I have considered myself a baseball fan first and a fan of any particular team for over a decade. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment at which this happened, but it’s been a while. I never regret this; college sports offer me plenty of opportunity for simple good v. evil, one team only fanaticism. I consider professional baseball too entertaining of a sport, one too amenable to rational analysis, to tie up much of my interest in a partisan stupor.
Still, I am a fan of the Indians, and I assume I will be until they move to Albuquerque in 2037. And so on Thursday evening, as I learned about Manny Acta’s firing, I vented a little bit on Twitter. The last time I had such a visceral reaction to a piece of Indians news, it was upon learning about the Ubaldo Jimenez trade.
The problem with being a fan first is that it makes one prone to that sort of off-the-cuff emotional reaction, whereas I’d much prefer to think for a while and then react. This is the more refined (albeit still tinted by the irrationality of fandom, poorly written and disjointed) version of that initial screed.
...However, I reject the notion pushed by a contingent of Cleveland fans that Acta is a poor tactical manager from a sabermetric tactic. Again, this is an area that’s next to impossible to quantify—it’s easy to pick some key categories on which managers have influence (like intentional walks, sacrifice hits, stolen base attempts, pitching changes, lineup construction) and mentally assign the manager a score based on rudimentary criteria (“intentional walks = bad”, “games led off by sub-.330 OBA hitters = bad”, etc.), but it’s difficult to develop a comprehensive evaluation even on these limited criteria. This is all complicated by the fact that some of our sabermetric tools have a margin of error comparable to the theoretical payoffs of alternative strategies, and that the manager always is working with more information than we have regarding the factors that could cause players’ abilities to deviate from our estimate of their true talent.