It's been en vogue for many years to take pot shots at the Twins front office for their apparent lack of interest in baseball's evolution in analytics. They have always been one of the more vocal franchises in terms of refuting what began as the game's black magick, but in recent seasons they've employed a team for analytics and have publicly endorsed statistical data as a necessary part of the equation.
While this change in direction has obviously been more than lip service, at times the front office doesn't do itself any favors when the topic of numbers comes up. The organization has, over the years, admitted that they use statistical analysis without revealing any details about the what or the how. In fact, it's quite common for a member of the front office to bring up advanced metrics...by framing it in the negative.
I know there were some defensive metrics that said he had struggled some in right field - we believe that he will be fine out there. Obviously when you're 39 and not 29 anymore, he's probably lost a step and all that. But he knows where to play hitters and some of those veteran smarts make up for that.
This has been a common theme when the Minnesota front office brings up metrics: they don't believe that the metrics bear something out or give a player his full due. Credit their faith in a player's abilities, of course, but how far should that be taken?
Yesterday over at FanGraphs, David Laurila's Sunday Notes column features a discussion with Glen Perkins but also has a few paragraphs regarding Terry Ryan and Rob Antony's thoughts on Brian Dozier's four-year contract.
There are two quotes that I want to pick out.
"Our statistical analysis people did research," Antony told me. "They found that, since 1900, 12 different second basemen have had 30-plus doubles, 20-plus homers and 20-plus stolen bases in a season. He’s one of those 12, which makes him very unique. Brian adds a power element at a position that doesn’t always have power."
I'm fascinated by the idea that this qualifies as statistical analysis. It's a fun factoid. It's not statistical analysis and it's nothing upon which to base a four-year contract. There's obviously more to the contract than the fact that Dozier is one of these 12 second basemen, and yes it's kind of cool that he qualifies for this honor and it's absolutely true that second basemen usually don't hit 20 home runs, but if we're talking about statistical analysis isn't there something better to evaluate Dozier's talent than the fact that he reached three benchmarks in counting stats that have limited scope in determining a player's current or future value?
Here's the other quote.
"There are no signs of his play going in the wrong direction," said Antony. "He’s turning 28 in May, so we’ll have him in his age 28-31 years. Age-wise, he’s reaching the prime of his career."
There are two conflicting statements here. Dozier is absolutely just hitting his prime as far as his age is concerned, but it terms of his play or his career arc, age is not a constant factor. As for there being "no signs of his play going in the wrong direction," FanGraphs had this to say about Dozier three and a half weeks ago. The findings here are obviously no guarantee of Dozier's impending collapse, but what the trends revealed in that story - and what baseball history has born out for players demonstrating those trends - is not a good thing.
Indeed, that very story is what constitutes statistical analysis. It's looking at the data, applying it to the full context of the player, his age, his park, his position, his recent history, etc, and then analyzing it to ascertain a level of understanding that you did not have before. Essentially, it raises a couple of red flags on Dozier's future performance.
Perhaps I'm not being entirely fair. I'm putting a lot of emphasis on just two quotes from Antony, when it doesn't need to be said that I don't know the whole story here, either. Maybe there was more said which wasn't accounted for in Laurila's article, and the Twins certainly weren't going to reveal what their analytics department gave them which justified (or didn't justify) Dozier's four-year contract. Minnesota has always been tight lipped about personnel decisions, and considering their relatively recent shift into balancing the new school with the old it shouldn't be a surprise when they reveal nothing about their analytics processes.
I don't think there's anything wrong with touting traditional counting stats in celebration of signing a popular player, either. They're still fun, and limited in scope as they may be they still mean something and they're certainly relatable to a larger percentage of an audience than fWAR or wRC+.
My criticism here, then, is more about delivery or perception than it is hey-look-at-the-Twins-they're-still-stuck-in-1971. The organization and its decision makers obviously had reasons for giving Dozier that four-year contract, but I'd be surprised if one of their legitimate reasons was because he qualified as one of those 12 second basemen. That's just a fun thing to say. No, the Twins would have given Dozier the contract because of a number of reasons - some of which would be the results brought back to them by their analytical and research teams.
Perception means a great deal. At some point it would just be wonderful to hear something about how statistical analysis has influenced decisions the organization has made, other than how the club doesn't believe that metrics bear everything out. Because we already know they don't bear everything out. We know they don't and can't say everything.
We just want to know what the Twins think they do say.