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Jay[ton] Mohr Weighs In

In case you missed it in the Twitter explosion last night, Jay Mohr, actor and comedian (whose name is eerily similar to that of Kansas City Royals GM Dayton Moore), weighed in on the Royals-Rays trade that sent James Shields to KC.

He followed it up with several other tweets, all of which point to a non-idiotic (IMHO) opinion — but one that is very, very incomplete.

Consider this Tweet:

There’s something to be said, maybe, for the idea that not all prospects pan out, and that it’s better to have someone like James Shields, in that he represents a [more] known value, than taking a long-term risk on someone like Wil Myers. Of course, most pitching prospects are much more volatile than someone like Myers, who has dominated the upper levels of the minors at a very young age.

And Jay Mohr thinks that the Royals got two very good starting pitchers in this deal, as opposed to one very good starting pitcher and one very good relief pitcher that will be used as a starter. The velocity on all of Davis’s pitches jumped significantly as a reliever last year, something that he can’t hope to sustain as a starter. Unsurprisingly, his numbers as a starter are underwhelming. Jay Mohr says that numbers don’t lie, but he doesn’t seem to understand how to interpret the numbers; or, he’s not considering enough kinds of numbers.

Things like Jay Mohr’s tweets from last night are interesting to me because they seem to represent a hybrid kind of baseball fan/analyst — those who are beginning to absorb something from the detailed context that advanced stats afford to every person who’s willing to seek them out, but still react to them as the attempt of nerds to sabotage the game of baseball instead of as an attempt to think about the game logically and more comprehensively.

In support of his opinion, Mr. MooreMohr linked to an article by CBS Sports “baseball insider” Danny Knobler wherein he (Knobler) notes that the rest of Twitter disagrees with Mohr’s assessment. As to why many Twitter users might disagree, Knobler writes that “the Royals are trying to win now. Keeping Butler gave them a better chance at it. Getting Shields gave them a much better chance at it. The Twitter world may not get that.”

The “Twitter world” most likey does get that, Mr. Knob. That, to me, is in fact all too clear. I don’t think anyone in the “Twitter world” said that the addition of Shields and Wade Davis makes the Royals pitching staff worse for 2013. I think we’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the “Twitter world” or any other “world” who would argue that this trade — at least on its own merit — makes the Royals worse overall for 2013, or even in 2014. (Giving 30 starts to Jeremy Guthrie instead of Luis Mendoza/Felipe Paulino will probably make them worse, though.)

Instead, the “Twitter world” is mostly arguing that this trade doesn’t make the Royals better by nearly enough to get them where they need to be: at the top of the AL Central. Because this trade is likely to fall short of securing that ultimate goal, and because it significantly increases payroll for a cash-strapped team, and because it weakens the Royals in the long term, it wasn’t the right move for the Royals at this time.

Like Mohr, Knobler misuses stats, too — whether out of willfulness, laziness, or ignorance, I don’t know. For example, he cites Baseball-Reference’s similarity scores — to the end of saying that Shields’s number-one most similar player is none other than Zack Greinke. The comparable players listed by sites like B-R and Baseball Prospectus are not a number derived from off-the-cuff opinions of pro scouts; in either case (and moreso in the case of PECOTA than in the Bill Jamesian scores at B-R) they’re an advanced stat with a methodology that is both complex and imperfect, meant to be used as a guideline, not a nail-in-the-coffin point in an argument — a la “James Shields is Zack Greinke so BOOM.”

Yes, Shields’s most similar player might be Greinke — the implication by Knobler seems to be that Shields as good as the guy who just signed the second richest contract ever for a pitcher — but his second most comparable player is Larry Christenson, a player with an average-ish career who was out of the Majors by age 29. Ben McDonald is also on that list.

I don’t know where I’m going with this. The Jay Mohr tweets are those of a fan who is excited that his team added guys that will make the team a bit more exciting in the short term. They might be misguided, but I’m fine with them: at least Mohr resisted snark and engaged people. Danny Knobler, on the other hand, is a national columnist that snarkily dismissed all Twitter users as ignorant, then proceded to cherrypick and misuse some of the very stats that shits on at other times. So I’m riled up.