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On Stats and the Scouting Director

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Yesterday Ian sent me this link to a blog entry at Fire Joe Morgan, which is basically FJM expressing orgasmic joy about the litany of sabermetric statistics Neil Huntington named in a recent Q+A at Pirates.com. Anyway, here's what FJM has to say:

As a statistically-minded baseball fan, allow me to say: holy f***ing s***.

I mean no disrespect to FJM, which is a funny site that has deservedly won notoriety for its righteous takedowns of baseball's most ridiculous writers. But as a baseball fan who most people would also call statistically-minded, I have to say: really? This is what wets your whistle?

This stats-versus-scouts thing is pretty much dead. Among major-league GMs, it's only really relevant at one extreme. Dodgers GM Ned Colletti on VORP:

''Do I use VORP?" Colletti said, referring to one such sabermetric tool, Value Over Replacement Player. ''I may be using it and not even know it, and if I am, it's nobody's business. There are a lot of different criteria in judging players. I think I use, um, esoteric qualitative mathematical review times five. That's one of them."

That's ignorance, and if Huntington had said something like what Colletti said, I'd be seriously concerned.

Colletti looks poised to run a promising Dodger franchise into the ground by playing old has-beens like Nomar Garciaparra and Luis Gonzalez instead of promising youngsters like Andy LaRoche and Matt Kemp, paying zillions of dollars to Juan Pierre, trading prospects for Mark Hendrickson, and so on.  

Again, though, Colletti's an extreme case, and anyway his main problem isn't aversion to statistics - it's idiocy. You don't need a statistics degree to notice that, hey, Kemp's batting .342, so it's probably time to tell the manager he needs to be in the lineup every day.

In other cases, the stats-versus-scouts thing just doesn't matter when comparing big-league GMs. All organizations use stats, and most now at least have someone in their front office who knows how to use them properly. Beyond reassuing us that Huntington's not going to be another Colletti, there's nothing especially interesting about the fact that he knows what VORP is.

You know what is interesting? The fact that the Pirates just hired a new scouting director with a pretty dubious background. That's the kind of move that can make - or break - a franchise. And arcane statistics really have nothing to do with it.