This Week in Baseball

Hey fans! It’s a long baseball season, but don’t worry! We’re here to help you keep track of the important stuff. A sabermetric-focused edition of TWIB, coming right up.



While wondering whether David Simon Cowell is actually the Sidd Finch of blogging…

The War to End All Wars
The Ryan Howard contract extension has reignited the war between statheads and traditionalists, serving as the latest point of contention in the battle for the soul of baseball. The sabermetrically inclined are puzzled that the Phillies would give $125 million to a player who is, at best, their third most important player, a player who can’t hit lefties, a player with a limited skill set, a player who will be 37 when the contract ends, and a player at a position where replacements would be readily available. The traditionalists argue: yeah, but home runs! RBIs! MVP votes! (Frothing at mouth)

CBS Sports’ Gregg Doyel called ESPN’s Keith Law stupid, and offered Paul Konerko’s hot April as evidence that the extension’s a great idea.

Meanwhile, Baseball Prospectus’ Matt Swartz was one of the only stats guys to (kind of) argue in favor of the extension, saying that salaries might inflate enough over the duration of the contract to make Howard’s marginal win value worth the $25 million/year. Matthew Carruth at FanGraphs writes what amounts to the sabermetric community’s consensus opinion,  claiming that Howard will need to perform better in his decline phase than he has in his peak years to justify the contract for the Phillies.

The sabermetric revolution is not a quick one; rather, it’s moving at a glacial pace. But it is moving, and advanced statistics are slowly gaining acceptance among the media and the public, spreading just like other controversial scientific ideas through the ages (evolution, vaccines, the Sun as center of the galaxy). There will always be nonbelievers. And many of them will always be angry. Baseball traditionalists are the Fox News contingent of the world of sports, screaming into the abyss as evidence mounts against them. Telling them that RBIs are a poor measure of individual success is like telling them that there’s no God.

Alone in a Crowd
Speaking of stats that don’t capture value, and evidence that traditional stats are wrongheaded, we present the case of Donald Zachary Greinke.

There are still baseball writers who cast Cy Young and Hall of Fame votes based on won-loss records. To those ladies and gentlemen, I would say this: Zack Greinke has pitched 40 innings in 2010. He has an ERA of 2.16, and a WHIP of 0.98. He has 33 strikeouts against only 7 walks. In his five starts he has allowed 1, 4, 2, 2 and 0 earned runs. Zack Greinke is 0-3.

The Royals bullpen has blown his leads, the offense has squandered his brilliance. Greinke deserves better than a franchise that willingly traded for Yuniesky Betancourt and actively courted Kyle Farnsworth.

I wholeheartedly agree with David Brown:

Part of me wishes Greinke would keep pitching like this without winning games. If he did it long enough, maybe we could get a debate going about why we award decisions to individual players.

With apologies to Cy Young and his amazing-sounding 511 victories, we need to stop giving pitchers wins and losses.

Were he alive, Young probably would fight to keep his record. But it’s a fallacy.

The Man Behind the Curtain
Has Billy Beane lost his magic? After “Moneyball” first catapulted Beane to a level of fame not typically reserved for general managers, critics claimed that the A’s success owed more to the fluky convergence of three great young pitchers (Hudson, Zito, Mulder) than to any ingenious strategy. Initially, Beane confounded those critics, replacing departing offensive and pitching stars with new prospects and cheap talent, like Dan Haren, Rich Harden, and a declining-but-still-potent Frank Thomas.

But in recent years, the A’s have struggled, and nothing Beane tries seems to work. While Oakland is off to a respectable 13-13 start in a crappy division this year, the Ben Sheets debacle might reflect more poorly on Beane than anything that’s come before. Oakland signed Sheets to a one-year, $10-million deal in the off-season, when there didn’t seem to be much of a market for injured starting pitchers. Beane figured that if Oakland contended, Sheets would be their ace; if they faltered, he could flip him for prospects at the trade deadline.

Unfortunately for Beane, Sheets has a 7.12 ERA after the first month of the season, with 16 strikeouts and 16 walks in 30 innings. Has the rest of the league permanently caught up to Beane in seeking out undervalues assets? Has his scouting radar simply stopped working? Of course, Sheets still has time to turn it around, and pitchers coming back from injury typically take some time to regain their command, but he hasn’t even looked close to a league-average pitcher, let alone a $10-million man.

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