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 2010 National League MVP Debate… Pujols Continues to Reign Supreme

September 15, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Sports Geek and Loyal Homer.

The Holy Grail of hitting in Major League Baseball is to win the Triple Crown as the league’s leading hitter in home runs, runs batted in, and batting average, all in the same season.

Usually by this time each year, hopes of seeing the first Triple Crown hitter since 1967 (when Carl Yastrzemski became only the 16th player in history to do it) have been long since forgotten. This year, though, there is not only a possibility of one player contending for the Triple Crown – We actually get to enjoy a race between THREE of the best hitters in the National League!

Albert Pujols, Carlos Gonzalez, and Joey Votto each have a genuine opportunity to close out the 2010 baseball season by winning the first Triple Crown in over 40 years.

These three hitters each stand with a very real chance to earn the greatest hitting accomplishment in baseball, and have created baseball’s most exciting LEGITIMATE batting race (sorry Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds, your races just don’t count anymore in my book) since Pete Rose chased Ty Cobb’s career hit total.

It will be fun to watch, and we can only hope that one of these three players can accomplish the seemingly impossible.

But that is not the only race that Pujols, Gonzalez, and Votto have created. As a side effect of this quest for possible baseball immortality, another very real competition has been formed between Pujols, Votto, and Gonzalez that is far more relevant to the context of baseball today. That is the race for the National League MVP.

Obviously, if any one of the three is able to pull off the Triple Crown, they should be a shoe-in for the MVP award. But let’s assume that things will play out in similar fashion to where they stand right now, and once more a season passes by without a Triple Crown winner.

Who wins the MVP award then?

While each can stake a claim for the crown, the clear frontrunner for the award in 2010 is once again Albert Pujols.

Pujols is already a three-time winner of baseball’s highest individual season honor, and has reigned uninterrupted as the National League MVP since the close of the 2008 season, and with good reason. No player has meant more to his team, and to the game of baseball, than has Albert Pujols.

Triple Crown statistics are one thing, and they already speak very highly of Pujols’ individual performance over the 2010 season. He leads the NL in homers and RBIs with 39 and 104 respectively, and has the fifth best batting average in the league.

But that is only the tip of the iceberg when you are discussing Pujols’ contributions to his team. There are other areas, arguably more meaningful to a team in the game of baseball, where Pujols also sets himself apart as being far more valuable than Votto or Gonzalez.

For starters, Pujols is not an all-or-nothing hitter. Some batters may swing for the fences with each at bat. Sure, they get their share of homeruns, but they also fail to have their share of quality at bats, often striking out in their quest for big hit glory.

Albert Pujols is different.

Compare his homerun and strikeout numbers to those of Votto and Gonzalez. Joey Votto has 34 homeruns and 112 strikeouts so far this season, and Carlos Gonzalez has 32 homeruns with 122 strikeouts.

Basically, Votto and Gonzalez are good for nearly four strikeouts to go with every one homerun they hit.

So where does Pujols fall? With his aforementioned league-leading 39 homeruns, Pujols has struck out only 69 times this season. That is less than two strikeouts for every homerun hit!

Now, let’s add walk totals into the mix – Once again, it is Pujols at the top with 85 walks, leaving Votto (83) and Gonzalez (33) trailing.

How about extra-base hits? You guessed it. Pujols leads the NL with 74, while Gonzalez (72) and Votto (66) once more fall short of Pujols’ exceptional standard.

Oh yeah, he also happens to lead the league in runs scored with 100 so far in 2010.

All of those numbers point to one single fact – Pujols is by far the most productive hitter in baseball. He is extremely smart at the plate, and is good for considerably more QUALITY at bats than either of his two likely MVP competitors.

So allow me to sum up the 2010 National League MVP race for you:

Albert Pujols has hit for more homeruns and bases than any other batter in the National League. He has personally crossed home plate more than anyone else, and has driven more teammates across the plate than anyone else. Even when he DOESN’T hit the ball, he manages to make it on base more than just about anyone else in the league.

Contrarily, Joey Votto and Carlos Gonzalez strike out almost twice as often as Pujols, walk less, and produce much less offense.

If my team is down to their last out, and I can pick the one person I want stepping up to the plate, I am going to take Albert Pujols every single time.

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The MLB 2010 Best First Half Player Debate… A Texas Ranger Who Hits Harder Than Chuck Norris

July 5, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Sports Geek and Babe Ruthless.

Now that the 2010 MLB All-Star rosters have been announced, who among them is THE All Star of the All Stars? That’s easy – Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton.

While Hamilton may not boast the “most” home runs or the “best” batting average to this point in the season, he has turned in the best overall hitting performance of the first half, not just in the American League, but in all of the Majors.

Most impressive was his absolute tear through the month of June. Beginning on June 1, Hamilton proceeded to collect 49 hits in only 108 at bats for an average of .454. He also ripped nine home runs and 31 RBI, for a slugging percentage of .815.

Those totals propelled him onto the leaderboard for every single major hitting category, something that no other starting All-Star can claim (Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera COULD have claimed this, but he was edged in voting by the Twins’ Justin Morneau).

Here is a breakdown of where Hamilton’s hitting ranks today:

    Batting Average: .339 (fourth in both the AL and the Majors)

  • Hits: 106 (third in the AL and fourth in the Majors)
  • Home Runs: 20 (second in both the AL and the Majors)
  • RBI: 61 (fourth in the AL and fifth in the Majors)
  • Slugging: .617 (second in both the AL and the Majors)
  • OPS: 1.001 (third in both the AL and the Majors)

Along with those dominating totals, Hamilton has also racked up 23 doubles (only two behind the AL leaders), two triples, and has an on-base percentage of .385.

It is a performance worthy of the most fan votes for any American League outfielder, and it earned Hamilton his third consecutive starting nod.

But the REAL All-Stars aren’t just those who turn in big individual performances. Instead, the REAL All-Stars are those who not only perform exceptionally well, but they always seem to step it up a notch even further when their team needs it. After all, baseball is a TEAM sport, and individual accolades mean nothing if they are not in support of the team.

And that is precisely what Hamilton did. His Ruthian performance during the month of June may have added some value to his personal resumé, but the TRUE value of that performance was realized by the entire Texas Rangers organization.

As the month of May closed, the Rangers were riding a four game losing streak and they sat in second place in the AL West, one game behind Oakland. But when the calendar turned, and the Rangers began the month of June with a series against the Chicago White Sox, Hamilton kicked his performance into high gear.

He started off the month with a “quiet” 3-5 performance against Mark Buerhle, as the Rangers ended a four-game skid by beating the White Sox 9-6. That was just the beginning, as Hamilton’s bat would ultimately lead the Rangers on to a 21-6 record during the month, including an 11-game win streak during Interleague play against the top teams in the NL East (much to Loyal Homer’s chagrin).

And when the calendar flipped again as June rolled into July, the same Rangers team that started June on a losing slide finished it with a 4.5 game LEAD over the rest of their division.

The Rangers managed that impressive run by way of offensive explosion. During the month the team would go on to outscore opponents by a combined 173-100. It was Hamilton who led that offensive charge.

Being an All-Star is not just making yourself look good, it is making your TEAM look good by providing exactly what the rest of the team needs exactly when they need it most. Josh Hamilton did that.

He has proven to be the league’s best all-around hitter, and he stands poised at the All-Star break to now lead his team to its first postseason appearance since 1999.

That is what makes Hamilton the Most Valuable Player from the first half of 2010.

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