Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Helms Shallow

Phil Sheridan is a sports columnist (strike one!) for the Philadelphia Inquirer (strike two!). Today he tried to write about baseball. Strike three!

If there is a lesson in all this, it is that numbers don't tell the whole story. This galls the sabermetricians and Money Ballers... Nevertheless it is true that there are some things you just can't quantify, no matter what Bill James or Billy Beane say.

This is such a complete misrepresentation of the three decades of work done by Bill James, he could probably sue Sheridan (and the Inquirer) for libel.

This issue is best understood by looking at last year's trade of Abreu to the New York Yankees. Well into October, many e-mailers complained that the Phillies would have won the extra couple games needed to reach the playoffs if they hadn't foolishly given Abreu away. But the fact is, the team didn't really start playing well together and winning until Abreu was gone.

You want numbers? The Phillies' record before the deal: 49-54. After the deal: 36-23.

For the 83,914th time: correlation does not equal causation. If B follows A, that does not mean that A caused B. Is Sheridan really going to argue that a guy whose on base percentage was around .420 both before and after he was traded was some sort of obstacle to success?

Sadly, yes:

Abreu is, by any measure, a very talented and productive player. He's a perfectly decent guy. And yet the Phillies were a better team without him (or Bell or Cory Lidle) on the roster.

Then he caps off his nonsense by pinning his hopes on Wes Freaking Helms:

In Helms, the Phillies probably lose a little defensively (especially compared with Bell's in-season replacement, Abraham Nunez), but they add a guy who can hit .300 with some pop in his bat. In their ballpark, Helms might be a 25-homer guy.

"Probably lose a little defensively" -- ? Dude's a turnstile.

"Can hit .300" -- ? Yeah, OK, he has over the last 2 years, as a part time player. Let's see if he can keep it up as an everyday player for basically the first time at age 31. He's a career .268 hitter. Regression to the mean, baby.

And, all right, he might hit 25 home runs ... but note the key phrase: "in their ballpark." It's beautiful that after backing his short bus over Bill James, Sheridan fails to account for park effects in evaluating a player -- probably the number one contribution James has made, among dozens, to the modern understanding of the game is the huge effect different stadiums have on statistics, and how players should be evaluated in light of that.

Everyone's a contender before the games start.

Stop The War.

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