Sunday, November 3, 2013

Jonah Keri shits out a worthless 2013 retrospective, part 1 of 2

The last time I dumped on Jonah Keri, the post only generated one comment (albeit a very good one), so I'm not sure if he's not a good target for this blog because he's usually not too shitty or if no one is/was reading the blog (or both).  But I'm about to do it again because this article is truly worthless.  It is a spectacular demonstration of unilluminating analysis.  It parrots a bunch of the stupidest "how to build a team" cliches in sports.  It should not exist, and you will feel dumber for having read the parts of it I copy and paste here.  The topic: What did we learn from the 2013 MLB season?

1. Winning the Hot Stove championship guarantees nothing.

This is so dumb as to not warrant a sarcastic response.

Every winter, teams scramble to make trades and splashy free-agent signings. When it's all over, we media know-it-alls tally everything up, then declare with breathtaking confidence who won and who lost. The problem is, we're doing it wrong. Signing the highest-priced free agent is great, but it might not get you far if you neglect other roster weaknesses to get there.

My god.  It's like a Malcolm Gladwell essay ("SOMETIMES PEOPLE DO STUFF AND BECAUSE THEY DO STUFF OTHER STUFF HAPPENS"), but even stupider.

The 2013 Angels were a perfect example of this phenomenon. 

If care about baseball at all and needed Jonah to tell you about this topic, either generally or as it pertains to the 2013 Angels, you obviously lied when you confirmed to me in my imagination at the beginning of the sentence that you care about baseball at all.  Please stop lying.

2. Bargain hunting can and does often pay off.

This one if fun if you imagine Billy Beane nodding to himself and stroking his chin while reading it.

Francisco Liriano. Russell Martin. Bartolo Colon. James Loney. Koji Uehara. Marlon Byrd. 

All of these guys (except Martin) are, in one way or another, flawed players who didn't command much salary in 2013 for good reason.  They vastly outperformed their pay, because that is a thing that happens in any labor market from time to time.  There were also dozens of bargain bin signings/flyers taken on players that seemed to be close to done in MLB in 2013 that didn't work out at all.  But go on, hit us with the ex post facto analysis that shows that obviously all of these guys were due to break out.

The list of low-priced free agents who delivered big returns for their teams in 2013 is a long one. Each of these players was acquired cheaply because he had a perceived defect. 

Actual defect.

The Pirates got Martin cheap because he hit just .211 in 2012 — even though he bopped 21 homers, played his usual strong defense, and was just 29 years old. 

They didn't get him that cheap--he's on a 2 year $15MM deal.  That's probably close to market value for a decent catcher.  He bopped 21 homers in 2012, but he did so in Yankee Stadium.  And his .211 BA came with a .311 OBP, which isn't horrible for a catcher, but isn't exactly good either.

Loney hit a catastrophic .249/.293/.336 in 2012, but he was just 28 years old, played excellent defense, and had put up some decent offensive seasons, albeit without the power you'd hope for from a slugging-heavy position like first base. 

Loney's 2012 was a dumpster fire.  First base defense isn't that important.  His last offensive season before 2013 that could be fairly characterized as "good" for a 1B was 2007.  He might have cracked the "decent" threshold in 2011, but you'd have to stretch the definition to get him there.  By all reasonable estimation he looked like a guy who should have been out of professional baseball by now.  The Rays probably overpaid him when they offered him $2MM for 2013 (unless it was not guaranteed until he made the roster out of spring training or something).

Liriano and Uehara had injury histories, though both had shown flashes of dominance when healthy enough to stay on the field. 

Liriano was utterly horrendous in 2009, 2011 and 2012.  As of last winter, he wasn't as close to being out of baseball as Loney was, but he was in the neighborhood.  Uehara is actually somewhat like Martin--a guy who, on a 2 year $9.5MM deal, wasn't really a scrap heap find.  He was being paid elite setup guy money; instead, he ended up being an elite closer, because elite setup guys and elite closers have exactly the same skillset. 

Byrd and Colon came with PED suspensions on their records (in Colon's case, one that hadn't yet ended), but Byrd was only a couple years removed from being a four-win player, and Colon actually pitched decently in 2012.

Byrd was bad in 2011 and utterly horrendous in 2012 (when he also picked up a PED suspension).  He is closer to 40 years old than he is to 30.  There was no reason on earth to believe that he would be able to be a contributing MLB player in 2013, which is probably why he ended up with the Mets to start the season.  Unlike Loney, I don't think he was overpaid ($700,000), but seriously, to say that teams should have seen his resurgence coming because he "was only a couple years removed from being a four win player" is fucking stupid.  Colon, on the other hand, was the best signing on this list--I'm surprised he didn't get more than $3MM after being above average in 2011 and 2012.  But also, he's old as fuck and wasn't in MLB in 2010.  So I suppose those things might have been red flags that kept some teams away from him.  In any case, maybe he just wanted to stay in Oakland and the team told him this was the best they could do in terms of salary.

Colon and Uehara were freaks, pitching abnormally well given their age (Colon 40, Uehara 38). But Martin, Liriano, and Loney in particular fit the profile well: players who'd performed well earlier in their careers who were still in their twenties and thus still had decent potential for bounce-back seasons. 

And yet, somehow, every single year there are dozens of guys who fit that profile who get signed to "fuck it, let's take a flyer on the guy and see if he has anything left" contracts and completely fizzle out and disappear.  It's almost like signing bargain bin guys is crapshoot, and this year the Pirates and Rays got lucky while the Rangers (Joakim Soria) and the Indians (Mark Reynolds) got unlucky.  Almost.

Plenty of old biases remain alive and well. Prince Fielder can fetch $214 million because there will always be someone willing to (over)pay for home runs and RBIs. 

Look, I agree that Prince's contract is bad and will likely be one of the worst in baseball within a few years, but he's not just getting paid for home runs and RBIs.  He had a down year in 2013 but from 2009-2012 his OBP exceeded .400 every season.  If you put me in charge of an MLB team with a league average financial/payroll outlook and told me that, for the upcoming season, I could sign January 2012 Prince to his contract or sign January 2013 James Loney to his contract, I'm going with 2012 Prince unless the team I'm in charge of is horrible/rebuilding.  2012 Loney was almost indescribably bad.  I'd figure out a way to make Prince's contract work.  Loney (the version available to me in this hypothetical) doesn't even look like an MLB player anymore.  Good for the Rays for revitalizing him, and who knows if they signed him based on the assumption that their hitting coach could fix an identifiable problem in his swing, but this is classic ex post facto smartest guy in the room stuff.

Meanwhile, defense remains underrated, 

It also remains extremely difficult to quantifiably analyze, particularly when it comes to WAR.  BBR has Loney at -0.2 dWAR and Fielder at -2.2 dWAR in 2013.  I know Fielder has the range of a traffic cone, but I have a hard time believing that there were 2 wins worth of difference in their defensive performances.

batting average overrated — to name just two misguided stances. 

Was this article written in 2003?  Who the fuck doesn't think batting average is a crappy stat at this point?  

We haven't had time to go through this year's free-agent crop yet. But if you want to find the bargains of 2014, look for under-30 players who play good defense, are coming off ugly seasons by traditional metrics, and have some history of strong performance two or three years ago.

Loney OBPed .293 in 2012.  Byrd OBPed .243 (not a typo).  It's not like either was some Scott Hatteberg diamond in the rough who was obviously a good player as long as you were willing to look past antiquated traditional stats.  They were awful.  Yes, signing scrap heap guys is always a good idea because teams need depth guys and occasionally a scrap heap guy turns back into a contributor.  But to say that guys like Loney, Byrd and Liriano were obvious candidates to have the 2013s they did is completely fucking disingenuous.  Shut up, Jonah Keri.  Go fuck yourself.

Tune in later in the week for the exciting conclusion, in which, among other things, Jonah will explain to us that 2013 taught us to "keep an eye on the minors."  I can't believe I don't need an Insider subscription to read this article!  Has anyone showed it to Ruben Amaro Jr. yet?


BBB said...

Pretty ballsy, taking on a Grantland writer and probable friend of Simmons. Be alert for drones. I agree that there is a low brow, banal quality to his points but fortunately, I didn't see any linkage to pop culture.

dan-bob said...

Uehara was something of an injury risk I GUESS but he still had lights-out numbers for every single major league season. And he had come back from his 2012 inury in late August and managed to lower his ERA over 17 appearances from 2.01 to 1.75.

Man this article was indeed dumb.