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April 20, 2004

Win Day
by Larry Mahnken

See, it figured that I would have to eat my words. Guess that'll show me not to be optimistic.

Yesterday's game was the first really exciting game of the series, even though the Yanks didn't win it. Brown didn't shut down the Sox, but the loss wasn't so much his fault as it was the result of unexceptional hitting by the Bombers and plain old bad luck. If the game had started at a normal time, maybe Matsui doesn't lose that ball in the sun, and maybe the Yankees win. So there you have it--Paul Revere cost the Yankees the win today. Bastard.

The loss stings on it's own, but especially so because it resulted in the Yankees losing the series 3-1, rather than splitting. They'll go right back at each other next weekend, so revenge won't have to wait too long.

If you want to see something positive about the 6-7 start, it's that almost everybody on the team has played poorly. How's that a positive, you ask? Well, these guys aren't unproven rookies, the Yankees are a veteran team, and while declines from past performances are likely for many of them and possible for others, a total collapse by most of the roster, as we've seen in the first few weeks, would probably be the most shocking event in the history of professional baseball. They've played like garbage, but they're still about breaking even. When everyone finally breaks out, the Yanks could go off on an incredibly hot streak. That's seeing a silver lining around the cloud, but the cloud's not really that big anyway. It's been 13 games.

I figure they'll probably lose their 8th before winning their 7th, with Alex Graman going against Chicago tonight. Graman's not bad, but he's highly unlikely to shut down the White Sox. Maybe the hitters will break out--that single by A-Rod in the ninth might relax him a bit--but I'm going into tonight without any positive expectations.

* * *

I should probably send Jim Kaat a letter and tell him to either learn something about sabermetrics or shut up about it, because he sounds like an idiot every time he talks about stats.

Yesterday, he criticized the front office for directing the manager on how to run the game, and said that maybe the front office guys should go into the dugout and run the team themselves "in their suits and ties". Because wearing a suit and tie is the sign of a lousy manager...

Kaat also showed his ignorance of the concept of sample size, quoting statistics from 6 or 7 plate appearances when talking about what matchups a "stat guy" would want to have, similar to what Jack McKeon did in his Sports Illustrated article. The truth is that a stathead would want to use the largest sample possible, and if there's only a few plate appearances--or even a few dozen appearances--against a pitcher, the stat guy is going to go with a player's overall stats and lefty/righty splits. What the batter did against the specific guy who happens to be on the mound will generally be ignorned.

This also addresses the concern Kaat stated about ignoring the fact that human beings don't react the same way every day. No, they don't, but even if they did, they wouldn't put up predictable numbers every day. You can't tell ahead of time how a player's going to react in a specific situation against a specific pitcher, so you need to go by how they've reacted in the past to every situation. When you go by gut instinct--something Kaat specifically endorsed--you're going to do a LOT of stupid things.

There is a war going on in baseball between statheads and traditionalists, but it's the traditionalists who are waging the war of annihilation, with the statheads fighting merely to establish a foothold. People like Jim Kaat, faced with something new, have reacted by sticking their fingers in their ears, closing their eyes, and yelling "La la la! I can't hear you!", instead of listening, and judging the new information rationally. To people like that, being right isn't the most important thing--everyone else thinking you're right is.