Drinking the Sabermetric Kool-Aid

The Mets are playing spring baseball, and I don’t know if I trust myself anymore.

Well, hold on. Let me back up and start that over. So it seems to me that you can divide people into two groups:

– Those who liked what the Mets did to their roster this offseason

– Those who did not

I fall into the first group: I’m decidedly a fan of what the Mets did this offseason. Sandy Alderson, JP Ricciardi, Supercomputer Watson, and Paul DePodesta certainly didn’t make the team worse; that alone would have been good enough for me. That they also made some sharp moves (or at least moves I think are sharp) with the limited resources available — bringing in a handful of refurbished arms and useful bench players – pushed the winter into the black. The team is better than it was in October, even if only slightly so, and I think that’s all any fan can expect.

But like Inception, there appears to be a sharp critical divide about the Mets’ offseason. ESPN’s Jayson Stark recently graded their winter work as worthy of a C-. Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman – Mets fans might know him better as “mean baseball Twitter man” — has also been critical of this front office’s offseason approach. So there are some differing opinions, not just those of the big boys of media, but even some Mets fans.

Here’s the thing: Now I’m even starting to doubt myself. I think I like the players the Mets have brought in, I think I like what the team did this winter, but I’m wondering why. Not just because of what someone over at ESPN thinks; I’ve been wondering this for a while. Every minor signing the Mets have made this offseason – and they’ve all been minor signings — I’ve liked. I see the upside. But do I like new guys because I think they’re good . . . or do I like them because the new front office brought them in, and I’m just happily drinking the sabermetric Kool-Aid?

See, at this point last year, I was ragging on the Mets for bringing Mike Jacobs and Gary Matthews Jr., among others, to the team. Part of that was because Jacobs and Matthews were . . . let’s just say they probably shouldn’t have been playing major league baseball. But it was also based on the assumption that, if Omar Minaya was doing something, it was probably a bad idea. I was rooting for the Mets to do well, but that often clashed with my rooting interest against stupidity. So if a player was brought in for reasons that were clearly misguided — like Jacobs and Matthews were — then I kind of wanted them to fail. I didn’t want dumb luck to win, because dumb luck is bound to fail eventually, and the crash only gets uglier the longer it takes. I’d rather they just fail right away and get it over with.

Now I’m worried that, because I’m so excited about the team being run by the SABR Stonecutters, I can’t see any of their mistakes. I think I’m rooting extra hard for Alderson players to do well, looking for their positives, as if it’d be some sort of victory for facts if they did well. I’d love to have goggles that could let me see what I’d be writing if Omar Minaya were running the team and signing the exact same players. Would I be hating on everything?

I think I might. Let’s try the Minaya goggles on Chris Young. Over age 30, shoulder injuries, 18 starts the last two seasons and then declining velocity and strikeout numbers on top of that? Yeah, he sounds promising. Scott Hairston hits home runs and doesn’t get on base – he’s Mike Jacobs in the outfield. Brad Emaus put up a .890 OPS in Las Vegas last season, but the ball flies in the Pacific Coast League like everyone is playing on the Moon. Run his line through the (nerd warning) minor league equivalency calculator and that OPS drops to .678. And then all those scrap heap pitchers — is the team suddenly being run by scavenging Jawas? Did they pick up Chris Capuano because he can speak Bocce?

See how easy that was? I almost miss Minaya.

Only that’s not what I’ve said. I see some negative things about Young, Hairston, Emaus, Capuano, Ronny Paulino, and D.J. Carrasco . . . but I’m pretty sure Sandy Alderson sees those things too. He’s a smarter dude than I am, he knows more about baseball, and he’s been doing this for a long time. So if he sees those drawbacks and brings those players in anyway, he probably has a good reason. Even if that reason is just lack of money and options. Anything the Mets have done this winter, I’ve assumed that they have a good reason for doing so, even if I don’t always get it. I like their offseason moves, but that’s partially because I assume Alderson knows best.

Then again, if you don’t start with the assumption that Alderson knows best – and that’s an assumption I think most Mets fans are operating under — then I could see how the Mets’ offseason looks a little weird. The new front office didn’t fix any of the team’s big problems; they didn’t rebuild, and they didn’t really add on. It wasn’t so much phase one of the plan as it was sitting around waiting for phase one to start — preparing the ship for ludicrous speed, if you will. So if you look at it that way, then yeah, this offseason didn’t go that well. Nothing creative or groundbreaking was done by the SABR Friends. They didn’t even get a chance to dust off the good ol’ abacuses and slide rules.

I’m still cool with the assumption that Alderson knows what he’s doing. I can see the upside of the guys he added: Young and Capuano have been All Stars, Emaus has shown a good batting eye, and Hairston has pop. Also, the 15 or so new guys in big league camp came without much commitment on the organization’s part, which is good for 2012 and beyond. Even if they all stink — and they might — it’s not like any one player is a Vernon Wells, franchise destroying problem. I still like how the Mets’ offseason went.

Or maybe I’m just drinking the sabermetric Kool-Aid. I really can’t tell anymore. At the very least, I know I like it better than the stuff they were serving around here before.


Filed under Columns, Mets, Words

10 responses to “Drinking the Sabermetric Kool-Aid

  1. …Supercomputer Watson, and Paul DePodesta certainly didn’t make the team worse…

    I agree. Didn’t make the team worse but didn’t make it really any better in a significant way. Status Quo and all those other fancy latin words. it’ll be fun watching the Phils and Braves. Mets — not so much.

  2. jho

    I’ve also been drinking the coolaid I think. But I really do see Alderson making the same kind of positive impact that Donnie has on the Knicks. It’s just good to know when your GM is smarter than you. I couldn’t be too sure of that with Omar.

  3. I like what Alderson did and not just because it was him. A lot of the moves were options I wanted to see happen before he was even hired (Young, Capuano) along with some he missed out on (Webb, Duchscherer) so it is refreshing to see a GM thinking like me, if for nothing else than to prove to myself I’m an idiot if it all fails. But I didn’t see any reason to rebuild or and possibility of going after stars (or really anywhere to put them) so treading water for a year was what I wanted more than to do something radical just to please impatient fans and hurt the team in the long run.

  4. Tom

    Alderson and company did exactly what we should have expected they would do. It’s uber-smart, but under the crushing weight of NY media it will be tested. They are positioning themselves this year, stabilizing the ship before they endeavor to move it forward. They know they’ve got serious dead money on the books, and they’re one year away from much of it being lifted. They’ve got the Madoff problem still unsettled; a year from now it will presumably be sorted out. They’re aligning themselves for a rebuilt farm system plus key FA signings after the 2011 season. Mets fans have to keep our heads for 12 months while being in the unenviable position of enduring some belt-tightening, with a view towards the major payoff coming in 2012 and 2013. I’m willing to be patient…and simply hope to win the season series against the Yankees in 2011.

  5. I am sure they are going by historical recovery rates when picking up these scrap heap players. A quick google search finds that the recovery rate of Tommy John surgery is now at 85%-92%, where a successul recovery is deemed as returning to similar abiliies pre and post surgery.

    Based on these numbers, all but one of the pitchers the mets picked up who are Tommy John patients whould return to the form they had before the surgery. The team may suprise if that happens…

  6. Chris Young, if you go by almost any measure of what he did last year, looks like a barely servicable 5 at best.

    If you go by the claim that he spent all last year rebuilding his shoulder – then he might be more then that, and, if Johan comes back midseason, then you only need 10, 15 starts out of your 5.

    And, if Johan doesn’t come back and Chris Young stinks, you see if you are in a race, and then go get something.

    • Patrick Flood

      The way I’ve thought about it, this year’s Mets team is a wobbly Jenga tower. It might fall over, and if it does, then you rebuild it. If it doesn’t, than in the middle of the season, you can go and pick up another starter or whatever. But you need to see how sturdy it is first.

  7. Perhaps my Koolaide is sweetened more than yours; but I certainly see low cost improvements, the rotation? despite their accompanying questions Young(RH) & Capuano(LH) are both likely upgrades over Maine(RH) & Perez(LH), no neither are Santana replacements; however cobsidering the 3Yr disappointment that truly is Santana as a Met with his apex of 16Ws despite so much advertised promise for so much more.
    Personally, I wouldn’t anticipate more than 7 Ws from Santana primarily since his best year was 16 & in a half season post shoulder surgery any more than 7 is too optimistic.
    Certainly Emaus is a ?; but replacing Castillo’s anemic singles only bat, how much of a guarantee do we require esp if Emaus is platooning as I expect w/Murphy.
    Harris & Hairston? Exactly how much should the replacements for Cora & Tatis need to provide? In all, our oldest rostered player is likely to be our most prolific SP(Dickey @ age 36) that’s assuming Isringhausen is a Bison at best @ age 38.

    Essentially this team is not being constituted as a “team to beat”; but as a team that can beat as often as they’re beaten. With the youngest roster in 5 years with the most energetic mngr in nearly 10 yrs the indicators are all GREEN! for good baseball in Flushing. BTW we were pretty much constructed similarly in ’99,’00,’06, no one’s concern or favored competitor.

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