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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

Inside Dayton's Head

Friday, January 08, 2010

I like writing about the Kansas City Royals, especially their much maligned General Manager Dayton Moore. Even if you're not interested in baseball, there's something interesting happening in Kansas City.

For the last two seasons Moore has been denounced by baseball writers of a certain school for his roster moves: trading Leo Nunez for Mike Jacobs, trading Ramon Ramirez for Coco Crisp, trading Danny Cortes for Yuniesky Betencourt, signing Jason Kendall to a two-year contract, and on and on. And now those writers have another move to hate, the signing of veteran outfield Scott Podsednik.

The school these writers represent is the sabermetric school, which eschews the traditional measurements of a baseball players value (physical attributes like speed, arm strength, and power) in favor of a set of statistical measurements pioneered by Bill James. For these writers (many of whom work for the sabermetrics mother ship Baseball Prospectus), a player is worth what he has done, and what he has done can be accurately quantified by any number of staistical tools: does he get on base (On Base Percentage); does he hit for power (Slugging Percentage); does he give up many fly balls (Ground Ball/Fly Ball Ratio).

What drives sabermatricians batty about Dayton Moore's signings is that he shows a total disregard for their way of assessing a player's value. In fact, Moore has assembled the worst offensive roster in baseball as measured by the likes of Baseball Prospectus. Prior to 2009, this appeared to be paying off; the Royals increased their win total in three consecutive seasons. But the additions of Jacobs and Crisp in 2009 blew up in Moore's face, and the major league team took a major step backward.

Here's the dilemma, as I see it. Sabermetrics is quickly becoming the new conventional wisdom in baseball, and Dayton Moore continues to make moves with his major league roster that draw the condescension of sabermetric sages like Rob Neyer and Kevin Goldstein and Rany Jayzayerli, and even mainstream media columnist Joe Posnanski. So who's right?

Certainly the 2009 season put a huge feather in the collective Baseball Prospectus cap. But isn't a criteria for greatness independent thought? Would it not be disquieting for a major league executive to make personnel decisions to satisfy the theories of writers?

At the same time, is it not foolish to steadfastly persist in opinions that have been empirically demonstrated to be wrong?

It's the assessment of value that's a stake here. For the Dayton Moore's of the world, value is something you can see with your eyes and project into the future. Value is inferred, projected. It takes a certain kind of scout with an eye for the right attributes and "intangibles" (as an angry mob of sabermatricians shouts: "There are no intangibles!") to recognize value.

For sabermetricians, value is something you can mathematically measure by looking at past data sets. Value is measured. It can be analyzed by anyone with basic spreadsheet capabilities and rudimentary math.

I have strong sympathies with the latter view of value. At the same time, I'm rooting for Dayton Moore's moves to translate into success, if only to vindicate an open-ended, non-deterministic view of the world.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 10:53 AM

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