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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Sabr What?

Don't know if anyone else caught this the other night but on Baseball Tonight two nights ago former Mets General Manager Steve Phillips was discussing the Red Sox situation with Jonathan Papelbon in the closer role. In the course of his comments he said something to the effect that sabermetricians might argue that Papelbon should be moved to the rotation once Keith Foulke is deemed fully recovered since in that role Papelbon will face more batters and you want your best pitchers to face the most batters. He poo-poooed that notion on the grounds that Papelbon is "settled" in the closer role and it would not be good for either him or the team to disrupt him.

Now, clearly Papelbon has been lights out thus far recording 7 saves in 7 opportunities and while not giving up a run and striking out 8 in 8 innings with only 3 hits and 2 walks. Of course Foulke is not quite the pitcher he once was. But when you look at the Red Sox rotation you see that Matt Clement is struggling and with David Wells out they could use another starter despite the lights out work of Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett. That said, as Dayn Perry showed in his book Winners, relievers simply don't pitch enough to as valuable as starters and so the sabermetric argument is sound. The decision though should really hinge on whether any of the other Red Sox relievers can step into the setup man role vacated by Foulke- a point missed by Phillips entirely.

But what I found most entertaining about the segment was that Chris Berman, Harold Reynolds of What the Heck is O-P-S fame, and John Kruk were all somewhat taken aback and found the term "sabermetrician" more amusing than anything. I think it was Kruk who said "sabr what?" Bill James among others has said that they don't particularly like the term "sabermetrics" and reactions like this tend to reinforce the notion that we who purvey such ideas should probably stick with a term like "performance analysis" or simply "numerical analysis" when discussing these ideas.

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