Thursday, February 10, 2011

Front Office Mediocrity

How long will Twins fans have to continue to see these types of "news" stories? I know, I'm joining the Liriano discussion a little late, but reading that today made me throw my hands up in the air in disgust. I read with interest a week ago as Nick Nelson and Parker Hageman argued opposing viewpoints on the one-year deal Liriano received. Then I saw another piece by Parker this morning that caught my eye because in it, Parker links to an interview he conducted with Twins assistant GM Rob Antony. In it, Antony states that the Twins have an advanced metrics statistician of sorts. Reading on, I was surprised to stumble across this:

"TC: Is that the way baseball organizations are moving in general [speaking of hiring people dedicated to analyzing stats]?
I think so. This is such a competitive game and everybody is looking for that edge. We’re probably one of the last, if not the last, team to address it with a person dedicated solely to that.
TC: What took so long getting to this point of just now bringing someone on staff?
I’m not sure we bought into the stuff and we had always been so traditional. Terry Ryan was a scouting director, he was our General Manager. Mike Radcliff, Director of Player Personnel, he was a scouting director. We’ve always been really scout-oriented, people-oriented. We just have more conviction and belief in that. I think everyone has come to the realization that you cannot turn a blind-eye to that information. It is another piece of the puzzle that might give you a better informed decision."
Really. So the thought has never previously occurred to anyone over there that you could be people oriented, while at the same time utilizing tools that help you analyze a player's abilities better than a scout's eye can?? That the Assistant GM would admit that the Twins have ignored this aspect of player analysis is beyond infuriating, it's foolish and irresponsible.
In addition to the kind of payrolls they have, there is a reason the Red Sox are good year-in and year-out. There is a reason that the Tampa Bay Rays' moves seem to work out more often than not. Because they have entire staffs of people dedicated to analyzing advanced stats that speak to a player's true abilities. The game of baseball isn't played in a vacuum! This isn't new news! Some of the stats that have been relied upon over the last several decades simply DO NOT indicate much about a given player's true performance level or value. ERA is an average of the number of runs a pitcher gives up over 9 innings. How is that a valuable stat when things like missed plays (not counted as errors), slow fielders, luck of the hitter, etc play into it? FIP (fielding-independent pitching) takes out those variables. There are a bunch of GREAT websites out there that will give you this information on almost every pitcher out there. Fangraphs is one of them, Baseball-Reference is another good one, PitchFX will give you the velocity and movement of EVERY pitch from any given game during a season and it's updated in real-time, or close to it anyway. Same goes for batters, there are a myriad of stats out there that will help you understand why a given hitter is going good, or really having a hard time.
There is simply no excuse for not having at least a few guys in the organization who pay attention to these advanced baseball metrics (Sabremetics if you will). The traditional way of evaluating players is mostly dead. There are still personality things to look at and good scouts are still exceedingly valuable in terms of spotting young talent, but when it comes to analyzing a trade target or even a player on your own team who you're trying to decide whether to lock up long-term, you absolutely cannot ignore things like FIP, xFIP, BABIP, UZR, UZR-150, WAR, and all of the various Plate Discipline metrics (O-Swing/Contact%, Z-Swing/Contact%, etc). When given a decent sample-size, these statistics measure more than you can see with your eyes.
So that's my rant. I can't help but feel that if the Twins were more committed to using all of the statistical tools that are available, they might not have parted way with JJ Hardy, they may not have traded Ramos for Capps and then re-signed Capps, and they might not be balking on locking up Liriano. When you look at the stats you see value that isn't necessarily evident in the context of a given season. You see that Hardy, when playing, has been one of the most valuable defensive shortstops in the Majors over the last few seasons. You see that Liriano was even better than his ERA or win total suggested last season, ranking in the Top 5 of Major League pitchers last season in terms of FIP, despite a very unlucky BABIP.
I'm by no means an expert in all of this, alot of this is new to me as of a couple of years ago, but I've made an attempt to learn and I feel like I have a decent grasp of things. I guess I'm just tired of seeing the Twins continue to trip over their own feet with regards to trades and free-agent signings. Other teams around the league are using the stats to their advantage and if you're not using them, I mean really paying attention to them, you're going to get taken advantage of, and I feel that is what is happening to the Twins. Not all of the time, but certainly some of the time. 


  1. Given the Twins success, maybe we should be worried that they are going to start spending time and money staring at spreadsheets instead of watching players play the game. You absolutely should ignore FIP, xFIP, BABIP, UZR, UZR-150 and WAR. Those are all fan stats that have no use in player evaluation.

    Take FIP, "fielding independent pitching". It uses the number of outs, including those from the fielders, as its denominator. Apparently all outs are "fielding independent"? Well no, but the claim, I guess, is that fielding outs all even out over 162 games. Except they don't, which is why FIP was created in the first place.

  2. Couldn't disagree more. Just because a team has had success, doesn't mean that success will continue, and the recent moves Smith & Co. have made have become more & more baffling.

    And your assertion, that fielding outs don't even out, is somewhat misguided, because over the course of 150-200 innings (450-600 outs) you'd be hard pressed to find statistically significant differences between one pitchers outs vs. it essentially does even itself out.

    You can go ahead and believe that BABIP, UZR etc are fan stats, but most major league ballclubs already have people who analyze this stuff on a daily basis. As I noted in my piece, I still think scouts are valuable, especially in terms of evaluating talent in a draft. However, when it comes to major league talent, making trades, and signing free-agents, those "fan stats" come into play in a lot more tangible ways.

  3. I re-read my comment, didn't mean to come off too strongly.

    I'm not arguing that the Twins should rely on statistics alone, I think that would be stupid. But to ignore it as an additional tool in evaluating talent is equally stupid. I don't know the advanced stats at an expert level, but there are people out there who do and the Twins should at least have people like that around (and use them).

  4. Disappointing as it is you can't say it's surprising though...