I just read an interesting interview with Rob Antony — the Twins’ assistant GM — and it focused mainly on a hypothetical situation involving “RBI guys.” The question was, if you’re looking to sign a free agent, would you target a guy who had a high RBI total, or a guy with a high slugging percentage?
Antony replied that he would prefer the player with the higher RBI total. “Because you win with runs,” he said. “And I want that guy because you also have the correlation with a better batting average with runners in scoring position – he’s the guy that can step-up, the guy you want at the plate.”
“I think guys are pitched differently when they have a chance to do damage and they can’t make adjustments. Then, sometimes the guy with a bunch of home runs and few RBI with nobody on base, they challenge him, and you look and a lot of those guys do their production with the team behind and they tack it on and enjoy a solo home run in the eighth inning.”
Yeah yeah, Mr Antony, we all hate A-Rod and all those pointless 8th inning homers. (Though I wonder if the people who think 8th inning homers are pointless would rather not have those runs.) Anyway. Not the point.
If a scout or evaluator “sees something” in a guy that says he has the fortitude to hit well in scoring opportunities, that’s one thing. But if it’s a tautological “he’s a run producer because he had a big RBI year” line of reasoning, that’s where the problem is.
There is a non-statistical way of thinking about baseball. I know that because it’s all anybody really knew for 80 years; I also know that because there are still several teams that subscribe to it. The Twins are one of them.
A problem I’ve seen is when the younger statistically-minded community conflates “the non-statistical way of thinking” with “anti-statistically not thinking.”
Whether the Twins are right and Morneau drives in runs because of something intrinsic to him and his ability to make adjustments better than the pitchers he faces, or the numbers are right and Morneau produces runs because he’s a good hitter with a high slugging percentage and he happens to bat behind Mauer and Span who are always on base, well, does it matter? Morneau is still Morneau.
When the Twins are evaluating a player, I’m curious as to how they do it (that’s why I try to hunt down articles like this one that offer a glimpse). Do they watch the hitter in some run-producing situations and see how he handles it and extrapolate based on their experience how he’d do over the course of a season? Or do they do a cursory, limited version of statistical analysis, see a high RBI total at some point, and conclude that this is an RBI guy?
That’s a lot more important to me than the organization actually using modern analysis to their advantage — I want to know that the Twins are actually thinking — whatever their process — as opposed to being fools.
Obviously, the results this decade have been good. It’s working. But I want to keep up my hope that it’ll keep working.2 comments