Former major leaguer and former minor league manager Gabe Kapler pens a column over at WEEI today about how, even as people inside the game of baseball have moved on from the old statistics to new metrics when it comes to player analysis, the players themselves haven’t:
Times have changed, but substantially less among players. While progressive front offices have altered the way they evaluate us, we have lagged far behind in the way we grade ourselves. It’s akin to unhealthy communication in a relationship … The player still thinks he’s going to make a boatload of money because he’s hitting .300, and he might … but not because he’s excelling in that statistic. He may be shocked to find that he’s not in as high demand as a guy dominating a peripheral measurable.
Kapler goes on to make a case for the players to get with the times.
He has some good arguments, but even as a fellow traveller of the stat set, I think players getting hip to advanced metrics is pretty unimportant. Sabermetric measures of players are important to evaluate the players, sure, but the players themselves don’t play a huge role in player evaluation. Teams should know these things when building a roster. Agents should know these things when arguing for the player’s value in arbitration or free agency. Analysts and writers should know this stuff in describing what happens in a game and why certain things matter.
But if I’m running a team or advising a player I just want him to play baseball. Yes, he should absolutely know what plays are dumb and what plays are smart. He should, broadly speaking, know what is valuable and should carry out the will of the manager (who in turn is carrying out the will of the front office). But he should, more than anything else, do his own thing the best way he can.
For some that may be taking walks and doing things statheads would love to see him do. But that’s not the case for every player. Pitch recognition has a pretty big talent component to it, for example. If a guy is never going to be a patient hitter because he sucks at pitch recognition I’d hope he’d try to best salvage that by swinging violently at pitches that he thinks are at least close to the zone.
More broadly: stats are about understanding, explaining and in many ways predicting the game. Let the players play and let the rest of us worry more about the stats. I don’t think Kapler is arguing anything in conflict with that — and I think he makes a lot of good points about how players are not the best at understanding the game even if they are the ones who play it — but I do think players’ study of advanced metrics should be in the broadest possible terms, not in any sort of detailed way.