July 06, 2005

Say it Ain't So Joe!:
Three words.
Joe. Freaking. Morgan.
More inside.

posted by lilnemo to baseball at 07:10 PM - 37 comments

These quotes from the article say it all:

"And all I'm telling you," Morgan says to me as we approach the broadcast booth, sounding very much like an assembly worker arguing against his own obsolescence, "is that a computer can't tell you what I know about The Game."
"Anytime you're trying to make statistics tell you who's gonna win the game, that's a bunch of geeks trying to play video games."
There is a pretty good cross-section of SpoFites (myself included) who have made their... dislike of Morgan known. I won't bother searching for the threads. And it is blindingly obvious how cantankerously closed-minded Joe and other names-in-the-game can be. My question is: having read several pieces like this, is it possible that any station will ever seriously make stats meaningful in their broadcasts? Does anyone have a media member they would like to bestow an honorable mention upon for attempting to bring "Moneyball" to the masses?

posted by lilnemo at 07:43 PM on July 06, 2005

baseball musings has a couple of anecdotes about mr. morgan. speaking of making our dislike of morgan known, on the sunday night yanks vs. mets game an espn cameraman actually made his way into the bleachers. (i don't know why he thought he would get something airable.) when the red light came on we chanted "joe morgan sucks." even mets fans joined in. it was a beautiful thing really.

posted by goddam at 08:06 PM on July 06, 2005

Happy crap. What an awful, wonderful read. Thanks.

posted by yerfatma at 08:15 PM on July 06, 2005

Sox broadcasts at least sometimes show OBP, so... baby steps are happening. Stats will really make their way into the broadcast booth, though, when someone who can really tell a good story but who also believes in the stats becomes a national-level broadcaster. I love Neyer and co., but I can figure the stats myself- I can't tell the good stories and give some of the sane background the way Remy can. Hopefully the next generation of Remys will have some stats sense as well, but in the mean time, if I'm watching a game for three hours, I'll take a story teller over a statshead, as long as the story teller isn't a complete flaming idiot. *cough*morgan*cough*

posted by tieguy at 08:57 PM on July 06, 2005

What wasn't really explored in the article was the close parallel between Joe Morgan and a lot of older Americans who spent their whole lives in the "simple era" and feel left behind by the computer-internet-wireless phone-blackberry-bluetooth-blah-blah-blah culture that America (and, largely, the rest of the world) now embraces. Joe sounds like a confused guy who just lost his assembly line job to a robot...he doesn't know why time has passed him by, just that it has. Joe Morgan may indeed be the best second baseman of all time and one of the worst broadcasters of recent times. It wouldn't be the first time in athletics/broadcasting that a contradiction like that occured.

posted by The_Black_Hand at 11:34 PM on July 06, 2005

you also have to realize that when these guys are spouting all these stats and the guys aren't living up to them, who are you gonna blame but "the announcer", dont get me wrong morgan is an idiot, but i dont want to listen to a stat sheet either.

posted by gregy606 at 11:42 PM on July 06, 2005

Joe Morgan is an idiot anyway. Definitely, as previously stated, one of the worst commentators out there. Hey! Asshat! How about, instead of blathering about your daughter, you call the fucking game right in front of you! I'm divided on the Moneyball thing. I've read the book, and loved it. And it's amazing what the A's have done. But how many Series appearances have they got from it? Does whether they win 80 or 100 games matter in the long term? Whether Moneyball works or not, they're still also rans.

posted by Drood at 12:13 AM on July 07, 2005

ya know i had to come back just to say i think jon miller is an even bigger idoit than morgan....

posted by gregy606 at 02:00 AM on July 07, 2005

But how many Series appearances have they got from it? I don't think that's a meaningful measure. We can assume a certain average winning percentage for a team playing in a city the size of Oakland. If the A's manage to exceed that over the long-term, that would be meaningful success in a numbers (though not fan) sense. Getting to the Series and winning it requires a fair bit of . . . well, luck.

posted by yerfatma at 06:06 AM on July 07, 2005

Yeah, despite how much the book trumpeted the technique, the correct comparison is not to the Sox or the Yanks, it's other teams with the same level of payroll, compared to which the As have been both typically better than and more consistent than.

posted by tieguy at 07:57 AM on July 07, 2005

It seems the whole debate has been blown out of proportion and dissovled into a battle of personalities. Nerds vs. Jocks - when that is hardly the case at all. "Moneyball" as a tool combined with scouting has revolutionized the way performance is assessed, and the potential for future performance - it is not a measure of talent. It ain't like the A's don't scout. It has shown that the popular stats like batting average and RBIs are overvalued, but not worthless, and that OBP and OPS are undervalued, not the holy grail. It is a paradigm shift in the idea of executing good baseball - not a condemnation of the past 100 years of baseball history. I was a little anti-moneyball for a while, believing in the risk/reward idea of baseball - mostly because it was romantic - but after research and reading, I think you'd have to be pretty stupid not to factor in the wealth of information it can provide. Joe has an interesting point in that the Red Sox success can be hinged on a stolen base (specious reasoning to be sure, but interesting in a colloquial, old-school baseball way). But that's hardly enough evidence to throw the baby out with the bath water.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 09:04 AM on July 07, 2005

And no one, NO ONE, is a bigger freaking idiot than Tim McCarver. I will take Joe Morgan over Tim McCarver any day. McCarver makes my eyes bleed and my brain ctrl/alt/delete - system reboot.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 09:07 AM on July 07, 2005

I would rather listen to a funny drunk like Harry Carry and an interesting stats guy to keep him in check. Steve Stone and HC were the best combo (obviously I'm from Chicago). You could just listen to them broadcast without even watching the game. But, it would be great to hear someone that truely grasps the importance of the stats and can talk with the best of them like Billy Beane.

posted by jdub25 at 09:33 AM on July 07, 2005

Sox broadcasts at least sometimes show OBP, so... baby steps are happening. ESPN 2's broadcast of the Cards/DBacks game last night had OBP in the batters' stats.

posted by NoMich at 09:45 AM on July 07, 2005

TSN and Sportsnet's Jays broadcasts always seem to have OBP. I think. I'm pretty used to seeing it. Nice read, lil. Thanks.

posted by DrJohnEvans at 09:48 AM on July 07, 2005

popular stats like batting average and RBIs are overvalued, but not worthless, and that OBP and OPS are undervalued, not the holy grail While I agree OBP and OPS aren't the grail, I have to say batting average and RBIs are worthless. RBIs mean nothing: no players on in front of you, no RBIs. All those sacrifices turn into fly balls and groundouts. And what does batting average measure that OBP doesn't provide a better view of? I think ESPN does a better job than NESN with the stats: for years they've provided OBP for the top and bottom spots in the order and SLG for the 3-4-5 guys.

posted by yerfatma at 09:59 AM on July 07, 2005

My personal biggest gripe is the focus on W-L for pitchers, as bogus a stat as there is.

posted by tieguy at 11:12 AM on July 07, 2005

A high batting average can still reflect a hitter's ability to, well, hit - as opposed to get on base. I don't trust guys who have a nice high OBP and hit .250 (similarily, I'm not a huge proponent of guys with a high batting average and relatively low OBP) - can you could on those guys to get a hit when one is needed? Fact is the really good players have good/great BAs and great OBPs. I mean, c'mon - would you rather have Nick Johnson or Albert Pujols? Their OBPs are pretty close, But one is clearly the better player. Like I said - stats are great at measuring past performance and potentially predicting future performance - but they do not measure a player's talent.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 12:08 PM on July 07, 2005

Weedy: your case-in-point would be a guy like Ichiro, who rarely walks but gets on base at a good clip, AND does it with hits (which as a singles hitter, have only the advantage over a walk that a runner from second can score on a hit, but not a walk, most of the time). The value of walks is that a good hitter- a healthy Barry Bonds- can crush the ball, but will also make the pitcher throw him something good instead of doing the defense any favors by swinging away at everything that he can make contact with. This means his batted-balls-in-play will more likely be solid hits or even homeruns for those pitches the hitter was waiting for, while the rest of the time he will trot down freely to first if the pitcher refuses to put it in the strike zone. No one grounds-into-a-double-play on a walk. :) Part of the sabermetric notion is that a stat like OBP reflects a hitter's value more when scouting than does avg, and part of it is the simple notion of more runners on base = more likelihood of runs scoring = more runs = more wins. A young hitter in the minors who's hitting at a good clip but rarely walks will find major league pitchers a lot tougher and his batting average will go down considerably. However, without the "plate discipline" to lay off bad pitches and maintain a clear strike zone, that hitter will struggle mightily when faced with the kind of stuff a Clemens might bring. A hitter with good plate discipline will have that critical skill that leads to both walks and better hitting overall because they'll have the selectivity to only swing at pitches they're more likely to get good wood on. Especially with young players, you know the strength and smoothness will come with time, but the mental acuity is a hard thing to teach once someone's made it to the big leagues. Likewise, if you look at charts that show what the likelihood of scoring one or more run is in various situations (none out, two one, two out, one one, etc, etc), you'll see that often times that one extra base runner can double the odds of getting a run that inning over the course of the season. Therefore, hitters who get on base- however they do it, whether it's a screaming line drive to the base of the wall, a slow dribbler they beat out every time, a hit-by-pitch, a walk, etc- put their team in a position to score more runs that inning. Not making outs is one of the only true, definitive counters: you can have any number of hits in a game, or walks, but you only get 27 outs to use up before the game is likely over. You may hit doubles and homeruns in droves, but if you do it at the expense of making an out 4 times in 5 (a la Rob Deer or Dave Kingmanr) you're pretty much near-useless to your team. OBP reflects the ability to get on base instead of making an out far more accurately than does batting average; SLG represents the ability to accumulate bases (as does a similar stat, "total bases"), since you can't score a run without getting 4 bases in a row. Together, that thumbnail view of OPS- which is just that- a thumbnail- is a pretty good indicator of how much a hitter contributes to your ability to score runs and in turn, win.

posted by hincandenza at 01:04 PM on July 07, 2005

Momma says Moneyball is the Devil...

posted by chris2sy at 01:09 PM on July 07, 2005

You go, Hal.

posted by tieguy at 01:10 PM on July 07, 2005

Oh totally agree Hal - OBP reflects a good eye, which in turn indicates a better hitter. Coupled with slugging and a few of the other sabrmetrics you do get a pretty good picture of a players ability to help you win. It is a terrfic way of scouting. But at the major league level, I still think BA is not a useless stat, becuase their are high OBP guys who really aren't as vaulable as guys with slightly lower OBP but higher BAs. Like Ichiro. Now if you start telling me how Ichiro is actually a bad player and doesn't contribute to wins the same way a slow, low average high OPS guy does, well - I might quibble. Besides - Ichiro's slugging percentage is about that of Jeter.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 01:16 PM on July 07, 2005

A hitter with good plate discipline will have that critical skill that leads to both walks and better hitting overall because they'll have the selectivity to only swing at pitches they're more likely to get good wood on. I can think of exceptions to this such as Vladamir Guerrero and Kirby Puckett...but if we are talking generally speaking then that is probably true.

posted by chris2sy at 01:16 PM on July 07, 2005

Vladimir Guerrero is an alien. I've never seen anything like him. If only he could learn plate discipline, we wouldn't even be talking about Bonds' tainted records. Vlad would have beaten all of them. But, like many South American players, he didn't get to the majors by walking...

posted by qbert72 at 01:36 PM on July 07, 2005

There are exceptions to everything. Nomar is a fantastic example: he hit .372 one year with power. But as soon as his bat slowed down, he was done as an All-Star. Being selective makes a player more effective and effective for a longer time. There are freakishly good HoF-caliber players who can get away with swinging at everything because they hit everything, but don't base your GM philosophy around finding those guys.

posted by yerfatma at 01:40 PM on July 07, 2005

Weedy: Replace batting average with slugging percentage everywhere in your statement, and I might agree. A walk is effectively exactly the same as a single, for the purposes of the game. So... someone with lower OBP but higher slugging % *might* be more valuable than someone with higher OBP and lower slugging, since their increased doubles and homers might outweight their reduced singles/walks. This is why we have the slightly contrived OPS But if you don't have slugging data available, or aren't considering it, higher OBP and lower BA is always more valuable than higher BA and lower OBP, period. The only way that's not true is if somehow you think getting on base with a single is better than getting on base with a walk.

posted by tieguy at 02:09 PM on July 07, 2005

I think a lot of the validity of these stats have to do with where the player is expected to bat in the order. Feel free to jump in if I'm wrong here {"It's the only way I'll learn"}. But "good" lead-off batters usually have a high OBP (walks are good at the top of the order because they ensure the batter gets on base, and they allow the rest of the lineup to get a feel for a pitcher, speed, command, control, location, etc.) don't hit for much power, and don't get caught stealing often (if they attempt at all). The 2 and 6 hitters are usually average (and interchangeable) but with more pop than the lead-off man. The 3 hitters are usually the best batter in the line-up. #4 & 5 hitters are usually high risk/high reward guys like Guerrero and Puckett. At least thats how I understand it. Does anyone else have a better description for batter archetypes in the lineup? Somewhat related.

posted by lilnemo at 02:59 PM on July 07, 2005

lil: simplified example: if you had two guys with a .900 OPS, and one had a .450 OBP and .450 slugging, and the other had a .375 OBP but a .525 slugging, yeah, you'd want the guy with the higher OBP to bat leadoff and the guy with the higher slugging batting later, to drive the first guy in. So yes, you want different stats for different places in the lineup. (Or more accurately, in the real world everyone has different stats, and you construct the lineup accordingly.) But at no point would a smart manager look at BA to figure out the lineup- they'd look at OBP and slugging, and work from there.

posted by tieguy at 03:15 PM on July 07, 2005

Tieguy OK - but isn't a single better than a walk with a runner on third? It just seems to me that the whole mantra of OBP (and I'm with you all the way with using it as a measure of relative value) is turning into a cult where BA simply is made redundant - and I'm not buying that all the way. I mean, doesn't leading the majors in hits mean ANYTHING?

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 03:16 PM on July 07, 2005

Weedy I think what they're saying is that a batter who draws walks is better than a batter with a higher average because a player who attempts to make contact (pulling the ball, driving it the opposite way) is more likely to cause an out. But, players who draw walks can also strike out looking, I don't know the percentage of outs on balls in play vs. called strikes so I couldn't say for sure. But I think thats what is being said.

posted by lilnemo at 03:26 PM on July 07, 2005

So the argument has now become in favour of NOT making contact? Of course making contact is more likely to cause an out! It's baseball! But it takes a shitload of walks to score a run. But hyperbole aside - I do appreciate how OBP combines BA and walks to give a better overall picture of a hitter. Success being measured not merely in hits, but in times made it at least to first. I still think hitting is sexier than walking though - and a high BA means "I get hits, baby" (actually a low BA with no walks still means "I get hits" - just I'm not as selective and probably get out more, but if it means I get my team more runs, isn't that a good thing?). And RBIs are damn sexy too. When I played, I loved to get hits and RBIs (Runs batted ins).

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 03:34 PM on July 07, 2005

Oh, it counts for something, because it is part of OBP- it's the sole reason that despite being 104th in the league in walks last year he was still in the top 10 in OBP, which makes him a pretty damn valuable player. I'm not saying Ichiro sucks, or that batting average is completely unimportant- I'm just saying he's not the most valuable player in the league- which he would be if BA was all that mattered. But because he swings more, and far more of his hits are singles than the average player, he gets out more and is in scoring position less, which impacts his usefulness to the team. To put it another way- no manager ever would base his lineup (or any other evaluation of a player) purely on the number of walks a guy draws. So why should he base it purely on the number of hits he gets? Anyone with sense would say 'take into account both factors.' That's what OBP does. [On preview: Despite liking OBP as an analytical tool, I think there is a fair case to be made that OBP-ball is not healthy for the game- as you say, singling in a run is a lot sexier than walking in a run.]

posted by tieguy at 03:48 PM on July 07, 2005

For sexiness, nothing beats the squeeze in my book.

posted by qbert72 at 04:02 PM on July 07, 2005

"Chicks dig the longball..." ---Greg Maddux

posted by The_Black_Hand at 04:19 PM on July 07, 2005

Woah I went to high school with the writer of the article.

posted by gyc at 04:42 PM on July 07, 2005

I'm a believer in Productive Outs also, no matter what other people (and warning -- here comes the science) have come to believe. Good hitters have to be able to move runners along the bases or score them with sacrifices, and there are a large number of major leaguers who are either unable or unwilling to slap the grounder to second base to plate the runner at third with less than two out. Is this really giving up a valuable out? I don't believe so, except in rare cases. I wouldn't want Barry Bonds chunking a three-hopper deliberately, but for the vast majority of players (.250-.290 BA, >25 HRs), the chances of them doing something positive and reaching base as opposed to the relative surety of getting the run home ... you'd have to go a long way to get me to believe sacrificing yourself isn't the smart play here.

posted by wfrazerjr at 11:38 AM on July 08, 2005

If you guys really want to know what leads to good baseball, read the book for what it is or look up some statistical studies. The book isn't a bible. but the story how one organization took advantage of the inefficiencies in baseball recruiting. According to the book, OBP is considered to be 3X more valuable than BA. These guys did studies to find correlations b/w batting stats and runs scored, not prove the old system wrong. If you still don't believe the stats and like to go by your gut, I've got something for sale. haha

posted by jdub25 at 06:27 PM on July 08, 2005

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