Michael Hurley of CBS Boston has a column up criticizing Sam Miller’s quite good piece for ESPN.com about the ascendance of WAR. It’s your standard anti-sabermetric rebop. Hurley attempts to paint himself as a sensible moderate type, but make no mistake, the guy is definitely threatened by advanced metrics.
But that’s not a big deal. There are a lot of people like that. What separates Hurley is this little rhetorical flourish:
The blurb on ESPN’s homepage read, “After WAR helped heat up the 2012 AL MVP debate, it’s now a permanent part of looking at player performance.”
That’s certainly a bold claim, considering it wasn’t more than 65 years ago when the color of a man’s skin was a determinant for selecting an MVP, and also considering Miguel Cabrera won in a landslide over Mike Trout, the man with the significantly better WAR last season.
Can someone help me out here? Is Hurley equating WAR and segregation? Does he believe they are both artifacts of their time, with one thankfully being cast into the dustbin of history and the other, hopefully, soon to be? If that’s not his angle, what is it, exactly?
Whatever. If, in my own assessment of players, I’ve cited WAR more than a couple of times in past three years I’d be shocked, so it’s not like I’m on the front lines of the WAR war. I’m a stathead sympathizer and fellow traveler but I risk hurting myself and others when I attempt to actually calculate anything.
But I think I can say this much: if WAR is eventually set aside and considered a not-particularly useful stat, it will be because another, better stat is devised to replace it, not because enough people have yelled and screamed about the folly of trying to quantify player performance in the first place.
We’ve had a couple of notable incidents of sign stealing in Major League Baseball over the past couple of years. Most famously, the Red Sox were found to be using Apple Watches of all things to relay signs spied via video feed. Sports Illustrated reported yesterday that there have been other less-publicized and unpublicized incidents as well, mostly with in-house TV cameras — as opposed to network TV cameras — stationed in the outfield and trained on catchers, for the specific purpose of stealing signs.
As such, SI reports, Major League Baseball is cracking down beginning this year. Within the next couple weeks an already-drafted and circulated rule will take effect which will (a) ban in-house outfield cameras from foul pole to foul pole; (b) will limit live broadcasts available to teams to the team’s replay official only, and the replay official will be watched by a league official to keep them from relaying signs to the team; and (c) other TV monitors that are available to the clubs will be on an eight-second delay to prevent real-time sign stealing. There will likewise be limits on TV monitors showing the game feed in certain places like tunnels and clubhouses.
Penalties for violation of the rules will include the forfeiting of draft picks and/or international spending money. General managers will have to sign a document in which they swear they know of know sign-stealing schemes.
As was the case when the Apple Watch incident came up, there will not be any new rules regarding old fashioned sign stealing by runners on second base or what have you, as that is viewed as part of the game. Only the technology-aided sign stealing that has become more prominent in recent years — but which has, of course, existed in other forms for a very, very long time — is subject to the crackdown.
While gamesmanship of one form or another has always been part of baseball, the current wave of sign-stealing is seen as a pace-of-play issue just as much as a fairness issue. Because of the actual sign-stealing — and because of paranoia that any opponent could be stealing signs — clubs have gone to far more elaborate and constantly changing sign protocols. This requires mound meetings and pitchers coming off the rubber in order to re-start the increasingly complex series of signs from dugout to catcher and from catcher to pitcher.
Now, presumably, with these new rules coming online, teams will figure out a new way to cheat. It’s baseball, after all. It’s in their DNA.