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Revenge of the Nerd?

Mike SteffanosFriday, August 18, 2006
By Mike Steffanos


In a post from Monday, I took exception to a ridiculous jibe at Jose Reyes on The Hardball Times web site. In what was supposed to be a weekly power ranking of major league teams, somehow David Gassko used that as license to take a cheap shot at Jose Reyes and compare him unfavorably to the admittedly very good Carl Crawford:

Anyone else feel that Jose Reyes is once again ridiculously overrated? Don't get me wrong, he's a very good player, but I challenge someone, anyone, to prove to me that Reyes is better than Carl Crawford. Reyes may be two years younger, but Crawford is a better hitter, better fielder (which negates the positional difference between the two), and has a much brighter future ahead of him. Crawford's big (6'2", 219 pound) frame suggests that he will continue to add power (as documented by yesterday's article on the relationship between size and performance), while Reyes' suggests that he will struggle to hit any substantial number of home runs. Reyes also has a nagging injury history, while Crawford has played three straight seasons of more than 150 games. This isn't to say that Reyes isn't good or won't be good, but it's more that I wish we would approach him with tempered enthusiasm.

Frankly, I still don't understand why this garbage was even in a power rankings type of article. To me, it demonstrates some sort of weird agenda on the part of the author against Jose Reyes. It's the same sort of thing that crops up constantly, because for some reason Reyes is the bane of the existence of a sub-class of society know as stat geeks. They're so confident in their formulas and statistical projections that when a player like Jose comes along that doesn't fit into their preconceived notions, they seem to have to go out of their way to put him down. I guess that's why I get so irritated from reading these things.

Unfazed by Jose's 3 home run game just days after taking one shot at him, Gassko is at it again today. In part 2 of an article where David proves to us statistically that big guys are better than small guys, Gassko leads off with this:

In the THT Dartboard last week, I criticized Jose Reyes. Well, I didn't so much criticize him as say that Reyes is getting a little over-hyped, but based on the angry responses I got from Mets fans, we might as well say that I criticized Reyes. My specific argument was that Reyes will not turn out to be as good a player as Carl Crawford, who gets nowhere close to as much hype.

The bold emphasis in the above excerpt is mine. I'd just like to point out that the truth is taking a beating right off the bat. There is a difference between saying Reyes is "a little over-hyped" and what you really did call him in the article, "ridiculously overrated." Perhaps that why some Mets fans took offense. If I had the chance to talk personally with Mr. Gassko, and told him that I felt his baseball knowledge was ridiculously overrated, I suspect that he would take offense at that remark.

Gassko goes on to use his formulas to "prove" that Crawford will hit many more home runs than Reyes. He does this by telling us the Reyes' home run numbers will actually go down after this season, and in 5 years he will only be hitting an average of 8 home runs a year. I think that projection speaks for itself to any Mets fan who has actually watched Jose over the past couple of years. The Mets organization expect Jose to be a 20 home run a year guy as he matures, but what do they know about ballplayers? Trying to refute Mr. Gassko's argument here would be like trying to win an argument with an 8-year-old using logic. (By the way -- any stat geeks who leave comments defending these projections, while certainly entitled to their opinions, will not be taken very seriously by this author.)

I again feel the need to point out that Jose Reyes is not a small man. He is listed at 6 foot, 175 pounds on his official MLB.com bio, and is still growing into his frame. Another 15 pounds is certainly a realistic possibility. But even at his current size, he generates tremendous power. The same genetic gifts that gave him fast feet have provided him with fast hands. Hand speed is more important than raw poundage for power. Just ask the 6 foot 1 inch, 180 pound Alfonso Soriano. Mets fans who go back far enough perhaps remember the 5'11", 180 pound Howard Johnson. I know Todd Worrell does.

Look, I like Carl Crawford -- I always have -- but I'll make a bold prediction right now. If both players stay healthy into their early 30s, Jose Reyes will be a much better and more valuable player. Crawford may hit a few more home runs, but unless he starts raking 30 or 40 a year, there won't be a substantial difference. Reyes' defense will continue to improve to at or near gold glove caliber, and his offensive approach will continue to be more refined.

I think it's likely that Reyes' future will be something other than leadoff hitter, provided the Mets can groom a real one. I wouldn't be surprised if in 5 years Jose is batting down in the batting order, hitting around 20 home runs a year and driving in runs. He will become more disciplined as he continues to improve his pitch recognition -- learning which pitches to drive, which to go opposite field with, and which to lay off. We've seem his progress in this area already.

Yet despite all the improvement we've seen in the past 2 years, Mr. Gassko is confident that Jose Reyes is as good as he's ever going to get right now. Again, he projects Jose's power to decline to less than half of his current numbers:

So while Crawford is just three home runs better than Reyes this season (per 150 games), we expect him to be 66 home runs better the next five years, or more than 13 home runs a year! What is now a small difference in power-equivalent to four or five runs in a season-becomes a huge difference, equivalent to almost 20 runs a year! You can see why I made the argument that I made.

No, I can't, David! I think your argument was spurious and silly. Although I have no idea why, I believe you have some sort of weird bias against Reyes. I also think that, given time, Jose Reyes is going to make you look very, very foolish.

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Comments (19)

It's not that he's saying Reyes is ridiculously over-rated that's bothering me but throwing Carl Crawford out there? Who cares? What does Carl Crawford have to do with anything? Why would he even mention him?
And who gives a shit about homeruns? Even though he hits them that's not the type of player Reyes is or is "supposed to be". Why bring up homeruns, that's like complaining that Juan Pierre just doens't hit enough dingers. Juan Pierre is a horrible player because he'll have about 160 less homeruns than Derek Jeter.
Lets take away Ozzie Smith's HoF plaque. Not enough homeruns.

Oops, sorry about the cursing. You could delete the one up top, I'll re-type it.

It's not that he's saying Reyes is ridiculously over-rated that's bothering me but throwing Carl Crawford out there? Who cares? What does Carl Crawford have to do with anything? Why would he even mention him?

And who gives a shizz about homeruns? Even though he hits them that's not the type of player Reyes is or is "supposed to be". Why bring up homeruns, that's like complaining that Juan Pierre just doens't hit enough dingers.
Juan Pierre is a horrible player because he'll have about 160 less homeruns than Derek Jeter.
Lets take away Ozzie Smith's HoF plaque. Not enough homeruns.

Don't worry about it, Benny, I'm not going to lose sleep over that word. I appreciate it though.

I agree with everything you said. The thing that annoyed me the most was that the whole thing seemed like just a gratuitous shot at Reyes. I'll admit the "ridiculously overrated" did annoy me. I really do believe, though -- even though I agree with you that home runs aren't everything -- that he's wrong even there. I started this blog in the first place to have a forum to answer sh*t like that.

My problem with both of Mr. Gassko's articles is not the validity of his findings in that survey of player size and subsequent power. My problem is, Gassko seems to forget that likelihoods are not events.

If 100 players of Jose Reyes' height and weight tend to hit 13 home runs per year fewer than 100 Carl Crawford replicas, all that really tells you that Jose either will perform along those lines, or that he will be an expertion and NOT perform along those lines. If you really think that your findings will always hold true, then you're talking about a rule, not a tendency; and if you look at baseball through those eyes, and not bother to see what is going on on the field -- then your baseball universe won't include players such as Eric Davis and Joe Morgan, or Jose Reyes, who defy expectations.

Hey, Willie Mays was one inch shorter, only five pounds heavier than Jose is today, when he hit 41 home runs at age 23.

Thinking about it, I believe what really bothers me about Gassko's stance is this: he is supposed to be a baseball fan, an appreciator of the game; and here he is so blinded by his own research that he is missing, at some level, one of the true joys of the game. Because, folks, if you don't enjoy watching Jose Reyes play, you just don't like baseball.

dd -- It's a good point, in that I'm not questioning the validity of his findings, either. I honestly don't believe that it's his research that's blinding him, I think he's starting out from a place of bias against Reyes and using his research to justify the bias. Perhaps he's someone who has an anti New York bias, or one of those stat guys that has a huge chip on his shoulder against Reyes. I don't accuse anyone of bias lightly, but I believe it's almost blatantly obvious here.

He's basically comparing Reyes numbers (and assuming he'll never get any better) with Crawford's (and assuming he'll improve tremendously). But numbers don't prove a hell of a lot, and you can pick and choose whatever baseball statistics you want in order to prove whatever you want.

It's like those rankings of "safest city" or "best place to live." There are dozens of arbitrarily chosen factors, given arbitraily chosen weights and presto -- a name comes up. But the slightest change in any of the factors gives completely different numbers. So you can "prove" how Jose Lima is ripe for the Cy Young Award next year, if you're so inclined.

But the fact that the stat heads can point to numbers makes them sound like they have all the answers, where they are no better than any other attempt to predict.

Remember: PECOTA really means "Pulling Everything Confidently Out The Ass."

RealityChuck -- Agree with your point about the numbers. DD hit it on the head about rules and tendencies. Again, this guy has a clear agenda and uses that research to "prove" it.

I told you already, he's smoking crack. He's making specious arguments based on false assumptions...

Maybe he should run for office?

Good point, but he's not getting my vote if he does.

The Mets site lists Jose R. at 175; all other references I've seen list him at 160. In either case, the point is that he's tremendously strong and generates a great deal of bat speed. Its true that projections are based on forecasts and are not iron-clad laws; but most good projections based on large samples include measures of uncertainty, like the margins of error included in political surveys. I think some of the posts here go too far in rejecting statistical work. It makes more sense to me to make a fallible projection based on lots of data than to invoke HoJo or Willie Mays--most players of small stature are not HoJo or Mays, after all--as long as we understand the uncertainty built into the exercise.

Still, I'm stunned that Gassko sees Jose's HRs going down in the next few years; Mike, how did he validate that claim? Was it in fact based on any statistical analysis at all? If not, we're aiming our well-earned anger at the wrong topic.

Is Gassko going to get the "insufferable moron" award? I still love that wording you created awhile back. Now we can give it away as a award, to those special pepole.

David -- I've seen Reyes in person and the 175 would seem to be close to his true weight, and he has a projectable frame. I'm not someone who rejects the value of statistical analysis myself, but I think it needs to be balanced with observation and knowledge of the ballplayer. I'm not rejecting the research that shows size has some bearing, but I know for a fact that the ability to generate bat speed is much more important.

Gassko's rationale for his opinions are in the article I linked to. Here is the article link:

http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/does-size-matter-part-2/

And here are the projections:

Year	Crawford         Reyes
2006	19	        16
2007	21	        13
2008	23	        11
2009	23	        9
2010	24	        8
2011	24	        8

My anger isn't with the analysis, it's with the author.

Rev -- It's not even being an insufferable moron. It's the relentless agenda some of these guys to just beat down Reyes. You and I have been watching baseball for a long time. We know the difference between hype and a really special player who is improving every day. All of a sudden Jose Reyes has to hit more runs than Carl Crawford or he's a just a bunch of hype? Pure crapola...

Why not respond with a commentary that Lastings for Crawford is a likely off season swap.

Mike: I wasn't aware that the Gassko article explicitly looked at the question of size. We both agree that bat speed is the key variable. An athletic 160-pounder generates more bat speed than an ill-conditioned 250-pounder. But at the major league level, where almost everybody is a superb athelete in good shape, size matters a great deal. Of course, an extraordinary athelete like Reyes can buck that trend--you and I agree about that as well. My point was that statistical analysis can help us see just how far from the norm Reyes really is--in that sense, it can help us better appreciate how extraordinary he is.

The article, by the way, is a bit hard to fathom statistically. Gassko makes a very basic mistake, for example, confusing statistical significance with substantive significance. More to the point, I'm completely baffled how he deduced Reyes' projection as being downward. The scanty data he provides doesn't support that inference at all. The data tells us that as players move into their prime years, the trend in the home run rate is slightly higher for larger players than for smaller players. The data does not say that smaller players see a reduction in their home run rate. Anyway, in my field it is very common for folks to argue for an very long time about the proper statistical model--no single piece of analysis is ever taken as the final word.

I have been a baseball fan for 35 years, and spent a number of years coaching at the hiigh-school age national tournament level. So while I'm not a big league scout or GM, I do have some idea of what I'm looking at.

Jose Reyes is fast developing into one of the best players in baseball, given his overall game. Baseball America (also not definitive but at least an informed opinion) says he's the second best fielder with the best infield arm in the league. He's 23 years old, hitting around .300... after starting the season at .245 for 6 weeks, and the numbers say he's very, very clutch. He leads the league in triples and stolen bases, and is second in the league in runs scored and close to the league lead in hits. He's got 60 RBIs from the leadoff spot in 3/4 of a season.

I would not be surprised - looking at his swing, his improvement, and his developing pop, if two years from now -- from the leadoff spot -- Reyes hits .320, 20 HR, 90 RBI, 140 runs, 85 SB, 50 doubles, and 20 triples -- plus a gold glove, or close to it, at shortstop. Those numbers really aren't all that far off from his pace through 3/4 of this season at 23 years old.

Carl Crawford? Aside from the fact that he plays a corner outfield spot, and not shortstop... and unless we pick him up as a free agent... I really don't give a rat's ass what he does, and I'm not sure what brought on the comparison. But if Gassko would trade Reyes straight up for him, all I can say is thank goodness he's not the Mets GM.

Ed -- I'd do that trade.
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David -- I couldn't quite get where the projections were coming either, but it wasn't really the point anyway. Statistical analysis is a useful tool, but will only take you so far, especially when you're trying to use it to support a pre-existing bias against a player. The point with Reyes and Crawford is a lot more than who hits the most home runs, anyway. Reyes, as demonstrated by the type of home runs he already hits, has more than enough power to hit signifcant home runs already. With him it's about pitch recognition and swinging at his pitches. As he does more of that this year his AVG, OBP and SLG have all risen to pretty damned good levels. I saw that coming last year, even in the midst of his ups and downs. I didn't just look at his stats, I looked at the player. I'm not surprised at all by how Reyes is doing this year, and that's why I get annoyed with people that try to do it all with numbers.
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ajsmith -- Couldn't agree with you more.

Thus, Crawford who is at least 2" and 25 lbs. heavier than both Aaron and Mays will of course hit more HR than both.

The most important aspect of power is hands, wrists and forearms. Aaron had very powerful forearms and wrists which is why he hit so many HR at 5'11", 185 lbs. Then size matters.

Let me see, Crawford is 34 lbs. heavier already. So, he should hit around 900 HR. Mays was 6', 190 lbs. Crawford is 29 lbs. heavier than Mays.

I'm thinking of writing an opinion piece demanding that the Mets draft only Sumo wrestlers and offensive tackles in the future.

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