Sabermetrics vs. (Uh) Sabermetrics?

This Pat Caputo column about the Hall of Fame has, well, a lot of problems. A lot. For one thing, he left off a bunch of players (28 to be exact) and then wrote, “You can speculate all you want about those I left off my ballot and performance enhancing drugs.” That seems, I don’t know, kind of irresponsible to me. He left off, among others, Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Edgar Martinez, Jeff Kent, Larry Walker, Luis Gonzalez, Sean Casey, Hideo Nomo, Kenny Rogers and Mike Timlin. Apparently we’re just supposed to speculate about all these people in addition to the ones who were actually connected to steroid abuse?

Say it isn’t so Hideo.

I’m sure this column will be covered at length by the folks over at Baseball Think Factory. Fish. Barrel. That sort of thing. But there is a paragraph in there that is worth pulling out for discussion because I think it gets to the heart of a sabermetrics-oldschool argument that, frankly, should not be happening.

Pat was making his argument for Jack Morris as a Hall of Famer, which is fine, but then he writes that sabermetrics misses a key point about Morris. The point is that Morris’ 3.90 ERA — which, everyone knows, would be the highest in the Hall of Fame — was much better than it looks because much of his career took place “during the height of the so-called steroids era.”

He writes this:

Sabermetrics has its flaws. One of them, for evaluation purposes regarding the Hall, is not accounting enough for statistics era to era. A 3.00 ERA in 1968 didn’t mean nearly as much as a 3.00 ERA in 1995, for example.

OK, there are a half a million problems with all this. Morris did not pitch in 1995. In fact, he really didn’t pitch almost at all in the steroid era — he made only 50 starts in 1993 and 1994, which might count as a early steroid era.* He certainly didn’t get anywhere close to the “height” of the era. He actually pitched in a very LOW scoring era historically. His neutralized ERA (neutralized to an average run-scoring season) is actually 4.28, which you will note is HIGHER than his actual ERA.

*By “Steroid Era,” I think we are all talking not about when players used steroids but when scoring runs got out of control. Players might have used steroids back in the 1970s, who knows? In fact, it’s all but certain that at least a couple of players used steroids in the 1970s. What we’re talking about here is high-scoring years. You will note the spike in runs per game — THAT is the Steroid Era:

1985: 4.33
1986: 4.41
1987: 4.72
1988: 4.14
1989: 4.13

1990: 4.26
1991: 4.31
1992: 4.12
1993: 4.60
1994: 4.92

1995: 4.85
1996: 5.06
1997: 4.77
1998: 4.79
1999: 5.08

2000: 5.14
2001: 4.78
2002: 4.62
2003: 4.73
2004: 4.81

This past year, it was 4.17. I would say, other than the blip in 1987 (when the ball was thought to be juiced) the steroid ERA probably began in 1993 and peaked from 1996-2001 or so.

Morris also never had a 3.00 ERA in his entire career. The closest he ever came was a 3.05 ERA during the 1981 strike season.

But my point is not Morris — Pat makes some fair points about Morris’ durability and postseason success. My point is: Of course sabermetrics has its flaws, but accounting for statistics from era to era is ABSOLUTELY not one of them. This, in many ways, is at the very heart of what sabermetrics try to do. This is at the very heart of Bill James’ philosophy about baseball. For countless years, most people judged baseball players in a vacuum. A .300 batting average at Fenway Park was viewed exactly the same way as a .300 batting average at old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore.. A 2.30 ERA at Dodger Stadium was viewed as being better than a 2.60 ERA at Wrigley Field. Chuck Klein’s .368 batting average at the absurd Baker Bowl in 1933 was obviously better than Yaz’s .301 batting average in 1968.

How do we put all this in context? Right: Sabermetrics. This is why we have such things as OPS+ and ERA+ and a hundred other context-driven baseball statistics. They try to remove layers of nonsense and get closer to the heart of things. Every viable advanced baseball statistic adjusts for era and ballpark and the value of a run and what it takes to win games in that time.

Chuck Dobson had a 3.00 ERA in 1968. That was a 93 ERA+ — well below average.

Greg Maddux had a 3.00 ERA in 2000. That was a 153 ERA+ — way, way above average.

There. Accounted for.

There is nothing like a good baseball argument. But to have a good baseball argument, you need both sides to bring with them at least a beginner’s idea of what the argument is about. I remember when I was doing all sorts of work comparing Dan Quisenberry and Bruce Sutter — I mean, I broke them down game-by-game, inning by inning, it took me weeks and weeks, dozens of spreadsheets — and at the end people would email me by saying: Did you happen to notice that Sutter had more saves than Quiz? … Really? Saves? Why didn’t I think of that?

That’s what this is like. Sabermetricians are spending countless hours breaking down the game, developing theories, testing those theories, improving their stats, finding boxscores from every game for 100 years, going through millions of play-by-plays, probing every premise … and then someone comes along and says, “Hey, you know, they scored more runs in 1995 than in 1968, you might want to consider that.” That doesn’t help.

Comments (105)

  1. Matt Williams (@Matt1J) December 19, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    My favorite argument is Babe Ruth is best player of all time because he ate hot dogs and drank beer. Well…no. It points to the level of competition he was facing if he was able to put up those numbers while eating hot dogs and drinking beer. Ruth may be in fact the GOAT. But it’s not because of hot dogs and beer.

    • Marty December 19, 2013 at 2:26 pm

      Yea and Ruth also swung a 50+ ounce bat. Basically a tree trunk. Also, not helping his case, lol. How great were the pitchers on a whole in that era, if he was still able to get around on fb’s being woefully out of shape. d

    • likedoohan December 19, 2013 at 4:29 pm

      I also am not sure the “level of competition” argument really works. Granted that minorities (who were more of a minority in his time) were not allowed to compete, but in his era there was no NBA, pro football was fringe sport, no kids played soccer or hockey. Baseball was really the only game in town, except possibly boxing, in terms of national importance. A much higher percentage of athletes grew up playing baseball than do today.

    • Tonus December 19, 2013 at 5:21 pm

      If Ruth’s performance was fueled by hot dogs and beer, we might have a problem. Alcohol was, for a significant part of the Bambino’s career, a banned substance.

  2. Matthew Clark December 19, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” Daniel Patrick Moynihan
    It is like discussing the statistical probability of winning the lottery with someone who then retorts, “Yeah, but what if you’re the one?”
    Saves! Augh!

  3. invitro December 19, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    Go get ’em, Joe. If a person who thinks Morris pitched in the height of the steroids era has a HoF vote, I suppose we really do need a test of minimum baseball knowledge for voters.

  4. Will December 19, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    Taking that into account, how could he (or anyone) vote for Morris over Mike Mussina? Mussina had more wins, a better ERA, more Ks. And, unlike Morris, Mussina pitched in the heart of the highest scoring era in baseball history, in the toughest division in baseball for (the first dozen or so seasons) one of the worst teams in said division. Pat Caputo’s a joke.

    And this is from me, who might not even vote for Mussina if given a ballot.

  5. Alejo December 19, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    American society in general is experiencing a anti-scientific wave. And that also goes for sports stats. People seem to have difficulty accepting evidence that does not conform to prejudice. Whether it is about your favourite pitcher not getting in the Hall, or denying evolution, or global warming, or even refusing to accept electoral polls, many people, sometimes influential people, reject data that doesn’t go along with their beliefs.

    • Lector December 19, 2013 at 3:32 pm

      But it’s not only American society, read what Francis Bacon wrote almost 400 years ago:

      “The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion (either as being the received opinion or as being agreeable to itself) draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else by some distinction sets aside and rejects, in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusions may remain inviolate.”

    • Matthew Clark December 19, 2013 at 4:26 pm

      And hence China is sending missions to the moon while the USA has to pay Russia to catch a lift in order to send our people to the space station we helped to build.

      • Alpine McGregor December 19, 2013 at 7:02 pm

        Ehh. The marginal scientific utility of manned missions to the moon/space stations is kinda suspect at this point. China is in it for the prestige. I’d rather we use our money sending landers to Mars.

    • Nick December 19, 2013 at 6:11 pm

      There are also people who say “it is, because science,” so be careful there. You should always be willing to put your beliefs to the test, and it goes both ways.

      • Andrew December 19, 2013 at 6:33 pm

        But science IS putting your beliefs to the test. Some people don’t really understand what science is, but at its core its empirical testing.

        • Nick December 19, 2013 at 9:21 pm

          Exactly, but what I’m saying is people take “science” just like they do religion or other things. They aren’t putting their beliefs to the test using science and data, they just use it as a nebulous word that can’t be challenged.

          • Alejo December 20, 2013 at 5:41 pm


            You are not making any sense. If someone puts his beliefs “to the test using science and data”, then will behaving rationally, scientifically.

  6. Hal 10000 (@Hal_RTFLC) December 19, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    The problem, to borrow a quote from The Politics of Glory, is that Caputo doesn’t care about statistics, data or the argument over who is the best player. He cares about Jack Morris. He’s convinced that Morris belongs in the HOF. And so he will uncork whatever argument he needs to get there.

    You’re having two different debates, Joe. You’re debating who are the best players; Caputo is debating how we can get Jack Morris into the HOF.

  7. Jim Haas December 19, 2013 at 3:00 pm

    Vance Hartke, a Senator from Indiana who served on the committee that considered Nixon’s impeachment, declared emphatically “Don’t confuse me with the facts!”

    • Donald A. Coffin December 19, 2013 at 3:17 pm

      Hating to bring this up, but if old Vance did serve on the committee that considered Nixon’s impeachment then he did so in an extra-constitutional manner. Impeachment motions originate and are considered in the House of Representatives. Trials are in the Senate. And while the House did in fact vote articles of impeachment, the Senate never began a trial. Nixon was smart enough to resign first.

      Of course, Vance did say (and do) a lot of stupid things.

    • Merle December 19, 2013 at 3:41 pm

      Actually, that was Earl Landgrebe

      • Donald A. Coffin December 19, 2013 at 4:42 pm

        Actually fits better with Landgrebe, who was also an idiot. God, does Indiana elect them–Landgrebe, Earl Butz, Hartke, Quayle, Mike Pence, Richard Mourdock…the list goes on and on and on…

        • Wilbur December 19, 2013 at 7:02 pm

          Earl Butz was never elected to any public office.

          Now, can we please keep out of this blog politics of all sorts? There are plenty of other sites for that.

          • Grover Jones December 20, 2013 at 10:13 am

            What’s interesting is that when Butz actually focused on agriculture, he was in fact quite good, ending New Deal programs to pay farmers not to plant, and the like.

            But yeah, it was the imitating the pope in a phony accent, etc. that wasn’t too hot. Not sure what that has to do with his being from Indiana, though.

      • Guest December 19, 2013 at 6:09 pm

        If you look at the modern defensive metrics, Earl Landgrebe was one of the most overrated fielding politicians of his, or any era. A land grab he was not.

    • Pete in snowy montreal December 19, 2013 at 4:48 pm

      It was actually Earl Landgrebe who said that and he was United States representative for the 2nd district of Indiana

      • Jim Haas December 19, 2013 at 7:04 pm

        Yeah, I trusted my memory, which often doesn’t get the facts straight! Sorry..but I am glad to know that was Mr. Landgrebe. Along with Homer Capehart, a Hoosier politician worth remembering.

  8. Chris Smith December 19, 2013 at 3:42 pm

    At least he voted for Maddux and couldn’t be the “no one is unanimous” guy.

  9. Andrew December 19, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    This is also a priceless comment from the same Caputo column:

    “I don’t hear the battle cry from the Sabermetrics crowd for Trammell, who has not come close to election, even though he had a better career WAR than Barry Larkin”

    Ummm…….really? Have you ever actually met a sabermetrician, or just heard about them from around the campfire?

    A smaller point, but its also funny how the WAR advantage he cites of Trammell over Larkin is, at least for bWAR, 70.3 over 70.2

    • Ian R. December 19, 2013 at 4:15 pm

      And if you look at fWAR, Larkin actually comes out ahead of Trammell, 67.7 to 63.7.

      Caputo claims to like sabermetrics, but evidently he can’t be bothered to actually look at the numbers.

  10. Tim December 19, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    Caputo probably also believes that old chestnut that sabermetrics is all about saying stuff like “This guy is 8 for 17 in the 8th inning of Tuesday night games in the Central Time Zone when the Senate is controlled by Democrats – how could you not bat him here?”

  11. Mark Daniel December 19, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    Apropos of nothing, a while back, I’m talking several years, Baseball-Reference had screwy neutralized batting stats. I was just doing some poking around, and I looked at Yastrzemski’s 1968 season, in which he won the batting title. I thought, “Wow, I wonder what Yaz’s .301 would look like when neutralized?”
    I went and looked it up, and – it was like .295. I was dumbfounded.
    So I then went and looked at Barry Bonds’ neutralized stats, and for his 73-HR 2001 season, it had him neutralized to like 78 HR. Clearly there was a flaw in the calculations.

    They have since fixed it, I think. Yaz’s .301 is neutralized to .327, and Bonds’ 73 HR is neutralized to…73 HR. Oh well, I guess we haven’t perfected the adjustments for era yet.

    • Adam December 19, 2013 at 4:21 pm

      Bonds played in a park that was death to power, especially left-handed power.

    • Ian R. December 19, 2013 at 4:22 pm

      That’s actually pretty reasonable. 2001, by Steroid Era standards, wasn’t a hugely high-scoring year. The league averaged 4.78 runs per game, only about a third of a run more than the 4.42 B-Ref uses for neutralized stats. Now, consider that Bonds played half his games in a serious pitchers’ park, and that offsets the league effect.

    • bellweather22 December 19, 2013 at 4:23 pm

      Keep in mind that Bonds played home games and in Division games in some serious pitchers parks like Petco and Dodger Stadium….. And neutralized stats don’t weigh in on whether Bonds PED use impacted his numbers. I can see where the scoring /PED era might have been balanced against park effects and other factors.

    • Richard Aronson December 19, 2013 at 8:19 pm

      Today, BREF’s neutralized stats on Yaz’s MVP year show a .339 batting average, the best neutralized year of his career. And AT&T field, or whatever it was or is called, is a pitchers park. I can believe it neutralizes Bonds to 78 homers.

      show Pacbell was 26th best hitting environment out of 28 major league teams. Bonds also had to bat a lot in LA and San Diego, also pitcher’s parks.

    • Mark Daniel December 19, 2013 at 10:09 pm

      Well, someone explain this to me because I don’t get it.

      In 1968, for example, Candlestick Park had a multi-year park factor of 101. In 1999, Candlestick’s last season, the multi-year park factor was 94. In 1968, teams averaged 3.34 runs per game at Candlestick. In 1999, teams averaged 4.60 runs per game there.

      It’s the same park. There’s far more run scoring in 1999 in that very same park than in 1968. But for neutralized stats, Giants players from 1968 get adjusted downward for park factor because it’s a slight hitter’s park. In 1999, their numbers get adjusted upward, because it’s a bad hitter’s park.

      I know that stats get adjusted for era also, and that’s fine. But they still get a park adjustment as well. It’s hard for me to grasp how a park in which teams average 3.34 runs per game is a better hitter’s park than one in which teams average 4.60 runs per game. As far as I know, neutralized stats adjust numbers as if this is the case. Am I wrong about this?

      • Ian R. December 20, 2013 at 12:15 am

        It’s the era adjustment. In 1999, the league averaged over 5 runs per game; relative to that league, Candlestick was a pticher’s park. In 1968, the Year of the Pitcher, teams only scored 3.42 runs per game – basically the same as the Candlestick average. The adjustment there, I imagine, involves the quality of pitching on the 1968 Giants – they had both Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry.

        The park factors you’re talking about are used to compare players to other players in the same season. When making an all-time adjustment, we use the overall league run scoring environment as well.

      • Ian R. December 20, 2013 at 12:17 am

        To answer your specific question, players from the 1968 Giants would still have their neutralized numbers adjusted upward relative to all-time, they played in a run-suppressing environment. Players from the 1999 Giants would still have their numbers adjusted down, just not by as much as players on other 1999 teams.

      • Hitandrun December 21, 2013 at 4:22 pm

        Candlestick was not the same park in 1968 and 1999. In 1970/71 the stadium was enclosed to make it suitable for the 49ers. Before that, the outfields were open to the parking lot with only bleachers and chain link separating.

  12. bellweather22 December 19, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    The interesting thing to me, is that if a guy bothers to write a column like Caputo did…. that he thinks he’s being brilliant in arguing his case for Morris. And, in doing so, comes off as an idiot because his main premise is verifiably false (that Morris pitched in the steroids era). I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. The same thing happens in Politifact daily with arguments made by some politician on some issue. Once someone actually takes the time to check the facts, the argument falls apart like a house of cards.

    Caputo, like politicians, should be aware that in this blog filled world, their data is going to be fact checked. I must therefore conclude that either Caputo is the sloppiest writer of all time, or he doesn’t actually care that his article will be checked and ridiculed…. knowing, in his mind, that there is a segment of society that will cling to his every word, believe him, and ignore all data to the contrary. At last count, 66% voted for Morris last year. So, that brain dead segment of society may be larger than we understand.

  13. sourcreamus December 19, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    This is all about Gnosticism, about who has the secret knowledge unavailable to regular people. The Sabermetricians believe they have it with their complex equations, and old school types believe they have it with their years of being close to game. There is a special feeling of pride that comes from having the knowledge and being part of the elite. It is part of the reason I click on any story with a headline like “Myths about topic X” or “10 things you didn’t know about topic X” regardless of whether I was previously interested in topic X.
    Admitting the other guys have a good point would mean humbling oneself and admitting that one might not be an expert in something they have devoted much of their lives to. With humility comes wisdom.

    • senorpogo December 19, 2013 at 6:07 pm

      There is nothing hidden or secret about sabermetrics, statistics, or analytics. How they work is transparent. Anyone willing to to educate themselves can understand them. They are egalitarian and open to all. That said, some people may use them in a way to deceive or mislead, but anyone with know-how can easily point out such issues.

      • Alpine McGregor December 19, 2013 at 7:05 pm

        Well, true to a point. There is a fair bit of proprietary statistical analysis being done at this point, both for individual MLB teams and private businesses. The general public does not have access to the basic formulas in PECOTA, for instance. But as much of this work is predictive and specifically disregards post-facto assessment, the caveat applies less aptly to the kind of sabermetrics invoked to determine a HOF case.

  14. EnzoHernandez11 December 19, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    Small point in the interest of historical accuracy–only the House Judiciary Committee voted articles of impeachment against Nixon. Tricky Dick resigned before the full House could take the matter up. Nixon was never actually impeached.

    • Donald A. Coffin December 19, 2013 at 4:58 pm

      Actually, Nixon was impeached–the equivalent of indicted. He never went to trial and was never convicted. The House impeaches, the Senate tries and either convicts or acquits.

      • Grover Jones December 19, 2013 at 5:15 pm

        Wrong. The committee voted to send the articles of impeachment to the floor of the House, but the full House never voted for impeachment. As someone stated earlier, Nixon resigned before that could happen:

        • largebill December 19, 2013 at 6:07 pm

          Correct, only Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton have been impeached. Johnson was not convicted by just one vote while in Clinton’s case it wasn’t even close due to senatorial cowardice.

          • Ed December 19, 2013 at 6:34 pm

            Or because it was a partisan farce to begin with.

          • Andrew December 19, 2013 at 7:09 pm

            In this case, “senatorial cowardice” means “stop wasting time and money to kick a guy out of office because we don’t like his politics”

          • Richard Aronson December 19, 2013 at 8:23 pm

            Or Republicans trying to stall Clinton to prevent Gore’s election in 2000 so they threw up some impeachment they knew would never get confirmed. I used to be a Republican; that was the period when I stopped believing they cared about the country instead of caring about their party.

          • Paul Zummo December 20, 2013 at 2:29 pm

            Yeah, that whole perjury thing was no big deal. It’s totally only Republicans who are guilty of partisanship.

          • Ed December 20, 2013 at 4:32 pm

            Nobody is saying that only Republicans are partisan — Democrats are bad too. Democrats, however, have not (as of yet) attempted to impeach someone for purely partisan reasons.

          • Ed December 20, 2013 at 4:34 pm

            There were plenty of Democrats saying Bush should be impeached for the Iraq War, but they didn’t actually impeach him. (thankfully, since it would have been just as ridiculous as the Clinton one)

  15. Donald A. Coffin December 19, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    Here’s your Jack Morris trivia question of the day. Of all the stats listed in Baseball Reference’s “Standard Pitching” table, which did Morris most often post a league-leading total? (No fair peeking.)

    Oh, Ok. Wild pitches–5 times (he’s 13th all-time, and the only reasonably contemporary pitchers with more are Phil Neikro and Nolan Ryan–and they’re both in the HoF!!!!!)…not that it’s really a relevant measure of anything…

  16. EnzoHernandez11 December 19, 2013 at 5:01 pm

    I’m a Big Hall guy, so I’d be happy to split the difference with the non-sabermetric guys, but only to a point. I say, sure, let’s enshrine both the sabermetric “compilers” (Blyleven) and the truly famous-at-their-time guys like Jim Rice and maybe even Garvey. But Jack Morris wasn’t really a big part of the “best pitcher in baseball” conversation during the 1980s. I mean, he’d get mentioned eventually, but only after Hershiser and Steib and Saberhagen and, of course, the first-ballot pitchers like Ryan and Carlton. But I don’t think anyone was out there concocting a HoF argument for Morris prior to Game 7 in 1991. Say what you want about Steve Garvey, but he was regarded as a Future Hall of Famer well before he single-handed crushed the Cubs in 1984.

    Anyway, I don’t see that Morris makes it by either the sabermetric or non-sabermetric tests.

    • Dave Fred December 19, 2013 at 6:31 pm

      Jim Rice might actually have a worse case than Morris, but both are far below the standard by any measure.

    • Will3pin December 19, 2013 at 10:45 pm

      For several years in the 80s, I (Blue Jay fan) had a running bet with a friend (Tiger fan) on who would win more games each season – Dave Stieb or Jack Morris. Needless to say, I almost always lost this bet. Still, I was always convinced that watching them both work on the mound, Stieb was the better pitcher, I just never had the stats to back it up. Morris kept racking up wins, and #37 just kept costing me money cause he couldn’t close.

      Jack has his Game7. My “what if?” game has always been around Stieb’s many misses on no-hitters and perfect games. He takes no-hitters deep into the 9th in back to back starts. What if he closed those out?

      OK – it’s a big “what if?”, but it’s my “what if?” game.

  17. EnzoHernandez11 December 19, 2013 at 5:02 pm

    And no, Nixon was neither impeached nor convicted. Please look it up.

  18. Donald Walcott December 19, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    What I find interesting in the comments is that it doesn’t appear that anyone read the subject article. Rather, they simply read the one flawed argument described above, and therefore have decided that the columnist must know nothing. It’s kind of like a lot of the sabermetric arguments I’ve seen. This will be repeated over and over until it is gospel that this particular columnist knows nothing about sabermetrics. So his arguments about Trammell’s and Whitaker’s WAR justifying serious HOF consideration must also be baseless.

    Oh, and if you actually read the article, and the example of the 3.00 ERA in 1968 v. 1995, Caputo did not say that Morris pitched in 1968 or 1995, nor did he say that Morris had a 3.00 ERA. He was trying to make a point by analogy. But, based on the above, and how these arguments go, I’m sure these false statements he didn’t make will be attributed to him over and over again.

    • largebill December 19, 2013 at 6:10 pm

      Actually did read entire article. Nothing else in the article does anything to change perception that Caputo is babbling on with little to no knowledge of the matter which he is denouncing.

      • Richard Aronson December 19, 2013 at 8:28 pm

        I read the entire article and responded at length. I think Caputo’s problem is he’s trying to blame anyone and everyone for not electing Morris, without realizing that Caputo is part of the problem. If Biggio, Piazza, and some others had been elected last year, instead of Caputo ranting that steroids are worse than greenies et al so he will never vote for anybody with the least taint, he’d realize that that is why the ballot is so clogged Morris won’t get in. I suspect also that, just as with talk radio, Caputo’s goal is to incite strong feelings either way, because sports columnists do not have quite the same job as sports reporters. I bet off the record he really knows ERA+, but just wants to incite some home town loyalty for him and Jack Morris.

    • Ian R. December 19, 2013 at 6:24 pm

      The problem isn’t that people didn’t understand the analogy; it’s that Caputo’s analogy didn’t work terribly well. There are differences in scoring between eras, sure, but Morris’ era was LOW scoring, not high scoring. He pitched primarily in a run environment that was closer to the ’60s (though not the crazy outlier that was 1968) than 1995.

      He’s right to argue in favor of Trammell and Whitaker, but even then I’d contend that Caputo is guilty of incorrect process. His agenda is to get his favorite players into the Hall of Fame; when WAR agrees with him, he’ll use it. When WAR doesn’t make his point, he’ll ignore it – hence his equating of Don Drysdale and Jack Morris despite the former’s much higher career WAR. He also left Schilling and Mussina off his ballot even though they’re both above 80 (!) WAR – well ahead of the Hall of Fame standard.

      • Andrew December 19, 2013 at 6:39 pm

        This exactly. I read the article too. He’s already decided exactly who he wants to vote for, and then pieces together his own nonsensical arguments to support his opinions, while taking a few unnecessary (and incorrect) potshots at sabermetrics while he’s at it.

      • Andrew December 19, 2013 at 6:44 pm

        If anything, bringing up WAR to support Trammell and Whitaker but dismissing it to support Morris makes his whole argument even worse. His argument is essentially that he’s a Detroit sportswriter, so here are the Tigers he’ll be voting for no matter how he has to twist the evidence.

    • Tim December 19, 2013 at 6:31 pm

      I’ve read the article as well, and his arguments about Trammell and Whitaker are especially bizarre. Not because they’re wrong (most Sabermetrics types would agree with them in fact and contrary to Caputo, DO want those two in the hall). But if he analyses Morris’s career in the same way as he describes that pair, he’s definitely not worthy. He also makes the bizarre case that Morris’s career is very comparable to Don Drysdale’s, which isn’t remotely true. Drysdale’s case is much stronger than Morris’s in both traditional stats and advanced ones. I mean, it’s not even particularly close other than W-L numbers

  19. Will3pin December 19, 2013 at 6:20 pm

    Here’s another recent and similar editorial (from Tracy Ringolsby) on Morris HoF candidacy. Unsurprisingly, Ringolsby’s case is that “Morris could well be victim of the new reliance on statistical analysis”.

  20. Trent Phloog December 19, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    The most frustratingly boneheaded part about that quote — even worse than saying sabermetrics doesn’t account for era — is the assumption that ERA is some kind of advanced sabermetric stat.

    Sticking with Nixon as an analogy, it’s like saying you support his impeachment because he dropped the atomic bomb on Japan… you’re doing it wrong, dude.

  21. Chris December 19, 2013 at 6:33 pm

    The problem here is that most Hall voters work backwards. They decide they want to vote for Jack Morris, or whoever, and then they set about to find reasons why. Anyone with a clue knows the best way to fish out worthy Hall candidates is to decide what parameters you believe to be Hall worthy, and then set about to find which players fit that profile. This, of course, leads to uncomfortable findings, and no one wants to be uncomfortable. No one wants to spend their whole life thinking Morris was a great pitcher, and then come to find out he wasn’t. It’s easier on the ego to continue thinking he was great, and set about to find out why.

  22. Chad Meisgeier December 19, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    One thing I find surprising is how often Sabermetrics do align with perceptions. The exceptions are fun to argue, but most of the time, the difference between perception and new measurements is not that large.

  23. BeninDSM December 19, 2013 at 7:01 pm

    Poz calm down. It’s Christmas, and you’re getting lathered up about baseball sabermetrics. Now is not the time. Now is the time to try to remember sometimes it isn’t cold and dark 24-7 and watch a good baseball movie with your kids.

  24. John Gale December 19, 2013 at 7:10 pm

    Yeah, I groaned as soon as I saw that argument about sabermetrics not accounting for different eras, when that’s really at the heart of the movement (and I wouldn’t necessarily describe myself as either SABR-oriented or traditionally-minded–I’m somewhere in the middle). It reminds me of Joe’s hilarious review of “Trouble With the Curve,” ( in which the SABR guy was portrayed as over-reliant on stats like…batting average. I just re-read that review. Still incredibly funny.

  25. tombando December 19, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    Meet Joe. He’s on a 12 Step Program to once and for all never say the words ‘Jack Morris’ and ‘Hall of Fame’ ever again in his lifetime. (HI JOE!). Joe has decided that he will now and forever only push for those he likes–Mssrs Grich, Whitaker, Murphy and Quisenberry, without resorting to comparing ‘Jack Morris’ to ‘Tim Lollar’, or mentioning the fact that ‘Jack Morris’ was in fact a fictional construct of Ralph Houk’s. ‘Jack Morris’ REAL name was ‘Dave Rozema’, who currently works in a Target outside of Tampa.

    Jim Rice is on the phone, uhhh Joe-

  26. cookiedabookie December 19, 2013 at 7:45 pm

    ” the steroid ERA probably began in 1993 and peaked from 1996-2001 or so.”

    Don’t forget, Joe, that during that same period there were 4 Expansion teams added, starting in 1993. I think this gets lost on some of the PED talk. Were steroids used? Yes. Did they impact the way players performed? Yes.
    But I think a significant portion of the jump in Expansion teams could also be accounted for by the expansion of the league by 4 teams in 5 years.

    • Ian R. December 20, 2013 at 12:21 am

      I’m not sure that’s relevant to Joe’s point (or Caputo’s for that matter). He’s just saying that Morris didn’t pitch in the high-flying offensive era that’s generally called the ‘steroid era,’ regardless of the actual causes of that offensive explosion.

  27. Pete in snowy montreal December 19, 2013 at 8:32 pm

    In addition to the dilution caused by expansion during this era, many teams also moved into new stadiums that were more hitter friendly.

  28. Brent December 19, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    And they most certainly juiced the ball, which of course, the higher ups at baseball will never admit, especially when they can hang the whole affair of PED use on the player’s union and sit back and smile.

    • KTM December 20, 2013 at 9:42 pm

      Maybe Canseco was also referring to the ball in Juiced? A double meaning sort of thing. Anyway, i agree with the assessment of the ball being juiced.

      I think the reason Morris won’t be elected, is not the total number of players on the ballot, but the total number of starting pitchers on the ballot, most whom have superior numbers to his. Glavine, Maddux, Mussina, Schilling. How many voters are going to vote for more than 1 starter on their ballot?

      I posit – not many. And if so, is Morris their 1st or 2nd choice?

  29. Albert Gore December 20, 2013 at 9:53 pm

    Nick, it’s “science” if it fits Alejo’s belief system. It’s not “science” if it doesn’t.

    The fact that there has been no global warming for 17 years should give you no cause for skepticism; in fact, you are an anti-science dolt if you even consider having a skeptical thought.

    • Which hunt? December 21, 2013 at 5:29 am

      Please argue this on Huffpo or Slate or Foxnews or wherever. This political agenda pushing thing is irritating, and it is out of place here.

  30. Albert Gore December 21, 2013 at 10:42 am

    I could not agree with you more. Someone in the comments above asked everyone to keep politics out of this blog; it was ignored, so I thought it appropriate to push the envelope just to make the point.