Disinterested Analysis

added 3/4/2008 by Scott Barzilla

My Baseball Prospectus 2008 came in the mail the other day and I was excited to see what they would say about the Astros. I had already seen the CHONE, Marcel, Bill James, and Ron Shandler projections and wanted to see what BP had in store. Of course, one of the bulletin board regulars posted the PECOTA standings already. The Astros were nearly ten games worse than the other projections. Maybe the book would shed some insight.

What I saw was a diatribe against Drayton McLane and the Astros organization. If you believe the keen minds at BP, Drayton McLane is a simpleton that has hired a dinosaur to run his organization. Tal Smith's chief accomplishment is having a hill named after him. Ed Wade was perhaps the worst hire the Astros could have made (gee, have we already forgotten Cam Bonifay and Kevin Malone) ? Cecil Cooper was also not a great hire according to them.

Naturally, the criticism didn't end there. The 2007 season was described as nothing more than a Viking funeral for Craig Biggio. Of course, with a "moribund farm system" there was little else to do, but make a little money. I'm surprised that they didn't just pour some salt in the wound and call our bat boys the worst bat boys in the majors. Listen to this temper tantrum long enough and you would be led to believe that McLane should be giving the beer away at the Juice Box this year for his own protection.

Don't get me wrong, the folks at Baseball Prospectus are among the keenest minds in the industry. Their PECOTA system is top notch and they have more useful information than most sources. However, I'm left to wonder if the criticism of the Astros is less than dispassionate. The Astros have long resisted the use of modern statistical analysis. Tim Purpura told SABR that the Astros had their own evaluation system. The more baseball teams use sources like Baseball Prospectus, the more fans will want to buy their stuff. So, is the Astros poor ranking about objective analysis or is it about sticking it to an organization that hasn't drunk the Kool-Aide?

When I went in to break down their individual projections I found that most of them were on par with the other projections I had done. There were a few notable exceptions like Miguel Tejada and Michael Bourn. However, when adding up the totals I found that when I added it up, BP had the Astros winning between 79 and 81 games. Shawn Chacon didn't figure into their online PECOTA rankings, but I doubt Chacon can account for the gap in wins. In this case, something else was going on.

One of the issues was a lack of information for several of the key players this season. Pitchers like Jack Cassell, Fernando Nieve, Mark McLemore didn't have projections. I'm sure BP assumed replacement level performance in their absence. The absence of Jose Cruz anywhere in the book was glaring. He did have more than 200 plate appearances for the Padres last season. Again, it's not a huge impact, but when you replace three or four players with replacement level players you end up shaving between two and four wins from the projection. Add in Shawn Chacon and you can see where the missing wins went.

BP is not alone in their hatred of the Astros. Rotoworld post news everyday on the internet. Usually the headlines don't bring too much attention, but they do break stories before most of the major outlets. Rotoworld obviously wants to keep fantasy players up on what is going on with their favorite fantasy stars. Commentary is usually kept to a minimum. They bust out all kinds of commentary for the Astros. A Rotoworld brief might look like this, "The Astros sign Joe Schmoe to a minor league deal. He looks to be the backup catcher in Lexington this year. The Astros idiocy knows no bounds. Schmoe is 25 years old and will never sniff AAA, much less the big leagues." Wow, thinks for cracking down on a backup A ball catcher guys.

This off-season has proven a few things in terms of analytical analysis. First, sometimes that analysis is less than analytical. Experts have an emotional tie to what they do and sometimes they let those emotions get in the way. The second important fact is that we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just because some analysts are biased does not mean that all analysts are biased. Plus, we should keep in mind that a biased analysis still has some value to it. Finally, this proves the point that the more information you have the better off you are. Statisticians hardly ever agree and the traditionalists shouldn't be ignored. Incorporating as many points of view as possible brings us closer to the truth.