It’s Good to Be Out of the Motherfuckin’ Loop

For my newer readers, when it comes to baseball, I’m a big believer in sabermetric principles.  I was

Heres a hint on who Im picking in the AL West.

Here's a hint on who I'm picking in the AL West.

reading Bill James Abstracts back in 1982, so my credentials are fairly solid.  I’m a White Sox fan, but ever since Billy Beane starting running the A’s according to these principles, I always rooted for them to succeed.  Then came the book Moneyball.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the book, but like most sensations, I felt it was a bit oversold. Actually, I’ve enjoyed a couple of other books even better that its author, Michael Lewis, has written.  I understand that Lewis was writing the book for people who were unaware of how statistical data can give an edge to the uninitiated, but like a Hollywood screenplay, it had to find a villian.  In Moneyball, White Sox GM Kenny Williams was portrayed like an idiot.  This was when I started falling out of love with the A’s.

My frustration with Beane grew when he traded for Jason Kendall. Since this trade, he’s made some real interesting moves and I’m aware that he’s working with a smaller payroll than the Angels, but it’s hard to see what the overall plan is.  Yes, the organization has some great depth of young talent, but when it comes to this young talent, especially pitching, there is little guarantee it will push you through.  No matter how smart you are, a lot of luck is needed to succeed. Unless you are a Yankees, Red Sox, or Cubs, if you sign Eric Chavez to a huge contract and he gets hurt and becomes a major drain on your lineup, it will end up costing you your chance to win the division.

My friends at Baseball Prospectus are once again downgrading the Angels and putting the A’s up

Are you getting the theme, here?

Are you getting the theme, here?

higher than they deserve.  As I wrote about the White Sox, BP seems to have a major blind spot when it comes to the success of the Angels.  Sure, the Angels don’t value OBP the way I would want them to, but they have enough slugging and defense to add to their generally superior pitching that the AL West has become pretty easy for them recently.  I liked the A’s picking up Cabrera and Nomar, but I’m not a fan of Matt Holiday.  Look at his OPS splits in Coors Field and away from home.  He’s making way too much for what he brings to the table.

I’ve discussed in the past, when I was writing at the Toaster that relief pitching is the area that the PECOTA’s of the world most underrate.  The Angels are deadly in close games, which is the biggest reason why their Pythagorean record is generally worse than their overall record.  While I don’t think the Angels are going to have the best record in baseball, like in 2008, I do think the addition of Bobby Abreu and the progression of a couple of their younger players make them an overwhelming favorite again in the AL West.

I don’t have facts behind this, so I’m pulling this one out of my bubble butt.  I’m guessing that a lot of baseball brainiacs who write on the game overpredict the A’s because they either have friends in the organization or they admire their reasons for doing what they do.  Now I’m not saying I don’t get that sentiment, as I root for people I like or respect, as well.  My problem with this type of action is when it continually occurs and smart people like Joe Sheehan and Nate Silver continue to look foolish on the Angels and White Sox.  I’m not going to pretend for a minute that these guys don’t understand the game far better than I do, but they need to really tweak their ultimate decision-making on a couple of things if they want to come off like they have better objectivity.

The Angels own this division like no one else does in baseball.

The Angels own this division like no one else does in baseball.

On this subject, Rangers GM Jon Daniels has gotten the velvet glove treatment by a lot of sabermetrical-inclined writers and I see some of them really touting the future of the Rangers.  I’m completely a fan of Kevin Goldstein, so I do believe him when I read that Texas has the best minor league talent.  My problem is that Daniels has had some of the best young pitching in baseball and has been fleeced in trade after trade during his tenure, with the Hamilton/Volquez deal being a push. (I would rather have Volquez, but it’s a fair debate at this point.)  I think Daniels is similar in age and background and since he seems to be like one of us, he gets way too much leeway.  They are still a year or two away.  If the Rangers don’t stay competitive this season, I doubt he will end up being around to see all this young talent succeed, becoming the new DePodesta. (This is way too good of a description of Daniels, as it’s hard for me to knock DePodesta’s moves as a Dodger GM, unlike Daniels who has traded away a high-quality starting pitching staff.)

So here are more predictions for 2009.  Like Fox News, I have no bias here.  Enjoy.

Angels 91

A’s 82

Rangers 77

Mariners 76

Let me add that I’m going with the Red Sox to beat the Mets in the World Series.  I’m not a big fan of Jerry Manuel, but I love the bullpen moves.  I have the Dodgers, Cubs, and Phillies as my other playoff teams.  No big surprises in the NL.  The senior circuit is getting better and will be more competitive in the inter-league games.

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Never really noticed how much the Violent Femmes’ Gordon Gano sounded like Bob Dylan…well that was until I heard Ezra Furman.

4 thoughts on “It’s Good to Be Out of the Motherfuckin’ Loop

  1. I have to admit, you may have a point there. BP does seem to have to grudgingly admit it whenever the Angels do well. “OK, they won….but they shouldntve!”

    But that defensive outfield? Yick. Happy triples, everybody.

    At least we finally have real baseball to talk about again-results, and actual numbers, instead of projections and wishcasting.

  2. Scott,
    I’m generally with you here on the Angels/A’s thoughts. BP has historically been way too sure of themselves, and they really don’t like to admit being wrong, but I feel that the last few years (maybe because of Goldstein) they’ve become much more self-aware of their faults, even if they still don’t like talking about/admitting it. That said, I can see where they are coming from in possibly overvaluing the A’s this year.
    First, the Angels OF is in serious decline, potentially fall-off-the-cliff kind. Vlad is no longer above average in right, Torii’s D is now about to sink to his O level, and Abreu might be an average LF on his good days. Throw in an offense that didn’t really get going until Big Tex showed up, and a failure to resign him (I like Kendry, but he can’t match 2nd-half Tex), and I see regression, especially with Wood not playing (not a huge fan, but his power potential is impressive, and needed by their O).
    From the A’s side, I see a lot of young pitchers who will be all over the place, but will likely improve as the season goes on, and will ultimately be somewhere near league-average. They should have a really good IF defense behind them, which should help. Where the A’s needed help was offense, and I believe that a) Holliday, based on analysis, will not fail in Oakland, and b) Giambi, back “home”, will non-sabermetrically improve his contact levels (no longer trying to pull everything to the short porch in right in Old Yankee stadium).

    Here’s the thing with Holliday: the absolute best, most expensive analysis of players in baseball today is no longer done by BP, or anyone else you or I can read. It is ALL proprietary work done by the teams. I guarantee you that at some point in the last few years, the A’s spent a million dollars or more figuring out how to value the “Colorado effect” on both pitchers and hitters (and the “SF/SD” effect on the flip side). I’ve seen “free” analysis that says that Holliday hits like a stud (not his Coors self, but not his road self by a mile) after he spent more than 8-10 days away from Coors. I’d bet that the A’s and Red Sox know those values even better than the report I read, and know better how to put a true value on that statistical sample than anyone. So I’m guessing that they see him as a high-upside offensive play, even if the pitching doesn’t come around – they’re sure he’ll hit enough in Oakland that he’ll still be “sellable” in July. I think BP’s PECOTA “sees” something similar, just without the same level of detail…

    Sorry for being so long-winded…

  3. Great post, JJf3. Your reasoning is pretty solid and hard to refute. I will mention that I do believe the one place sabermetricians fail the most is valuing the bullpen. It used to be defense, but now it has become the bullpen, imo. The key element to a manager is how he uses his pitching staff. The Angels have the best manager in baseball at doing this, which I think can mean 3-5 wins a season. I don’t have any statistical analysis of this, but I believe this is why the Angels and White Sox outperform their PECOTA, while the Indians generally underperform.

    I know this is me talking out of my ass, but I really believe this. We will see.

  4. Scott,
    I agree with you on the bullpen issue. And I would add that the one thing Scioscia has had going for him for years now is a deep, deep bullpen. Same thing for the Sox. They’ve had guys, that even if they don’t necessarily “value”/”use” them properly, they’ve always left themselves with options. Is Scott Shields a “closer”? Probably not, but he can pick up 3 or 5 a year when K-Rod, or Fuentes, or Arredondo, etc, just can’t pitch…
    The one year the Indians looked unstoppable, they could call on any of 4-5 different pitchers on any given night for the the late innings, and match up with anyone. None was the designated “closer” (if my memory is correct – I think Lewis ended up getting the most, though).
    From a sabermetric standpoint, I think its really, really hard to tease out manager’s usage of a bullpen from the numbers. Now that defense is being better attributed (not all the way there), I suspect that might become the next big focus of analytics – we can never analyze directly what a manager does in the lockerroom, but we sure can analyze his decision-making, which is probably, what? 10% lineup, 10% steals/bunts/intentional walks, and 80% bullpen decisions (outside the ego-stroking/lockerroom “presence”/media relationships, which are all going to be nigh impossible to put numbers on)? Note: that’s a complete WAG.

    And I will note that while I can understand the arguments and basic math, and understand what regression is, I don’t have the skills to do a meaningful statistical analysis of anything. So I am definitely relying on smarter people actually being smarter than me…

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