Tim Tebow and Baseball Sabermetrics

Husky basketball season ended a few days early to make sure we focus on the Mariners and Japan.  With Chone Figgins less than 4 hours away from stepping up and seeing the first pitch, I’m here still talking about Tim Tebow.  I’m sick of him (to no fault of his own, blame ESPN and any other sports outlet) but I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time and it seemed fitting to write it before the season began.

As you know if you follow along here, I think highly of the Mariners’ blogosphere.  Lookout Landing is my favorite website on the internet.  USSM is as smart and statistical proof-driven baseball blog as there is.  Prospect Insider and Proball NW have good information, especially about minor league ball.  Seattle Sports Insider is the blog I agree with the most, and always a fun read.  I haven’t even covered Larry Stone, Geoff Baker, and a good amount of other good Mariner blogs.  They all have good information, especially since the evolution of baseball sabermetrics have made them relevant in everyday baseball conversation.

The sabermetrics have made the game more fun, it’s easier to understand and more complex all in one.  Usually the stats they show back up what they’re trying to prove and that’s what baseball needs after years of misleading stats like a pitchers win-loss record.  But, as we enter the new season, remember that these metrics don’t tell it all.  Here are 3 wide-ranging examples of why they aren’t the end-all in explaining a team.

  • Tim Tebow really wasn’t a very good quarterback last year.  He was a good quarterback in that he won football games and that’s the most important aspect, but he wasn’t a good quarterback from what the statistics show.  Tebow completed 46% of his passes.  That’s terrible for an NFL quarterback.  I won’t tell you all about Tim Tebow’s statistics but I just looked over them and they are bad.  They were bad enough for me to look at them for about 10 minutes and take my first dive into football sabermetrics.  Anyway, even Tebow’s most avid supporters would admit that he was not an efficient quarterback in the first through third quarter.  Then, the fourth quarter would come around and it was like he would change into a different quarterback.  I don’t need to document all the comebacks and 4th quarter wins he led this season because everyone else in the world has documented them, but it was interesting, different, and something people who only rely on stats couldn’t figure out.  You could say that it’s luck, God, or anything along those lines and you might be right.  But, haven’t we seen this in all sports?  Some people just have a knack for stepping up in big moments.  Michael Jordan had all the talent in the world and the gift for stepping up and that’s why he was the greatest basketball player ever.  Lebron James doesn’t have that knack, yet.  He’s not considered in the same tier as Jordan.  The point is, these metrics don’t have a way to measure who has that knack.  I think that’s a major flaw.  Sure, you could isolate the numbers in games you consider to be ‘big’ circumstances but we can’t act like we’re inside of a player’s head and see what they determine as big.  Which leads me to my next point.
  • My dad used to tell me that sports were 50% mental and 50% physical.  I can’t disagree.  It applies to all of life really.  A salesman can put on the perfect suit, drive the perfect car, have the perfect sales pitch memorized but if he’s thinking about going to the golf course while making a sales pitch he’s less likely to do a quality job than if he was completely focused on the sale.  There isn’t a huge difference between the best major league baseball players’ talent and the worst players’ talent.  I believe a good share of what sets them apart is mental.  Why did the 2009 Mariners win 85 games  when the teams before and after them lost more than 100 games?  Was the talent better that year?  A little bit.  Were they luckier?  Sure.  But what people who completely buy into sabermetrics and know no other way won’t admit is that they won 85 games partly because of that team having fun.  You’re going to perform better when you’re having fun.  Don’t discount team chemistry the way Dave Cameron does.  But, don’t give it as much credit as people who discount sabermetrics do.  There’s a healthy line there…. I’m not exactly sure how to describe it, but the 2009 Mariners helped me figure out that chemistry does play a role.
  • A few days ago, U.S.S. Mariner came out with this piece on Iwakuma and Beavan.  Dave’s main point was that their numbers were practically identical even though the results are different.  One of the points of sabermetrics I disagree with is how they evaluate a pitcher giving up base-hits.  Yes, Iwakuma had a good K/BB ratio which is important, but if you’re giving up 29 hits in 16 innings I don’t think you can simply gloss over that.  Yes, some of those hits may be ‘lucky’ but Beavan only gave up 12 hits.  Wouldn’t you rather have a  pitcher who gives up fewer hits?  Am I thinking too much like a simple baseball mind or are other people over-thinking it?  I understand Cameron’s point, and he’s much smarter than me in all things baseball (I’d take him out in music theory) but I think Seattle Sports Insider got it right with their rebuttal.  Some of these stats that we ‘shouldn’t pay attention to’ should probably be paid attention to.

I didn’t come off quite as clear as I’d like to in this.  Hopefully I could formulate something better soon and come back with it.  A couple of days ago, I bashed on Jon Heyman for writing a piece about Ichiro, which I still think was awful.  He completely overlooked his stats and what his on-field performance has meant to this franchise.  We as fans, should not do that.  But, I think there’s a little more to this game than sabermetric stats.  Do I lean one way or the other?  Yes, I side with the geeks who use WAR to evaluate players but I’m trying to find out how far I am to that side.

As we’re about 4 hours from the first pitch of an unpredictable 2012 season, I would just encourage you to make up your own mind on things.  Take in all the information, because there sure is a lot and that’s part of the fun, but once you have the information make an educated decision on how you feel.  Don’t agree with Heyman, Cameron, Baker or anyone just because they have big-time blogs.  You’re paid to agree with your boss or get good grades to agree with your professors, but sports are one of the few places we get to have our own opinions and not have any consequences with them.  Most of all, enjoy the game and enjoy the debates that go along with it.

Happy 2012 season.  Go M’s!

– Andrew


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One response to “Tim Tebow and Baseball Sabermetrics

  1. Pingback: Tooting the horn and a few other things | The Good Guys Sports Blog

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