It's another piece of the puzzle. I always err toward my own two eyes rather than a computation, but as we've seen with our great young staff, the guys that grind it out with me every day 24-7, is that we do utilize all facets of scouting and player information.And in a Tom Boswell column a few weeks back, we got this:
For the last decade, baseball has had a debate between those baseball lifers with an eye for the game -- like Rizzo's dad and Boras -- and the younger, polished, generally more educated "Moneyball" types.Rizzo's exactly right that scouting and saber are complimentary, and the best saber folks have never argued otherwise. It's almost always people who know little or nothing about either scouting or saber who act like there's some running war between the two.
"I'm a hybrid," says Rizzo, who then does his ode-to-Sabermetrics riff about the value of knowing Value Over Replacement Player and WHIP. "My dad still doesn't buy it. But there's a place for it. Why not use all the tools?"
Then Mike Rizzo puts his hand over his mouth like he's about to tell you a secret. Remember, this is a man who thinks that it's nothing to drive the extra 200 miles, or figure out a 21-year-old's personality, then bet his team's future on it.
"Besides," he whispers, "it's not that tough."
I wondered, though, about the "it's not that tough" line. Because if he really thinks good statistical analysis is easy, then I'm not sure how much he really does get it.
So on blogger day, I dropped what was admittedly a "gotcha" question, asking him to give us a couple specific examples of how he uses statistical analysis. Nats 320 has the full transcript, but the examples he cited were groundball rates for pitchers and zone ratings for fielders, specifically pointing to Nyjer Morgan as a player they evaluated with fielding stats.
These were fine answers, and they jive with his actual moves. But the red flag that was raised at least for me is that these were really pretty basic examples, and it reminded me of that "it's not so tough" line.
What I'd like to see is the Nationals front office to get on the forefront of breakthrough statistical analysis, figuring out trends and probabilities that no one else has figured out before in order to gain an upper hand.
It wasn't really all that long ago that Voros McCracken did his groundbreaking research on batted balls, or Mitchel Lichtman's work on fielding, or Rany Jazerlyi's and Tom Verducci's work on pitcher usage.
There are so many remaining areas of inquiry. Fielding metrics remain a work in progress. Reliever usage league-wide is stuck in an idea Tony LaRussa had 20 years ago. Is infield flyball rate a repeatable skill? Game theory and bluffing remains a much underexamined part of the game (e.g., how many bunts must a player drop down before the other team brings in the corner infielders, and how many additional hits are created by the repositioned fielders?). Why do some pitchers seem to consistently exceed (John Lannan) or fall short of (Javy Vazquez) their fielding-independent pitching projections. Pitch F/X alone could provide several books worth of insight and analysis.
The main point of Moneyball wasn't so much about how Billy Beane used statheads to gain an advantage. It's that he found undervalued commodities in the market to build a better team. As the game evolves, there will always be new and different undervalued commodities. The challenge is to stay ahead of the opposition. That's tough to do in every facet of the game, and the saber side is no exception.
Here's hoping that Rizzo can go beyond merely implementing established saber principles and bring in people able to do original, proprietary analysis to give the Nationals a true leg-up.