FanPost

Paul Alexander's Gut Feelings > Sabermetrics

So on my way to work this morning, I was listening to The Fan. Yes, I realize that this was probably my first mistake. However, coming off a good win yesterday and the first 4-game sweep at PNC Park in six years, I figured it would just be a nice way to hear some good "Go Bucs" talk. I was wrong. As a disclaimer, I must first say that I was not one of the callers. I am not simply trying to defend myself. One guy called in this morning and asked quite simply whether the Pirates might consider trading Joel Hanrahan at the deadline. Paul Alexander, quickly dismissed the idea and assured the caller that the Pirates weren't sellers anymore. A few minutes later, another guy called in and very calmly said that he thinks it might not be a terrible idea for the Pirates to try and move Hanrahan for another bat or a starting pitcher. Alexander started yelling about how it was a stupid idea. The guy jumped in and said that he actually had some stats that back up his point of view. Alexander said he didn't care what the guy's stats said, not just anybody can close. Not to be deterred, the caller jumped in again and pointed out that the Braves used 10 different closers during their 14 playoff appearances from '91-'05. Good point, right? Wrong. Because the Braves "only" won one World Series during that time. Apparently, a decade and a half of playoff baseball including five NL Pennants and one World Series title isn't good enough for Mr. Alexander. Alexander pointed to the Yankees' most recent dynasty and said that their string of WS titles proves that closers are important because Mariano Rivera was the closer the entire time. I see, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettite, Roger Clemens, Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez and the rest of the Yankees 200 million dollar payroll had nothing to do with it, it was all about Mo. Shame on me for not seeing that earlier.

At this point, Alexander cut off the caller and went on a rant about how "sabermetric geeks sit around with their abacus because they never played baseball" and just try use numbers to prove everything. He then mocked the caller for being prepared. I'm not kidding about that last part either. He literally said that the caller was less credible because he had stats to back up his argument...think about that for a second. He then insisted that he knows better because he's been in the clubhouse after a blown save and knows that it's the end all be all of baseball momentum swings. Look out, here, I'm about to refute his assumption with a stat. DANGER! In the past 2 years, there have been 10 games where Joel Hanrahan either blew a save or got charged with the loss. The Pirates record immediately following those games? 8-2. A blown save is not necessarily the precursor to a long losing streak. He then assumed that Clint Hurdle and the Pirates agree with him because Hurdle "walks around the dugout and looks for a guy who wants to win" when they need a key play rather than playing the odds while these "computer geeks" would insist on going with the guy who is 4-8 against a given pitcher. Let's forget for one second that the Pirates, with guys like Neal Huntington and Dan Fox in the front office are a very sabermetrically-inclined organization. Let's also ignore the fact that there is not a single proponent of sabermetrics who would use an 8 AB sample size as proof of anything. Baseball in general has moved towards sabermetrics over the past 10-20 years for a reason. Guys like Bill James are revered and guys who think pitcher wins are important are unemployed (at least within the baseball community).

Anyway, a few minutes went by and it seemed like things were about to cool down until another guy called in. You could tell he wanted to tread lightly since the last guy got cut off for using facts to support his conclusions. He mentioned, sort of off the cuff, that while Mariano Rivera is an absolute stud, the Yankees winning % when leading in the 9th (~97%) is not that much different than the league's winning % when leading in the 9th (~94%). Alexander didn't like this and then yelled some more about how if that's really the case then why do closers make so much more money? He asked the caller if he thought baseball really just overvalued the save (YES!!!!!) but cut him off before he could answer. Then, he ranted some more about how not everybody could close and that there is a fundamental difference between being a setup man and being a closer (no there's not). He never explained how the Pirates last three closers (Matt Capps, Octavio Dotel and Joel "The Best Pitcher Sinced Sliced Bread" Hanrahan) were all setup men before the closed, but the same couldn't possibly be true of anybody else on this team. His co-host (who I kinda got the impression agreed with the callers) mentioned that it's not purely a talent evaluation thing, it's a financial question. This is absolutely right. If you're a big market team, knock yourself out and spend big on a closer because they are, if nothing else, good relief pitchers. However for a small market, spending $8M for a guy who throws 55 innings isn't a smart way to spend very limited resources. Alexander snapped at that by knocking the "Moneyball" approach and pointing out that the Athletics weren't even that good since they "never won anything" (other than 751 games over an 8 year stretch...a 94 win average) and "only made the playoffs once" (five times).

Look, none of this is to say that Joel Hanrahan isn't a great pitcher. He is. I love having him on the Pirates. However, he's going to cost $8-$10M next year in arbitration which is more than a team like the Pirates should spend on a closer. Considering how much the Pirates could get for him in a trade, it might make the most sense to deal him this year and go with a guy like Brad Lincoln (0.36 ERA, 11 K/9 as a reliever) or Jason Grilli (1.93 ERA, 14 K/9) as the closer. Even if they aren't quite as good as Hammer, how much would that really cost the Pirates? A win, maybe two? Now how much would it help this team to have another bat in the middle of the lineup or another above average starting pitcher? How much would it help the team over the next 6-7 years if the return included a major league ready top prospect that could be plugged into the starting lineup with Starling Marte next year? This might be a useless rant on my part but I found myself yelling at my radio this morning because Alexander was spouting off like Chet Steadman, insisting that the only way to be a successful pitcher is if you pitch from the have to...

What the heck was he talking about...

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of the managing editor (Charlie) or SB Nation. FanPosts are written by Bucs Dugout readers.

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