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Bob Ryan asks if the average fan cares about baseball stats

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Bob Ryan penned the latest edition of an article in which a sportswriter complains about all these new-fangled stats everybody’s using nowadays. He writes that back in his day, managers only got stats on little index cards and went with their guts. Ryan says he feels compelled to keep up with the stats junkies lest he be viewed as a Luddite, then asks if the average fan truly cares about the stats.

The answer to that is an easy yes. Many fans are involved in fantasy baseball in some way, shape, or form and fantasy baseball is the most applicable use of Sabermetrics for the average fan. They may not understand the advanced stats themselves, but they visit websites that display and interpret them and they follow the writers on Twitter and participate in those writers’ live chats.

But the practical answer is that while the fans may not desire an intimate knowledge of the stats themselves, they do care if their favorite teams are abreast of the latest trends. As a Phillies fan, I’ve long been reading the criticism of GM Ruben Amaro for the organization’s slowness to adapt to the statistical zeitgeist. Generally speaking, teams that have adopted statistical analysis have experienced more success in recent years and it’s readily apparent. Fans don’t like watching their team lose, and a failure to utilize important, available information is one of several factors that goes into failing to reach the playoffs. Thus, fans like stats if it helps their team win.

Where Ryan really loses the argument is when he, like every other sportswriter to have made the case, says that numbers junkies can’t appreciate a baseball game. Ryan writes that they get angry at every decision a manager makes, be it lineup construction or bullpen usage. Would that every fan cared as much about the game that deeply — baseball might one day close the popularity gap between itself and the National Football League. And, by the way, casual fans are just as guilty of second-guessing. Everybody has that uncle who yells at the TV. If they don’t, it’s their dad.

Ultimately, Major League Baseball should hope that more and more fans care about the game enough to delve deep into the numbers. That kind of engagement creates a long-lasting relationship with the sport. How many kids grew to love and appreciate baseball by gawking at the numbers — even if they were batting average, home runs, and RBI — on the backs of baseball cards even as recently as 20 years ago? Instead of questioning whether fans really care to engage that deeply, we should be encouraging them specifically to engage that deeply.

The Padres non-tendered RHP Tyson Ross

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 04:  Tyson Ross #38 of the San Diego Padres walks off the field as he's taken out of the game in the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on opening day at PETCO Park on April 4, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
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Per a report by MLB.com’s AJ Cassavell, the Padres non-tendered right-handed starter Tyson Ross on Friday, cutting loose their top ace after three seasons with the club.

Ross, 29, was sidelined for the bulk of the season with inflammation in his right shoulder and underwent thoracic outlet surgery in October. His injuries limited him to only 5 1/3 innings in 2016, during which he gave up seven runs and struck out five in a 15-0 blowout against the Dodgers.

Prior to his lengthy stint on the disabled list, the right-hander earned 9.5 fWAR and pitched to a 3.07 ERA and 9.2 K/9 rate in three full seasons with the Padres. He avoided arbitration with a one-year, $9.625 million deal prior to the 2016 season after leading the league with 33 starts and delivering a 3.26 ERA and career-best 4.4 WARP over 196 innings in 2015.

The Padres appear open to bringing Ross back to San Diego, reported Cassavell, albeit not at such a steep cost. Cassavell quoted Padres’ GM A.J. Preller, who was reportedly in trade talks involving Ross but unable to strike a deal, likely due to the right-hander’s recent health issues. Preller denied that those same health issues factored into the club’s decision to non-tender their ace.

With the move, Ross became one of 35 major leaguers to enter free agency on Friday.

Angels’ Pujols has foot surgery, could be sidelined 4 months

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Los Angeles Angels slugger Albert Pujols had surgery on his right foot Friday, possibly sidelining him past opening day.

Angels general manager Billy Eppler said Pujols had the procedure Friday in North Carolina to release his plantar fascia, the ligament connecting the heel to the toes. The three-time NL MVP was bothered by plantar fasciitis repeatedly during the season, but played through the pain in arguably the strongest year of his half-decade with the Angels.

Eppler said the surgery typically prevents players from participating in baseball activities for three months, along with another month before they’re ready to resume playing in games. Opening day for Los Angeles is April 3, and the Angels hope Pujols can be ready.

“He’s at that point in his career where he’s keenly aware of what’s happening with his body,” Eppler said in a phone interview. “I don’t put the timetable on Albert like you would with your younger players. We’ll just see in Albert’s case, as he progresses, what his timetable is.”

Pujols, who turns 37 next month, batted .268 last year with 31 homers and 119 RBIs, the fourth-most in the majors – although his .780 OPS was among the worst of his career. He largely served as a designated hitter instead of playing first base due to problems with his hamstrings and feet.

Pujols heads into 2017 with 591 career homers, ranking him ninth in major league history. He is 18 homers behind Sammy Sosa for eighth place.

After playing in pain until the final week of the Angels’ disappointing season, Pujols began shock wave therapy on his foot early in the offseason, believing he wouldn’t need surgery.

But Pujols’ foot became more painful in recent weeks despite the therapy, and he huddled with the Angels’ top brass to decide on surgery after his most recent trip to see Dr. Robert Anderson in North Carolina. Continuing with conservative care would have required 10 more weeks, forcing Pujols to miss the first half of the 2017 season if he still required surgery.

“He just felt that the pain had gotten to a point where he was comfortable” having surgery, Eppler said. “If we did delay it, you’re just looking at 2 1/2 more months into the season.”

Pujols had a different type of surgery on his right foot last winter, but recovered in time for opening day. He also had plantar fasciitis in his left foot during the 2013 season, eventually forcing him out for the year when his fascia snapped.

Pujols has five years and $140 million remaining on the 10-year, $240 million free-agent contract that pried him out of St. Louis, where he won two World Series and became a nine-time NL All-Star.

The Angels haven’t won a playoff game since Pujols’ arrival and Mike Trout‘s concurrent emergence as one of baseball’s best players. They went 74-88 last season, the injury-plagued club’s worst record since 1999.