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 Post subject: The stats vs. scouting debate
PostPosted: Fri Mar 30, 2007 8:46 pm 

Joined: Mon Feb 07, 2005 6:47 pm
Posts: 1734
Location: Washington
The L.A. Times has an interesting piece on baseball's continuing cultural divide, using the Dodgers' Juan Pierre as its prism.

Some highlights:

The Dodgers were thrilled when they signed Pierre over the winter, but a vocal brigade of fans objected and a chorus of statistical analysts chuckled.

As Pierre enters his seventh full season, the statistics from his first six are essentially similar to the numbers Brock put up in his first six. The criticism of the Pierre signing reflects the rise of a new wave of statistical analysis and its widespread dissemination via the Internet.

In Brock’s era, batting average ruled. Today, the Dodgers are condemned for paying attention to the wrong statistics.

Keith Law, a former assistant general manager for the Toronto Blue Jays, labeled Pierre on ESPN.com “a player whose ideal role is defensive replacement/pinch runner.” At Baseball Prospectus, a baseball think tank, Marc Normandin alluded to Pierre’s high stolen base total in calling him “more useful to your fantasy baseball team than a real team.”

Dodger Thoughts blogger Jon Weisman, slapping General Manager Ned Colletti, said the signing of Pierre had “validated the worst fears of anyone who suspected he was too enamored of pointless statistics ... to make sensible decisions.”

Theo Epstein represents a new generation of baseball executives, one that challenges conventional wisdom through statistical analysis. Playing experience is not required.

“You’ve got guys who would normally spend four years at Goldman Sachs out of college now applying for baseball jobs,” Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane said.

“Instead of running hedge funds eight years later, they’re on their way to becoming general managers. To me, that’s great. You want the best and brightest in your game.”

Today, the Angels employ a statistical analyst and compile proprietary information.

When they signed outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. to a five-year, $50-million contract over the winter, after career highs in virtually every offensive category last season at age 31, had the Angels developed any data to suggest Matthews might not have had a career year?

“Not really,” Stoneman said. “It’s more scouting-related. We got him to help with our defense, and he should be a big help. But that comes from scouting, especially defensively -- his first-step quickness, the jumps he gets, the routes he takes to the ball, throwing arm. It’s all stuff you’ve got to see.”

Stoneman said he considers “a lot more” than statistics in evaluating players.

“What kind of a person is he?” Stoneman said. “How does he fit within the club? Does he play with a lot of heart? Is he a distraction to the club? There’s a lot of thought that goes into it.”

Pierre led the National League in at-bats last season. He led the league in hits, as his supporters point out. He led the league in outs, as his detractors point out.

He attracted many detractors because of his contract -- five years for $44 million -- but this case against Pierre is statistical more than financial. He has little power, he can’t use his speed unless he gets on base and even then he can run unwisely.

He has ranked second in the league in stolen bases but first in times caught stealing in each of the last three seasons, and his .330 on-base percentage ranked 130th among 160 major leaguers last season.

“You’d rather have a slower guy with a .370 on-base percentage,” Baseball Prospectus executive editor Nate Silver said.

Two decades ago, Angels Manager Gene Mauch dismissed conventional theory by using Brian Downing as a leadoff hitter. Downing did not fit the mold of the typical leadoff hitter -- he did not hit .300 or steal bases, as Pierre does -- but he walked a lot and therefore got on base more often than his teammates.

The data is in. The correlations have been checked. Mauch was right.

“The two statistics that are the greatest determining factors in whether you win games,” Beane said, “are team ERA and on-base percentage.”

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