The Mockingbird

New Year’s Resolution: Stop Reading Griffin

with one comment

Here is how the Jays have gone about building an ’08 contender. First, they traded for super-sub Marco Scutaro from the A’s, to fill the McDonald super-sub role. Then they signed Eckstein to a one-year deal, returning McDonald to his super-sub role. One of them is obsolete. You don’t need two of them. It’s why the Jays finish third every year. Ricciardi needs to formulate a plan and stick to it for more than a year.

Oh, so that’s why. Because they attempt to upgrade positions in which they are very weak. Clearly, competing in the AL East is all about “having a plan”, which is all about sticking with the starters you have no matter how terrible they are (Hinske) or what kind of improvement falls into your lap for cheap (Molina).

While I grudgingly stopped taking apart Griffin’s mailbags one sentence at a time when the Drunk Jays Fans announced it was no longer cool, this week Dick has unwittingly stepped into the stolen bases pool, where I lie in wait for weeks (months!), waiting for prey:

A wise baseball man said, ‘Speed never goes into a slump.”

Oh, those wise men…always spouting tired baseball cliches! Anyway, it’s not true. Scoring runs helps you not slump. Steals aren’t a great way to start scoring runs if you aren’t hitting anyway. Just ask Baltimore or Tampa or San Fran or any of the other teams that stole a lot of bases and lost a lot of games in a row. A wise baseball man once said, ‘You can’t steal first base…’

A computer can’t spit out the other factors that speed brings to the table. Things like disrupting infield defence, like distracting a pitcher who has to constantly pay attention to the runner on first, like going from first to third and second to home, dragging a trail runner behind and staying out of double plays or forcing the infield to move in with a runner on third or to play closer to second with a speedster on first, or having outfielders play shallow to be able to throw out a key run at the plate.

Actually, a computer can spit out pretty much all that shit (although it prefers to swallow and just get it over with). And most of them are pretty irrelevant. The difference between the Jays and the team with the fewest DP’s in the league was one every 6.5 games. That’s one out, once a week. Who cares?

As for the advancing from first-third and scoring from home, the Jays have great team speed and don’t shy away from that at all. In fact, Dick defended Butterfield last season for being too aggressive in sending runners. And SABR nerds actually advocate being more aggressive than seems to make sense in certain situations (e.g. the only way the runner going home is safe is on a bad throw but there’s 2 out and John McDonald is up next).

All they see is numbers, because they seldom see games. Or if they do see games, all they are looking at is stats for their Fantasy guys. Where have all the real baseball fans gone?

Right. So guys like Bill James who first pointed out the relative futility of stolen bases, are not “real fans”. They don’t know anything about the game because they don’t actually watch them from their box in Fenway. This is right up there with Bill Conlin questioning the godfather of SABR’s understanding of what makes a good fielder. You can quibble with his method all you want (although I would really suggest getting to know it pretty well first), but as soon as you question his deeper knowledge of the game, you’re an idiot.

Rios (17) and Wells (10) had 47 per cent of the Jays’ 57 stolen bases.

Point being? Coco Crisp and Julio Lugo had 64 per cent of the Red Sox 96 stolen bases. Doesn’t that make sense? Would you want the only two guys who can really steal bases to have much less than half? This is Griffin’s superior concept of how to use statistics- throw out a bunch of random factoids that don’t prove or really even argue anything.

The four AL playoff teams averaged 107.5 steals.

Wow! So maybe if we averaged that many, we’d be a playoff team too! Hmmm…unfortunately, the four worst teams in the AL averaged slightly more than that (107.75). So I guess the key to making the playoffs is to hit that magic number without going over, just like the Price is Right!

For any of you fake fans out there, the correlation between SB and runs scored is, well…negative. Pointing to other teams that scored more runs than the Jays last season and implying that it must have been because they had more SB and not because they got more hits, walks and home runs is, well…misguided (I’m being charitable, it’s the holidays). Boston’s offense was not driven by Coco Crisp and Julio Lugo.

I’d also like to mention that Cox Bloc, another Toronto Blog that takes the piss out of media types, apparently independently came up with the ingenious idea to infiltrate Griffin’s mailbag. Now what’s better, sneaking in a question on drug use (recently and hilariously mentioned by Conlin, by the way: Steroids users may have been cheating baseball, but at least they didn’t cheat the fans out of quality performances!), or a reference to his huge column on ball?


Written by halejon

December 24, 2007 at 8:28 am

One Response

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  1. The thing that most people miss with base stealing is the assumption, like hitting, that it is largely an individual metric. I hate the fact that people ignore that the stolen base is a tactical metric for the team, as opposed to an individual metric. It’s a little like pinch hitting in the way that the value is largely defined by specific circumstance.

    The biggest advantage of the potential stolen base is the defensive alignment, but I think the effect on the pitcher is undervalued in the metrics because it looks for hits outside of the defensive modifier, as opposed to contact. Pitching with a runner on, especially with someone that has speed, does fundamentally change the toolbox you’re working from. What I’d like to see is some research into pitch type and location with runners at first with >speed vs runners on with <speed vs no one on base.

    What I’m willing to bet you’ll see is:
    Runners on with speed: more fastballs and sliders, down in the zone.
    Runners on without speed: more offspeed and breaking pitches like the changeup, sinkers and spliters, trying to induce poor contact for the DP.

    The reason is that it would be curious to see if specific hitters who favour certain pitches receive a tangible upswing with a SB threat on, even if the average MLB batter doesn’t.

    In general though, I think the effectiveness of the SB can’t necessarily be looked at solely from a stats perspective but more in a situational context, much like pinch hitting or running. Just stealing bases, or stealing more bases isn’t a terribly valuable offensive decision. It’s about stealing enough bases in the right circumstances that yields the value for a team.

    Bryant Telfer

    December 27, 2007 at 6:38 pm

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