In a 2009 article, Bill James wrote
The common mistake that is made by virtually all amateurs who try to dive into the analysis of baseball is to attempt to leapfrog the discussion, and go immediately to the great questions that are the ultimate goal of the analysis. People want to begin immediately by rating players, by deciding who should be in the Hall of Fame, and by predicting who will win the National League next year. People want to begin an analysis of fielding by figuring out who the best fielders were.
The essential contribution of the serious analysts who began in the 1970s—myself, Dick Cramer and Pete Palmer, and probably somebody else who I am offending by not including him—the essential contribution that we made was to break the discussion down into smaller and more manageable issues. Small questions have actual answers. Great questions do not.
Rather than beginning the discussion with an argument about how Mike Schmidt compared to George Brett, we began with an analysis of the relative value of a single versus a double, a double versus a home run, etc. What is the relative importance of pitching versus fielding? What is the relative value of a double play? What role does the pitcher play in getting double plays, what is the role of the fielder, and to what extent do double plays simply result from having too many runners on base? What role does the catcher play in preventing stolen bases, and what role does the pitcher play? What is the role of clutch hitting in the creation of runs?
By beginning with very small questions and worrying at length about how one of these questions related to the next, we were able to crawl gradually toward the great questions which had always been there waiting for us at the end of the discussion. We still couldn’t answer those questions, and still can’t, but we could contribute toward the public’s understanding of those questions by resolving some of the internal issues.
It's a great temptation to answer the Roenis Elias question by simply offering a big, hurkin' opinion as to whether he should be in the 2016 rotation. But this is a life lesson, so let Dr. D pretend for a moment that he has learned it, and chop some 2016 questions down to smaller and more manageable questions.
Q G (Question Grand). Is James Paxton ready to win 18 games next year? No. Let's not ask it that way.
Q M (Question Manageable). Is James Paxton ready to start throwing strike one next year? If so, is he ready to begin whipsawing his curve against that fastball? Yes. Let's ask this.
Paxton's control and command does not, to Dr. D, look as though it has advanced much from his Big Splash in 2014, when he pole-axed four contenders in as many attempts.
Then again, it doesn't really need to, for him to be a good young pitcher. On TV today, they referred to Lloyd McClendon's pre-2015 expectations: "Dominant #2 Starter" behind Felix. McClendon's feel for technical baseball is impressive to Dr. D. So McClendon expected that stride forward.
For GM Detecto, Paxton goes into 2016 as an interesting #3 starter who could at any moment pull the pin on an AL West Hand Grenade.
Q G. Should Roenis Elias be in the rotation next year? No. Let's re-phrase, with appropriate (exaggerated!) respect for the complexity of the problem.
Q M. Can Roenis Elias, given some sweet talk and some ML-caliber coaching, bring his A game most the time? Yes.
It says here he can. Therefore: GM Detecto has him in there, and his coaching staff has strict instructions about the way in which to relate to Senor Elias.
Q G. Can Shawn O'Malley sustain a .438 batting average? Might he be a "surprise" in his hitting ability, one of the guys who fools you when he gets to the bigs? No. Zamboni the philosophical ice a bit first.
Q M. How reliable are major league projections based on minor league track records? Yes.
Let's cut back to Bill. This from a 2012 article on Pitching Prospects vs Hitting Prospects. (Are you beginning to wonder how much time Dr. D spends browsing BJOL archives? You should .... )
We cannot make absolutely accurate projections as to what any player will hit next season, whether he is a rookie or whether he has been in the league for ten years. But we can project what Wil Myers will hit in 2012 as accurately as we could project the same if he had been in the league for ten years, and this is a fairly high level of accuracy. The sportswriter thinks of Wil Myers as he does because he fails to understand this. He believes that there is an element of doubt in the equation that is not really there, or does not need to be there...
He (Myers) is the same thing now that he will be in a year, and therefore the distinction between "prospect" and "player" is, on some level, a silly distinction...
You can give many reasons why it SHOULD be easier to project major leaguers than minor leaguers—but the fact is that it isn’t. Minor league hitters can be projected as major league hitters as accurately as major league hitters can be projected as major league hitters. This is probably the most valuable insight of sabermetrics—and has yet to be fully digested or accepted by the sabermetric community, thus remains as an advantage to be exploited by major league teams who do understand this.
Full stop, re-set. Bill states that MINOR LEAGUE EQUIVALANCIES ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT DISCOVERY THAT HE EVER MADE. He goes on to describe discussions he has internally with Red Sox analysts. They go back and forth, and Bill presses for the idea of giving minor league hitters credit for being who they are. The takeaway is --- > if you want a "Moneyball" market inefficiency? Look harder at minors track records than other teams do.
Bill put it in a pithy way back in the 90's. "ML orgs pay entirely too much attention to what their scouts tell them, and entirely too little attention to how their players have performed.
In Shawn O'Malley's case, this is a (relatively) damning implication. He is, already, a .270/.330/.360 hitter in a neutral park, or he will be after a 90-game league adjustment.
In Jesus Montero's, it is a flippin' big thumb on the scale. At age 20 he was already an average-solid major league hitter. Shortly thereafter, the famous Mariner Player Development System had its crack at him. For 2016, GM Detecto decides to take yet another look and see whassup.
Q G. Which reliever do we want? No. Huh-uh.
Q M. Which reliever has the best K/BB? Yes As y'know, Dr. D views none of the below as Willy Wonka Tickets to Arthur Rhodesyness and is retreating to this foxhole. Thusly:
|Vidal Nuno, L
|David Rollins, L
|Rob Rasmussen, L
|Edgar Olmos, L
Vidal Nuno is perfectl fine to spin that slider against left hand hitters; that we knew already. What we mighta missed is that he's got 65 K and 17 BB this season, major league level.
In 5 games and 6.2 innings, Tony Zych has fanned 9 guys, walked 2, and moved himself to the front of the line. We had a pre-scout on him at our second site and then a first impression of him at SSI.
Right now from my standpoint Nuno pencils in as the #6 reliever next year, a LOOGY, and we've got Zych's 97 MPH vs Guaipe's power slider for the #7. :: shrug :: Just distracting ourselves from Kam's backstab here, y'know?
But. It's this kinda stuff that makes the games interesting. Yes, really. It's going to be a long, cold winter. Especially if the Hawks always make the wrong choice to run-or-pass on the last play of the game.
Q G. Are Mark Trumbo and Edgar Martinez really that good a match?! Is Trumbo, like Ibanez and Cruz, about to bloom at age 30? No. Too big. Trumbo has gone .307/.364/.550 -- in Safeco! -- since July 27th. You wouldn't spit for the difference between that and Joey Bautista (.267/.380/.521 the last three years in Toronto).
Q M. What is the best sustained hitting that Trumbo has ever put together? Yes.
He hit .306/.358/.608 in the first half of 2012, with a decent 22:65 EYE. Reminds you, statistically, of Russ Branyan, kinda. And Trumbo has a lifetime .460 SLG, all quips about Zduriencik notwithstanding.
I dunno. There's one guy who could talk GM Detecto into reconsidering the Trumbo for 2016, that being Edgar Martinez. If Edgar told you yeah, I'm his symbiote suit, then there y'are. LoMo gone, and Trumbo/Montero battling in 2016.
But in any case, Trumbo has slugged a legit .550 under Edgar and he has been banging in some hard RBI. He's up with a bullet.