This tactic is starting to get really old.
Dear Members of the Baseball Media, before you attempt to reference a statistic you’re intentionally bashing, it would be prudent to actually learn what it is.
Our newest culprit is Chris Gasper of the Boston Globe who decided to try and tackle the subject with a completely unbiased and objective analysis.
For our viewers at home, my apologies if my last sentence overloaded your sarcasm meters. I’ll replace them if they weren’t very expensive.
While using combative and derisive language, Gasper drew comparisons of newer baseball statistics to the masses being slaves to technological advances; these very same advances that fuel his blog. Right.
I thought I’d go through Gasper’s post piece by piece and see what we could find. Come enjoy the ride!
Those statistics have become more and more esoteric as the game has evolved to be evaluated less through the lens of a pair of binoculars and more by Bill James and binary code.
Esoteric, eh? The same esoteric that means understood by or meant for only the select few who have special knowledge or interest? Who’s holding back information to keep the formulation and analysis of these statistical metrics in the dark? Baseball Prospectus’ latest creation, SIERA, was explained in detail.
One of the biggest misconceptions about advanced statistics and baseball is that you need a statistics degree to understand it. Not knowing exactly how BABIP is calculated doesn’t prevent you from understanding how it measures the idea of “balls finding holes”. Not knowing the specifics behind the scale UZR uses (which I agree could be normalized differently to make it more useable) doesn’t prevent you from looking at the normal ranges and breaking them up into poor, average, and good, nor does it prevents you from understanding the overall concept, that defense shouldn’t be measure in simply balls a fielder makes a play on.
UZR has been wrongly cited as the guiding force in the defensive-minded construction of the 2010 Red Sox. The team doesn’t even use UZR. It has its own in-house defensive measurement.
Fan Graphs beat me to this comment, and Gasper is referring to Epstein saying that “I don’t think that number is legitimate. We do our own stuff and it showed that he is above average.”
Of course he’d say that. The last thing he’d do is publicly claim his best trade chip somehow has a deficiency! I highly doubt this conversation would ever occur:
Epstein: “Hey Milwaukee, Jacoby is a bad defensive centerfielder; that’s why we signed Cameron. So, you still want him for Fielder, right?”
Like Dave Cameron on Fangraphs said, the proof is simple. If Ellsbury’s centerfield defense was above average, there wouldn’t have been a reason to move him from that position and sign a 37 year old centerfielder who’s value lies mostly in his glove.
Actually, Youk it is. According to fangraphs.com, Youkilis’s 5.7 UZR was the third highest in the majors among first basemen with 500 innings or more of play, meaning he is considered 5.7 percent better than an average first baseman.
Actually, this means he’s 5.7 runs above average. Fangraphs even gives you a detailed explanation that you apparently weren’t interested in reading. That took me 5 seconds to find on Google, by the way.
Ellsbury had a minus-18.6 UZR, the lowest among 31 major league center fielders with 500 innings. Still, it’s hard to believe a guy who stole home can’t cover enough ground in center.
Marty Barrett stole home once. Can he play centerfield?
“I still don’t really know what it is,” said Ellsbury of UZR. What he does know is that he is not sure computer calculations can measure defensive ability.
“I think baseball people can tell who is a good defensive player, who has range,” said Ellsbury. “You ask players in the league and they’ll tell you. I think it’s people that know the game and watch on a consistent basis that can tell.”
Like Theo Epstein, who replaced you? Is he a “baseball person”? What do I need to be a “baseball person”? Where do I get these special credentials? Whether or not Ellsbury, his teammates, or Dan Shaughnessy choose to admit it, his play in center last year was below par, particularly his judgement and route-running. This was easily discernible to the casual fan, the fan who watches every game, and this particular Fire Brand author who watched him live in 30+ home games.
Does that mean Ellsbury is doomed to be a terrible defender? Of course not. Look how improved Derek Jeter’s defense was in 2009, after taking criticism from “baseball people” in previous years. How convenient his UZR reflected that as well!
“My personal opinion is everything in this world has gotten so technologically savvy. You can break down the game of baseball on a computer 100 times, but the bottom line is people got to go out there and play the game,” Youkilis said.
And statistics record what these humans did, and allow us to analyze what happened after the fact. Scouting can be subjective and inconsistent, how many scouts unanimously agree on a player’s worth? How to we decide who’s correct? Conceptions about players can fade from memory, how do we compare what a player does in 2007 versus 2009? Is anyone’s memory that powerful to remember all of these data points? Why shouldn’t we arm ourselves with data in order to properly test and validate what we believe? Statistics are here to work in concert with our observations, not to be a disjointed antagonist. By repeatedly deriding them like they are nothing but nerdy voodoo is highly shortsighted and inflammatory. If you wish to make a counterpoint, where is your why? Wrapping a claim in a condescending and dismissive attitude with no attempt to establish any proof is laughable.
One of the things I love about writing for Firebrand is that you, our readers, are a giant mixed bag of stat friendly and stat skeptical. The best part about that, is the extremists on both sides have softened stances, and it’s helped advance our own perceptions of the Olde Towne Team.
Articles like Gasper’s set us back. It puts us back at odds, while insulting each other’s intelligence. I expect more from “baseball people” than controversial articles with no real substance or research. I try not to expect this attitude from other Boston writers; it’s disappointing when any of them stoop to this level.