Sunday, March 27, 2011

Baseball Is a Team Sport: Mike Tully is a Fool

Today's post comes toLink you courtesy of Mike Tully of the New York Times - a rarely-critiqued news outlet here on FJayM. But this one's worth the time. This one actually suggests that really bad players are not that bad, and that really good players are not that good, and it hits on some classic FJayM fallacies - both logical and statistical.

In fact, I'm going to be so bold as to slap the "wrongest thing that has ever been said about baseball" on this post. That's because the writer implies that David Eckstein is better than Carlos Beltran, that Jonny Gomes is better than Joey Votto, and that signing Carlos Pena was a masterstroke by the Chicago Cubs. It's amazing how he has managed to pick one statistic that justifies all kinds of stupid conclusions and throws them into one article. It's a smorgasbord of stupid.

[For some reason, the article opens and closes with a long extended comparison to North Carolina women's soccer. I've cut that part out]

To Create Winners, you have to Find Winners

Uh oh. The title has ominous foreboding to it. Maybe the Cubs should just hire Charlie Sheen as a consultant?

David Eckstein is one player whose contribution far exceeded his talent. A walk-on in college and a 19th-round draft pick, he still managed to make the postseason in 4 of his 10 major league seasons, played on two championship teams and was the most valuable player of the 2006 World Series.

This is so stupid. This is classic stupid. This is the epitome of the stupid Eckstein fallacy. Why does Tully define Eckstein's "contribution" as making the postseason, which is a team acheivement, instead of looking at Eckstein's individual contributions... say his sole season above 100 OPS+ or his two seasons above 3 WAR.

On the other end of the spectrum one might find Carlos Beltran, a four-time All-Star with the Mets. While he recovered from knee surgery last year, they won 48 of their first 88 games, and were only four games out of the National League East lead at the All-Star break. Then Beltran rejoined the team. The Mets went 31-43 (.419) the rest of the way and finished 18 games out of first place.

Carlos Beltran did have a bad season last year, but let the record show that Beltran, in comparison with Eckstein, has had exactly four times as many seasons above 3 WAR. And Eckstein is even two years older.

Their decline cannot be attributed solely to Beltran, but the Mets did not improve with him in the lineup.

What a stupid sentence. Their decline barely be attributed to Beltran. The man plays one position out of nine. How hard is that to comprehend?

On the other hand, the Mets went 42-36 (.538) with Ruben Tejada, the team’s highest winning percentage among position players with extended time on the field. Ike Davis had the best winning percentage at .503 (74-73); only David Wright was on the field for more Mets victories (75).


Baseball insiders cite factors like cohesion, rhythm and percentages to defend the idea of sticking with tried-and-true players. They argue, with some justification, that baseball involves failure and that players need time to work through it.

That time is during little league baseball, high school baseball, sometimes in college baseball, and minor leauge baseball. Not in Major League baseball.

Also, what are "cohesion", "rhythm" and "percentages"? Doesn't one of those things not belong with the others? I don't understand that sentence at all.

The YankeesDerek Jeter, who has won five championships, is coming off the worst offensive season of his 16-year career. Now the team is debating whether he or Brett Gardner should bat leadoff. No matter where Gardner bats, he should play; the Yankees were 93-57 (.620) with him in the lineup, and 2-10 without him. They seemed to get along just fine (21-4) without Alex Rodriguez. In the games Jeter played, the Yankees were 92-65.

Argh. So much stupid. Of all the arguments and claptrap I've heard this week about Jeter heading into this season, this is the worst. Seriously, people, shut up about Jeter and just let the poor man fade away into mediocrity without hyperanalyzing his slow descent.

Also, how did Derek Jeter win five championships? I thought the Yankees won five championships. Who were all those other guys in pinstripes? Were they batboys for Jeter? WAS SCOTT BROSIUS NOTHING BUT A HOTDOG VENDOR?

Should teams be slaves to such statistics? No, but they should notice. And they might be surprised.

Should teams pay any attention at all to such statistics? Not really. I guess these statistics are kind of worth noticing, but I think they are probably about 50th in importance, as statistics go. I'd rather judge a hitter by HBP (hey, at least it contributes to his own OBP) than by this stat.

Last season Cincinnati won the National League Central at 91-71 (.562). But in games Joey Votto, the league M.V.P., played, the Reds went 83-67 (.553). Six regular teammates finished with a higher percentage than Votto’s: Scott Rolen, .586; Jay Bruce, .574; Brandon Phillips, Orlando Cabrera and Jonny Gomes, .561; and Drew Stubbs, 560.

We're taking about a difference of four or five wins in each of these cases. Over a full season of baseball, anything can cause a differential of four or five wins. This is the exact opposite of a sample size fallacy - this is a huge generalization about winning that has nothing to do with individual production.

Absolutely nothing can be concluded from the above paragraph. Joey Votto is approximately one hundred times better than all those other Reds players, and any clown who cherry-picks win stats to try and even weakly suggest otherwise has his head in a sack.

Similarly, Texas was 71-62 (.534) with Josh Hamilton, the American League M.V.P., in the lineup. He finished behind several fellow position players: Ian Kinsler (.592), Elvis Andrus (.568), David Murphy (.565) and Michael Young (.561).

Bench Josh Hamilton! Bench Joey Votto! Call the fire department!

This is also a completely pointless paragraph. Nothing can be concluded from this generalization except that apparently individuals on a baseball team cannot win every game completely by themselves, even if he hits .359 and his OPS is 1.044.

Carlos Pena, who had a miserable 2010 season for Tampa Bay, is a remarkable example. He batted .196 and had 158 strikeouts, but the Rays were 88-56 (.611) with him in the lineup, the best among their regular players. They were 22 games above .500 with Pena, two games under without him. The Chicago Cubs signed Pena for one year and $10 million.

Awesome. The Chicago Cubs, who have had over a century now to get adjusted to failure, are now all set to win the 2011 World Series.

St. Louis traded shortstop Brendan Ryan to Seattle in the off-season after his career-worst .223 batting average. The Cardinals were 17 games over .500 with Ryan, seven games under without him. In his place is Ryan Theriot, whose Cubs went 43-53 with him in the lineup last year, 32-34 without him.

I predict the Cubs will surge past the Cardinals this year! Based solely on Ryan Theriot and Brendan Ryan!

Sometimes teams will find a player with an X-factor that goes way beyond talent. Leo Durocher once said that second baseman Eddie Stanky could not hit, field or run — all he could do was win. But Stanky was not helpless. He retired in 1953 with a .410 career on-base percentage, among the best in history.

Let's rewrite that sentence. Eddie Stanky could not hit, field or run - all he could do was walk, which helps a whole team win. Leo Durocher's statement was meant to be interpreted figuratively, and it's pretty stupid when New York Times writers interpret it literally to support a stupid thesis.

On-base percentage was not valued in the 1940s and ’50s, and that is the point. Certain players have always done things that keep them on the winning side, even if they are not always recognized.

Except that they ARE recognized - anyone who knows anything about Eddie Stanky could quickly recognize his walks and their resultant value to a team. That's why he was kept in the starting lineup.

Well, the 2011 season starts on Thursday. Get excited, baseball fans! After game #1 of the season, if your team wins, they should run the same lineup out there for the next game. After all, they will have won 100% of the games with those players!


Imo said...

One of the greatest college football players in history, should have been the first overall pick in the draft. Had a career winning % of 1.000 in games played, would've averaged about 35 sacks a game.


Chris W said...

Bill James suggests that one of the tests of a statistic is that if it shows so and so no-name player is as good or better than Babe Ruth, its probably a horseshit statistic.

You might make the same argument for any stat that shows that Hamilton and Votto aren't as "good" as shitbag no names on their teams.

Anonymous said...

The worst piece of baseball writing I've seen in a long time. Tully's editor ought to get the chop for letting such tripe make it into print.

Biggus Rickus said...

But the soccer thing is so awesome. It discusses a perfectly reasonable idea (forcing the team to compete in drills, the weightroom, etc. to determine who starts) as if it has anything to do with the rest of the column. The callback in the last paragraph is equally out of place. Amazingly, I think including the soccer comparison, such as it is, is even dumber than the idea of judging players based on the team's record while they're in the lineup.

Jack M said...

I don't really have anything to add except that I find it hard to comprehend that a professional journalist could parrot such an intuitively useless statistic.

Adam said...

I would like to add that Reggie Miller needs to stop talking. Immediately.

pnoles said...

Well gang, looks like baseball thinking took a U-turn and went back in time about 100 years again. We're going to be pretty busy 'round here.....

rich said...


Chuck Knoblauch was the hotdog vendor, once got a man in section 129 a hotdog from section 109. Such was the awesomeness of the Knob.

Scott Brosious was the beer vendor who refused to let Knoblauch take over his job despite being better in every conceivable way.

On a side note, if championships are so important, why aren't they on the scoreboard?

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