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Quote of the Day: a fabulous explanation of the interplay between stats and baseball’s human element

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Over at the Angels blog Halos Heaven, they’re interviewing their own writers so that readers can get to know them.  The man who goes by the name of Suboptimal was asked about his thoughts on the “stats vs. chemistry” debate. Or, as I took his answer to mean, the interplay between statistical analysis of baseball and coverage of the personality-based aspects of baseball by the traditional media.

In my view, there is a balance. You have to understand what happens in baseball in objective terms (the stats), but you also must know the limits of statistical analysis. Especially the fact that they do a way better job of explaining what happened as opposed to what is happening or what will happen in the future. Suboptimal seems to grok this concept quite well, and his answer is pretty much the best take on the basic problem I’ve ever read:

I like advanced metrics. As fans, we don’t have access to what happens inside the clubhouse. Unfortunately, the people who get paid to tell us what happens inside the clubhouse are autocratic, pretentious, and incoherent. Sabermetrics is a fantastic critique of bad sportswriting, bad broadcasting, and downright bad thinking. On the other hand, even though heavy stats are great for beating the shit out of bad ideas, it’s much harder to use them constructively. The system is built on correlations and probabilities, which can never predict the result of a single event like a critical late-inning pinch-hit appearance. The ebb and flow of the game is still a human drama, so I don’t think the “stats” and “chemistry” perspectives are necessarily in opposition, although many years of arguing has made them appear so.

I’d only add the words “some of” in between “unfortunately” and “the people” in that third sentence, but otherwise he’s spot on.

Things are way better than they used to be. A great many of the people covering games — especially the beat writers, who tend to skew younger — seamlessly blend stats and non-stat analysis and reporting, giving us a holistic view of things.  As is almost always the case in this world, however, you gotta beware of the people who believe that they and their fellow travelers have a monopoly on wisdom and who speak in absolutes.

Cardinals, Dexter Fowler agree to a five-year, $82 million deal

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Dexter Fowler #24 of the Chicago Cubs reacts during the seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Getty Images
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The Cardinals have officially signed outfielder Dexter Fowler to a five-year, $82.5 million contract. Fowler will also get a full no-trade clause.

The Cardinals gave Fowler a bigger deal than many speculated he’d get, as some reports predicted he’d get something in the $52-72 million range. His skills, however — he’s a fantastic leadoff hitter who plays a premium defensive position — definitely earned him some major dough. Fowler hit .276/.393/.447 with 13 homers, 48 RBI and 13 steals over 125 games in 2016 for the World Series champion Cubs.

For the Cardinals, this will allow Matt Carpenter to move down to the middle of the batting order and will shift Randal Grichuk to left field. It also takes a prime piece from the Cardinals’ biggest rival. For their part, earlier this offseason the Cubs signed former Cardinal center fielder Jon Jay. So that’s fun.

Are the Cardinals about to go on a free agent binge?

John Mozeliak AP
Associated Press
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The Cardinals have always emphasized building from within. In the 2016-17 offseason, however, they may end up being one of the bigger free agent buyers. At least according to some informed speculation.

St. Louis is already in agreement with Dexter Fowler. But Derrick Goold and Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch write today that the Cardinals “could become more aggressive than previously believed,” with Mark Trumbo and Edwin Encarnacion as “possible pursuits.” Worth noting that separate reports alleged some interest on the part of the Cards front office in free agent third baseman Justin Turner.

The Cardinals are already losing their first round pick due to the Fowler signing, so any other top free agent won’t cost them more than the money he’s owed. And as far as money goes, the Cardinals have a great deal of it, despite being a small market team. They have a billion dollar TV deal coming online and Matt Holliday and Jaime Garcia are off the payroll now. Spending big on a free agent or three would not cripple them or anything.

Encarnacion or Trumbo would be first baseman, which wold fly in the face of the Cards’ move of Matt Carpenter to first base (and, at least as far as Encarnacion goes, would fly in the face of good defense). Getting either of them would push Carpenter back to second, displacing Kolten Wong, or over to third, displacing Jhonny Peralta. If you’re going to do that, I’d say that Turner would make more sense, but what do I know?

Either way, the Cardinals may be entering a pretty interesting phase of their offseason now. And an unfamiliar one as, quite possibly, the top free agent buyer on the market.