Games » Toronto Blue JaysJun8
Why Ned Yost won't pinch-hit for Alcides Escobar
Ned Yost says he’s not going to pinch-hit for Alcides Escobar no matter how much fans want him to. Ned is thinking big: He believes Escobar is the best defensive shortstop in the game and the Royals will need him on the field when they’re playing for a championship.
Yost believes that if he starts jerking Escobar out of the lineup now, Escobar never will learn to hit in those situations. The more at-bats Esky gets, the faster he improves, and Ned believes he will improve. Ned is looking at the big picture, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t care if the rest of us can’t see it.
The problem with numbers
I don’t want to get in a protracted debate about advanced metrics (so naturally I’m writing something that might start a protracted debate about advanced metrics). I thought I got bogged down in a nonproductive back-and-forth last season over this subject and wanted to avoid that this season. But then a reader sent me a link to an article about Alcides Escobar and how bad his numbers were offensively, so I figured I should explain where I’m coming from on this issue.
If you want the short version of what I think, here it is:
People who enjoy advanced metrics should go right ahead and enjoy them. They can be useful and tell you interesting things about the game. Despite using a “system” and “points,” I’m not doing anything like advanced metrics here. I’m using a very old system that was put together by an old-time baseball guy and designed to measure contribution to a team’s success and reveal patterns of play. If what Ron Polk’s system reveals is helpful to you, great. It’s made me think about the game in new ways. If you don’t like it, ignore it and try to enjoy the other aspects of this website.
Despite having said that on many occasions, there still are people who insist on bringing the metrics argument to this site, insisting that the way I’m looking at the game is incorrect. Of course that means Ron Polk doesn’t know much about baseball either, and one look at his resume tells you that’s not likely.
So, why don’t I wholeheartedly embrace advance metrics and forget this Ron Polk stuff?
My first exposure to advanced metrics was an article by Bill James about a player’s numbers on grass versus AstroTurf concluding that the player was a “grass” player (or it might’ve been AstroTurf … can’t remember … I was on grass) and that he should play for a team that provided the surface that would give him the best chance for success.
Even then, I thought, “Who was pitching?” If you face me on grass and Justin Verlander on AstroTurf, you’re probably going to look like a grass player.
The same thing happened early last season. I wrote that Rick Ankiel was a very good outfielder, and an outraged reader talked about Ankiel’s range factor versus the range factor of Mitch Maier. Which left out the fact that Rick had put together his range factor while playing for the Cardinals, with two Cy Young candidates, and Mitch had played for the Royals. Because of the difference in pitching staffs, Mitch was getting more balls hit to him.
One night I watched Jason Kendall give up three stolen bases, but he wasn’t responsible for any of them. On the first one, the pitcher fell asleep and the guy was halfway to second before the pitch was delivered. The second one was a blown rundown in which Jason never touched the ball. The third one happened with runners at first and third and the Royals had a play on that had Jason feinting to second and looking to third. So statistically Jason had a bad night. The stats didn’t record reality.
One more example: Vernon Wells of the Angels has a new centerfielder playing next to him, Peter Bourjos. Bourjos has great speed and is getting balls that used to be in Wells’ territory. Being the centerfielder, he gets to call Wells off. So through no fault of his own, Wells’ range factor probably will go down this season and someone will write about him losing a step.
I asked a friend of mine, Mike Keefe, to take a look at some of the baseball metrics and tell me what he thought. Mike has a B.S., M.S. and all but the dissertation for a Ph.D. in mathematics and taught college-level probability and statistics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Penn Valley Community College. (Mike also quit math and became a political cartoonist, so you might take this with a grain a salt … although he did just win a Pulitzer Prize, which annoys me to no end.)
Here’s part of the email I received back from him.
Godel’s Incompleteness Theorems (paraphrased):
No system of logic that is complex enough to contain within it the axioms of the natural number system (or the logical equivalent) is capable of proving all facts within that system. In other words there are true statements within the system that are unprovable.
In any such system of this complexity, the consistency of the system itself is unprovable.
(See? I told you he was annoying, but here’s the problem expressed in plain English, once again in the words of Mike Keefe.)
A Deterministic Universe:
It was once believed that if a person could know the state of the universe at one particular instant — all the forces at work, all the conditions present —then he could predict with certainty the state of the universe in the next instant. Also known as the “Clockwork Universe,” it was frequently cited to support the idea that God set the universe in motion, with all outcomes predetermined. No free will. On several philosophical grounds and based on what we know about quantum mechanics, the idea of a deterministic universe is hogwash. It’s basically flat-Earth thinking.
(OK, here’s the key line.)
Any predictive system that chooses a limited number of factors from the nearly limitless number available, and weights those factors arbitrarily, is at best a flawed system.That’s why in statistics you hear the terms ‘margin of error’ and ‘confidence level.’ (When the media quotes a statistician’s poll results, for example, they always include the margin of error. But they don’t often quote the level of confidence, indicating the reliability of the estimate.) No system can predict complex outcomes with absolute certainty as if the universe were deterministic. Informed best guesses are all we have.
And that’s brings me to my next problem:
When I asked how it was determined that Yuniesky Betancourt was the worst shortstop in the history of mankind, I was told about a system in which the field was divided into sections. I said, “Stop right there. I don’t see any lines on the field. How are they determining where the sections are?”
They eyeball it.
Then the person recording the statistic determines what kind of ball was hit into that section, pop up, line drive, etc. and I said, stop right there. How are they determining what kind of ball was hit? I don’t see any radar guns are laser beams measuring speed or trajectory.
They eyeball it.
OK, so how is that any different than an old-time scout with a chaw in his cheek saying, “Tough play, but the kid can go get it”? It’s not. Both people are eyeballing it, but one attaches a number to his guesstimate and it seems more scientific. (And if that’s not really how it’s done, please enlighten me.)
MISUSE OF NUMBERS
Someone might say (and did), “How could the Royals lay down a sacrifice bunt? Don’t they know sacrifice bunts make it less likely to score a run?” Well, first of all, I wouldn’t trust any number until I see how it was determined, but let’s grant the argument that sacrifice bunts make it less likely to score a run.
In all situations?
Let’s say a move succeeds an average of 40 percent of the time. Focus on the word average. That means sometimes it has worked more than 40 percent of the time and sometimes less. The people and conditions involved can change the success rate. But people will grab that number and act like it works 40 percent of the time in every situation. Coaches do what they do because they know a lot about the people involved and their chance of succeeding.
The other thing to think about: If a move works 40 percent of the time, but the other options work 30 percent and 20 percent, the 40 percent move is the right move … even though it will fail most of the time.
AND FINALLY: ATTITUDE
(If I haven’t made you mad yet, this should do the trick.)
The people who play and coach this game for a living are generally pretty humble. Clint Hurdle, the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, says he will never know the game. You hear the same thing from pretty much everybody out here (and if someone thinks they’ve got it all figured out, they soon find out differently). The game is so complex and varied that something new always arises. Every game is different, and everyone needs to be in learning mode because you might figure something out in a meaningless game that helps you win a bigger game down the road.
In my opinion, too many of the people involved in advance metrics deliver their opinions with a sneering, “Boy, I’m so much smarter than everybody else”attitude. Why is that necessary? If you’ve got an interesting statistic or new way to consider things, why not let that stand on its own?
When the guys at Baseball Prospectus title their book, “Baseball Between the Numbers: Why Everything You Know About Baseball is Wrong,” it throws up a wall between them and the people who play the game for a living and fans who might otherwise be interested.
Really? Everything we know about baseball is wrong? There aren’t three outs in an inning? Four balls don’t entitle the batter to a base? A title that said, “Hey, we’ve looked at the numbers and found some really interesting things!” would probably be better received and allow everyone to approach the new information without resentment and anger.
OK, that’s it. I’ve said what I have to say (at length) and realize not everyone is going to agree with it. Here’s hoping we can all approach the game with an open mind and treat each other with respect.
If not, you can leave a comment and tell me I’m a jerk.
Why you should continue to read this website
OK, let’s say what I just wrote made you angry and you really disagree with me. Why should you continue to read this website? Well, we’ve tried to create something unique here. I am not doing statistical analysis (despite what the Star says in the promos). I’m recording patterns. You can find out who has taken an extra base the most times, what pitcher has walked the most leadoff batters or who tends to strike out looking.
The more they play the more the patterns reveal themselves and you get a better idea of how these guys play the game.
The other thing that’s worth your time is the thoughts of the players themselves. What they were thinking at the time a great play or a mental mistake happened. You can also ask a question and sometimes I can get an answer for you, straight from the horse’s mouth…or if you ask it of me, straight from the other end of the horse.
Anyway, I know that some of you, a lot of you (most of you?) might disagree with what I have to say about metrics. That’s fine. To each his own. Even if we disagree on that subject, I hope there’s still enough interesting content on this site to keep you coming back.