Free-Floating Hostility

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Sox win

First off, congrats to Form, Josh, Jon Lemire and any other Sox fan who may stumble across this site today. It was a tremendous two-week run and I hope you all got some serious partying accomplished.

Now let's talk context. As I said last week, I don't see a Sox title as a world-changing event. There was some worry last night that the Sox winning the Series on the same night as a lunar eclipse might have been a message of some sort. I look forward to seeing articles about the Curse of David Cone and listening to Sox fans chant "2000" at the Yanks next fall.

This championship is clearly the first win for the Sabrmetric crowd, and will likely speed public acceptance of these ideas. Bill James, who served as a consultant for this team, may actually get a championship ring. After the Sox polished off his Yankees last week, Rich took issue with sportswriters both casting the Sox as a team of destiny and saying the Nomar trade made this possible, since Boston wouldn't have won with Mia Hamm's husband on the roster. Rich rightly points out that the sacrifice of Nomar's bat for Orlando Cabrera's glove doesn't actually make sense. But a look at this Sox team suggests that something else might be at work. This team may have been built with stats in mind, but more subjective factors took over at some point. This is crystallized by the Nomar trade.

My professional opinion is that "team chemistry," despite being an unacceptably vague term, is an important factor in the success of teams. Nomar's offense couldn't change the fact that he hated the franchise, alienated his teammates and (though this is just a rumor) claimed injury when should have been available to play.

Garciaparra became expendable after a series in New York in which the Boston defense cost it two games and then Nomar sat on the bench during the third game as Derek Jeter risked life, limb, and looks to go into the stand after a foul ball. Despite being a better offensive player than Jeter, Nomar failed the comparison test. And for a team that, before last night, lived in the constant shadow of the Yankees, to have one star shortstop so clearly out-intangible (I know, I know) the other was untenable. This, of course, was no reason to trade anyone. But Boston did anyway.

We probably read too much into the trade. Clearly the Sox's great finish had plenty to do with the fact that a team with the collective offensive skill of Boston is supposed to win 90+ games. But the timing of the run is part of the point.

Then go back to last year. The Sox waived Manny Ramirez and then tried to send him to Texas for A-Rod. Giving up a player like Manny is a no-no whether you're a stat freak or not, but Boston seemed ready to do it. Ramirez posted his usual great numbers this year, but by all accounts a he was a great clubhouse guy too (which he never was before.)

And I think that matters. While it was skill on the field that brought Boston back from 0-3 against the Yankees, I argue that it was the atmosphere in the locker room that allowed the team to believe it could come back. Belief that you can win is necessary, though never sufficient, in team sports. What the Sox championship proves is that baseball, with statistical laws that even I believe in, is still as much art as science.

Rich, and Jeff'y for that matter, may accuse me of sentimentality, but I would like to point out that I beat both of them at fantasy baseball this year.

6 Comment(s):

  •   Posted by Anonymous Anonymous at October 28, 2004 10:31 PM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Any statistician will tell you (and I am applying to a biostatistics program, so I am the closest thing you've got) that you can't compare records from 162 games in the season to records from 19 or fewer games in the playoffs and say "see, the stats were wrong. It's really all about heart." Phooey to that. The playoffs are a proverbial crapshoot, because statistics can't predict the outcome of individual cases or even small numbers. And, listen very closely, neither can your nebulous criteria of winningmanship or whatever. The playoffs are great, dramatically speaking, but scientifically speaking they are crap. They can't be won except by luck, so don't make it out to be more than it is. Crap(s) being shot.


  •   Posted by Blogger Rich at October 29, 2004 1:38 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Anna, that was the hottest thing I have ever heard a girl say. Don't tell Adele.

  •   Posted by Blogger Rich at October 29, 2004 2:04 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Great post, Mike. First off, regarding you beating me in fantasy baseball, it was a statistical anomaly. Not to be hypocritical, but I would like to blame intangibles for that terrible season. My only solace after the Red Sox won the World Series and you beat me in fantasy baseball is that at least there is still some stability in this world--a Goldman will always win fantasy baseball.

    When the Red Sox traded Nomar, at the end of the day, they still had a great team. They spent a lot of money to build that team. It is a similar luxury the Yankees have had in their run. They can afford to make a couple of mistakes.

    "Belief" is necessary for success in baseball and in all things. You are saying that the Red Sox would not have believed in their ability to comeback if Nomar was on it. I am not sure what press-clipping you can point to that show Nomar didn't believe in the Red Sox. As a professional athlete who is used to success and playing on a winning team, I would give him the benefit of the doubt and say he would have believed the Red Sox could still win in the hole they had dug for themselves. Would his hatred of Boston management have poisoned the team and prevented them from "coming together?" The answer to this question is less clear. However, I have read articles that have indicated that Nomar was in contact with the Red Sox teammates during their comeback, offering them words of encouragement, and that the Red Sox even voted him a share of their playoff bonus! It sounds like Nomar was a good guy that everyone liked. So, I would propose that the Red Sox would never have been in such a big hole in the first place if a healthy Nomar was on their team. Additionaly, if they got into a hole, he would have helped them get out of it much better than Cabrera. It seems like Nomar was not bagging it and was truly injured during the season, so maybe it was better to have Cabrera than Nomar at the end, but not because of intangibles.

    Curses are stupid, of course, and the Red Sox were never a cursed team. There are reasons they haven't won a world series since 1918 or whenever, and that reason is mainly because the Yankees, the best team in baseball, were in their division and there was no wild card playoff spot to fall back on. Congratulations to you Red Sox fans, you've waited long enough.

  •   Posted by Anonymous Anonymous at October 29, 2004 8:22 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • First of all, someone who claims to root for the Mets AND the Yankees should not be allowed to lecture anyone on baseball, despite his previous success at fantasy baseball.

    Second of all, I will explain the Nomar trade, because its mastermind, Theo Epstein is too busy devising a Sabremetrics system to evaluate which women from Boston he will sleep with considering there are only 24 hours in a day. (How many girls would gladly take off their Garciparra shirts for this guy now?)

    Anyway. This trade made complete sense. My first proof is from today's globe explaining that this trade was approved by the guru himself Bill James...

    For a more detailed explanation of how to run a successful franchise, please read Svenllama's email to me from days after the Nomar trade. This is must reading from every loser GM from the New York area who loves throwing money at washed up ego driven has been stars.

    Basically the jist of it was that investing in depth and lots of good players, as opposed to one or two great ones solves problems. You cover weaknesses, making your team more flexible. You prevent ego guys from messing up chemistry. And you stop injuries from messing up your season.

    So what do we learn from the Nomar trade regarding Sabremetrics and team chemistry? We learn that Sabremetrics, as stated in Moneyball (yeah I do not know how to hypertext to, does not tell the whole story. It does refute years of conventional wisdom and refocuses baseball analysis at the correct stats. However, once you are looking at the correct stats, intangibles and traditional baseball skills still play a role. Consider Kevin Millar in the late innings. If you just saw him as a slow fat guy, you miss the point. He works the count and knows the strike zone. That gets him the walk against Rivera. But it is also is chilled out approach which allows him to use his abilities in this situation (not freaking out and swinging at bad pitches). And then, it is knowing that Roberts can come in and steal a base and score from second. (And play the outfield in case Nixon gets hurt) And then, you can put in... I will not even try and spell his last name, for defense and to get you a bunt. The bottom line is that investing in James players does not preclude investing for clutch James players and enough flexibility to defend and run the bases. Plus, getting those guys in seperate players allows everyone to know their role and not try to do too much (use all their 5 tools, see A-Fraud).

    Maybe if Nomar was not a first pitch hitter, the Red Sox heirarchy would have kept him. But they got defense and depth, which complemented what they already had, and kicked out the only guy not to shave his head during last year's "Cowboy Up!" playoff run.

    In Theo we trust.


  •   Posted by Anonymous Anonymous at October 29, 2004 4:40 PM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • The sabremetric evaluation of a player doesn't exclude the effects of psychology. In fact it absorbs it. If Millar's laid-back attitude allows him to control the strike zone, then that's reflected in his stats over time. Trying to build a team based on their getting along is hunting skunks underwater. There are simply too many untrackable variables involved. I disliked a fair number of you all when I first met you (though not Rich or Dave) but I'd play baseball with you now.

  •   Posted by Blogger Rich at October 30, 2004 5:16 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Okay, I am not going to go into to this much more. If you want to argue with someone, Scotto has a big post on my blog that Jeff'y still hasn't responded to about why Bush is great.

    The fact remains that with Nomar, the Red Sox came within one out of going to the World Series last year, if I remember, and probably ending the curse a year earlier. Nomar was a boon to their team last year in the category of intangibles and I didn't hear a peep about his poor defense. How much can a person change in one year and how fickle can one team be?

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