Reasoning from the General to the Specific

Q.  Washburn can't be having a career year.  Research shows that contract years don't exist.

A.  Well, maybe he isn't having a career year.  That's just my guess.  :- )  I wouldn't bet anything on it that I was afraid to lose.

But this point about false deduction is worth taking a minute.


If the numbers show that the herd of cows, averaged, don't prefer clover to alfalfa,  and that just as many cows prefer alfalfa ... we conclude that it cannot be the case that Bessie over there prefers clover?


Just because the MLB universe shows 1.0 ---- > 1.2 when a particular player crosses from AL to NL, let's not conclude that no player individually can do anything other than 1.0 to 1.2.  One particular player might actually do better in the AL than in the NL.


1.  Suppose somebody says "Hey, lots of people are moving from Washington to California.  They hate Washington."

2.  Then somebody studies the issue, and finds that the motion is the other way -- that the common assumption was backwards.  Brilliant, sir Guinness!

3.  BUT!  Then I come along and say, "boy, my mom sure wants to move to California.  She's quite the Ah-nold fan."

4.  Then the researcher says, "Bah!  People don't move from Washington to California; it goes the other way around!"

We have to be very careful about reasoning from the general to the specific.  Population trends aren't laws of physics.


Let's not commit the logical fallacy of believing that every generalized MLB trend must apply absolutely to each player individually.   That is falling back into the trap of saber-tistic overconfidence and dogmatism.

The research on contract-year performance is SUGGESTIVE.  We should keep it in mind, when we see a guy having a "contract year," that many times he just happens to be pitching in good circumstances, and the "contract year" is misleading in his case.

But we should also be alert to the fact that some individuals might still not conform to the generalized trend.  This principle is extremely important in sabermetrics.


Present company sincerely excepted!, sabermetrics is full of this kind of stuff.  Hey, we found that -- on average -- it doesn't pay to bunt with a man on 1st and 1 out.  Hence, having Michael Saunders bunt against Jon Lester last night was really moronic.

We're constantly ignoring 100 little variables, like maybe Saunders can't hit Lester with a paddle, or maybe he was hung over, or maybe the groundskeeper had the grass three inches long so you couldn't find the ball in it, or any of the infinite variables of life.  

"It doesn't pay to bunt, 1B, 1 out" is an averaged generalization.   The worse the batter/pitcher matchup, whether because of the batter's hangover or whatever, the less the generalization is true.


Sabermetrics would step about four yards forward, if it would be aware that every event is different.

Again, present company excepted.  ALL the guys on MC/DOV *do* try to avoid dogmatism and overconfidence.   It's a process issue.


True, it might NOT be the case that Washburn is pitching with extra "oomph" --  it might be the case that the cause of his renaissance was the winning -- or competing for his job after Silva got canned -- or whatever.

But wathing THIS ONE pitcher, I don't see an explanation for his radical improvement, other than snapping his pitches off a little better. Lookout Landing chopped Washburn's pitches six ways from Sunday, and saw little difference in the flight of the ball.  I conclude (gingerly) that he's more deceptive -- that he's selling his offspeed better, and locating the ball a little better.


My GUESS is, that Washburn's motivations (whatever they are) are causing him to reach back.  And my guess is that these motivations will not last him for three more years after this one.

That's other people's guess, too:  that Washburn is a solid pitcher having his career year.  Dombrowski said that.

Is the career year luck, or motivation, or what?  I don't know, but suspect it's primarily motivation.

We'll see if that's on track.


Dr D



"If the numbers show that the herd of cows, averaged, don't prefer clover to alfalfa,  and that just as many cows prefer alfalfa ... we conclude that it cannot be the case that Bessie over there prefers clover?"
No...but we conclude it's irrational to assume that's what's going on when Bessie eats clover for a couple of days.
And it's just as irrational to assume that Washburn is having a "contract year" just because his performance spike is happening at the end of a contract.  Especially in the face of real data which is painting a different picture.

CA's picture

I think that its certain that Washburn pitched better than he ever had as a Mariner this year.  I've had a couple of debates where the counter-argument has everything to do with strand rates, pitch/fx data and neo-analytical catch phrasing.  Much ado about statisical regression and so on.  What they miss is exactly what you seem to be pointing to, Doc.  Averages are based upon highs and lows in a spectrum, there is no physical law enforcing one to fall back towards their mean totals.  Many scoff at slight adjustments that a guy makes in his delivery, and the truth is, they often don't work.  But sometimes they do, and instantly you have a new ballplayer.  Jarrod appeared this year, to add a wrinkle,(slow curve), turn over his fb a bit, and pitch lower in the zone.  We can go round and round about LD%, it means nothing when those line drives are singles instead of doubles.  The flyball % means nothing if they are by and large of the lazy variety caused by a fooled hitter.  Many examples, impossible to convince the Sabes that they don't have the answers.  
Whether he pitched better this year because of job security, contracts, whatever, he just pitched better.  There are enough examples, across the sporting world, that one at least has to ponder the significance of "contract year" ballplayers.  


...makes my case FOR me that this was not just Washburn pitching with a little more gusto hoping to cash in.  A "contract year" player is one who only maxes out his effort when money is on the line.  Washburn is actually pitching better...and for identifiable reasons that are very projectable going forward.  It likely has not one darned thing to do with his upcoming contract.  Clinging to that illogical assumption isn't going to help us understand the game any better.

CA's picture

Matt, one can't disprove a negative statement.  I didn't see anyone claim with any certainty that Washburn only pitched better this season because his term was up.  But you really can't make a contrary statement, because frankly, you don't know what he's thinking.  He's a guy that had a very good year.  And just like I ( and I believe that I was alone last summer) saw no reason to give him away a season ago based on Saber declarations of 100% disaster, I also see no reason not to move him this year and would not re-sign him in the off-season at any event.  

Uncle Ted's picture

Research doesn't show that contract years don't exist, it shows that the best explanation of a spike in the last year of a contract isn't that the person is in the last year of his contract.  This is a claim about what we are warranted in inferring.  Of course, you are right, it's always possible that in Washburn's case the REAL explanation is that he's trying to make a buck.  We might find independent evidence that corroborates this hypothesis, but, on the basis of the evidence we have (you may have more), we aren't entitled to infer it, and hence we shouldn't do so.
Second, as regards projection, you are running together two different things.  1) what a person will do and 2) what I'm entitled to project on the basis of past events.  Nobody is denying outliers, nor are they denying that there is some explanation for why those individuals are outliers.  What people are denying is that we can antecedently predict who will be an outlier (precisely because we don't have adequate evidence about what the explanation is for why the outlier is an outlier). If we only classify players by standardly available statistical pitching categories, then there appears to be no evidence of contract years.  So, for you to form a meaningful projection, you need to first have different categories for typing players so that you at least get statistical reliability linked to those categories that can be predictive of "career years", and then you need to posit a plausble causal explanation for why we get the results we do given those categories.
As regards actual decision in games, I have never heard a SABR person say that you should never bunt/steal/whatever under some very abstractly characterized set of circumstances.  All that I have read are willing to admit that there can be defeaters to these generalizations like when the pitcher has a really slow motion, the third baseman sucks and the runner on first is fast as hell.  What I have seen people criticise is managers who make decisions to bunt in certain circumstances when the obvious potential defeaters to the broad generalization that you should not bunt in those circumstances aren't in play.  I don't think any SABR person would have qualms with a manager who explained that Ichiro is different from the MLB average player and hence the generalization didn't apply.


But remember I'm not claiming to infer anything.  I'm claiming to guess something.
The response to that was a flat assertion that my guess, in Washburn's individual case, couldn't be correct because of the generalized trend.  The response was the formal inference, not my guess.
And IMHO that inference was, and is, a logical fallacy.
I don't doubt that Washburn's "contract year" run is because of somethng else, such as a Perfect Storm of better coaching, a healthier arm, renewed enthusiasm because of winning, and his smelling the money. 
Agree 100% we don't know what it is.  Often it doesn't *matter* what the cause is.
I do suspect that whatever the "Perfect Storm" causes are, and to what extent his "smelling the money" plays a role, his performance not going to carry forward on anything like his 2009 level.  :- )


It is self-evident that sports coaching begins and ends with positive visuals.
Jarrod Washburn (as opposed to Hypothetical Player X) was ready to QUIT the game as he pitched in 2008.   That is not a state-of-mind that associates with peak performance.
Washburn is obviously in a vastly better state-of-mind in 2009.  His motivation is far better and, opaquely to sabermetricians I guess, this has correlated with peak performance.
I don't know about you, but if it's me in Washburn's shoes, $50M is a factor in my motivation.  ...there might be a Yogi in Tibet somewhere who doesn't care much about a $50M contract, but the rest of us care about money very much.
I don't know if any of that is sabermetric, but it is all self-evidently true.  :- )

Sandy - Raleigh's picture

Avoiding all debates on contract years - MY personal feeling in regards to Wash's 2009 performance compared to his previous 3 seasons with the Ms comes down to two factors that changed DRASTICALLY in 2009.
1) No longer pitching to Johjima.  It was no secret that these two had friction.  This didn't mean EVERY outing with Joh was a disaster -- just that the sum of the outings were slightly below Washburn's previous results.
2) The entire defense made a quantum leap forward.  The TEAM DER, (which includes everyone pitching other than Wash), was poor, bad, and garbage in the previous three seasons.  In 2009, it's #1 in the AL.
Doc notes Wash was miserable after '08.  How does ANYBODY do their job when they are miserable?  Unless your job is to be the snooty maitre'd at a French Restaurant, whose job description is to maintain the stereotype of the French as stuck up, arrogant snobs -- then being miserable likely makes you worse at your job -- whatever it is.  (This is especially important to understand considering the Ian Snell acquisition). 
But, as Doc notes -- there can be outliers in any circumstance.

Uncle Ted's picture

from simply saying that empirical evidence can provide information abou what you ought to believe, and about what methods you should use for further refining you beliefs, but it always falls short of ensuring the truth?  I can't see any person seriously claiming that it would be impossible for them to be wrong about an empirical belief, and hence I'm led to think that your assertion that there are many people in the SABR world who are guilty of the logical fallacy you are ascribing to them is uncharitable on your part.
Guess all you like, but on the basis of the evidence we have, there is still no good reason to believe in the "career year" explanation.


Bear in mind that I started D-O-V and SSI precisely so that we could have one place not suffocated by arrogance and elitism.   The "no evidence to believe X" -- "show it to me on BP" -- intellectual censorship just won't fly here.
In the Phil 101 classroom, we consistently endorse logical paradigms that we absolutely don't use in real life.  We say we believe in them, but we don't.
In the Phil 101 classroom, a guy will swear up and down that we have no way to know whether matter really exists.  But I notice that he asks me to pass the butter at the lunch table.  I usually tell him I have no way to tell what he's talking about.
Some things I believe, and some things I don't.  Scott Peterson got sent to jail because 12 people were sure he killed his wife.  "ENSURING" that it happened?  Nobody cares about the last 0.001% of proof.
Saber-tistas don't *logically* claim that it is *theoretically impossible* for them to be wrong, no.  But a few of them do a blinkin' good job of sneering at everybody who disagrees with them on the Wednesday post.
Consider me as uncharitable as you like Ted.  :- )  I've been bearing the insufferable arrogance and overconfidence -- such as the early PAP diatribes by BP, just to name one -- for years and years.
For me to opine that I think Jarrod Washburn is having a career year, and for my good bud to tell me I'm stupid ;- ) because sabermetrics has proven that doesn't happen, that's an INADVERTENT case in point.  Sabermetrics hasn't proven that!  It has furnished an interesting general principle which is one part of the discussion.
The believe that sabermetrics has -- for all intents and purposes -- ruled out Washburn's having a career year, that is a PRIME example of lack of respect for the limitations of our understandings.
You use that "there's no evidence to believe" paradigm that I battle against constantly.  Sabermetricians implicitly think that if it's not the consensus among Huckabay, Jayzerli, Law & Co., that we don't have any right to believe it.
Aside from the fact that we haven't read comprehensively enough to know that "there's no evidence" on something...
It implies our own firm conviction that sabermetrics has surrounded any subject at hand and put "paid" to the search for wisdom.  This is arrogant and it is usually incorrect.
It mirrors the academic's belief that he has 998 of 1,000 light bulbs on, and that he is the arbiter of what positions are justified.  He'll tell you that if it hasn't been published in a peer-reviewed journal (THT, BP, whatever), that it's stupid to believe it. 
I won't stand for it.  I started D-O-V and SSI precisely so that we could have one place not smothered by "Does Gary Huckabay believe this?  Where is it on BP?" elitism.
You consider virtually all published sabermetricians to be well-judged, humble and open-minded.  Don't let me dissuade you.  Enjoy your reading, my man.


I never called you stupid.  I called the theory that Washburn was pitching for his next contract counter to the real world evidence and provided a few examples of what I meant, and I decried the basic premise that players are capable of suddenly improving for no other reason than monetary incentive.  I never attacked you...but your lumping me in with arrogant prigs at BP or USSM is certainly an attack and it's an unwarranted one.


In this case I'm more talking about the syndrome, not meaning to paint you with it.  You didn't call me stupid, no.  Though why not, I have no idea :- )
Several times I've emphasized my appreciation for your open mind and focus on the issues rather than ego.
And if you remain very skeptical of Washburn having any kind of "contract year" based on your flexible, broad-minded understanding of the issue, I respect that amigo.  s'all good.
- Jeff


just seemed like you were responding directly to what I said...I just didn't want you thinking I was mocking know I just tend to be a bit direct in my debating style...LOL

Uncle Ted's picture

If we were warranted in using the "career year" explanation, then either 1) there had better be a pattern of improvement in the final years of a contract (which there isn't) or 2) we'd have to have some other evidence to the effect that this case was the exceptional career year (which as far as I know, we don't have).  This can all be true and it still be the case that Wash IS having a career year.
Further, I'm not using any abstract "there is no evidence that X is true so we shouldn't believe X paradigm" (that we can save for another discussion, but for the record I don't actually endorse it since there can be a large number of cases where it's better for a person to have false beliefs).  I'm pointing directly to what would count as evidence of some player having a career year (note that 2 could include a huge number of plausible explanations whether they are countenenced by sabermetricians or not including and not limited to a dinner conversation with Wash where he admitted that he decided to turn things on this year so that he could make a buck) and then pointing out that we haven't satisfied either of these constraints.  This all has nothing to do with some view about the legitimacy of elites.  I couldn't care less about elites. It has to do with an understanding of what it is to be epistemically justified in holding an empirical belief.
As for the rest of the post:  Yes, there are lots of arrogant people in the world, but don't confuse arrogance with a commitment to infallability.  If your Sabermetric friend is endorsing the claim that "we have no reason to believe P therefore P is false" they are comitting a fallacy.  I prefer to interpret them as saying "you aren't warranted in insisting that the explanation for Washburn's success is that he's in a career year, so stop acting like you are". Of course, I wasn't at the dinner table.  If they did the former, then shame on them.

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