Friday, September 14, 2007
Well, here are some random links I thought you readers would find fun and interesting. Enjoy!
---Last week, ESPN's Jayson Stark wrote a wonderful article detailing why the save is probably the most ridiculous statistic in baseball. The insane overvaluing of saves is something I've ranted about repeatedly over the years, but this is the first time, I think, that I've ever seen a columnist from the mainstream sports media talk about it. I haven't gone on an anti-saves tirade in a while, but Stark opened the door, so I be a rantin'.
There are so many things wrong with saves, I don't even know where to begin. Let's start with a somewhat extreme example. Let's say a reliever, we'll call him Paulie Rice, comes into a game with a 5-2 lead. Now, I know there's probably more pressure in the ninth inning, but protecting a three-run lead by getting three outs seems like something most guys can do, right?
So Paulie comes in, walks the bases loaded, gives up a two-run single, but gets out of the jam and the team wins 5-4. Paulie gets credit for the save, even though he pitched atrociously. That save is somehow supposed to reflect upon some quality inherent in Paulie's ability, even though he pitched like crap. True, there are a lot of one-run saves, where the room for error is smaller, but coming in with no one on base to get three outs doesn't seem too taxing for a big league pitcher, no matter what the score is.
The problem is, closers are often paid vast amounts of money based on their save totals. This is just silly. You know who leads the AL in saves this year? Joe Borowski, with an ERA of 5.40. Yet you can bet that Borowski is going to get the "proven closer" label and stick around in the majors for a while, probably stinking up the joint. It's crazy. You can find pretty much any decent pitcher off the scrap heap and plug him in as a closer and he'll rack up saves. Remember Tyler Walker and his 23 saves in 2005? Okay pitcher, resilient fellow, but "proven closer" my arse. Matt Herges also saved 23 games in '04, and he stunk. The list goes on. If a guy consistently blows saves and can't get it done in the ninth, it usually just means he's a bad pitcher. Do I need to bring up Armando Benitez here?
If you look at BP's Wins Expected Above Replacement Level (WXRL, yeah it's a mouthful), which gauges reliever performance based on stranding inherited runners and difficulty of situation, among other things, a lot of the guys at the top aren't even closers. It's because the most critical situations in a baseball game usually don't come in the ninth inning. Yes, there are good pitchers who don't have what it takes to close, for whatever reason (LaTroy Hawkins is one). However, there are also a lot of guys who couldn't consistently come in with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh inning and strand every duck on the pond, and I guaran-damn-tee you Joe Borowski is one of them.
And I won't even go into the ridiculous three-inning rule that allowed Wes Littleton to get the save in the notorious 30-3 game this year. So please, everybody, stop overvaluing saves. It's a bad statistic and just because a guy racks up 35 in a season and has a pair of goofy glasses or a scary mustache, it doesn't mean he has some sort of grit or intestinal fortitude that other pitchers don't. Ok, I got that out of my system. End rant.
--Also last week, BP founder Gary Huckaby caused a furor amongst the stathead community by announcing, in pseudo-Nietzschian fashion, that "baseball analysis is dead". This, of course, sent all of us nerds into a panic. Here we had the founder of the most prestigious and influential stathead website in the world just coming out and saying that everything we believe in is all for naught and we should just stop trying. What's going on here? Is OBP suddenly not life? Have our efforts to dissect VORP been rendered moot? Has Joe Morgan won?
Well, no. Actually, it really isn't that apocalyptic. Huckaby's point is a little muddy (even he admits that in a subsequent chat), but I think he's basically saying analysis is dead in the context of front offices actually utilizing such information. His argument is that all the obvious stuff (like OBP is good, don't shag young pitchers' arms) is pretty much accepted by major league teams now, so there are only so many things a stathead can give you if you're a GM and you hire him on to your staff. The thing is, most of the real in-depth number-crunching is being done independently all over the Internet; it's out there so anybody can grab it, unlike traditional scouting measures. So in that sense, why hire a bunch of stat guys to give you data that you can just get for free by having some intern spend five minutes on The Hardball Times?
I think Huckaby has clearly got a point here, but I also think he's being a merciless drama queen. Does he really have to announce that "baseball analysis is dead"? It just seems like a ploy to get people yelling. Why can't he just say something like, "We've reached a point where quantitative analysis has essentially reached its limits in being an asset to major league front offices. Good job, people. You nerds, don't stop doing what you're doing, though." As for the argument that every front office has accepted the common sense arguments of the saber-types...ladies and gentlemen, I direct you to the Juan Pierre signing.
Huckaby has always been sort of a pompous writer, and he's definitely not my favorite of the BP squad. Dave Studeman and Nate Silver have appropriate rebuttals to the "baseball is dead" article. It's a fun little controversy to wrap your brain around.
--The Giants are apparently looking to bring back Omar Vizquel on a one-year deal for 2008. If it's just one year, then this is a perfectly acceptable move. Vizquel still plays Gold Glove defense, and that's a tremendous thing to have with young pitchers who could get rattled by a bunch of errors behind them. With no immediate alternatives (I do not want Kevin Frandsen as the everyday shortstop, and who does?), bringing back Vizquel would make perfect sense.
One thing though: I really didn't realize until now just how bad Vizquel has been with the stick. He's hitting .243/.303/.300 on the year. That's mother-bleeping atrocious. This is seriously his worst season offensively, and he had some pretty crappy seasons early in his career with Seattle. I'd say there's no way he can get worse, but he's 40 and seems to be done. Like I said, I'd still advocate bringing him back for a year based on his defense alone, but man, his bat has been friggin' awful this season.
--There's really no point to this, but I'm a big Dave Matthews fan, so this is a little something I found on YouTube for all you DMB lovers. It's a live performance of one of his more, er, cult-ier (is that a word? Ah, screw it) songs, Halloween. It's neat because the song rocks and the band almost never plays it live. I think they've only played it in concert like seven times in the past ten years or so. The best part is at the end when Dave just starts talking gibberish into the microphone, like he's having some kind of epileptic fit. Enjoy, and have a good weekend!