True lies

Today’s column, inspired by one of the Sperminator’s less successful box office adventures, treads on some morally ambiguous grounds. It’s probably not ethical to knowingly deceive a fellow owner in trade talk, but at the same time one could argue that talking up any player who you want to trade is at least somewhat deceptive by nature. This is not one of The Ethicist columns, though, so I figure I’ll just present some information for you to do with what you will.

Following, are some lines of argument that sound credible or logical enough to pass the sniff test, but are likely not true. You can take these true lies and use them to talk up your own players in trade offers (and decide whether you are being unethical or simply operating within the ethical latitude of any salesperson). Or, you can simply take the nuggets for what they are and apply them internally.

His RBI totals are bound to pick up; look at his home run totals

It’s not as if Jose Bautista needs to be talked up at this point, but this true lie applies pretty well to him. However, if there is one thing lacking from Bautista’s stat line, it would be an RBI total as gaudy as his home run total. Bautista has clubbed 19 homers but “only” amassed 32 RBIs. While this might raise a flag at first glance, there are a few things to remember here.

While 13 of 19 (68 percent) of Bautista’ homers have been solo shots, that is not all that disproportionate from the norm. Over the past five years, nearly 60 percent of all home runs hit have been of the solo variety, so Bautista is only two off the norm. Further, 25 of Bautista’s 41 walks (and all five intentional passes) have come with runners on. He’s been walked 20 times in 53 plate appearances with runners in scoring position. Teams are just not going to let Joey Bats cripple them.

Other players to whom this may apply: Jayson Werth (but for a different reason, as Washington has a cumulative .300 OBP)

He’s turned the corner/He’s figured it out

Charlie Morton is currently 5-1 with an ERA around two and a half. Has he figured it out? Maybe. The thing is, I don’t really care. Looking at the peripherals, we see that he has increased his batted balls skew in favor of ground balls, which can be a good thing. However, we also see that this change is accompanied by sharp decline in BABIP (in the .250s). Meanwhile, his strikeouts, which we’re already below league average, are down and his walks up. So, it’s pretty safe to say this is noise, not signal.

But all that analysis is missing the point. He’s a non-strikeout pitcher, who is not elite at preventing walks, and who pitches for a team with a poor offense and average defense. How good can he be…even if he did actually figure something out? So, whether it’s true is just basically irrelevant.

Other players to whom this may apply: Kyle McClellan, Kyle Lohse, Kevin Correia, Rick Porcello, Mike Pelfrey (when he’s going well)

He can’t be this bad forever

If we’re talking about Hanley Ramirez or Carl Crawford, this is a totally legitimate point to be made. However, if we are talking about players Derek Jeter or Kelly Johnson, my simply reply is, “Why not?” While the perception is that some of these players are underperforming, there’s also a strong case to be made that this is the performance we should be expecting, or at the least, the extent of underperformance is misperceived.

Some of the prominent names that have struggled early, such as Jeter and Jimmy Rollins, are on the downside of their careers and actually weren’t their vintage selves last season (and for some not even the seasons prior). Meanwhile, other players who commanded steep prices this offseason are coming off career years. It is more likely that Dan Uggla hits .240 than .280, for example.

Some players make the leap from promising talent to stardom, but others may have just had a year where they hit their 90 percent projection while retaining the same general skill set. The questions to ask yourself are, is the performance you are seeing somewhat legitimate based on peripherals, and is this production within the range of performance that could be realistically expected from this player?

For a player like Derek Jeter, there’s something of an unquestioned presumption that he has to bounce back from last year and be better. He’ll be 37 this year and, including the playoffs, has logged nearly 2,500 games at the major league level. Why can’t he deteriorate further and get worse?

For many of those not living up to preseason price tags, the plain fact is that we’ve seen this level of production from these guys before.

Using Recurrent Neural Networks to Predict Player Performance
Technology is rapidly advancing possibilities in decision-making.

Other players to whom this may apply: Aaron Hill, Delmon Young, Alex Rios, Ian Kinsler, Francisco Liriano

Common sense/talent must prevail

Koji Uehara is a better pitcher than Kevin Gregg by leaps and bounds; surely he’ll take over the closer role at some point. To be honest, I agree with the example I just gave, but it is important to remember that pride, stubbornness, politics, and finances are at always at play in Major League Baseball.

Much as the case may be at your workplace, one’s performance and skills are not always the best determinant of career path. Often, players get labeled as one thing, and sometimes they get paid as such, too, and this label becomes a powerful tool in carving that player’s destiny. We can’t always assume that talent will always win out; context must always be considered, including that of who is making the relevant decisions.

Situations in which this may apply: Young setup men behind less talented, highly-paid veteran closers, young players on the short side of platoon splits and blocked by more pricey veterans, any player blocked by another player who is projected to be on the trade market and whose demotion would be damaging in terms of trade value.

Use this information as you must, and if you find yourself telling a fellow owner that Jose Bautista will drive in 140 runs when his RBIs catch up to his long balls, and finagle a Kevin Youkilis andCole Hamels package for him, remember the words of one of the great hustlers of our generation, uttered back when Brian Jordan was a valuable fantasy asset.

I can’t be held accountable, D’Evils beating me down, boo
Got me running with guys, making G’s, telling lies that sound true

-Jay-Z, “D’Evils”

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