A contrarian perspective on Correia, Twins Sabermetrics use and the Front Office
by, 11-14-2013 at 02:04 AM (1371 Views)
(I'm going to start this off with some generalized statements about where I'm coming from and why I'm writing this. Feel free to scroll down until you see the big red “TL;DR”. I like to think I've got some insight or can provide a bit of entertainment, but that belief hardly makes me unique amongst people who post on the internet. The footnotes also get a little loose.)
As sports fans, we've become used to hearing a viewpoint,statement or assertion repeated ad nauseum. Twitter, Facebook, Skip Bayless, forums such as TD, talk radio and click trolling columnists all contribute to the cacophony. The noise to signal ratio is frequently atrocious, and yet little by little, “conventional wisdom” forms from the opinions and becomes the bedrock of acceptable conversation. This post is not written to complain about the process, mind you. Frankly, the public's insatiable appetite to discuss, pontificate and absorb information about Sport that gives it such an appeal to me. I have a feeling many of those posting on this site agree. Sports, and the common opinions about them, become a cultural touchstone-allowing immediate connection across generation gaps, racial boundaries, gender, classes and any other obstacle society may put between people.
I find how this wisdom forms to be fascinating, personally, and I'm even more interested by how local stimuli and self-selection fuel formation... and occasionally transform it into a fermentation process. Sometimes conventional wisdom can be accurate and widespread (Adrian Peterson is an elite NFL running back, the Twins generally have more pitch to contact guys in their rotation than they do strikeout machines), other times it can be accurate and localized(Brian Dozier plays very good defense at second).
Most intriguing though, is when “conventional wisdom” or “common sense” is either completely wrong or vastly over-generalized. Usually, this is most visible when new information is processed by someone who has already determined their opinion on a topic and are examining the information through that lens. Sometimes,this misinformation is held by a widespread group of people (Adrian Peterson needs a quarterback who can make defenses pull the 8th man out of the box if he wants to have a successful game/season) and other times it can be held very locally (Michael Baumann of Crashburn and Jonah Keri of ESPN have had very funny reactions to seeing Twins fans respond to tweets/posts containing Mauer praise. I've removed them to condense the post. Happy to post pictures upon request though, for anyone who missed it in August).1
In (mostly) lurking TwinsDaily since inception, I've seen all sorts of things work their way into becoming accepted opinion. Somethings are absolutely accurate (Gardy's unwillingness to platoon players, Delmon's utter inability to play defense) while others are definitely not (The Twins do not immediately jettison players with“personality” even when it negatively impacts the clubhouse-Pioneer Press has hinted at it and I believe that one of the Star Tribune guys has actually said/tweeted it, but Danny Valencia did not get along with some of the players in the clubhouse we might consider more milquetoast. When circumstances necessitated a choice between the players, Danny was kept).
The most entertaining to me are debatable premises held up by using certain readings (possibly misreadings) of information to support them. Those are what I'd like to cover here.My hope is that this thread generates some discussion. No specific forums poster is being called out by this post-but I'm trying to avoid strawmen so these will be views that I've seen expressed on the board. I will warn the reader that since I've put considerable time and effort into writing this, any reductivist/tribalist comments or arguments below (ranging from “stat nerd” to “front office apologist”to “wrong kind of fan” and everywhere in between) will greatly strain my civility. Successful forums meet effort with effort. Dying forums are drowned by attempts to shut down discussion.
Without further ado, and avoiding the lowest hanging of fruit(“Mauer's soft!”), I present to you:
Theme 1: The Twins Front Office is averse to/dismissive of/ignorant about Sabermetrics.
This one is rampant. It usually coincides with posts about the team being stuck in the past. Please don't get me wrong-there is plenty of evidence that the Twins aren't industry leaders on the SABR front, but they also may not be as far behind as many believe. Dissecting two of the more common citations I've seen for this belief, we begin with:
Item 1: Terry Ryan on Kevin Correia
“Well,I always go back to the scouting evaluation, people that have seen him, and we saw him a lot with the Pirates, and certainly before that when he was with the Padres and the Giants. We like his makeup, he has stuff, we had evaluators tell us and me in particular that this guy is better than the numbers. “
In a certain light, especially with already established opinions about the front office, this quote is excellent evidence to prove that when it comes down to it, TR and the front office will routinely overlook statistical analysis in favor of scouting. Looking back at the box scores of Correia's worst starts of the season, however, I think I see where Terry was coming from. Even as an unabashed fan of advanced stats I think he has a point. A quote from Correia, late in September, started me down this path.
"There are just a few innings I'd like to take back, besides that, I think I had a good year."
Looking back at his 10 worst starts (judged by WPA, ~1/3 of his year) I found something interesting. He held opponents scoreless in35 of his 53 innings (roughly two of every three) pitched. There were only four innings in which he gave up just 1 run to his opponents (in three of them, he was pulled. The other was a solo homerun by Jose Bautista). In only one of those games did opponents score on him in three separate innings.
This is to say- Kevin Correia has a crooked numbers problem. In the 14 innings that opponents hung crooked numbers on Correia ('4' is sort of crooked, right?), 2 of them had Correia giving up 3 runs, 1 giving up 4, 1 giving up 5 and 2 giving up 6. If, in those 6 innings, Correia gave up only 2 runs instead of letting the inning spiral out of control, his ERA on the year would have dropped to 3.45. There'd be debates about if he was the FA acquisition of the year.2
Obviously, there is some note to be made about sample size. The converse is also true-if he had given up an additional 15 runs throughout the year, his ERA would have risen by a point. In baseball, you didn't get mulligans for bad innings. I simply found it notable that 6 innings (3% of his total IP) spread across 10 games had such an impact on his end of year stats. And that brings me back to the original Terry quote.
A scout watching one of those games would report that Correia had a very effective start, were it not for one big inning. When looking at acquisition (where makeup, personality, etc come into play)-the organization would ask itself if Correia had the ability to stop an inning from spiraling out of control and if he could avoid the mostly mental pitching errors3 that will drown an inning as fast as struggling in quicksand4.
Those numbers suggest that if Correia can find a way to get himself out of those innings5 (or if the defense in the corner outfield starts turning in-the-gap doubles into long outs and singles... a distinct possibility if we never see a Willingham-Doumit/Parmalee outfield combo again), his value would increase dramatically
Posited Theory: Given that I'm unaware of a stat that measures scoreless innings vs big innings6, I think it's reasonable for one to argue that Correia has pitched better than his numbers-without being anti-SABR or opposed to statistical analysis.
Item 2: Rob Antony doesn't know FIP!
This one has been kicking around for a while. SI did an article,Gleeman lit up a blog post about it, so Neyer called up Assistant GM Rob Antony. Evidently Parker wants credit when he has amazing interviews:
Gleeman's write-up (here: http://aarongleeman.com/2010/04/01/s...ether-at-last/) was based on my March 2010 interview in Ft Myers (here:http://www.startribune.com/sports/tw.../88887222.html) which Rob Neyer then picked up. The remainder of the interview (including the FIP part) is at my former site OverTheBaggy which now redirects here.
In basic summary: During a 2010 interview, Rob Antony guessed that FIP meant “First strike in Inning Pitched”. While a hilarious guess, he was quite wrong. It means Fielding Independent Pitching7. This has been red meat for those who dislike the front office's POV on analysis/SABR ever since. I find it curious. If Jack Goin is still kicking around the board, he may be able to provide more insight on the topic, but I'm interested in how forums members actually think front offices in Major League Baseball work. Is it the assumption/working belief here that all members of a Baseball Operations/Player Personnel department have their jobs focused around player personnel? I lack firsthand experience, but that seems off to me.
Essentially every story I see involving Rob Antony doing something has him involved in contract negotiations, the mechanics of trade deals and arbitration. Additionally, nearly every story I see on negotiations involving the Twins that names a member of the Front Office names Rob. I've yet to see his name on any stories regarding skill evaluations for any FA, draft pick or international prospect.If I were to liken it to an auto company- would we expect the VP of Marketing at Ford to know the specs and sourcing for the bolts holding the engine in place on the F150? If Rob's job is primarily(or solely) negotiations and contracts, would it be reasonable to consider advanced metrics outside of the scope of his job? In essence, it was four years ago, the organization has since elevated Jack to a greater role and, based on his answers in his thread, it sounds like the analytics department is growing.
Posited Theory: Don't get me wrong, the flub was certainly embarrassing and quite telling of Rob's knowledge (4 years ago) or lack thereof of advanced metrics. But if Rob's job only tangentially involves player evaluation and we have additional evidence in the form of greater resources going to enhance statistical analysis in the Front Office-does the Neyer interview tell us that much about the front office of the Twins as a whole? If it did at the time, do those findings still hold true now?
Theme 2: The Twins are an Old Boys Network and need fresh ideas and staff members
Item 1: Rick Anderson, Joe Vavra, Etc.
There certainly has been limited turnover in the coaching staff under Gardenhire. While I think that we, as fans, generally have very limited knowledge of what coaches do and the impact they have-the last 3 years has provided plenty of ammunition for those seeking changes. I'll leave Vavra alone for now.8 But Rick Anderson. Rick Anderson is where Twins Arguments go to find agreement. He got lucky with Johan, many say, but has otherwise been terrible as a pitching coach. Or has passed his prime.
But how does one measure a successful pitching coach? Are they the ones whose teams consistently have the lowest ERA? The most wins? The highest K Rate? The lowest walk rate? Personally, I find it useless to try and divine a pitching coach's impact from stats. I'm more than willing to listen if anyone has a method they like... but trying to analyze the impact of any variable without a baseline or a control makes for pretty fuzzy analysis that tends to read like a Rorschach Blot, confirming the belief of the analyst.
To the extent that it's possible to evaluate a coaching staff from the outside, I'd lean towards looking for pitchers who had increased success after leaving the team- or who came in successful and promptly cratered. Certainly, David Ortiz, the platooned Danny Valencia, Carlos Gomez, JJ Hardy and a mess of others can be pointed to as evidence of potential Hitting Coach failures. But what about for Rick Anderson, since he started in 2002?
Since he began, the Twins have had the following meaningful starters leave or join the team (I'm sparing the explanations because they're way too long. Happy to post any of them if people would like to see or disagree with my scoring)9 :
Point for Anderson (Outperformed reasonable expectations with theTwins or tanked upon departure):
Carlos Silva. Boof Bonser, Johan Santana, Carl Pavano
Kyle Loshe, Joe Mays, Kevin Slowey, Scott Baker, Vance Worley(SSS), RA Dickey (Knuckleball)
Point against Anderson (Improved noticeably after release/trade):
Matt Garza, Francisco Liriano
The Twins rotation has been absolutely miserable over the last three years. I'll happily grant that it appears that Rick Anderson has been ineffective at helping players come back from arm surgeries and injuries-at least in the first year back. That's hardly a complaint unique to him, and I'm not aware of any organizations known for their surgery rehabbing prowess (though Tampa seems to have hit an extended run without injury at all. Some say 2%, others try to assign logic to random chance. I'll not argue with either). The bottom line, however, is that the power arms drafted or traded for over the last six years either haven't made it to the team yet (Berrios, Reliever/Starter Conversion Crew, Meyer, Stewart, May), are too fresh to truly grade out (Gibson) or flamed out in the minors (Shooter Hunt, Guiterrez, Guerra, etc). I have a tough time pinning any of that on Anderson.
Posited Theory: For the folks who have been in the big leagues over his tenure, I find it skewing in his favor. Feel free to disagree,but I'd love seeing the compelling reason that Anderson has meaningfully contributed to the dumpster fire of the rotation over the last three years and that he should be shouldering the blame, no player personnel, medical and luck.
Item 2: Bill Smith
Walked into a situation rife with potential (and a few pitfalls), was struck by three monumental injuries (Nathan, Morneau, Mauer)10 and in some cases compounded problems with his reactions (Ramos-for-Capps, 2011 and the Drew Butera Show). If a few other posters here weren't doing such a good job of it, I'd have fought against the “Bill Smith had an awful tenure” logic in this post, but I will address his continued presence (I believe this was in the Corrigan thread). Again, I would imagine that Jack would have insight here, but the only places I see Bill's name appear in news stories lately is regarding the new facility in Lee County.
Posited Theory: Bill Smith was pretty well regarded for business and group management acumen. He did not work out as a general manager. An employee who committed no misconduct and who was willing to be demoted back to his still-open previous job, at which he was successful, would only be fired for symbolic reasons (unless there was the belief that he actually would rock the boat). Symbolic terminations when demotion is an option makes me queasy.
I hope the read was enjoyable, and more importantly, enlightening. Turns out I had to turn this into a blog post instead of a forums post due to length. I could also probably use a hobby. I know at least a couple of the posited theories may be controversial enough to spark some discussion-and I hope they do! If there's any interest, I may do a followup. Possible ideas floating around include hidden benefits from Pelfrey's time here, the value of strikeouts (thanks Mackey), and analyzing the uptick in SpiritofVodkaDave's posting since the Derosa retirement announcement. Regardless, enjoy.
Note: I apologize for any spacing issues above. The "restore autosaved content" button completely saved me-but had the nasty side effect of merging a few words together in every sentence. I think I got them all.
1 Sometimes it happens with small self-selected groups of people across the country. I pray none of you have the misfortune of getting into a discussion about Football with a casual friend or complete stranger and hearing a sentence begin with "Everybody knows Black Quarterbacks...". Yet I'd wager many of you have. Or I just have a face that appeals to casual racists. Regardless, for them-that's "common knowledge".
2Fans in Kansas City would have been irate that Dayton Moore was too cheap to put up the money to sign him and get the Royals into the playoffs.
3 He's a veteran pitcher, but most 40 year olds you ask would have a list of things that they wish they knew when they were 30. There's still time to mature and grow as a player. Of course, if you ask a 10 year old, he'll try to figure out how a 30 year old could make it to the mound without his walker. There's also a very easy USAFChief joke in here somewhere.
5Yes, I'm aware that strikeouts are a perfect way to do that.
6Though if someone would like to provide me a usable data set, or do the work themselves, I'd love to see whether a pitcher throwing 6 1 run innings and 3 shutout innings is a more or less valuable way to get to a 6 ERA than 2 3 run innings and 6 shutout innings. And it should have a cool name. Like TOOTBLAN or OOPS.
7As opposed to xFIP, which is Fielding and Pitching Independent Pitching. But maybe I just need someone to explain the rationale behind normalizing Home Runs. Please though, PMs only. Don't ruin the thread!
8 Though I'll admit that I'm troubled by the across-the-board strikeout rate increase for the 2013 lineup under Brunansky... including a lot swinging for the fences Ks late in games where the Twins could have tied the game or taken the lead with a single or even sacrifice fly.
9 It's probably for the best. I had a wildly inappropriate joke about Dusty Baker feelings towards Francisco Liriano's 2013 pitch mix and slider frequency. It would definitely have been redacted for adult situations.
10Is there precedent for losing such a contingent in two years? 2 MVPs in the primes of their careers and an elite closer-all without red flags for concussion, catastrophic leg weakness or arm destruction.