Monday, October 15, 2007

Computers can't teach me about the vagaries of playoff baseball

But Eric Byrnes can! (courtesy of eriz from the excellent [and not as derivative as the name would suggest] Fire Jay Mariotti).

Brynes has decided to thrust himself in front of the cameras repeatedly during this year's postseason, and almost every time has managed to infuriate someone with the relentless stream of bullshit that spews forth from his douchbaggy yap. Yes, I realize that he's actively sought out by reporters, since he's the de facto "clubhouse leader" of the Baby Snakes, and because he's always game for some self-promotional banter. But that doesn't mean he has to oblige every time.

The funny thing is that Byrnes' latest comments are distinctly "new school," and defended by the same "computer geeks" he's mocked on multiple occasions w/r/t run differential and Pythagorean records. We know the playoffs are a total crapshoot, and that a few lucky bounces/breaks will often be the determining factor when two relatively evenly matched teams play a seven-game series. It's not the stat geeks who cite the D'Backs' lack of "clutch hitting," or whatever; that's the announcers and beat writers, who are generally Byrnes' best friends.

As suggested by Big C in an earlier comment, Byrnes probably isn't any different in terms of his perspective on baseball than the vast majority of his colleagues. I get it. Baseball players, taken as a whole, aren't going to win many episodes of Jeopardy! Additionally, the World of Baseball is an extremely insular one, and for the most part completely divorced from reality. Can you imagine another industry that could suffer a 100-plus-person company publicly (and proudly) stating that it has a hiring bias toward Christians? About the only thing Rockies' GM Dan O'Dowd should be thanking god for is the sport's anti-trust exemption.

Anyway ...

If I'm not allowed to be all that indignant over Byrnes' willingness to continue propagating the false nerd-jock dichotomy, then I should at least be able to get in some yelling about the Reds' hiring of Dusty Baker, the mental giant who has managed to destroy more promising baseball careers than the inability to hit a curve ball. I'm not sure that Cincy was "going places," but whatever potential there was for a better-than-marginal improvement over the next couple of seasons has been shot by this incredibly senseless hiring. If you've got Homer Bailey in a keeper league, try and trade him this offseason. And if you're Adam Dunn, go ahead and pack your bags now; there's no way Mr. Clogging the Basepaths is going to have anything to do with your Three True Outcomes ass come next season. (By the way, you might want to suggest to your agent that you've OPSed .990 in PETCO Park the last three years, albeit in a small sample size. Just sayin')

Coupled with the recent hiring of Ed Wade by the Astros and the retention of Brian Sabean by the Giants, it appears that there's still a good number of teams that have no real desire to compete. If Byrnes' comments represent a kind of general antipathy toward critical baseball though on the part of the players — which is understandable — the hiring of Baker represents how institutionalized this kind of prejudice remains.

It can seem, at times, that the statistical analysis community is just tilting at windmills, especially to those who aren't so inclined toward silly-sounding metrics like VORP. But that's really not the case, and I think this year's League Championship Series are proof of that. All four of the teams still playing (I'm writing this before Game 4 of the Rox-D'Backs series) are blessed with front offices that, to varying degrees, use statistical analysis to inform baseball decisions. It's also worth mentioning that, after the Red Sox, none of the three World Series hopefuls are above the median when it comes to total team payroll, which I believe is further proof that the rending of garments over the lack of a salary cap is much ado about nothing. The message is clear: these numbers do mean something, and smart people who like winning baseball games are at least bringing statistical analysis to the table, if not letting it cut the turkey.

Ultimately, though, the success of the intelligent few will only amplify the pain felt by fans of those teams, like the Reds, who appear addicted to failure and the taunting of the fanbase that goes along with it. I can't imagine how I'd feel about baseball if I grew up in Pittsburgh, Cincy or Kansas City. Maybe, after a lifetime's worth of warbling about revenue inequities, I'd buy into the "salary cap as panacea" line. More likely, I would have simply lost interest in baseball at some point, and by this point in my life would be spending a lot more time blogging about soccer. Needless to say, I'm happy I grew up in the heyday of the Blue Jays, and have found in my adopted team an outlook on the sport that lines up well with mine. It's an easy life when the worst manager you've had to deal with on a fan level is Tim Johnson.

For a slightly more optimistic outlook on the Dusty Baker hiring, check out Shyster's take.

Also, Dinosaur Comics is there to remind me that it's not really possible for anything I say to ever actually be "factual" in any meaningful way. *Sigh*


St said...

The Rockies admitted that they prefer to hire Christians? Seriously?

Well, congratulations. Now I have a team I hate more than the 1993 Blue Jays.

b said...

Oh yeah, it was a big SI story last year or the year before.

Michael said...

The hiring of Brian Sabean was one of the best moves the Giants have ever made. He is a baseball genius and always keeps them in contention. It's rebuilding time for the Giants, and Sabean will get the job done.

Diesel said...


I didn't know if you were being serious or not, because the straight-forwardness of your language suggested it might very well be sarcastic. I then read your blog and realized you were being earnest.

I'm sorry. So very, very sorry. Best of luck, and I hope the joy of watching Lincecum and Cain at the top of the rotation makes up for the streak of last-place finishes the Giants began this season.

Keep hope alive, though.



Big C said...

rgtI'll admit that this postseason has both reinforced and eroded some of my notions about the world of basebarr.

Salary Cap - Still not letting go of my belief that this is a good idea, as I believe that it is a good idea for the fans at large in any sport. But, point taken on this year's postseason. Although the big spenders made an appearance in the beginning of the playoffs (LA, Boston, New York), they have not figured prominently in the later stages. This would certainly suggest that the link between success and dinero may not be a strong in basebarr as it is in, say, soccer. This is far from being conclusive, but certainly is worth noting.

The baseball postseason is essentially a roll of the dice - Am I interpreting your stance on the playoffs correctly? Do you really think that, unlike the regular season, the postseason is luck-based? Because, in this event, you are utterly wrong. When you beat a team 3 or 4 games in a row, you are better than that team, period. The number of sweeps so far in this postseason truly indicates that all teams are not created equal or perform consistently. I'll save my smugness in basically calling the Rockie/D-backs series outcome (momentum) for after the WS, but the baseball playoffs are more than just a coin-flip, for sure. If it is, then it must be a heavily weighted coin indeed.

Clutch - You go after this on a pretty regular basis, but it very much does exist. Some situations matter more than others. Playoff games have graver consequences than regular season games. Therefore, it is pretty to simple conclude that there are some situations that bear a lot more pressure on a given player than others. As anyone knows, situations of high stress affect the decision-making processes of diferent people to varying degrees. I am more likely to fuck up a quiz question in a game-deciding situation than in a one in which we are ahead or behind significantly. I second-guess myself, which is, I confess, deplorable.
How are athletes any different? There are those that, under duress, have the mental acumen to avoid altering their behavior; typically producing positive results. This is what I define as clutch. The game is not played, managed, or observed by machines, and, as such, the human element will continue to play a huge role. Clutch, like RsBI (unfortunately), will never die, and think it would be Sisyphusian? to fight it. Resistence is futile.

Let's go Oakland!

eriz said...

yeah, I don't particularly mind baseball players who don't know about statistics. But guys who flop back and forth to suit their opinion, like Byrnes, really fucking piss me off.

and that whole christian thing involving the rockies is a tad overblown. Guys who play sports praise jesus all the time for touchdowns and slam dunks... the thing is a lot of Americans do the same thing. People think they're being punished if they get a flat tire or rewarded by God if they win the lottery etc. etc.

The Rockies are just owned by vocal christians, and they obviously didn't have a problem trading for and starting Jason Hirsh, who is a Jew.

Anyways, thanks for the shout out. I've added your site to our exclusive blogroll, since I read your site at times and usually enjoy it.