Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer. – Ted Williams
We all know that baseball players fail more often than they succeed. Our parents and coaches teach it to us at a young age. We see it every day when players ground out, pop out, strike out, and even invent new ways to make outs. The backs of baseball cards, their percentages expressed in decimal format, reveal this to us. Sure, we still get angry when our favorite player — or, better yet, a player we dislike — strikes out. Even though our rational mind comprehends the rate of failure in baseball, our emotions still react as though we expect the player to succeed every time.
Last week, Jeff at Lookout Landing1 wrote an article on this subject through the lens of player evaluation. Because failure occurs more frequently than success, we tend to harp on a player’s shortcomings while sometimes ignoring what he contributes. And what a player contributes can come in many forms, as Jeff says.
Now, there are a million different ways for a player to accumulate value. He can draw a lot of walks, or hit a lot of singles, or hit a lot of homers, or play awesome defense, or steal eighty bases, or whatever. There is no one mold for a valuable position player. There are countless molds. What this means, in turn, is that there are also a million different ways to be flawed. You can be a slap-hitter. You can be a hacker. You can be a butcher in the field. We’re talking about literally infinite combinations. If you have a hundred players with value X, they could take a hundred different paths to get there.
By value, he means a player’s contribution to runs and, as a byproduct, wins. That’s all that matters, right? Who cares if it happens in an ugly fashion? As long as a player makes contribution to his team scoring runs and winning ballgames, we shouldn’t care how he accomplishes it. Yet many fans do. We can sometimes let a player’s flaws distort our evaluations of his contributions. Jeff continues in the next paragraph:
Some of these paths will be more appealing than others. Fans generally like power, contact, and discipline. Fans generally don’t like free swingers or strikeouts. If Player A achieves value X with home runs, walks, and groundouts, while Player B achieves value X with doubles, defense, and strikeouts, Player A will generally be better-received, even though the two made equivalent contributions to the team.
There’s plenty more to say on this topic, but for now let’s just take a quick look at how each Yankee position player contributed to the 2009 team.
Power, contact, discipline, and defense: Mark Teixeira
Power, contact, and discipline: Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui
Contact, discipline, and defense: Derek Jeter
Power, discipline, and defense: Nick Swisher
Power and contact: Robinson Cano
Contact and defense: Melky Cabrera
Discipline and speed: Brett Gardner
(You could argue that Cano adds defense, even though UZR doesn’t agree, and you can argue that Swisher doesn’t add defense based on a few blunders earlier in the year. I don’t buy them, but feel free to make the case.)
Despite these players’ flaws, both real and perceived, each brings at least two skills to the table out of five: power, contact, discipline, defense, and speed.2 Say what you will about each player’s flaws — and we will certainly follow-up on this — but it’s hard to argue with the ways in which these players can succeed. With one four-skill player, seven three-skill players, and three two-skill players, it’s no wonder the Yankees were so successful in 2009.
1Lookout Landing is one blog I’d recommend to any fan of the game, regardless of team allegiance. Jeff leads thought provoking discussions that reach beyond the Mariners, and the other authors contribute as well. Plus, the M’s are a pretty interesting team. (Up)
2Yes, the traditional five tools include throwing arm and do not include discipline, but I think the latter is much more important in terms of value than the former. (Up)