Great Moments in Selective Endpoints

34 Comments

Fox’s Jon Paul Morosi has been at the vanguard of the Miguel Cabrera MVP argument. The Michigan resident and former Tigers beat writer is very pro-Cabrera this year.

Which is fine, because as I’ve said before, it will not be an atrocity if Miguel Cabrera wins the MVP award. I think, personally, it’s the wrong choice, but it wouldn’t even be in the top 10 of worst award votes in the past decade. Cabrera is having a fine season, and let no amount of pro-Mike Trout arguing make you think otherwise.

But what does get me is when folks base their argument on questionable assertions like this:

Why August 24?  Do games before that not matter?  Or is it because on August 23 Mike Trout had a big game, going 3 for 6 and driving in a couple of runs and after that had an 0 for 5 while Miguel Cabrera ended an 0 for 10 stretch on August 24 and hit a homer? It has to have some other significance, does it not? Because it cannot be the case that Morosi felt it necessary to cut off things on that date simply because it bolsters his preconceived notions of the matter.

But heck, if we’re going to put so much weight on the last month, why isn’t Adrian Beltre the MVP? He’s hit just as well as Cabrera down the stretch but he isn’t killing the Rangers on defense at third base like Cabrera is the Tigers.  If the response is that the Tigers are in a closer race, well why does Cabrera get extra points simply because his team sucks more?  And if the response is, well, Cabrera has had the better overall season, why in he hell don’t you let Mike Trout back into the argument? And where do we note that, right as the Tigers are making the push past the White Sox this week, Cabrera has gone 0 for his last 12 against the Royals?

Know what? If you just like Miguel Cabrera better and think he’s more deserving for non-quantifiable reasons, just say so. Just go all-in with your subjective feelings about his game and the magical sense his season gives you or whatever.  But don’t try to have it both ways. Don’t try to say that the stats which favor Mike Trout don’t matter but the stats which favor your guys does.  Have some sort of logical consistency to your position.

Some equal time for the Rays defenders

Getty Images
4 Comments

Yesterday I came out pretty sharply against the Rays recent moves. I stand by all of those comments, but I think it’s worth giving equal time to dissenting views.

Each of those posts contain analytically-based looks at each move and, for the most part, defends them on their baseball merits. I’ll let them stand on their own on their specific merits and not go in with point-by-point rebuttals (a) because that’s tedious; and (b) because I’m not the best-suited person to rebut analytical points.

There’s a (c) here, though, which is more important in my mind: no matter how many good points those articles make — and they do make many — it’s sort of beside the point. Because it seems to me that those of us slamming the Rays and those of us defending the Rays are talking past one another.

Sullivan, Drays Bay and others are arguing that the Rays front office was able to make some good moves. And they make those arguments pretty well in a vacuum. What they don’t address — and what I’m mostly concerned with — is the assumption that they HAD to make those moves. From where I’m sitting — and the credulousness some have for front office spin notwithstanding — Rays transactions in recent years, and certainly lately, seem to be pretty clearly mandated by ownership in order to either cut payroll or to keep it from growing and to shed arbitration-eligible dudes. That the GM and his team have made decent lemonade out of those lemons does not vindicate ownership’s mandate to cut payroll and shed arbitration-eligible dudes.

What’s more, such arguments — “hey, here’s the x, y, z of why trading away the face of the franchise is good!” — do not address the largest issue facing Tampa Bay Rays baseball, now and for the club’s entire history: fan apathy. Yes, they do relatively well in the TV ratings and their stadium and its location are a big hurdle to overcome, but the fact of the matter is that the Rays, as an organization, have rarely if ever done things which can be best explained in terms of giving the fans an entertaining product on the field. They have had some excellent teams, but they have, more than most clubs, let their baseball decision making be determined by the bottom line rather than making baseball decisions aimed at creating a consistently-winning and entertaining product.

A much simpler way to look at this is from the perspective of casual fans, families and the sorts of people who are not hardcore statistically-inclined diehards. What have the Rays done to attract these people? How does a 12-year-old kid get excited about the fact that they traded away Evan Longoria for payroll purposes and cut Corey Dickerson, an All-Star last year, because his 115 wRC+ far outpaced his projected 103 wRC+? That’s a consideration that a diehard fan who has, through big-time immersion, come to appreciate as a second-level thing, but it’s not how anywhere close to a majority of fans enjoy and experience the game. They like stars and familiar names and they want to believe that, if they go to a game, the team has a good chance to win it and that it’s fun in the process.

I’m not seeing any appreciation from the Rays’ defenders for that dynamic. I’m not seeing any acknowledgement that the Rays moves are making the team less familiar and less enjoyable for a casual fan and how that, when you take away some of your team’s better players and replace them with guys who might be better at some point down the road, there’s a good chance that the team will take a step back in the short term and how that that may turn off a lot of fans.

There’s an argument in the DRays Bay piece that those of us criticizing the Rays are doing so from some sort of pre-Moneyball, luddite perspective. This is ridiculous. Most of the folks who are leveling this criticism — and Drays Bay links our articles on this in their piece if you want to read them — are well-versed in team building theory. Many of us were deeply immersed in sabermetric reading and writing before the Rays even existed as a franchise. We’re well-aware of what motivations and incentives exist for general managers and the manner in which one builds a team for sustained competitiveness.

The point is that most people do not root for general managers. They do not care about long-term, sabermetrically-sound theories of team building. They want an entertaining team in which they can, over time, invest some loyalty and forge an emotional connection. If a club cannot serve those fans — which are, again, most fans — while also building their team for sustained competition, they need to explain why they can’t, given how many teams are able to do this. They are not entitled to the deference they and their defenders expect as a matter of course.