Baseball Is Still a Game Played by Humans

I’m a fan of sabermetrics. I’m a fan of anything that can provide me more insight into something I love and am passionate about, so let’s get that out of the way first. But my God some people take these things a bit far, and in doing so, completely lose sight of the fact that human beings actually are playing the game that takes place on the field. It’s not a computer simulation that just prints out numbers and that’s the only story you need to know.

I came across a blog arguing that Jair Jurrjens is due for a regression, which as you will see, I believe is coming as well, just not nearly to the effect that it seems other people are intent on insisting, and as the responses and comments came in on this particular blog, the blatant disregard for the human element became more and more prevalent.

Here is the original piece that I responded to.

And here is my response:

What you’re doing, and what others have pointed out, is comparing his numbers in many aspects to what his “career” numbers are. He’s pitched two healthy years to this point. That’s hardly enough to really formulate just what the ceiling is for a 25 year old who clearly has a knack for not allowing the opposing team to score runs. You completely throw out the possibility that maybe, just MAYBE, he’s gotten better as a pitcher. MAYBE, just MAYBE those numbers you’re basing these comparisons against aren’t indicative of what he’s completely capable of (seeing how in 1 of those years he was a rookie, and in another he was injured and ineffective). I mean, let’s not possibly consider THAT when trying to figure out what to make of Jurjens.

When comparing this year to his 2009 season, the only other non-rookie, non injury plagued year with which to compare, the numbers aren’t that different. They don’t look quite so “unsustainable”.

His walks are down significantly. It couldn’t help matters, at all, could it, that perhaps he’s garnered better control and command of his pitches? Nah. And of course, that wouldn’t also help explain why the homerun rate is down either, would it? You don’t give guys free passes, and you keep the ball in the ball park, you’re on the way to success.

You keep expecting regression, but clearly he’s in better command of his pitches. His strikeout to walk rate is significantly better this year than it was in 2009. Of course, I’m sure that stat only matters if it’s making your argument for you.

BABIP? Not that much lower this year than in 2009. The difference in FIP and xFIP, about the same as it was in 2009. Hmmmm, so maybe when he’s at his best, the numbers that you seek out so much don’t exactly tell the whole story.

You know, there’s that pitch to contact thing, that for some guys, it works. Jurrjens is showing himself to be one of those guys.

You’re ignoring that this year he’s been able to get hitters to chase more pitches out of the strike zone. Why. And then the notion that a new pitch that sinks is brought up, you dismiss it as irrelevant. Why?

Would a pitch with movement not lead to more swings by hitters at pitches that dive out of the zone? Seems to me it would. What’s happening though, those guys are swinging at those pitches out of the zone, and making contact. So no, he’s not getting the sexy strikeouts you think he needs to get to show he can keep this pace up, but he’s getting weak contact that is turning these batted balls into outs.

Now, perhaps suddenly, hitters catch on to this, and perhaps the percentage of pitches hacked at out of the zone decreases, and he’s in the zone more often, and he starts seeing a BABIP that comes back towards the pack.

Or, his stuff, and his approach on the mound, continues to work as it has, and he continues to induce weak contact.

Don’t just pick and choose which advanced stats you want to look at and use here.

But of course, I know better than to suggest you’d dare overlook anything that might actually present a differing point to your original case.

Because as we know, we shouldn’t consider his being a 22 year old rookie in 2008, or being injured throughout 2010 at all when looking at those stats.

I’m all for advanced statistics and what they can tell us, but they don’t excuse you from still using a little common sense, and from including in an analysis of a player things you don’t see on paper, i.e. inexperience, injuries, a new pitch, gradual improvement as you expect from young athletes.

Sure, if you wanna stare at a piece of paper and that’s it and form conclusions, go right ahead. But you’re being just as ignorantly blind and stubborn as the traditionalists who also completely refuse to recognize sabermetrics.

There’s still a human element to the game being played on a field. This is not some computer simulation being run where all you need to look at are the numbers and numbers alone. Ignoring some of what you’re ignoring is just as stupid as people blatantly ignoring some of the advanced numbers that exist. An inability to incorporate both makes for weak and uneducated analysis.

Do I expect him to finish with a sub 2.00 ERA? No, I don’t. But do I expect it to be around 2.50, and for him to be right in the middle of the Cy Young talks? Absolutely.



Filed under Baseball, Braves, Sports

2 responses to “Baseball Is Still a Game Played by Humans

  1. I absolutely loathe The Capitol Avenue Club blog. What a bunch of garbage. I tried to get into it last year until I realized that they writers aren’t actually watching the game, but rather scrutinizing numbers like a bunch of coked-up stock market hacks. You are right. Those writers are so sadly addicted to numbers that the main points get lost in a sea of acronyms and decimal points. Their main points are pretty much summed up by the age-old “ups and downs” mantra that encompasses virtually any sport. Of course JJ probably will not finish the year with 25 wins and and ERA under 2. Why? Not because of these overblown sabermetrics which resembles an even more ridiculous form of text speak. Both he and Reyes will inevitably experience setbacks due to the rigors of injury (see Reyes) and more astutely, because people who actually study and watch the game know that in any sport, the name of the game is adjustment. From coaches pouring over film figuring out ways to prevent the outside linebacker on a pace to break the sacks by a linebacker record from splitting the offensive guards to a basketball coach mulling over ways to double team the powerful center to slews of Major League scouts begin to examine pitching sequence habits of torrid hurlers in order to equip their offensive players with advantages, the best players and the here-today-gone-tomorrow players always share one crucial aspect in common: the best adjust to adversity while the mediocre players do not.

    Right now, a pamphlet awaits Jim Tracy and his staff. Part of that pamphlet includes an exhaustive report on Jurrjens’ tendencies, strong pitches, weak pitches, and out pitches. The report will be detailed on how he typically pitches lefties, righties, when he is most likely to give up a run or walk a batter, how well he fields the left and right sides of his position, how well he performs from the stretch, and so on and so forth. Eventually this year, not due to some hackneyed numbers theory but rather due to intensive scouting, player fatigue, and his opponents adjusting to match his strong suits, Jurrjens will probably be forced to adjust and tweak certain aspects of his game.

    I wish I could tell this kooks at CAC that the main reason Jurrjens’ 2011 numbers are higher than all his career numbers for a highly intuitive, complicated, and rather mysterious reason: he’s having his best season yet.

    It doesn’t take a calculator to tell us that much.

  2. Am definitely convinced they don’t watch the games either. A prime example of this was the response to my pointing out the number of pitches swung at out of the strike zone by hitters and the stat outlying the amount of contact being made on such pitches contributing to the low average on balls in play. I proposed the clearly absurd theory that maybe that number is so law because balls are being put weakly into play due to swinging at pitches they can’t do anything with. To which they respond, “well how do you know that?”. Um, it MIGHT be because in watching the games actually take place, I’ve been able to SEE It. But you’re right, they wouldn’t know anything about that.

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