“The quality or state of being exactly as purposed: neither spurious nor false” — Webster Dictionary

“Drafting a constitution is only the first step. The constitution has to be granted legitimacy by open discussion and a fair, representative referendum.” — Emma Bonino

“Government loses its claim to legitimacy when it fails to fulfill its obligations.” — Martin Gross

These are all excellent definitions and/or descriptions of the word “legitimacy”, but I’ll give you an easier one. Legitimacy is never fearing being questioned. Whether you look at this from a religious, political, or baseball perspective, legitimacy implies having power and/or being right, so let’s think about this logically. If I believe I am right, I must have a reason to think so. If I have a reason to think so, I must have a basis for my belief that I am right. If I am right, no question can harm me because I am right. If I am actually wrong, my legitimacy was false to begin with, and the world can change for the better. This is terribly simplistic, but it is sound (go ahead, ask).

Here’s the problem, however, with legitimacy. It implies power, and people like power. When they become legitimate, they gain power, and whenever a new thought, question, or challenge arises, it threatens that power, if only temporarily. For a long time, sabermetricians were that threat, constantly questioning the baseball intellectual hierarchy. Sabermetricians, however, have begun to gain legitimacy and, thus, power. They, of course, have not gained total legitimacy, but they have gained significant in-roads as the mainstream begins to take on, acknowledge, and accept these new ideas and eschew some old ones. Significant resistance remains, and sabermetricians continue to fight for the legitimacy of their ideas.

But they have some, and they are obviously very protective, even to the point of becoming close to what they fought against. Hippeaux’s post yesterday was thought-provoking, and while I didn’t agree with all of it, the purpose of questioning WAR was well-intentioned. Forgive me if I am wrong, but I thought that’s really what sabermetrics was all about–continuously questioning the accepted. I didn’t think it was simply questioning traditional strategies and notions, but by some reactions yesterday (go to Hippeaux’s post from today to see), you would have thought otherwise.

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Shields or Ubaldo?

(Author’s Note: It was pointed out to me that I initially messed up Shield’s 2014 option. I had it down as 20, but it’s really 12. That’s what you get for trying to use a template you’ve used before, though I thought I’d changed it. Oh well, it really doesn’t change much, but I’ve made a few edits below. It should also be noted that all three of Shields’ years are options while only the last two of Ubaldo’s are, but I don’t think it makes much of a difference.)

With the news that the Tampa Bay Rays are shopping James Shields for the right deal, another stud starting pitcher has been added to the trade possibility list along with Ubaldo Jimenez. Shields is having a breakout season in Tampa, but breakouts aren’t always an indication of sustained future production. Jimenez is having his worst season since 2007, but he’s still a good pitcher who may just be having a blip in a magnificent career. Or Shields could be becoming another front-line pitcher, and Jimenez’s stardom may be just a supernova. And you wonder how hard a general manager’s job is. What we have to ask is which one would you rather spend prospects and money on right now, and Shields and Jimenez are the guys we will compare.

The two charts above show an educated guess of the two pitchers’ futures. It is, of course, only one possible road, but I’ll explain why I chose it. Jimenez really broke on the scene in 2008 with a 4.3 fWAR season, and he followed those with 5.7 and 6.3-win seasons. Shields popped up a year earlier, firing a 4.5 fWAR season before adding 2 4-win seasons, but he had a rough 2010, worth 2 wins, before breaking out this season. This season, Shields is already worth 3.2 fWAR and would be on pace for around 5-5.5 wins by season’s end, but while Shields has improved, it’s not advisable to take this as his new level of production. Jimenez, on the other hand, has been worth 2.4 fWAR and would be on pace for about 3.5-4 wins, but similar to Shields’ 2010, this season could be a blip. My projections for their futures hedge somewhere in the middle, and I adjust them by their age–Shields plateaus from 30-32 and Jimenez keeps improving slightly 28-30. Shields is improving, so I’ll put him over his career-high (to this point) going forward without saying 2011 is his new normal. Jimenez gets credit for being so good over the past 3 seasons, but the drop in velo (3 mph slower than last two seasons) makes me think he’ll be closer to 2008 while having improved his “pitching skills”. If you take this scenario, Jimenez is the much better value considering the difference in talent (he’s a bit better) and contract (Jimenez makes $18 M versus Shields’ $28 M).

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Derek Jeter and the All-Star Game

From a performance standpoint, there’s no reason Derek Jeter should be in the All-Star Game. According to fWAR, his paltry 0.5 wins place him 10th among American League shortstops this season. If you like to take a full-year look, he’s 8th on the list with 1.4 wins. If you like the past year and a half, he’s 7th. Even if you give him some credit for his defense (graded out as -6 runs) and up to a +5 defender, he’s only 3rd and with substantial help. Whatever way you try to slice it, the only reason that Jeter is in this year’s game is because of his name and status as a legend of the game. And you know what? That’s okay.

People debate all the time about how to select players for the All-Star Game, and the popularity vote is one of the more discouraged votes in the process. Most of us know how it feels to not be the “popular guy” and to have lost out in a similar process when we “should” have won. What makes the selection look worse is the belief that “this one counts”, and giving away spots, especially a starting spot that has to play, doesn’t exactly help your team. But I think “legends” deserve a place in the All-Star Game.

The problem with advocating such a thing is how to define as a “legend”. If you just give the word, then it opens a whole world of possibilities, so you have to narrow it down. Unfortunately, there’s no real way to narrow it down to a very specific line, so we have to with (gasp) feel. People make the argument all the time about electing Hall of Famers based on feel, but the reason I begrudge that argument there and not here is that the Hall of Fame is permanent and lasting, whereas the All-Star Game is fleeting. I can hardly remember who played in last year’s All-Star Game. So we’ll say that, to be a “legend” in the All-Star Game, you have to be considered a first-ballot guy.

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Home Plate Collisions

When Scott Cousins bowled over Buster Posey at home plate, he started a media firestorm that no one predicted. Although many catchers before Posey had been hurt in similar incidents, Posey’s injury caused much more of an uproar than ever before. I’ve never really known where I sit on the debate. On one hand, running into catchers has always been a part of the game, and getting to home is more important than getting to any other base. On the other hand, unnecessary injuries are … unnecessary. So I spent most of the day yesterday listening and reading trying to figure out which side of the debate I fell on. So here are my arguments to the counterarguments.

One of the most common arguments I heard was that the play had been a part of the game since its inception, and it be allowed. Tradition can be an important thing. It’s traditional to have a Thanksgiving meal with my family, and that has its rewards—family time, seeing relatives, bigger and better meal. But what’s the traditional reward here? What do we get from having this tradition? Is it exciting to see a guy get run over, and is that worth seeing catchers hurt? Contact isn’t an important part of the game like it is in football, and it isn’t necessary at the plate. And doing something that’s always been done is a bad idea when there are better alternatives.

The next argument I heard was, “If Player X got hurt, no would care, but because it was Posey, we all freak out.” I won’t bother arguing with that point because it’s absolutely true, but this is concerning the wrong issue. The focus of this statement, while superficially on the collision, is actually on the human condition. It’s focused on popularity and relation to how we react. It has nothing to do with collisions at the plate. Should we ignore what happened to Posey just because we ignored it when it happened to others? That doesn’t really make any sense. While it shouldn’t take us an injury to s star player to notice the harms of collisions, that says more about us than the collision itself.

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Saying Good-Bye Is Never Easy

I grew up with the mid-90s/early 2000s Braves. 1995 was really the first time I had ever started paying attention to baseball while cheering on one team or another, and it ended with a World Series victory. World Series losses in 1996 and 1999 to the Yankees (the main reason I despised the Yankees for so long) gave me the feeling that the Braves belonged in the playoffs and should make a run at the World Series every year, and with John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Chipper Jones, and Andruw Jones, it was easy to feel confident in those Braves teams. As most dynasties do, the Braves teams I grew up with began to age and fall, and one-by-one, the legends I had grown to admire left the team in one way or another. A few years later, the Yankees are beginning the same thing—different players but same pattern. It’s not an easy time for fans, teams, or the players themselves.

As a fan, we cheer team-first, but we do have a special attachment to players. The best analogy I can give is family and friends. The team is your family. They are the ones you stick with through good and bad, and even when they make ridiculous decisions, you still stick by them. And most of the time, you’re with them because you were born with them. Players are your friends. They have to prove themselves to you, and their worth increases over time as they do good things for you, help you in times of crisis, and show loyalty. As players stay around longer and do more for the team, they naturally become better “friends”, making it more difficult to let them go.

When the Braves’ legends started aging, I wasn’t sure how to feel. On one hand, they were aging players that just were not the same, but on the other hand, it never felt like you could count them out. They had done so well before that you could imagine, under certain circumstances, that brilliance returning for one final playoff push. Before the 2009 season, the Braves had to make a choice regarding Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Do they bring them back and under what conditions? I consider myself a less sentimental fan than most, but I still wanted the Braves to bring both of them back. I didn’t want them to overpay for them, but I thought that maybe Smoltz could recover from injury like he had times before and that Glavine could be more 2006 than 2007-2008.

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Sight and Truth

“I won’t believe it until I see it” is a common phrase. It’s short, sweet, and to the point while being fairly universal. Especially in a world with Photoshop, a multitude of news agencies, tabloids, and a healthy dose of skepticism, we want proof, and there’s no better proof than seeing something with your own eyes. It’s there, right in front of you. There’s no second-hand story-telling/embellishment. There’s no doctoring of photos or video. And we know it actually happened. But our eyes can deceive.

Our eyes are interesting things. They receive light that has bounced off of certain objects toward these organics balls in our eye sockets, and the retina receives the light and sends a message back to the optical lobe. The optical lobe interprets the message and creates an image that you believe to be sight. What’s awesome about this is that you literally “see” what is before you. The image is what it is—a collection of colors and shapes. The problem comes when you try apply meaning to that image.

Everything is given meaning through words, symbols, emotions, and 1,000 word essays written in the cloud. These words, symbols, and emotions have derived their meaning from various experiences and countless years of application. If we could just see the image without applying any meaning, then maybe we could see it for it what it was, but then again, if we didn’t have the meaning already instilled in us, we wouldn’t be able to interpret what we were seeing very well. For instance, I watch a baseball game, but I only know I’m watching it because of the years of baseball, experiences, words, etc. that have led me to believe that I am watching a baseball game. “Baseball” is the meaning behind the actions taking place in front of me.

Analysis, however, is a whole other step ahead of this. We’ve been through the interpretation of sight and the application of meaning, but analysis forces one to ask whether or not the actions/sight is good or bad, helpful or harmful, positive or negative. We now have to judge the actions ahead of us, and this can be tricky. Let’s take a real-world example first, and then, we’ll work through some baseball stuff.

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“Best Player Available”

So, the draft has been on my mind lately. The intricacies and oddities that come with drafts have always interested me. The NFL draft has only 7 rounds, but it has the most players on its active roster. The NBA draft has 2 rounds, and many of the players drafted don’t even play in the NBA the next season. No one even cares about the NHL draft. Well, not a whole lot of people care about the MLB draft, but more people care about it than the NHL. Anyway, back to the MLB draft. It has 50+ rounds, a lot of the players don’t sign at all, most players we’ll never ever hear of, and we won’t even see the good ones for another few years. Out of all that, though, I have a more confusing item in mind. What does “best player available” mean?

The phrase “best available player” seems obvious enough. It is the best player still available to be drafted, duh. Common sense tells you to draft that player because he’s … well … the best player available. Of course, other things go into making a draft selection—cost, injury risk, needs—but is there such a thing as the “best available player”?

When we criticize teams’ choices, you often hear that they drafted because of need or cutting costs, and you’ll hear the ritual chorus claiming that the team should have taken the best available player. But what goes into deciding who the best available player is?

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Cole, Rendon, and Drafting Pitchers vs. Position Players

Note: This isn’t exactly about Anthony Rendon and Gerrit Cole. I won’t really go into specifics about either player because that isn’t the point. The point is to take a look at the theory on drafting position players vs. pitchers. I also don’t have the statistical chops to really go too in-depth on values, etc., but I’m looking to just start a discussion on the topic.

As we march through the first month of the season, prospect analysts and junkies get a little more excited as the draft approaches, and considering this draft is supposedly one of the best ever, everyone is a bit more excited than normal. The Pittsburgh Pirates have a doozy of a pick, and unlike the past two seasons, there is actually a debate as to who will be chosen. In one corner, we have Anthony Rendon—a third baseman with excellent defensive skills and a bat that needs about two months of minor-league seasoning to keep his service time down. Meanwhile in the other corner, we have Gerrit Cole—a hard-throwing righty with a nasty slider and a brutal change-up that has scouts drooling about the potential of the future ace. As far as decisions go, this isn’t a terribly awful one for the Pirates. They’ll either get All-Star potential at third base or front-of-the-rotation potential from the first pick. While we could argue about the individual pick, this brings up the question of drafting, spending big money on prospects, and whether or not you should spend more time and resources on pitchers or position players.

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How Much Do You Really Want Felix?

Whenever a major player becomes available via trade or free-agency, the Yankees rumors start floating around, and if it is an area of need, it becomes close to hysteria. If the need is big enough, a player doesn’t have to become available before rumors starting racing across the tubes. That’s the case with Felix Hernandez. The talented and yet still 25-year old pitcher is one of the very best pitchers in the game, and he’s the cornerstone of the Seattle Mariners franchise. The phrase “Face of the Franchise”, however, seems tenable as the Mariners continue to lose. Theoretically, the Mariners would want to trade their most valuable asset, knowing that a playoff run isn’t in the near future, for several impact prospects, essentially turning one great player into 2-3 good ones. In reality, the Mariners don’t want or need to move Hernandez, but for the sake of this post’s existence, let’s pretend that they’ll consider it.

The first question is what you are getting with Hernandez. The answer is easy—awesomeness. Over the past three seasons, he’s eclipsed 200 innings, and he’s pitched 240 in each of the last two seasons. While throwing so many innings, he’s been excellent. His K/BB ratios have cleared 3 in each of the last three seasons, and during the same length of time, his FIP of 3.28 is eighth in all of baseball. Combining his good strikeout rates, above-average walk rates, and a GB/FB rate nearing 2, Hernandez is one of the game’s best pitchers, and he’s just turned 25. The next question is how good he’ll be over the next 4 years through the end of his contract.

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