- FanGraphs Sabermetrics Library - http://www.fangraphs.com/library -

Food Metaphors, Replacement Level Style

When writing my irreverent NotGraphs post on Casey Fossum, an interesting question popped into my head: how could I best explain the concept of a replacement level player using a food metaphor? In other words, is there a “replacement level” food? Not every baseball fan is a math nerd, but ALL sports fans love food. This is an indisputable truth, and means that food metaphors have the potential to be one of the most potent teaching instruments since these amazingly quirky mathematics videos.*

*Also, before you ask, this post is a direct reference to Fire Joe Morgan and their historic “Food Metaphors” tag, possibly the best thing that Ken Tremendous has ever created, ever. And yes, I’m a huge fan of “The Office”.

Before we get into the nitty gritty of finding the perfect food metaphor for replacement level, we need to know what replacement level is. In case you have forgotten (or don’t know), here’s Graham MacAree’s description of replacement level, as taken from our page in the Library:

We can define a replacement level player as one who costs no marginal resources to acquire. This is the type of player who would fill in for the starter in case of injuries, slumps, alien abductions, etc.

These are essentially the Triple-A filler players that can be found in every organization (and in copious amounts on the free agent list) every year. They cost next to nothing to acquire, can be found in massive quantities, and should only be used in case of emergency – at best, they make adequate bench players. They are, in short, the very base of major league baseball’s (triangular) talent distribution.

So with this in mind, what’s the ideal food to capture the essence of a replacement level player? Let’s take to the Twitter!

This answer comes from Matt Bandi from Pirates Prospects, and I like it: rice is cheap, widely available, and by itself it’s about as bland and “meh” as possible. Of course, you can add gravy to it and turn rice into Albert Pujols, but gravy will do that to anything; it’s like the steroids of food.

A similar answer to the rice: instant potatoes are cheap, widely available, and an easy fall-back plan when all your attempts at cooking dinner go up in flames. Also, I just like the idea of envisioning Bartolo Colon as a potato (since he already is one).

I received a couple other ideas that I really like: cereal, toast, Spaghetti-O’s, and gruel. I think you easily could go with any of these when trying to describe the concept to someone, so it’s really a matter of personal preference.

My personal replacement level food of choice would have to be Twinkies. I know, I know…some people actually like Twinkies and think they taste good, but don’t some people also love David Eckstein and Casey Kotchman? Twinkies may look like food and smell like food, but if you ever look at their ingredient list, they’re most certainly not food. And while they may not be everyone’s go-to fall-back option as a snack, if there’s ever a nuclear war and we’re left trying to survive in an apocalyptic hellscape, Twinkies will likely be the only food option remaining. In my eyes, they are the ultimate replacement food.

So next time you’re sitting in a ballpark and the person next to you starts proclaiming that Willie Bloomquist is the bee’s knees, turn to him (or her) and explain how Bloomquist is really the baseball equivalent of a Twinkie. Or a potato. Whichever you choose, I’m sure Ken Tremendous will be smiling somewhere.