HOW JETER CAN TURN A VERY GOOD WRITER INTO A HACK *

Posted: February 16, 2014 in Media, Uncategorized

* And why I am getting tired of writers and analysts picking and choosing one or more of a bushel of statistics to make their (often weak) point.

Let’s first get something out of the way:

Let’s say that you know of this very good baseball player. He is well-respected and beloved on and off the field,  he played for only one, dynastic, team, he has several World Series rings, double digit All-Star appearances, dozens of awards, including 5 Gold Gloves, 5 Silver Sluggers, and a host of other commendations and accolades. Oh, and he dates super models and doesn’t use PEDs (we think).

Does it matter whether he is a 40, 50, 60, 80, or 120 win (WAR) player in terms of his HOF qualifications? I submit that the answer is an easy, “No, it doesn’t” He is a slam dunk HOF’er whether he is indeed a very good, great, or all-time, inner-circle, great player. If you want to debate his goodness or greatness, fine. But it would be disingenuous to debate that in terms of his HOF qualifications. There are no serious groups of persons, including “stat-nerds,” whose consensus is that this player does not belong in the HOF.

Speaking of strawmen, before I lambaste Mr. Posnanski, which is the crux of this post, let me start by giving him some major props for pointing out that this article, by the “esteemed” and “venerable” writer Allen Barra, is tripe. That is Pos’ word – not mine. Indeed, the article is garbage, and Barra, at least when writing about anything remotely related to sabermetrics, is a hack. Unfortunately, Posnanski’s article is not much further behind in tripeness.

Pos’ thesis, I suppose, can be summarized by this, at the beginning of the article:

[Jeter] was a fantastic baseball player. But you know what? Alan Trammell was just about as good.

Here are Alan Trammell’s and Derek Jeter’s neutralized offensive numbers.

Trammell: .289/.357/.420
Jeter: .307/.375/..439

Jeter was a better hitter. But it was closer than you might think.

He points out several times in the article that, “Trammell was almost as good as Jeter, offensively.”

Let’s examine that proposition.

First though, let me comment on the awful argument, “Closer than you think.” Pos should be ashamed of himself for using that in an assertion or argument. It is a terrible way to couch an argument. First of all, how does he know, “What I think?” And who is he referring to when he says, “You?” The problem with that “argument,” if you want to even call it that, is that it is entirely predicated on what the purveyor decides “You are thinking.” Let’s say a player has a career OPS of .850. I can say, “I will prove that he is better than you think, assuming of course that you think that he is worse than .850, and it is up to me to determine what you think.” Or I can say the opposite. “This player is worse than you think, assuming of course, that you think that he better than an .850 player. And I am telling you that you are thinking that (or at least implying that)!”

Sometimes it is obvious what, “You think.” Often times it is not. And that’s even assuming that we know who, “You” is. In this case, is it obvious what, “You think of Jeter’s offense compared to Trammell?” I certainly don’t think so, and I know a thing or two about baseball. I am pretty sure that most knowledgeable baseball people think that both players were pretty good hitters overall and very good hitters for a SS. So, really, what is the point of, “It was closer than you think.” That is a throwaway comment and serves no purpose other than to make a strawman argument.

But that is only the beginning of what’s wrong with this premise and this article in general. He goes on to state or imply two things. One, that their “neutralized” career OPS’s are closer than their raw ones. I guess that is what he means by “closer than you think,” although he should have simply said, “Their neutralized offensive stats are closer than their non-neutralized ones,” rather than assuming what, “I think.”

Anyway, it is true that in non-neutralized OPS, they were 60 points apart, whereas once “neutralized,” at least according to the article, the gap is only 37 points, but:

Yeah, it is closer once “neutralized” (I don’t know where he gets his neutralized numbers from or how they were computed ), but 37 points is a lot man! I don’t think too many people would say that a 37 point difference, especially over 20-year careers, is “close.”

More importantly, a big part of that “neutralization” is due to the different offensive environments. Trammell played in a lower run scoring environment than did Jeter, presumably, at least partially, because of rampant PED use in the 90’s and aughts. Well, if that’s true, and Jeter did not use PED’s, then why should we adjust his offensive accomplishments downward just because many other players, the ones who were putting up artificially inflated and gaudy numbers, were using? Not to mention the fact that he had to face juiced-up pitchers and Trammell did not! In other words, you could easily make the argument, and probably should, that if (you were pretty sure that) a player was not using during the steroid era, that his offensive stats should not be neutralized to account for the inflated offense during that era, assuming that that inflation was due to rampart PED use of course.

Finally, with regard to this, somewhat outlandish, proposition that Jeter and Trammell were similar in offensive value (of course, it depends on your definition of “similar” and “close” which is why using words like that creates “weaselly” arguments), let’s look at the (supposedly) context-neutral offensive runs or wins above replacement (or above average – it doesn’t matter what the baseline is when comparing players’ offensive value) from Fangraphs.

Jeter

369 runs batting, 43 runs base running

Trammell

124 runs batting, 23 runs base running

Whether you want to include base running on “offense” doesn’t matter. Look at the career batting runs. 369 runs to 124. Seriously, what was Posnanski drinking (aha, that’s it – Russian vodka! – he is in Sochi in case you didn’t klnow) when he wrote an entire article mostly about how similar Trammell and Jeter were, offensively, throughout their careers. And remember, these are linear weights batting runs, which are presented as “runs above or below average” compared to a league-average player. In other words, they are neutralized with respect to the run-scoring environment of the league. Again, with respect to PED use during Jeter’s era, we can make an argument that the gap between them is even larger than that.

So, Posnanski tries to make the argument that, “They are not so far apart offensively as some people might think (yeah, the people who look at their stats on Fangraphs!),” by presenting some “neutralized” OPS stats. (And again, he is claiming that a 37-point difference is “close,” which is eminently debatable.)

Before he even finishes, I can make the exact opposite claim – that they are worlds apart offensively, by presenting their career (similar length careers, by the way, although Jeter did play in 300 more games), league and park adjusted batting runs. They are 245 runs, or 24 wins, apart!

That, my friends, is why I am sick and tired of credible writers and even some analysts making their point by cherry picking one (or more than one) of scores of legitimate and semi-legitimate sabermetric and not-so-sabermetric statistics.

But, that’s not all!  I did say that Posnanski’s article was hacktastic, and I didn’t just mean his sketchy use of one (not-so-great) statistic (“neturalized” OPS) to make an even sketchier point.

This:

By Baseball Reference’s defensive WAR Trammell was 22 wins better than a replacement shortstop. Jeter was nine runs worse.

By Fangraphs, Trammell was 76 runs better than a replacement shortstop. Jeter was 139 runs worse.

Is an abomination. First of all, when talking about defense, you should not use the term “replacement” (and you really shouldn’t use it for offense either). Replacement refers to the total package, not to one component of player value. Replacement shortstops, could be average or above-average defenders and awful hitters, decent hitters and terrible defenders, or anything in between. In fact, for various reasons, most replacement players are average or so defenders and poor hitters.

And then he conflates wins and runs (don’t use both in the same paragraph – that  is sure to confuse some readers), although I know that he knows the difference. In fact, I think he means “nine wins” worse in the first sentence, and not, “nine runs worse.” But, that mistake is on him for trying to use both wins and runs when talking about the same thing (Jeter and Trammell’s defense), for no good reason.

Pos then says:

You can buy those numbers or you can partially agree with them or you can throw them out entirely, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Trammell was a better defensive shortstop.

Yeah, yada, yada, yada. Yeah we know. No credible baseball person doesn’t think that Trammell was much the better defender. Unfortunately we are not very certain of how much better he was in terms of career runs/wins. Again, not that it matters in terms of Jeter’s qualifications for, or his eventually being voted into, the HOF. He will obviously be a first-ballot, near-unanimous selection, and rightfully so.

Yes, it is true that Trammell has not gotten his fair due from the HOF voters, for whatever reasons. But, comparing him to Jeter doesn’t help make his case, in my opinion. Jeter is not going into the HOF because he has X number of career WAR. He is going in because he was clearly a very good or great player, and because of the other dozen or more things he has going for him that the voters (and the fans) include, consciously or not, in terms of their consideration. Even if it could be proven that Jeter and Trammell had the exact same context-neutral statistical value over the course of their careers, Jeter could still be reasonably considered a slam dunk HOF’er and Trammell not worthy of induction (I am not saying that he isn’t worthy). It is still the Hall of Fame (which means many different things to many different people) and not the Hall of WAR or the Hall of Your Context-Neutral Statistical Value.

For the record, I love Posnanski’s work in general, but no one is perfect.

Comments
  1. Jose Bravo says:

    I’m a little confused by what you’ve written about defense. I understand that there’s no theoretical ‘defensive-only replacement’, but are you saying he should be writing in terms of wins or runs-prevented instead?

  2. Tim says:

    I enjoyed the post. There were a lot of vagaries in Poz’s article. Regarding the harshness with the critique…it didn’t bother me. I thought you were quite clear you were only lambasting this particular column and not the person. Plus, like you said, it’s your blog! Wish you’d post more here!

    • MGL says:

      Thanks Tim! I appreciate the feedback. I’e been busy lately. For sure, when the season starts or sooner I’ll be posting a more. Most of my posts will focus on analysis, and not commentary.

  3. Alvaro Pizza says:

    Hi MGL:

    Your point is the right one about offensive stats. But what I got from Poz’ blog post is that there is so much praise for Jeter’s career and almost none for Trammel’s. And if you see the whole picture they were players of similar value when you compare their whole production.

    There is a 265 runs gap between Jeter and Trammel when comparing batting and baserunning runs.

    On defense. Trammel with positional adjustment, has a 210 runs advantage on defense over Jeter according to Fangraphs. BRef, shows a 300 runs advantage for Trammel over Jeter.

    So, total production is similar for both players.

    I think that was Poz’ point and he didn’t explain it the right way.

    • MGL says:

      No question. I have no problem with that. I was not questioning that in the least. I was questioning 3 things only. One, the statement that Jeter and Trammell were “close” in terms of offense (batting and base running – someone on The Book questioned my inclusion of base running. The last time I checked, base running was part of offense), his poor explanation of defense, and in general, his use of words and terms like “close” and “than you think,” in order to make a point. Those words make it easy to justify any point whatsoever, as one man’s close is another man’s not so close and you can never quarrel with what someone “thinks that you think.”

      And the general point, having nothing much to do with this article per se, that with all the different stats available, even non-garbage ones, it is easy to make a case for one point of view AND exactly the opposite point of view!

      The other point I briefly touched on is that just because two players are similar in WAR, offense and defense, by no means does that mean that they both have to have equal or roughly equal qualifications for the Hall. Then again, that is quite subjective. I am merely saying that from one perspective, neither right or wrong, or better or worse than any other perspectives, Jeter has a lot more going for him, as compared to Trammell, than just whatever edge he may or may not have in WAR. That is independent of whether or not Trammell is over or underrated. Like it or not, marginal but “beloved” or just popular players get in and marginal but disliked or “fan neutral” players like Trammell, do not. There are so many complex and unknown reasons why some marginally, and sometimes even non-marginally, qualified HOF’ers do or do not get traction in the vote, it would be useless for me to even try and figure them out.

  4. Guy says:

    “someone on The Book questioned my inclusion of base running.The last time I checked, base running was part of offense”

    I assume this refers to me. I didn’t question whether baserunning is part of “offense,” I pointed out that the numbers you posted for “batting runs” were wrong because they included baserunning. The last time I checked, baserunning is not part of “hitting.” Worse, the numbers were not adjusted for offensive environment, as you claim. Still worse, you imply that playing time plays only a small role in producing Jeter’s edge in batting runs, which is not true. And then there is the utter nonsense about not adjusting for league offense because Jeter didn’t use PEDs! The larger point is that your post here makes more errors, and is far more misleading, than what Poz wrote. It’s not even close to your usual standards. I’m shocked to see you still defending it.

    Here’s what I said at The Book Blog:
    Poz says that Trammell was “almost as good” as Jeter on offense. The gap in their wRC+ is 10 points—121 vs. 111—which means a difference of about 8 runs per season, a bit less than 1 win. Personally, I wouldn’t call that “almost as good,” but it’s hardly an indefensible claim. Certainly one context for considering those 8 runs is the defensive difference between these two players, which is probably at least twice as great. Compared to the fielding gap, the offensive gap is fairly small. Surely a 5-point gap would qualify as “almost as good,” so now we’re quibbling over 4 runs a year). MGL is free to disagree with this characterization, but at most this is a very minor sin by Poz.

    MGL counters with the “fact” that DJ had 369 context neutral batting runs to just 124 for AT. And even this understates the huge gap between DJ and AT, MGL says, because the PED-free Jeter should not have his stats adjusted for an offensive explosion created by PED use. Where to begin?

    First, his numbers are wrong—he mistakenly included baserunning in his hitting totals. The real numbers are 325 and 122.

    Second, they are NOT adjusted for offensive era. You can see that easily by the fact that the run:win converter on these numbers is 10.3 for Jeter and just 9.6 for Trammell.

    Third, MGL implies that playing time plays a small role in this (erroneous) gap in hitting runs, saying they had “similar length careers.” However, Jeter had 26% more PAs than Trammell! Calling this “similar” is further from the truth than Poz’s “almost.”

    So MGL has, through these various errors and mischaracterizations, created a 24 win gap in hitting ability out of what was really a 12 win gap — a 100% increase.

    But that isn’t enough, he has to add in the PED factor as well. Now, we know that PED use played at most a tiny role in the offensive explosion that began shortly before Jeter’s career began. But MGL pretends not to know this, why I can’t imagine. After saying that “you could easily make the argument, and probably should, that if… a player was not using during the steroid era, that his offensive stats should not be neutralized,” MGL does cover his ass by saying “assuming that that inflation was due to rampart PED use of course.” But why should we assume something we already know isn’t true? (Talk about “weaselly!”)

    Do the errors, misrepresentations, and distortions in this post make it an “abomination?” “Sketchy?” “Hacktastic?” Should MGL perhaps be “ashamed of himself?” These questions are left as an exercise for the reader….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s