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Thursday Rockpile: Who's in the monkey-sphere...

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Sorry I'm so late with this. In the absence of substantial Rockies news I started yet another piece on why the Giants haven't really upgraded their offense or something or maybe it was talking about what uninspiring options the Dodgers have left to help their rotation when I realized that I was kind of bored with writing that stuff myself, so you readers have to be really sick of it. So I scrapped it and thinking of why, I started this.

I realized that I've got three or four NL competitors that besides the Rockies themselves are taking up the bulk of my baseball attention. The Dodgers and Giants in the NL West for what should probably be obvious reasons, as well as the Diamondbacks because I still think they could be sneaky good this season, and the Braves.

For some reason I'm not really looking much at the Phillies or Cardinals, perhaps because I see them as the odds on favorites for their divisions still and thus not really a threat to the Rockies for the playoffs, even while I recognize how faulty this logic is. If the Braves are somehow able to pass the Phillies in 2010, and they're close enough in talent that it's certainly possible, than Philadelphia becomes the favorite for the wild card and I should be more cognizant of how we measure up to them (as of right now, we measure up about as well as we did in the playoffs, which is to say we don't).

With the Cardinals and the NL Central, I think somewhere in my head, I have it as an almost given assumption that the first place NL Central team will fall short of the second place NL West team (as they did in the Rockies playoff years of 2007 and 2009), thus making looking at that division's second tier, specifically the Cubs and Brewers, a moot point. With about 162 games left to play in 2010, just like my dismissal of the Braves as a legitimate NL East threat, this is either being naive -I mean, I only have to look at 2008 to know this- or more likely, just a sign of my brain taking the kind of shortcuts everybody is inclined to.

As complex as we think that stuff between our ears is, the fact is that the human brain doesn't want to make things harder on itself than it has to, and this means limiting the information that it keeps around and simplifying the processes that it uses to help us make judgment calls. There will be some people naturally gifted with greater capacities up there than the rest of us (and it seems to me that these people often like reminding us of this every chance they get, but I digress) but everybody has a finite limit to what they can store and think about.

I bring this up because in reading off season analyses, be they from me or anybody else, you have to consider the limitations of the analyst. Sometimes this isn't easy, but I'll give you a few common examples of analytical shortcuts you might see, and this isn't in any particular order, and keep in mind these shortcuts are not all bad, or not always bad, as we tend to do them without a second thought because the success rate with them is palatable to us, we'll take the misses we have because we also know we hit with them:

1. Generic league adjustment -

The AL is tougher, the NL is easier, ergo all moves will assume the AL player will have more success switching than the NL player. Christina Kahrl's analysis of the Miguel Olivo signing (for subscribers of Baseball Prospectus) would be a case in point. The broader point is definitely true, the AL is the superior league right now, but on the micro level of players switching, this isn't always the case. I like how Kahrl looked at the effect that moving to Coors might have on Olivo's K's btw. That's something to be hopeful for as a Rockies fan.

2. Regression -

If a player had a great year out of sorts for their career, we expect them to fall back, if they had an awful one, we expect them to rebound. My Sunday Rockpile and the subsequent discussion has some examples of this including Andre Ethier and Troy Tulowitzki. Sometimes, however, there's really something to be said for just looking at the momentum. If Garrett Atkins or Andruw Jones tank for a couple of seasons in a row, even if they aren't that old, it might not be the wisest course of action to assume the projected rebound (as I learned last season in Atkins' case) is real. The Rockies don't really have anybody currently in this category except for maybe Manny Corpas, but a couple of good cases in point within the division might be Arizona's Chris Young or the Giants Edgar Renteria. Most projections see rebounds for these players, and I tend to believe it for Young in particular, but don't be surprised if Renteria is just as bad or even worse in 2010 than he was in 2009.

3. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.  Last year as dogma -

Analysts that haven't yet figured out the regression shortcut tend to do one far easier, which is just look at the prior season and say this is what is. Remember how Cardinals fans and the front office just wouldn't part with Ryan Ludwick for Matt Holliday because Ludwick was so awesome in 2008 and it was a sign of greatness to come? Thank heaven for that. Who do you think the Cardinals would rather have now, Ludwick, or Michael Taylor (the stud outfield prospect the A's got for Brett Wallace, the centerpiece of their eventual Holliday trade)? Actually, I don't know, given the optimistic projection fans are giving Ludwick at FanGraphs, maybe they would prefer the older soon to be much more expensive player.

Tracy speak interlude:

So if I'm saying that regressing players to a mean isn't always right and sometimes a previous season is, but now saying that it's not, what exactly am I saying? Good question. I'm saying all projections are guesses, the regression guess tends to be the more accurate one statistically than just going by the previous season, but don't consider it a fixed certainty. Especially don't if there are other factors at play. A player that's visibly getting slower and pudgier is probably not as likely to rebound as that pretty computer projection says he is.

4. Secondary sourcing -

Sense our brains can only handle so much information, we tend to rely on other sources to fill in the blank spaces of our knowledge. You know that you do this, and you're likely doing it right this very instant, but you should also be aware that whoever you're reading is likely doing it as well. If it's a good and trusted source of the author, sure, that's fine, I always like reading those outside opinions from my favorite writers, but a problem arises in that you as the reader now have two filters that have been put into the analysis, one from the author and one from the other source. There should be a natural increase in skepticism any time this happens and it doesn't matter if the secondary source is anonymous or not. Even direct quotes can be cut off or manipulated to fit space constraints 

5. Groupthink -

Cousin to the above, but sometimes more devious, and as a Purple Row user you have to be particularly aware of it in this venue as it's common to blog and message board communities. Why it can be a dangerous trap is because in larger communities there can be more than one instance of it going on simultaneously, even as opposing sides in the same debate. So while you might think that you're outside the groupthink bubble with a few of your other buddies here going against my or other authors' opinions, you could really just be in another bubble.

The great catcher debate of 2009 (that's been spilling into 2010, apparently) is a good case in point. One faction couldn't get it into their heads that Yorvit Torrealba was simply the more valuable catcher, the better choice as a starting catcher at the end of last season and going into the playoffs. You just don't bench a player that's seeing a fat juicy grapefruit where everybody else is seeing a baseball. The other side couldn't get it into their heads that Chris Iannetta is the much safer and better long term bet for the franchise. The first side -which includes Internet authors off of Purple Row, I might add- still doesn't want to admit that even though he's the safer bet, Iannetta's a risk, and given his subpar 2009, may be a rather substantial one, and Miguel Olivo might have more of a starting shot than they think.

Okay, I'm now really late, and have lots of errands to run today, so I'll cut this post off here. Maybe I'll do more of these later, as these aren't the only analytical shortcuts you'll see, I didn't even get into the arbitrary cutting that I do with the Padres and those NL Central teams, for instance (and that many outside analysts did with the Rockies prior to 2009), it's a relative of the third item of the above list, or other people can add others that they've noticed in the comments. Hopefully this gets a start on the discussion (and no, not that discussion... you've pretty much exhausted the catcher thing by now, don't you think?)