The Does April Really Matter in MLB Debate

May 3, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan.

Here we are in early May and the MLB standings are a bit confusing. The team with the best record in baseball is not the team many predicted – it’s the Cleveland Indians of all teams. A 18-8 April does not earn any team a championship, but it is as noteworthy as the New York Yankees’ 17-8. It’s as good as the Phillies as well. Since the Yankees and the Phillies are legitimate name-brand contenders, then the Indians must be for real also, right?

Unfortunately, that question does not have a simple answer… making it a great candidate for an eternal baseball debate. Does a strong April REALLY matter for Major League Baseball teams?

Loyal Homer will argue that an excellent April is not indicative of a great season while Bleacher Fan will argue that a great April means a great season is in the works.

Who do you agree with? Check back here and find out how the judge rules later this week.

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The Does April Really Matter in MLB Debate… Pride Goeth BEFORE the Fall, and Winning in April Goeth INTO the Fall

May 3, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.


The first month of baseball is officially in the books, and the biggest story from the month of April has been the play of the Cleveland Indians.

The upstart Tribe has just turned in the greatest start in the 110 year history of their storied franchise, finishing April tied for the best record in baseball at 18-8, and currently owning a 4.5 game lead in the AL Central.

This is a better start than any of the AL Championship teams from the 1990s ever saw, and it’s better than the World Series Champion 1948 team. In fact, even the 1954 Indians (a team that went on to win 111 games that year) would have trailed its 2011 counterparts by two games when April turned to May.

So, why is it that most people are STILL not yet ready to give the Indians (who own the best record in baseball) any respect? Many writers around the country are reluctant to do more than acknowledge that the Indians had a good start to the season. And, of all the major publications online, only CBSSports.com has the guts to put the Indians atop the Power Rankings (most still refuse to put Cleveland even in the top three).

I am not trying to make a claim that the Indians are destined for a World Series championship, but the team has clearly played as the best team in baseball so far. They swept five of their nine series, and have not lost at home in over a month. They swept the pre-season AL favorite Boston Red Sox, and just completed a thrilling sweep of the Detroit Tigers, a team many analysts’ pick to be the AL Central champions.

With the exception of a couple bumps in the road (which every team has), the rotation has been outstanding, and the bullpen has been virtually unhittable. Meanwhile, on the offensive side of the ball, the Indians are tied with the Texas Rangers for scoring the most runs in the AL, and the Indians trail only the equally surprising Kansas City Royals for the best team batting average at .272.

So, why are people still doubting the Indians? Because 30 days ago, NOBODY thought the team could be a contender this year (I even predicted a season with fewer than 72 wins). But is a prediction from 30 days ago really any reason to discount the Indians today?

Perhaps Indians outfielder Shelley Duncan sums it up the best – “Did you ever notice that people don’t want to be wrong?”

Rather than admit that they might have actually gotten a prediction wrong, analysts-turned-prognosticators like Jayson Stark would instead try to diminish a tremendous start to the season for teams like the Indians or the Royals by attempting to tag their records with an asterisk that “this is only the first month of the season… it doesn’t really MEAN anything yet.”

DOESN’T REALLY MEAN ANYTHING?!

That’s like saying that the first inning of a game doesn’t matter, because there are still eight innings left to be played.

Let’s forget the obvious fact that the first month of the season is JUST AS important as the last month of the season. The notion that games played in the month of April should not serve as an indication of what to expect through the rest of the season for a team is absolutely absurd.

Every team is now at least 25 games deep into their season. Every team has already dealt with injuries and road trips, slumps and streaks. They have played in good weather and bad, and in front of fans both friendly and hostile. If a team after 25 games can’t at least say that they have indication of what to expect in the weeks and months ahead, then their problems are greater than where they sit in the standings.

The NFL crowns their champion after only 19 games, but baseball doesn’t mean ANYTHING after playing 25 or more? Child, please.

Last year at this point in the season the AL standings had Tampa Bay, Minnesota, and Texas leading their divisions, with the Yankees sitting in the Wild Card spot, just one game behind Tampa. Guess where things stood at the end of September… the AL standings had Tampa Bay, Minnesota, and Texas leading their divisions, with the Yankees sitting in the Wild Card spot, just one game behind Tampa.

And do you think there is a single person in the league – whether a player, manager, GM, or owner – who is shrugging their shoulders at their April performance because, “It doesn’t matter, anyway”? Of course not! Every single person in baseball would LOVE to have a 4.5 game division lead at this point in the season. It builds confidence for the athletes, and it sets a team that much farther ahead of the competition for the next 25 games (and more).

Obviously, there is a lot of baseball left to be played. There is a reason the playoffs are not based on season standings at the end of April. But that is the exact same reason why teams play the April games.

It is true that the Indians could blow the 4.5 game April lead over the rest of the division. But that same lead can also be blown in September. It is true that the Tigers, Twins, or White Sox could get hot, and make a stronger push for the AL Central than has been made so far. But it is also true that the season could end just as it started, with the Indians outright dominating the rest of the competition.

I’m not trying to make the case that the Indians are on course for a World Series championship. I’m not even arguing that they have the AL Central locked up. But I can guarantee you that teams like the Texas Rangers, New York Yankees, and Boston Red Sox are taking the Indians seriously, and the White Sox, Twins, Tigers and Royals are taking the Indians VERY seriously.

If the other teams in the league are putting stock in the performance of teams like the Cleveland Indians, shouldn’t that be good enough for Jayson Stark and company?

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The Marginalizing Humanity Debate Verdict

February 24, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Sports Geek.

The advancement of “baseball science” has brought us tremendous development in the sport.

Thanks to a greater understanding of the human body, training and dietary regimens have evolved, radically shifting the makeup of the “modern” baseball player. You need only compare photos of Babe Ruth and Albert Pujols to see the evidence of that reality.

Likewise, technological advances have given us access to the instant replay.

With each of these new developments, the quality of the baseball product is enhanced. The game itself is improved, as is the fan experience.

But for every new development that advances the game of baseball, there is also a baseball fad that makes an appearance. Unlike the great advances in baseball science, though, these fads over time either fail to add any real value to the game, or in some cases, actually detract from the great experience of America’s Pastime.

The use of performance enhancing drugs falls under this classification, as does the decision to use the All-Star Game as the determinant for which team in the World Series will get home field advantage (in my opinion). These are changes that were adopted by the game in an attempt to maintain relevance, but over the long-term failed to add any real value to the product of baseball.

Which brings us to the issue at hand today.

One of the hot trends in baseball over the past decade has been the growing emphasis that many baseball franchises are placing on highly complex, advanced statistical analysis. Sabermetrics, for example, is no longer referred to anecdotally. Instead, it is perceived as a viable tool in analyzing past results to project future performance.

Franchises are not just casually using these advanced analytical tools, either. The Boston Red Sox hired Bill James, the father of Sabermetrics, as a Senior Advisor for their organization nearly ten years ago. And more recently 17 different MLB franchises purchased Bloomberg’s Scouting Tools, which they tend to employ in a similar manner.

The statistical analysis of baseball performance has developed into a very real aspect of the game, and is now heavily ingrained as a viable practice in the front offices of more than half of Major League Baseball.

But are these advanced analytical tools the next great advancement in baseball science, or are they just the latest baseball fad?

Sports Geek is of the opinion that Sabermetrics and the like are the next step in the evolution of baseball. According to Sports Geek, these new analytical processes and tools are a tremendous advancement in the game, because they provide franchises with an opportunity to validate decisions that were previously based almost entirely on hunches.

There is a great deal of truth behind that assessment.

Like instant replay, these analytical tools seek to eliminate the subjectivity of human interpretation, and the fallibility that comes with that judgment. It seeks instead to replace that subjectivity with the objectivity of measurable or quantifiable facts. Rather than rely on a human being to process information through the filters of their own perception, which leaves room for error, these tools provide franchises with unbiased data which can be used to govern decision making.

The negative side of that, though, is the fact that there are certain aspects of the game which cannot be measured.

As Loyal Homer discusses, there are times when objectivity is not possible, because the circumstances within each game-time scenario are unique. There is no number to quantify the health of a player, or the personal stress he might be under, thanks to a problem at home, when he steps up to the plate.

Furthermore, it can be difficult (if not impossible) to substitute real experience that can only be gained over a lifetime of direct observation and analysis. A computer has not spent months or years developing relationships with players, and a math formula cannot tell you the attitude of your left fielder.

But despite those objections from Loyal Homer, I tend to agree with Sports Geek in his assessment that there is real value behind these measurements, and that they are the next step in the natural progression of baseball.

These tools are not intended to eventually replace the decision-making process for a manager or the front office. Baseball is a situational game, and the chess match that plays out on the field can never be directed by a set of hard and fast rules. Loyal Homer is correct in that assessment. But that fact does not automatically negate the value of Sabermetrics. To the contrary, it actually validates the need for it.

Managers will always be required to make spur-of-the-moment decisions, based on the context of each unique situation. Sabermetrics will not replace the decision-making process for those managers, but it is a greater set of tools that can help guide the manager to a decision they can feel confident will provide them with the best opportunity for success.

Sabermetrics and Bloomberg’s Scouting Tools are not a series of if-then statements. They do not provide managers with a crib-sheet on standard operating procedures. They help to arm that manager with the best possible information, thus equipping them to make the best possible decision.

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The Marginalizing Humanity Debate

February 22, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Sports Geek.

The hiring of famed baseball historian and statistician, Bill James, as a senior baseball advisor for the Boston Red Sox in 2002 marked the start of a philosophical shift throughout baseball.

Prior to James’ hiring, baseball teams relied almost exclusively on talent scouts in order to determine the best possible players available to them at each position on the field. The scouts would provide a subjective analysis of how each observed player performed, and that analysis would be used to project the player’s likely future success within their organization.

James saw things a little differently.

In the 1980s, James gained notoriety in the baseball world as one of its most respected historians and statisticians. He began an annual publication titled “The Bill James Baseball Abstract,” which sought to analyze baseball performance through objective, statistical data, rather than through the subjective assessments of talent scouts.

And while he never intended for his statistical analysis, which he coined ‘Sabermetrics’, to actually replace scouting, his appointment by the Boston Red Sox indicated that the baseball world might be ready to do just that.

Since then, the emphasis on advanced statistical analysis has skyrocketed.

Today, there isn’t a single discussion about Cy Young contenders, MVP Candidates, or Minor League prospects that doesn’t include at least a mention of Sabermetrics. In the great Albert Pujols free-agency saga, the WAR (Wins Above Replacement) statistic is one that has been used to discuss just how valuable he has been to the St. Louis Cardinals organization. And now, 17 different Major League teams have bought Bloomberg Scouting Tools, a new sports analytics service that will surely be put to use in at least supplementing the scouting programs of these 17 franchises.

With so many different franchises now tying their organization’s future viability directly into the new science of sports analytics, what does this mean for scouting?

Has too much value been placed on stats, at the expense of the good old fashioned gut feel of scouting a player?

According to Loyal Homer, statistics cannot match human instinct, and there are some things that just cannot be quantified. On the other hand, Sports Geek argues that the validity of these new statistics cannot be denied, and they are proven more meaningful every day.

Until now, scouting was always perceived as an inexact science. Have the number-crunchers found a way to change that?

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The Marginalizing Humanity Debate… Stats Are Smarter and Fair

February 22, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

Nobody likes to lose. It sucks. Just image any losing scenario. Maybe your team gets robbed by a bad call. Or your team is poorly prepared because it lacks scouting tools. Or maybe management doesn’t understand how to assemble a winner because the front office people in the organization are constantly looking at the wrong data.

Each of those losing scenarios is historically accurate. Historically, front office people had no way of controlling that reality. Fortunately society and technology have evolved effectively and enables games to be played on an even playing field with replay, and front offices have to become smarter and more effective with the help of statistics and analysis.

My Dad – a self-made man who has an impressive resume and no college degree – always said, “They teach you one thing at Harvard Business school: If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage.”

Ah, dad’s and their seminal wisdom.

This is a quote from my Dad that I was never reluctant to admit truth in or steal and use. As it applies to business, so too does the meaning apply in sports.

So many times in sports the outcome of a game can be changed simply by better, more thorough preparation. Statistics provide that necessary data to fuel more prepared teams and better outcomes to games.

My suspicion is that Loyal Homer is going to bring up the famed “gut feeling” manager of the last era in baseball, Bobby Cox. I really like Bobby Cox and believe is an amazing manager, one of the best baseball has ever had. Hid gut was impressive in many of the calls he made, for sure. But it was no perfect. And as many calls as he would get right, sometimes he would get it wrong by making the wrong gut choice. Though he did win on World Series in 1995, that was prior to the now dominant emphasis on statistics. In fact, when stats and sabermetrics became a bigger part of baseball, Bobby Cox’s teams started to be less effective, and a seemingly dominant manager and team began to slip in the division, and then disappear from the national stage entirely.

During that time – from the late 1990s to the 2000s – sabermetrics took off in popularity and usefulness. For those unfamiliar with the concept, sabermetrics is the scientific use of statistical data to make baseball decisions. Bill James is the father of sabermetrics. He has written over 20 books on the use of statistics in managing baseball and has become an integral part of one of the most successful baseball franchises in the past eight years, the Boston Red Sox.

We all know the history of the fledgling Red Sox. At one time the franchise was considered perpetually snake bitten and impossible to take to a World Series. Then he was hired as a Senior Advisor in Baseball Operations because of his impressive resume in statistics and analysis. What happened next? The Red Sox won a pair of World Series championships, first in 2004 then again in 2007.

Those victories were no gut feel, lucky wins, either. They were a collection of seasons, games, and moments that were carefully analyzed and accurately diagnosed with the help of statistics that helped forecast the right managerial and front office moves.

Boston went from virtual irrelevance to a now traditional power in a division that was dominated by the New York Yankees. Since the Red Sox adopted the philosophy, many other teams have as well, including the San Francisco Giants, The Tampa Rays, the Philadelphia Phillies, and many more. It does not get more obvious – statistics and analysis help a team win, and good decision making from analysis makes good teams great. It is the modern approach for getting the most out of the collection of talent on a team.

As enchanting as they are, hunches and gut feels are a thing of the past. As much as we all may want the charming approach of yesteryear to remain the standard – especially in a sport like baseball – it simply isn’t reality if the goal is to win, and win consistently.

A gut feeling is not business like. It is uncontrolled and a not a repeatable process. It is not something that can be replicated and enhanced for improvement. It is very risky. In an era where teams are less willing to make bold and risky moves, statistics help govern winning actions. And, that’s okay. Like it or not, it is progress.

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The Steroids in the Hall of Fame Debate Verdict

January 13, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Babe Ruthless.

If ever the game of baseball found itself in a lose-lose situation, this would be it. Let me once again sarcastically thank the dirtbags who introduced steroids into the game for ruining it for EVERYONE!

Thanks to greed, egotism, and self-service over fair play and competition, an entire generation of baseball is forever sullied. And what angers me the most about the whole thing is that it was MY era that was ruined!

Ignorance Was Bliss

Our fathers got to grow up watching Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Reggie Jackson. Their fathers grew up watching Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Walter Johnson. These were titans. They were larger-than-life baseball stars turned legends.

Yes, there were “bad guys” back then, too. Ty Cobb was no saint on the base path, and the Black Sox made sure to leave a mark on history. But the actions of those few did not destroy the luster of an entire generation. In fact, for some players (like Cobb), it actually added to their legend.

I, on the other hand, grew up watching cheaters and drug users. The players I idolized during my youth – Canseco and McGwire, Strawberry, and Gooden… and now even more recent stars like Manny and A-Rod – have one-by-one toppled from grace.

At first, it hurt. It was the death of my innocence as a boy. I used to imagine myself in the same dugout as The Bash Brothers, or The Killer B’s. Now the curtain has been pulled back on those moments of herculean accomplishment that I witnessed, and with that action, the illusion of greatness vanished.

At one time I celebrated with these legends. I carried with me what I thought were indelible images, like those of McGwire and Sosa crossing home plate during their great 1998 homerun chase, or Roger Clemens’ twenty strike-out night against the Mariners in 1986, or of rookie sensation Wally Joyner winning the 1986 homerun derby.

Those have all been replaced by images of sad and broken men, none of whom are celebrating now.

Instead of wearing baseball uniforms they are now clad in business suits, standing before Congress or the cameras. Some are making tearful apologies, others making impassioned pleas. But they are all addressing the same problem – destroyed legacies.

The Time for Debate is Over

It is time for history to officially begin passing judgment on the actions of these athletes. Accomplishments that surely would have otherwise merited immediate induction into Cooperstown are now besmirched with an ugly (albeit implied) asterisk. Like a good pair of concrete shoes, no one with an asterisk has managed to break through the barrier that is the collection of HOF voters yet. None have been able to overcome the stigma of being a cheater.

So why do I include Roger Clemens in the same ranks as McGwire, Sosa, and Joyner? He has never been PROVEN to have cheated, and he vehemently denies any and all accusations.

The problem that faces Clemens, Jeff Bagwell, and many other players who are sure to follow after them comes in the form of a very simple question – Do I believe them? My answer is “not really.”

Here is where we find that lose-lose situation. Should the voters of baseball’s Hall of Fame ignore accusations and allegations of cheating and vote players like Roger Clemens into the Hall, knowing that there is a possibility of their being proven guilty after induction? Or do they preclude anyone shrouded in suspicion from ever being inducted, knowing that there will surely be innocent players unfairly denied an honor that they truly deserved?

In defense of those players still only suspected of steroid use, Babe Ruthless calls upon a predictable, but no less valuable, defense. The insistence that a player is “innocent until proven guilty” is one that is hard to deny, and Babe Ruthless wastes no time in applying it to this situation.

As much as I hate the overuse of that adage, I cannot deny its value. While a comparison to McCarthyism or the Salem Witch Trials may be a bit extreme (we are just talking about baseball), the notion that mere accusation could bar someone an otherwise deserved honor is very unpleasant to consider.

But that is nonetheless where Loyal Homer chimes in with hi argument.

There is already a cloud of unpleasantness surrounding this infamous era, and so avoidance is an impossibility. According to Loyal Homer, it is the integrity of the hall itself, not the integrity of the athletes, that is really at stake. Fairness to a player is secondary when you consider the virtues that the Baseball Hall of Fame embodies.

Induction into the Hall is a privilege, not a right. The voters each year want to ensure that only the greatest of baseball’s ambassadors are the ones chosen for immortality.

So do you risk the integrity of the Hall, or sacrifice good faith at the expense of the individual athlete’s legacy?

Preserving the Institution

I am awarding this verdict to Loyal Homer for one reason – the Baseball Hall of Fame is the last piece of the game not yet tainted by steroids.

Records may be called into question and athletes’ resumes may be cheapened, but the Hall remains a bastion where the very best that baseball has to offer can still be respected and honored without question. As Loyal Homer states, the Hall must remain free from the cloud of suspicion.

Do I feel for the wrongfully accused? Absolutely. They are innocent victims, simply caught in the cross-fire of a witch hunt to clean up baseball. But that is not the concern of the Hall of Fame.

Cooperstown does not have to solve the problem of steroids. It does not have to pass judgment on players like Clemens or Bagwell. The only function which the Hall and its voters must perform is to honor the game’s greatest.

Unfortunately for players like Clemens, suspicion is all it takes. How can voters confidently induct him into the Hall of Fame if there are very real doubts as to the legitimacy of how he accomplished many of the things which would have made him great?

Let’s be honest, this would not be the first time that suspicion deprived someone from induction into the Hall (e.g. Shoeless Joe Jackson).

Voters for the Baseball Hall of Fame have demonstrated an ongoing commitment to preserving the purity of the game. If there is even a shred of doubt as to the validity of a players’ accomplishments, the voters cannot let him in. To do so would irresponsibly risk the legacy of the entire history of the game.

If just one Hall of Famer is found to have cheated AFTER the fact of his induction, the integrity of the entire Hall is lost forever.

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The Steroids in the Hall of Fame Debate

January 11, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Babe Ruthless.

Boy is it nice to be back! (A huge thanks to everyone here at TSD for picking up the slack while I was gone!)

What better way to get back into the swing of things than to tackle a debate that has probably been a long time coming – steroids and the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Although it feels like we have been talking about steroids in baseball for ever, the issue of steroids in the Hall of Fame is really a problem that is still in its infancy. We are just now at a point where players from the notorious “Steroid Era” such as Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro are eligible for Hall of Fame candidacy.

With each year of voting, it becomes clearer – steroids are a black mark that simply cannot be erased from an athlete’s resume. Voters are sending a message loud and clear that they will not reward any steroid-tainted player with baseball’s highest honor.

I think it is safe to assume that most people are in agreement with those voters when it comes to an athlete who has either admitted to steroid use, or some other form of proof has been provided to definitively confirm that fact.

But what about players who are only SUSPECTED or ACCUSED of steroid use? Should a player who has never admitted to using or been a proven user of steroids be shunned from the Hall of Fame by voters?

The cloud of suspicion around steroids can itself be a powerful influence in how the public perceives an athlete. Loyal Homer believes that suspicion alone should be enough to justify banishment for HOF voters while Babe Ruthless feels that mere suspicion should have no bearing whatsoever on a HOF vote.

How will history look back on the Steroid Era? It’s time to find out…

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