Wednesday, September 29, 2010

6 comments Murray Chass Continues the Battle Against Numbers, Says He Can Look In the Mirror To Know How Old He Is

Dylan Murphy of "Pardon the Opinion" and I did another podcast this week. We are going to try and make this a weekly thing if all possible. We did an NFL review of sorts from this past weekend. Unfortunately, the podcast file got corrupted and could not post at all so I can't link what we said since it apparently doesn't exist anymore. It's frustrating, but those are the breaks I guess and there isn't much to be done about it.

I didn't have anything to post for today, so I will call an audible (sports-related term being used on a sports-related site. How clever!). I am going to look at a rarity today, a not-so-bad column by Steve Phillips and then Murray Chass will continue his hatred against numbers.

First, I will get to the Steve Phillips column. I don't agree with everything he writes in this column and some of the ways he justifies his picks aren't the best, but Steve Phillips names his 2010 MLB Awards and gets them fairly correct (in my opinion) based on the low standards I would normally have for a Steve Phillips award column. I'll see what you think.


This is really a two-player race: Josh Hamilton and Miguel Cabrera.

Cabrera is third in the league in hitting (.328), second in home runs (38) and first in RBI (126). He is a few points behind Hamilton in OPS. The fact that Cabrera has 31 intentional walks (to five for Hamilton) shows how little protection he had in the Tigers lineup.

Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers

Not really the best way to defend his choice to go with intentional walks, but I do agree with his conclusion. I think Cabrera should be the guy.

AL Cy Young:

This is probably the most hotly debated award of the season. It challenges the belief that wins are one of the most important stats in defining the quality of a pitcher's performance. Felix Hernandez is leading some important categories, ERA and innings pitched. He is second in strikeouts and WHIP and third in opponents' slugging percentage and batting average. However, King Felix only has a 12-12 record. He would have the fewest wins ever for a Cy Young Award winner.

The good news for Hernandez is that voters are more educated now than in the past.

Murray Chass spits on your idea of voters being educated. He doesn't see how knowledge should have anything to do with who wins the Cy Young award. It's educated in his opinion to ignore alternative ways of evaluating a player at the major league level.

Winner: Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

Steve Phillips doesn't even put CC Sabathia in his Top-5, which I am not sure I could agree with. I think that is discounting Sabathia's performance a little bit too much, but I agree with his conclusion. He had David Price second, which I also agree with him upon.


This is a three-man race: Joey Votto, Albert Pujols and Carlos Gonzalez. Pujols currently leads the NL in home runs, RBI and runs scored. Pretty compelling numbers. Carlos Gonzalez leads the NL in batting average; he is second in RBI and runs scored. Joey Votto is first in OBP, SLG and OPS; he is second in home runs; third in RBI and fourth in runs scored. You can make a case for any of the three but Votto's Cincinnati Reds are headed to the playoffs.

I like the conclusion, but I don't like the reasoning. Using Phillips' own reasoning for why Miguel Cabrera deserves the AL MVP over Josh Hamilton, if the Reds are headed to the playoffs couldn't that mean Pujols had a weaker lineup around him? Pujols had 38 intentional walks, while Votto only had 8 intentional walks. This was the criteria Phillips used to decide Cabrera deserved the AL MVP over Hamilton. It is possible the same reasoning could be used to say Pujols deserves the NL MVP. I still agree with the conclusion, even if I would not use which team made the playoffs as the determining factor.

The Reds' pitching staff is not great (ranked eighth in the NL) so offense is what has gotten them to the playoffs. Votto's performance is the most valuable of the three.

That's really what it is all about in the end. Which player was most valuable to his team. Votto should be the winner probably, though it is close.

NL Cy Young:

So it comes down to Wainwright and Halladay. With his outing Monday night Roy Halladay lowered his ERA from 2.53 to 2.44. Wainwright has 20 wins while Halladay now had 21. Entering Monday the numbers slightly favored Wainwright over Halladay. Halladay pitches in Citizens Bank Park, which is a notorious hitters' stadium. Wainwright pitches in Busch Stadium which plays pretty fairly. Halladay leads in innings pitched and strikeouts.

I am pretty sure Joe Morgan would agree that more wins for Halladay means he deserves to win this award, but he has been pushing Wainwright on us all year long for this award pretty hard. I think Halladay is the obvious choice.

NL Rookie of the Year:

This is another tight race. Jaime Garcia is the lone pitcher in the race but he has a very strong case for the award.

On the hitters' side of things, Jason Heyward, Buster Posey and Gaby Sanchez can all make a case for the award.

The Giants made a bold move trading veteran backstop Bengie Molina to open space for Posey to move behind the plate and get more playing time. He has made the Giants' staff look brilliant as he has shown the ability to hit, hit with some pop, handle a pitching staff and throw out base-stealers. His .317 average is further enhanced by his 16 homers and 64 RBI.

I came in to this column with Heyward as my selection but the more I look at the numbers I believe that someone else has had more of an impact because of the two-way nature of the position.

Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants

I agree with this award as well. Even though he was called up late, and contrary to what Joe Morgan thinks about catchers, it is hard to come up as a young catcher and handle a pitching staff. Granted, Posey has a good pitching staff to handle, but he seems to have a done a good at a difficult position. I think the voting should go Posey, Heyward, and Garcia.

Anyway, I actually did not hate Steve Phillips opinion on the 2010 awards, which shocked me. Now onto Murray Chass. He is writing words in his non-blog again and this time he talks about Walk Jocketty's new team, the Reds, making the playoffs. Score one for people who hate statistics.

Walt Jocketty has too much class, is too much of a gentleman to thumb his nose, stick out his tongue and say to the St. Louis Cardinals and their principal owner, Bill DeWitt Jr., “na na na na na.” So I’ll do it for him: Na na na na na.

(Bengoodfella rolls on the floor laughing) Do another one! A good baseball column on a non-blog ALWAYS starts off with a good "na na na na" joke.

Dewitt deserves this rude treatment because three years ago, only a year after his Jocketty-built team won the World Series, he fired Jocketty. Now Jocketty’s new team, Cincinnati, is on the brink of dethroning the Cardinals as National League Central champions.

I am sure someone somewhere thinks this is the very definition of ironic.

I don't know if Walt Jocketty should have been fired from the Cardinals or not, but he was fired because of divisions in the front office, not based on his performance. Also, the Cardinals have had success since he left, so it is not like he was solely responsible for their overall success as a team.

The Cardinals had come off a 78-84 season in 2007 when Jocketty was fired and they made the playoffs last year in 2009. It's not like they gone in the toilet since Jocketty left.

DeWitt did not return a telephone call to discuss his decision to fire Jocketty, who said “not really” when I asked him if he understood why he was fired.

This comment is contrary to most people who get fired and understand completely why they were fired. I would say 99% of the time when a person is fired, even after being told the reason, they still don't completely understand. So Jocketty's lack of understanding for his firing doesn't mean it was the wrong decision at the time. Not only that, but you can't really ever trust either side's reasoning for why a person was fired because generally both sides see the situation completely differently from each other.

I can't believe I am semi-defending the Cardinals owner for firing a good GM, but I sort of am...I guess.

“It was philosophy, the direction they wanted to take the organization, how they put their team together,” Jocketty said. “I didn’t necessarily go along with the thinking. We had a pretty good organization in place. I was given the right to run the organization the way I thought it should be, and I think people would say we had done the right job in scouting and player development and had the right people, quality people, to run it.”

That was Jocketty's reasoning and here is why the Cardinals say he was fired from the team...

Jocketty took umbrage at the 2006 promotion of Jeff Luhnow, who had been head of amateur scouting, to a position that oversees both scouting and player development. The move came at the expense of Bruce Manno, one of Jocketty's closest aides.

"He clearly didn't agree with the decision," DeWitt said. "I think he said that publicly. I think that my view is that one person should run both: procurement, development and international. Three things, but international is really procurement. And he felt it should be split."

Murray is going to chalk this up to a win for the anti-statistics crowd when it was really an issue about how the front office should be split up and Jocketty didn't like his buddy got his position taken away.

There was also another reason the Cardinals left Jocketty go:

Though Jocketty had another year left on his contract, there were several media reports throughout the season that had the GM's name linked to possible job openings in other cities.

DeWitt said he spoke to Jocketty about those reports.

"We would have conversations about it," DeWitt said. "This was as early as mid-season, I guess, and he said he didn't know where the rumors were coming from and I certainly didn't know where they were coming from. We were focusing on the season, but I could sense he wasn't all that happy with the overall situation and some of the direction of the organization."

Naturally because Murray is a professional journalist he leaves this little tidbit of information out of the discussion as well. The Cardinals were all-but-sure that Jocketty would leave them for another team. This may have had something to do with his firing as well. Jocketty doesn't seem like such the noble hero forsaken by those who once loved him if it turns out he was seeking jobs elsewhere does he? It turns out just three months after he was fired Jocketty did get a new job with the Reds. Three months after that, he was the Reds General Manager. Maybe Jocketty wasn't actively seeking new employment, but where there are rumors there is also a grain of truth. Jocketty probably would have gone to another team at some point.

So with there being front office animosity and the feeling their GM was going somewhere else, Jocketty got fired. Maybe not the most popular or smartest move, but possibly also the pulling off of the Band-Aid in a situation where Jocketty would have left very soon regardless.

Jocketty was probably the most notable victim of the modern-day baseball war between evaluation and analysis. It mattered not to DeWitt that Jocketty’s belief in player evaluation had worked extremely well for the Cardinals. The owner was seduced by others in the organization into believing that statistical analysis was the way to go.

(Picturing basement-dwelling statistics lovers luring Bill Dewitt into the basement with promises of more profits and more championships, but at the very expense of his soul)

I don't know the inside situation, but it seems like there was more than just a disagreement over the importance of statistics in this situation. There seems to be other issues that caused the Jocketty-Cardinals divorce that Murray doesn't feel the need to address.

That was the method created by Bill James and was featured in the Michael Lewis book “Moneyball,” which ridiculed one Oakland scout not for his inability to judge players but for the fact that he was fat.

Fat people were mocked? Statistics-lovers have gone over the edge of sanity now!

However, John Schuerholz, architect of the Atlanta Braves’ unparalleled 14-year run in first place, criticized the “Moneyball” concept in his 2006 book, “Built to Win.”

Hmmm...not exactly. I've read the book. He did criticize statistics-based analysis, but in the realm of making it the sole way to evaluate a player, which doesn't happen.

“As portrayed in that book,” Schuerholz wrote, “it is a bogus concept because I know you can’t make baseball judgments entirely on statistical analysis to build a team.”

Notice the key parts of these sentences, "as portrayed in the book" meaning it is portrayed in real life differently, and "you can't make baseball judgments entirely on statistical analysis" with the key word being "entirely."

No one is saying to build an entire team around statistical analysis. I am not sure anyone has ever said that or that was the intent of the book. Schuerholz didn't seem to condemn statistical-based analysis, but just say it is limited in its scope, which is true, just like ignoring statistics completely limits the scope of analyzing a player. As far as Schuerholz goes, he did a great job as the Braves GM...but I'm also not going to go year-by-year with some of the trades made by Schuerholz towards the end of his time as Braves GM, but let's just say at one point Brian Jordan and Raul Mondesi were playing RF and LF respectively (as starters) and it was not 2000, but was 2005.

“He called me the day after I was fired,” Jocketty said in a telephone interview last Friday evening, when the Reds’ division-clinching number was three. “I wasn’t ready to go to work yet. I went there in the middle of January.”

I am sure there is a 100% chance that Jocketty had never talked about working for the Reds before he was fired. I am also lying about this.

Easier said than done, but Jocketty has done it quickly. A critical factor in his effort has been the addition of three men who worked for him in St. Louis – Jerry Walker, Cam Bonifay and Mike Squires. These scouts and scouting executives know how to use calculators and computers, but more important, they use their eyes and can evaluate what they see.

This is the most irritating thing in the world. Those who use statistics-based analysis do this as well! No person is sitting in an office and avoiding sunlight while recommending a team sign a player based completely on the numbers he sees on paper. Nearly every scout or executive worth a shit uses statistical analysis and their own eyes to judge a player. Any suggestion to the opposite is a lie.

Has Jocketty made any changes in his method of operation since becoming the Reds’ general manager? “No, not really,” he said but acknowledged that “you have to use a certain amount of statistics.”

Lately, Murray Chass has been the master of making a point and then disproving his own point in a column on in his non-blog.

While the Washington Nationals kept their pitching prodigy, Stephen Strasburg, in the minors for the first two months of the season because, they said, he had had no professional experience, the Reds put Mike Leake in their starting rotation from the start of the season despite his lack of professional experience.

Where is Mike Leake now? He is not really able to pitch the rest of the season because of arm fatigue. He's essentially in the same position as Stephen Strasburg, except the Nationals will be able to keep Strasburg a year longer than the Reds could keep Leake.

The right-handed rookie responded with an 8-4 record in 22 starts before he was shut down Aug. 24. By then Jocketty had promoted another rookie pitcher, Travis Wood, who has a 5-4 record in 15 starts.

It's really simple to start a rookie all year and then shut him down when you have another quality rookie pitcher in the minors. That's a nice luxury to have. If the Nationals shut down Stephen Strasburg, they would be stuck starting one of the shitty pitchers they currently have in their rotation. They don't have as many options in the minors as the Reds have, so it would not be as easy for them to start Strasburg all year and then replace him with another quality pitcher.

But Jocketty saved his pitching piece de resistance for last, summoning Aroldis Chapman Aug. 31. Earlier in the year Chapman, a Cuban defector, was a highly sought left-handed pitcher, the kind that usually costs a lot of money and the Reds shy away from.

But Jocketty liked what he heard from his scouts and convinced Castellini he was worth the $30.25 million the Reds gave him.

What? You mean Walt Jocketty didn't watch Chapman pitch with his own two eyes and get a feel for how he pitches without looking at statistics? I thought that is exactly what Jocketty stands for in the mind Murray Chass? Scouting without relying on others or statistics, but seeing a pitcher and just knowing he will be a good player.

Jocketty said, “We tried to tell the players in spring training we thought we had a team that had an opportunity to win but it was up to them to carry it through. I told them I thought we had a team that would be in contention and would be for some years to come.”

Jocketty has done a good job in Cincinnati. Granted, he isn't responsible for getting many of the current players on the team, but he is a quality GM. What I am trying to say is that Jocketty's departure from the Cardinals wasn't just about statistics, but was about Jocketty looking for other jobs and not liking how the owner split up duties in the front office. Murray Chass chalks it up incorrectly to a victory of the statistics-lovers of the world.

Bill DeWitt has to wonder if the Cardinals will be there with them.

Obviously the Cardinals will never be a successful MLB team again.


HH said...

“As portrayed in that book,” Schuerholz wrote, “it is a bogus concept because I know you can’t make baseball judgments entirely on statistical analysis to build a team.”

I have to repeat the thing that Bill James said that has stuck with me: the way to analyze potential draftees and prospects is 95% scouting, 5% statistics. Because, as he says, statistics tell you who has been good; scouting tells you who will be good. Statistics have little value until the high minors & majors, because of the high variance in competition, importance of age, and projection of development to the majors. No team, none, looks at a prospect's stats ALONE. That would be insane. As players progress from HS to the majors, statistics become more important relative to scouting, but it's not a black and white thing. Maybe that's the problem. We're dealing with people who can't see shades of gray.

Bengoodfella said...

That is the exact problem. There are people who can't see the 95%/5% way of scouting. They think it is either 100% one way or 100% another way and it can't be both.

No team does look at stats alone and I think, or hope, Schuerholz knows this and doesn't think a team can build around only using statistics. It's the idea that stats-crazy people want to ONLY use stats that causes this great divide between the two communities.

Martin said...

I will actually point out that Jockety didn't do all that great a job in St.Louis. Pujols has carried that offense for years, and the only guys who've helped carry the water have come through trades or free agency. Edmonds, Walker, Holliday. I'll give Walt some credit for signing these guys, but as far as developing, he doesn't have much of a record.

As for 2006, quite possibly the most amazing run of pitching by below average pitchers ever. Suppan? Weaver? Reyes? Walt had less to do with the success of that team then the Gods reaching down and turning their arms into thunderbolts for a month.

Bengoodfella said...

Martin, you may have a point. I didn't want to seem like I was knocking Jocketty as a GM necessarily. I should have called out Murray when he talked about the World Series championship because that was a pretty fortunate set of games that Weaver and Suppan had. I give them credit for playing well.

I don't think Jocketty traded for Holliday, I think that was the newer GM who did that.

Martin said...

Oh, I knew Walt didn't trade for Holliday, was just pointing out that no kid had come up through the organization from the Jockety days to be that "Other Guy" to Albert. The Cards had to yet again go outside the organization to bring in a player.

I don't think he did a job much better then a typical high end fantasy obsessed fan would, to parrot Bill Simmons. Trading and signing for guys at the major league level shouldn't be that difficult, it's finding, evaluating, and bringing up youngsters where a GM's true talent should lay.

Bengoodfella said...

Martin, I thought you knew that, but just wanted to make sure. That's a good point that player development wasn't exactly his thing in St. Louis.

If you look at it, guys like Votto, Bruce, Cueto, Volquez were there before Jocketty got there. I think a GM's true talent lays somewhat in trading for and signing the right talent, but mostly I will agree a good GM has a pipeline in the minors that gives the team options when it comes to player personnel.