Still Fighting The Good Fight

Sometimes I wonder if it’s even necessary to push the pro-stats viewpoint in baseball any longer. The battle is long over. The nerds have won. Just look at how many Ivy League grads are in front offices these days, how much money the Dodgers spent to bring Andrew Friedman over from Tampa Bay. Though some use it more than others, literally every single team in baseball uses some sort of analytics. Hell, even the Phillies, despite GM Ruben Amaro‘s infamous 2010 comment that he didn’t think the team would ever have an in-house stats group, have hired several analysts and are spending more than a million dollars on a proprietary computer system.

It’s over. It’s done. To keep saying that wins and batting average and RBI are useless, well, sometimes it feels like warmed-over territory. But then again, sometimes I see comments like this, from Ken Rosenthal’s look at why he expects Dee Gordon to have a big season in Miami in 2015:

For Gordon to make the same type of impact, he will need to improve upon his performance after the All-Star break, when he batted .284 but had only a .300 OBP and four walks in 258 plate appearances.

Gordon actually doesn’t think he was that bad.

“I don’t get the regression part, honestly,” he says. “As we all know, I wasn’t the only one who regressed. I honestly don’t think hitting (.284) in the second half is regressing. Some people didn’t hit (.284) for their whole season.”

I have no intention of bagging on Gordon, who was one of the kindest people I’ve met while in the clubhouse from time to time, and you all know by now how much I loved the deal that sent him and Dan Haren to Miami in exchange for Austin Barnes, Chris Hatcher, Enrique Hernandez, and Howie Kendrick (once Andrew Heaney was flipped to Anaheim).

It’s also not necessarily Gordon’s job to understand advanced metrics. It’s his job to succeed on the field, and if he — or any player, really — does their job, then whether they’re aware of wRC+ or WAR or any of the rest of it really doesn’t matter at all. That’s what the front office is for. The problem, though, comes when a player misunderstands what good performance is, and again, while I’m using Gordon as the example, this really isn’t about him specifically. This could apply to 98% of baseball players.

Let’s take that Gordon quote, where he doesn’t think he had any performance issues in the second half. And why not? He hit .292 in the first half. He hit .284 in the second half. .284 is still pretty good, right? Sure, maybe. But you already know where this is going. His OBP dropped by 44 points. His SLG dropped by 50 points. His wRC+ dropped from 113 in the first half (yay!) to 84 in the second half (boo!)

You don’t need to understand the gory math that goes into Weighted Runs Created to understand why. Walks are good. He stopped getting them. Extra-base hits are good. He stopped getting them. Not getting caught stealing matters too, and after going 43-for-52 (82.6%) in the first half, he was merely 21-for-31 (67.7%) in the second half. All the batting average similarity means is that he got about the same amount of singles as he had earlier, but baseball is not simply about “getting singles.”

You knew all that, of course. If you’re reading this site, you probably don’t need to be convinced. You just know, though, that plenty of fans read Gordon’s comment and all-too-easily agreed, thinking that nothing had changed for him and that the Dodgers made a tremendous mistake by sending him to Miami for minor leaguers they’d never heard of. It reminds me a little of how I felt back in 2010 when I realized just how many fans not only liked Juan Pierre better than Manny Ramirez — which, fine, like whomever you want — but thought he was a more valuable player, too.

Maybe it gets old being reminded why some of these “traditional stats” are relics of the past. It gets old writing about it. But it still seems necessary. Maybe it always will.

About Mike Petriello

Mike Petriello
Mike writes about lots of baseball in lots of places, and right now that place is MLB.com.