Catz Corner: Sabermetrics, Hope, and getting through 2014

Don't rain on your own parade! - Brian Garfinkel

Stop worrying about everything. Baseball starts in a few weeks and the Phillies will be playing. An old man's guide to navigating the minefield of the 2014 season.

So stay with me. There's a point here and I'll get to it eventually.

During the daily rounds of emails that go back and forth between the writers here, somewhere between debating the merits of paying John Mayberry $1,500,000 this year, whether Darin Ruf is a better option, and whether the better analogy for trading Maikel Franco is:

Franco: Asche = Sandberg: Samuel or Franco:Asche = Samuel: Sandberg

We got to talking about whether Franco's trade value would be hurt by a move to 1B, and I made a comment that went something like:

"If the Phillies are in it in July, and a team wants to see him at 3B, he'll be playing 3B".

That was followed by the usual half serious, half joking comment:

"Well, the good news is that the Phillies won't be in it come July, so we won't have to deal with it!"

Now this isn't meant to be a dissertation on why I believe that statement to be right or wrong, frankly, I lean, as most of you do, to believing that it would take a miracle for that to happen too. So I don't take offense at all to that comment. And the comment was really justified in many ways.

But it got me thinking.

Does it really matter?

If you love this team, like I do, are you gonna root any less for them because they suck? Does back to back home runs by two reserves feel any more satisfying when the team is up by 7 games in the division? When Papelbon leaves a fastball up to Freddy Freeman with the bases loaded and a 2 run lead will it sting any less if the Phillies are coasting to a playoff birth?

And more importantly, if you allow yourself to buy into the negativity surrounding the team, how much worse is it going to be if you're right?

Most of you that are reading this are way younger than guys like myself, and WL and Schmenk, but trust me when I say that we've been through way worse situations with this team than what it's experiencing now.

There's light at the end of the tunnel.

People ask me all the time how I can be optimistic about this team and I never really answer them. But today, I'm gonna do that.

I can be optimistic because in almost forty years of following the Philadelphia Phillies there has never been a season where, in January, they did exactly what I thought they would do. There were always surprises, some good, some bad, (okay, a lot more bad than good...)  and over the years I've learned that what I love about being a Phillies fan is that if you have hope, you can survive.

But I believe that while sabermetrics are the single most incredibly good thing to happen to the game in the past 50 years, they can at times severely interfere with your ability to be A FAN.

Now before you call Bill James, and put a hit out on my head, and scream blasphemy hear me out.

I love sabermetrics. I really do, but there's a time and place for it. Using advanced metrics to analyze a player is imperative to a front offices ability to run a team, and it adds a tremendous level of complexity to the casual experience. For me, getting into sabermetrics was like walking into the Matrix. I'll spout xFIP over ERA till I die, and threaten to punch you over the worth of an RBI till I'm blue in the face.

But when it comes to hope, in times like this?


As a fan, I hate the predictive nature of things like run differential and Pythagorean W/L and fWAR estimates on win loss records in January,  and I hate em even more in July. Mainly because I really don't wanna know that the team is better or worse than the record shows, or that they only have a 13% chance of making the playoffs even IF they are only 4 games back.

To me, I take solace in the fact that THEY ARE ONLY FOUR GAMES BACK!! THEY HAVE A SHOT!! It doesn't mean that I don't know the deal in the back of my mind, but that's for me, the worst part about the sabermetric revolution, and how it relates to the casual enjoyment of the game!

Don't get me wrong, that stuff is critical in November. When you're putting together a team. But as a fan, trust me when I say this, don't look at it from February to October.

I don't really care if steamer only predicts Marlon Byrd to put up 0.9 fWAR over 113 games, but Oliver has him at 3.3 over 143. We'll find out soon enough who's right and who's wrong.

But the ride there is what keeps me going.

As great as the statistical advances are, they've unwillingly and unintentionally created a cynicism among the smartest of fans that in a lot of ways takes away everything that's magical about baseball. If you wanna know how I can be optimistic its simple. I don't buy into that part of sabermetrics as a fan. I know I should. I know the odds. I don't care.  That part of my fandom will always be intentionally locked inside a magical vault inside the soul of a 8 year old me, and later, a more cynical 21 year old me.

and if you don't think there's magic in baseball, just ask Danny Jackson.

So I guess what I'm saying here is that maybe the Phillies won't be in it in July, maybe they will, but let's talk about July in July.

In January, I wanna dream on Ryan Howard returning to form and finding his swing again against lefties.

I wanna believe that Jimmy Rollins has one more year in him.

I wanna think about my kid wearing his Chase Utley Jersey in April and talking incessantly about going to see him in Philadelphia in July for two months straight. and when he asks me if the Phillies are in first place? I don't tell him their in last place, or that they're only a 7% chance to make the playoffs. I tell him they're 4 games back and it's still early.

I wanna hope on Ruben Amaro proving everyone wrong about Byrd and Ruiz.

I wanna believe that the kids in the bullpen are gonna be alright.

I wanna think that Ryne Sandberg knows how to right the ship.

I wanna imagine what I'm gonna say when I call in to a radio show and tell Jim Bowden he was dead wrong in August.

But mostly I wanna stop talking about money and contracts and cable deals and who we didn't sign and start talking about how "if we can just do this" or just do that" ya never know.

Am I delusional? Probably. But I've got a wet bar on the bus, the led zeppelin box set on the radio on a loop, six 72 inch televisions, and I don't have to listen to Chris Wheeler any more. There's plenty of seats. You're all welcome to hop on with me. Just don't take the one next to the Jacuzzi. Phrozen already called dibs.

I can't promise you wins, but I can promise you it'll be a much more enjoyable ride.

Ya gotta believe.

Catz out.

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