Through Both Lenses: Singularity

Posted: June 7, 2012 by Mauricio Rubio Jr. in Columns, Sports, Through Both Lenses
Tags: , , , , , , ,

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

“Another symptom of progress toward the Singularity: ideas themselves should spread ever faster, and even the most radical will quickly become commonplace.”

-Vernon Vinge

I recently lent out my copy of Michael Lewis’ Moneyball, the book that started an interesting statistical revolution in the game of baseball. In re-reading it over the years and gaining a different context on what the book was really about, I’ve come to rest my baseball mind in an interesting little place that exists firmly in between the objective and the subjective. Scout eyes and numbers, which in my limited case is Baseball Reference and Youtube.

Which is how it should be really. I can’t say that I always had that approach, I was on both sides of the fence at one point or another. I’ve slanted more SABR in the advent of Moneyball, and at points I went all numbers in an obsessive quest to find that one number that would define a player.

That one number, that I can use to prove or disprove a player’s worth.

That’s where the problems really start. I think too many think like I did, that there is one all-encompassing number out there that can take into account Power, bat control, batting eye, fielding, and speed. It’s kind of video game mentality I think, where we want to believe that a player’s worth can be summed up by one number, like a 99 rating on Madden.

It’s bullshit.

That’s not to say that numbers suck, because they certainly don’t. Numbers are very important to the fabric of baseball. People know numbers, fans identify with certain numbers. There’s been some tremendous work in the SABR field that has really educated people on what’s important in the game. Some of it seems like it should have been intuitive. Making outs, wherever they are, is very bad. Productive outs are predominantly dumb. Pitchers that strike a lot of people out generally fare better than those that don’t.

I think it distorted a lot of people’s view on baseball. I’ve heard the “You can play baseball on a spreadsheet” joke one too many times for my liking. The game is played by people who have tendencies. That’s it. The numbers show you those tendencies, their play on the field still dictates wins and losses.

wOBA is the new, en vogue number. It’s intriguing and it simplifies certain aspects of offensive value, but it still doesn’t tell the whole picture. That’s fine. Bill James once said you can get an idea of what a player looked like by his statistical line. I still think player worth should be determined by the total package, and not a process that grinds the numbers into 1. Different components mean different things to different players playing different positions. Worth cannot be defined by a single statistic because that oversimplifies the issue. You lose perspective dismissing SB’s because they’re risky. You still have to watch to fully appreciate a player’s worth, and combine that with the stats.

The Cubs Draft

Here’s a nifty mini video on Albert Almora, the Cubs #1 overall pick. It was said at the beginning of the Theo regime that this would take years and the Cubs showed you just how far away they think they are via the draft. Theo stressed the importance of drafting and developing players through the farm system and raising them up from there. 4 of their first 5 picks were high school kids that always need more grooming. 7 of their first 8 were pitchers that also typically take more time to develop. There’s going to be a long gap before any of the talent that Theo selected in the draft can contribute. That was the plan all along, they told you that was the plan all along, and still people are freaking out, pushing the Rizzo panic button, hoping for a savior.

There are no saviors. This isn’t like the NFL/NBA draft, where physical build and talent can carry you while you learn the game. Baseball prospects are a notoriously flaky bunch. MiLB is a war of attrition, 1238 players were selected in this year’s draft, and that happens every single year around this time. Think about that, 1200 players are ingested by 30 organizations every year. That’s a damn high turnover ratio. It doesn’t even mean guys drafted in the latter rounds are throw-away picks either. Albert Pujols lasted 12 rounds, Mike Piazza was drafted as a favor, Jim Thome lasted 13 rounds in the draft. Baseball is so extremely hard to project on young kids, it’s without a doubt the hardest sport to identify talent for at the amateur levels. It’s getting better, but it’s still largely a mystery.

So, what do we know of the Cubs draft? They put a premium on young talent with high ceilings. Albert Almora was they guy they were targeting all along, and he’s currently playing the leverage game. Almora doesn’t project to be a five tool guy, if he did he’d probably be gone by pick 1/1. He has good makeup and a high baseball IQ, which is important to find in high schoolers. You can kinda tell which guys went to baseball academies. Almora and Correa look like they’ve been taught the game at a high level for a long time. Almora was selected to Team USA at 14, so he’s pretty well refined.

From MLB.com:

Almora has played for USA Baseball as much as any player in history. He’s played in big situations and shown natural leadership abilities over the years.He’s also got many tools to get excited about. He should be an above-avearge hitter at the next level, with an ability to drive the ball to all fields. He’ll have above-average power as well and shows it in games now, especially to the pull side. He’s a solid average runner and knows what to do on the basepaths. Defensively, he’s a plus center fielder with excellent arm strength and range.All of his tools play up because of his plus makeup and work ethic. That combination should have plenty of teams in the first round taking a long look at him.

That’s a pretty rosy picture of him. I think he has the best shot out of any of the draftees to play regularly at Wrigley, but he’s got a lot of work to do. He has to sign first and foremost. His tools are all projection, meaning that he doesn’t have power, but his frame looks like it’ll add good weight, translating to power. His hit tool is pretty good for a HS kid, but Vitters had a good one too and he’s just figuring it out. His biggest asset is an ability to read the ball off the bat and take good angles to the ball. Scouts love his fielding, so he, not Brett Jackson, is probably who Theo have in mind for their CF of the future.

Sox draft recap tomorrow.

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Comments
  1. Jim L. says:

    Well put. Mo. I think Brett Jackson is trade bait, an add-on not a centerpiece. Just a hunch on my part but he doesn’t seem to fit into the Theo/Jed mold.

  2. Jim L. says:

    There are a lot of Cub fans who are putting a lot of faith in him being a savior (not as much as Rizzo though) and I just don’t see the guy adjusting to ML pitching, especially if he can’t cut down on his K rate at AAA.

    I think a lot of Cub fans are going to be disappointed, which will get the meatball faction hollering for Theo / Jed / Dale’s collective heads.

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