The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

 

The Rest is Commentary

I have no love lost for J.D. Drew, to say nothing of the antipathy I hold for the Red Sox. But I absolutely respect the job that Sox GM Theo Epstein has done; how can you not, when the team has two rings on his watch, including the one that broke the 86-year Curse of the Bambino? Joe Posnanski hits the nail on the head when he highlights the difference between the front office philosophy of the Red Sox and that of a not-so-smart team. Though he doesn't mention them by name, the latter is clearly understood to be the Royals, whose aggressive stupidity — Mike Jacobs, Willie Bloomquist, Yuniesky Betancourt, Sidney Ponson, brutal injury management and the ability to alienate even the most devoted, intelligent Royals fans, and that's just the highlight film from GM Dayton Moore's past 12 months — makes me entirely unsympathetic to their plight.

Here's Posnanski quoting Epstein's appearance on a radio show (italics, emphasis in original) and his own reaction:
"Sometimes you get stuck in the world of evaluating players through home runs and RBIs. And it’s not the way that I think most clubs do it these days. And if you look at underlying performance of a lot of our guys, they bring more to the table than just the counting stats. And J.D.’s certainly having another good year for us. He’s up around a .900 OPS right now, and he’s playing really good defense in right field, he deserves an awful lot of credit for that, he’s been pretty darned good for the three years that he’s been here if you look at the underlying performance.

"...[T]he reason he scores a ton of runs is because he does the single most important thing you can do in baseball as an offensive player. And that’s NOT MAKE OUTS. He doesn’t make outs. He’s always among our team leaders in on-base percentage, usually among the league leaders in on-base percentage. And he’s a really good base runner. So when he doesn’t make outs, and he gets himself on base, he scores runs — and he has some good hitters hitting behind him. Look at his runs scored on a rate basis with the Red Sox or throughout his career. It’s outstanding.

"You guys can talk about RBIs if you want, I just … we ignore them in the front office … and I think we’ve built some pretty good offensive clubs. If you want to talk about RBIs at all, talk about it as a percentage of opportunity but it’s just simply not a way or something we use to evaluate offensive players."


I have talked many times here about a fan’s desperate wish — desperate wish — to have the team see the game the way the fan sees it. I don’t mean specifics — fire the coach, bench the QB, go for it on fourth down and so on. I mean see it in the macro, in a larger way. If I’m a basketball fan, I would love a team that believes in pushing the ball up the floor. If I’m a football fan, I would love a team that believes in pressuring the quarterback and working the middle of the field. If I’m a baseball fan, I would just love to know that my GM really and truly believes that one thing — that it’s really, really, really important for a baseball player to not make outs.

That seems so simple to me, so utterly basic, so law of gravity. But I know that there are GMs in the league — more than you would ever believe — and lots of other people in and around baseball who do not believe this. It isn’t exactly that they are opposed to players who get on base. They certainly want guys to get on base. No, it is that they believe that OBP — the ability to not make outs — falls behind other more mystical talents such as the ability drive in runners in clutch situations or be a leader in the clubhouse or play the game the right way or whatever. I’m not saying these more mystical skills do not exist. Maybe they do. But I know that if you give me a baseball team of people who do not make outs, that team will score a lot of runs. A team of guys who play the game the right way will score a lot of runs too — assuming that “playing the game the right way” includes not making outs.
That's just a thing of beauty, both from Epstein and from Posnanski, whose opportunity to jump from the Kansas City Star to Sports Illustrated was a well-earned escape from the drudgery of cataloging the Royals' endless follies.

Do not make outs. That is the entire law of baseball. All of the rest, as the rabbi said, is commentary.

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