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  • On Terry Ryan, Truth And Gravity

    In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M Pirsig dwells on a topic about which we often argue at Twins Daily: Truth. (*1) Given a finite amount of data – and there is always only a finite amount of data – the human imagination is capable of creating an infinite number of explanations for what that data shows. But ultimately, one strikes us as The Truth. It can feel like an epiphany, an absolute. But it’s really just the prettiest of the explanations of which we can conceive.

    This is true even for scientific facts, like gravity (*2). It's even more true when there is less observable data, like say, watching the moves of your favorite baseball team's front office. We can speculate from the outside, but odds are the truths we think we've found are the truths that appeal to us and are likely to change.

    My experience is that even when the people involved tell you The Truth, it's of limited value. They likely don't want to tell you the whole truth. It may even be that they don't understand it themselves.

    At the press conference where the Twins introduced Ricky Nolasco, Terry Ryan was asked about whether the Twins philosophy is changing towards free agency. He replied that he didn't think so (*3), that they had always said that they would utilize free agency when it was appropriate, and this was certainly appropriate. He implied the difference was that they now had the resources.

    That's a fine explanation, one that certainly can pass as The Truth for a limited set of facts. But there are other facts it doesn't explain. And the top one is that the Twins were in the exact same situation last year, and risked just $15 million on two pitchers, instead of the $73 million (and maybe more, soon) that they have already spent this year. In fact, last year, they under-spent their budget by $20 million.

    This additional data point can also be explained an infinite number of ways. For instance,
    1) Maybe an extra year of losing added more urgency.
    2) Maybe last year the increase in prices surprised the Twins.
    3) Maybe Ryan just wasn't accustomed to having money to spend.
    4) Maybe they just like Nolasco and Phil Hughes more than any pitchers last year.
    5) Maybe someone new in the front office gained influence and convinced the organization to spend the money.
    6) Maybe someone above Terry Ryan in the Twins hierarchy convinced him to spend the money.

    Or maybe the philosophy changed. Whichever truth you choose depends on which additional events you choose to include, and which explanation you find most appealing.


    (*1)Actually, Robert M. Persig dwells on a lot of things, and they’re all wrapped inside an intriguing and somewhat gut-wrenching story that I should really re-read. And which you should too. It’s the offseason. Trust me on this one.

    (*2)You might have trouble, even in the Twins Daily forums, arguing against gravity. But before Isaac Newton, people noticed that stuff tended to fall to earth. The accepted Truth was that objects had an “earthly nature” that made them return to earth. It wasn’t until Newton came along and started talking about the other heavenly bodies and how they were holding other objects in orbit, and creating formulas for how quickly things fell to earth, that the idea of gravity sunk in.

    For the record, those previous “nature” ideas weren’t proposed by some dummy. This was Aristotlian (as in Aristotle) Physics. It was the truth for nearly two thousand years because it made sense to everyone. We accept gravity because it made even more sense once we started realizing the earth wasn’t the center of the universe.

    And we might well throw it aside – and Albert Einstein already did as part of general relativity. Which, by the way, has been modified several times by various theories. Einstein doesn't have all matter attracting other matter. Rather, matter curves spacetime, bending objects in motion towards itself. And with that insufficient teaser, I and my one trimester of physics are disentangling ourselves from this explanation.

    Instead, I choose to focus on this: we are talking about something that most would consider scientific fact, and yet every few hundred years, it’s modified as we recognize a different explanation as "truth" for why that apple falls on your head. They all explain the apple. But the one we accept at different times extends from additional facts and observations and is eventually adopted as the cleanest explanation. If scientific fact is that malleable, how absolute is any truth?

    (*3) The question was asked by Wally Langfellow of Minnesota Score magazine. Here was Ryan's entire reply:

    “No, I don’t think so Wally. This isn’t a change in philosophy. We’ve always said, if we need to do something. Now we have the resources to do it; there’s no doubt. If we were still in the Metrodome, this probably wouldn’t happen. But we’re in Target Field. We’ve got more revenue and resources, certainly. This is a nice opportunity. We need pitching. We went out and got it.

    As people recall, we tried to retain [Johan] Santana or retain Torii Hunter. To some extent, we just didn’t have the wherewithal. We would not hesitate to jump into free agency. I don’t think it’s the greatest path, because it is risky. We all know that. Free agency is not the answer. It’s a help and a supplement to a roster. But if you’re relying on free agency year-in and year-out, it’s not gonna work.

    Now we’re in a situation where we need help. We need immediate help. And this is the reason Ricky is sitting here. But I don’t see this as a big change. Yeah, this is a nice contract for any player. But we’ve given out contracts of sizable worth and that lad over there on that poster [Ryan points to a picture of Joe Mauer] is a good example. He’s making a lot of money. We’re not afraid to do it, provided we get the right fit.”
    This article was originally published in blog: On Terry Ryan, Truth And Gravity started by John Bonnes
    Comments 111 Comments
    1. The Wise One's Avatar
      The Wise One -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      Did you actually read what I wrote, and the ongoing conversation that resulted in my posts? The qualifier, "potentially" was carefully and intentionally inserted for a reason- it's a hypothetical. Of course, the evidence you cited was based on a completely different set of circumstances, particularly an outmoded ballpark that didn't lend itself to expanded walk-up appeal on good weather days. And of course, baseball clubs are never mindful of ticket demand relative to appealing to the fans intense favorite player interests, vis a vis, marquis pitching matchups or players like Joe Mauer appearing in as many home games as possible, right Wise One? And all that PR talk from Gardy and Ryan to the media that they're ever-mindful about putting their best players on the field for home games for the fans who drove all the way from Wahpeton is just so much windage, right Wise One?

      We do know that "premium pricing" exists for a reason, and has more than "absolutely zero historical basis for the idea"- that games that involve teams with more talent and more tradition create more demand for tickets, which allows higher prices to be charged. When the consumer walk-up ticket buyer has the discretionary option of attending a game pitched by Cole DeVries or a game pitched by Zach Greinke, it's pretty obvious where the stronger demand would lie. Would it be 10,000 more per game? Of course not, but again, we were using the extreme hypotheticals to flesh out the economics for the Twins in signing the top FA target of the previous offseason- a point that you so conveniently swerved right past in pursuit of your thread hijack.
      Potentially Kevin Correia can win 34 games next year and have an ERA of 0.02. Absurdity is what it is in a thread called truth. In all of the years that Santana pitched here with a more than half empty Metrodome, there was not a significant increase in attendance to watch him otherwise the Twins would have resigned him knowing they could recoup the cost. If you are making the claim potentially people will come out to see a pitcher for the home team and not when others pitch could happen it would behoove you to have an instance where it proved to be the case somewhere in the 30 team league in the last decade or so. Otherwise my statement on Correia stands without question.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by The Wise One View Post
      Potentially Kevin Correia can win 34 games next year and have an ERA of 0.02. Absurdity is what it is in a thread called truth. In all of the years that Santana pitched here with a more than half empty Metrodome, there was not a significant increase in attendance to watch him otherwise the Twins would have resigned him knowing they could recoup the cost. If you are making the claim potentially people will come out to see a pitcher for the home team and not when others pitch could happen it would behoove you to have an instance where it proved to be the case somewhere in the 30 team league in the last decade or so. Otherwise my statement on Correia stands without question.
      Missing the point completely seems to be your specialty, and blithely using reductio ad absurdum improperly seems to be your flawed method of delivery. Your argument flies in the face of logic, of a new outdoor Twins stadium, hardly worth dignifying even considering meeting the demand for evidence that you made, as clearly in your world, long-suffering Twins fans, as a group, would take no excitement in the breaking of all previous precedents- by signing the #1 or #2 pitcher in baseball- yup, they have the identical appreciation for this equational value for their sports entertainment dollar------- Cole DeVries/Pedro Hernandez start = Zach Greinke.....sure thing.
    1. JB_Iowa's Avatar
      JB_Iowa -
      I wasn't a fan of them trying to sign Greinke last year primarily because of the timing but also because I'm just not a big fan of his.

      But trying to pin all of this down in dollars and cents based on how many wins a pitcher may produce and how much $$$ each win will produce (or how many tickets it will sell) just seems like a ridiculous exercise to me.

      As I recall, the Houston Astros were one of the most (if not the most) profitable teams in baseball last year ... despite going 51-111 and having an opening day payroll of less than $27m.

      If everything just comes down to $$$, then obviously that is the way to go. Virtually no risk and great financial rewards. But I hope that ownership has a little more pride than that and a little more concern for the fans than that and is willing to TRY to put a reputable product on the field.

      I still don't think they should have signed Greinke last year but I do think they could have afforded to do so.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Okay, tone it down a bit everyone. There's no need to start getting snippy over this.
    1. johnnydakota's Avatar
      johnnydakota -
      I was suggesting that it would get us to 2011 attendence or more, let me ask you this,
      would you like a rotation of Grienke, Sanchez,Nolasco, Hughes and Correia?
      would you say that is a legit rotation top to bottom? well the only thing that keeps us from having it is money, (that wont be saved) that the shiny new stadium brought in
    1. Major Leauge Ready's Avatar
      Major Leauge Ready -
      Quote Originally Posted by JB_Iowa View Post
      I wasn't a fan of them trying to sign Greinke last year primarily because of the timing but also because I'm just not a big fan of his.

      But trying to pin all of this down in dollars and cents based on how many wins a pitcher may produce and how much $$$ each win will produce (or how many tickets it will sell) just seems like a ridiculous exercise to me.

      As I recall, the Houston Astros were one of the most (if not the most) profitable teams in baseball last year ... despite going 51-111 and having an opening day payroll of less than $27m.

      If everything just comes down to $$$, then obviously that is the way to go. Virtually no risk and great financial rewards. But I hope that ownership has a little more pride than that and a little more concern for the fans than that and is willing to TRY to put a reputable product on the field.

      I still don't think they should have signed Greinke last year but I do think they could have afforded to do so.

      The debate is not about pride in product, if Grienke would perform at a high level for 6 years or anything else. A position was taken that this should have been a no brainer because these players would have paid for themselves. That was all I was debating and others offered good input on some of the variables. What is wrong with making an effort to fully understand the positions we take. Personally, I prefer to formulate my positions based on the type of exercise we did here. Anyone can cherry pick information to find information that supports their theory. That’s easy.

      This might seem ridiculous to you or to others not accustomed to this type of analysis but this is a relatively simple exercise. The Twins FO has all of the information necessary to calculate the exact value of each additional fan. We have made assumptions for the contribution margin on concessions and products. They no doubt have that exact figure. We also assumed an average price for unsold tickets. The FO could produce the value of all unsold tickets. Actually, I am sure they have already calculated that value. In other words, this part of the calculation for them involves very little in terms of assumptions. They have all of the data for this portion of the analysis.

      There are three values that are the productive of estimates.

      The first is how many wins these pitchers would supply. Personally, this being a key variable, I would handle this using a most likely case scenario and then provide a profit calculation with best and worst case scenarios while keeping all other variable constant. This would provide a range as well as a solid estimate.

      The second is impact of wins on attendance. This is easy to predict using win/loss and attendance date from previous seasons across the league and specifically for the Twins. Yes, it is an estimate but it would be likely. Actually, this would be an interesting question for Jack Goin. I would bet they can predict the impact on attendance with reasonable accuracy.

      The third is a risk metric for under performance and injury. There is plenty of data based on previous FAs to provide a risk metric. That risk metric would need to be part of the most likely case scenario.
    1. goulik's Avatar
      goulik -
      I would have no idea the full impact of a pitcher on attendance but I can affirm that I have chosen to pay for tickets to watch specific home team pitchers and avoided others. For example, I was a complete Radke Rube for a while and went to see him. Same could be said of Johan.
    1. JB_Iowa's Avatar
      JB_Iowa -
      This thread is an example of one of the things that drives me nuts. The moderators around here do a superhuman job of trying to keep things on track and I am grateful for it.

      But this particular thread was totally derailed by approximately 25 posts on whether signing Greinke and/or Sanchez could result in enough revenue to justify the contract. And what burns me the most is that it can't be proved one way or the other -- it is all hypothetical.

      No one knows with certainty the impact that signing a free agent would have on the team or on the fan base. It is all entirely speculation. There simply aren't any FACTS on which to make the argument -- one way or the other. You can talk about average ticket prices, you can talk about concession sales, etc. BUT no one has any way of PROVING the impact that the player would have after what was then 2 losing seasons in an outdoor stadium that was less than 3 years old.

      To the moderators, I'm sorry for being snarky about this but I am also angry that what started out as a wonderful philosophical discussion of the perceptions of the Front Office's moves this year has deteriorated into what we've seen the last 35 posts or so. And I am sorry that I made post #104 because all it did was add to the steaming pile.
    1. Kwak's Avatar
      Kwak -
      Perhaps there should be a limit on the total number of posts on a thread? After all, how many posts does one need to express their opinion on a specific thread?--there will be more threads in the future.
    1. jay's Avatar
      jay -
      The 2012-13 Offseason, the one that front office haters will forever hold dear.

      Behind the 2017 WS title, you'll hear a few Twins fans proclaiming to other internet posters how this could have been 4 years ago if only TR would have spent his budget or been wise enough to understand the economic implications.

      Signed,
      Post #111
    1. Major Leauge Ready's Avatar
      Major Leauge Ready -
      Quote Originally Posted by JB_Iowa View Post
      This thread is an example of one of the things that drives me nuts. The moderators around here do a superhuman job of trying to keep things on track and I am grateful for it.

      But this particular thread was totally derailed by approximately 25 posts on whether signing Greinke and/or Sanchez could result in enough revenue to justify the contract. And what burns me the most is that it can't be proved one way or the other -- it is all hypothetical.

      No one knows with certainty the impact that signing a free agent would have on the team or on the fan base. It is all entirely speculation. There simply aren't any FACTS on which to make the argument -- one way or the other. You can talk about average ticket prices, you can talk about concession sales, etc. BUT no one has any way of PROVING the impact that the player would have after what was then 2 losing seasons in an outdoor stadium that was less than 3 years old.

      To the moderators, I'm sorry for being snarky about this but I am also angry that what started out as a wonderful philosophical discussion of the perceptions of the Front Office's moves this year has deteriorated into what we've seen the last 35 posts or so. And I am sorry that I made post #104 because all it did was add to the steaming pile.
      I am sorry but we don't agree at all on the relative degree of speculation. The speculation was removed by assuming these players maintined their performance level over the entire 5-6 years. Obviously, this is highly unlikely but there is nothing unusual about testing the best case scenario. It provides the potential upside once you determine the most likely case scenarion. If you add a worst case scenario, you know have the entire range of potential impact and can gauge the relative risk/benefit associated with the transaction.

      The rest of the calculations are very basic financial analysis that is common in virtually every business. If done by a consulting firm, the supporting documentation would be 6-8 pages and very easy to validate. I just finished one for a $184M budget that required 88 pages to document and validate the findings. We would have more than adequate data to predict the financial impact of these acqusitions (assuming best case scenario for health and performance) if we were doing this on a consultative basis for the Twins.

      Yes, it would assume performance but as I stated earlier it perfectly reasonable to assume performance and health as a best case scenario. From there it is subjective as to how much risk the team is willing to take. I am sure Jack Goin has data that would provide an accurate risk metric to calculate the most likely case scenario by adding the risk component. That calculation provides what should be expected. Very common stuff! Plus, any trade or prospect discussion is based on a speculative level of performance. We won't have much to discuss around here if we are to stop discussions that assume a given level of performance.
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