The Transplanted Baseball Fan

Canada. A hockey country. Born with skates on our feets and two teeth that will just never grow. Right? Wrong! I'm your Transplanted Baseball Fan, born and raised in Cape Breton, Canada, as a young man who lives and dies by seams and string instead of vulcanized rubber. I am Canadian, and I love baseball. Here's a transplanted take on a world in sports like no other!

Friday, November 19, 2004

Informed Opinion vs. Statistical Analysis

Informed Opinion vs. Statistical Analysis
An everyday opinion or pure statistical viewpoint: How do you rate a player?
As Jason Varitek is rumored to be searching for a contract in excess of 10 million dollars a season, is he worth it to those who watch him everyday and statisticians alike?

The Major League Baseball Off-Season is often one of the more turbulent and vibrant occurences in the world of sports today. Since the dawn of free agency not so long ago, baseball has seen the unparralel and uncontrollable escalade of player salaries that truly shows no signs of slowing down as long as the sport shys off from a true and constantly fixed salary capping motion. This is another argument for another time. What really has me concerned this time around is how such incomprehendable monteary values can be put on one human being for playing a professional sport. How does Alex Rodriguez earn over a quarter of a billion dollars in a decade, while the rest of the working world earns in a year what he earns in a breath? While I could take many different angles on this topic, right now I want to examine just how people look at the values placed on a baseball player.

I must let it be known that I am no expert on the matter. I do my best to wrap my mind around the concept of sabermetrics, but I am better left off examining the statistics that any baseball resource can lend to me. I bleed Cardinal red, so I do my best to avoid any bias in my comments, yet we are all human. The conflicts of player values arise when a stathead collides with a team fanatic: how do we balance each opinion in the worth of a player on the field? Someone may be able to factually state that Player A has a decent OBP hovering around .350, and does fine in knocking out 20 home runs a season on a consistent basis, but he is not worth "x" amount of dollars. Yet, a fan of 20 years can step up and just as equally refute that statement by saying that Player A does all the little things in going the extra mile that statistics cannot measure, and he has been such a tremendous boost for not only our club, but our team's dedicated image that he is worth so far beyond "x" amount of dollars that his impact cannot be measured.

That's all fine and dandy. Yet, how do we distinguish who holds the upper hand in this argument? The statistican who measures his so-so ability on the field, for which he is paid to do, or the life-long fan who can measure more than his stats on a basis of watching him play every game of the season, and gauging what he truly means to his team? Oh, but the agony of the situation. Jason Varitek is a prime example that I can refer to now to bring across the parity discussions with players. Jason Varitek is one of the elite catchers in the American League nowadays. This past season, he posted an average a shade under .300, an OBP a shade under .400, and pounded out the highest hit, walk, and fielding percentage totals of his career. Coming off a season like that, Varitek is now rumored to be having a keen eye for a contract that will pay him roughly 10 million dollars a season. Wow. At first glance, any man with an eye for statistics would point out right away that Varitek still remains far from one of the elite hitters of baseball numbers wise, and therefore should not come close to such a ridiculous contract. Yet, about 98% of Boston Red Sox fans I have been in touch with through the MLBCenter Forums have very confidently pointed out that Varitek has been the heart and soul of a Red Sox clubhouse for all 8 seasons of his career, and is invaluable to the defending World Series Champions. Well this is interesting.

One must realize on one side of the ball game that numbers do not lie: math is a universal language for a reason. Compared to the American League MVP Vladimir Guerrero, who makes 11 million dollars per season, Varitek stands up to Guerrero like a snowball to the fiery depths of the abyss. Vladimir betters Varitek in literally every major offensive category but walks, in which he had just one fewer walk than the Red Sox All-Star catcher. And Varitek wants a contract that rivals that of our Most Valuable Player? I think that's nearly impossible to justify, and equally as ridiculous for Jason Varitek to demand in his wildest of wildest of day dreams. There is not a man or woman, girl or boy, child or senior on this planet with any knowledge between both ears that could compare the offensive prowess with any sort of comparable statements. Vladimir Guerrero is just a better player on the field, and deserves 11 million dollars eons more than Varitek will ever deserve 10, even if I personally feel that no player deserves that amount of money in the first place. Anywho, in Varitek's case, it can be made pretty obvious that he is just not worth that amount of cash. Too bad that only describes half the battle.

Bias is a natural part of interacting in society. If you ask me to rank Albert Pujols among the top National League hitters in the league, I would without neither question nor hesitation label him as the absolute best out of those without a single season home run record, partly because of his statistics of course, but partly because I watch him play on a routine basis, and focus msot of my time on the Cardinals organization. Bias? Maybe. Informed opinion? Most definitely. A Cardinals fan will know more about the Cardinals organization. As it is with the Red Sox, and as it is with any professional baseball team around. Using my running example of Jason Varitek, only a true fan who has lived and breathed the 8 years of his entire career could truly represent what he means to the team beyond the statistics on a daily level. While the beliefs may be somewhat psychological, a great number of Red Sox fans will tell you that Beantown would be just a bit short on the beans without Jason Varitek behind the plate. There is bias, yes; I'm just relying on the fact that a true baseball fan could provide a true opinion. Think of a cherished baseball relic of your own, or even a member of your own team: it would be a cold day in Bermuda before I could picture a Matheny-less Cardinals team on the field. However, with free agency, both of these possibilities with the mentioned catchers are all possible realities, and only the fans can provide the value of a player by watching him play every single day. You notice a lot about a man when you see him every summer for 8 years. A lot that numbers cannot tell the story of.

Is Jason Varitek a 10 million dollar man? In the minds of the numbers, most definitely not, but in the minds of the informed opinions, just maybe. Valuing a player with all things considered can be deemed as nearly incomprehendable. I am not here to tell you that statistical analysis is right or that an informed opinion knows best: both sides of the argument are now presented, and I hope that this sets off a flair of debate entering what is certainly expected to be one of the most active yet expensive off-seasons in Major League Baseball history. Send in your ideas with the click of a mouse to, and it would be quite the experience to see other's views and discuss them a little bit in my next post. A healthy debate is all the world needs for some quality time and production.

Best Regards until next time,

Michael J.E. MacIsaac

The Transplanted Baseball Fan

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