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July 9, 2012

Baseball Therapy

Hire Joe Morgan

by Russell A. Carleton

Russell A. Carleton wrote for Baseball Prospectus from 2009 to 2010, and prior to that (2007-2009) wrote at Statistically Speaking. He served as a consultant to a team in Major League Baseball for two years. Beginning today, his work will once again be appearing at BP on a regular basis.
 

Dear Mr. Morgan,

I owe you an apology. No, not a snarky, sarcastic, "Haha this will get a lot of pageviews and I'll smack him down at the end—Big laughs all around!" sort of apology. A real one.

I'm sorry.

Mr. Morgan, I'm a sabermetrician. I'm one of those new-wave guys who like to look at baseball through the numbers. I never did really play the game, unless you count seventh-grade community center summer softball. Instead of that major-league career I dreamed about when I was a kid, I got an advanced degree and a background in statistical analysis. But when I should have been working on my dissertation, I was reading in Moneyball and Baseball Between the Numbers about other guys with advanced degrees and backgrounds in statistics who were working in the game, and saying to myself, "Hey, I know how to do stuff like that!" I figured that if I wasn't any good at actually playing the game, I could at least do the nerdy next-best thing. I could study it.

About five years ago, I started publishing my own research as a little hobby, and I found out some interesting things about baseball. It was fun, not only in a nerdy way, but in the sense that I really felt like I was contributing to a better understanding of the game.

Had it stopped there, I wouldn't be writing this letter of apology. But it didn't. Something happened to me over time. I'm not sure when it happened, but gradually the work became less about having fun by talking about the game of baseball and more about proving that I knew more than anyone else. I somehow convinced myself that the sabermetric way was the only true way to understand the game... and I laughed at those who said otherwise, including you, Mr. Morgan.

A couple years ago, I had an opportunity that not too many people get. I had a chance to work as a consultant to a real, live team in Major League Baseball. In addition to the tingly feeling that comes with saying “I’m a major leaguer (sorta)!” there was another benefit that I didn’t appreciate at first, but came to treasure. My employers asked me politely to refrain from publishing anything while I worked for them (for obvious reasons), and so I had to say goodbye to BP. While I did miss BP, my departure meant that I didn’t have to have something new ready every Sunday night, which meant that I could go deeper into topics than I had ever gone before. It was the equivalent of entering a sabermetric monastery to contemplate some of the deeper mysteries of baseball.

In my reflections (and uh, Gregorian number-crunching) I came to some rather interesting conclusions. I can’t get into specifics (so please don't ask) but I will say this: there are things that are generally publicly held as sabermetric doctrine—in some cases, crucial underlying assumptions—that are demonstrably false. Statistical models are wonderful things, but they are only as good as the data that power them and the understanding of the programmer who defines them. When I wrote for BP, and before that for Statistically Speaking, in my rush to get something ready, I often went with a very simple statistical model of whatever topic I was studying. There's something to be said for one of my favorite lines, "direction before precision," but ultimately, a simple model assumes a simple reality, and baseball, as I found, is not a simple game.

In other words, I discovered that I was capable of being... wrr… wrrro... wrrrrr... incorrect.

Mr. Morgan, when you said that you weren’t a fan of sabermetric theories, I dismissed you as a stubborn and foolish man who wouldn’t listen to a reasonable argument. I rushed to point out that the "old school" way of doing things—the old “eye test”—was prone to all sorts of biases. People often see patterns where none exist, they can be influenced by a number of outside factors, and they are predisposed to fall back on old folklore and moralistic explanations for behavior. All of those are actually still true, but that's not the point.

My problem was that I didn’t look in the mirror and examine my own methods for the flaws inherent in them. The variables that I chose and the statistical techniques I used reflected my own biases and preconceived notions about what I thought was important, and my own assumptions about reality. When others suggested looking at an issue from another angle, I acted like a stubborn and foolish man who wouldn't listen to a reasonable argument.

In justifying my own views, I talked about how numerical models could take vast pools of data into account (entire decades of games!) and how my models could give unbiased estimates of how important various factors really were. And they can... if the models are good reflections of reality.  That's a major point in the sabermetric method’s favor, and to this day, I believe it to be its primary strength.

But had I been a more charitable man, I could have pointed out that the eye test has its benefits too. There are a lot of baseball lifers who have been around the game so long they instinctively— sometimes subconsciously—know to look for things that I don’t even know exist. Not all of their theories and beliefs are going to be right, but I acted as though, by dint of their non-outsider, non-Ph.D-having status, anyone who wasn’t quoting the latest sabermetric research was automatically wrong.

My goal in writing this letter isn't to say that you were right all along about sabermetrics. In fact, Mr. Morgan, I still disagree with you on plenty of issues, most notably in that I believe sabermetrics can offer a lot to the game of baseball. I’ve come to the conclusion that sabermetrics is a young, toolsy prospect. There’s a lot of potential there to be a game-changer, but maybe, just maybe, there’s something to be gained by sitting down and listening to a wise man who’s been around for a while.

Mr. Morgan, I was arrogant and believed that I had the power to answer all questions. I indulged in the idea that someone who didn't speak about baseball in the same language that I did was somehow beneath me. I delighted in pointing out your flaws while ignoring my own. And yes, I laughed along with that website when it made fun of you.

For this, Mr. Morgan, I am sorry, and I humbly request your forgiveness.

peace, love, happiness, banana pudding,
Russell A. Carleton

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

Related Content:  Scouting,  Sabermetrics,  Stats,  Joe Morgan,  Consulting

67 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

mattseward

You know it's a good day when you wake up and sitting there waiting for you is a new article from one of your favourite ever writers at BP!

Welcome back Russell, great to have you back on board!

Jul 09, 2012 03:06 AM
rating: 13
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

It's not often that an author who departs to work with a team returns to the fold. I'm very happy to welcome Russell back to BP.

Jul 09, 2012 03:13 AM
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

Awww thanks. Good to be back.

Jul 09, 2012 06:29 AM
 
Richard Bergstrom

Welcome back dude!

Jul 09, 2012 09:45 AM
rating: 0
 
lboros

awesome article. everyone who cares about sabermetrics should read it.

Jul 10, 2012 05:25 AM
rating: 1
 
Sharky

Russell, welcome back. Kudos to you for your humility. That said, would really like SOME high level detail or example. Can you share anything more without breaching confidentially? For instance, defense is poorly understood... Or maybe sabermetrics habitually overvalues X?

Jul 09, 2012 03:29 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

You might appreciate that I'll have to decline to talk about the specifics. My work on the inside is covered by a non-disclosure agreement.

But, may I point out a similar process that has taken place in public. DIPS has gone from "there is no difference between pitchers in preventing base hits on balls in play" to "Well... sorta... but it's a lot more complicated than that." (Shout out to Mike Fast, among others, for a great deal of work on that.)

Jul 09, 2012 06:35 AM
 
Sharky

Absolutely appreciate that you have a NDA. But your point about DIPS is a helpful example. I'm just curious to hear something about what we're missing. Mike Fast will be sorely missed, for starters!

Jul 09, 2012 07:27 AM
rating: 2
 
eliyahu

My guess is 1B defense. Heavily undervalued by Sabermetricians. A great one -- think Mattingly -- can save far more runs than the models give him credit for.

Jul 09, 2012 05:14 AM
rating: 1
 
John Douglass

And, on the other side of that coin, shortstop defense and replacement levels/ positional adjustments for that position. Should we take at face value the replacement level for a SS in 2012, and the WAR we read on BBREF for SSs, when they're telling us Brendan Ryan, spread over a full season of 600 PA in 2012, is worthy of a down-ballot MVP vote? I'm voting no, and it weakens my faith in any value metric BBREF is publishing.

Purely wild speculation: Russell's last employer has finished near bottom in UZR/150 the past few years. I'd assume the smart guys with a lot of data there believe some things that oppose current conventional wisdom about measuring defense and/or the amount of value defense has relative to offense.

Jul 11, 2012 00:29 AM
rating: 0
 
Eddie Bajek

Good stuff! This should be required reading for any of those people who watched the Moneyball movie, started following baseball and assume every manager/scout/front office exec is wrong, as they spout from their blog.

Jul 09, 2012 05:20 AM
rating: 0
 
rcrary

this accounts for a massive population, does it?

Jul 10, 2012 06:18 AM
rating: 0
 
lemppi

If you care to share, Russell, did you leave the consultant job because you felt it was time to go? Or did the team not retain the relationship? Either way, it's good you're returning to Baseball Prospectus.

Jul 09, 2012 05:24 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

I'd love to say that there's a juicy story, because it would be so much more interesting, but there's not. We did a bunch of projects, we got to the end of one, and it didn't make sense to start another one. I have no hard feelings and I genuinely wish them well.

Jul 09, 2012 06:39 AM
 
OonBoon

And I was afraid you were actually going to say nice things about that terrible, terrible man. Looking forward to your first reexamination of the value of consistency as a hitter.

Jul 09, 2012 05:26 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

He's not a terrible man. He's a man who views the world of baseball through a different lens than I do. There are many paths to knowledge. I am but a traveler on one of them.

Jul 09, 2012 06:40 AM
 
Behemoth

The question is really whether Joe Morgan wishes to be a traveller on any of the paths to knowledge. I don't see much evidence of it so far.

Jul 09, 2012 07:09 AM
rating: 3
 
HonusCobb

This is how I used to feel about people who are religious. But there are a lot of religious people who can do a lot more practical things than myself.

And just as Joe Morgan might argue that we shouldn't clog the base paths with slow runners, he also knows how to read a change-up a lot better than most.

Jul 09, 2012 07:47 AM
rating: 11
 
Behemoth

Respectfully, I disagree. We aren't talking about Joe Morgan's value as a person - I'm sure he has a variety of talents outside baseball, as well as being a Hall of Fame player, but about his abilities as a commentator/analyst, which are very significantly affected by the attitude he takes towards sabermetrics, or indeed any analysis of the game at all.

Jul 11, 2012 06:11 AM
rating: 1
 
evancon

I think the most exciting thing about sabermetrics is that it's so young, and its theories so incomplete. We aren't done just because someone realized getting on-base is more important than getting a base hit, and I think people realize there's still a vast frontier to be explored, or else they wouldn't subscribe to this website.

The point, which some newly-converted zealots seem to miss, isn't that crunching numbers is the One Path to Truth. It's that to give yourself the best chance at finding the truth, an effort to minimize bias is crucial.

Sabermetrics is better at this than old-timey folk wisdom, but as Mr. Carleton says in this fantastic article, there's still a lot of work to be done. That's the best part if you ask me.

Jul 09, 2012 05:27 AM
rating: 6
 
Drungo Hazewood

Regardless of whether you can divulge anything that you learned, I am confident that it will provide a new depth to what you do here. Good for you for publicly saying what some of us oldsters know--there are always more ways to look at a complex problem and the more you use, the more insights you get.

Welcome back!

Jul 09, 2012 05:38 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

As you might imagine, there are a few projects that I've had to shelve over the past 2 years. There will be fun to be had. Stay tuned, and watch out for the gory mathematical details.

Jul 09, 2012 06:42 AM
 
bflaff1

Glad to see this anywhere, but not surprised it was BP. Worst thing about saber is this unfounded assumption that anything to the right of the = sign is proven. There is such a thing as garbage in, garbage out.

Jul 09, 2012 05:48 AM
rating: 2
 
Randy Brown
(189)

Welcome back! Without getting into specifics, I'm curious as to how extensive was the raw data you had to work with as compared to what is publicly available. Is it a little more information? A lot more? A cornucopia? An orgy of data that would embarrass residents of Bangkok?

Jul 09, 2012 06:43 AM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

I can't talk about specific data sources, but I will say I believe that there is still A LOT that can be learned from good ole Pitch FX and Retrosheet.

Jul 09, 2012 08:01 AM
 
HonusCobb

I'll use a Bill James quote here: "Challenge conventional wisdom and you will find much better ways to do things than they are currently done."

Perhaps this applies to SABRmetrics as well?

Jul 09, 2012 07:40 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

Question everything. Constantly. If we are to be scientists of baseball, constant questioning is the only way that science works.

Jul 09, 2012 07:55 AM
 
deadsmith

I'm happy to see the author back in the fold. As for Mr. Morgan, et al, before I personally feel too apologetic, I'd like to see them making progressive contributions to the understanding of the game. Sabermetric models are a long way from finding the grand unifying particle of the theory of baseball, but at least they're trying, improving, and putting more W's on the board for the teams that pay attention to them. There are a lot of Joe Morgans out there, some more valuable than others, but none trying as hard to find new and better ways to gain insight into the fundamentals of the game we all love.

Jul 09, 2012 08:07 AM
rating: 1
 
boards

Joe Morgan is a genius compared to Rick Sutcliffe. I believe that I actually know less about baseball today after subjecting myself to three-plus hours of Sutcliffe analysis during yesterday's Futures Game.

Jul 09, 2012 09:01 AM
rating: 1
 
ajayathavale

Great post, deadsmith.

There may be some people that believe the numbers are always right and old school baseball knowledge is a myth, but
a. those people are few and far between in 2012; and
b. they are helping us gain insight at a far greater level than anyone that thinks they should "take their nose out of a spreadsheet and actually watch a game".

Jul 10, 2012 01:12 AM
rating: 1
 
sykojohnny
(225)

I understand why Joe Morgan questions sabermetrics. Just look at the BP analysis of players that don't fit into the algorithms, but still manage to have great careers. If you play the game, you see things that those who didn't play the game don't see. That is a fact.

Jul 09, 2012 08:12 AM
rating: 5
 
mikebuetow

I think the reason Joe Morgan questions (read: dismisses) sabermetrics is because he doesn't understand it. But I would agree with the latter part of your comment.

Jul 09, 2012 09:22 AM
rating: 2
 
Leg4206

Your quote could be applied to most sabermetricians. They question non-sabr knowledge because they don't understand it. If they can't translate non-sabr observations into data to be manipulated, then by god, it can't be real knowledge.

Jul 09, 2012 11:24 AM
rating: 2
 
Lou Doench

I'll assume, now armed with his newfound knowledge, Russel will cease dwelling in his mothers basement and go out and watch am actual baseball game instead of playing with his slide rule and re-reading Moneyball, that book that Billy Beane wrote to kill baseball.

Jul 10, 2012 08:17 AM
rating: 4
 
Richard Bergstrom

Scartore, I'm trying hard to figure out if your comment is serious or not, so I'll chalk it up as a failure on my part.

Well played, sir.

Jul 10, 2012 08:26 AM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

My wife and I just bought a house. I own my own basement!

Jul 10, 2012 11:16 AM
 
Lou Doench

Actually that was meant to go at the end of the thread. Clicked the wrong reply box. And yes its sarcasm, but with a point.

I am reticent to give too much ground back to the Joe Morgan's of the world. I know Kevin Goldstein hates it when we talk about the "war" between stats and scouts and I understand his reasons. I get what Russell is trying to get across in this piece. But seriously, as far as I'm concerned Joe Morgan is the one who needs to apologize for treating an entire class of baseball fans and analysts like shit. From his position as the color commentator on the premier baseball broadcast at the time, he lent his weight to the people who get their jollies by pointing and laughing at the nerdy kids in class. Fuck that.

Jul 10, 2012 16:21 PM
rating: 2
 
Lou Doench

"If you play the game, you see things that those who didn't play the game don't see. That is a fact."

Granted... the problem is that playing the game can also hide things. Things that are obvious to the sabermetrician, who is able to take a long view and gather a lot of data, are often hidden from the player, who is most interested in the day to day grind of the game.

The great irony of Joe Morgan was that he played the game incredibly intelligently. He was almost the perfect sabermetric player. And then he spent his entire broadcasting career defaming the people who most appreciated his accomplishments. Trust me, wade into the comments on a mainstream site like ESPN. I've actually heard idiots argue that Joe shouldn't be in the HoF because... "look at his RBI's" and "he didn't even hit .300 for his career." Those are the people who Joe Morgan enabled with his senseless animosity towards sabermetrics. Which is a damn shame.

Jul 09, 2012 09:53 AM
rating: 8
 
Amos

Good to have you back.

Jul 09, 2012 09:26 AM
rating: 0
 
Shaun P.
(676)

A house is only as strong as its foundation, and a pizza is only as tasty as its dough lets it be. Seems to me that the same ought to be true for sabermetrics.

Welcome back Russell - can't wait to wade through the math and read your wonderfully clear writing!

Jul 09, 2012 10:07 AM
rating: 0
 
smitty

This is one of the best articles I've read regarding the whole SABER/Joe Morgan debate. I fell in love with Sabermetrics in 1982 and it changed the way I followed baseball forever (Sabermetrics isn't really all that young).

That said, I've always believed that the Saber numbers don't come close to telling you everything. And for all the reasons Russell stated. I've never been able to articulate this nearly as well as Russell did here and certainly not from the unique position he is in. Being very close to the actual inner workings and having access to stuff we don't gives him a very unique view point regarding this type of thing. It's great to have him back.

Regarding Morgan. He is pretty typical of ex-star players and their attitudes towards the "new stats." He believes he was a great player because he worked much harder than most others and he had special winning skills and the ability to do things that win games and championships that can not be captured by some nerd with a computer.

And really, he's right about that I believe. Morgan played on championship teams. He also played on teams that weren't so great in San Francisco, Houston Philly and Oakland and those teams far outperformed what they were expected to do. So he has an idea about things like intangibles and stuff that can't be quantified.

The way he dismisses "statistics" -- as he calls everything regarding numbers -- isn't really correct. But no one should dismiss everything he talked about either. He wasn't all wrong or always wrong or really even close to it.

Jul 09, 2012 10:09 AM
rating: 3
 
mikebuetow

Is it possible that the reason intangibles can't be quantified is because, like ROUSes, they don't really exist?

Jul 11, 2012 08:11 AM
rating: 2
 
Richard Bergstrom

Just because something can't be quantified doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It just means there hasn't been a reliable way to measure it yet.

Example: Higgs Boson. Scientists are sure it's there and it is a factor in mass though they can't measure it directly and can't seem to find one.

Example Two: Slumps. Sabremetricians are pretty sure players can get bad luck and sabremetricins are pretty sure players can slump, though they can't measure how much of it is luck and how much of it is a slump. They also don't know if it's a difference in mechanics, approach, mentality, or a hundred other factors that are hard to measure.

Jul 11, 2012 08:52 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

Richard is right. There's a big difference between "It doesn't exist" and "I haven't found a good way to measure it yet... maybe it's because it doesn't really exist and maybe because I'm bad at math."

Jul 11, 2012 12:31 PM
 
mikebuetow

I don't disagree. But it gets a little tiresome when people say they definitively DO exist, and then attach all sorts of values to them. They may be right, but without proof, it's so much pixie dust.

Here in Boston, as you may have heard (teehee!), the media are going apeshit over the supposedly dysfunctional clubhouse and how it's bringing down the team. Yet I can't think of a more dysfunctional clubhouse than the 77 Yankees (managers punching star players, a team captain who hated everyone, most starters asking for trades, etc.), and all they did was win the World Series. How come that team never gets mentioned?

Jul 11, 2012 13:37 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

After years of reading this sabremetrics stuff going back to Rob Neyer, I'm comfortable with saying intangibles exist and I believe (note, I didn't use the word "know") that they have some factor. But I refuse to assign them values and question most people that do without a lot of evidence to back that up.

I also don't think sabremetrics has found the Holy Grail of fielding metrics either and the continued confounding debate about it, especially if the mechanics are behind a black box, makes me take a good chunk of sabremetrics with a grain of salt.

Both of those points being said, it doesn't detract from my enjoyment of discussing intangibles or discussing sabremetrics.

Jul 11, 2012 15:22 PM
rating: 0
 
frampton
(870)

I think that the "intangibles" broadly understood is just a recognition that players are human beings, with feelings, strengths and weaknesses, bodies that are not always at 100%, and minds that are not always at 100%. (I've played competitive sports enough to know as well that it is a difficult, and draining (both physically and emotionally) thing to try and be at the top of one's game for three or so hours. Maybe it's a little easier for some major-leaguers, but I believe that for the vast majority, they're out there at 100% effort.)

Some players have an easier time of this than others -- for example, there's a reason many players will go out drinking after a night game; it makes it (a little) easier to sleep afterwards, to wind down from that three-hour adrenaline rush. Which, obviously, can have an effect on the next game. (And explains to some extent the use of greenies.)

All of these -- and more, such as any individual's changes in focus and effort in "clutch" situations -- are "intangibles" that are difficult if not impossible to measure, but which do have an impact on statistical outcomes. (I think fielding is a different order of difficulty, as it's inherently subjective to say a fielder "should have made" any particular borderline play, and I would think that's an essential part of any granular analysis of fielding.)

That certainly does not mean that we should stop exploring statistical correlations and causations. Just that we need to recognize that the nature of the endeavor is that there will NEVER be a "grand unified theory" that can take statistical results and predict future results -- for a game, a season, or even a player's career -- beyond the typically-accepted 70% accuracy range. Maybe we can improve on that a little, but my instinct tells me that the "human factors" may well be that 25-30% that we can't get beyond.

Jul 11, 2012 16:32 PM
rating: -1
 
Richard Bergstrom

Which of course, makes the whole thing fun. Assume you had a statistical model and could get that 70% accuracy range. That's still enough to generate a 10% fluctuation to turn a hitter with a .270 batting average to a .290 or a .240 hitter. That can be the difference between a multimillionaire and a quad-A player.On top of that, sabremetricians tend to say that you need at least a season and a half to have a decent sample size. So it takes awhile to establish a baseline and another chunk of time to see if something did change. That's even before you get to the chemistry angle.

Sabremetrics gives a good framework for discussion and a vocabulary and a set of rules for comparing and evaluating players. Yet, it's not the end all and be all.

Jul 11, 2012 18:12 PM
rating: 1
 
marctacoma

Welcome back - loved the article.

I think many smart baseball fans used sabermetrics to classify other fans and internet interlocutors - if you said 'FIP' then maybe you know what you're talking about. This quick little rubric might have actually had its uses, but like many, I want to actually understand how baseball works, not "win" an argument with/stylishly mock GoTeam25457 on the intertubes. People like you (and Mike Fast) make me think we're still on the right track - we're still learning.

Jul 09, 2012 10:40 AM
rating: 0
 
studes
(280)

Nice one, Russell. I must say that you rarely came across all that cocky when you were writing. And, IMO, the people who were the most one-sided about DIPS were the ones who hadn't studied it closely.

Jul 09, 2012 10:42 AM
rating: 0
 
Brian Oakchunas

Forgive what may seem like a dumb question, but if you're not allowed to share anything you learned then what will you be writing about? If you did a study on defense, are you not allowed to write about defense now? Or you can write about defense but you have to avoid some underlying truth that is staring you in the face because you worked on it for a team? Can you repeat a study done with the team and then share results? Can you do a similar study but you will have to avoid some conclusions because they intersect with what you did for the team?

It just seems like if there are huge underlying assumptions that you now know are wrong, but you can't talk about them you will have to just pretend they are right.

Jul 09, 2012 11:55 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

There are some topics that frankly I will be silently avoiding. I certainly can't duplicate things I did internally, and I probably will tread lightly in other areas. With that said, there are plenty of areas that I think are interesting (and I hope y'all do too!) which don't conflict with my NDA.

Jul 09, 2012 12:25 PM
 
whichthat

+1. Well said. (And welcome back!)

I'm in the numbers camp, but Joe Morgan has seen literally thousands of major league games in his life and had a reputation as a brilliant player. I think it's less likely that he doesn't know what he's talking about than it is that he just doesn't have lay terms for much of what he knows.

For instance, "consistency." I don't know what that means, if it means something besides not going into a slump. But it COULD mean the thousand little parts of your routine as a professional, from practice to in-game adjustments. I've got that in my job -- why wouldn't it be the same in baseball?

I don't know. Maybe Joe or someone like him could find a way to tell me what I'm missing not having played the game.

Jul 09, 2012 12:03 PM
rating: 3
 
mikebuetow

It's very true that Joe Morgan has seen literally thousands of major league games in his life. But it's also very true that he could not have possibly processed everything he saw, nor does he remember accurately everything he saw. That's not a problem with Joe Morgan so much as it's a lack of ability/capacity of the human brain. So Joe relies on his (imperfect) memory and the rest of us use computers.

Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to me that Morgan truly doesn't recognize that the things that made him such a great player are the same things that sabers value so highly. And it's certainly clear from his regular on-air comments that he has never understood the underlying point of Moneyball (hint to Joe: it's not "don't steal").

P.S. I like your comments about consistency.

Jul 11, 2012 08:17 AM
rating: 2
 
Richard Bergstrom

On the flipside, sabremetricians use statistical models and no matter how many elements of data they have, they may ignore certain data elements or over/underemphasize their impact.

As much as I dislike Joe Morgan, being able to get insight from someone who has seen thousands of major league games can be invaluable because it can help put data elements and metrics into context.

Jul 11, 2012 08:47 AM
rating: 1
 
wjmyers

Regarding flaws with DIPS, I noticed that last year when BP's stat page was valuing Jo Jo Reyes more highly than Cueto or Hellickson. This was around July or August, when his ERA was 2 or 3 runs higher than those two. My reaction was, "no way that the twice-released Reyes is pitching better than those too guys, and no GM in MLB would take him over either one. It has to be a model error." Not sure if BP has made changes in its pitcher valuing models or assumptions since then.

Jul 09, 2012 12:29 PM
rating: 0
 
Brian Oakchunas

I'll try to field this one as I've created an ERA estimator of my own. I'm not sure what point you saw it at, but by the end of the year Cueto's estimated ERA was far superior. Hellickson is another story. His FIP (which uses HR/9 instead of GB%) was a little better than Reyes and his xFIP (which uses GB%) was actually worse at season's end.

So why the better real ERA? Well, there are some factors outside of what an estimator considers. First, park effects. Hellickson played in St. Petersburg which allowed 33% less runs last year than Toronto where Reyes pitched most of his games. Half the games are away, but already you should expect Hellboy's ERA to be 16.5% lower.

Next Tampa had the best defense in baseball. They got to 2.5% more balls in play than Toronto (Baltimore, where Reyes played for a short time was even worse). That's good for almost a half run of ERA.

Sure, if you were a GM you'd prefer Hellickson: he's younger, has a better injury history, and he has better stuff (which points to a better future), but last year it was mostly an illusion that he pitched better.

Jul 09, 2012 14:42 PM
rating: 0
 
dbiester

well, sometimes your eyes don't lie and the numbers are missing something. I think that's one of the points of the article. And Hellickson might just have had a better real ERA than Reyes because he's a better pitcher, possibly in ways the publicly used numbers don't yet capture. Like isn't it possible Hellickson knew his park was big and pitcher to it?

Jul 10, 2012 12:46 PM
rating: 0
 
Behemoth

If you think that the premise of the article is that it's OK just to say that you trust your eyes over analysis, then you've badly misunderstood it.

Jul 11, 2012 06:19 AM
rating: 0
 
xnumberoneson

Wow! I hope these demonstrably false underlying assumptions are exposed soon. I hate not knowing stuff!

Jul 09, 2012 17:14 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Kevin Goldstein
BP staff

This might be the best thing I've read all year.

Jul 09, 2012 18:30 PM
 
frampton
(870)

I've thought for a while that Joe Morgan tends to think more in the short term -- what can win THIS game -- and, I think it's certainly true that he rejects the notion that probability analysis can override those short-term considerations. Run-probability numbers? I think Joe processes the situations where going against those numbers works as casting the validity of those probabilities into question. (As opposed to the "quantum leap" -- even if the probability of a 65/35 split is valid, the 35 WILL occur 35% of the time, and Joe would say that the player definitely has an influence on that. Who can argue with that -- outcomes on the baseball field are NOT random/determined by the percentages in the context of a single event.)

I did see Joe play a lot (when the Giants traded him away, I was totally pissed), and he was definitely one of the headiest players out there -- he observed his opponents, and utilized those observations to help his team win that game. (Bill James wrote about his ability to smell out a pitchout, a great example.) Not often mentioned is the fact that he -- and many of the Reds of the 70s -- were hard-core bench jockeys, who would do their best to verbally intimidate those players they could get to. Just a point that he would do whatever it took to win each and every game. Sabermetrics tends to look more to long-term results. IMO, both are relevant -- I think there is something to Joe's belief that one-run strategies are called for more in the playoff context, for example, when strategies that will play out over a season are dicier in a best-of-seven series.

I enjoyed the book "Sixty Feet, Six Inches," the "conversation" between Reggie Jackson and Bob Gibson. Would love to be a fly on the wall for a similar conversation between Joe Morgan and Earl Weaver . . . I have to think Joe would respect Earl enough to engage him, and maybe acknowledge some things he might not acknowledge otherwise.

Jul 09, 2012 19:52 PM
rating: 0
 
houstonhog

Fantastic article! Look forward to reading more of your work, as I am a new BP reader.

Jul 09, 2012 20:53 PM
rating: 0
 
Michael
(736)

Russell, how long until the nondiclosure covenant expires? Does it expire? It might be nice to know when you are free to write about whatever you like.

Of course, by then, we hope that you'll have another baseball consulting gig, if that's your desire.

Jul 10, 2012 09:09 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

It never does. Don't worry, there's plenty more stuff to write about.

Jul 10, 2012 11:17 AM
 
gpurcell

Great article.

Biggest thing I see with hardcore sabermatricians is a tendency to reify useful analytical tools--like, say, WAR/WARP.

Jul 10, 2012 22:41 PM
rating: 0
 
jnossal

Just another piece of confirmation that sabremetrics has come full circle, from the challengers of common wisdom in the past, to the defenders of orthodoxy of the present. The revolutionaries of yesteryear are the rulers of today and someday will be deposed just as ruthlessley as they overthrew the former regime.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Jul 25, 2012 11:32 AM
rating: 0
 
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