is to know better—cannot find their inner Tom Tango when called upon to offer an opinion. Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan recently wrote a scathing and schizophrenic attack on analytics, labeling WAR complete nonsense. It was a sad little piece that revealed a timeless meme: man’s fear of new information and non-traditional ideas.

“This “replacement player” who constitutes the very linchpin of the entire premise is mythical. There is nothing measurable or precise about his existence. Yet supposedly intelligent people have signed off on this utterly bogus piece of baseball idiocy.”

It’s no wonder fans are slow to buy in. It’s been said that when that audacious and revolutionary stat, the RBI, began showing up for the first time in a local newspaper, readership was so angry the sports editor was forced to remove all mention of it. Still, 100 years later, we are still listening to the likes of Ken Rosenthal comparing the Sabermetric community to the Tea Party.

 

The Reds are doing so much right. Their owner is spending as the spigot opens and new revenue streams pour forth. They hired a widely respected GM with a proven track record. They’ve rebuilt their scouting from the bombed-out shell it was once reduced to by Marge Schott. Their worldwide reach now allows Jim Stoeckel, the Reds’ director of global scouting, to find players like Donald Lutz in of all places, Germany. Chris Buckley continues to do his thing—to great results.

And yet I fear that’s not enough. In order to vouchsafe the Reds’ future, the front office is going to have to do more than lag behind the teams who continue to exploit new data and new methods of seeing the game. At the very least, they are going to have to part ways with inefficient baseball methods.  They can begin by making sure that the next generation of Reds hitters—Meseraco, Hamilton, Rodriguez, Winker—are taught to value plate discipline, not an old, stale, 1960s slugging philosophy born in the outfields of Atlanta or Chavez Ravine. That would be a start.

Aroldis Chapman is our canary in the coal mine. The upcoming decision on his future will be a clue to us—and all of Baseball—whether the Reds are forward thinking enough to begin closing the gap with those teams who’ve blazed the Sabermetric trail, or if we are content to be followers and let others lead the way.

 

61 thoughts on “The Canary in the Coal Mine

  1. I think what Dusty has done in the last few days is toeing the line of insubordination. Everyone else in the front office and the pitching coaches have been on board with making Chapman a starter. Last year he ‘closed’ out of necessity. This was to be the year he starts. And yet Dusty has done everything to undermine it. Jocketty and Castellini need to rein him in and tell him that we didn’t sign a this kid to a $30 million contract to only pitch 50-70 innings per year. But alas, there is a lack of leadership at the top if they can’t put Dusty in his place.

  2. Spot on, Mr. Fitch. I don’t believe that teams have their heads in the sand, so to speak, regarding the use of sabermetrics but it is obvious that some use it more, and in some cases, a lot more than other teams.

    Like the overuse of punting in football, it will take years for the league to realize that the statistics are out there which buck the conventional outdates wisdom of the head coaches, not to mention their fear for doing something that might cause a questioning media in the ensuing press conference.

    Also like the obsession with face-off winning percentage in hockey. There’s no statistics to back up that it equates to offensive output, yet coaches and media harp on it relentlessly. It’s what teams do in the subsequent 10-20 seconds after the faceoff that’s more important that the faceoff itself. (block a shot, win a battle on the boards, steal it back from the face-off winning team)

    I believe there’s definitely some Orwellian group-think in Sports that’s going to just take time break free from. It’s easy for individuals and a collective few to jump aboard but it just seems that we will have to be patient to experience the next turn of group-think to take over sports.

    And when that happens, we’ll produce even more sabremetrics that will blow minds but take years for that generation of group-think to take over. And so it goes, the cycle continuing.

  3. Great piece Richard, I really enjoyed it.

    I’ve had many of these same thoughts, re: hopefullness and trepidation about the Reds progress. One example I’ve given friends when talking about the Reds is the recent bullpen.

    In 2009 the Reds paid their closer Cordero $12mil which was 16% of their total payroll. This was well after Moneyball had exposed how badly the A’s ripped other teams off for “closers.” Now the Reds are paying Broxton $7mil which is less than 7% of their payroll. That seems like solid progress.

    But then you note that a) Chapman closing seems more and more likely every day, meaning we’re paying Broxton $7mil to be a setup reliever; b) Marshall is probably an equal or better pitcher than Broxton and he could be closing for cheaper; and c) JJ Hoover might be able to do the job basically for free for a few years and then be flipped to some other team once his saves have been pumped up (a la the A’s).

    So there’s real progress in some areas, but it’s slow, and the Reds are hardly pushing the envelope.

  4. The issue of hitting philosophy is enormous. The club is currently allowing it to be set by the manager. In other organizations, the GM has intervened with the firing and hiring of hitting coaches and publicly preaching the value of plate discipline and taking walks. The reality is that the Reds will never get beyond their current hacktastic philosophy until Dusty Baker is no longer the team’s manager.

  5. From the ESPN article linked above: Wilson Valdez had 101 plate appearances last season in the #2 slot. One word – flabbergasted.

  6. The Chapman decision isn’t really about sabermetrics per se as it is the old-school role of closers. One doesn’t have to know the difference between BABIP and your bippy to recognize that starters are more valuable than relief pitchers. 200 > 60. That’s about all the math you need to know.

    I agree wholeheartedly that the Chapman decision will reveal a lot about the organization. Jocketty has to know what the right move it. I’m guessing that it’s Baker’s intransigence that has caused any hesitation.

    • The Chapman decision isn’t really about sabermetrics per se as it is the old-school role of closers. One doesn’t have to know the difference between BABIP and your bippy to recognize that starters are more valuable than relief pitchers. 200 > 60. That’s about all the math you need to know.

      I agree wholeheartedly that the Chapman decision will reveal a lot about the organization. Jocketty has to know what the right move it. I’m guessing that it’s Baker’s intransigence that has caused any hesitation.

      Steve, do you think Walt will give in to Dusty on this? At some point doesn’t upper management have to put their foot down on stuff like this?

      • @gosport474: I honestly don’t have a clue. Until a few days ago, I would have said that Walt would insist on having Chapman close. But the recent tea leaves aren’t encouraging. That said, I don’t think Walt will be persuaded by Chapman’s statement about preferring to close. Baker played that up to help his own side. Normally, a GM would impose his wishes here, but Baker seems to have more political juice in the organization than a manager usually does.

        Of course, it’s completely crazy they have been debating it this long.

        • @Steve Mancuso: Well, last year he said he wanted to start and they had him close. Now he says he wants to close, so maybe they’ll have him start?

          I’ve said all offseason that I think, sadly, he’ll be the closer not just all this year, but his entire Reds career. I really, really, really hope that I’m wrong.

  7. Also, I wish I hadn’t read that Bob Ryan piece, I could feel it making me dumber. It’s really unfortunate that you are allowed to print things that are so obviously incorrect on their face in a newspaper like the Boston globe. Clearly their sports editorial staff just doesn’t know anything about it, so how could they fact check it. But you’d think that there would be some quality control in such an established publication.

    And I’m not talking about a difference of opinion. I’m talking about factually misleading statements and errors. As you point out, his central premise is that is based on a judgment call, not a numerical formula.

    However, in the article he goes through how WAR is calculated and notes that it is calculated using Batting Runs Above Average (BRAA) and Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA), which are rock solid numerical formulas. They are the “lynchpin” as he calls it, of WAR. Calculate the average that year, see how much a player differs from it. That’s it.

    The problem (and I’ve never really felt it was much of a problem) is that you end up with lots of guys who are solid enough contributors in the big leagues who are below average, and that rubbed people the wrong way. So stats guys came up with the idea of a “replacement player” which is just a standard adjustment down from average. If average is one, replacement is .6, or something like that. So there is some judgement there, but the judgement only serves to make the numbers more accessible, it doesn’t change the underlying statistics at all. It would be like taking BRAA and multiplying it by 100. It changes the way the stats look, but not what they say.

    So to go out and declare that “if you closely examine WAR” it is totally based on judgement, is just willfully ignorant and misleading.

    • @al: One interesting quibble about WAR is that Fangraphs and Baseball Reference use different concepts for replacement players. The gap is so large that it causes almost all the variance in their WAR estimates, including fairly large ones over long player careers. I read somewhere the two groups are thinking of getting together and reaching an agreed definition/standard for a replacement player. That would be helpful.

      • @Steve Mancuso: I agree that would be helpful, and I can even understand why some people are confused by “replacement level,” though that doesn’t excuse such a flagrantly flawed article.

        As I said above, I’ve never had a problem just using Wins Above Average. It’s clearly the most straightforward way, even if you end up with more negative numbers. I think people would adjust. So a guy like Heisey is a little bit below average for a LF rather than slightly above replacement level for a LF. I think people would catch on pretty quick, and then there wouldn’t be any debate at all. But that’s just me.

    • @al: Believe it or not, the Ryan piece isn’t nearly the dumbest thing I’ve read. I mean, he even *used* OPS in his article. If I really wanted to feel dumb, I could listen to tapes of Joe Morgan announcing for ESPN!!!

      That said, it was pretty silly.

  8. When I lost the live streaming of the game last night on WLW at midnight (what the name of peewaddin was that?), I had to follow the remainder of the game over an arduously delayed gameday synopsis. I found myself reflecting on the reports of this big basball meeting at Goodyear that apparently included everyone who was anyone. The reports from Dusty indicated they discussed Chapman along with a lot of other baseball stuff.

    I certainly have no inside knowledge or insight regarding WJ’s organization, but what if WJ had somply reached his limit and his popoff valve simply popped yesterday? I found WJ’s comments, regarding Chapman’s public statement regarding his desire to remain as a closer, to be uncharacteristically harsh and blunt. Maybe the meeting yesterday was nothing more than a dressing down and reminder to all hands, who was in charge and who called the shots. From a business organization and management perspective, I can certainly see such a meeting taking place and I can also see not-so-thinly veiled ultimatums being administered during that meeting.

    Evevn if such a meeting took place, it wouldn’t change the fact that a decision regarding Chapman’s future is still forthcoming.

  9. Does this article help ease anyone’s minds? http://cin.ci/Zr7IB5

    Of course, just because you have the information doesn’t mean you’ll use it correctly. Dusty sure doesn’t seem to be using this knowledge, or common knowledge.

  10. Many on here will know me as believing sabermetrics to be overthinking a simple game. I still believe this. Some sabermetric stats are useful, but I feel many sabermetric stats tend to be redundant and/or don’t really add any useful information to the overall canvas of who a player is.

    That said, sabermetrics have their uses, but then again so do “traditional” stats. It still baffles me how sabermetricians can say batting average doesn’t matter, but then drool over BABIP.

    Also, guys, don’t get so offended if someone doesn’t buy into sabermetrics. When I’ve expressed this opinion on this site before, I usually set off a mini-riot of people shouting me down. A typical comeback is that “maths are hard” or something to that effect. Yes, I did very well at math in college, thanks, but I just don’t see how they apply in some situations.

    Here’s a fun experiment: Look at world series winners for the past decade. How many of them were “trailblazing” sabermetric teams? For all the good Billy Beane did for the Oakland A’s, they never won a championship.

    • @CI3J: It’s not that batting average doesn’t matter, it’s that on base percentage is a much better indicator. Team OBP, for example, is a much better predictor of runs scored than is team batting average. No harm in looking at AVG as long as you don’t stop there. Willy Taveras looked great when one looked at his AVG of .300 but then when you realize he never walked, it should have been substantially discounted.

      The Red Sox and Yankees are both teams that have publicly valued OBP over AVG. Theo Epstein, when GM of the Red Sox (who won two World Series), very publicly said he didn’t consider RBIs when evaluating a player.

      Even Billy Beane pointed out that the Moneyball principles don’t work as well in short series. But his teams made the playoffs far more than they should have based on their payrolls. Just because they didn’t win a World Series is no reason to discount that.

      • @Steve Mancuso:

        To be truthful, I consider OBP to be a “traditional” stat because it just simply measures how often a guy gets on base for each at bat he has. Nothing wrong with that, it’s straighforward and not convoluted or trying to pull a rabbit out of a thimble.

        And yes, I do value OBP. If guys are getting on base, that means:

        A. They have a chance to score
        B. The opposing pitcher has to work harder to get out of the inning
        C. YOUR pitcher gets to rest more

        I’ve always been a fan of grinding out ABs and getting on base any way possible, even when I played the game. Know why I loved it? Because it annoyed the hell out of the other team. I’m sure, to an extent, that psychological factor is in play in the majors.

        So yes, we have an agreement, OBP is king. How do you feel about SLG or OBPS?

        • @CI3J: SLG is just a simple mathematical expression of power. It accounts for HR, doubles and triples. It’s a fairly old statistic and a decent metric for what it’s trying to measure.

          All OPS does is combine OBP and SLG. My view is that it’s a lazy stat. If you want to condense a player’s offensive output into one statistic, it might be the best. It’s a much more meaningful single stat than RBI, for instance, or HR. But why in the world would anyone want to evaluate a player’s offensive output based on one statistic?

        • @Steve Mancuso:

          @CI3J: SBut why in the world would anyone want to evaluate a player’s offensive output based on one statistic?

          You know, I would ask the same thing about WAR. It seems to be a lazy stat and doesn’t really tell you the value of the player. Is he valuable because he plays good defense? Does he hit for power? Does he get on base?

          It’s a fairly ambiguous stat, and I would wager that if you were to build an entire team JUST from looking at player’s WAR, your team wuould be a mess.

        • I would wager that if you were to build an entire team JUST from looking at player’s WAR, your team would be a mess

          Well, take a look at the following:

          1967: Yaz won Triple Crown. Yaz led with 12.3 WAR
          1966: Frank Robinson won Triple Crown — Robinson led with 7.3 WAR
          1956: Mickey Mantle won Triple Crown — Mantle led with 11.0 WAR
          1947: Ted Wiliams won Triple Crown — Williams led with 9.6 WAR
          1942: Ted Williams won Triple Crown — Williams led with 10.2 WAR
          1937: Joe Medwick won Triple Crown — Ducky led with 8.1 WAR
          1934: Lou Gehrig won Triple Crown — Iron Horse led with 10.1 WAR
          1933: Jimmie Foxx won Triple Crown — Foxx led with 9.0 WAR
          1933: Chuck Klein won Triple Crown — Klein led with 7.3 WAR
          1925: Rogers Hornsby won Triple Crown — Hornsby led with 10.1 WAR
          1922: Rogers Hornsby won Triple Crown — Hornsby led with 10.0 WAR
          1909: Ty Cobb won Triple Crown — Cobb led with 9.5 WAR
          1901: Nap Lajoie won Triple Crown — Lajoie led with 8.3 WAR

          For a “lazy” stat, WAR does some serious heavy lifting here, yeah? As complicated and controversial as the formula for WAR is, it’s remarkable how it could look back in time and still reflect the worth of these Triple Crown players. You would think that if the formula was deeply flawed, it would have undervalued one of these guys–and yet it didn’t.

          And, of course, because WAR is more than just a HR and RBI stat, because it attempts to measure the total player, it didn’t leave out things like defense and base stealing, which helped it correctly identify that Trout should have been the MVP this year, not Cabrera.

        • @Richard Fitch: The funniest thing about the whole Trout v. Cabrera thing to me was that fangraphs did this really great analysis of only offense at the plate and still came up with Trout.

          The reason? Because Cabrera hit into a ton of double plays. They even made the point that if you’re going to count a guys RBI (triple crown argument) don’t you want to count the number of baserunners he erased too?

          So in the end, the whole, offense v. total package argument wasn’t really necessary. Trout was a better offensive player too, not counting baserunning or defense.

        • Well, take a look at the following:

          1967: Yaz won Triple Crown. Yaz led with 12.3 WAR
          1966: Frank Robinson won Triple Crown — Robinson led with 7.3 WAR
          1956: Mickey Mantle won Triple Crown — Mantle led with 11.0 WAR
          1947: Ted Wiliams won Triple Crown — Williams led with 9.6 WAR
          1942: Ted Williams won Triple Crown — Williams led with 10.2 WAR
          1937: Joe Medwick won Triple Crown — Ducky led with 8.1 WAR
          1934: Lou Gehrig won Triple Crown — Iron Horse led with 10.1 WAR
          1933: Jimmie Foxx won Triple Crown — Foxx led with 9.0 WAR
          1933: Chuck Klein won Triple Crown — Klein led with 7.3 WAR
          1925: Rogers Hornsby won Triple Crown — Hornsby led with 10.1 WAR
          1922: Rogers Hornsby won Triple Crown — Hornsby led with 10.0 WAR
          1909: Ty Cobb won Triple Crown — Cobb led with 9.5 WAR
          1901: Nap Lajoie won Triple Crown — Lajoie led with 8.3 WAR

          For a “lazy” stat, WAR does some serious heavy lifting here, yeah?As complicated and controversial as the formula for WAR is, it’s remarkable how it could look back in time and still reflect the worth of these Triple Crown players.You would think that if the formula was deeply flawed, it would have undervalued one of these guys–and yet it didn’t.

          And, of course, because WAR is more than just a HR and RBI stat, because it attempts to measure the total player, it didn’t leave out things like defense and base stealing, which helped it correctly identify that Trout should have been the MVP this year, not Cabrera.

          Thank you for proving my point, in that you look at the offensive output of those players and you wonder: how much of their wins above replacement came JUST from their offensive output and not their defense or other contributions?

          Consider someone like Edgar Martinez. In 1995, he clocked in at 7.7 WAR. Wow, that’s awesome, let’s clone a bunch of Edgar Martinezes and make a team of them!

          You go ahead and do that. I’ll watch and feel sorry for any pitcher that has to pitch with that defense behind him.

        • Consider someone like Edgar Martinez. In 1995, he clocked in at 7.7 WAR. Wow, that’s awesome, let’s clone a bunch of Edgar Martinezes and make a team of them!

          You go ahead and do that. I’ll watch and feel sorry for any pitcher that has to pitch with that defense behind him.

          You’re kidding, right? I’ll take a lineup with 9 Edgar Martinezes 7 days a week (twice on Sundays), even with 8 of ‘em fielding. We’d win 110 games.

    • For all the good Billy Beane did for the Oakland A’s, they never won a championship.

      So, because advanced metrics can’t carry the burden of tiny payrolls, injuries, etc., and produce championships on its own, it’s to be relegated to the trash heap. Hey, Sabermetrics doesn’t cure cancer. Get it out of here.

      And it’s not that AVG doesn’t matter, it’s simply that it’s woefully lacking and there are better measurements around today. Joey goes 1 for 3, hitting a triple. Zack Cozart beats out an infield hit. AVG says they are the same hitter: .333. Does that make sense?

    • Look at world series winners for the past decade. How many of them were “trailblazing” sabermetric teams? For all the good Billy Beane did for the Oakland A’s, they never won a championship.

      I think about it this way… if they didn’t practice their philosophy, they wouldn’t have been in the playoffs in the first place. Tampa Bay, who have the adulation of nine people in the greater Tampa/St. Pete metro area on a game by game basis, competes against two teams with the oldest money around… and competes well. So, I disregard that “winning it all” is the only measure of success.

      • @Matt WI:

        Well, don’t look now, but the Reds have made the playoffs 2 out of the past 3 years and are favored to go again this year. So, even though they suck at the all-important sabermetrics, they must be doing something right.

        • @CI3J: Sure, it’s the proverbial “more than one way to skin a cat”… comes down to a question of efficiency and long term efficacy. One thing they’ve done very well that jives with sabermetics is recognize defense and pitching. As Mancuso has pointed out, even as money streams grow, the Reds still need to be efficient as possible and have less room to be “wrong” in their choices. It’s a percentages game, and sabermetics tend to give you better long term odds, even if you won’t always be a winner.

        • @Matt WI:

          If that were true, why does it seem like teams’ “windows” for competing, sabermetrics or no, are basically the same? Steve mentioned the Red Sox. Yeah, they were good for a few years, and now they are “rebuilding”…. Just like any team before sabermetrics came into vogue, right?

          Look, I get it, sabermetrics are just another tool for evaluating players and teams, but I think their importance has been overstated by people who place too much emphasis on them. By and large, the game and the ebb and flow of successful teams has remained unchanged.

        • @Matt WI:

          If that were true, why does it seem like teams’ “windows” for competing, sabermetrics or no, are basically the same? Steve mentioned the Red Sox. Yeah, they were good for a few years, and now they are “rebuilding”…. Just like any team before sabermetrics came into vogue, right?

          Look, I get it, sabermetrics are just another tool for evaluating players and teams, but I think their importance has been overstated by people who place too much emphasis on them. By and large, the game and the ebb and flow of successful teams has remained unchanged.

          Sabermetrics can’t stop players from getting old, and drafting will always have a risk of failure.

          I am curious if the draft success rate has increased since sabermetrics has become more prevalent. That would be an interesting case study for someone with more time on their hands.

        • I am curious if the draft success rate has increased since sabermetrics has become more prevalent.That would be an interesting case study for someone with more time on their hands.

          Yes it would, and it would go a long ways towards proving the worth of sabermetrics or possible lack thereof.

        • @CI3J: I don’t understand this. I completely disagree with it.

          You’re talking about two different things:

          1. How to predict what major league players will do in the next X years.

          2. How to predict what a high school or college player will do in the pros.

          The former is not a simple problem, but sabermetrics can be and is widely used as one significant input.

          The latter is a very, very, very hard problem for anyone (scouts or sabermetrics), because you are observing or analyzing players playing a different game, basically. I’d lean on scouting here much more than I would for #1, but if scouts were so good as to be able to reliably do this, they’d make a lot more money.

        • @Hank Aarons Teammate:

          Plus, you’re naturally limited in data, which is part of why college players became preferred over high schools-More data + better data (though now some MLB teams now seem to believe HS players are being undervalued again, so maybe this is shifting).

        • @CI3J: I do think an unfair sense is placed on sabermetics followers that there is a belief that it is somehow infallible, because it’s not. Of course there are things that can’t be quantified. That Josh Becket was a tool didn’t come up in a search on his other “tools.” It’s simply a good process to reduce the amount of error that goes into evaluation.

        • @CI3J: The Red Sox, in particular, were heavily focused on sabermetrics. So you can thank Bill James for breaking the curse of the bambino and all that. Literally, he was hired by the Red Sox in 2003. The Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and 2007. (Theo Epstein, another sabermetrics fan, might have something to do with this, I dunno…:lol”)

          Go back and check the old Yankee rosters. They weren’t shelling out big bucks for oddities like Vlad Guerrero. They were signing & trading for (and drafting) guys that sabermetrics love.

          Sabermetrics isn’t even cutting edge anymore. It’s the bare minimum now, the front office and fans are just slow to catch on, because of the lag factor (old managers, old media outlets, general laziness of fans).

        • @CP: Honestly, I hope there are tons of fans (of other teams) that feel the way you do, and put pressure on their teams to ignore good evalutaions. I hope there are tons of writers like Ryan who yell “get off my lawn” without knowing anything. I hope all the other GM’s listen to that stuff too.

          I just hope the Reds don’t.

    • Also, guys, don’t get so offended if someone doesn’t buy into sabermetrics. When I’ve expressed this opinion on this site before, I usually set off a mini-riot of people shouting me down.

      This, this right here is the problem with articles like Ryan’s. I go through and very carefully describe exactly how he is just wrong, how it’s not a matter of opinion it’s a matter of not understanding the statistic he’s writing about (or of willfully manipulating his audience), and how everyone should be offended on the basis of caring about journalism at all.

      And the response is, don’t be so upset when people don’t buy into sabermetrics. Like it’s some sort of lifestyle choice like wearing sandals with socks.

      Well it’s not. Everyone is free to use whatever quantitative or qualitative measures of evaluation they feel help them enjoy the game more. Free country. But you can’t just go around saying that this stat is BS, or there’s a War on! and not expect to get called for it when you are obviously and flagrantly just wrong.

  11. Depending on where one goes, the level of sabermetric knowledge and buy in, varies dramatically. This is true of baseball teams, media outlets, and baseball blogs. Back on Fay’s blog when I used to post regularly, I was considered to be very statistically oriented. I am a SABR member and do lots of statistical research. However I’m also a former player so there are things I do think the statistics miss. So here at Redleg Nation, I am probably considered more “old-school” than many of the posters. Bearing that in mind, here are my two-cents on where the Reds are at:

    The Reds’ don’t place enough emphasis on OBP. Yes, a lot of this has to do with Baker but it goes deeper than that. The entire organization places an emphasis on an aggressive approach at the plate. That said, I don’t believe that Baker’s message to Billy Hamilton was about forgoing walks. I think many are reading too much into what he said because of a general bias against Baker. How I read it was he wanted Hamilton to stop looking at so many strikes, particularly in two-strike counts. I personally think that Baker, in general however does preach a little too much over-aggression. While I like aggressive hitters, I am more for selective aggression. In other words, being selective and looking for a good pitch to hit early in the count and protecting the plate later in the count. Also changing one’s approach depending on game circumstances. Maybe try harder to work a walk when the team really needs base-runners but be more aggressive even swinging at a marginal pitch if it’s to drive a runner in from third with less than two outs. Aggression isn’t always a bad thing.

    As for Chapman, I can see both sides of the coin. My position has been clear however and Chapman stating his preference to close only makes me more hesitant to want to move him. I am inclined to agree with Baker in that a happy player is generally a more productive player. If Chapman doesn’t want to start, he may not work as hard as he needs to as a starter. I’ve always been against trading Chapman but if the front-office really wants him in the rotation but the player doesn’t nor does his manager; maybe trading Chapman is the right thing to do. To me it’s preferable than having him underperform in the rotation and lowering his value.

    That brings me to my biggest issue with complete reliance on statistical analysis. The fact is that the game isn’t played in a simulator. The game is played on a field by humans. These humans perform differently based on many factors including but not limited to: health, comfort level, emotions, their relationship with teammates, their relationship with the coaching staff, and of course talent.

    In my opinion the best uses of statistical analysis is in comparing players past performance with their peers or with other players throughout the history of the game. It is also a useful predictor of future performance with the understanding that it may not tell the whole story. More often than not it should but there is still room for what experience and instinct tells you. Statistics are also very useful in confirming what your experience and instinct is telling you and in making a final decision on a player who you may be on the fence about.

    As for WAR in particular, the Bob Ryan article is preposterous. I do have some issues with its use by many in the sabermetric community as a “be all, end all” statistic but it is a powerful statistic for comparing players. My biggest issue with it is its strong dependence on defensive metrics which are far from perfect but even those imperfect statistics paint a clearer picture as sample size increases. That’s why WAR, OPS+, RC+, and a few other select statistics are important tools in my opinions of players. These tools are too powerful to dismiss.

    One of the reasons I like Redlegnation so much is the intelligent debate to be found here. I find that even most opinions I disagree with have some basis in fact and reason. Conversations like those brought about by this post are what make baseball such a great game.
    Sorry that was so long-winded.

    • @LWBlogger: Here’s my issue: in your post you say that you have problems with both the “complete reliance on statistical analysis” and with people who use WAR as the “be all, end all statistic. I have never heard any team or any fan ever aspouse either of those things. They feel totally made up to me.

      It feels like a pretty classic push back on new ideas too. People get uncomfortable and say “we can’t throw out everything that used to be,” but no one ever said that we should. So what’s the actual problem?

      • @al: What I’ve tended to see, not so much from people here, is people saying Player A is better than Player B due to a straight up comparison of their respective WAR ratings over a given year (say 2012). What that usually shows is that Player A was better than Player B that year but it doesn’t always tell the whole story. This is especially the case when the WAR ratings of the two players are close.

        Like I said, I don’t see that so much here at Redleg Nation but I have seen it. There really are people out there who get lazy and use WAR as the entire basis of their opinion on a player.

  12. To me, the question is, in the case of Chapman, are we dealing with a case of too small a sample size? Is it correct to assume that Chapman’s ridiculously amazing numbers from last year will hold up as a starter? Of course, all should expect a degree of mean reversion after an outstanding performance. The concern, however, should be that once he faces a much broader sample of hitters, the same hitters more times (therefore their adaptations to him), a broader sample of situations/stadiums/weather and temperature, etc. will we see more than just mean reversion?

    And now a question from the qualitative side of my brain, can someone tell me if Chapman has developed a 2nd or 3rd pitch? He had the makings of another pitch last year, but it was not used often if I remember correctly.

    • @joelie1274: His slider is a plus pitch but he sometimes seems to lose command of it. Maybe that wouldn’t be the case with more use, I don’t know. I thought he also threw a change-up but in one of the pictures I saw of him from spring training this year, he is holding the ball like one would when throwing a splitter. Fangraphs Pitchf/x data indicates a fastball, slider, and change-up.

      • @Joelie1274:

        For what this is worth, when Chapman pitched against the Giants several days ago, one of the Giants’ announcers, Mike Krukow, was KILLING the idea of Chapman going to the rotation, calling him unpolished, just a thrower, not a pitcher, etc. … And Chapman played right into his hands by having a very wobbly first inning………….

        But in the fourth inning, after Chapman had found a bit of a groove, he threw a changeup to Hunter Pence that had Krukow and the play by play announcer raving. Krukow said something like, “If he can get that pitch, plus his fastball and a breaking ball, forget about it.”

        It made sense to work on the change during spring training. But why go through that if he’s going to the pen this season, where nobody would want to see Chapman getting beat on his third- or fourth-best pitch with the game on the line?

  13. Which is more important, your right hand or your left?

    Answer: the one you don’t have. Scouting and Metric help each other.

  14. Let me add a different dimension to the Chapman situation.

    There is an undercurrent among observers that perhaps right now at this point in time Leake might be the better person for the Reds to have as the 5th starter at the beginning of the the season.

    Let’s presume for a minute that the Reds baseball staff decides this is what they believe is in the best interest of the team.

    So whither Chapman? Starting a AAA or relieving at the MLB level?

    • Let me add a different dimension to the Chapman situation.

      There is an undercurrent among observers that perhaps right now at this point in time Leake might be the better person for the Reds to have as the 5th starterat the beginning of the the season.

      Let’s presume for a minute that the Reds baseball staff decides this is what they believe is in the best interest of the team.

      So whither Chapman? Starting a AAA or relieving at the MLB level?

      I wish it was starting in AAA, but it’ll be relieving at the MLB level b/c he’s their “closer”. The Reds still have control of Chapman for 2014/2015, I don’t understand why they’ve established this false dichotomy.

      • @Brian Van Hook: Why go through all this starter preparation if he’s returning to the bullpen? Because this starter preparation less spring was partially responsible for his great 2012 season, and they don’t want him to change anything after being so successful.

        @CP: This spring Chapman has provided a big news story with many Reds fans following along, checking for updates each day. It’s attracted a lot more attention in Reds country than the backup catcher and backup shortstop battles. I think the Reds want attention – they are a sports team – and the Chapman situation is doing that for them.

        The Reds have taken great care to avoid ending all discussion, leaving the door open for a future conversion to the rotation. Even now they won’t announce their plan for 2013, with only a few days left of spring training – the only reason for that is that they don’t want to lose their audience and for fans to lose interest in the final days.

        • @redsfanman: I’m sorry, but this is not a soap opera. They aren’t trying to score a sweeps month win with ratings. Looking divided and uncentered is not good news. That’s how they want to brand themselves? The family that squabbles and can’t decide how to run themselves? This doesn’t come off as exciting, it’s irritating and unprofessional and only sets them up for scorn one way or another. I know you like the public relations angle, but it really shouldn’t apply here. You know what gets fans actually interested? Winning.

        • @redsfanman: I’m sorry, but this is not a soap opera. They aren’t trying to score a sweeps month win with ratings. Looking divided and uncentered is not good news. That’s how they want to brand themselves? The family that squabbles and can’t decide how to run themselves? This doesn’t come off as exciting, it’s irritating and unprofessional and only sets them up for scorn one way or another. I know you like the public relations angle, but it really shouldn’t apply here. You know what gets fans actually interested? Winning.

          Since when is winning the priority in spring training? Spring training is about seeing guys who won’t make the team (like Billy Hamilton) and finalizing the final roster spots.

          I think Reds fans here have turned this into a soap opera. Dusty vs Price. Chapman vs the front office. Whose side is Walt Jocketty REALLY on in this decisive battle between scouting and Sabermetrics? Whose side is Chapman really on? Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion!

          I think these ‘squabbles’ have been massively blown out of proportion by the fans, especially for an organization with a history of keeping decisions quiet. I do like the public relations angle, and I think the Reds know that in order to increase ticket sales they should get fans excited about the season, and that’s just what they’re doing by delaying an announcement. They don’t want to announce a controversial decision and give fans a month to stew over how disappointed they are.

        • @redsfanman: Winning in spring training isn’t a priority at all. Not sure where you got that. I meant formulating a strategy to field the best team is what they should be concentrating on, not putting on a dog and pony show for web hits. Are people really buying tickets right now based on Chapman starting or not starting drama? Doubtful. The squabbles are real: Pitching coach and GM say “He should start, it’s something we want.” Manager says “I don’t like that.” It looks bad. You’re suggesting fans are more willing to spend money on a team that presents itself as filled with factions and possible locker room distractions than one that is cohesive, focused, and ready to win? When I said winning gets fans excited, I meant that’s what will put people in seats, not some bizarro public relations stunt.

          It makes it sound like a minor league act: “Come April 1, find out how we’re going to use our players! It’s a crazy position raffle! Votto to SS! Chapman to close! Hanigan in RF? Where the wheels stops, nobody knows! It’ll be great gang! Come on out!”

          Whether or not the fans don’t have a month to “stew over how disappointed they are” is silly… people will feel what they feel whenever the decision gets made.

        • @Matt WI: You said winning is what gets fans interested. Well, not in spring training, win or lose in spring training and nobody really cares.

          I think we completely agree that any well run organization would have made these decisions (and formulated a strategy) about certain guys’ roles (Chapman, Leake, Broxton) weeks ago, and as a result I think they did. They’re just delaying making an announcement, turning it into an attention-building soap opera.

          What they’ve accomplished is building up a news story, something for fans to discuss at the bar, over dinner, or at the water cooler. Or on Blogs, Podcasts, or 700WLW radios shows. Hey, what’s your opinion? And yours? And yours? Geez it’ll be exciting when the season finally starts. I think people who are excitedly following the Reds this spring will tend to be very excited when the season finally starts, moreso than people who heard nothing out of spring training camp.

          Personally I think these ‘factions’ suggest that there are different sides that different people can support. There’s something in the Reds organization for sabermetricians, there’s some old-school aspect to the Reds, some people who are looking at 2013, others who are looking to the future. There’s something for everyone, willing to consider all the options, not just a group of fools blindly heading in a way that nobody wants them to go.

          I believe that a lot of people will be disappointed with any decision proposed by the Reds regarding Chapman, it’s just a matter of who. Most of the criticism, I believe, will be washed away when opening day comes… when everyone begins focusing instead on the daily Reds games. Come opening day what’s done is done, and it’ll be time for baseball. Everyone in the organization will be asked for their thoughts on the outcome of yesterday’s game, rather than their thoughts on Chapman’s situation. I definitely think that’s a big reason as to why they are delaying an announcement.

        • @Matt WI: The way they’ve handled the situation with Chapman nobody can argue that the took the situation lightly or rushed to a quick and hasty decision. Instead it’s remained a topic of constant discussion and debate. They didn’t jump to a decision due to failing to include Sabermetrics in their decision or a make limited, one-sided outlook from top to bottom in the organization. They’ll have to make a final controversial decision on the matter in the next week, but afterwards I feel like everyone should believe that their views and wishes were given consideration, even if they were eventually rejected.

          I’m trying to think of another example of the opposite – here’s one – Willy Taveras. Didn’t the Reds think about that beforehand? Or Eric Milton. In Chapman’s case they are making a point to show that they’re considering all the options.

  15. Re: Trout vs Cabrera on the MVP:

    Yep, so some statistics say that Trout was the better player than Cabrera in every shape and form.

    Unfortunately, more goes into cosideration for MVP than just statistics. Just like all aspects of the game of baseball.

    • Re: Trout vs Cabrera on the MVP:

      Yep, so some statistics say that Trout was the better player than Cabrera in every shape and form.

      Unfortunately, more goes into cosideration for MVP than just statistics. Just like all aspects of the game of baseball.

      Not defense though :( . Also, who votes for the MVP? Not exactly a group known for being rational.

  16. I’m sorry, but I just don’t think Chapman starting or closing is going to make or break our season. I think there’s much more needed than considering who our 5th starter is going to be. Even if it is Chapman, it’s only going to be for part of the season.

    My main concern is with:
    1) production from the 4 hole
    2) if the entire staff can repeat last season’s performance

    The ones making a big thing out of this are those posting about it. Being a member of the “Chapman watch” is the least of my worries.

  17. Regarding Chapman, the only thing that makes this conversation at this point is that there are HUGE wagers at stake on this site. We’ll know who won the bet.

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