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Why it must be impossible to manage based on statistics

It is surely the golden age of baseball statistics. Baseball Reference and FanGraphs and Retrosheet pretty much guarantee that, no matter what stat I want, I can have it immediately. Tom Nieto's batting average as a Twin? .152, in 65 games. That took me maybe eight seconds to find. I can tell you that Nick Punto has never had a hit off of Joel Pinero, the only guy that Nicky has faced at least ten times without getting at least one hit.

Just about every statistic you could conceive of is out there, ready for armchair analysts to parse and dissect. And while that's wonderful for us fans, it does make me feel bad for Ron Gardenhire and field staffs everywhere, who are now - if they choose to be - awash in a sea of data.

Allow me to demonstrate how annoying this discussion can thus become. Let's consider a few decisions that Gardy might have to make, and look at a few statistics.

1. Jon Rauch should be replaced as closer.

NO: He's saved 20 games, the same as Mariano Rivera (to pick one other person). His WPA is higher than any other Twins reliever, which means he's getting it done. His FIP is lower than any other current reliever except for Jesse Crain.

YES: If you use WPA/LI instead of WPA to judge win probability, which helps remove the WPA benefit that Rauch gets from being the closer, he's almost exactly at zero - much lower than Crain, Matt Guerrier, or even Ron Mahay. He's giving up 1.38 baserunners per inning, which is mediocre, and striking out fewer batters than Crain.

2. The starting rotation needs drastic help.

YES: I feel like I hardly need to cite stats here, as the conventional wisdom is pretty much established: Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano have been good, Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey have been bad, and Nick Blackburn will soon be tried for crimes against baseball. Meanwhile, Brian Duensing, who replaced Blackburn, may be helpful.

NO: Go read Luke in MN's compelling post, titled "The Twins have the best starters in the AL."

3. Nick Punto's glove is worth enough to keep him in the lineup over Danny Valencia.

YES: Punto hasn't made an error at third base all year. He also has the best Revised Zone Rating of any third baseman in the majors who's played at least 100 innings there. And Valencia has demonstrated no power; basically, you'd be trading Punto's glove for maybe one more single per week. Even that's in question, as Valencia's BABIP is .391 to Punto's .282, which may be unsustainable.

NO: Going by Ultimate Zone Rating/150 games, Valencia actually has a better glove than Punto. He walks more often, strikes out less, and is hitting .333 to Punto's .242.


So there you have it: all sides of every issue, successfully argued!

For me, the truth about baseball stats is that just about any opinion you have, you can find a statistic that supports your opinion (and I am more guilty than most when it comes to this). We often wonder if our favorite teams have climbed on board the Stats Express and started using advanced statistics in their decision-making process, either on or off the field. In a way, I can understand if they don't; there's almost so much information available that it's just not that helpful.