princely

Person A: It’s 5:30 PM anywhere in North America, and the caller on the sports talk radio station has an opinion: the front office of his favorite team is a collection of imbeciles. They’re idiots. The players they acquired are useless. The talent they let go is irreplaceable. Morons. Every single one of them.

Why? No reason is given. It’s sports talk radio, and there isn’t time for reasoning and analysis. It’s about sound bytes, and the most recent caller provided a nice little blue collar rant with which the rest of the commuters listening will identify and enjoy.

Person B: A couple hours later, an unappreciated underachiever gets home from his unchallenging office job. Within minutes of arriving at the house, the transaction tracker on a mobile sports app gets checked, a website is visited, players are compared and the exact same conclusion is had: the general manager is an idiot who has made a series of terrible mistakes with his roster construction.

Why? Well, it’s plain to see with a statistical breakdown and a cost/benefit comparison that accounts for a declining skill set based on the history of similar players and current projections.

Who is the bigger idiot: Person A or Person B?

There’s no definitive answer, but I’ll go with Person B being the more deluded. While Person A was probably unloved or ignored as a child – what other possible motivation might there be for calling into a talk radio show – Person B isn’t just myopic, they’re exceedingly limited while believing themselves to be omniscient.

If our motivations were described without reference points we’d easily dismiss ourselves as being ridiculous nitwits. This is perhaps best seen in our eagerness to categorically judge the actions of others as either positive or negative, with little regard for the complications and unconsidered dynamics that would surely destroy the unsophisticated dichotomies we build for ourselves.

That we eagerly adopt and then vehemently defend simplified judgments  - all at the cost of nuance and accuracy – is one of our more silly attributes. Our minds aren’t considerate. We judge. One party is good, and so the other must be bad. As soon as we find the benefits, we lazily dismiss the other option as being a consequence.We see evidence of this everywhere, but among baseball fans in winter, the propensity for this behavior grows outrageous.

Maybe, at one time, it made sense. Perhaps there was a stage when analysts could identify patterns through statistics that executives – limited in imagination – didn’t even consider. According to Moneyball, the Oakland A’s found success by discovering a market inefficiency and exploiting it. In addition to prompting the front offices of all 30 teams to seek out ways of gaining marginal value over their competition, the wonderful book also inspired an unfortunate drawback. Everyone believes themselves to be informed experts now, better aware than front offices of where additional value can be found.

This isn’t an appeal to authority. I’m not suggesting that just because a GM is a GM, they’re smarter than you. What I’m suggesting is that amateur analysis is often full of holes, lacks an understanding of context and places too much emphasis on the data that’s known while completely dismissing the possibility that there’s additional relevant information to which they’re simply not privy.

We saw this exemplified tonight when the Detroit Tigers traded Prince Fielder and $30 million to the Texas Rangers for Ian Kinsler. There will be analysis tomorrow suggesting that the Tigers made off like bandits. Other pundits will praise the Rangers for acquiring a premier hitter for a player they would’ve just as soon give away. Some of the writing tomorrow will fail to recognize that Detroit has suddenly freed up $76 million in contract commitments. Other pieces won’t mention the plethora of middle infield talent on the Texas roster that can swoop in and replace Kinsler’s contribution at decidedly cheaper price. It’s fine. Whatever.

I think what’s most interesting about this deal, though, is what we thought when these players signed their contracts with their previous teams. Fielder’s nine-year, $214-million contract from a Tigers team with Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Alex Avila already vying for future plate appearances from the 1B/DH spot seemed ridiculous. Kinsler signing his five-year, $75-million extension after a seven-win season in 2011 was a stroke of genius for the Rangers.

Since that time, Detroit has won two straight divisions, and made a World Series appearance. Fielder has put up seven wins, and arguably given room for Miguel Cabrera to emerge as not just an elite hitter, but perhaps the greatest many of our generation will have seen. Kinsler could never equal his 2011 performance. Since signing the deal, he’s become only a slightly above average player with most of his value coming from his defensive play.

It’s not all roses for Fielder, nor is it Death Valley for Kinsler. The Rangers new first baseman had one of the worst years of his career last season, causing many to believe that the long-believed-to-be-impending decline due to his weight had finally begun. Meanwhile, Kinsler’s contributions over the last two seasons have been limited as he battled injuries. With good health, Detroit’s new second baseman could easily regain his status as one of the best up the middle players in the league.

The point isn’t that we were right or wrong in our analysis of the signings at the time. It’s that things change so rapidly in baseball. Amateur analysis is already figuring things out in the dark, and the future plans of a ball club is just one more area in which we know nothing about.

One of the areas in which baseball analysts seem to struggle is in recognizing that not every transaction occurs in a vacuum.  It’s much easier to imagine that there’s a definitive rule that governs all transactions and when applied, allows trades and signings to be labelled as either good or bad. That’s simply unrealistic. Each team faces their own situations in their own unique environment, and every club has a different plan, finds different opportunities and employs different ambitions.

There is no one value to rule them all.

Go ahead, and read the hot takes tomorrow. They’ll quote numbers and use stats and tell you why this a brilliant move or an absolute disaster transaction. It’ll seem intelligent, but the truth of the matter is that the writers of these are playing the same game as the columnists who quote heart, grit and intangibles as reasons for transactions. They’re just trying to tell you what you want to hear. They’re only serving to confirm one group’s opinion while marginalizing another’s. It’s the same sportswriting principle at play: Tell ‘em what they think they know.

Person A and Person B may both consume sports in very different manners, but they still want the same thing out of it. They want to be entertained and they want to be told that they know best.

Don’t we all?

Comments (11)

  1. Sixth last paragraph.

    It’s “we’re”… who’s the idiot now?

  2. I don’t understand how baseball fans who care enough about it in the off season can’t see how this was a fair and even trade for both teams.
    Detroit needs to move Miggy over to 1st and sign Max to a long term contract. Much more than they need to pay Prince his contract.
    Texas needs some pop in their bat and move Profar into an every day roll at a much cheaper price than Ian. They do this while taking Prince. They add some pop to thier line up and recieve 30 million to make his contract make sense.
    If Prince comes back to 90% of what he was 2 years ago the deal is perfect for them. If Detroit can sign Max, then the deal is perfect for them.

    Fans of baseball are definitely smarter than, say, NFL fans. It’s when you focus on people who call into radio talk shows that the image gets much more skewed.

  3. Yeah, there’s something to be said for this trade on both sides, but the real problem with Fielder was always Victor Martinez’s presence, and with Martinez off the books after one more year, I’m a little surprised. I would almost hazard a guess that the (lack of) playoff defence the Tigers flashed in the ALCS had something to do with it.

  4. Got it. Can’t win; don’t try.

  5. What I hate so much about the deal is how much damn sense it makes for both teams and effectively solve most of their problems.

  6. Hot Stove Haiku Corner

    Fielder for Kinsler
    Though by UZR, Kinsler’s
    The better fielder

  7. Well, the important thing is that you’ve found a way to feel superior to both Person A and Person B.

    But seriously, great article. Come back and write about baseball as often as you’d like Parkes.

  8. So bitter, so jaded, so annoyed, and yet, so perfect. It is very interesting, Parkes, seeing your evolution of a sports writer, further away from analysis of the game and towards analysis of the way the game is covered and the way others come to their conclusions. I often disagree with your social commentary, but this is bang on. The rush to make finite opinions and defend them, almost as a matter of saving face has become almost unbearable.I mean, just look to the comments, where people have, ironically, just offered their own instant analysis. Smart people understand the effect of randomness in statistics and baseball, yet forget that things can change when doing analysis.

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