Familiar Sportswriting Faces

Appearing later in this post, Youk and the new baseball cap.

We’ve ridiculed Dan Shaughnessy for his inability to apply logical qualifications for Hall of Fame entry and we’ve torn into Jerry Thornton because his attempts at humor are weak and clichéd. And now we have the opportunity to stew the two together.

Jerry Thornton issued some sort of an apology as he answered angry emails and then jammed his foot in his mouth, while Dan Shaughnessy released a fluff piece on how he thought that the Red Sox wouldn’t be able to resign Josh Beckett (one of those articles where you come away having learned nothing). The common theme here is their focus on the BoSox…and how both these guys are incredibly wrong in almost everything they spew forth.

First up: DanShaughn and his flimsy Josh Beckett has one year left.
The R-Sox are really strong through their starting rotation and past if need be. So yeah, if Beckett leaves it isn’t a huge loss, since Lackey or Lester could be seen as superior. Heck, Shaughnessy even mentions that other SI writers think Beckett will get an extension in the next two weeks (from the slightly more credible Jon Heyman).
Sticking point #1: Theo Epstein was off in his gorilla costume when the trade was struck (that worked out quite well for both teams) where Beckett and Mike Lowell (and Guillermo Mota) came over, while Hanley Ramirez and Anibel Sanchez (and Jesus Delgado and an invisible rabbit…Harvey…Garcia) moved to Florida. This helped get Boston their second World Series in three years. You can argue that having Hanley and some other moves would have achieved the same result, but we’ll never know (also, Beckett was instrumental in that regular and post-season run). Dan’s point is that ol’ Theo may have no attachment to Beckett, but he did have a soft spot for Hanley…so speculation.
Sticking point #2: Beckett has had one good season for the Red Sox. This coincided with their being the best team in baseball (in the USA). From 2006-2009 Beckett has posted WARs of 2.1, 6.5, 5.0, and 5.3. So, one kind of bad season in that light (of course, if Shaughnessy poo-poos concrete methods of HOF judgement then he probably doesn’t touch WAR with a ten-foot pokey thing). Based on applying dollar values to WAR, Beckett has exceeded his actual salary for four years running. Based on projections for 2010, Beckett will do that again this season. Yes, projections are speculation, but they are grounded in a statistical system rather than out-of-the-ass-pulling-of-numbers.
Sticking point #3: John Lackey in, Jason Bay out. Boston has had a tendency to be very cautious with age 30-plus players and Bay is a signal to that, while Lackey is an anomaly with his 5 year contract for a 31 yr old. Apparently Becket has spent considerable time on the DL…despite starting 33, 30, 27, and 32 games over the past four years. Danno has some strange memories of how things have progressed.
Sticking point #4: Money! Matsuzaka is apparently a waste of money (although from a marketing standpoint he is a positive boon) and Lackey, who is no Beckett (didn’t Dan just say that Beckett sucked?), is also expensive. Sabathia and Burnett got big contracts also and Beckett will want comparable pay. According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts the Red Sox will have a payroll of ~$165mill in 2010, which is an all time high for them (previously $143 in ’07, $133 in ’08, and $122 in ’09). Ortiz, Lowell, Varitek, and Victor Martinez are free agents after this season, and with Beckett’s contract also coming off, that is a total of $48.3 off the books. Papelbon will enter his final year of arbitration and I can imagine the BoSox trading him (or he’ll get $10mill and then be gone). Ortiz does have a club option, but there is no buyout, while Adrian Beltre and Bill Hall have $1mill and 500K buyouts respectively. You can expect Hall to be bought out, while Beltre has a player option for $5mill that becomes $10 with 640 PAs. I’m not sold on the BoSox taking Ortiz’s option, which was why I included him on the savings, but they could run the decline and re-sign route. So Lowell is gone for sure and Varitek is another good bet to leave. Meanwhile Beckett and Martinez will (should) be aggressively pursued for extensions. Of course with Mauer’s new deal (drastically different from FDR’s) Martinez will be all about compensation. Between the two of them $28-36mill per year is decent range to expect (the low end being Beckett giving a discount). Taking that into consideration, Boston can return to 2011 with a slightly higher payroll than 2010 and then J.D. Drew leaves! Seeing this, one can understand why Bay was allowed to leave and why you can expect Boston to remain above $150mill for the foreseeable future (if they remain in contention and don’t go all Florida Marlins on us).

Next up: JerThorn is fueled by hate mail.
Thornton summarizes his premise for his article as the following:

“Advanced baseball stats are becoming more and more prevalent. It seems like every offseason move the Sox made was based on them. Guys who believe in sabermetrics take themselves really seriously. Let’s make fun of them.”

Ok, so that failed miserably. Two things helped that out. The article wasn’t all that funny, relying on cheap gags and stereotypes, and we statheads do kind of take ourselves a little too seriously (numbers are all we have!). For the most part Thornton is quite amiable and easy-going in receiving his bashing…but there are still some kinks in there.
For one thing he is genuinely concerned that the Red Sox rely too much on advanced metrics. Then, in response to a Moneyball reference on Youkilis he issues forth the following:

Whatever Billy Beane saw in Youk is secondary to the fact that the reason he’s a great player is his production. His power numbers, his batting average, his RBIs and his OBP. All those things that advanced stats have sought to diminish. If anything, Youkilis is exactly the kind of guy that old school scouting systems would have loved.

OMGWTFBBQ! You have missed the point entirely. The only thing that advanced stats diminish is BA, because it is a very misleading stat. Meanwhile power, RBIs, and OBP (how did that get in there) are all taken into heavy consideration with such metrics. No one is diminishing the value of scouting by using statistics. Scouting is key for the array of talent pools within the high school and college baseball system. The main purpose of advanced statistics in the context of Moneyball was to exploit market inefficiencies, which was why Beane coveted Youkilis and let him fall in the draft under the assumption that most clubs didn’t have the same insight as he did (and then got one-upped by Boston). After Youkilis broke into the team, the advanced stats gave Boston their jump off point for contract negotiations.
In 2008 Youkilis hit .312 and Cristian Guzman topped him with .316…so clearly Guzman wasn’t as good as his BA would make you think. In 2008 Carlos Beltran hit 27 HR and .284 while Ryan Braun hit 37 HR at .285. Beltran was the better player. Guzman and Braun are pretty bad fielders while Beltran and Youkilis are among the best at their respective positions (Youkilis excels at 3rd and 1st). Defensive metrics account for an new frontier in the baseball world, since going by Errors and Fielding Percentage happens to be a shoddy method of evaluation (lies, I tell you). Franklin Gutierrez is enjoying the benefits, as are the Mariners pitchers (did you seriously think that Jarrod Washburn was that good?). In their time together on Boston, David Ortiz would regularly outperform Manny Ramirez in terms of WAR even though they would both put up great offensive numbers. Why? Papi was a DH and had no impact on the defensive front while Manny liked to play in the grass as fly balls dropped all around him. Manny was traded and Papi stayed.
Anyway, it seems incredibly idiotic to go by one frame of valuation of players rather than apply a couple or more. Scouting is important, it gives you ins on a player’s swing, glove, arm, hairstyle, etc. Statistical analysis isn’t more important, but a way to avoid mistakes, evaluate for contract negotiations/offers and trades, and exploit those pesky market inefficiencies. Heck, throw a psychiatrist in there and avoid all the Lastings Milledges and Elijah Dukes…or use one to soften their edges. The Pittsburgh Pirates recently employed a mental conditioning expert ( an article by Yahoo! Sports’ Steve Henson, we hit a trifecta) for the US military to fiddle with their burgeoning youngster system. Thinking outside the proverbial box is what gets you an advantage (usually; some NFL teams like to employ aspiring criminals and that doesn’t always work). Trying something new in an effort to perfect your team and system while keeping costs at an acceptable point will put you ahead (operations research anyone?).
Next comes more brain pain:

There are lies, there are damned lies and there are statistics. Then there are the statistics that prove that J.D. Drew is a more productive hitter than Jason Bay.

Not sure where you find those stats. Bay is the superior batter even if Drew is slightly more patient at the plate (although they’re both great OBPers), but while Bay is awful running around the Green Monster, Drew is actually really good…and that is why WAR values Drew over Bay.

…it’s a gross exaggeration to say claim sabermetrics won the Sox two championships. It may have helped. But the major contributions to those two titles came from decidedly old school, non-sabermetric players. Sluggers like Manny Ramirez. High batting average guys like Bill Meuller. Run producers like Kevin Millar. Many of whom played mediocre defense, by the way.

When you have Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez heading your rotation, defense is one of your lesser worries. Sabermetrics likes OBP and seven of the main 2004 starting fielders OBPed .365 or higher. The Red Sox were able to use Millar and Mueller for cheap…because they were exploiting market inefficiencies. Meanwhile they used a combo of Pokey Reese, Nomar, and Orlando Cabrera at shortstop to provide great defense. They moved Nomar to get Cabrera who could provide defense and offense (Reese kinda sucked a bunch at the plate). Derek Lowe was another pitcher in the rotation and he felt the mediocre (bad) defense as his ERA was 5.42, while his FIP tells another story at 4.26 and a BABIP at .338…that defense was really bad around him. Yet Lowe still won 14 games because the Red Sox ran with run production.

Didn’t the Stat Geeks convince Theo that a closer was a waste of money, which led to the Closer-by-Committee fiasco? And it was only when they sunk huge money into the retro Keith Foulke and developed a throwback power closer in Jonathan Papelbon that they were able to win it all.

The 2003 Red Sox bullpen was devoid of a great reliever and closers generally want an assload of cash for limited use. The closer is your best relief pitcher…and when teams have a few really good RPs they will do even better, because the more innings you can eat up the better. The closer by committee thing only works if you have capable RPs and in 2003 Byung-Hyun Kim was in the process of falling apart even if he was the best RP the BoSox had. If you look at the 2003 ALCS you’ll find that starters accounted for all 4 losses against the Yanks (although Sauerbeck relieved Lowe in Game 2 to give up a double), so lack of a closer doesn’t really hold sway at the point where the Red Sox season ended. There is a new move in the sabermetrics field in that your best RP (so, closer) pitches at the most important part of the game, which is the part where you preserve your lead no matter what inning. If you are in the seventh and the bases are loaded with one out and you are leading by 2 then you bring in the closer and keep your team in the game instead of blowing the lead and the chance to toss him in in the 9th. Take Philly, where Brad Lidge was an utter crapbomb in ’09, but on the other hand you have Ryan Madson, who was the Phillies’ best RP. Madson was brought in during those important moments and kept the team from blowing their lead so that Lidge could come in later and come close to blowing it (or blow it).

Furthermore, one of the tenets of sabermetrics is that “clutch” doesn’t exist. And yet the Sox have held a special ceremony just to honor David Ortiz as the best clutch hitter in Sox history. And there’s not a formula in existence that can convince me they’re wrong about that.

Some players are better at coping with high intensity moments than others, but if you have guys who treat every plate appearance in the same manner then there is no such thing as clutch. Normal, everyday fans like clutchness and the memories they create and David Ortiz had a knack for hitting homers at necessary moments. Aaron Boone once hit an important homer…and he also was a very bad player for the Yankees in 2003 where he went .250BA .302OBP .418SLG 6HR in 54 regular season games and was even worse in the post season at .170BA .196OBP .302SLG 2HR in 17 games. But one of those HR was really really important, so, you know, clutch.
Thornton finishes by ripping on Ron Borges and Dan Shaughnessy…so he at least has something right. Good Show.

I promise to write something non-sportswriter-attack related, but sometimes there is an influx of misinformation.

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