Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Couple Links to Tide you Over

There were a couple links the last couple days that piqued my interest, that I wanted to share.

Link #1:The Platoon Advantage has spent the last few days taking on a hugely entertaining hypothetical expansion draft. When talking about realignment, expansion seems to me to be a much more sensible way than moving a team to a different league, having constant interleague play, and teams dealing with having to play with different rules in random parts of the schedule (it's bad enough they have to play with different rules in a concentrated part).

The idea of expansion drafts, and how different teams would approach them, has always fascinated me (my friend Tim and I actually created a couple expansion teams around 1993 - go San Jose Scorpions!). Plus, they seem to agree with my idea for putting a team in Brooklyn - something I feel strongly about, whether it is the Rays (or another moving franchise) or an expansion team. I would prefer to see Brooklyn get an expansion team and the Rays to get a shot in the actual city of Tampa, I just don't know if that's possible. I digress though.

There are a few quibbles I have (there's no way the Yankees would protect AJ Burnett, or the Diamondbacks would expose Paul Goldschmidt, for example), but overall they came to a very sensible conclusion. Most interestingly, by having a different person choose both teams, each seems to have a specific style/personality - Brooklyn going with a more veteran team, perhaps with the intention of trading players for value, with the Portland team going for a more traditional expansion-style set of choices for young players with upside. I enjoyed the whole exercise thoroughly.

Link #2: Jonah Lehrer has a column on the failings of Sabermetrics at the ESPN spinoff site Grantland. Sadly, instead of addressing some of the more legitimate concerns, he takes a dismissive tone and relies on anectdotal evidence that doesn't really make any sense. The example of the Dallas Mavericks is especially odd, since they are (along with Houston and, to an extent, Portland) the premier franchise that uses statistical analysis. Instead of pointing out how Rick Carlisle was able to use his knowledge of matchups and advanced metrics to his advantage and enable to him to defeat a more talented team, he basically ignored them entirely.

Fangraphs and Beyond the Boxscore had a better deconstructing of this than I could possibly do (Fangraphs has some especially interesting points in the comments section).

One point though. The anti-stat crowd always loves to point out that "statistics can't measure heart!" But really, when evaluating a player, wouldn't statistics do a better job of encouraging a team to draft a physically unimposing player who excels because he has an uncommon drive? My favorite example of this is Dustin Pedroia. In 1990, he would have been a 15th round draft pick, and spent a half-dozen years in the minors, no matter how well he hit, before eventually making it to the majors as a backup. Why? Because he's about 5'5" with an uppercut swing and a mediocre arm. So why did he make it so quickly in the statistical age? Because his results are so excellent, that's why. The Red Sox didn't care that he's short, and has funny swing mechanics and has a chip on his shoulder that might put some scouts off in an interview. They saw him produce at a very high level Arizona State and waited for him to fall into their laps with the 65th pick in the 2004 draft. They watched him tear his way through the minor leagues, straight through to the 2007 Rookie of the Year Award and 2008 MVP. That stats were picking up what some scouts would not - that Pedroia was significantly outplaying what his physical tools said he should. You can argue any reason you'd like for that, be it "heart" or "grit" or "hitting a baseball is a skill, not an exhibition of athleticism" or whatever you want. The fact is, statistical analysis by the Red Sox alerted them to his excellence, and they are now reaping the benefits.

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