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


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.

Orioles interested in Denard Span

Denard Span
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
Leave a comment

MASN’s Roch Kubatko is reporting that the Orioles have “some level” of interest in free agent outfielder Denard Span. The Nationals did not make a $15.8 million qualifying offer to Span, which means he doesn’t come attached with draft pick compensation unlike other free agents such as Alex Gordon and Dexter Fowler.

Span, who turns 32 in February, hit a solid .301/.365/.431 with five home runs, 22 RBI, 38 runs scored, and 11 stolen bases, but took only 275 plate appearances due to back and hip injuries. He underwent season-ending hip surgery in September but is expected to be ready to participate in spring training.

The Mets and Royals have also reportedly shown interest in Span’s services.

Blue Jays showing interest in Ryan Madson

Ryan Madson
AP Photo/Orlin Wagner
Leave a comment

ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports that the Blue Jays are on the prowl for relievers with closing experience. Ryan Madson is one of the names on their list.

Madson, 35, had a career rebirth with the Royals in 2015. He signed a minor league deal with the club that paid him a salary of $850,000 if he made it back to the majors. Due to a plethora of arm injuries, Madson hadn’t pitched in the majors since Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals as a member of the Phillies. For the Royals, he wound up becoming a crucial member of the bullpen, finishing with a 2.13 ERA and a 58/14 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings.

While Madson allowed five runs in 8 1/3 post-season innings, he pitched well when it mattered most, as he hurled three scoreless frames in three appearances in the World Series against the Mets.

Madson has closing experience, with 55 career saves. 32 of them came in 2011 when he took over the closer’s role from Brad Lidge.

After signing Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ, and trading for Jesse Chavez, the Jays have bolstered their rotation but it was reported on Saturday that interim GM Tony LaCava is still focused on upgrading the pitching staff.

Trevor Cahill considering the Pirates as a potential destination

Trevor Cahill
AP Photo/Paul Beaty

ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that free agent pitcher Trevor Cahill is looking for a one-year, bounce-back deal. The Pirates are one of the potential teams he is considering.

It’s no surprise that the Pirates are on Cahill’s list. Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage has garnered a reputation as a miracle worker after turning around the careers of a handful of pitchers, including Edinson Volquez, Francisco Liriano, and J.A. Happ. Volquez parlayed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Pirates into a two-year, $20 million deal with the Royals last December. Liriano signed with the Pirates on a one-year, $1 million contract and turned that into a three-year, $39 million deal. Happ, dealt to the Pirates from the Mariners at the most recent trade deadline, just signed a three-year, $39 million contract with the Blue Jays.

Cahill, once a highly-regarded pitching prospect, has scuffled over parts of seven seasons in the majors. The 27-year-old owns a career 4.13 ERA with a 754/427 K/BB ratio in 1,083 2/3 innings. Cahill had some brief success after signing with the Cubs as a free agent in mid-August, compiling a 2.12 ERA in 11 appearances out of the bullpen.

Blue Jays narrow GM search to two candidates: Tony LaCava and Ross Atkins

Tony LaCava
AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the Blue Jays have narrowed their search for a new general manager down to two candidates: current interim GM Tony LaCava, and Indians vice president of player personnel Ross Atkins. Former Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos resigned last month.

LaCava was promoted to interim GM on November 2 and has already made a handful of moves along with new president Mark Shapiro. The club acquired Jesse Chavez in a trade and signed pitchers Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ to multi-year deals.

Atkins worked under Shapiro in the Indians organization for 15 seasons, so it is no surprise that he is a finalist for the open GM position.