I’m Just Another Fool

The best take I’ve read about the Ryan Howard extension had nothing to do with win-to-dollar analysis or aging curve critiquing. Nope, it was Jonah Keri’s entry into the Howard content marathon. For full disclosure: I do consider Keri a friend and he is my editor elsewhere. Neither plays a role in my fandom over his piece. Keri’s article extends beyond the field. He nary mentions runs batted in or home runs hit. Instead he focuses on subjects like appealing to authority, open-mindedness, and the role Twitter plays in instant reaction.

Decisively on the other end of the spectrum from Keri is this article by Gregg Doyel. I’m sure Doyel is a smart person. I have read a few of his pieces in the past and found them enjoyable. He is what he is. A columnist with edge whose job it is to get reaction and be assertive. He’s very good at that. At the same time, if there is an anti-thesis to Keri’s piece, this is it. Doyel appeals to authority while slamming folks for using statistics (not just sabermetrics, stats in general), and then maintains his initial reaction.

Arguing over whether a sports team or a human being is infallible is silly. Nobody is perfect. The Phillies obviously do some things right. They have won two straight National League Championships, and yes, they have some very, very good players on their roster. Great players even, like Roy Halladay and Chase Utley. However, that does not make them perfect. No team is perfect. The highly esteemed Theo Epstein once traded Josh Bard and Cla Meredith for Doug Mirabelli. I think most would agree that Epstein is still a good general manager.

The Phillies themselves have made some extremely questionable signings since Ruben Amaro took over. Consider that they traded Cliff Lee in part because of his nine million price tag, yet they are paying the clearly inferior Jamie Moyer eight million and will pay Joe Blanton ten million next season. Lee is the best pitcher of that group and will ostensibly be so for the near future too. Maybe the prospects the Phillies got from Seattle become key contributors on a future Phillies’ team. Or maybe not. This is where part of Doyle’s argument falls apart. Read this:

The Phillies won the World Series in 2008 and got back to the World Series in 2009. They are the hottest franchise in baseball, and Howard is an enormous reason. So is Chase Utley, who is signed through 2013. So is Jimmy Rollins, signed through 2011. And Shane Victorino, signed through 2012. And Jayson Werth, who becomes a free agent after this season but who, I am guessing, will be back. Why? Because the Phillies are the Yankees or the Red Sox of the National League, and Werth strikes me as a winner. Winners don’t leave winners.

Lee was a big part of that 2009 World Series team too, but Amaro traded him for a bunch of players who will not be a big part of the 2010 team. So much for keeping that nucleus completely together. Now, Howard was a big part of those teams. And he’s a big part of the 2010 Phillies. And, no matter what happened this week – barring tragedy or trade – would’ve been a big part of the 2011 Phillies. Since, you know, he was under contract through the same time span as Rollins.

Doyel doesn’t seem upset in the least about Rollins not having an extension and presumably was not upset about Howard’s contractual status prior to the extension occurring. Doyel also doesn’t seem to consider that re-signing Werth – the pending free agent – before signing a huge deal would’ve been more beneficial to the Phillies’ budget and leverage in negotiations.

Doyel then goes on some inane blast against statistics before using cherry-picked statistics to prove his point. That point is that not every old player is useless. During this, he makes some unfortunate comments about Keith Law, who worked in a front office that made a number of cost-efficient moves. Doyel disagrees with Law’s perspective on the Howard deal, and asserts that people, like Law, are wrong. But the Phillies are not. You heard it here first, the Phillies employ robots.

I’ll completely ignore that Doyel clearly doesn’t care about small samples or park factors given his comments about Paul Konerko and Jorge Posada. Instead, let’s reach the final part of Keri’s article, about instant reaction. Keri admitted that his initial reaction was rash and aimed towards humor. He then took the time to consider other perspectives and changed his mind on the degree of awfulness. Has Doyel changed his mind? I don’t know, but I’d guess not too much.

We’re not done here though. I would be remiss if I didn’t note the part that Doyel is absolutely correct about. He writes that numbers should never end a conversation, but rather, should be used to begin them. He’s right. I’ve been writing on FanGraphs for more than a year. I would wager that 95% of my posts have begun with some kind of number. Maybe that number represented a winning percentage or a wOBA or a streak. Whatever. The conversation began with some kind of number.

He’s also wrong, though.

Numbers sometimes can end conversations. Should numbers end conversation over just how bad Ryan Howard’s contract is? Maybe not. Matt Swartz of Baseball Prospectus provided a counter to the popular sentiment that the Howard extension is the worst thing ever and seemed to say that it’s bad, but not the worst thing ever. Is Swartz right? I don’t know. Is Law right? I don’t know. Is Doyel right? I don’t know. This isn’t Baseball Prospectus versus FanGraphs, or stats versus scouts, or even older writers versus younger writers. That’s why we add so many voices and that’s why we add so much information. There’s enough room for thought from every side.

People who clearly have lacking knowledge of statistics will say that statistics can be tweaked in whatever way pleases and supports the statistician’s opinion. These people have insufficient knowledge of the sabermetric community. If I publish something incorrect or fabricated I fully expect to have Tom Tango or MGL or Rob Neyer or some other smart individual calling me out on it. The constant and immediate peer review is a fantastic and terrifying thing.

Look, you can argue that a day feels longer than 24 hours for as long as you want. That doesn’t make you anymore right. It doesn’t change that 24 hours being a day is a fact either. It just means you’re your perspective is skewed on the subject for whatever reason. Perspective is the ultimate key when dealing with numbers. That’s why we use baselines, averages, and standard deviations. That’s why we have constant peer review. That’s why we don’t appeal to authority and that’s why we keep open minds.

Perspective is important. Baseball and baseball analysis is full of perspective. Doyel’s piece was not.




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68 Responses to “I’m Just Another Fool”

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  1. Well done, R.J. It was well worth the wait.

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  2. Zack says:

    “and Werth strikes me as a winner. Winners don’t leave winners.”

    I remember hearing that line out of Boston last season too.

    Werth has ‘only’ made 13.8m during his career (including this year). No one should be shocked if he goes and takes the highest bid (as most guys do) this offseason.

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  3. John says:

    That Doyel article was absolutely horrible. My favorite line was when he cited Paul Konerko’s eight home runs this year as a reason that Howard will age well.

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  4. Pennant says:

    As a Phillies fan, albeit one from a great distance, the signing was a mistake. Maybe so far away just don’t get how valuable RH is, but I am not the only one. In 2014 and on, they will need that money to get players who can produce. Also, Utley has been more valubale, and now he makes far less. Maybe he doesn;t care, but that part dpesnt seem right.

    i really wish that baseball analytical writers though would not make comparisons to the political world. I dumped baseball pro******* for that reason.

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  5. Dingo says:

    Nice takedown of a crappy article, but a jerk like that really deserves the full FJM treatment. Man, I miss those guys.

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  6. Steve C says:

    Well I contest that a day is only 23 hours 56 minutes and 4.091 seconds. Unless of course you are talking about a solar day, in which case 24 hours is correct.

    Otherwise, keep up the good work.

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  7. Chris W says:

    Doyle’s article was terrible. Especially priceless was his weak attempt to equate the Blue Jays to the Clippers and Browns in an equally weak attempt to undermine Keith Law’s credibility. Seriously? I might buy the argument if he were talking about the Royals or Pirates, but I think the Clippers and Browns would gladly take 2 championships and an overall winning record over the past 2 decades.

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  8. bflaff says:

    fangraphs 1, low hanging fruit 0

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  9. TomG says:

    I think you’re all being a little too harsh with Doyel’s piece. He starts with a valid thesis:

    “The Phillies aren’t stupid. People are.”

    Then sets about proving it, albeit not in the way he was probably intending to. But you can’t fault the research; after all he’s a distinguished authority on the subject.

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  10. Patrick says:

    Warning:

    What follows, while short, is NOT polite.

    What the h-e-double hockey sticks are people thinking when they write things like “He strikes me as a winner and winners don’t leave winners.”. What does this line even MEAN, if you actually try to break it down?

    Almost exactly nothing… Ugh! And it’s treated as though it ends conversation.. When in reality the only way it ends conversation is by being so empty and pointless as to defy rebuttal – It has no substance to rebut.

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    • BlackOps says:

      The same as, “it doesn’t matter if Tim Tebow isn’t as good as the other quarterbacks, he’s a WINNER!” As if, winning is some kind of trait that you have or don’t have. I don’t know.

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  11. Thomas J. says:

    If Howard slugs 500 and and hits 30+ homers in 5 out of the next 7 seasons, it was a good extension. If not, it isn’t. Only time will tell.

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    • Thomas J. says:

      For my part, I’d give it about 40-60 that i will be good-bad.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        You know, just because you’re posting in a new thread does not mean the mountain of fail that was debunked in the old thread is going to fly this time. Unless, of course, you think Adam Dunn is underpaid by at least $15 million.

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      • Thomas J. says:

        Kevin – I think Dunn is one of the more valuable hitters in the game. So whatever that’s worth, that’s worth.

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      • Alex says:

        I believe its worth about $10 million. At least it seems that’s what front offices determined it was worth.

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    • Thomas J. says:

      The tough thing about being a GM / owner is that because pay is not tied to performance, but is predictive of future performance, you really never know what someone is worth until long after the ink has dried.

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    • Hank says:

      30HR, 500+slugging players last year:
      —-
      Pujols
      Gonzalez
      Dunn
      Morneau
      Utley
      Werth
      Morales
      Branyan
      Jason Bay
      Carlos Pena
      Tex
      Tulo
      Longoria
      Cruz
      Cuddyer
      Cabrera
      … that’s 16, and there’s probably another 10….

      Now of course there’s value in doing it consistently, but if you’re cutoff is a mere 30HR/.500SLG for 5 of 7 years when Howard will be paid as a top5 player… yikes… there’s a lot of people underpaid by that standard

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  12. dizzle says:

    Its kind of frustrating how some people are so closed-minded towards new ways of thinking. (for example, statistics in baseball) They use arguments like “well, you can’t really quantify baseball plays” or “I don’t believe in them so its not true.”

    We’ll probably have to endure many more years of “he’s a great player, he hustles, is scrappy, and is a winner. He looks like a winner and makes the rest of his teammates better.”

    I remember the weird Tim Kurkiian quote of Jeter:

    Tim Kurkjian Man-Crush – The ESPN writer named Jeter “The Face of Baseball” in part citing the following: “Jeter has a nice face, a rugged face, a handsome face.” That’s some fine baseball journalism there, Tim.

    http://www.torontobaseballguys.com/jeter.html

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    • Thomas J. says:

      Dizzle: “Its kind of frustrating how some people are so closed-minded towards new ways of thinking. (for example, statistics in baseball) They use arguments like “well, you can’t really quantify baseball plays” or “I don’t believe in them so its not true.””

      This is a valid point and I agree with you that it is a frustrating behavior. However, a lot of people on here are the same way – they found a new way of thinking, and suddenly they are completely closed-minded towards the older way. Of course they can disagree with the old way – but to suddenly think the new way of thinking is any more factual than the old way of thinking is equally pigheaded and frustrating to read through.

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      • Neil says:

        That’s a ridiculous misrepresentation of Fangraphs readers. Rather than ‘they found a new way of thinking, and suddenly they are completely closed-minded towards the older way’, it would be fairer to say that ‘they are skeptical of the unreliable older ways and are open to finding newer and more reliable ways of thinking’. That’s not an irrational rejection of ‘the older way’ – that’s the scientific method.

        It doesn’t mean that the new way is necessarily perfect, or that it isn’t flawed – the ‘open to finding…’ bit is perpetual and involves a lot of trial and error, and critical-thinking baseball fans can also overstate their case or suffer a stubborn streak – but it’s certainly preferable to burying one’s head in the sand and pretending that such an approach is equally valid. But it isn’t.

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      • Thomas J. says:

        Neil says: “That’s a ridiculous misrepresentation of Fangraphs readers. Rather than ‘they found a new way of thinking, and suddenly they are completely closed-minded towards the older way’, it would be fairer to say that ‘they are skeptical of the unreliable older ways and are open to finding newer and more reliable ways of thinking’. That’s not an irrational rejection of ‘the older way’ – that’s the scientific method.”

        I didn’t say it was irrational. I said it was pigheaded and frustration. You may be of the opinion that the new ways are better, but at the end of the day it’s still just an opinion. “A player’s WAR is X” is a fact. Nobody can deny it. “WAR is a better stat than OPS” is an opinion You should be respectful of those who disagree with it.

        Neil says: “It doesn’t mean that the new way is necessarily perfect, or that it isn’t flawed – the ‘open to finding…’ bit is perpetual and involves a lot of trial and error, and critical-thinking baseball fans can also overstate their case or suffer a stubborn streak – but it’s certainly preferable to burying one’s head in the sand and pretending that such an approach is equally valid. But it isn’t.”

        Again being or not being equally valid is an opinion. I certainly respect your opinion that the new ways are more valid than the old ways. But you should be equally respectful of those that disagree with you.

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      • Alex says:

        You realize we can measure the correlation of stats with what they’re meant to measure to see how good they actually are right? OPS has a much higher correlation with runs scored than batting average does. Therefore, OPS is a better stat to measure a player’s contribution to the runs scored by his team than batting average is.

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      • Thomas J. says:

        You realize we can measure the correlation of stats with what they’re meant to measure to see how good they actually are right? OPS has a much higher correlation with runs scored than batting average does. Therefore, OPS is a better stat to measure a player’s contribution to the runs scored by his team than batting average is.

        Well, there are all kinds of bad inferences going here. What you are actually entitled to say, epistemologically, is “According to the regression we ran, OPS has a higher correlation with runs scored than batting average.”

        Of course, correlation is not causation, and there could be any number of confounding factors, or they could be wholly unrelated.

        Is it fair to say, “In my opinion it is more rational to think that a higher OPS causes more runs to be scored than a high batting average?” Yes – but that’s ALL it’s really fair to say. Beyond that you are making leaps in logic that aren’t actually there. You certainly cannot claim that it is a factual truth that OPS causes more runs to be scored than average. All you can claim factually is that according to the regression there is a higher correlation.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        Fine then, there overwhelmingly higher probability that OPS correlates better with run scoring than batting average. Within the 95th confidence interval. Probably the 99th. Because, you know, this has repeatedly been tested and shown to *likely* be the case. Furthermore, it intuitively makes sense, because OPS doesn’t ignore information that batting average does. Given the incredibly small likelihood that batting average is indeed more important than OPS, there’s no real reason we should consider it very seriously in our discussions or include it in our modeling. The presence of uncertainty does not preclude us from drawing conclusions, if the uncertainty is significantly small and the evidence supporting the conclusion is significantly strong.

        Seriously, your sophistry adds nothing. Grow up.

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      • Thomas J. says:

        Kevin S. says:
        April 30, 2010 at 12:50 am
        “Fine then, there overwhelmingly higher probability that OPS correlates better with run scoring than batting average. Within the 95th confidence interval. Probably the 99th. Because, you know, this has repeatedly been tested and shown to *likely* be the case.”

        The confidence interval doesn’t change anything. It still merely shows correlation. It doesn’t show causation. If the interval were 100%, it would still just prove correlation, not causation. And since it can’t ever show causation, that “it is overwhelmingly higher probability that a higher OBP causes more runs” is merely an opinion, nothing more. And you are entitled to it. But you ought to be respectful towards those who don’t. It’s not just polite, but it’s intellectually honest.

        Kevin S. says:
        April 30, 2010 at 12:50 am
        “Furthermore, it intuitively makes sense, because OPS doesn’t ignore information that batting average does. Given the incredibly small likelihood that batting average is indeed more important than OPS, there’s no real reason we should consider it very seriously in our discussions or include it in our modeling. The presence of uncertainty does not preclude us from drawing conclusions, if the uncertainty is significantly small and the evidence supporting the conclusion is significantly strong.”
        Correlation – still not causation. LIke I said. There could be any number of confounding factors.

        Kevin S. says:
        April 30, 2010 at 12:50 am
        “Seriously, your sophistry adds nothing. Grow up.”
        Your disrespect adds nothing. Try being polite.

        In my opinion, epistemology is not sophistry, it’s just intellectual honesty.

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  13. Joe R says:

    I actually had to call out Doyel myself.

    I am a featured columnist at bleacher report (I know, it’s like graduating magna cum laude from the sped class, but keep with me), and I would NEVER attack fellow writers by name. He had unfortunate words for Verducci, too. Lord knows I disagree w/ Verducci on many things, and something think he’s a dunderhead, but I would never call him out in a piece for having an opinion. Hell, I’ve even resisted the urge to call people like Jon Heyman, Bill Plaschke, or Tom Boswell out. When you’re a featured writer for someone, your words represent them, and I think they’d prefer not to pick fights w/ other writers / organizations.

    Then of course he dives right into all the favorite cliches of anti-stats writers, which is saying stat geeks don’t get it, that Howard is somehow different than everyone else in history, and all the other nonsense. He probably wrote the piece because he saw a perfect opportunity to troll, but once again, what the hell kind of writer aims for nothing but inflammatory, non-factual speech? Sure you get page hits, but I have a tough time believing one can be proud of themselves by getting people angry at stupidity.

    And of course, my personal favorite of stat-geeks skewing numbers to make them say what they want, and then citing nothing but HR/RBI to boost up Howard. Forget for a second that Ryan Howard isn’t even top 10 in wOBA since the start of 2008, that he’s an average-ish defensive 1B hitting decline years, and since 2008, is ELEVENTH among 1B’s in WAR. Even if you tilt everything his way, does he even crack the top 5? Of course, though, I forgot real life baseball is like fantasy baseball. You sign guys who hit HR’s and steal bases.

    But rejoice on one part, we will see him eat crow very soon once Jayson Werth leaves town, to help disprove his theory that winners don’t leave winners.

    By the way, A-Rod is also not a winner. Forget that he was dominant in the 2009 postseason, to the tune of a 1.308 OPS. Forget the Yankees won the WS. A-Rod’s still not a winner. Which is what really made this piece sad, Doyel’s attempt to be edgy was really just re-hashing 5 years worth of bad baseball journalism into one disaster-piece.

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    • Thomas J. says:

      Well I will agree with the guy on one thing – wOBA and WAR are not better stats than some of the traditional offensive measures of performance, again, in my opinion.

      But I do agree with you that it’s generally pretty bad form to call out other writers.

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      • Joe R says:

        And why is wOBA (formulated based off actual data) not better than just citing BA/HR/RBI?

        wOBA is far more correlated w/ run production at the team level than HR, and especially BA. RBI is obviously ridiculous to run a correlation to runs with.

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      • Thomas J. says:

        Joe

        Correlation is not causation, so just because two things are highly correlated in a mathematical formula doesn’t mean that one caused the other. There could be any other number of confounding factors.

        I personally think that intuitively offensive production is best measured with a combination of slugging with men on base, batting average with men on base, and on base percentage, in that order of important.

        You are certainly free to disagree with me and I very much respect your right to do so. Opinions make the world go ’round.

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      • Joe R says:

        Obviously correlation doesn’t always imply causation, but to make that argument, you actually have to intuitively know of another cause of runs. I can’t think of any (outside of Jeter-Yankee magic, I know that’s real because they’ve told me this for 14 years and I don’t want to change).

        And that’s just not true. In 1962, Pete Runnels went .326/.407/.456 for Boston as the starting 1B. He slugged .474 w/ RISP. The Red Sox scored 707 runs.

        The next year, because God forbid they lack an RBI-man, signed Dick Stuart to play 1st. He slugged .521, and .518 w/ RISP. The Red Sox run total dropped to 666.

        If slugging is what’s important, explain why teams who paid top dollar for big-power hackers like Joe Carter, George Bell, Dick Stuart, et al, did not perform? Everyone remembers Carter as clutch, but when he was the star of teams, his teams were terrible. This is not a coincidence.

        Also, remember the ’82 Cards? 7th in OPS, 8th in SLG, won the WS. Why? Mostly because of a .334 OBP that led the NL.

        Also, why do you insist on detaching SLG and AVG w/ RISP from regular SLG and AVG? Are we about to argue that players, over long careers, hit better or worse w/ RISP depending on mental makeup? Because this is exactly what people said about David Ortiz 2-3 years ago. How’s that mental makeup going for him now?

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      • Thomas J. says:

        Joe R says:
        April 30, 2010 at 1:26 am
        Obviously correlation doesn’t always imply causation, but to make that argument, you actually have to intuitively know of another cause of runs. I can’t think of any (outside of Jeter-Yankee magic, I know that’s real because they’ve told me this for 14 years and I don’t want to change).

        Well, from the point of view from logic (I make no pretense of being a stats guru, and I readily acknowledge that you are much better at stats than I am in all likelihood. I do, however, have an ivy league degree in logic, so it’s fair to say that I am at least on even ground with you here) correlation *never* strictly implies causation. Causation is simply a hermeneutic added after the fact. Your point that correlation reveals the most obvious candidate for causation in lieu of other obvious alternatives is granted, but it’s still just an opinion. For all you know, what really matters is the position of the sun and the shadows it creates on the field while the batter hits. One just never knows. Now, you are certainly free to believe that the correlation presents the actual cause – my only point is that you should be respectful of those that disagree with this.

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      • Joe R says:

        There is no reason to consider opinions equivalent when one is based on research, and one…isn’t.

        Sure, maybe OPS isn’t causally related to run scoring. Then again, maybe having a habit of driving 90 in a 40 mph zone isn’t related to getting your license suspended.

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      • Thomas J. says:

        Joe R says:
        April 30, 2010 at 1:26 am
        “If slugging is what’s important, explain why teams who paid top dollar for big-power hackers like Joe Carter, George Bell, Dick Stuart, et al, did not perform? Everyone remembers Carter as clutch, but when he was the star of teams, his teams were terrible. This is not a coincidence.”

        I never said one slugger is all that matters. You need more than one slugger. You also need a certain level of avg and obp supporting it. A baseball team with one play who slugs 500 and 8 players who slug 300 is not going to do so well. A baseball team with 9 guys who slug between 400-600, however, is going to score runs even if they get on base at a .330 clip instead of a .400 clip.

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      • Thomas J. says:

        Joe R says:
        April 30, 2010 at 1:26 am

        Also, remember the ‘82 Cards? 7th in OPS, 8th in SLG, won the WS. Why? Mostly because of a .334 OBP that led the NL.

        FIrst of all, the WS is a tiny sample size, right? How did they slug and ops in the series?

        But again, according to your own logic, which is that anecdotes are meaningless and regression proves causation, this is a meaningless argument.

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      • Thomas J. says:

        Joe R says:
        April 30, 2010 at 1:42 am
        “There is no reason to consider opinions equivalent when one is based on research, and one…isn’t.”

        Well, first you have to prove that a) the research is methodologically sound and b) correlation implies causation. I’m willing to be charitable and grant you the first. I’m not willing to grant the latter without proof. Until then, both positions are “mere opinion” and nothing more. Which is fine. I have no problem with the 50% chance that I might be wrong. Hopefully you are equally comfortable with that.

        Joe R says:
        April 30, 2010 at 1:42 am
        “Sure, maybe OPS isn’t causally related to run scoring. Then again, maybe having a habit of driving 90 in a 40 mph zone isn’t related to getting your license suspended.”

        Pretty bad analogy. This example isn’t based on a statistical correlation. It’s based on a state law. There is no correlation implying causation here – it is the power of the state police and the legal authority backing them that is implying the causation.

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      • Mark says:

        “Well I will agree with the guy on one thing – wOBA and WAR are not better stats than some of the traditional offensive measures of performance, again, in my opinion.”

        So if I asked you who was the better hitter between Michael Bourn and Scott Podsednik so far, what would your answer be? Traditionally Pods has a higher BA (359-329), 1 less SB (9V8), more RBI (8v3) but less runs scored (12 v 8).

        Using traditional stats I honestly can’t say I’d be able to argue one is better than the other. But let’s take a deeper look.

        Despite the significantly lower BA, Bourn has a much better OBP (427-420, thanks to an extra 4 or so % in BB rate). Bourn has a .071 ISO, which is nearly 3 times as much as Pods .026 ISO. wOBA agrees with my argument here, as Bourn’s 393 wOBA is slightly better than Podsednik’s 384.

        It’s pretty clear to me that Bourn’s been the better hitter. Looking at “traditional” stats it’s hard to pick the better hitter. So I’m just curious why you’d argue that traditional stats are better than some of the newer stats.

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    • don says:

      Ryan Howard has, for his career, an OPS that is 150 points higher with runners on base than with the bases empty. He’s had 1500+ PAs in each situation. How or why has he done this? I don’t know. It would be an interesting question, but besides a generic ‘maybe it’s the shift’ answering it is out of my league. It’s certainly a factor in his high RBI totals.

      While it’s possible that that’s a fluke, it’s a big difference and a big sample size. If Howard can continue to hit better with men on base than with the bases empty, he’s underrated by WAR and wOBA which assume that game situations will average out over time so the situations in which players get hits can be ignored. I don’t know the degree, but the difference between a .269/.341/.542 hitter and a .290/.405/.626 hitter is huge.

      Either way I think this is an overpay, and signing an extension this early is borderline inexplicable, but Howard really might not be valued quite correctly by his peripherals.

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      • Joe R says:

        Yeah, I do *partly* agree, but what happens when his bat inevitably slows?

        I doubt his decline will be Ortizian (who continues to try and pull everything, right into the shift every time), but if anything, I think his RISP stats are the result of bad managing over clutch.

        And in his career, his SLG is 37 points higher w/ RISP vs. no one on. He also has the highest clutch score since 2008, but Carlos Lee is #5 and not far behind him. Clutchness is simply not enough.

        Maybe it makes him worth $20 mil a year at his current level instead of $15, but tilting everything his way, I couldn’t justify more than 4 / 60 in the out years. Let alone 5/125.

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  14. Thomas J. says:

    Joe R says:
    April 30, 2010 at 1:26 am
    And that’s just not true. In 1962, Pete Runnels went .326/.407/.456 for Boston as the starting 1B. He slugged .474 w/ RISP. The Red Sox scored 707 runs. The next year, because God forbid they lack an RBI-man, signed Dick Stuart to play 1st. He slugged .521, and .518 w/ RISP. The Red Sox run total dropped to 666.

    But that’s anecdotal. That’s one player in a lineup of 9, on one team over two years. In general, how well does it correlate overall?

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    • Joe R says:

      Yes, it’s anecdotal, but it’s just one in many examples.

      And your examples of using SLG w/ RISP is moot. It’s too volatile, year in and year out, to provide any predictive power of a player’s worth that his general hitting line doesn’t already generate. Even if it did, you need men getting on base to accumulate a lot of RISP chances.

      If you have two players, one does nothing but walk and hit singles, but does it well, hitting .300 in 500 AB and walking 100 times, while the other hits lots of HR’s and doubles, let’s say 30 HR and 30 doubles, but just 80 singles, and 50 walks in the same 600 PA.

      Player A, according to linear weights, created 68.5 runs in 350 outs, and got 250 bases. Player B created 76.1 runs in 410 outs. You may argue that Player B is better due to creating more runs, but Player A created 5.44% more runs per out used.

      Basically, your point that RBI-men are important is using the old assumptions that 1) The RBI’s are theirs, and 2) That no one else can produce runs in the lineup. Teams that win, don’t win because they have base-stealers and RBI-men. They win because they have a lineup that can produce runs. You could stick Pujols on the Royals and I guarantee they don’t top .500.

      Heck, you can stick Howard on the Royals and I guarantee he doesn’t receive half of what he just got.

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      • Thomas J. says:

        Joe R says:
        April 30, 2010 at 2:05 am
        Yes, it’s anecdotal, but it’s just one in many examples.

        Well, what matters is how many total examples there are pro and con.

        Joe R says:
        April 30, 2010 at 2:05 am
        “And your examples of using SLG w/ RISP is moot. It’s too volatile, year in and year out, to provide any predictive power of a player’s worth that his general hitting line doesn’t already generate. Even if it did, you need men getting on base to accumulate a lot of RISP chances.”

        Can you prove that it is too volatile to provide predictive power? Such a proof would interest me. Can you prove the same for avg?

        Regardless, of course you need men getting on base. But a man, even two men get a base on balls without someone behind them hitting a line drive double or homer, or even a seeing eye single, it’s not going to matter much.

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      • Thomas J. says:

        Joe R says:
        April 30, 2010 at 2:05 am
        “If you have two players, one does nothing but walk and hit singles, but does it well, hitting .300 in 500 AB and walking 100 times, while the other hits lots of HR’s and doubles, let’s say 30 HR and 30 doubles, but just 80 singles, and 50 walks in the same 600 PA.
        Player A, according to linear weights, created 68.5 runs in 350 outs, and got 250 bases. Player B created 76.1 runs in 410 outs. You may argue that Player B is better due to creating more runs, but Player A created 5.44% more runs per out used.”

        But your assumption is that linear weights reveals the true essential values of each of these events. Which is totally fine for you to assume, but it’s just an opinion.

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      • Thomas J. says:

        Joe R says:
        April 30, 2010 at 2:05 am

        Basically, your point that RBI-men are important is using the old assumptions that 1) The RBI’s are theirs, and 2) That no one else can produce runs in the lineup. Teams that win, don’t win because they have base-stealers and RBI-men. They win because they have a lineup that can produce runs. You could stick Pujols on the Royals and I guarantee they don’t top .500.
        Heck, you can stick Howard on the Royals and I guarantee he doesn’t receive half of what he just got.

        I don’t really think we disagree here. Where we disagree is on the relative important of people who walk a lot but don’t do much else well, versus people who do other things well, such as hit for average with men on base and hit for power with men on base – and to whatever extent these are correlated with the ability to hit for average and power period, then those as well, but do not walk a lot.

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  15. Thomas J. says:

    Joe R says:
    April 30, 2010 at 1:26 am
    “Also, why do you insist on detaching SLG and AVG w/ RISP from regular SLG and AVG? Are we about to argue that players, over long careers, hit better or worse w/ RISP depending on mental makeup? Because this is exactly what people said about David Ortiz 2-3 years ago. How’s that mental makeup going for him now?”

    I do believe that hitters can hit better or worse in big spots depending on mental makeups. It’s an opinion. Though if you have prove that there’s always a perfect identity between average / slugging with nobody on and average / slugging with runners on, I will find such evidence a strong argument.

    I think your argument about David Ortiz is pretty silly though myself. He’s old, his body is breaking down. It happens. The real question is, when his skills were strong, how did he perform in different scenarios?

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    • Thomas J. says:

      There is an implied inference here that the state of one’s body can have a deep impact on the state of one’s mind (indeed, especially, since I believe that biologically the mind is nothing other than part of one’s body) so that a decline in one’s physical skills can very much impact the state of one’s mental makeup.

      But I thought in case this inference wasn’t obvious and / or you didn’t feel like being charitable, I would make it explicit here.

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  16. Thomas J. says:

    But the REAL point is the epistemological one that as interesting and insightful as statistics are, they never reveal facts about value, because there are no facts about value. Furthermore, they do not necessarily reveal facts about causation, and it is impossible to prove, at least nobody has yet, that that a correlation necessarily shows causation. It’s all in the realm of mere opinion. Now, you may believe that correlation gives you a reason to think your opinion is more rational and well-grounded. And you are certainly entitled to think so. But this is still just mere opinion about mere opinion. Nobody is telling you not to hold it. We’re just saying to be more respectful to those who disagree with you and allow for the possibility that, no matter how much you think the contrary, they may be right after all – the only time we can ever be certain that the other person is wrong is when the dispute is over a matter of fact. Otherwise, we should be humble in our opinions – firm, strong, enthusiastic certainly, but still humble and respectful towards the opposing party.

    Similarly, people shouldn’t dismiss sabermetricians as basement nerds as this is disrespectful. There should be mutual respect on both sides.

    That’s all that matters. It’s only baseball, after all.

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    • Thomas J. says:

      And with this, I retire to bed. : )

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      • Reuben says:

        Please retire from this website.

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      • Thomas J. says:

        Because I believe in mutual tolerance and respect for those you disagree with about baseball stats?

        That’s mature. You must be a real winner.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        You have shown absolutely no respect for any of the evidence presented, hiding behind your little word games. Why should anybody here show respect for you?

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      • aweb says:

        The fact that there is a strong correlation does not exclude the possibility of causation, it merely doesn’t show it by itself. If you want to show causation, you have to get further into it, look at sequences of events.

        There are individual innings where perhaps a walk has worked against scoring runs (double plays, favourable match-ups), but it doesn’t work that way on average (which we know because it’s been observed thousands of times). I defy anyone to construct an inning where an extra base hit doesn’t result in the same or more runs than a single (and hence SLG which captures this extra information and therefore OPS is a better measure than AVG alone for run scoring) in an otherwise identical sequence of events.

        Let me state again – just because there is a correlation between two sets of numbers doesn’t mean there isn’t causation. You have improperly generalized the reasoning of the “correlation doesn’t imply causation” statement into essentially “we can’t know anything for certain, so everything is an opinion”. That’s great for philosophy classes, but a bit hard to take when talking about baseball. There are actual answers to actual empirical questions (you seem to disagree though, so I suppose “agree to disagree” is invoked).

        Returning to the basics, you can claim factual truth of the OPS vs. AVG causing Runs Scored debate. There is a right answer. If you disagree, show a sequence of nothing but singles and outs that gives more runs than the same sequence with an extra base hit instead of one of the singles.

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      • Tom B says:

        He thinks we are all afraid of his “epistemology” ideals, but I don’t think he even understands the concept. It’s not about questioning facts for the sake of asking stupid questions. I think everything he has posted here can be summed up with the line “You don’t know, because you don’t know”.

        Stop entertaining this clown, he only shows up on Phillies articles, let him go away.

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      • Reuben says:

        You don’t believe in respect. As Kevin S said, you haven’t shown any. You came here to argue the worth of Howard’s contract and failing miserably grabbed on to the lowest hanging fruit, Cartesian doubt and ethical responsibility. There are places (even on fangraphs) to argue about a team’s ethical responsibility and the injustices of the system that baseball operates under, but an article about the economic liability of the Howard contract isn’t it. But that’s neither here nor there, because you don’t care about the ethics of the situation. If you did, you’d be present on the boycotting the Dbacks post and the realignment post. You only care about being right.

        And in the absence of that, not being wrong. Once the rest of the commenters schooled you on your original point (Howard’s contract is good), you moved onto points that were harder to argue with. I don’t believe that you really care if Howard deserves that money, especially if you are a Phillies fan. If you’re a fan, you care about winning. And if it so happens that Howard is dragging the team down in 4 years with $75 million remaining on his contract, and the Phillies are the bottom of the NL East, you won’t say to yourself that that’s fine because we’re just paying him for those World Series trips when he was being underpaid. That will bring you little comfort.

        As far as your doubting Thomas routine (ha! I kill myself), it’s true that there are few things we can absolutely know. As Descartes himself put it, we could all be the dream of a monster or a madman, and the things that we believe are facts could all be wrong. And we could be figments. But after he introduced this doubt to the world, most people realized that having that doubt didn’t actually affect their lives and the way that they lived them. And I doubt (double ha!) that you lead your life as your arguments might imply. Everyone makes reasonable intuitive jumps all the time. The reason this is a good website is that they’re consistently dedicated to closing the gap on how far we’re jumping over doubt as opposed to throwing their hands up in the air and saying that it’s all opinion or simply standing on what they were taught or seems to be the case. You misrepresent it (and as Kevin S and I agree) and disrespect it by presenting its M.O. as something unbending or unwilling to change.

        I’ll show you (and others) the respect that the cogency and intelligence of your arguments garner. At one point, like most people, I believed that RBIs and ERA were the best measures of baseball talent, but I saw a number of cogent and well-reasoned arguments and changed my mind. The paradigm shifted for me, and many of the unexplained phenomena made more sense now. The idea that I or anyone else came to these ideas dogmatically is silly and unfounded. The people here are dedicated to constantly finding a line of better fit (or at least many, many of them are). And that’s the opposite of dogmatic. It’s all about accepting change and trying to adapt to it.

        And sometimes a lack of respect is OK. There is a healthy level of suspicion and cynicism to be had as long as it’s tied to the idea of getting better as opposed to apathy and inaction.

        I’d tell you to grow up, but if you’re actually a college graduate like you say you are, you should know better. Perhaps some therapy might help?

        P.S. I would assume that your Ivy League logic classes taught you about the straw man argument and begging the question, big logical no-no’s you utilized in other discussions. I mean, even a lowly film major, at one of the sister schools like me has heard of those.

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      • Thomas J. says:

        Kevin – I respect it for what it is. Evidence. Not conclusive proof. Not a knockdown argument. Evidence. : )

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      • Kevin S. says:

        No, you don’t respect it as evidence, because you equate it with your non-evidence. Now you’re just lying to save face.

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    • hugekiwi says:

      The lads have cited mountains of research that have shown that whatever causes runs to be scored, it is associated with wOBA, or at least it must cause a high wOBA too. In practice, in baseball games, it works. If you want your opinion to be considered equally valuable you have to show that SLG with RISP is more important for run production. I watch the back 9 at Augusta every year, i wouldn’t be at all skeptical about a player’s mechanics and effectiveness being different in high leverage situations, but you have to put in the work to show it really happening, in games.

      And linear weights don’t reveal “the true essential values of each of these events”? That’s just silly! They’re averages from huge sample sizes. It’s a game of trying to maximise your chances over a long season, nobody’s trying to quantify the “true essential values” of every individual at-bat.

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    • Matt says:

      What a dork. Hang out on a logic blog if you want to talk about logic. We wanna talk about baseball.

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  17. Greg says:

    Good lord Anderson, this piece could have been about two-thirds shorter. What was that about an editor?

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  18. Jross says:

    Rj is happy. And when Rj is happy he will write better

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  19. Keri’s article was so great and so well-written that I printed it off and passed it out to many of my co-workers, even those who aren’t baseball fans. I felt it was very topical for life, not just baseball, and implored those who weren’t baseball fans to read it and use the baseball part as an analogy to something they might care about.

    I also thought this article was outstanding. Great job R.J.

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  20. philkid3 says:

    R.J., I’ve been reading you for years and even once co-wrote for a blog with you, and this is the best thing I’ve ever read from you. And that’s saying a lot. Very well put.

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  21. Matt C says:

    Even if you throw all the metric stats out the window one of my problems with the contract is the timing of it. Why sign him this early? Even if you think he’s going to be that productive throughtout those years why do it now? His value isn’t going to get any higher by next summer, it can only get worse. Why not wait and see where he’s at in a year before giving him a big pay day? Or even wait till he is an actual FA, because the Phillies would hold all the leverage. Think about it, how many teams out there would offer him a contract near what they just gave him?

    He would probably be the 4th most sought after FA 1B in 2011(well probably 3rd cause I’m sure Albert will be resigned by then) and the 2 teams that could really drive his market up the Yankees and Red Sox probably wouldn’t be interested in him. The Yankees obviously because of Tex and I have a feeling the Red Sox will either have A-Gon by then or he will be the one they target. Then other teams with higher payrolls like the Tigers, Angels, Twins, Cardinals(assuming they sign Albert) are set at 1B. So what candidates are out there? I’m sure Seattle would target Fielder over Howard since Jack Z drafted him so I think they’d be unlikely. So there would really only be a few threats left and even those teams would have a pretty strict limit so I doubt they would throw anything close to what the Phillies did.

    So I really don’t see the need to give him this contract this early. With the Yankees and probably Red Sox not in play for him you don’t have to worry about a team throwing an untouchable contract out at him. You could’ve just waited a year and half and if his numbers declined which is certainly possible you could’ve gotten him for much cheaper. Instead you sign him when his stock will never be higher which isn’t very smart in my opinion.

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    • Tom B says:

      With Fielder, Gonzalez and Pujols going into new contracts, signing Howard now lets them set the market… I guess…

      .. and every season that he doesn’t show “decline” would only increase the price of resigning him.

      Not much of a justification but, I can’t come up with anything better hehe…

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  22. Your Face says:

    Your face is just another fool.

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  23. Coby DuBose says:

    Just a question for all – how unreadable is “Thomas J,”?

    I put his VORP (Value over replacement poster) at -12.7 right now.

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    • Kevin S. says:

      His +/- (comment votes) is historically low. We’re unsure whether this is a small sample fluke or not – Pizza Cutter is currently working on a split-half reliability test to let us know when we should expect that metric to stabilize.

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  24. Joe R says:

    It’s starting to look like an inevitability that Doyel will be eating a lot of crow in the coming years.

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