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