When I woke up this morning, I was pleasantly greeted by a text from the boss-man, who asked if I was up to do a Nicholas Castellanos post. And why wouldn’t I be?! The guy has been the heartbeat of the Cubs on and off the field since he joined the team at the deadline, and he just launched another home run (his 20th of the season/9th with Chicago) in their win over the Mets last night! Plenty to discuss.
So what am I writing about … his hot streak? An extension rumor? Did he get a face tattoo of the Bean to prove how much he really loves Chicago?
Nope. I have to write about an unenthused player position on advanced analytics, and the contrast with elements of the clubhouse that are hard to quantify … or something along those lines. Thanks for the direction, Brett.
As something of a setup, here’s Castellanos musing on how much analytics may or may not ultimately be beneficial: “The movie Moneyball, that was the start of introducing this idea of analytics to fans,” Castellanos said, via USA Today. “Obviously, the movie was entertaining with Jonah Hill and Brad Pitt. But the way I look at it, what good did it do the A’s? They still haven’t won the World Series.”
Well first of all, Nicholas, “Moneyball” blessed the world with this gif, which makes the entire philosophy and attendant motion picture completely worth whatever systemic damage was done to the game and free agent market by the mathematical commoditization of players into numbers and assets on a screen, devoid of any fun, emotion, or general commitment to winning and tradition:
Oh, and the A’s also won 103 games plus their division that season, while winning an AL-record (at the time) 20 consecutive games.
Castellanos continued: “They have these analytics that come out of nowhere that are supposed to predict how players are going to do and what they are going to do before they do it,” Castellanos said. “They have WAR, but when I talk to people on the MLB Network and other places, and ask how they come up with it, they have no idea.”
Well, not to pick the low-hanging fruit here, but … I’m not entirely surprised the MLB Network was incapable of explaining that to you.
Okay, so, at a first level: how do we feel about this? Honestly, it doesn’t bother me at all. While I may agree or disagree with Castellanos, I don’t really need him to care or even understand analytics – at almost any level. All he has to do is listen to his coaches, who were hand-selected by a manager, who was, himself, hired by a front office that doesn’t just believe in analytics, but is often at the forefront of the entire industry, in that respect. Castellanos is here to play ball, not do player value analysis.
As a matter of fact, there were probably some very specific, very illuminating advanced analytics that made the front office confident enough in a Castellanos breakout to surrender some nice prospects and ask Tom Ricketts to stretch the budget at the deadline to acquire him. Heck, we talked about many of them right here at Bleacher Nation.
But, again, I don’t blame Castellanos, and his thoughts on analytics don’t really bother me at all. Not only is it not his job to worry about player valuations in advanced analytics, but also I can understand where he’s coming from. He’s actually got a very compelling origin story, with plenty of truth to it: “The biggest mistake the Tigers made was not signing Torii Hunter back. Regardless what his analytical performance said,” Castellanos said, “you can’t value the centerpiece in the clubhouse. Someone with the same WAR is not going to provide the same thing.”
Castellanos’ former team, the Tigers, have not reached the playoffs since.
But the problem isn’t advanced analytics, it’s how they are employed. There absolutely needs to be a balance between numbers and feeling, and, in a lot of ways, that’s the beauty of a guy like Joe Maddon. We often pick and choose when to get upset with him, but I don’t think there’s a manager out there more open to any “analytical” suggestion, while still able to blend that with his own experience and gut.
Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said something endearingly appropriate recently, too (via Sahadev Sharma): “As Hottovy told me, these are the types of issues you ignore at the time because you can’t overwhelm a pitcher with a thousand issues just because you have the technology to notice them.”
And ultimately, I think we’re all saying the same thing here: don’t overdo it on analytics with the players. There is another half to this game that can’t be ignored – just like the numbers shouldn’t be, either. I don’t know why you’d purposefully close yourself off to any data/information.
And even more to his point: front offices cannot and should not hide behind numbers when it comes time to open their checkbooks. “There’s a lot of uncertainty right now with the relationship between ownership and players,” Castellanos said, “just the way that we’re being evaluated. It’s something I can’t control.”
Ah, now you’re talking my language. There’s no doubt in my mind that front offices and ownership groups have used advanced analytics as a mathematical shield against signing more baseball players and trying to win as much as possible every season. That’s not good for the players (and arguably for the sport as a whole), and Castellanos is right to point it out, especially when he’s just a couple months away from free agency.
As one of the more thoughtful, interesting philosophers to join the Cubs in recent years, I really enjoy hearing his perspective on these topics that we so often consider only from the front office perspective.
Castellanos concluded all of his thoughts, which you can read here, beautifully: “But I’m not an owner. I’m not a GM. I’m just a ballplayer.” And a pretty darn good one, I’d add.
HAPPY OPENING DAY!
— OBVIOUS SHIRTS® (@obvious_shirts) August 22, 2019
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.