"Your goal shouldn't be to buy players, your goal should be to buy wins. And in order to buy wins, you need to buy runs."
A Powerful Scene from Moneyball
What is the Goal?
There is an epidemic failure within the game to understand what is really happening. And this leads people who run Major League Baseball teams to misjudge their players and mismanage their teams. I apologize.
Okay. People who run ball clubs, they think in terms of buying players. Your goal shouldn't be to buy players, your goal should be to buy wins. And in order to buy wins, you need to buy runs. You're trying to replace Johnny Damon. The Boston Red Sox see Johnny Damon and they see a star who's worth seven and half million dollars a year. When I see Johnny Damon, what I see is... is... an imperfect understanding of where runs come from. The guy's got a great glove. He's a decent leadoff hitter. He can steal bases. But is he worth the seven and half million dollars a year that the Boston Red Sox are paying him? No. No. Baseball thinking is medieval. They are asking all the wrong questions. And if I say it to anybody, I'm-I'm ostracized. I'm-I'm-I'm a leper. So that's why I'm-I'm cagey about this with you. That's why I... I respect you, Mr. Beane, and if you want full disclosure, I think it's a good thing that you got Damon off your payroll. I think it opens up all kinds of interesting possibilities.
Wins Above Replacement
Measurement - and Bias
Great baseball hitters are usually defined by "highest batting average", "most home-runs", and "most RBIs". These traditional measures have served baseball well for a long time. In 2012 Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers won the Triple Crown, leading the American League in batting average, home runs, and RBIs. It was the first time that had happened since 1968.
Think about the remarkable skill it takes to be the best at batting average and home runs. Not surprisingly, he won the MVP award:
Despite Cabrera's remarkable season, the MVP vote was not unanimous. Look at the first-place votes: the Angels' Mike Trout got 6. How can that be? He led the league in WAR. In fact, he had one of the more remarkable seasons in the history of baseball!
W A R?
Suppose you have a high batting average, but you make a lot of errors. You've hit a lot of home runs, but also struck out a lot. You've driven in a lot of runs, but maybe because you've got great hitters surrounding you. These all matter, if the goal is to determine your contribution to the team winning.
And therein lies the crux of WAR --- it attempts to quantify "total value".
WAR (Wins Above Replacement) takes into account the total contribution of a player to his team. It includes offensive, base running, and defensive, and makes a positional adjustment (since some positions are tougher to play than others). Fangraphs has a good introduction to WAR.
If WAR quantifies "total value", what do "batting average", "home runs", etc., quantify?
Are you measuring what you should be measuring?
A Small Change with Huge Results
August 26, 2013
Torture would be a good description of what the baseball swing brought Chris Davis in 2010. Davis, a lefthanded-hitting first baseman, batted .192 with one home run in 45 games for the Rangers, who twice that season demoted him to the minors—the first time after just 15 games—and left him off their postseason roster. He was 24 years old and stuck with one of the most damning labels in baseball: He was a 4A player, consigned to baseball purgatory as too good for Triple A but not good enough for the big leagues.
The Rangers shipped him and reliever Tommy Hunter to the Orioles in July 2011 for reliever Koji Uehara. (Hunter and Uehara had similar enough value that Davis essentially had almost none to Texas in the trade.)
Three years after bottoming out at .192, Davis is the most devastating power hitter in baseball not named Miguel Cabrera.
How did this happen?
He decided to stand up straight and dip his hands.
STAND UP STRAIGHT AND DIP YOUR HANDS
Freedom—Davis found it in the Dominican Winter League. He stopped bending his knees the way the Rangers wanted and stood upright in the batter's box, the way he did naturally as a kid. He dropped his hands as he loaded his swing, took a long stride, moved his head—the very movements that drove the Texas brass nuts and wrongly are considered flaws by old-school thinkers—and rediscovered a stress-free, syrupy swing. He smacked six home runs in 86 at bats that winter.
Davis played for Estrellas, a team based in San Pedro de Macoris, the hometown of Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano. Davis and Canoâ€”who has one of the most lovely swings in the gameâ€”happened to run into each other there. "For you to handicap your power the way you've done it the past two years, that's just wrong," Cano told Davis. "Here in the Dominican people talk about your power and how they don't see that kind of power very often. You're a power hitter, not a contact hitter."
A Small Change with Huge Results
July 27, 2011
Do You Believe In Jose Bautista?
Do you believe in miracles? Can you? Take a hardworking and wiry 30-year-old man, born and raised in the Dominican Republic, so desperate for a major league contract as a teen that he sends out videotapes of himself to teams. He goes unsigned. "Could you imagine?" he asks, "all the scouts in the Dominican, and I'm sending out tapes of myself." He plays two seasons for Chipola Junior College in Marianna, Fla., grows two inches and puts on 30 pounds, and is taken in the 20th round of the amateur draft in 2000. He has now played for five major league teams in his relatively short career—six if you count the Mets, who traded him before he played a game. He has been left unprotected, released, purchased, benched, traded and traded again. When he turned 29, he was a journeyman, his value even as a utility player in dispute.
He is a year older now. And he is the best player in baseball.
How did this happen?
He decided to lift his leg earlier.
HE DECIDED TO LIFT HIS LEG EARLIER
"What stood out with Jose was his amazing bat speed," Manto says. "It was way, way off the charts. We'd watch this guy and think, If this ever clicks, look out.... But you say that about a lot of guys. For some of them, it never does click."
"Start earlier!" Toronto batting coach Dwayne Murphy told him. The message seemed the same—but Bautista doesn't think so. "Everybody had always told me I was late swinging the bat," Bautista says. "Well, I knew that. But they didn't really tell me what to do about it. Or anyway, I didn't get the message, you know?"
"We just had to get him on time," Gaston says. "That was the biggest thing with Jose."
Murphy and Bautista changed the mechanics of his swing. "He had that natural bat speed," Murphy says. "He was a natural pull hitter. But he didn't know how to pull the ball. I told him that with that bat speed he should destroy inside fastballs." Murphy moved Bautista closer to the plate. They fashioned a front leg kick to give him better timing. Bautista tried. He started his swing earlier. Then earlier still. "Jose listens," Gaston says with pride in his voice. But it made no difference. Even after Rios cleared waivers on Aug. 10, giving Bautista his cherished place in the lineup, the Blue Jays' new rightfielder hit .161 during those first four weeks. He hit one home run. Nothing felt natural. He felt miserable.
"I am starting earlier," he told Murphy, but the batting coach shook his head. Before the game in which Bautista would face Baker, teammate Vernon Wells sat next to him in the clubhouse.
"You know what you should do," Wells said. "Think about starting as early as you can possibly imagine, so early that it seems ridiculous. And then start even earlier than that. What do you have to lose? If you look like a fool, you look like a fool. It's just one game."
It was just one game. Bautista stepped in against Scott Baker in the bottom of the second inning. O.K., he would remember thinking, I'm going to start so early it will be ridiculous. Baker pitched, and Bautista felt as if he started his swing before Baker even let go of the ball—"I thought, You want early, I'll show you early." He expected to miss everything, but he felt his bat hit ball. It was more than that, though, because the feeling of hitting a baseball hard, really hard, doesn't feel like anything else in the world.
The ball smashed against the leftfield wall so hard, Bautista thought he could hear the impact over the sounds of the cheers.
Holy s---, Bautista remembered thinking as he stood at second base. What was that?
Through Sunday he had hit 84 home runs since the day everything changed. He hit the first of those 84 the same day, against the same Scott Baker, using the same "swing ridiculously early" philosophy that Vernon Wells had suggested minutes before the game began. Bautista hit nine homers in the remaining 23 games that September. He slugged .629. "I was out of control," he says. "I was so excited because I found it. You know what I mean? I found it!"
Bautista hit 54 home runs in 2010, the most in Blue Jays history. That's more home runs than Hank Aaron hit in a season ... or Willie Mays ... or Ted Williams ... or Lou Gehrig.
Managing What Can't Be Measured
THE SEEN AND THE UNSEEN
The count was 1-2, nobody on, the top of the ninth, the Royals now leading 6-4, having scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth. Ace reliever Joakim Soria's breaking pitch was outside and in the dirt, and Royals catcher John Buck leaped to his right to block the errant pitch with his chest protector.
Commentator Frank White immediately commented on what a great play Buck had made.
I wondered why.
After all, the count was now only 2-2. If the count had been 3-2, I can see why this was a great play. Ball 4, coupled with a wild pitch, maybe puts the batter on second base - with the tying run at the plate.
But why was this a good play?
White continued: Had the batter swung and missed, this strike three, with the ball careening to the backstop, would have resulted in the same scenario above. A lazy catcher would have swiped at the ball, maybe catching it - maybe not. But to act requires the catcher to move immediately, before the batter makes his intentions clear.
"But the batter did not swing", you may be thinking. True. But what if he had?
Baseball is a game of scenarios - of thinking - of "what if's", most of which I, the casual fan, don't see. I didn't see this one, either. It wasn't reported in today's paper.
But these events - these "things seen - and not seen" matter.
I'm reminded of a game my son and I went to last year. Royals vs. White Sox. Top of the first. A weak single to left rolls slowly to the Royals' left-fielder, who does not charge the ball. The batter? Safe at second, advances to third on a sacrifice bunt, and scores on a groundball to the right side. The score remained 1-0 for several innings.
Had the left fielder taken three steps in, the batter is held to a single. Maybe he eventually scores anyway. Maybe he's at the front-end of a double play. Maybe.
Baseball, it's said, is a game where teams - by the very nature of being professional - win a third of the games and lose a third. It's the middle third differentiating one team from another.
And often it's the littlest aspects of the game - most "not seen" - that determine the outcome of the game.
The seen - and the unseen.
The great French economist Frederic Bastiat knew this all to well ...
"Ce qu'on voit et ce qu'on ne voit pas" (That Which is Seen and That Which Is Unseen)