I’m listening to this book right now – The Book of Why – which is ostensibly about cause and effect in the world of statistics, and it has me thinking hard about the intersection of our two worlds: baseball and numbers.
One of my biggest takeaways from the early chapters is our general reluctance to ascribe cause to any particular effect in the name of statistics. For example (and I’m paraphrasing the book here) everyone knows the saying ‘correlation does not equal causation,’ and we all think we sound smart when we say it. But that elementary attempt at explaining one tiny part of one tiny idea in one subsection of mathematics can blind us from finding the correct answer and, more importantly, leads to the question Well, then, what *is* causation?
Because it’s not nothing. Moreover, you can’t and shouldn’t ignore context, and you can use numbers/equations to determine causation. In other words, we’re not helpless, we just need to take some leaps. I’m hoping to understand more as I make my way through the book.
But in the meantime, I’m going to try to widen my horizons a bit and not fall prey to the belief that our advanced analytics tell us everything or that narratives, logic, and traditional statistics tell us nothing about baseball.
Brett got into the Cubs extension candidates – and theoretical internal hurdles – earlier today, but they’re hardly the only team/players with big decisions to make this spring. For example, we’ve been nervously anticipating a Francisco Lindor extension with his new team, the Mets, since he was traded to New York earlier this winter.
Francisco Lindor remains open to a long-term deal, but does say he wants to get it done before Opening Day or not at all: “The reason why I’ve said I don’t want it to be [after] Opening Day is because as a player, we have a duty, and the duty is to show up and win,” Lindor said Monday. “It would be unfair for me and the rest of the team to have an ongoing conversation about extending, whether it’s me or other players, and we show up on Opening Day and our minds are somewhere else and we don’t focus on our duty.”
This is me hoping for not at all, so that the Cubs might have a shot at signing him in free agency next winter (I know, I know … delusional). A boy can dream. But, yes, there is mutual interest, and the Mets certainly have the money, so I’m not holding my breath.
"There's mutual interest and like I said earlier, I've never been shy about an extension"
– Francisco Lindor on a possible extension with the Mets pic.twitter.com/mK5ZUBEgVN
— SNY (@SNYtv) February 22, 2021
Carlos Correa is another one-year star anticipating an extension, and he seems to be in the exact same boat at Lindor: There is plenty of mutual interest, but something needs to get done before Opening Day. The Astros likely have less to spend than the Mets, but given Correa’s age and importance to the team, I’m guessing they’ll try hard to get something done.
I do wonder how the timing of extensions for these two shortstops (plus Trevor Story and Corey Seager) could impact the Cubs efforts to extend Javy Báez. If some or all of these guys get locked up, will it raise the price on Báez? Will it make him more anxious to get a deal done? Or will he be more confident that the less free agent shortstop competition will mean a better deal? After a pretty poor year offensively, I wouldn’t be surprised if Báez wanted to build back up some value in 2021 before signing.
Largest Contracts by AAV
Speaking of a bunch of 20-something shortstops, we could soon see some new additions to MLB Trade Rumors collection of the largest contracts by average annual value. Can you name the top-5 on memory alone? I’ll give you a moment to try.
Mike Trout and Gerrit Cole are tied for first at $36 million. Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon ($35M) follow. And Zack Greinke ($34.4M) is in sole possession of fifth.
Trevor Bauer – because his unique deal counts as a three-year deal for AAV purposes at the moment – ranks 6th ($34M).
Braves and Brewers made good tries for Trevor Rosenthal, who had some 2-year offers but decided to take the 1-year deal with Oakland with the higher AAV, thus betting on himself at a favorable park.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) February 22, 2021
My mind goes two directions at once: (1) Considering how good the Brewers have been at optimizing limited dollars, they’re still a good bet to use their money effectively before Opening Day, crunching the NL Central picture even further and (2) I wish the Cubs’ new TV network did more for their revenues in the short term than they apparently did.
Obviously, launching your own network is more of a long term play *and* launching in a pandemic is as bad as luck gets, but some decisions, even if they were the right ones at the time, can wind up biting you in the end.
Deadening the Baseball
Major League Baseball has “slightly deadened the ball this season amid a six-year surge of home runs” in an effort to change the incentives of hitters to hopefully put the ball in play more often (as opposed to the more boring three true outcomes).
The Los Angeles Times has a story up on it right now, with a ton of great quotes. For example …
Joe Maddon: “Strategically speaking, it will put more emphasis on speed, on hitting the ball the other way, especially with two strikes, on contact. Strikeouts will be more disdained, like they were in the past. Pitchers might challenge hitters more because they want the ball in play, and they won’t walk as many guys.”
Rich Hill: “[Trying for homers only] understandably has a point to it, but strategically, if we want to continue to grow the health of the game, we might want to rethink where we are right now. And I don’t think I’m the only one who feels that way.”
Yu Darvish, Tyler Glasnow, Craig Counsell, Rawlings, and others all chime in – and let me tell you, there seems to be some consensus that this is the right call (with more long-term thinking to come), which makes me hopeful that we’ll see a desirable outcome. I wouldn’t mind getting some more hitters’ perspectives, though.
Kevin Mather Really Messed Up
If you missed the Kevin Mather fiasco, just know that the now-former Mariners president’s timing couldn’t have been much worse. Remember, a new CBA must be negotiated next winter, and he just gave the union a TON of ammo by openly discussing service time manipulation:
The Major League Baseball Players Association today issued the following statement with regard to recent remarks made by Seattle Mariners President and CEO Kevin Mather: pic.twitter.com/xjqqUmBqbS
— MLBPA Communications (@MLBPA_News) February 22, 2021
Hopefully, this helps the players even the playing field on service time issues *and* get to an agreement without significant (or ideally any) work stoppages. The sport – and I – cannot handle that.
Choo Back to KBO
Shin-Soo Choo, who is from South Korea, is now headed there to play baseball for the first time in his pro career. The 38-year-old long-time MLB veteran just became the highest paid player in KBO history (good for him):
With 2.7 billion KRW, Choo becomes the highest-paid player in #KBO history, surpassing the 2.5 billion KRW mark held by his elementary school teammate, Lee Dae-ho (for the Lotte Giants in 2020).
— Jeeho Yoo (@Jeeho_1) February 23, 2021
(Brett: It seems that Anthony Rizzo’s HBP lead over Choo (155 to 152) is now safe forever. Just thought you should know.)
Pujols Final Year(?)
Albert Pujols, 41, is entering the final year of his 10-year, $240 million contract with the Angels, and it will probably be the final year of his long, impressive, (clearly) Hall-of-Fame career:
And if it does wind up being his final year, he’s got some big milestones to add/keep to his resume:
Some “milestones” to watch for in Pujols’ last season:
More career walks than K (currently at 1331 to 1304)
.300 career average (currently at .2986)
6,000 total bases (currently at 5,923)
400 GIDP (currently at 399)
100 career WAR (currently 100.6 on BRef) https://t.co/s7FX1fs6g7
— Jeremy Frank (@MLBRandomStats) February 22, 2021
Odds and Ends
• Which hitter immediately comes to mind when you see this:
Name the player:pic.twitter.com/0CF8NEcQcD
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) February 23, 2021
• Just a friendly reminder that Ian Happ slashed .302/.439/.640 with 7 HRs, an 18.5% walk rate and a 20.4% strikeout rate last August. As the expected Cubs leadoff man, he’s got a big season on tap. This year will likely determine the trajectory of his career. In other words, is he just a solid everyday player, or is he something closer to the dominant offensive force that kept him in the MVP conversation for two-thirds of last season and helped him become a top-10 pick in 2015.
Ian Happ taking batting practice yesterday at Spring Training 💪🏼 #Cubs
— Cubs Zone ™️ (@CubsZone) February 22, 2021
Bartolo Colon's mammoth home run!
Big Sexy! 🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/W4LFExl3dN
— Héctor Gómez (@hgomez27) February 23, 2021
• Just six home runs were hit at an angle lower than 16 degrees last season, and only two of them were inside-the-parkers:
How Low Is Too Low for a Home Run?https://t.co/H67T8EL6bj
— Baseball is Fun (@flippingbats) February 22, 2021