Sunday, September 5, 2010

"Illogic" - I Really Tried...

I know, I know, I'm not going to make it in the business if I keep making enemies, burning bridges is not a good idea. I know my "elitist attitude is not going to get" me far. But when there are errors in baseball writing, I feel the need to point it out - I sure wish someone would do the same for me.

I found myself on reading one of the cover stories about Manny Ramirez, a perfect time given Ramirez's recent trade to the White Sox and the weekend set of the Whites versus the Reds (socks that is). I typically don't find myself reading too frequently as I find they mix real life emotions with that of sport. Yes, it is fine to get emotional over sports and to feel some semblance of joy or sorrow based on them, but at the end of the day, they are simply sports and are there for entertainment and nothing more.

In any event, the article mentioned the headaches that Manny will provide to the Chi Sox, as he had to the Red Sox, Indians, and Dodgers. The author mentions a couple highly publicized events which made Manny into some sort of anti-hero.

The purpose of this article isn't to praise Manny Ramirez, I really don't care about him as a person, he's one of the greatest hitters regardless of performance enhancers (which, this just in, ONLY helped hitters, meaning that the stats from the past 20 years have only inflated the numbers of the hitters - great science Mr. Shaughnessy) and that's all that matters to me. The purpose of this article is to question why another author is making assumed claims about a hitter based on illogic (spell check confirms, I just made up a word and am now titling this series "Illogic").

So here goes...

The author writes,

It's harder for Manny to hit now that it's harder to juice.

Testing is not his friend. Some of the power and skill is gone.

Oh! That's the correlation?!? It's harder to hit now that Manny can't use steroids, and that's it? No other reasons it's harder for Manny to hit? Nothing? Okay, I'll give you a second to think about that....


No, not yet?

How about now?

Here, I'll give you a couple hints...

#1 "Ballpark Factors" are a "factor" in the performance of a hitter and pitcher. Fenway, for example is consistently improving the numbers of a hitter, especially a right handed power hitter who needs to hit the ball 310 feet instead of over 370. Conversely, Dodger stadium tends to sap this power.

It's not a difficult concept. The numbers are fairly straight forward. Some ballparks help a hitter (Fenway) others hinder a hitter (Dodger Stadium).

Admittedly, Manny's Fenway vs. road OPS doesn't really display this. In fact, Manny managed to hit better (according to OPS) at Dodger stadium then at Fenway. OPS isn't the greatest statistic, but it shouldn't be dismissed.

In any event, ballpark factors ought to be considered, and the fact remains that Dodger stadium i less of a hitter friendly ballpark then Fenway Park. Regardless of "juice".

#2 Manny Ramirez is no longer in his late 20's/early 30's (aka the Prime of a hitters career). It is a well known fact that ball players typically get worse as they leave the prime of their career. I wouldn't expect a baseball writer to know this fact, as it doesn't draw reader interest the same way a headline including "Manny" and "badly" does.

In any event, Manny is simply an older hitter. With or without steroids, Manny would have seen a dip in production, the same way David Eckstein saw it - of course, we could chalk Eckstein's career ISO, which scored below "steroid era" league average up to steroids, after all, who knows what he would have been like without them? Positive test be damned, right Cox?

The point is, Manny's ISO peaked during his age 27 and 28 seasons at an amazing .330 and .348. During five of the next six seasons, Manny hovered around .300 having a low of a still impressive .262 in 2003 (presumably a statistical anomaly). Manny's age 35 season was easily the worst of his career and possibly signaled the end of what was an amazing career (keep in mind, that he still had an excellent season that year).

Then, the trade to LA occurred and Manny's career was, can I go as far as to say resurrected? He did, post a .270 ISO that season, which again, continued the negative trend that one would assume from an individual who is in his late 30s. This was then followed with a .241 season, and then the .188 he is posting this year.

We do see a trend forming here though. If you start at 2004 and run the numbers up to 2010 you see it clear as day - 305, 301, 298, 197, 270, 241, 188. That is Manny's age 32 season running through his age 38 season. It's tough to suggest that this isn't simply the normal aging pattern of a player (possibly to the extreme because Manny's peak was so incredibly high).

#3 Manny's "skills" have hardly diminished.

While Manny's power numbers have tailed off, his wOBA (weighted on base average) has seen only a marginal drop in production and remained well above that of the league average hitter. In fact, he is in the top 20 in all of baseball (among hitters with 200+ plate appearances) despite being clean - baffling, isn't it?

Another little factoid, he is one of only two hitters older then 35 in the top 20. I wonder how much of his career is to be blamed on steroids in the first place. That is, a hitter who is in the twilight of his career and is clean is still among the top 20 hitters in baseball, where does this put him for the prime of his career?

Instead of chalking Manny's decreasing power up to steroids, would it be so difficult to look a little further? Instead of assuming that steroids created Manny into the hitter he is/was, do some research, ask some questions. The fact is, there is very little to link PEDs to Performance Enhancement other then the name.

I really wish that writers who get paid would take some time and do a bit of research. Stop aiming for tabloid-style points and write concrete material that brings something to the discussion. Yes Manny will provide some headaches for this team's management, but he's also going to win the team some games.

The better headline would have been, "Kenny Williams admits letting Jim Thome go a HUGE mistake".

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