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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Feeding the Monster: Mnookin: The Times weighs in with another boneheaded Sox story

It seems Mnookin has found another target…

I’ve spent a fair amount of time speaking with those Stats Inc. “observers.” They are, for the most part, college kids who are given little training and are paid poorly to sit in the stands and carve up the field into zones belonging to each defensive position. The problem is, those zones are about as reliable as Mel Gibson once he’s gotten a few drinks in him. (Right, Leary?) To give Stats Inc’s P-B-P info this much weight is as dumb as, say, giving Derek Jeter the Gold Glove because you think he looks good in the field. Smart observers — and smart teams — make every effort to create their own defensive metrics, and those same observers have made cogent arguments as to why their work should not, on the whole, be considering overly reliable.

Repoz Posted: March 21, 2007 at 12:39 PM | 39 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: red sox

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   1. jonm Posted: March 21, 2007 at 02:01 PM (#2315205)
Figuring out how to measure the defensive value of left fielders in Fenway is a tough analytic problem. That being said, I don't think that Mnookin's post does anything to further that discussion. Mnookin is seeming to become more and more of a "Boston sportswriter" as time goes by and I mean that in the bad Dave Egan way. He seems to have a particular blind spot with regard to Ortiz. He can't seem to admit that Ortiz's lack of a defensive position does have an impact upon Ortiz's overall value. Still, it's not as if having both Manny and Ortiz on the team, defensive issues withstanding, is that big of a problem to have.
   2. wmt Posted: March 21, 2007 at 02:13 PM (#2315210)
Ugh, can we limit the Red Sox Front Office Mouthpieces to one? Mnookin, take a break; Gammons already has that gig.
   3. Cris E Posted: March 21, 2007 at 02:15 PM (#2315212)
Still, it's not as if having both Manny and Ortiz on the team, defensive issues withstanding, is that big of a problem to have.


If you're going to have more than one guy you'd rather not send to the field, then Boston is about the best place in major league baseball to do it. They've got first, the DH, and the smallest left field imaginable to stash bad gloves. While it's always nice to have your guys play well both ways, not everyone can. The Sox are smart enough to recognise the potential benefits of their park and match them with the strengths of their players, so hats off to them. In spite of their recent success, there were many years when I wished my Twins could have been a little more flexible when faced with the D or O question.
   4. RB in NYC (Now Semi-Retired from BBTF) Posted: March 21, 2007 at 02:26 PM (#2315224)
there were many years when I wished my Twins could have been a little more flexible when faced with the D or O question
You have to give them some credit for last year, when they managed to begin the season with a left side of the infield that offered neither O nor D
   5. covelli chris p Posted: March 21, 2007 at 02:27 PM (#2315226)
They've got first, the DH, and the smallest left field imaginable to stash bad gloves.

relative to other parks, 1b defense is very important in fenway due to the big right field and the way the gradual curve of hte right field fence allows balls to get into the corner--the opposite, however, is true of third base--the fence in back of the 3b ball boy does a great job of deflecting balls down the line directly to the shortstop, turning doubles into singles.
   6. jim in providence Posted: March 21, 2007 at 02:32 PM (#2315231)
How bad would Manny be at first? I'm thinking pretty bad, but he seems a little more nimble than Ortiz.
   7. Toolsy McClutch Posted: March 21, 2007 at 02:37 PM (#2315236)
I don't know Youks' D at all, but I actually believe Youks in LF, Manny at 1B > Manny in LF, Youks at 1B. Maybe just on the road or something though.

Again, I don't know Youks, but Manny is a disaster with the glove.
   8. GGC Posted: March 21, 2007 at 02:43 PM (#2315241)
Youkilis played some LF during the last two months last year.

Rosenheck is the Primate who digs Dave Concepcion, right? I didn't know that he was a Timesman.
   9. covelli chris p Posted: March 21, 2007 at 02:44 PM (#2315242)
i don't think youks would be any better than manny in left, unless he finds a way to climb the wall and catch all those balls in his zone that manny couldn't get to.
   10. jim in providence Posted: March 21, 2007 at 02:51 PM (#2315247)
I don't know how any non-FP/ZR metrics rate Youklis, but he certainly looks solid at first. Solid, assured, with the occasional diving stop of low LDs. But then it's not surprising that a guy who could handle third at the ML level would be able to transition to first. I'd be surprised of Y. couldn't at least make a decent showing in left, so there might a net benefit as long as Manny wasn't awful at first (and assuming he could *learn* first - the failed Piazza experiment suggests that it's not as easy as just getting a big ol' glove and standing near the bag). Even if there was a net gain on defense, however, implementing such a realignment would be tricky. For one thing, Manny's currently wrapped up in trying to move his Jenn-air grill, so he might not appreciate the distraction.

Indeed, if he does sell his grill, he may just retire from baseball altogether.
   11. pkb33 Posted: March 21, 2007 at 03:10 PM (#2315267)
He can't seem to admit that Ortiz's lack of a defensive position does have an impact upon Ortiz's overall value.

That's not really right, though...it's important to separate out how they use him from his skills.

Ortiz is an adequate 1B, but by no means good. He's below average, but he's also better than (say) Jason Giambi there and a couple of other no-glove types. The bigger reason he doesn't play there more often is that the Sox seem to believe he's an injury risk there and thus, that it's better to play him there more sparingly.

Now, you can argue that this impacts his overall value. At the same time, many people shorthand that to "he should lose points in value discussions because he's usually at DH" and that's not really right, either...or at least, it's limited to backwards-looking analysis.
   12. jonm Posted: March 21, 2007 at 03:52 PM (#2315301)
That's not really right, though...it's important to separate out how they use him from his skills.


True, to a point, but I differ than you in terms of "backwards-looking analysis." In other words, I don't mind taking value points off because he's a DH.

I had a problem with this quote (from Posnanski's blog):

Who do you think is the best player in the division?

David Ortiz. There's a good argument to be made that the best player should also play in the field, but that argument doesn't hold up here. Pedro was the best player in the league in the 1999-2000 era, and Papi is now. He's the most fun to watch, he makes his teammates better, he changes the complexion of every game when the Red Sox enter the 8th or 9th down a couple of runs. Someday we'll look back and realize that, over the last four years, we all witnessed something truly incredible.


Mnookin's "analysis" there, just like his claim that Ortiz needs extra-time to study his previous at-bats (in this post), strikes me as rather simple-minded, fanboy tripe.
   13. GGC Posted: March 21, 2007 at 03:58 PM (#2315308)
OK, Rosenheck's article is that article that sparked that long thread over the weekend. I haven't gotten around to that thread yet and may never get there.
   14. Brian Posted: March 21, 2007 at 03:59 PM (#2315309)
he's also better than (say) Jason Giambi there

Uh, no.
   15. Padgett Posted: March 21, 2007 at 04:02 PM (#2315310)
Now, you can argue that this impacts his overall value.
That's just the thing. Here and in the AL East preview for Posnanski's blog, Mnookin's man-crush on Ortiz seems to be such that he's unwilling to entertain reasonable analyses of his value. It's almost as if any criticism of Ortiz's perceived status as a clutch demigod amounts to a personal affront to Mnookin and, vicariously, the rest of Red Sox Nation. His reference to "dyed-in-the-wool fanboys," then, is actually kind of funny.
   16. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: March 21, 2007 at 04:10 PM (#2315319)
his claim that Ortiz needs extra-time to study his previous at-bats

Not that I necessarily believe this, but if Ortiz really needs extra time to study his previous at-bats, then he absolutely deserves to get dinged for being a DH, since he presumably would not hit as well if he had to spend the time between his plate appearances working in the field.
   17. PerroX Posted: March 21, 2007 at 04:17 PM (#2315323)
While Mnookin is correct to point out the shakiness and subjectivity of defensive ratings, he's not helping himself as a journalist with his weekly axe-grinding with the NYT and by becoming a Red Sox mouthpiece.

Does he have a problem with defensive evaluations, or just a problem with the NYT and/or any criticism of the Boston Red Sox?

Does Mnookin really want to move into the glass house he's building for himself?
   18. Jack Sommers Posted: March 21, 2007 at 04:55 PM (#2315343)
I've spoken directly with a guy at Stats Inc, and he claimed that they had guys double checking all the field reports on video. So unless he was lying, I don't think Seth has all the info....despite his claim to have "spent a fair amount of time speaking with those Stats Inc. “observers.”

How much time? How many of them? In how many ballparks?

He is a writer making catchy little comments like


"The problem is, those zones are about as reliable as Mel Gibson once he’s gotten a few drinks in him"


And then in the very next sentence gives us his grand analysis and summation:

To give Stats Inc’s P-B-P info this much weight is as dumb as, say, giving Derek Jeter the Gold Glove because you think he looks good in the field.


C'mon...what kind of crap is this? How about some detail? How about some substantial information showing us why the input data is wrong? What was his methodology for review of the Stats Inc. system? How was HIS review cross checked and verified?

I am sure there ARE problems with some of the data, and in fact, it's been pointed out on this site there is a "GREEN MONSTER" problem with regards to Zone Rating. (Some balls hit off the wall are actually in the zone considered to be "in play"??? or something like that), which may explain why Manny does SO badly in that metric.

But make no mistake about it....without any kind of evidence, or objective study presented, this article is b.s. All we know is he has claimed to have spoken to some of these stats inc field observers. Who?, how many?, where?, how long?, we have no idea. What specifically he found wrong with their data entry....again we have no idea. And he makes no mention of the video review and cross checking wich Stats Inc. claimed to me in a phone call that they actually do.

This article is a HATCHET JOB
   19. The Yankee Clapper Posted: March 21, 2007 at 04:59 PM (#2315347)
Ortiz is an adequate 1B, but by no means good. He's below average, but he's also better than (say) Jason Giambi there and a couple of other no-glove types. The bigger reason he doesn't play there more often is that the Sox seem to believe he's an injury risk there and thus, that it's better to play him there more sparingly.

I think the Red Sox themselves perceive Ortiz as worse than that. He only played the field in 2006 during inter-league road games, when the DH wasn't available. Although Manny was hurting, Boston kept Ortiz at DH, even giving Mark Loretta 36 ABs at 1b during the playoff chase(receiving .139/.179/.167 [.346OPS] production). Citing the risk of injury as the reason for Ortiz not playing the field is just management avoiding dissing a star player.
   20. SoSH U at work Posted: March 21, 2007 at 05:08 PM (#2315359)
I think the Red Sox themselves perceive Ortiz as worse than that. He only played the field in 2006 during inter-league road games, when the DH wasn't available. Although Manny was hurting, Boston kept Ortiz at DH, even giving Mark Loretta 36 ABs at 1b during the playoff chase(receiving .139/.179/.167 [.346OPS] production). Citing the risk of injury as the reason for Ortiz not playing the field is just management avoiding dissing a star player.


You may well be right about how the club's FO perceives his defensive value, but I don't see how his staying at DH in Manny's absence is any evidence. It wasn't like he was keeping Manny out of the lineup, and sticking Ortiz at 1B wasn't going to help the offense any, considering the options Tito had at the time, IIRC.
   21. rr Posted: March 21, 2007 at 05:20 PM (#2315363)
In fairness to Monookin, if you check his blog today, he apologized for some of his comments and engaged in a (slightly testy) dialogue with Rosenheck.

Can we limit the Red Sox Front Office Mouthpieces to one


Mnookin is the updated, cooler, albeit non-rock star, version, since he writes for Slate and Salon, and, according to Posnanski "wears black and swears a lot."
   22. rr Posted: March 21, 2007 at 05:20 PM (#2315364)
In fairness to Mnookin, if you check his blog today, he apologized for some of his comments and engaged in a (slightly testy) dialogue with Rosenheck.

Can we limit the Red Sox Front Office Mouthpieces to one


Mnookin is the updated, cooler, albeit non-rock star, version, since he writes for Slate and Salon, and, according to Posnanski "wears black and swears a lot."
   23. PerroX Posted: March 21, 2007 at 05:31 PM (#2315372)
Once you click 'send', you're done -- any further clicks of 'submit' and you have multiple posts.

Best thing is to copy your post before sending (as a backup), and to go back to the top and click 'newsblog' right after you hit 'submit'.

Your comments may not post simultaneously, but you'll be back to reading other threads more quickly, including the one you just posted to.

Works for me, YMMV.
   24. The Yankee Clapper Posted: March 21, 2007 at 05:35 PM (#2315375)
but I don't see how his staying at DH in Manny's absence is any evidence. It wasn't like he was keeping Manny out of the lineup, and sticking Ortiz at 1B wasn't going to help the offense any, considering the options Tito had at the time, IIRC

Perhaps the point wasn't clear, but I meant to convey that some "rest" at DH might have lesssened the wear & tear on Manny's knee and there may have been occasions when Manny might have been able to DH when his knee wouldn't let him play the field.
   25. rr Posted: March 21, 2007 at 05:40 PM (#2315378)
any further clicks of 'submit' and you have multiple posts

I know. I was correcting the typo and posted twice by mistake.
   26. Padgett Posted: March 21, 2007 at 05:42 PM (#2315379)
In fairness to Mnookin, if you check his blog today, he apologized for some of his comments and engaged in a (slightly testy) dialogue with Rosenheck.
Mnookin appears to have three follow-up posts now, none of which help his argument or make him look very good.

Rosenheck stops by to comment on part three, and highlights something that seems to underlie much of Mnookin's writing:

In your e-mail to me, you said that “it’s laboratory, number-crunching arguments like one that would have Ortiz move to first for all the reasons you laid out that allow Chass and his ilk to ignore the enormous advances made vis a vis our ability to use statistics to better understand and evaluate baseball.” This statement seems to contradict itself. What is the difference between “using statistics to better understand and evaluate baseball” and making a “laboratory, number-crunching argument?” The phrase “laboratory, number-crunching argument” sounds to me exactly like the type of Luddite rhetoric that all of us who truly want to understand this game we love should be fighting against, not deploying ourselves.
   27. covelli chris p Posted: March 21, 2007 at 05:50 PM (#2315382)
mnookin should just quote dial's research if he wants to discredit rosenheck's article.
   28. covelli chris p Posted: March 21, 2007 at 05:58 PM (#2315384)
ah. apparently he linked to the preview part III over in sox therapy ...
   29. David Concepcion de la Desviacion Estandar (Dan R) Posted: March 21, 2007 at 07:05 PM (#2315422)
Ennui Willie Keeler--I most certainly am. I'm not employed by The Times; I just freelance for Keeping Score.

Chris P--I interviewed Dial for my story. He told me he had Manny at -13 in '06 after subtracting out the wall balls, and that's the "most conservative estimate" I mention in the piece.
   30. covelli chris p Posted: March 21, 2007 at 07:18 PM (#2315429)
ok, so you interviewed dial ... but i don't understand how you can run with numbers that don't have the wall balls subtracted out--the numbers are worthless at this point.
   31. GGC Posted: March 21, 2007 at 07:25 PM (#2315435)
Ennui Willie Keeler--I most certainly am. I'm not employed by The Times; I just freelance for Keeping Score.


Man, when I was your age, I was a security guard. I'd been overseas, but that was with the military.
   32. David Concepcion de la Desviacion Estandar (Dan R) Posted: March 21, 2007 at 07:27 PM (#2315438)
David Pinto's PMR numbers account for the park as one of the vectors on every ball (so a ball hit X distance to Fenway LF just registers as having an 0% chance of being caught), which is clearly the best way to do it. Dial (in his interview with me) and John Dewan subtract out wall balls. Mitchel Lichtman uses a simple park factor for Fenway LF of .83, meaning that for every 150 balls a neutral-park LF would be expected to catch, a Fenway LF will only be expected to catch 125. This will be correct over large sample sizes, but is vulnerable to year-to-year fluctuations in the number of balls hit off the wall--in years where an abnormally low # of balls are hit off the wall, Manny will look unusually good; in years where an abnormally high # of balls are hit off the wall, he will look unusually bad. All four metrics do take the Monster into account in their calculations.
   33. DCW3 Posted: March 21, 2007 at 07:46 PM (#2315446)
Man, when I was your age, I was a security guard. I'd been overseas, but that was with the military.

Dear God, Rosenheck's only two months older than I am. That's depressing.
   34. David Concepcion de la Desviacion Estandar (Dan R) Posted: March 21, 2007 at 08:05 PM (#2315458)
What on earth does my age have to do with anything?
   35. DCW3 Posted: March 21, 2007 at 08:11 PM (#2315465)
I didn't mean anything bad by it at all. I just found it personally depressing that someone my age is having articles (good articles) published in the New York Times, whereas I can occasionally afford the New York Times.
   36. GGC Posted: March 21, 2007 at 08:19 PM (#2315471)
I was impressed. I've had kind of a directionless life and didn't even have an idea about what I wanted to do when I grew up until I was in my late 20's.
   37. dave h Posted: March 21, 2007 at 11:09 PM (#2315539)
I'm not sure we want to get into this whole discussion again, but I think any system that uses an average park factor for the wall balls is inherently flawed. It's not just that over small sample sizes there might be noise - there's a systematic error also. Namely, the pitchers in front of the LF will be different, and they certainly have an effect on the number of wall balls. If mgl doesn't have time or the desire to go through the data and eliminate wall balls, that's fine, but I think it renders his estimate in this case virtually meaningless. I don't think it (or any other system that doesn't directly account for wall balls) should be quoted regarding Manny's defense.
   38. dave h Posted: March 21, 2007 at 11:13 PM (#2315541)
I'm not sure we want to get in this discussion again, but I think that any system that doesn't directly account for wall balls is inherently flawed. It's not just that there's noise in the park factor estimate over small sample sizes - it's that there is a systematic error. Namely, every LF doesn't play in front of the same pitchers, and that's certainly going to affect the number of wall balls while they're in LF. I understand that mgl doesn't have the time or inclination to manually subtract wall balls, but I think that makes his estimate (and anyone else's who doesn't directly account for them) virtually meaningless for Manny. This is especially true since it is possible to directly account for them, and some systems do. I think these are the only numbers that should be quoted regarding Manny's defense.
   39. dave h Posted: March 21, 2007 at 11:18 PM (#2315546)
Ahhhh I did it again, and on a thread that pointed out how not to double post. I'm an idiot.

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