Archive for the ‘Regarding the Baltimore Orioles’ Category

Regarding the Limits of Run Differential

“There are three kinds of lies,” Mark Twain famously wrote, “lies, damned lies, and statistics”.

And yet I think that even Mr. Clemens himself would agree that the importance of statistics in baseball cannot be overstated.  Maybe it’s because of the idiosyncratic nature of the game, or its rhythm and pace, which leaves ample time to ponder events probabilistically.  But whatever the reason, it’s clear that numbers are stitched tightly into the rawhide fabric of the game.

Most of the time, this is a good thing.  Where would we be without ERA, WHIP, OBP, or OPS?

Statistics help us to make sense of baseball by distilling tons of events into concentrated doses of truth that we can use to appreciate the difference between Prince Fielder and Justin Smoak.

Sometimes, however, statistics can be misleading.  Sometimes we can rely on them too heavily, and in so doing, make the ironic mistake of distorting an analytical tool until it resembles the very kind of ignorance it was intended to diminish.

After 14 long years of futility, the 2012 Baltimore Orioles seem poised to contend for a playoff berth and possibly a division title.  How are they doing it?  With an incredible bullpen, an opportunistic (but not spectacular) offense, improved defense (particularly in the second half), and a great manager.  That would be my analysis.  When baseball sabermetristas analyze the 2012 Orioles, however, they often propose a very different mechanism for their success.

Luck.

I would like to argue that this analysis, which typically stems from blithe regurgitation of “run differential” argument is unfair. It’s also flawed.

Here’s why.

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3 Things the Orioles Must Do

With the All-Star game rapidly approaching, and the season nearly halfway over, I think it’s safe to conclude that thus far, 2011 has been a disappointment.  If you’re a fellow Orioles diehard, then you know all too well that the Os seem to excel at concocting nuanced definitions of the word.

Five years ago, they couldn’t win because they didn’t have the right players in their system and made ill-advised free agent signings.  Remember Jamie Walker?  Three years ago, they did have some talented young players, but they weren’t quite ready for the spotlight.  Now that they finally do seem to have a quorum of talented young players, they seem not be able to avoid injuries, or total talent regression.

The inconsistency of the starting pitching, injuries, and a lack of timely hitting have all contributed to a subpar performance for the 2011 team.  Still, there are some signs of hope.  JJ Hardy has demonstrated himself to be an excellent shortstop, maybe the best in the American League so far this year.  Adam Jones is having a big season, and seems to have greatly improved his approach and strike zone discipline.

Although it’s tempting to only look at the negatives, the question that most interests me is this: how can we get better?  How can the Orioles take what they’ve learned so far this year, process it, and come up with a roadmap that means the future will be better?  To my mind, failure is only worthless if you don’t learn anything from it.  Based on what we’ve seen so far this season, here are 3 things that I think the Orioles MUST do, to avoid sacrificing the glacial progress they’ve been able to realize over the past couple of years.

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An open letter to Buck Showalter

This time was supposed to be different. And as soon as you arrived, it was. The team magically began playing better, seemingly just because you expected them to. And those expectations gave us, gave me, hope. But hope is a fragile thing, especially among those who have too often seen theirs shattered. What’s left of ours is all but lost, but the worst part is that I’m not sure I believe anymore than you can save it. (more…)

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The once and future baseball city?

Just before 5:00 PM on Friday, March 11, the NFL players union officially decertified, legally reinventing itself as a professional trade association in preparation for an NFL lockout.

Having enjoyed relative labor peace since its last lockout ended in 1987, the NFL has prospered greatly over the past two decades, generating huge profit margins and effectively supplanting baseball as the new national pastime.

But as the millionaires and billionaires of the NFL prepare to face off in a court of law, I’m left wondering if football’s loss might not be baseball’s gain.  Could the seemingly unstoppable profit machine of the NFL inadvertently buoy its direct competition through an extended labor strike?

I think the question is particularly interesting if framed in the context of Baltimore, where an entire generation of sports fans have foresworn Orioles baseball in favor of Ravens football.  So much so, that at this particular point in time, it’s almost hard to imagine the Orioles laying legitimate claim to an equal share of the city’s affection.

While the meaning and purpose of the NFL lockout will be debated by fans, players, and management in the weeks (and likely months) to come, the longer it goes on, I believe the greater the chance it might induce interest in baseball and other sports.  Could an extended NFL work stoppage open the door, if only slightly, for the Orioles to regain some of their downtrodden fan base?

I think it actually could.

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