Be the first to collect four leftfielders without knocking over Mr. Tippet!
Tippet spoke in August at a seminar called Sabermetrics, Scouting and the Science of Baseball in a Boston University lecture hall that’s a five-minute walk from Fenway Park exactly three weeks before the Red Sox traded Crawford.
He and James had opposite viewpoints on how Crawford would fare. What follows is one of the more revelatory accounts you’ll find of a leading organization’s thought process and approach to evaluation, as told by Tippett.
“The defensive thing, it’s an interesting question, because, we don’t always agree within our organization. And I’m glad about that. … On this one, Bill James, who’s sitting right over there, and I disagreed pretty fundamentally.
Bill argued that Fenway Park would mostly negate Carl Crawford’s defensive value because he’d be playing 20 feet closer to home plate and reaction time would be diminished and his skills would to some degree be wasted in that environment.
I argued the opposite. I argued that we still play half our games on the road, so at least half of his defensive value is still there. And then I did a study showing the distribution of batted balls around Fenway, and concluded that, for the medium and shallow balls, he would still have his defensive ability. And although his range might be reduced and he’s playing closer to home plate, so would everybody else’s range be reduced. So, relative to other players we could play out there, his range was still going to be better. And I concluded that we still retained I think 85 or 90 percent of his defensive value in that environment.
So we had Bill saying most of it will go away, me saying most of it will stay. And then he goes out and has a year where according to most of the defensive metrics, he was about an average left fielder. And so far it looks like Bill was right and I was dead wrong. I’m not willing to rule on that yet, time will tell. But it’s a really interesting question and we did our best to figure that out before we made the signing. So far, it hasn’t worked out the way I thought it would.”
The trade came 21 days later.
...That raises the question of how much stock can be put into minor league fielding statistics. Major league data is indeed more comprehensive, James said. Therefore, Bradley’s case is particularly reliant on the partnership between scouting and stats comes into play.
“But I mean, we trust our scouts and I trust our scouts,” James said. “And our scouts say that he’s an exceptional outfielder. His speed is not the level that Ellsbury was at when he was a kid, when he was young, but his ability to read the ball and react is at an exceptional level, is what our scouts tell them. And I believe them.”
..Bradley Jr., however, could be more of an open book because of his youth. By extension — not per James’ direct words — he could be more adaptable than Shane Victorino as well.
“He’s a young player, and he’s going to go out and figure out how, he’s going to be asking himself … ‘how do I do this job?’” James said. “Whereas the guy who’s been in the majors for a long time, [thinks] ‘this is how I play this position’ and he doesn’t have the same flexibility. It may be that Jackie will learn to be valuable defensively in left field in Boston you have to shade toward center more because that’s where you want to be for the opportunity to run down balls. I don’t know.” .