Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Open The Pod Bay Doors, HAL...To Push Rick Morrissey Out

A number of smart people, such as Ken Tremendous at FireJoeMorgan.com, have already booed and taunted this piece of crap until their throats were sore. I have just a few points that I want to make about the complete lack of insight and understanding displayed here.

Morrissey (not to be confused with the clever, interesting Morrissey) makes so many ridiculous points that my head wants to explode as I read them. Let's start with the assertion that Paul Konerko is disappointed with his performance in 2007. Morrissey assails computers for not being able to calculate the goodness inside a players' heart or his determination to improve. He also wonders if, as forecasts show that older players decline in value, isn't there a chance that occasionally they might have a better season?

That the Sox dropped from 90 victories in 2006 to 72 games last season was one of the shocks of the baseball season. But not to Baseball Prospectus, and the people who run it deserve their props. They chalk up a lot of what happened on the South Side last season to the inevitability of time catching up with older athletes. I chalk it up to a number of players having down years at the same time.

Isn't there room for a number of Sox to have good years at the same time? Say, in 2008? If Jim Thome stays healthy, he could have an excellent season.

Yes, there is room for that, and Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA forecasting system reflects that. If Morrissey actually bothered to read the details of PECOTA and the complete forecast lines of Sox players, rather than just spout inanities off the top of his head, he'd know that. PECOTA projects the following lines for Konerko and Thome as their most likely (50th percentile) performances:

Konerko .266-.354-.477, 25 HR
Thome .262-.374-.518, 26 HR

It also predicts Thome missing around 150 or so plate appearances to injuries, which hardly seems out of line considering the last four years of Jim Thome's career.

But it also shows that their "heart" or "determination" or maybe just plain "talent" and "good luck" could produce the following numbers, although the chances aren't great (90th percentile):

Konerko .296-.389-.547, 34 HR
Thome .303-.418-.622, 40 HR

It also shows the result of a possible total collapse, although the odds don't favor this, either (10th percentile):

Konerko .229-.310-.390, 15 HR
Thome .214-.320-397, 13 HR, only about 350 plate appearances.

Impossible, you say? Ask Richie Sexson. I guess that Sexson in 2007 had no heart and wasn't determined.

Heart and determination and grit and feistiness all show up in the numbers, no matter what Morrissey and his ilk tell you. Along with talent and hand-eye coordination and age and learning ability and everything else that makes up a professional baseball player. Combine every factor in whichever weighted recipe you want; what you have in the end is performance. And performance shows up in the statistical line.

Do you really mean to say that Paul Konerko had less heart and determination in 2007 than he did in 2006?

Which leads me to another point. I don't doubt for a minute that Paul Konerko, or Jim Thome, or Jermaine Dye, or Mark Buehrle are determined. But so are Miguel Cabrera and Curtis Granderson and Justin Verlander. So are Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner and C. C. Sabathia. So, for that matter, are Alex Gordon and Mark Teahen and Zach Greinke. That's a given among people who rise to the level of major league athlete, or for that matter anyone who becomes successful in their chosen field. Very few players rise to this level and none get to be really, really good on talent alone; that requires working your ass off. It's foolish to suggest that the Sox will improve in the standings just because Paul Konerko is upset with himself and determined to do better. Everyone in the game is determined to do better.

Which leads me to a final point. There is a myth that professional athletes want to believe and perpetuate, and which writers like Morrissey freely enable. The myth is that professional athletes succeed because they are better people than you and I; not just faster and bigger and stronger but also more determined, more focused, more blessed. Athletes want to believe this for obvious reasons. Hack journamalists like Morrissey want to espouse it because it's their way of showing celebrities that "hey, I get it, I understand, can I be part of the clique, too?"

I call bullshit on it. Athletes have no monopoly on determination, not even within their peer group. When Paul Konerko hits a three run homer in the first inning off of Gil Meche, does that make Konerko a better human being than Meche? What about when Meche strikes Konerko out on a slider in the dirt in the third inning? Who is the superior being then?

But determination and "heart" and "character" aren't the sole properties of Major League Baseball, not to be rebroadcast or otherwise redistributed without express written consent. I'm damned good at my job, because I care about it and work my ass off at it. The same with Bob. My girlfriend entered her profession later in life and is exceptional at it, because she never passes up a chance to learn and improve. My father dropped out of high school to go to work; by the time he retired he had risen to a management position with a major, well-known manufacturer, overseeing the efforts of hundreds of inspectors. Was he less determined than Paul Konerko, because he couldn't hit a curve ball?

Athletes have an agenda for what they tell the public, just like politicians and religious leaders and Hollywood types and anyone else in the public eye. And journamalists have an agenda for repeating it. But you don't have to buy it.

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