"You get so many statistical people together, they put so many stats on paper, and they say, well, if you do this and you score this many runs, you do that many times, you'll be in the playoffs," [Manuel] said.Yes, exactly, Jerry! The reason the Mets fell one game short of the playoffs two years in a row is because we have been obsessing over VORP and OBP! If only Willie Randolph had put down The Hardball Times Baseball Annual and did what his gut told him would win the game, we might be well on our way to a second straight World Series! No, I'll go with Eric Simon on this one:
"That's not really how it works, and that's what we have to get away from. And that's going to have to be a different mind-set of the team in going forward. We must win and we must know how to win rather than win because we have statistical people. We have to win because we have baseball players that know and can understand the game."
This is going to be a long tenure if Manuel’s first statement since the interim tag was removed from his title is blaming a stat-based baseball culture for his team’s failings. Numbers don’t swing bats, but nor does Jerry Manuel’s gut. Stats are tools that can and should be used — along with other tools — to help a team, and by extension its manager, make informed baseball decisions.This, of course, is obvious to most Internet-generation baseball fans, whether they are "stat freaks" or not. I would, of course, be less temperate than my colleague. And I will be, forthwith.
We must win and we must know how to win...
This doesn't really mean anything. All baseball players know how to "win," if winning is playing baseball to a successful conclusion a good percentage of the time. But "[knowing] how to win" is not a skill that is hereditary, earned or otherwise existent in any way. Even if it were, "winning" ballplayers need to combine their skills with other players to make a team, and it is the aggregation of those players, not any single one, that makes a team.
But now we have ventured dangerously close to baseball-cliche-land. What is really the point is that all baseball players, whether they have an illusory ability to "win" or not, have different levels of skill. That skill can be measured. It can be compared between players. And most importantly, we can aggregate those skills to estimate how good a team is and how many games it will win.
And even with all that said, we might encounter the Jerry Manuels of the world on their own ground, and ask why Marlon Anderson was on this team if not for his supposed ability "to win and know how to win"? Not only have such things been said about him, but he was preferred over superior and more valuable players, suggesting that he has some "winning" trait above and beyond what we can objectively measure. And still Marlon Anderson's Mets missed the playoffs two years running.
But baseball managers say these things, and no one gets hurt for it. I doubt there are more than one or two managers in the game who would disagree with Manuel's remarks. It's their job to believe in heart and grit and the like. Baseball is a cerebral game with high variance-- long periods of unsustainable success and failure. There is a rote, routine, workmanlike aspect; and a one-of-a-kind, do-or-die immediacy. All baseball players know that each plate appearance in-and-of-itself has little significance, but that sometimes it is just that one plate appearance that can make or break their reputations. And so they elevate its importance, closing the gap between ability and result, irrationally, with a bridge called clutch, built with all the grit and sweat and blood of their baseball bona fides.
We must see, then, that "statistical people" and baseball's "winner" mythologies sprout from the same widely variable soil. Both try to account for baseball's ups and downs. One does it empirically, the other psychologically. Neither could ever replace the other, but each tries to do just that. No baseball player, not even Brian Bannister, fails to sense, psychologically, the immediacy and importance of certain "clutch" situations which would otherwise be mere statistical blips, meaning nothing by themselves. But these are not the deciders and roster-makers, who must-- absolutely must-- have reliable metrics to analyze and predict player performance, if they want to be successful in a competitive market.
So it is not the fact that Jerry Manuel said these things that worries me. It is that Omar Minaya might agree with him.