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Myths and Legends about the Guy Hugging the Dog

Mike SteffanosSunday, September 3, 2006
By Mike Steffanos

In keeping with our holiday Myths and Legends theme, we'll finish up with a couple that I deal with personally while writing this blog.

Myth 1: I am against statistical analysis of baseball
I get this one because of my frustration with people who see this useful tool as the be-all, end-all absolute final judgment of any player's worth. They spit on such words as intangibles and potential, and insist on judging even minor-league prospects based on analysis and comparable players. In my opinion, while there is some fantastic work being done in this field, there are also many so-called "experts" that would have as little business in an important job in a baseball organization as the peanut vendors at the ballpark. The ones who come across as the most arrogantly doctrinaire are most often the ones who are the hardest to take seriously.

The irony of all of this is that stat analysis was written off and ignored for years by baseball experts who were unwilling or unable to see the value of this approach to understanding player performance. I've gotten into arguments with some of my middle-aged contemporaries who refuse to acknowledge any value in this type of research. For years numbers guys were shut out of MLB's decision making process by those who were too arrogant in their own evaluations to see possibilities outside of those with which they were familiar and comfortable. Now the pendulum has swung to the point where some in the field refuse to acknowledge the possibility of anything having value that they can't prove with their equations.

The problem with this is that baseball is both an art and a science. Any approach that is absolutist drives me nuts. I believe in statistical analysis, but I will state categorically there are some proponents of this science in the media who have absolutely no business being taken seriously in their close-minded pronouncements. The rise of the Internet, and also rotisserie baseball, have created a sub-species of puffed-up self-important arrogant monsters who don't deserve to be regarded as experts.

Don't get me wrong here. For years we have probably placed too much importance on tools and intangibles, but let's not make the mistake of going the other way. If you have ever played organized sports at any level, or even were a part of a team in some other facet of life such as work or school, you understand that the team dynamic encompasses a lot more than just the collective skills of team members. Just because you can't empirically quantify certain aspects of that dynamic, this doesn't mean they don't exist. Remember, much of what qualified as science a hundred years ago has been discredited or revised as our understanding has changed. Life is more than what can be easily proved or disproved. Ah, sweet mystery...

Myth 2: I hate Steve Trachsel
Yes, I have written about the veteran right-hander a lot, and some of it has been quite critical. But I actually like Steve Trachsel, respect what he has done for the team, and spent most of the first half of the season expecting him to be the decent pitcher he was before the back injury. The problem is that I have been increasingly convinced that he will not be that pitcher again. I've had a serious back problem in my life, and I know what it did to my athletic skills. What I see from Trachsel much of the year is a guy who is getting by on diminished stuff and a lot of veteran shrewdness. His savvy may indeed carry him through a playoff start, but I'm not sure I want to bet a playoff game on that.

I've read the opinion in both comments to my posts and in stories by columnists or that Steve somehow "deserves" a shot at a playoff start, based on prior service. At the highest level of competition -- and professional baseball qualifies, I think -- that's foolish. A manager like Willie Randolph owes all 25 players on the team, the team management and all of the fans the simple confidence that he will place the best people in the role that is most likely to ensure the success of the team. If Steve Trachsel earns the chance, based on his own performance, to be one of those guys, I will root for him as hard as anyone.

Myth 3: I am in love with my own opinions
A blatant falsehood -- I am nothing if not intellectually flexible, and have no romantic entanglements with my own opinions. However, as I point out in my "About" page, I do develop a crush on some of them from time to time.

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Comments (5)

One reason I visit your blog is that we seem to be on the same wavelength in so many matters. I tend to agree with your opinion of statistical analysis. It can be a very useful tool, but it can also be a trap. Baseball is both statistics and personalities, and to discount one or the other is slopping thinking. I tend to take issue with SABRheads because they seem to think that throwing out a bunch of numbers is automatically more objective than any other argument. But numbers are all chosen due to the predjudices and assumptions of the person doing the analysis, so they don't necessarily prove anything. This is especially the case when trying to predict how a player will perform.

I think that to ignore the human element in baseball is as stupid as ignoring the statistics. They are excellent analysis tools, but are no better than anything else when trying to predict the future.

RealityChuck -- medication can get you on a healthier wavelength. Seriously, though, your comment on the predjudices and assumptions of the person doing the analysis is right on the money.

Mike: I will be happy to carry the "I Hate Steve Trachsel" torch for you. Anything to help a guy out.

Regarding the whole "traditional scouting" vs "stats", I'm in between.
I'm actually reading Moneyball, which i love. And reading about the old school scouts just kinda makes me sick.
At the same time though you can't depend 100% on stats either.
How come people are either one or the other? How come people can't be both? Or in between. Use the old school scouts skills and work together with stats and analysis?
Not just in baseball but in many things people ALWAYS have to be one thing or the other. I don't like it, i try to avoid that at all costs. I don't want to be labeled something when I don't truely 100% believe in it.

Mets Grrl -- Lisa (TGF) doesn't like Trachsel, either. He seems to have the same power over women that I do. I appreciate the help, though, and I will now hate Trachsel vicariously through you.
Benny -- I think that's the best approach to anything, and I'm with you in that I don't like being forced into being one or the other in anything.

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