January 27, 2011

Feeling like my old self

I’m feeling like my old self today. In fact, I’ve been saying that all day long. There’s something about spring and baseball that puts a little extra pep in my step.

Face it, the Angels off season has been one of the most volatile in recent memory. I know, I ranted all the way through it. I was becoming frustrated and extremely aggravated. During that period of time I didn’t feel like myself. I found some release in ranting, but at the end of the day, I really didn’t feel all that great about it.

I’m not saying the ranting wasn’t justified because I think it was. I’m saying that much negative energy can take its toll.

When the Angels made the move to acquire Vernon Wells, something hit me. I got the news without all the filters that usually come with it. I wasn’t reading comments on a message board or listening to the radio. I just saw the report on mlbtraderumors.com and reacted. My initial thoughts were positive. I knew Wells had a good year in 2010 and my immediate thought was that this is a bat that will look good in the Angels lineup.

When I turned the filters on and saw all the negativity surrounding the deal, I grimaced. I even felt a little sick. I took a step back and thought to myself, I don’t have the energy for this.

And then it hit me….

I thought about what it was like when I was a kid and I heard about a big move my team made. I thought back to the time when the Lakers acquired Kareem Abdul Jabbar in exchange for a boat load of other players. I remember how I just reacted to the deal with joy. Kareem Abdul Jabbar? Are you kidding me? There wasn’t any analysis of statistics or salaries or any of the stuff that everyone likes to do today.

I thought about how I felt when the Angels traded away Nolan Ryan and how disappointing that was. Again, it wasn’t about statistics – it was about seeing a player I had grown to love; leave.

Whatever happened to just being a fan? Why did everything have to get so complicated and over analyzed?

I’ll tell you and some of you aren’t going to like what I have to say very much.

I blame sabermetrics. There, I said it. Now, some of you might not want to continue reading because I’m going to do a bit of poking here. Then again, I know some of you just went into the defensive mode and are probably preparing for some sort of battle.

Whatever. I'm half kidding... but just half.

I’m going to start this discussion with some nice things to say about sabermetrics. I’m not going to say them to soften the blow; I’m going to say them because this is exactly how I feel.

There is a lot of value to what the sabermetrics community has brought to the table. They’ve made us look beyond the traditional methods of evaluating players and given us all some out-of-the-box things to consider.

Now, some of the folks in this community don’t necessarily want us to just “consider” what they have to say, but would rather we take it as gospel. If you’re not one of those people, don’t get upset because this doesn’t apply to you.

One of the things we often hear is that there is not one single statistic that can be used to fully evaluate a player… That’s usually followed by, “however, if I only had to use one stat, it would be Wins Above Replacement (WAR)” or fill-in-the-blank. The one statistic; whatever it might be, then becomes the focal point of evaluating a player’s worth.

You hear it all the time – that guy isn’t worth the money, his WAR was only “X” last year.

For a lot of the folks in the sabermetrics baseball is pretty black and white. For these folks, it’s all about the numbers and everything else seems to be irrelevant. There are exceptions, but I’m not talking about those.

These are the people that mock phrases like “clutch” or “gritty” and look at players like David Eckstein with disdain. They focus on his WAR or OPS and down play his intangible contributions on the field.


Some of you "stat folks" just made a face didn’t you? I know that you hate the word “intangible” because the intangibles can’t be measured or projected. Well, I love the intangibles. You want to mock me right now, don’t you?

Well, I should be mocking you. Why? Because the intangibles bring color to the game and I’m not going to let anyone take the color out of the game for me. When I look back at what Eckstein did in 2002, I don’t go back and look at his stat sheet. I go back and look at how he played the game. I appreciate things like “effort” and “hustle” and even “grit.” They’re as much a part of the game as any statistic; in fact, they make the game for me.

I know some of you are laughing right now and I'm not fazed at all.

Baseball is an emotional game. Most die-hard baseball fans are passionate about it. We get joy from it. We even experience disappointment and sorrow. The old expression “baseball is life” is not all that far from the truth.

When I think about Torii Hunter, I don’t think about his WAR. In fact, I couldn’t tell you what his WAR is without going to look it up. What I can tell you about is the time he hit a walk-off grand slam in his first year with the Angels or the time he robbed Barry Bonds of a homerun in the all-star game.

When I learned that he was coming to Anaheim, I literally jumped for joy. I couldn’t wait to watch him play the game. Some of you went right to his stat sheet and focused on that. Some of you are probably still doing that. Not me, I’ve loved every moment of his time in Anaheim.


Baseball is about creating memories for me. It’s not about numbers. Adam Kennedy doesn’t have overly impressive numbers for his career, but when I think about him – I think about the time he hit three homeruns against the Twins in the 2002 ALCS to help the Angels get to their first World Series.

I could care less what his WAR is, was or might be. I could care less where he ranks among other second basemen. I don’t feel the need to compare him to anyone.

Now, that being said, I will fully acknowledge that there is a time and a place to talk about a player’s numbers; however, that kind of talk doesn’t have to be a part of every stinking conversation. Don’t try to force that conversation down my throat.

A really outstanding blogger named Ken Arneson put some of what I’m trying to say in the perfect perspective. Back in September he wrote a piece called “First Rule of Sabermetrics Marketing.

Arneson makes his point by talking about the “Got Milk” campaign. He writres about how the success of the campaign wasn't based on why milk is good for you. Instead it appealed to its audience on a more emotional level.

Arneson wrote “The insight — that listing a bunch of facts about your product is not very effective; the best marketing campaigns make an emotional connection between your core values and those of your customers — is brilliant, but that’s not why I remember it so well. The insight itself is just one in a list of facts about marketing, and probably wouldn’t stick with me very long without an emotional connection.”

Arneson is on to something here. Sabermetrics definitely has value, but I don't get emotional about it at all.

It should be noted Arneson is definitely a member of the sabermetrics community and he’s an Oakland A’s fan to boot (go figure).

For me, statistics can be boring. I’m not interested in being bored. I know they can be very educational, but when it comes to baseball, I’m more interested in being entertained. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for education. Hip, hip hooray for education! Just don’t be surprised if my eyes glaze over when you start going on and on about statistics if that becomes the sole focus of our baseball conversation. Again, there's a time and a place.

So, getting back to the whole Vernon Wells thing…

I know that whenever a team makes a move of any kind; be it a trade, a free agent signing, etc. some of you have this incredible need to analyze the deal from a sabermetrics point of view. You’re going to try and arrive at a player’s value relative to his contract, etc.

If that’s you, go for it. Have at it all you want. Heck, I might even join you from time to time. Just know that at the end of the day, I’m going to think about the possibilities in an optimistic light more often than not. I’m going to romanticize the deal and raise my expectations from time to time. Yes, in the long run I might become disappointed, but I’m willing to risk that.

I don’t embrace everything the Angels front office does. I’ve done my fair share of second guessing and ranting for sure.

It’s just that with Vernon Wells, I’m willing to give him and the Angels the benefit of the doubt. I understand that his road splits weren’t impressive and I know he’s going to be paid a lot of money. I just choose to not focus on that. After all, it’s out of my control and I have a hunch that he’s going to help this team. I don’t need all the numbers to align with the stars. I choose to believe in his desire to succeed and in the Angels faith for him to do great things. I know some of you can't relate to that train of thought and that's okay.

You know what else? I feel good about having this kind of attitude.

When all is said and done – I suppose one of us is going to be able to say, “I told you so.” Personally, I’m not afraid of being wrong. I’m more afraid of being the guy who isn’t willing to take a chance, follow my gut or discount my instincts. I don’t want to be “that guy.”

I have a good feeling about Vernon Wells. And quite frankly, I’m feeling more like myself because of it.


  1. James,
    I too am proud to be a "Fan". Which I understand is short for fanatic. Loving the game even when it doesn't always love you back. So much negativity has been thrown up about "the trade" but I too have to admit, the first emotion I had when I heard about it was positive.
    You said what I felt and I just wanted to say keep up the good work.

  2. I appreciate this post, for your optimism and for your praise of the intangibles. I am someone who loves the stats, because I’m a recovering math geek and I think they’re fun, but I am also someone who thinks that the intangibles – the grit, the clutch, the heart – are what the game is absolutely all about and something the stats can never explain. I am pleased that Wells’ 2010 numbers were good but I get absolutely giddy when I think about his winning attitude and how genuinely excited he sounds to take the field this season in an Angels uniform and play wherever we need him to play.

    - Kristen

  3. Put another way: Sabermetrics REALLY REALLY likes Mike Napoli. My eyes - watching him play night in and night in - aren't so fond of him.

    We'll see how it plays out.

  4. Nice post. I think, even if you're into statistics, you have to find a balance. Statistics can be fun too, and that's why so many people love to analyze and over-analyze them.

    It's when we worry too much about the business of baseball that sometimes it goes too far, and I guess that's what happened with the whole Vernon Wells thing.

    The thing I love about advanced statistical analysis is that it's shown us that there are/were players who are/were good at a lot of things, but not great at anything, and who we now know are/were a lot better than we realized. Who's a good example of this?

    Hmmmmm.....oh yeah, Bobby Grich. ;)