Thursday, January 04, 2007

Instincts and Sports

interesting blurb from bill walsh in bob brookover's article today about jeff garcia:
Somebody with every organization would always ding him because they'd get caught up in the measurables. What Jeff has is the instincts that are outstanding in all great athletes. He has natural instincts, and I was always looking for those. Some people in coaching don't realize they have to be there for a quarterback to be great. They look at size and strength, and instincts should be No. 1.
walsh touches on a pretty interesting topic, imo, and it's timely given ben's question about the hall of fame and derek jeter/steve jeltz. i do think it's a fair argument to say that, if he had not played for the yankees and had instead played for the royals his whole career, jeter wouldn't have even been an all-star let alone a potential hall of famer because his legacy and reputation was built primarily around winning.

however, another thing that i find interesting is this notion of instincts and intangibles. when it comes to evaluating a player's performance or making comparisons, it's easy to start with the measurables -- physical characteristics and on-field statistics. however, there isn't a perfect correlation between the measurables and winning. heck, sometimes the correlation isn't very strong at all.

a-rod is a better SS than jeter in virtually all aspects of the game. jeter is a good, but not great, hitter, jeter doesn't hit for much power, and jeter stinks in the field. a-rod may be the best hitter of his generation, a-rod is a great power hitter, and a-rod is a pretty good fielder. yet can you imagine a-rod making that flip play to posada to catch jeremy giambi at the plate? somehow i have a hard time seeing that. do plays like that override everything else? if you think jeter is a better player than a-rod, it seems you do.

so how do you determine who is a better player than another? i think it's a pretty broad topic and one that i certainly don't have an answer for -- i tend to lean toward the measurables side. however, walsh's quote did get me thinking more about the thing i like most about garcia -- he seems so comfortable as a QB, he's a natural at it.

donovan is better than garcia at just about every measurable aspect of the game, but somehow he just doesn't seem comfortable doing it. he lacks a natural ease, he seems so robotic while garcia seems so (to use walsh's word) instinctive. that doesn't mean that garcia is a better QB, but i think that's one part of why the fans have taken a liking to him.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like you, Pete, I tend to stand (for the most part) on the measurable bank of the river. I do this to avoid getting caught up in media hype (Brett Favre), favoritism (Richie Ashburn), and jealousy (Allen Iverson).

I used to believe A-Rod was hands down a better player than Jeter. But not anymore. Not after seeing them play side-by-side for a little while. I'd take Jeter hands down over A-Rod because A-Rod shrinks from "the moment" while Jeter shines in the spotlight.

While Jeter probably wouldn't be Jeter if he played for the Royals, he'd still be a helluva player - it's just that chances are, I might not notice.

I have a friend at work who thinks Pat Burrell is a productive player. When you examine the statistics and read the boxscores only (as my friend does), it's easy to see his argument. However, when you watch a player every inning (or down, or whatever), and you have a feel and love for a particular game, you get it.

On some level, this summarizes my disdain for Billy Beene. As Jim Bouton would say, "Tell your statistics to shut up."

There's a balance in there somewhere. To see the balance, you need to try to be objective, which is hard and a good reason to at least recognize hard facts. The fun of being a fan is finding the balance, defining it, discussing it, etc.

By the way, in my opinion, Jeter is far from "stinking in the field," even though he is no Steve Jeltz. Of course, the Jet was no Jimmy Rollins, but I continue to love him anyway.

Just seeing baseball names here has me counting the days until 2/15.

Ed Wade

8:42 PM EST  
Blogger The Big Dog said...

This is a nice and interesting discussion between 2 masters (IMO), Ed Wade and Mean Guy....I think it really nails something that I am big on...."feel" about a player or that ever elusive "intangible"....I read Money Ball and I think it was a decent book and I think of all the sports, baseball is the best sport where stats really give a great representation of the players, especially offensive production. However, in all sports you can't just use that...or you wind up with a team of Bobby Abreu's....emotionless, charismatic-less, .300 hitters who produce in low risk environments.....where I lie, as where I lie with most on the fence with simply can not dismiss statistics but you can't base a team or a player's production solely on them. If Mike McMahon had the fire and respect of Jeff Garcia he would still suck. Because he doesn't have the talent. Donovan I think is somewhere in the middle, maybe heavier on the stats side....and I think that you want a nice balance between statistics and Production vs. intangibles....Bobby Abreu is very heavy on the statistics, Donovan is in the middle, maybe a little towards production and Garcia at this point is probably right in the middle, right with like a Chase Utley and Brian Westbrook and maybe at this point Garcia....Mike Schmidt is heavier on the statistics, Pete Rose is heavier on the intangibles....Iverson is statistics, Bobby Jones is the intangibles....not skewed one way but heavier on one side vs. the other....make sense???

8:44 AM EST  
Blogger The Mean Guy said...

By the way, in my opinion, Jeter is far from "stinking in the field," even though he is no Steve Jeltz. Of course, the Jet was no Jimmy Rollins, but I continue to love him anyway.

jeter looks smooth and natural in the field. the problem is that he doesn't get to enough balls.

here is an article on discussing jeter's defense:

also, for what it's worth, bill james says that jeter is "probably the least effective defensive player in the major leagues, at any position."

9:13 AM EST  
Anonymous Phil said...

Well put, Dog. To better flesh this out, what is included in "intangibles"? Leader, ability to inspire, improve the play of others, play big in big moments, other? Are some of these more important than others?

My only problem with this debate though is this is one of those unprovable discussions and frankly, I'm not sure any of us are all that qualified to say player A has better intangibles than player B.

9:16 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"also, for what it's worth, bill james says that jeter is "probably the least effective defensive player in the major leagues, at any position."

Pete, I'm pretty sure Bill James was being sarcastic (or engaging in overt hyperbole). Either that or he's never seen Jason Giambi play first base, Wes Helms play third, or Bobby Abreu tracking a fly ball up to the wall. I like exaggeration to make a point as much as the next, but calling Jeter the "least effective player in the major leagues, at any position" is pretty silly.

The Sports Illustrated piece is probably closer to the mark. Jeter's range isn't as good as other top-flight professional shortstops. To say he stinks in the field is pushing it.

And speaking of intangibles, try to recall some of the big plays Jeter has made in clutch spots. How about July 1, 2004 vs. the Red Sox? Talk about taking one for the team. I hate the Yankees, but let’s be fair…

11:21 AM EST  
Blogger The Mean Guy said...

i think james was dead serious. that quote was from a book called "the fielding bible". here is an article about the author of the book and it mentions james' contention:

James, for instance, spends 4 1/2 pages near the front of the book explaining why Houston's Adam Everett is a far superior shortstop to Derek Jeter. In fact, Jeter, according to James, was "probably the least effective defensive player in the major leagues, at any position" over the last three years.

i'll grant you that jeter has terrific intangibles and that he is a terrific player regardless of what the numbers say, but i simply cannot overlook the fact that jeter makes fewer plays (put-outs plus assists) per nine innings than any other starting SS in baseball.

according to rob neyer, jeter also makes fewer plays per nine innings than his own backups:

jeter definitely has a flair for the moment, but imo a few spectacular plays do not make someone a decent fielder.

andy van slyke used to make spectacular diving catches, but it doesn't override the fact that he used to get to fewer balls than virtually any other center fielder at the time.

ken griffey junior makes highlight reel catches over the wall, but it doesn't offset the hits he gives up in front of him by having to play so deep to make up for his lack of range. (interestingly enough, despite playing deeper than most centerfielders, griffey still gives up an average number of extra base hits, the last time i checked anyway).

i think intangibles are hugely important in sports, but as big dog mentions, they are a differentiator among relative equals. i don't think they are the basis for winning and losing alone.

11:43 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've got me. Of the 1000+ major league players, Jeter is the worst of them all, including the guys they hide in left field and first base. Makes sense.


12:38 PM EST  
Blogger The Mean Guy said...

that's bill james' contention, not mine. i should have been clearer on that.

however, i do think that of the 30 starting shortstops in mlb jeter is among the 5 worst.

12:44 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Were I to stipulate that Jeter is the WORST shortstop in the history of the game (I don't), he still wouldn't be near the "least effective player in the major leagues, at any position" unless Mr. James really means "relative to importance of the position in question."

Anyone who has played baseball past Little League understands that your best defensive player stands at shortstop as a rule.

C'mon, MG. You know better. Please tell me you understand that there are major league players who are complete defensive liabilities hiding in positions far less visible than shortstop. I understand that you are defining Bill James' position and not your own, but I think you might be stepping close to the edge on this one.

Can we at least agree that Jeter is potentially more effective defensively than Mike Piazza?


11:11 PM EST  
Blogger The Mean Guy said...

i think you're taking the discussion a little off course, ben.

"relative to importance of the position in question"

is sort of how i interpreted his statement, but i think importance is irrelevant. james is simply looking at how each fielder performs in relation to his peers.

so if jeter is worse as a SS (relative to the other SS) than, say, burrell is as LF (relative to the other LF), then james is saying that jeter is a less effective fielder than burrell. not less talented. not less athlethic. not less capable. just less effective (and i inferred that to mean relative to his position so maybe i'm wrong about that).

however, i wish you wouldn't get hung up on his statement because that is not my contention, that is james' contention. i just threw that in there as evidence that other people think he's not a good fielder too.

all i know is that jeter is not a good defensive shortstop. to me, the fact that jeter is more athletic than burrell is only relevant if they're playing the same position. jeter is playing the wrong position (he should be a third baseman or second baseman). since you want your best fielder at SS and jeter can't outfield his backups, then it seems to me that he's playing out of position.

11:37 PM EST  

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