Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Numbers Don't Lie (But They Can Deceive the Easily Confused)

This week's issue of Baseball Weekly features some random noise from Tommy Lasorda, as typed by Bob Nightengale.

Most of it is pretty much what you'd expect out of Lasorda nowadays. But this caught my eye and resulted in some dark chuckles:

I remember one time, Alejandro Pena is pitching and (Yogi Berra's) son Dale is hitting. I told (then-Dodgers pitching coach Ron) Perranoski to go get him. He's had it. Then I said, "Wait a minute, look at that sheet." How has he done against Berra? They told me he was 1-for-11. I said, "OK, let him stay." Well, he hit the ball against the gate in left field and cleared the bases. I told him, "Don't ever let me look at that (darn) sheet again." And I didn't.

To sum up: Lasorda let Pena pitch to Berra and got burned. Lasorda blames the damned stat geeks for making the damned geeky match-up information available, because that swayed him to decide to leave Pena in the game.

Two thoughts immediately come to mind:

** Lasorda evidently is unfamiliar with the concept of small sample size. Eleven at bats? You can't conclude jack from that many at-bats. Maybe if Berra was 5-for-55. But no sentient being would think eleven at-bats was a significant sample.

** Lasorda says in his anecdote that Pena "had it." So he kept a pitcher in the game that he knew had nothing left just because the stat sheet showed he had some small success against a hitter? He deserved to get burned.

I know the anti-Moneyball crowd's favorite canard is to say that the stat geeks don't care about traditional baseball thinking or scouting in general. And while I can't universally say that there aren't any knuckleheads sitting at their computers who agree that the scouts don't know anything, the really smart guys (like Billy Beane, for instance) understand that there is a place for the more traditional ways of thinking. And that to ignore that received wisdom out of hand is dumb.

Lasorda should have known better. If Pena was done, he wouldn't have gotten anyone out. Not even a guy who went 10-for-110 against him.

Lasorda messed that up. Blaming the stats crowd just doesn't add up.

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