February 18, 2010

Keith Law On The Red Sox And Stats

ESPN's Keith Law was interviewed on the Dale & Holley show yesterday.

He talked about the Red Sox farm system (he ranked it #2 in MLB, with the Yankees at #25, by the way; FU MFY) and the edge it gives them in any upcoming bidding for Adrian Gonzalez, and Theo Epstein's increased attention to run prevention.

Law also talked about more advanced metrics, when (as you might expect) answering a question about you-know-who:
RBIs are useless. ... It's not a stat I've looked at since I stopped playing fantasy baseball eight years ago. And batting average is not useless, but it's totally incomplete ... a single and a home run are treated as if they're exactly equal. Well, they're not. ...

Do you really think that RBIs are useless, rather than just overvalued?

Totally useless. In terms of measuring the value of a player's performance, I find them absolutely useless because 1) it's determined by how many opportunities you get — the guys who hit in front of you in the lineup, how often did they get on base; and 2) there's no particular skill to driving runs in. There's no such thing as a hitter who is significantly better in RBI opportunities. ...

Some guys take advantage of those opportunities that are there for them, and some don't. Some guys have a knack for driving people in.

I disagree with that. I do not think that's true ...

Do you think that the new metrics in baseball are a tough sell to the person who grew up thinking that the sacrifice bunt is an essential part of baseball?

They scare people. They really do. They scare people in the industry. I've noticed that with a lot of other writers. I take criticism, I took criticism for the Cy Young vote back in November [he did not include Chris Carpenter on his ballot] ... I do think ultimately you see a lot of guys who are scared, who are threatened who, "I have understood baseball this way for 50 years, you can't tell me I'm wrong — I don't want to hear that I'm wrong, that everything I thought about baseball was wrong or misleading, that I had a bad understanding of this game." ...
After I finished reading this interview, I did something that I almost never do: I glanced a bit further down at the first few readers' comments. That is ALWAYS a mistake. The large number of people who seemingly boast of their closed-mindedness, who take excessive pride in their ignorance, is staggering. And, sadly, they procreate.

When it comes to "clutch hitters", if you look at who excels in various hitting categories -- with runners second and/or third or "close & late" situations, things like that -- you will notice that the same guys do not appear at the top of the list year after year. And there are always some odd names. You know who the top 10 clutch hitters from 1960 to 2004, the players who (as Tom Ruane says here) "were able to raise the level of their game when it mattered most (or at least when runners were on second or third)"?
                           NO RISP       W/RISP

Bill Spiers 3430 2548 .607 882 .722 .115
Mike Sweeney 3760 2673 .764 1087 .867 .103
Pat Tabler 3948 2815 .626 1133 .725 .099
Jose Valentin 4882 3678 .666 1204 .765 .099
Wayne Garrett 3308 2557 .557 751 .643 .087
Sandy Alomar 4748 3831 .519 917 .592 .073
Tony Fernandez 7972 6100 .665 1872 .736 .071
Rennie Stennett 4554 3520 .612 1034 .682 .070
Joe Girardi 4150 3117 .596 1033 .666 .070
Rick Miller 3910 2991 .599 919 .668 .069

(BPS - batting average plus slugging percentage)
In a nutshell, coming through "in the clutch" is something that has not been proven to be an actual, sustainable talent.


9casey said...

Baseball is alot more fun , when you base it on what you see, not what you are told.....

There are way too many stats in baseball.

I don't need Tito aand Theo and to tell me that JD Drew is better than people think because his stats say he is....I watch him play . He is a decent baseball player , thats it, he was overvalued by the Red Sox, and they constantly tell he was not , by throwing stats at us...

Most of us watch 162 Red Sox games , we know who can play and who can't.

Sorry about the ranting, but in my opinion stats are becoming a huge part of baseball, and I don't agree with that.....

redsock said...

Rant away. Do not apologize.

they constantly tell he was not , by throwing stats at us

By telling us about this actual on-field performance, you mean? What he did to help the team win? That's propaganda! :>)

Most of us watch 162 Red Sox games , we know who can play and who can't.

But if all we did was watch, would you be able to tell me who walked more last year -- Bay or Yook? Or who were the top 3 pitchers in Ks last year?

There are way too many stats in baseball.

We should get rid of the shitty ones, then. That'll help.

Zenslinger said...

One often hears a fan say, "My team [wins/loses] every time [/almost every time] I go to the park. Maybe if I didn't go to the game they'd win the World Series!"

Of course the latter statement is at least half in jest. But, but...that is a person's authentic experience of baseball. Does it mean it has any objective truth?

The suspicion that this kind of impression is wrong is the beginning of an interest in stats. How can I correct for the bias that arises when it seems every time I have glanced at the TV lately, I see JD Drew looking at strike four?

For me, stats don't hurt the fun of baseball because all the stats in the world don't tell you what's going to happen next.

Zenslinger said...

Holy Christ, did I really say "strike four" in my last post?

L-girl said...

Holy Christ, did I really say "strike four" in my last post?

Apparently so, but it made sense in context.

* * * *

Everyone enjoys baseball in her/his own way, and no one's way is any better or worse than anyone else's. It's as ridiculous to put down stats or people who enjoy them as it is to put down people for not enjoying them.

For me the frustration comes from people who seem to refuse to understand what stats are for and why they're used.

As Casey says, no one needs them to enjoy watching any given game. But at the same time, everyone who enjoys that game should realize that no one can remember everything about past performance, in their head, at all times, and that important decisions about team composition have to be based on more than what one person can remember at any moment - or what the player did last week. And that's why we need them - one big reason, anyway.

Whether or not a fan enjoys playing with them and thinking about them is a separate issue. That's just personal taste, what makes each of us tick.

L-girl said...

This kind of discussion reminds me of, when I was in university, an English major, analyzing literature, people would say we (we who liked analyzing lit) were sucking the life our of the work, just read it and enjoy it, don't intellectualize over it.

But to me, analyzing literature (or any art) deepens my appreciation for it. The more I understand, the more I can appreciate it.

I think that's what baseball stats do for a lot of people.

9casey said...

L-girl said...

The more I understand, the more I can appreciate it.

There is the difference in us, the more I understand something the more I hate it...:)

Zenslinger said...
Holy Christ, did I really say "strike four" in my last post?

Zen , it fits so well with JD though.

Zenslinger said...

I guess I should have played my gaffe off as legit.

Jere said...

"Strike four" was the line of the year, IMO.