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February 7, 2003

6-4-3

6-4-3: Accountability Corner: Part One

by Gary Huckabay

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Believe it or not, I didn't, until recently, have a copy of the Baseball Prospectus Annual from each year. I'd always had one or two laying around, then given them away to people I've spoken with, usually for marketing purposes. Until recently, I only had a copy or two of the 1996 and 1997 books. I figured I probably should have at least one copy of each book, so I called up Brassey's, and they were kind enough to send over a box of previous years' editions.

I hadn't seen them in a while, and don't remember much about them, except vague recollections of sleep deprivation, and being angry that a particular comment or two didn't make it in because it might have been offensive. (I got a really cranky Maude Flanders e-mail over a pretty harmless and rather limp throwaway line in an ESPN piece recently, and I'm still bitter about it, so bear with me if I happen to sound a little like Zumsteg today.) So anyway, I've been thumbing through the old books. I still enjoy reading them, which is how BP was born in the first place. Most of the material and analysis still stands up to scrutiny, I think. Even if we missed something in a particular case, the reasoning getting to that point is usually pretty solid and defensible.

Usually.

Here's an entry for a player from Baseball Prospectus 1997:

The Expos' next potential phenom. A great young hitter but an erratic fielder, and an elbow injury left him unable to play the field much this season. Offensively, the only skill he lacks is power, and he'll probably pick that up as he ages. Doubt he'll make it to the major leagues as a shortstop, but he should make it at some position and challenge for a batting title someday.

Well...maybe not. This is, after all, Hiram Bocachica we're talking about. And, to be fair to us, we didn't say he'd challenge for a batting title in MLB. The Western League has a batting title, too.

Here's one that causes some personal pain, because I wrote it. I run into this again and again and again...when we get away from the hard, quantitative analysis and start leaning on insiders or our own observations, we open up an entire crate of stupid. Once again, from Baseball Prospectus 1997:

Hitter Forecast: .264/.428/.460

Wow. That projection is no typo. I don't see him doubling his walk rate all of the sudden, but then again, my software's right more often than I am. (This player) rotted behind Lonnie Smith in Atlanta, and has fought the "bad attitude" tag throughout his career. I still believe this guy should have been in the majors at 22. He's not a bad defensive outfielder, and he can most definitely hit. If he ends up somewhere in a full-time role, I fully expect him to be a legitimate MVP candidate. That won't happen, but it wouldn't surprise me.

Of course, this prediction turned out to be deadly accurate, as Keith Mitchell landed a full time OF job in Los Angeles the next year, posting a .319/.446/.602 campaign, and finishing second behind Ernest Borgnine in the MVP voting, before being smothered beneath Elisha Cuthbert, Jessica Alba, Oksana Lada, and Lauren Ambrose in a tragic but memorable oil wrestling incident.

Later on, I found out that the Vlad software we were using at the time had bad data on Mitchell. Not all that far out of line--the age of each of his previous performances was off by two years, probably due to a cut and paste error on my part. Whoops.

One thing about being associated with BP is that you end up having to defend things that you flat out disagree with--often vehemently. Our Top 40 Prospect List has caused me a great deal of consternation at more than one Pizza Feed, and I know others have stood around, bravely trying to hold it together while defending something I've written that they disagree with. Occasionally, one of us snaps, and hangs the other individual out to dry--particularly if it's Sheehan. We don't all agree on much, actually, except the conceptual and philosophical framework that evaluation of performance should be done rigorously, with careful examination of performance records.

With that in mind, I'd like to claim that I, personally, had nothing to do with this entry from the Cleveland Indians chapter in Baseball Prospectus 1999:

Traded to Pittsburgh for Ricardo Rincon, which was a great deal for the Indians.

The player under whom this comment was written is left as an exercise for the reader.

I don't want to give the impression that we're wrong all the time. We're not. And putting together something like this is sort of like having your Mom pull out the old Super 8 projector and throwing home movies on the screen to show your girlfriend, who's visiting your parents for the first time. "And to this day, he's still dreadfully afraid of monkeys." It's kind of like having teeth pulled without anesthesia, expect that it takes longer.

Yes, we've missed a lot of stuff over the past eight years, and we'll miss a lot of stuff in the future. That's a large part of what makes the game so addictive and entertaining. You can make well-educated and reasoned assessments of a circumstance, and things can still end up completely surprising. It's more fun to be wrong about forecasting a player's collapse than it is to be right about it. Doesn't change the fact that we may have missed that one, but it is more fun.

If you want to come out to one of the NorCal Pizza Feeds that I'm at, I'll make a special offer: at each Feed, I'll throw some swag--either a book, a T-shirt, a subscription, or a copy of John Sickels' 2003 Baseball Prospect Book--to the person who can come up with either the most insightful or ludicrous thing we've put up on the web site during the last seven years. Double if it's from Kahrl. Come on out. Throw the bad ones in our face, and celebrate the upcoming season. It's about baseball, right? And if you're the person who did the impression of Sean Connery doing an impression of Dan Patrick from last year, please come out. You're missed.

Gary Huckabay is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

Gary Huckabay is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Gary's other articles. You can contact Gary by clicking here

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Prospectus Feature: Pl... (02/06)
<< Previous Column
6-4-3: Anonymous Frida... (01/31)
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Premium Article 6-4-3: Ratcheting (02/14)
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Premium Article Team Health Reports: T... (02/09)

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