The Microcosm of Baseball

Baseball is, to me, the most interesting sport. It’s a microcosm of all kinds of things. Personality clashes and teamwork in a workplace. An exercise in management principles. An appreciation of great athleticism. A rallying point for a city or region. My comments tend to follow a few big themes when I’m in analytical mode (sometimes, in game comments, I’m just in fan mode). These themes aren’t new to the stats types, but I find it a lot more insightful and even interesting to watch a baseball game or season progress with these in mind:

1. Don’t be fooled by small sample sizes! A month-long hot or cold streak has almost zero predictive value.

2. Do rely on long-term statistics as are best evidence of a player’s true talent level. By long-term I mean at least 3 seasons, including minors (adjusting those minor league stats based on the level of the league and park factors, etc — all Sky Sox stats need to be taken with a boulder of salt).

3. Don’t let pursuit of the perfect be the enemy of the good. Or in most cases, the good enough, or the “better than the alternatives.” I see the frustration with guys who were thought to be on the verge of breaking out into big stars but who just can’t make it to that level. That’s Ian Stewart or Chris Iannetta. Or Dexter Fowler or Jhoulys Chacin. We all wish they’d take that next step forward, instead they take a step back. They are what they are. It makes sense to upgrade from an average or below-averge player to a star or a significantly better player. That’s Mark Ellis for Marco Scutaro. It makes sense to dump a high-salaried mediocre player for a low-salaried mediocre player. That Garret Atkins c. 2010 for Ian Stewart c. 2010. It doesn’t make sense to dump an Ian Stewart when the best in-house alternative is a Chris Nelson and the most you’re willing to spend on a free agent will get you a 38 year old coming off likely career-ending neck surgery. I’ll never understand this since it seems more about frustration with what Ian Stewart could’ve been than an objective assessment of what’s best for the team going forward.

4. Baseball is the most personal performance-based of all team sports. It can be fun to talk about things like personality of a team, clubhouse cancers, a manager’s even keel, etc. But in the end most of these things are part of what psychologists call the “narrative fallacy.” We like to have our team’s success or failure tell a story. In 2009 it was all about how Jim Tracy was a marvelous steady hand at the helm guiding the club toward inevitable success. In 2011 it was all about Jim Tracy not being able to get sustained performance out of most of his players at what we think was their true talent level. The bottom line is Jim Tracy’s temperament probably had very little to do with the club’s success in 2009 and very little to do with its failure in 2011. Likewise management’s obsession with things like team character. It irritates some folks, but this is where my sarcastic side comes out only because it makes the point in the most, well, pointed way. When I see a new crop of “professional” hitters flailing away at Barry Zito’s junk just like the 2008 or 2009 or 2010 Rockies did, I can’t help but call bs on these theories. I’m not even sure Rox management believes them since I know they have a lot of very good talent evaluators, both old school and sabr variety. I think this may be more on the order of talking down to fans, trying to convince them that the club has done something that’ll make this season better than last season, and I don’t like be talked down to.

Finally, what’s taken as pessimism on my part is sometimes really pessimism. But weirdly enough, this year it’s more my frustration at the lack of optimism on the part of Rockies’ management. I’ve been telling everyone (hoping that even the Rockies brass or someone who can get to the Rockies brass) that the best sabr minds out there think the Rockies are essentially even talent-wise this year with the Giants and D’backs, and that we ought to be EXPECTING to have a competitive team. What I’m hearing is more of the “we’ll take it as it comes, high expectations last year backfired on us, who knows what’ll happen in baseball,” etc, etc. This strikes me as management pre-loading their excuses for failure, and it feeds into things like not finding an adequate stopgap solution at 3B when Casey Blake didn’t work out, or thinking it’s a really neat idea to give the 49 year old “story” the 2nd start of the year. Yeah, it’s 162 games, but I expect more fight out of management and the players in every one of those 162 games. It was “the year of the fan” on all the banners at Coors yesterday. Let’s give the fans 100%, and that doesn’t mean being o.k. with failure or refusing to spend a little to fix an obvious hole in your product

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edtheump
edtheump
8 years ago

Agbayani…

A simple and concise post…simply brilliant.

I have begun(6 months)the sabr part of my life…trying to teach myself the intracacies of the methods used.

It is a fascinating process and I would encourage all the posters to “try it out a bit”…

Keep up the excellent analysis.

At this early stage of the season it appears to me that “the boys” are simply trying much too hard instead of just “playing a game.”

We’ll see soon enough.

ProgMatinee
ProgMatinee
8 years ago

Great post. I probably disagree more with you than any other poster here, but its not over lack of research or basis for your opinion, thats for sure.

egossage
egossage
8 years ago

I applaud this post

rockymountainhigh
rockymountainhigh
8 years ago

Speaking of “do rely on long term statistics…”

What about Dex? Do the long term statistics indicate he’s always cold in April/May and get sent down to Springs and then be a part of the offensive fireworks after the ASB? If we rely on that history, then we should just have Dex stay in Springs until June rather than let him repeatedly kill the rallies in April/May.

How would you answer that Agbayani?

Agbayani
Agbayani
8 years ago

Excellent question, RMH. We really have 2 things to look at here: 1. Is Fowler really a “second half player?” 2. In general, do first half/second half splits mean anything (that is, do they have any predictive value?) 1. Career-wise, Dex has done better in the 2nd half: 807 OPS to 718 OPS. The pattern fit in 2009, 2010, and 2011 — basically, every year of his MLB career. So he sure looks like a second half player … if… Read more »

Cisco Kid
Cisco Kid
8 years ago
Reply to  Agbayani

I think my head is spinning.

GARY
GARY
8 years ago
Reply to  Agbayani

Ag,at the end of an earlier post I asked if you had any stats on Moyer’s splits between day games and night games.I just feel he would be more deceptive under the lights.Obviously you’d have to go back a couple of years.Just asking..

egossage
egossage
8 years ago
Reply to  Agbayani

Huh????

tangotiger
tangotiger
8 years ago
Reply to  Agbayani

Thank you for the shout-out. Please note that I never issued any monetary challenge, but MGL is known to issue such in the past.

Second-half performance is ever-so-slightly predictive, to the point that you’d want to weight 2nd half performance at 52% and 1st half at 48%. It’s barely noticeable, but to the extent that someone wants to argue that it’s not a zero difference, then, that’s true. It’s a non-zero difference.

Wyorox
Wyorox
8 years ago

Excellent post! “I’ll never understand this since it seems more about frustration with what Ian Stewart could’ve been than an objective assessment of what’s best for the team going forward.” Boy, does that hit the nail on the head! I knew something was screwy about the way Stewart was handled, but I could never put it into words. Perfect. On optimism: I am very troubled by a recent quote from Helton on “clubhouse culture.” When asked to define the term,… Read more »

Agbayani
Agbayani
8 years ago

Gary, you wondered about Jamey Moyer’s day/night performance differential. Interesting: almost no difference at all over his career. Just a tiny bit better overall in night games, but if I remember correctly that’s the case for most pitchers (better lighting conditions for hitters to pick up the ball). And with Moyer’s career stats we don’t really have to worry about small sample sizes — after all, he’s got 25 years of and over 4000 innings of experience. That’s one of… Read more »

GARY
GARY
8 years ago
Reply to  Agbayani

Thanks Agbayani.It took me a couple of days to remember where I asked this.As a Cub fan in the eighties,I always thought there were certain pitchers on the Cubs who did better at night and got lit up with all the day games at Wrigley.Pretty sure after your answer that it was probably what I was drinking.Thanks for the power pitcher extension of your answer as that would seem to prove that any idea I may have entertained that some… Read more »

jeem
jeem
8 years ago

Dittoes on the praise Ag. Yer posts are always right-on.

Agbayani
Agbayani
8 years ago

Tango, thanks for checking in! I think it was MGL’s challenge after all…then again, I don’t think either of you is at any risk here. … by the way, let me return the favor by suggesting again that anyone who’s interested in getting a fantastic primer on the key concepts of sabermetrics from some leading practitioners check out The Book by Tango, Lichtman, and Dolphin. And if you buy it through the link on The Book blog the authors will… Read more »

Agbayani
Agbayani
8 years ago

Just in case Tango checks back, I looked back at the $500 challenge I mentioned. It was issued by MGL, and it was to find any significance to month-to-month splits (not first half/second half splits, which, as Tango notes, do have a real but almost trivial effect).

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