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  • Inside, Outside And Truth

    Bloggers and sabrmetricians are sometimes portrayed as treating players as tumbling dice. It's rhetoric meant to discredit and vilify, but it's not totally without merit. I know this because I think I'm about to treat Kyle Gibson and Chris Colabello as tumbling dice.

    Insiders (players, coaches, etc.) and outsiders (sabrmetrician, bloggers) have vastly different perspective on players and their development in two important ways. First, there is the matter of how much we value our projections. From the outside, we can talk of a player's development curve as an abstraction. We see him as a 22-year-old with an outstanding walk to strikeout ratio and we project him to become a different player four years from now. That projection is a range of possibilities, but it's a statistically backed range. We average them out and derive a destination.

    However, to the player in that development curve, and to the organization responsible for that development curve, there is no range. There is one spot: where he ends up. The range includes success and it includes failure and he can end up in either. That spot is everything. To them, the range means nothing. The average of that range certainly means nothing.

    So the first lesson is that player development curves, which are derived from watching groups of players, mean very little to the individual player or their organization.

    But there is a second and scarier aspect and that surrounds responsibility. We talk about these curves as if the player's progress along it is mandated from some higher forces. But the player and the organization can't count on that. They have to live it. They have to find their way through the obstacles, face the setbacks, make the adjustments.

    There are hundreds of games, thousands of repetitions, and uncounted adjustments for each player. These are what, when we add them all up, constitute improvement. They do not just happen. From the outside, we see a certain inevitability of improvement. But from the inside, improvement is far from inevitable. It is work and it is risk.

    However, there is value in being an outsider, too. There is an objectivity that can be lost while working one's way through the maze from the inside of the curve. Maybe some of those improvements, while not inevitable, are very likely. Maybe there are some basic aspects of being human that we eventually overcome.

    I'm hoping that is the case for Kyle Gibson and Chris Colabello. I talked to each earlier this week about their struggles after they were called up last year. From a distance, I wondered if Gibson thought his struggles were related to arm fatigue after coming back from Tommy John surgery. I wondered if the patience Colabello showed in a few games this week was due to some adjustments he's making in the batters box.

    They both said I was wrong. Instead, they both listed the same problem and that problem was far more basic and human: they had been nervous.

    Here's Gibson when I specifically asked him about wearing down at the end of the year.

    "No, I was just tense. I was not relaxed. I wasn't loose. And I wasn't very aggressive. I fell behind a lot of hitters and when you fall behind guys, big league hitters are pretty good. It makes a big difference.

    "Even in the starts when I struggled, the hitters who I got ahead of, they didn't really have too much success off of me. But I got behind a lot more hitters than I got ahead of. Getting myself in trouble was a lot of that. That's one thing I've worked on this offseason was being more aggressive and throwing more quality strikes.

    "I think some of it is confidence and some of it is just getting comfortable and getting used to your surroundings and playing in front of 30 or 35,000 fans every day. About seven or eight starts in, I realized I was gripping the death out of the ball or the life out of the ball. I wasn't relaxed and I wasn't loose. I'm just now figuring out how to transition that from the bullpens to the game because I've never had to really deal with that kind of adrenaline and excitement. I'm starting to get better at it, but it's still a process."

    This makes perfect sense. I know I'd be nervous. So I wasn't too surprised when later that day Chris Colabello said something very similar

    "I think it's a little bit of everything. In terms of just creating a mindset where you're relaxed, allowing yourself to remember how to slow the game down. I talk about that a lot. Last year, coming into this year, that was important to me. Obviously, having been around some guys here for a while now, getting a little bit more comfortable, and trying to know who I am, and them knowing who I am as well. It's more about approaching your at-bats with a little calm."

    Both players provide a perspective from inside the development curve. Anxiety is one of the challenges with which they have to wrestle. They feel like they're making progress with that. They feel like that progress is a big part of changing where they land on the development curve for the better.

    But from the outside, I don't know if I believe what the dice are telling me. I believe they are being totally honest. I know they have put a lot more thought into their development than I. I know they have a lot more data from which to base their conclusions. I believe that discomfort was a factor in their struggles.

    But ultimately, I still wonder if Colabello had trouble making adjustments to big league stuff because it's hard for 30-year-olds physiologically to make adjustments to big league stuff. And I wonder if Gibson wasn't as aggressive because he was getting hit when he was aggressive, and he was getting hit because his arm had been through a hell of a couple of years.

    It is also not surprising to me that neither player would concentrate on these factors because both are out of their control. Colabello cannot become 24. He can only approach each at-bat more mindfully, which he is demonstrating. Gibson couldn't do anything about what his arm has been through, other than resting it this offseason, which he did.

    The players don't care about those things for the same reason the bloggers and sabremetricians treat them as dice: you don't focus on on that which you cannot control. Both groups, inside and outside, look for truth based on their position in the curve. I suspect the truth lies somewhere in between.
    This article was originally published in blog: Inside, Outside And Truth started by John Bonnes
    Comments 46 Comments
    1. Dman's Avatar
      Dman -
      That is a really nice article. Your take on this resonates with my own. I do think the players are right to some extent a lot of what happens is mental, but you are also correct that training and talent come in to play because the better those things are the better they are able to have success and improve their confidence. I think you are dead on in your analysis but that is just my opinion I am sure others will have a different take.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      That's my whole thing. Age is just one factor in prospect rankings, but it is overemphasized. People develop at different levels. People get opportunities at different times.

      This is a great article because these are two very good people who are very thoughtful. Talking to Chris Colabello is an experience, and you can't help but pull for him. Gibson is just a tremendous person. And they are both very good baseball players who are capable of helping the Twins.
    1. oldguy10's Avatar
      oldguy10 -
      While Chris Colabello may be a good person that does not translate into him being able to help the Twins, I do not think. How many posters agree with Seth's assessment of Chris? To me if and when you put people like this on a MLB roster you are heading for another season of 90 plus losses. Gibson on the other hand has potential to help the team, Colabello does not.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Tremendous article. John is likely to get this one picked up, republished and broadly requoted. He gets to the basic tug of war between the "fantasy" and "reality" sides of baseball analysis, development and predictability. The fairly cold and sterile world of Peter Brand versus the day to day, year to year mental and physical grind, seat-of-the-pants, trial-by-error world of Art Howe. The search for the "Truth" will always remain elusive and never approach "Absolute", given the human dimension.
    1. Dman's Avatar
      Dman -
      Quote Originally Posted by oldguy10 View Post
      While Chris Colabello may be a good person that does not translate into him being able to help the Twins, I do not think. How many posters agree with Seth's assessment of Chris? To me if and when you put people like this on a MLB roster you are heading for another season of 90 plus losses. Gibson on the other hand has potential to help the team, Colabello does not.
      While I agree with you that being a good person does not necessarily translate to helping the Twins there are some things we need to be mindful of when talking about CC. Chris was the MVP of his AAA league last year. He had an amazing season. If CC is as bad as you claim then what does that say about the rest of players in AAA? They must really be bad? I understand that CC's age makes him a tough sell especially for a team looking to the future but I don't think you can just ignore his talent and potential either.
    1. PseudoSABR's Avatar
      PseudoSABR -
      Really nice article. Sometimes we lose sight of the human susceptibilities in development. I'm glad to hear that Gibson didn't feel worn down or overused.
    1. Hosken Bombo Disco's Avatar
      Hosken Bombo Disco -
      I do agree with Seth that you want to pull for him and I think Collabello could help us if we pick his spots/at-bats smartly, if the team has useful data to apply to help them pick their spots. I do agree with John too, that just being away from the very top level through the prime years of the 20s is a physiological disadvantage.

      I agree with the player in the Gibson instance. Gibson's appearances in AAA in 2013 do not signal someone rehabbing an injury. Six innings per start and two complete games. 6 IP per start is what the guys in the majors were averaging. This will be a good year for Gibson. Bring him north!
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      so basically, players need to come up to the majors before they are needed, so they can get their feet wet, is that how I should read Gibson's comments? they should maybe come up before they are ready, just to get the human part out of the way? Or maybe I'm just reading it with my lens, my context on the world.
    1. Marta Shearing's Avatar
      Marta Shearing -
      So is it fair to say that "clutch" players are "clutch" because they are able to conquer their anxiety in "clutch" situations?
    1. birdwatcher's Avatar
      birdwatcher -
      Nicely articulated, John. I would imagine the least objective party regarding a player's progress would be the player. We outsiders lack the information necessary to gauge the present state of things and to predict the development path, because all we have to go on are some stats and the comments we glean from people with firsthand knowledge and each other. Personally, I discount interpretations and conclusions from players and outsiders.

      On the other hand, the field staffs' paychecks are based on accurate current assessments and the future progress of the players. They are paid to be objective, and surely account for all those things we outsiders know almost nothing about: personality traits, good and bad, intelligence, internal drive, etc. Unfortunately for us, we only get snippets. Delmon Young's A**hole Quotient was off the charts. Don't you think that privately, his managers and coaches would tell you that this is the single most important factor in his squandering of his talent?
    1. Dantes929's Avatar
      Dantes929 -
      Good article. I think athletes at the level generally have a pretty good ego but it is easy to understand a guy like Hicks being overmatched by Verlander and Scherzer early on and then start 2nd guessing himself. I think nerves and anxiety have probably derailed quite a few players careers, especially the marginal ones.
    1. JB_Iowa's Avatar
      JB_Iowa -
      Thanks for the perspective. Have to wonder if you'd added Aaron Hicks to your interviews if you wouldn't have heard something similar. And Brian Dozier, part 1.

      Please republish this article or bring it back to the top of the comments when we see the (almost inevitable) struggles of prospects as they come to the ML club over the next year or two. While some may be better able to control the nerves, that would seem to be a pretty common reaction.
    1. dwintheiser's Avatar
      dwintheiser -
      Nice article, John. But as a counter-point, I'd like to dig up some ancient wisdom:

      "No single drop of rain believes it is to blame for the flood."

      From the perspective of Colabello and Gibson, their approach makes perfect sense -- as you say, they can only be really concerned over factors they can control, and working on those allows them to be productive and perhaps even make progress. They're raindrops, and they exist in their own environments.

      But as an organization, the Twins need to be concerned with the flood. Because that's real, too.

      Colabello and Gibson are absolutely data points -- they are who they are and their ceilings and floor as individual players are what they are. But they're not necessarily outliers -- there's no guarantee that, just because Colabello was a AAA MVP last year that he's going to be able to contribute this year. And Gibson might well still be regaining arm strength and re-learning how to pitch with his new arm.

      Sabermetrics can't tell you exactly what Colabello and Gibson are going to do this year. But it's as good as tool as we have to tell you what they're likely to do this year, and if there are other options likely to do as well or better.
    1. Dantes929's Avatar
      Dantes929 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Marta Shearing View Post
      So is it fair to say that "clutch" players are "clutch" because they are able to conquer their anxiety in "clutch" situations?
      I think it is fair to say but I think it is just scratching the surface. I think you need to conquer your anxiety to perform in the clutch but that doesn't mean you will succeed because there is always the guy on the other side as well and what you do is largely determined by what they do. Also, is clutch determined by hitting the ball hard or by actually getting a hit which are two different things. Of course you also have the situation of two players facing each other who are not able to conquer their anxiety to allow them to play their best but one side always has to win and one loses. Colabello says he didn't conquer his anxiety but he still had 7 homers and some of them were in the "clutch". Kirk Gibson was considered clutch but he is still going to fail against Eckersly way more often than succeed. I think some of it is just happenstance.
    1. Dantes929's Avatar
      Dantes929 -
      " To me if and when you put people like this on a MLB roster you are heading for another season of 90 plus losses". I think every roster has a guy like Colabello. A guy that earned his way to the majors by his performance in the minors and then has not succeeded as well as you would wish. Every roster has major league players on it that would not be MVP of AAA if that is where they happened to be playing. I like Colabello at this point just as much as I like Kubel. Whether nerves or happenstance a player may fail in his first stint and then thrive the next opportunity. I don't care if Chris makes the team out of spring training or not but if he plays at AAA and earns his way back to the majors then he deserves his shot whether it is for a 90 loss team or the world champs.
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      What Gibson said reminded me of early Frank Viola. In his first year he was clearly over-anxious and didn't pitch very well. After he learned to relax, he became Sweet Music.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Quote Originally Posted by oldguy10 View Post
      While Chris Colabello may be a good person that does not translate into him being able to help the Twins, I do not think. How many posters agree with Seth's assessment of Chris? To me if and when you put people like this on a MLB roster you are heading for another season of 90 plus losses. Gibson on the other hand has potential to help the team, Colabello does not.
      These are two independent things. He is a good person, but so am I and I can't help the twins. Colabello is a big powerful right-handed bat who put up huge numbers in AAA, in a league that isn't user-friendly. Maybe he won't be a star or maybe even a regular, but he can help an MLB team in a role.
    1. Sconnie's Avatar
      Sconnie -
      Thanks for the great article John. It's great to get the reminder that we're all human beings and the data can only take you so far. Variables are both obvious and inconspicuous, but they aren't variables to the people whom we write about.
    1. dougkoebernick's Avatar
      dougkoebernick -
      Roy Hobbs wasn't a young guy either and he hit the stitches off the ball.
    1. oldguy10's Avatar
      oldguy10 -
      In what role can Chris Colabello possibly help outside of pinch hitting and DH against southpaws. He assuredly cannot help in his defensive outfield play, can he? Again as I said before and maintain strongly peopling a roster with folks like him guarantees a team totaling 90 loss seasons. I wish Chris well but in Rochester not in Minnesota as that is simply not going to happen. If he were to have had a decent MLB career it would have happened five years ago or so.
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