Saturday, November 10, 2012

5 comments I Guess the San Francisco Giants World Series Win Ends The Statistical Revolution in Baseball

Bruce Jenkins is not a fan of using statistics to judge players. He prefers to use dust, sweat, tears and hustle to judge a baseball player. Bruce has a history of needlessly bashing Sabermetricians and telling statistics-loving baseball fans to, 

"Strip down to those fourth-day undies...,"  


head downstairs (to "your mother's basement and your mother's computer,"

These insults are both not only creative, but also incredibly accurate. Those people who love using statistics to evaluate baseball players rarely take showers and don't even have enough money to purchase their own computer. Though I have always wondered why an insult like this always refers to a person going to "his mother's basement" or some variation of this insult. Are we to assume this person's blind devotion to statistics not only caused his parents to split (I don't read as many references to "your parent's basement"), but also forced his/her mother to move the computer away from a general area of convenience in the house into the basement? More importantly, why would a person take their clothes off to head to their mother's basement? I'm not sure that makes sense due to some basements not being heated. You know what, better not to answer that question.

So Bruce sees the San Francisco Giants' second World Series title in three years as a major victory for scouting players based on the eye test, rather than by using statistics. This is because Brian Sabean and the Giants don't employ those stupid stat-collectors who live in their mom's basement and don't rely on those assholes for what "the stats say." Bruce Jenkins says the Giants are a purely eyeball-based team when it comes to scouting, thank you.

This is a nice narrative for Bruce Jenkins to spin if it were true. One look at the Giants front office reveals a guy named "Yeshayah Goldfarb" his job description is defined as (according to his bio on the Giants team site),

He helps run the minor league operations on a day-to-day basis and provides analytical and statistical analysis for, but not limited to, player acquisition and development. 

His job title is "Director, Minor League Operations/Quantitative Analysis," which in the opinion of Bruce Jenkins is just a fancy way of saying he lives with his mother, has never kissed a girl, and wears "Star Trek" shirts everyday of the week (or whenever his mom does his laundry). In fact, the Giants credited Goldfarb with helping them to win the 2010 World Series, which is a little fact that Bruce Jenkins either intentionally or conveniently forgot. Either way, this championship is a huge victory for the anti-stats crowd because Bruce Jenkins chooses to view it that way, even if the Giants do employ a person whose job is to look at those dreaded statistics and provide input into acquisitions or roster moves. Let's read about Bruce Jenkins wallowing in this incredibly (not) important (non-)victory.

In a scene from the film "Moneyball," a half-dozen A's scouts sit around a table, tossing out opinions. With their haggard faces and old-school lingo, they are made to look like fools, a bunch of washed-up alcoholics whose time has passed.

Having seen the movie, I don't recall the whole "alcoholic" part represented in this movies as it relates to these scouts. Knowing Bruce Jenkins is writing this article based on an alternate reality where the Giants don't employ a numbers-cruncher, so maybe he has an alternate reality "Moneyball" where the grizzled scouts miss on seeing a prospect because they were all too drunk at a bar. This is as opposed to the stats geek who did not miss on the prospect because this stats geek (like all stats geeks) lives in his mom's basement and can't drink alcohol like a real man does due to his overly-sensitive stomach which can only handle milk and that really diluted tea his mom has ready for him every morning as he wakes at 9:30am. Perhaps that is the world in which Bruce Jenkins lives and viewed this alternate-reality "Moneyball" film.

The Giants' world championship is a victory for John Barr, Dick Tidrow, Bobby Evans, a cadre of sharp-eyed scouts and especially general manager Brian Sabean, who learned his trade in the Yankees' system and surrounds himself with people who don't merely know baseball, but feel it, deep inside.

These people feel baseball, deep inside, much like how someone feels indigestion in their stomach or vomit rising deep inside their throat.

They all played the game, somewhere along the line, and if you throw a binder full of numbers on their desk, they don't quite get the point.

Since it is physically impossible to throw a binder full of numbers on a desk, seeing as how numbers aren't tangible objects, many people wouldn't quite get the point. Now if there were binder that had paper in it with numbers written on them, that would make more sense, as well as be more understandable.

All stupid joking aside, every scout has his way of evaluating a player, but if a GM throws a book of numbers on a table and the scout says, "I don't get the point of looking at these numbers" then that scout needs to be fired. At some point, the scout needs to realize he doesn't have to love the numbers or use them, but understand their point.

The beauty of baseball is that it can be dissected in a thousand ways, each an engaging enterprise in its own way.

Baseball can be dissected in a thousand ways, but Bruce Jenkins knows there is only one certain way it can be dissected and scouted correctly. He's open-minded about how to dissect the game as long as you do it his way.

The stat-crazed sabermetricians, as they are called, invent specific methods of evaluation without needing to witness the action in person. Numbers, they believe, tell the entire story -

This is repeated constantly by the anti-stats crowd, yet I would like to see them present one quote from a Sabermetrician where he/she says any variation of, "I don't need to see the game, I only need my statistics." I have a feeling such a quote doesn't exist but it doesn't stop guys like Bruce Jenkins who choose to invent this position of the stats crowd in order to help prove their point.

The modern-day general manager bears no significant resemblance to Sabean, rather an especially sharp accountant who can draw up contracts, analyze a salary structure and study esoteric numbers with the best of them. 

And this approach by modern-day general managers never works, which is why the San Francisco Giants have won the last 10 World Series titles. 

It's a new breed of geeks, in essence.

Versus the old brand of closed-minded geezers who always oppose change, new knowledge or doing anything that is slightly uncomfortable for them. It's always a fun battle. 

Privately, they scoff at the likes of Sabean - although, as far as we can tell, the Giants take home the rings.

So not only does Bruce Jenkins create fictional points of view that stat geeks have, but he also knows the internal thought process of stat geeks. He certainly doesn't sound like he is straight making shit up, does he?

I'm not sure a lot of people are scoffing at Brian Sabean at this point. Since Sabean bears no significant resemblance to the modern-day general manager that other MLB clubs employ, those 10 straight World Series titles by the Giants certainly speak well for Sabean.

The San Francisco model is based on visual evidence, not statistics, and it clearly works 

The model isn't based on statistics, as long as you don't want to include the guy in the Giants front office whose very job with the team is to sort through statistics and give his opinion based on that. The same guy who is credited with helping the Giants win the 2010 World Series. Maybe part of the visual evidence model that Jenkins supports is to look at pertinent facts when making an argument and ignore those facts which don't support your argument.

Those people wouldn't understand what the Giants saw in Gregor Blanco, a longtime disappointment, as he tore up the Venezuelan winter league.

Perhaps they saw, and I am just taking a guess here, that Blanco was tearing up the Venezuelan winter league? Blanco also hit .244/.333/.344 with 103 strikeouts in 453 plate appearances in the majors, so he was a good acquisition who actually played below his career averages for the Giants, except in the "home runs" category.

They wouldn't necessarily spot the massive heart inside Sergio Romo

I don't know. A massive heart inside Sergio Romo sounds like a concerning health problem. 

The Giants drafted Romo in the 28th round in 2005 and he is one of those late round selections who have worked out really well. I'm sure he was drafted solely based on a grizzled scout seeing his massive heart and not based on his collegiate performance.

or what Hunter Pence's relentless energy brings to a contending team.

Those people who love statistics wouldn't know about Hunter Pence's relentless energy and what it brings to a contender, but would know about he has a career line of .285/.339/.475 and is a two-time All-Star. It is interesting to see Bruce Jenkins acting as if the Giants traded for Pence this year based on his relentless energy and this was an attribute only the most grizzled scout could have noticed and Pence's statistics don't reflect he is a quality baseball player. It doesn't take just eyes and ears to see Hunter Pence is a good baseball player. A binder full of statistics could tell a scout that as well. Good try to make it seem like Pence is a diamond in the rough though.

The Giants look at the face, the demeanor, the background, the ability to play one's best under suffocating pressure -

And given Pence's career line of .210/.244/.272 in the playoffs I can see why they immediately acquired him. This line doesn't tell what Pence's energy and heart have done in the playoffs under suffocating pressure though, it only tells a statistics-based story that he hasn't been very good in the playoffs. Pence's performance in the playoffs means nothing, it is his heart and relentless energy while not getting on-base in the playoffs is what brings him value.

all the components "Moneyball" lamely holds up to ridicule.

Again, if you don't understand an opposing point of view then it is best not to ridicule this point of view. "Moneyball" doesn't hold these components up to ridicule. They hold the insistence you can quantify these components in any meaningful way to determine how a player will perform as ridiculous...because it is ridiculous. I've been through this quite a few times, but much of the anti-statistics crowd doesn't even completely understand what they are arguing against. They fail to understand "Moneyball" (which is a generic term really) doesn't hold evaluating a player's background or demeanor as lame, but when evaluating a player (as PART, not ALL) to discuss a player's background and quantify it into any meaningful metric to evaluate that player is very difficult to do.

If you try calling Sabean a genius, he'll laugh in your face. Baseball is an enterprise of failure, both on and off the field, and it's a game of humility. He doesn't pretend to know everything, he'll gladly recount his misfired decisions over the years,

How humble...unlike those completely unhumble drooling cellar-dwelling numbers freaks. You know, those generic works of fiction that anti-statistics writers create in their mind to not only show they don't understand this Sabermetrics point of view, but are willing to act like bullies to discredit this point of view.

But he won't stop trusting his eyes.

Or the guy he pays to be on his staff who is responsible for quantitative analysis. Ignore this man's existence though when it disproves your main point. "Ignore all evidence that may lead someone to a different conclusion than you have reached." Is that a pillar of journalism I just haven't heard about because I have been too busy sitting in my mom's attic in my underwear looking at binders full of numbers?

He'll finance the plane flights, rental cars, motel rooms and other staples of a scout's lonely existence.

Mostly because that is his job as the General Manager to finance the scout's lonely existence.

Also, this "lonely existence" crap...this is 2012 where you can talk to nearly anyone at any time or even see someone face-to-face at any time. There aren't many lonely existences left unless a person chooses this path. So I don't see scouts sitting sadly in hotel rooms unable to talk or hear from their loved ones.

The Giants trade the numbers for humanity, as the howls of skepticism tone down to a whisper.

It's the end of the statistical revolution as we know it. The rebellion has been squashed. Let them eat their favorite kind of cyber-cake!

Before I stop writing, Murray Chass has chimed in on the MVP race in the American League. Not shockingly, he wouldn't vote for Mike Trout.

Proponents of WAR, which means “wins above replacement,” insist that the Angels’ terrific rookie Mike Trout should obviously win the award. Those of us who use common sense, not common statistics, say the winner should be the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera.

As usual, smart people agree with Murray Chass and if you have a differing opinion from Murray then that means you simply don't use common sense. It's clear Murray is an old-media type and never had to deal with people telling him his point of view was wrong in the past. He's used to writing a column and then sitting back smiling happily at what an intelligent and well-thought out point of view he has. He's like a child who has never been told "no," so it isn't his fault he believes his point of view is the only smart point of view.

The Trout supporters would vote for him because he had the top WAR rating among all players. That thinking only reinforces my view that to satisfy stats zealots a list of statistics should be used to determine award winners and Hall of Famers.

Framing those who use Sabermetrics as zealots...nice. Has anyone else noticed the amount of bullying that old-media columnists use to oppose the Sabermetric crowd? It's very unbecoming. They often use junior high-type insults in criticizing statheads for living in their mom's basement and not having a life outside of their interaction with a computer. Here Murray calls statheads "zealots" and other old-media types will use similar words to describe the opposing point of view. It's essentially journalistic bullying, which apparently these writers find acceptable.

The reason the stats zealots would like this system is it would eliminate members of the Baseball Writers Association as voters.


Not that Murray's opposition to the use of Sabermetrics is based on fear of losing his place in baseball's writing hierarchy or anything like that. His distaste for Sabermetrics doesn't result from fear. Not at all.

That’s right, the stats zealots are envious of the baseball writers because they get to vote for these things and the zealots don’t.

Yes, it is envy that causes a person to have an opposing point of view from Murray. Pure envy. We all want to be Murray Chass. The delusions never end, do they?

That is not to say that new-age statistics haven’t started creeping into the award decisions of some of the BBWAA voters, presumably the younger, less experienced ones.

This is only the natural reason that new-age statistics have crept into award decisions. It couldn't be because there are open-minded voters who don't mind using new techniques to evaluate players.

This is part of what I find absolutely astonishing about old school writers who refuse to adopt any statistical methods, or even accept these alternative methods of evaluating players exist, is that in any other profession this could be a cause for being fired or forced to adopt the new methods. If I refused to adopt new methods in my job then I would be forced to adopt these new methods whether I liked it or not. I realize Murray isn't currently employed by a newspaper, but somehow in sports journalism the inability to accept change is not seen as a negative.

Arguments can be made about the relative value of players to their teams, but if one candidate leads his team to the playoffs and another candidate doesn’t, the latter player’s value comes into question.

The Angels won more games in the regular season than the Tigers did. This argument that Cabrera's team made the playoffs is probably the worst way of arguing on his behalf. Again, it's clear Murray rarely has had to defend his point of view, because he is very bad at it.

As good as Trout was this year, what did he do for the Angels? They were only on the fringe of the American League West race, and they began dropping back in the A.L. wild-card race in mid-August and getting back in it when it was too late.

Well, they certainly had a much better record when Trout was playing for them from late April until the end of the season. I ain't no expert, but I would say that means something.

To me, the beauty of the BBWAA’s m.v.p. voting is it challenges voters to study and think about the contributions players made to the success of their teams.

But ignore any statistics-based argument. The beauty of the BBWAA's MVP voting is the ability to stay willfully ignorant to any information they don't believe supports their chosen player's candidacy for the award and only study and think about the information they choose to focus on.

Should Trout, for example, be penalized in m.v.p. consideration because the Angels weren’t good enough to take advantage of what he did for them?

No, he should not. Should Trout be penalized that his team won more games than the Tigers, yet didn't make the playoffs because the Angels play in a division with the Rangers and A's?

What fans and new-age nerds should understand, if they don’t already, is most valuable players is not the same as player of the year. 

"Nerds." Another attempt at journalistic bullying.

Also, what the fuck is "player of the year," other than an award Murray Chass simply just made up? Is Murray trying to make a point by comparing the MVP to a fictional award that Murray simply made up?

But he is not the most valuable player, no matter what WAR says. WAR, you see, does not have a vote in this election.

And WAR is very jealous of this fact. Guard tight to your old ways, Murray. Ignore any new information. That and your attempts to bully those who you disagree with says enough about you that I'm not sure I would want you to agree with me.


ZidaneValor said...

most valuable players is not the same as player of the year

Wait. Isn't that exactly what the MVP is?

ivn said...

Gregor Blanco: reserve outfielder pressed into service when Melky Cabrera was suspended.
Sergio Romo: productive reliever who was only named closer after Brian Wilson got hurt and Santiago Casilla pitched himself out of the job
Hunter Pence: regarded as arguably the best outfielder on the trade market (and, ironically enough, the Giants traded for him because they didn't want Blanco to play everyday).

what exactly is Jenkins' point in bringing these guys up?

E C said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eric C said...

I have never seen a stat-based site say scouting doesn't mean anything. I've been a subscriber to Baseball Prospectus for years, and some of their folks (Keith Law, Christina Kahrl, Will Carroll) are now on major sites like ESPN, and others (Keith Woolner, James Click, Dan Fox, Mike Fast) are working for MLB baseball teams.

I have been teaching for 10 years, and people who have been teaching longer than I often dismiss new ideas, because they refuse to re-examine their old ideas. Generationally, the Generation X and Y group (born in the 60's through 90's) are much more tolerant of new ideas and cultures than preceding generations.

In addition, GenY seems to be much better working with groups.

Jenkins graduated college in the 1970's (which puts his birthdate in the late 1940's, probably), and
Murray Chass was born in 1938, so I have to assume it is a generational thing.

Bengoodfella said...

Zidane, MVP isn't for player of the year? Don't you know that? It is given to the best player on a team that made the playoffs.

Ivn, Jenkins' point is the Giants saw something in these players that NO OTHER team saw. No one wanted Hunter Pence, other than any other team who was a contender and made an offer for him.

The Giants also saw something in Romo, which is why they waited so late in the draft to take him and then didn't hand him the closing job until after Casilla failed.

Eric, I haven't either. That's what Bruce Jenkins wants ignorant readers to believe, so it makes it seem like the stats-based crowd hates traditional statistics as much as the traditional statistics crowd hates the stats-based crowd. Who cares if it isn't true?

That is part of the problem, that certain people refuse to re-examine old ideas. It is sort of the idea that it worked back then, so why wouldn't it work now? So you think it is a generational thing? That could easily be true because most of the anti-stats movement comes from the older sportswriter crowd. They seem to be very intolerant of the concept that old ideas may not necessarily need no re-examination. Not very open-minded.