Michael Young destroyed a good narrative today.
Young hit his first home run since May 7th and knocked in a season-high 5 runs in the Rangers 11-2 pasting of the Blue Jays. This came five days after I officially joined the ever-growing bandwagon calling on less playing time for Young.
This game actually didn’t do anything to dissuade me from saying Young should probably play less. On the other hand, I DON’T belong to the group that thinks he should never play again in a Rangers uniform, of which there is one, and a very vocal one at that. It has, though, finally given me the impetus to rant about some things that have been in my mind for the past five postless days.
At the outset, my invective is aimed at certain members of the SABR community. I’m sure there are many in said community who are very savvy and, dare I say, open-minded about what those who don’t prescribe to every number and statistic they come up with. There are some, however, who try to bury any debate in an avalanche of numbers and using it to advance their own biases. Michael Young is the perfect example of this.
Sunday’s performance against the Blue Jays aside, Young has not had a good year. As pointed out in my last post, his batting average is down, his power numbers are down, his walk rate is down. In all three cases, they are down considerably from what anyone could consider an average Michael Young year. Despite his being used as a “Super” Utility Infielder, Young has liabilities at any position he happens to be playing defensively. As a non-SABR guy who does his best to understand some of the new SABR stats, that is enough for me to think Young merits a little more time on the bench, at least until he starts to figure it out, if he can.
The day after my last post, then, imagine my surprise when Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News tweeted this stat: Since the first of July, even from a SABR point of view, Michael Young has been outperforming Adrian Beltre. I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in. Michael Young has outperformed Adrian Beltre offensively for the past 49 days. That’s seven weeks. That’s almost two months. That’s one-quarter of the season and one-third of the season played to date.
This was shocking. So I went to baseball-reference.com to check it out. Sure enough. Not including Sunday’s breakout game for Young, here’s what we see from July 1st to the present: Young 14 RBI, Beltre 16. Young BA .260, Beltre .263. Then, getting into some of those SABR areas, Young’s WPA (Win Probability Added) -.312, Beltre -.535 and in RE24 (Base Out Runs Added) Young was at -6.46 and Beltre was at -8.23.
What do these stats say? They say for the past 40 games, Beltre has been just as bad a Michael Young. I hadn’t even noticed how much Beltre had been scuffling. He was still at .305 in BA for the season with 19 HR and 68 RBI entering play Sunday. Everyone sure noticed how badly Josh Hamilton slumped in June and July and some even called for Hamilton’s benching for a couple of days. People are just now noticing how Ian Kinsler has been in a slump for a few weeks (some even want to blame Wash for giving him a day off when he was in a hot streak). Beltre, though, has gotten a pass. So, armed with this knowledge, I pointed out this lengthy Beltre slump on a more SABR-oriented site and opined how it was more important for Beltre to improve offensively than Young because a no-hitting Beltre would be more disastrous to the Rangers in the post-season than a no-hitting Young.
Boy, was that a mistake. I was hit with everything from “Yes, but Michael Young has done this all year” to “Yes, but Adrian Beltre is a defensively superior player” to “Yes, but these are Adrian’s stats and these are Michael Young’s for the season and they don’t compare”. All three of those statements are 100% true. What they DIDN’T do, however, is address the specifics of my point- that for the last one-third of the season, Adrian Beltre offensively HAS compared to Michael Young and if it continues, it will be a BIG problem for the Texas Rangers and their World Series aspirations. I don’t care how many stellar defensive plays Beltre makes in the post-season. If he hits .190 or less in a post-season series, it will be awfully difficult for the Rangers to win it.
But that doesn’t fit the narrative of the SABR Rangers fan. Argue otherwise and most will counter with “You’re looking at a small sample size”. I’ve seen one who, when confronted with an argument using his own advanced stats against him, will slyly change his tune to say “Yes, but the stat that REALLY tells the biggest story is this one”. Over the past two years, that has changed from WAR to wOBA (weighted On Base Average) to wRC (Weighted Runs Created).
I don’t mind getting into a debate with someone. I think it’s even possible for a SABR-ist and a non-SABR-ist to debate and make each other understood. What I detest, though, are the many who use their SABR stats to talk down to other people like they’re dim bulbs. You know what? We’re not. And sometimes, we make good points about what’s going on without having to refer to spreadsheets to make our point. So yeah, Michael Young has sucked most of the year and Beltre hasn’t. Baseball though, is like life, with a lot of people saying “What have you done for me lately?” and lately, Adrian Beltre has not been very good offensively. The problem is, we’re now a little over a month away from the playoffs so Beltre is running out of time to get it together, as are Michael Young and Ian Kinsler.
And another thing. Sometimes you guys throw out your numbers and don’t even realize how you could make your point easier for everyone to understand. For instance, something I now hate hearing is the talk about pitchers having “good luck” and “bad luck” with BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play). I’ve seen perfectly good Rangers fans refer to Roy Oswalt having a lot of bad luck with BABIP and how it’s going to eventually regress to the mean. They point out it’s because his xFIP (Expected Fielding Independent Pitching) shows good numbers so it’s going to happen. Here’s where I trust my eyes better. Oswalt has had a bad BABIP because hitters have tattooed his pitches, and his xFIP is low because, even though he’s been getting hit from one side to the next, he hasn’t given up a lot of gopher balls. I’m sorry, but everything I’ve read about BABIP is just a fancy way of saying either a pitcher is getting shelled or he isn’t. Regressing to the mean merely means a guy who’s been bad a few straight games is bound to have a couple of good ones soon.
Today I saw the argument that Oswalt has actually been the better pitcher than Scott Feldman to this point of the season. In this case, of course, the xFIP and SIERA (Skill-Interactive ERA) stats are the MOST important ones to use, according to the person making the argument. Except all that really indicates is that Oswalt has a better fly ball to home run ratio than Feldman in xFIP, and Oswalt has a better strikeout percentage than Feldman, an important component of SIERA. Well, of course. Feldman is a ground ball pitcher, so batters managing to get it in the air have probably tagged the ball, so a higher percentage would be home runs. And Feldman isn’t a strikeout pitcher. He never was. So why not just be a fan and say you prefer a fly ball, high strikeout pitcher like Oswalt than a one like Feldman? Why the need to prove one is better when, in fact, both have been mediocre to below average in 2012? Heck, according to xFIP, Oswalt (3.44) has been better than Matt Harrison (4.26) this season. Does anyone really want to make that argument?
If you’ve been with me this far, let me throw one more thing out there. There are a substantial number of SABR Rangers fans who love to throw out what all these numbers “mean” to chastise virtually everything manager Ron Washington does. Wash admittedly makes curious moves from time to time, but most of these fans take their arguments to extremes. Since the numbers say the use of the sacrifice bunt lowers the expectancy for a big run inning, the sacrifice bunt should NEVER be used except in certain situations. They will use these same types of arguments to take Wash to task for pitching moves, non-pitching moves, intentional walks and where certain players bat in the line-up, among others. To you, I say this in all sincerity: While I often agree with you, you can’t say that Wash going against the grain of “the book” is necessarily the WRONG decision.
Here’s why. First is the element of surprise. If you always go by “the book”, you’ll never catch the opposition by surprise. Certain plays like bunts have a higher percentage of success when the other team isn’t expecting them. Second, regardless of what “the book” says, if the strategy worked, it becomes the right decision. Which leads to the last argument: All numbers used in the game of baseball have been accruing from the time they started keeping statistics and continue to accrue. That means the decisions Wash makes today have an effect on the overall numbers, minute as that difference might be. So if the success rate of “A” is 40% and, throughout his time with the Rangers, Wash’s teams are successful at “A” at a 50% clip, then not only has Wash made the right decision for his team, he has also done his part to improve the success rate of “A” from 40% in “the book” to maybe 40.2%. Maybe, just maybe, if enough other teams were to incorporate the Rangers’ manager’s strategies the same way, it could cause a rise in the success rate of “A” to the point that this decision is now the accepted norm by “the book”.
That said, I haven’t the time to actually delve so deep into Ron Washington’s history as the Rangers skipper to know if he is, indeed, more successful at some of these moves than the norm of history. It sounds like an interesting project for someone to take on, though.
There will always be fans who dislike the manager of their team, for whatever reasons. Using all kinds of numbers to try to prove he’s a dunce is disingenuous. I’d rather you come right out and say “I don’t like Wash. Period. Doesn’t matter what he does, I just don’t like the man.” Let it go at that. You’re not really proving anything with all your numbers except your natural bias.
For those who have followed me from beginning to end of this post, I thank you. You may have had better uses you could have made with your time than reading this, but the fact you have done so humbles me.