I was reading the first part of this article in The New York Times recently, and it made me think about baseball. More specifically, it made me think about Tim Purpura, sabermetric analysis and pitch counts. I'll try to address each briefly while we talk about the core concept.
First of all, the argument that the author puts forward is that incompetent people may not realize they are incompetent. Basically, you can't know what you don't know if you don't know something to begin. Does that make sense?
The illustration given of a bank robber who thought lemon juice hid him from video cameras after he tested it with a Polaroid is pretty hilarious. It's also the central point that made me apply this to the kind of analysis we do here at TCB. What this would-be thief did was set up a hypothesis and then tested it. When he found the evidence he was looking for, he drew broader conclusions based on it instead of testing the results again. He used one set of results to validate what he thought all along. Thus, his ignorance led to him not being able to realize his own ignorance.
How does that fit with Tim Purpura? Besides the obvious joke, I think this applied neatly to Purpura's tenure as Astros General Manager. Purpura came up as a player development guy. He believed he knew what was right for players in the minors and that he was a good judge of talent. His problem was he had never actually signed players before. He had little experience being the last guy to make a call. When he made trades, he evaluated both the players he was giving up and the players he received with his own expertise and the opinions of his scouts. I don't know for certain, but I can definitely see him getting enamored with Jason Jennings based on one or two scouting reports and ignoring any medical concerns. Isn't that the same situation that led to the Pirates trading for Aki Iwamura without requesting a medical checkup beforehand? Baseball talent evaluation is ripe with "unknown unknowns," but the bottom line results are known. They show up in statistics and win records.
That leads me to my second point, about sabermetrics. It's a somewhat unfair assumption that saberists are subject to leaping before they look with numbers and analysis. Detractors also try to say saberists focus too much on statistics and not enough on other factors. When dealing with advanced statistical methods, it's easy to get a result you understand and running with it or focusing on one specific stat to make a point. It's a logical trap I try to avoid, but we're all probably guilty of it to some extent. The smartest people working on these things, though, recognize this and are constantly working to improve how we view baseball statistically. There will always be blind spots and limitations to what we can know based on stats or what we ascribe to luck.
That last point, on what we know and what's simple luck, is at the crux of any discussion of pitch counts. After the disastrous luck of Oakland's young rotation back in the early 80's, work started on how high pitch counts are bad, how jumps in innings pitched can be bad and led to stats like Pitching Abuse Points. But, is this the best way to judge a complex biomechanical problem? Are we asking the right questions about those unknown unknowns? Certainly, the movement lately has been to talk about high-stress pitches instead of pitch counts. That's a start, I suppose, but do teams really understand what high-stress means? Are they doing work on this and keeping it proprietary? I remember a story last season about a doctor who had developed a formula to predict injuries. I believe the Dodgers had contracted him to come up with it, so he couldn't reveal his methodology. Are more teams working on this, or are they staying with what they know?
Just a fascinating set of questions and potential for discussion from this. Where are the blind spots in baseball analysis? Are beat reporters and columnists guilty of the same things, relying too much on scouts and front office personnel? Again, I don't have the answers for it. Maybe it's because I don't know myself what we should be questioning. At this point, my head hurts, so let's move on to people smarter than me writing about baseball...
SBNation Houston gives Lyles some props: Tom Martin over at SBNation Houston named Jordan Lyles as the second biggest prospect on any Houston team. Lyles definitely deserves the recognition, but I'm not sure he should be called up next season.
I've said it before, I really think the Astros should be careful with Lyles usage over the next couple of seasons. I know I discussed pitch counts earlier, but however they decide to do it, the Astros should limit the stress on the teenager's arm.
THT catches up with TCB: Chris Jaffe opines in this piece on the "Alivn Davis All-Stars" that Carlos Lee might be showing the effects of age. Funny, that's the same exact opinion from this FanPost here on the Crawfish Boxes.
Now, I'm not saying Jaffe stole anything, but that this is an understandable conclusion from his mid-season data. The only problem is that Lee for the most part is only showing this decline in his batting average. If his power had dropped precipitously, I'd be concerned. If his strikeouts or walks were changing dramatically, I'd be more likely to ascribe it to age. But, since it's basically just batting average, will Carlos bounce back and force some rethinking here? Will we soon talk about this season as just a slight drop due to the vagaries of luck?
Castro get it: We've talked a lot about Jason Castro's promotion and performance since he was called up last weekend. One of the things that's hard to judge but more important than anything is how he calls a game and how he works with pitchers. Luckily, Brian McTaggart is on the case:
"I've done a lot and really for the first time in my career I have the resources and ability to scout the other team," Castro said. "We put a lot of work with [pitching coach Brad Arnsberg] and have gone over some footage and talked about plans of attack with each hitter and things like that. It's been extremely beneficial and really helped me so far. I continue to put that to work in and see similar results."
I am shocked that major league teams don't have video scouting on other teams for minor leaguers. They should have enough money to pay for the video equipment, right? At the same time, I love hearing that he's excited about putting in the extra work for these things. Very Ausmus-esque, no?
Speaking of Castro, you may have noticed that we have a poll to decide which is the winning nickname from our contest Saturday. We'll keep the voting open through Sunday before deciding a winner.
Arbitration will be an issue: The Astros may have had arbitration clocks on their mind when the team kept Jason Castro at Round Rock until June. By holding him down past the point that many other prospects had been brought up, they gave themselves a good chance of avoiding Super-Two status for Castro and sending him through the arbitration process three times instead of four.
Did this help the team competitively? I could see the logic in keeping J.R. Towles as the starting catcher, but living with Humberto Quintero and Kevin Cash for over a month was just about unbearable. Yes, Castro may have needed the seasoning at Triple-A, but he might have also been able to take his lumps in the majors and learn that way.
At any rate, this article over at MLB Trade Rumors says that both the MLBPA and management may be willing to collectively bargain this process again, trying to fix it so fans can see Matt Wieters, Stephen Strasburg and Castro earlier than the current system allows. I'm not sure if this is a good thing, but it will be an intriguing bit of the negotiations. What will the players get in return for giving up big pay raises for 15-20 of their members each season? What will the owners be willing to compromise? Should be a fascinating back and forth...
Rangers sale drama: The Rangers are having some issues completing the proposed sale. We've talked about how this might affect the Astros in the past, with Round Rock possibly switching affiliation deals and Texas working on a potential Roy Oswalt trade. This article over at HardballTalk suggests that the failed bidders may be trying to get back in on the action and steal things away from the Ryan/Greenberg group. I suspect this is more a part of jilted bidders trying to let the creditors know they have better options if they reject the current setup, but it probably won't be enough to sabotage this deal.
To make matters worse, Richard Justice opines that Nolan Ryan's first act as one of the principle owners would be to bring Gerry Hunsicker on in some form. It's not enough they kick the crap out of our hometown nine all weekend and they may steal the best pitcher we've had in 20 years? They also have to take our best executive from that same time frame? Ugh. The prospect of that would be just terrible.
Former Astros pick may choose baseball: This was a very sad story from this past weekend, as former LSU safety and baseball player was in a horrific car crash that left him in intensive care. There are very real concerns about how he will recover from the injury, since there could be potential nerve damage in his ankle. Since football is a much, much more violent sport than baseball, the New York Post is reporting he might opt to go back to the diamond.
Jones was a pretty highly regarded prep player when the Astros drafted him in 2007 as a center fielder. He proved to be a pretty good pitcher with the Tigers the past few years, even starring for them in the College World Series in 2009. Isn't it weird, though, to think about a player choosing to pitch to avoid injury? It's one of the few positions that invites injury more than football. At any rate, I hope he continues to recover well and has no lasting effects from the crash.
On DDJ, draft signings and more: First off, hat tip to Astros County for finding this story discussing Bryce Lane's contract details. While he didn't reveal exact figures, he said he was paid like a 15th round pick. My problem with that? There IS no slot price for anything past the 10th round. After that, there is a max slot price and the team's negotiate with the player based on that. Some players at the bottom of the draft don't even get a signing bonus.
So, did Lane sign for 150,000 or less? We could just as easily say he signed for the same slot as an 11th round pick, right?
That's not all the draft goodness in this post, as the Baseball Analysts look at teams who selected multiple players high in the draft back in 2007 and again in 2010. The Astros pop up in the 2010 discussion, and the writeup is surprisingly positive about both Delino Deshields, Jr. and Mike Kvasnicka. It also reiterates the drum that OremLK and Subber10 have been beating, that this class may push the Astros farm system firmly into the middle of the pack.
But, DDJ hasn't signed, right? Should we be concerned about that? I'm thinking not. He's probably leveraging his football career and scholarship from LSU for a bigger deal. Plus, the Astros probably aren't as concerned about signing him. They won't have him play second base until he goes into instructional ball, so this season was going to be more about getting his bat acclimated to the big leagues. With the work he'll have to do on getting ready to play the infield, it makes some sense to wait for him to make his debut until 2011, after he works in the instructional league.