Justin Verlander

“Exotic math” is going to cost Justin Verlander the MVP award

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A friend asked me if there was a point to the “Moneyball” movie coming out now, several years after the book.  All of the lessons its insights have long since been coopted and mainstreamed, my friend said. It’s kind of old news.

I considered the argument for a minute and, as I often do, I randomly surged the web as I thought. I somehow landed on Jerry Green’s column in the Detroit News, lamenting the fact that “narrow-minded” baseball writers will “gyp” Justin Verlander of the MVP award because they’re under the spell of voodoo baseball metrics:

The problem is with the voters, the select journalists in the Baseball Writers Association assigned to the voting. Two from each franchise city. And the problem is that this exotic math known as Sabermetrics has contaminated baseball’s once-neat statistical system. We have cryptic designations such as WHIP and WAR and OPS thrown about by stats geeks who believe themselves to be geniuses with ciphers.

And you know exactly what’s next. No, not some call for a more subjective criteria for MVP. A desire to insert drama and good stories into the mix.  I could at least understand that kind of argument as an appeal for something different.  No, what comes next is Green saying “all of these stats are awful” and proving the point by citing … other stats:

I prefer the ancient meat-and-potatoes stats — a better mixture. Batting average, home runs, runs batted in, runs scored for the position players. Victories, earned run average and strikeouts for pitchers.

And what I do know is that Justin Verlander has won 22 games this season against five losses. His total projects to 24 or 25 victories. No other pitcher in the major leagues is anywhere near him. And I know that his strikeout total, 232, is the highest in baseball and that his ERA, 2.24, is tied with Jered Weaver’s for the lowest in the American League.

All that is in the baseball’s ancient stats info. You could look it up — as this ancient did.

As always, these arguments are not about statistics. Or even about baseball.  They’re about politics. Tradition vs. modernity. Fear of change in a changing world.  Baseball statistics are simply the McGuffin in this grand debate. It could just as easily be music, hairstyles or the height of one’s pants.

The Blue Jays will talk long term deals with Jose Bautistia and Edwin Encarnacion

Jose Bautista Blue Jays
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Ever since Alex Anthopoulos resigned as Blue Jays’ GM and Mark Shapiro took over as team president, a distinct air of frugality has set in over Rogers Centre. The go-for-broke attitude that fueled Toronto’s fantastic second half last year was repudiated and long-term, sustainable building has seemed to be the order of the day.

But the Jays aren’t going to go crazy with that: ESPN’s Jayson Stark reports that the Blue Jays plan to have long-term extension talks with the agents of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion during spring training. This, combined with the still-remaining possibility that they can avoid arbitration with MVP Josh Donaldson and hammer out a long-term deal could mean some serious spending by the Jays before Opening Day.

Or this could just be talk from the front office designed to buoy the spirits of fans. Locking up all three of them to long-term deals may be hella expensive and may not be possible. It’s also the case that, given their ages — Bautista is 35 and Encarnacion is 33 — it may not be advisable to lock the both up. As always, it depends on the terms and how generous Rogers Communications plans on being with the Jays’ budget.

But the chatter is now out there and expectations are poised to be set.

The Rays are REALLY ready to get to work on that new ballpark

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Last month St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay Rays reached an agreement that would allow the Rays to seek a new ballpark outside of the St. Pete city limits, anywhere in the Bay Area. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports today that the Rays have submitted a required report to that end which “describes how they plan to evaluate potential ballpark sites across the Tampa Bay area” and serves as a rough outline of the sort of facility they’re looking to build.

They submitted it 39 days before deadline. Ya think they’re eager to get moving?

As for the specifics, it sounds like they’re shooting for a Braves or Cardinals style destination place with surrounding entertainment, retail and the like. The Braves are achieving that by basically building the park at a mall and plan to surround it with other mall/entertainment district-type development. The Cardinals built a downtown park, but have developed Ballpark Village after the fact. This is to be contrasted with downtown parks which either counted on existing city businesses or spurred separate development.

All of which makes sense given that there isn’t one dominant location in Tampa which all but demands development there. Tampa has a few different areas that might make sense and the place is generally more spread out than older cities. It also makes sense for the Rays’ owners who are likely well aware that being in the real estate business is just as good for them as being in the baseball business.

Will anyone EVER break that record that was broken nine years ago?

Hank Aaron
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In 2007, Barry Bonds hit his 756th home run. He would go on to hit six more, finishing his career with 762. That was nine years ago and, at present, the active home run leader is nearly 80 homers behind him and no sure bet to come close. The next closest guy is over 200 homers back and clearly entering a period of decline.

All of which raises the question: will anyone EVER pass the home run total of Hank Aaron, who is in second place on that list?

Maybe you think that’s not really a pertinent question. We tend not to ask whether people who do not, by any objective measure, hold a record will have their records surpassed. But you’d be wrong. Why, just today, on Hank Aaron’s 82nd birthday, at least two journalists speculated whether anyone would ever become the all-time second place home run king:

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That’s from Cliff Corcoran at Sports Illustrated. As always, it’s excellent work from Cliff. Right up there with his seminal “will anyone ever catch Lou Brock in stolen bases?” and “who can catch Trevor Hoffman in career saves?” pieces.

Then there’s Dave O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who approves of the question posed and has his own response:

You can imagine how those tweets were received by those parts of Twitter who are all about PED apologia, math, objective standards, noting that Aaron admitted that he took a PED that would have him banned today too and stuff like that. As always, these things get ugly.

Not that they have to be. It’s almost as if, if one were to try, one could celebrate the amazing inner-circle Hall of Fame career of Hank Aaron, full as it is with nearly unsurpassed accomplishment, without applying a revisionist gloss to the one accomplishment that, according to all objective measures and the accounting of Major League Baseball, has been surpassed. That one could talk about Aaron without slagging on Bonds.

Angels claim Christian Friedrich off waivers from Rockies

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Last week the Rockies parted ways with left-hander Christian Friedrich, designating the former first-round draft pick for assignment, and today the Angels claimed him off waivers.

Friedrich was the 25th overall pick in the 2008 draft and twice cracked Baseball America’s annual top-100 prospects list, but now he’s 28 years old with a 5.81 ERA in 167 innings as a big leaguer after back problems halted his development.

At this point Friedrich’s best bet to stick in the majors seems to be as a reliever, where his fastball-slider combination could work well in shorter stints.

To make room for Friedrich on the roster the Angels dropped 26-year-old infielder Taylor Featherston, who was originally drafted by the Rockies in 2011.