Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Why I'll Never Be a Sabermetrician

I set to write a post today based on the idea that the shortstop position has really changed over the years. I had often heard that shortstops, starting with Cal Ripken Jr., are bigger and have more power then those that played in the days before Ripken. And indeed, I began a little search using slugging percentage for shortstops that qualified for the batting title and played at least 50% of their games at short and slugged over .300. Here's what I found:

2001 - 2010: 209 seasons
1991 - 2000: 167 seasons
1981 - 1990: 141 seasons
1971 - 1980: 120 seasons
1961 - 1970: 117 seasons

So yes, those increase of seasons for shortstops over .300 in slugging percentage seems to indicate today's shortstops are slugging at a higher rate. But I didn't know how to account for expansion (one reason I stopped at 1961). Plus, I don't know if that's the best search to use. But that's not the real reason why I'll never be good with analytics. The real reason is that my curiosity won't stay in one place.

For example, I got caught up seeing the names: Rico Petrocelli, Jim Fregosi and Dick McAuliffe on the list. Those guys were basically known for other positions. Petrocelli and Fregosi at third and McAuliffe at second. But all three of those players played the majority of their games at short for several seasons. I didn't know that. And all of those guys preceded Ripken, had good pop in their bats and hit their shares of homers. Perhaps they were where the power game at short started and not with Ripken.

Then I saw in that same list that Leo Cardinas led the lead twice in a row in intentional walks. He had middling power and I was curious anyway because he was one of my favorite Strat-O-Matic players. But the fact that he led his league in intentional walks for two straight years amazed me. Why would that be? He was pretty good in those two years for the Reds, but he wasn't THAT good. I, like most folks, associate intentional walks with fearsome hitters who don't have a lot of help behind them in the line up. The fact that Jim Rice didn't receive a lot of intentional walks was one of the arguments that deflated the "feared" hitter debate during Rice's Hall of Fame bid.

So why would Leo Cardinas lead the league for two straight years in intentional walks? As you can see, I am now further and further away from my original search. And so I went digging in his game logs for those two years and I got my answer. He led the league in intentional walks because he always batted eighth in front of the pitcher. Cardinas was pretty good with the bat and if the pitcher was coming up behind it, he wasn't going to get to hit. Leo Cardinas might have been the best eighth place hitter of all time.

And then the brain went off on another tangent. How could you prove who the greatest eighth place batter in history was? I tried a couple of searches and quickly gave up. The answer is probably out there if you have the time to compile every season and every eighth place batter on every team. Now what was my original thought and search again? Oh yeah! Shortstops and slugging percentage over the years. Let's get back to that.

Except I can't. Because I see the names of my history floating off the screen. Was Eddie Brinkman as bad a hitter as I remembered? Yes. Was Burt Campanaris as overrated as I thought he was? Yep.  Rich Aurilia! Was he as good as I remembered? Not really. He had one great season in 2001. And so I killed an hour looking at players I remembered fondly. There was Jerry Adair, Barry Larkin and Alan Trammell and so many others.

And by then I lost all interest and ambition to find out if Hanley Ramirez of the Marlins and Troy Tulowitzki of the Rockies were truly a sign of a different age. I guess that's why Tangotiger and Dave Cameron get paid to do what they do.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We are on the same wavelength. I get diverted easily, all in the quest for answers to whatever questions pop into my head. Thanks for this post - you dredged up lots of memories with the names Brinkman, McAuliffe, Petrocelli. I'm sorting the baseball cards in my head right now.