I’ve been buying various baseball annuals since the mid-1980’s. Beginning in 2000, I’ve picked up Baseball Prospectus every year. I have a love/hate relationship with those good folks — the condescending, dogmatic attitudes sometimes make me want to hurl, but overall they are well-informed, insightful, and funny. BP is the heir-apparant to the old Bill James Abstracts.
It’s worth keeping in mind that today’s glut of “advanced statistics” is driven, in large part, by the billion-dollar fantasy market. Those are the consumers who are buying the magazines and the annuals and subscribing to the websites, the poor schlubs who are desperate to win the office league. It’s why we now see half a dozen different “projection systems” — ZIPS and Steamer and Oliver and PECOTA and so on — all with incomprehensible math, each one of them proprietary. Killer info you can get nowhere else! There’s huge money to be made out there.
That’s the beauty of capitalism, right? The brainiacs have been incentivized; there’s money in coming up with the best, smartest analysis and forecast system. And for the most part, baseball fans benefit from it. And perhaps the game itself benefits by virtue of having better informed fans. That’s the idea with democracy, after all. The smarter the voters, the better the government. Oy.
Today two different research organizations have entirely different ways of calculating WAR, for example. You can go to FanGraphs or Baseball Reference and get two totally different numbers! (Juan Lagares gets a WAR of 3.7 at BR, and 2.9 at FanGraphs: Yes, I know, that’s crazy.) Why is that so? Two reasons: 1) They are making this shit up, it’s valid, but the all-in-one stat is not objective in a way that can be witnessed by the naked eye; 2) There’s profit in having your own fancy-dancy system, a motivation that has nothing to do with baseball. In other words, everybody is incentivized to come up with their own wacky, new-fangled shit.
My take is that these sabermetricians are very, very good at explaining what just happened. I like it, I learn from it. But when it comes to predicting the future, shrug, they get a lot of things wrong, just like everybody else. That’s the beauty of the game, the math majors can’t take it over. At the same time, I’m genuinely grateful to the math majors for doing all that heavy lifting. All those computer calculations have shed some light. And, yes, contributed mightily to the plethora of noise and the loss, at times, of true signal.
Anyway, nobody brings the snark quite like BP. Here’s some comments from the new annual, which arrived at my door a couple of days ago. First, from the team overview:
“There is a tendency, whenever things go wrong with the Mets, to just chalk it up to their inherent Metsness. Mets gonna Mets!”
“To be more than an afterthought in the National League, the Mets are going to have to spend.”
“Meanwhile they need several more solid bats before their lineup causes opposing pitchers to lose sleep, even with Granderson on board. Can they afford to acquire those bats? Not this year, it seems. And what will have changed by next year?”
“Do bankers dream of electric corner outfield bats?”
“Fans will be back when the team earns them back.”
And because I’m a fast typist, some highlights from the player profiles:
On Lucas Duda: “The plate discipline and walks are a real weapon, but until further notice, Duda’s greatest skill is the idea that he might hit the ball.”
On Allan Dykstra: “Dykstra had a phenomenal season at Double-A, featuring that perfectly time-consuming combination of a discerning eye and a swing too long to get to the pitches he likes.”
On Juan Lagares: “The Mets didn’t consider him a minor-league center fielder until 2012 . . . If he keeps up the defense, his bat won’t need to improve all that much.”
On Josh Satin: “The team willing to play him full time at first base probably won’t be very good, but hey, it only takes one.”
On Ruben Tejada: “When Tejeda and Ike Davis were sent down following terrible starts, the organization wasn’t subtle about which player it wanted to succeed, and which was persona non grata.”
On David Wright: “The Mets need to engender trust somewhere, and with Wright cynical fans know there’s at least one professional in the organization.”
On Chris Young: “Contact has always been the gap in Young’s game, and the problem grew to canyon dimensions last eason. The offensive sinkhole was all-encompassing, including his worst walk and strikeout rates since 2008 and 2009, respectively, and the lowest power numbers since he was a rookie. Young’s season was a lemon no matter how you slice it — versus lefties or righties, home or away, in the first half or the second. Young could rebuild his value with the Mets, or this could be the first of a series of short deals leading to the inevitable “minor-league contract or retirement?” phase.
On Eric Young: “He’s ultimately a fourth outfielder.”
On Victor Black: “He’s battled control problems his entire career, but when the ball is down, he’s close to unhittable.”
On Dillon Gee: “He’ll always captain the “How the hell does this guy get anyone out?” All-Stars.”
On Frank Francisco: “And when the Mets do dip some money into the free agent pitcher game, this is what they get.”
On Steven Matz: “More worrisome is his funky, high-effort delivery, which — though it hides the ball well — may suit him best in the bullpen.”
On Jenrry Mejia: “There’s a great pitcher in here, we swear — try as the Mets and Mother Nature might to keep him down.”
On Scott Rice: “He is batting practice against righties (.507 OBP), but his low-effort sinker-slider arsenal is a weapon. Seriously, though, no righties.”
On Scott Atchison: “Let his epitaph read: He gutted out 50 appearances for a lousy team with a partially torn UCL, and he pitched pretty well, considering everyone thought he was 63 years old the entire time.”
On Terry Collins: “On Opening Day, Terry Collins will be the oldest manager in baseball.”