Below is the link to Geoff Baker’s piece as well as the words in
There is a Latin phrase to describe the effort by Baker and it
is Ad Hominem or an attack on the person. He quotes some blogster
that wrote that the ongoing playing of Olivo was wrong based on
Olivo’s horrible stats. Then Baker takes that out and says Baseball
doesn’t use stats beyond average, slug and ERA and for Sabermetric
analyst/writers to criticize Olivo and any other terrible player is
naive, wrong or missing the point. He goes on to suggest that Wedge
thinks Olivo is the only guy on the roster who will hit home runs
and slug .450.
How likely is it for Olivo to slug .450 this year? He will be 34
in July and has spent parts of eleven seasons in the big leagues.
In 2009 and 2010 he did slug .449 and .490 in 114 and 112 games
played. Last year, in his second stint in Seattle he slugged .388
and had an onbag of .253 wih 19 home runs. So far he is slugging
.240 or so and on pace to catch about 150 games, lots more than 114
which seems to be the optimum level for him.
The other thing to consider, is he a slow starter and will he
get hot and get where Wedge thinks he might, i.e. slugging .450 and
hitting home runs. Mostly he is a slow starter. A couple of times
he’s recovered, more times he’s started slow and not recovered to
put up full year numbers. He has a good month or so, but sinks
back, every so often within the year. His splits are available on
ESPN for every month he’s ever played.
Baker was reacting to the criticism of Wedge’s lineup yesterday
which had Olivo moved from dh to catcher and Figgins back in the
lineup and Smoak back in as well. He morphed that criticism into
the piece below which is the moral equivalent of someone responding
to criticism of President Roosevelt’s New Deal by saying the
reporters really don’t understand what happens on Wall Street.
Close but not on point.
When you read his piece, like many others he’s written, you
scratch your head and say, where did that come from? The issue is
one thing and he responds by saying they’re idiots for not
discerning the subtleties of pigs burping. After a bunch of these,
you ask if it’s an intentional thing or maybe something like
dyslexia, who knows? I suspect it is by intent.
If the objective is to rebuild this team, Olivo is not part of
that event, nor is Figgins. If the objective is to competed to win
this year, which is inconsistent with rebuilding it is hard to
understand how Olivo is part of that, as a catcher or hitter for
that matter. If the objective is to fill the seats so Chuck can get
his bonus due to people coming to watch him and Figgins, that is
misguided. If the objective is to seek out trading partners for
either of those guys, it will be a cold day in hell when anybody
trades for them and takes their full salaries.
Quite the entertaining morning yesterday watching the online
reaction to some of what Mariners manager Eric Wedge had to say
about his veteran players. Many of you here were upset by it, as
were some on my Twitter feed and in various other blog comments
I saw the usual “Fire Eric Wedge!” hysterics, but that’s to
be expected. Fans tend to overreact to daily happenings with every
baseball team in any given year and that’s nothing new. Believe me,
there is no danger of Eric Wedge being fired for managing a
ballclub the same way any manager who knows what he’s doing would
attempt it. Even the Mariners, as crazy as some of their decisions
have been the past decade or so, are smart enough to figure out
that a seventh manager since 2007 would seriously derail any hopes
of them getting a quality eighth guy to run the team.
Anyhow, we’re not here to talk about firing anybody 20 games
into a 162-game season.
But some of the reactions yesterday to what Wedge said got
me thinking about the fundamental disconnect that still exists
between how we look at some of the more advanced baseball
statistics out there versus how Major League Baseball teams
While it’s true that virtually all teams now employ some
type of advanced statistical consultants, the idea that players and
coaches are sitting around the clubhouse conversing about xFIP,
WAR, wOBA and any stats that don’t revolve around “Batting average”
and “RBI” and “ERA” simply is not the case.
I know we all want to think that is what’s happening. And
some in the mainstream media — even national-level favorites — help
encourage this type of thinking with stories on the one pitcher out
of hundreds who knows the difference between FIP and ERA+. Nothing
wrong with those stories, since they are fun and we’ve all done
them. But they do not reflect the current reality in
And the reality is, most players still don’t have a clue
about advanced stats. They don’t have time to sit around worrying
about their ground ball tendancies versus left-handed pitchers in
high leverage situations. Their thinking is still more fundamental.
They know when they are putting good wood on the ball. They know
when they are chasing bad pitches that are unhittable. And they
know from video how a certain pitcher they will face that day might
try to work them. Many good players keep detailed logs in books
about those pitches they have seen and could see again. It’s pretty
detailed stuff, not uneducated scribblings.
But start talking situational OPS with just about any player
and you will get a scrunched up face staring back at you.
And so, the man placed in charge of these players in the
field-level trenches — the manager — is not going to have advanced
stats as part of his daily lexicon of words when he speaks. I have
known many managers over the years, some of them “old school” and
some who know an awful lot about advanced stats.
But none of them sit around talking about those stats. When
they speak about baseball, it’s still in the “RBI” and “ERA” mode.
And so, when I see Wedge getting lambasted over the internet
yesterday for his choice of words in describing that he needs
Miguel Olivo to get his bat going because the team doesn’t have a
“home run” and “RBI” guy it can count on, I do feel it’s important
to address this disconnect.
The truth is, what Wedge was saying is that the team doesn’t
have many .450 slugging types who can earn that slugging percentage
with something other than doubles. Try saying that out loud and
getting your message across to a mass audience.
Baseball men just don’t speak that way.
The stereotypical “Harvard-educated front office assistants”
spawned by the Moneyball era might speak like that. And that’s
fine, because it’s why they were hired. It’s also why many teams
never let those guys anywhere near the field or the players. The
guys in charge of players — who have to lead them into on-field
combat — have to be the ones most trusted by the rank-and-file. The
ones who grew up in a baseball environment like they did — I’m
talking professional baseball, not high school or college — and
know the score.
And unfortunately, despite what you may read places, in
2012, the score is still largely told in terms of home runs, RBI,
ERA and what baseball has been scoring for 100 years.
Now, that does not mean there is no place in baseball for
modern stats. But again, here is the fundamental disconnect. Stats
have their place, yes — one place in the corner of the swimming
pool of daily baseball life.
Daily baseball life does not have the stats world as its
center of the universe. For many baseball fans it does. But for
those in charge of living and playing the game that is modern Major
League Baseball, stats are only one part of it.
This is not a revelation. It’s been said many, many times
before and most people just nod their head and go “of course, we
know that!”. But then, the minute the conversation turns elsewhere,
those fans promptly forget what was just said and continue to watch
and analyze baseball as if stats are indeed the be-all,
They are not.
Stats are a tool that those in more advanced front offices
can use to narrow down the list of players that might be chosen
from a wide-ranging assortment. But the best front offices will
then be open-minded enough to go back to their field-level baseball
people and engage in discussions about why the stats might be
misleading. Jack Zduriencik is seen by many in the blogosphere as a
“stats guy” and nothing could be further from the truth. Zduriencik
values “makeup” in a player as much as any other traits I’ve seen.
Not always the civic-minded, he’ll make a great church-goer kind of
makeup, but on-field baseball makeup.
Zduriencik knows that stats are only one area of importance.
And that there are a world of other human factors that go into
building a baseball team. If there weren’t, then any blogger, fan
or mainstream journalist who can crunch a few numbers together
would be managing baseball teams.
But that’s not the case. At best, those people get hired as
front office assistants and sometimes move up to the GM ranks. But
they are almost never put out there at field level, simply because
they are out of their depth. And that’s why, even the most
stats-educated of GMs, like a Theo Epstein, employ a wide-ranging
group of assistants with other areas of expertise.
Wedge addressed some of those human factors that go into
daily MLB life in making his comments yesterday.
“We’re all human beings,” he said. “That’s just the human
factor. That’s what I think a lot of people fail to understand —
that these guys aren’t robots. These guys are human beings with
hearts and brains and something else too. So, you’ve got to balance
Some will take offense to that. Whatever. It’s true. And one
reason managers don’t sit around filling the heads of 25-year-old
athletes with an encyclopedia of baseball stats is that they
realize their human athletic brains can’t handle it. Baseball is a
game of instinct and reaction, where you react to events happening
in front of you at 100 mph.
There is no time to be delving through stat pages in your
brain when this stuff is happening. Jim Riggleman once told me that
he would get a thick, book-sized stats package before every game
and that he’d throw out about 95 percent of it. He was kidding
about actually throwing it in the garbage, but what he meant was,
in terms of preparation, there wasn’t time to go over every
itty-bitty stat. No time for coaches to do that and even if there
was, his players would have it go in one ear and out the other
because human beings typically can’t process that much info in such
a short time.
So, at best, you pick a few areas to hone in on, get players
to work on those things over and over again in pre-game fielding or
hitting workouts and hope for the best. If there is any area of MLB
where players study off-field stuff with great intensity, it is
probably the video room. Not the stats room.
Most teams now employ skilled video people — the Mariners do
as well — who can shoot and edit the types of high-definition video
packages needed by players. Why video? Because it simulates real
baseball life better than stats do. A player will get more out of
seeing what type of pitch might be coming their way than they will
reading about it in a stats booklet.
Again, this isn’t meant to minimize the fun that fans have
with stats, or the cottage industry built up around the more
advanced stats. I’m not poking fun at anyone’s livelihood. But the
thinking that these stats are dominating daily baseball life is
just not accurate.
These stats are part — one part — of daily baseball
So, anyone expecting a manager to start speaking about OPS
and wOBA in a conversation about baseball is missing the point.
These managers know baseball. All of them know baseball better than
you do, or I do.
Doesn’t mean we can’t question their decision-making.
Doesn’t mean we can’t ask why they do the things they do.
Yes, they are sometimes wrong. But that’s because they are
human — not robots.
And those human managers all know about baseball. More
importantly, they know about managing in baseball and the human
subtleties that come with the job. The human politics that must be
That is more important in discussing a manager and his
employment future than whether or not he uses words like “RBI” and
“home run” in discussing a hitter. Wedge knows what types of
hitters he needs and where. But he simply doesn’t have him. So, if
Olivo is his best shot at a .450-slugger who doesn’t rely merely on
doubles, then that’s what he knows. And Olivo has been that guy
before. Just not last season. And Wedge, trust me, knows he needs
to get more out of Olivo’s bat. He needs a daily catcher as well
and Olivo is his best bet, but that’s a discussion for another
I’ll leave you with this one thought, which occured when I
read this comment over the internet yesterday:
“Today is Eric Wedge’s 1316th game as a manager of an MLB
team. If you take him at his word, he apparently still believes
that it is a worthwhile effort to (1) place a fair amount of
importance on Olivo’s veteran status, and (2) reference RBI numbers
as a measure of how effective a player is.
He’s had 1316 chances for the light bulb to come on and
realize why that’s wrong. If I did my job wrong for 1316 days, I
would be wondering why I was still employed. I don’t think it’s a
stretch to wonder if Wedge is really cut out for this sort of
My thought after reading that comment is, is this really the
level of arrogance our increased knowledge of stats has brought us
to? For me, out of simple humility, the thought process should be:
“Wedge has had 1,316 chances for the light bulb to come on and
realize he’s wrong. Maybe, the fact that Wedge hasn’t realized he’s
wrong is an indication that my thought process might not be as
bang-on correct as I think it is. Maybe it’s me who has to
re-evaluate. Maybe there is more to the job than I realize and
that’s why Wedge has been employed at it for 1,316 games.”
But that’s just me. Something to think about.