Monthly Archives: May 2003

EXTREME OPS: The Boston Red

EXTREME OPS: The Boston Red Sox yesterday traded third baseman Shea Hillenbrand to the Arizona Diamondbacks for starter/closer Byung-Hyun Kim, marking the first major deal of Theo Epstein’s tenure as Bosox general manager. The deal, in Boston and elsewhere (such as Rob Neyer’s column) has gotten rapturous reactions, with Neyer even absurdly likening it to Boston’s infamous trade of Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen.
Now despite acquiring a player whose most memorable career moment up to this point was a two-night meltdown in Yankee Stadium, I feel as though this trade has a very good chance of working out well for the Red Sox. But at the same time I can’t help noticing that Hillenbrand is getting the shaft, just has he has gotten the shaft, really, ever since coming out of nowhere to become the Sox’ starting third baseman two years ago.
A rarity in Boston in recent years- a homegrown prospect who became a regular and produced at the big league level- Hillenbrand has been nothing but an exemplary player for his whole career in Beantown- yet the Sox have been tried desperately to unload him for as long as anyone can remember. Why? The Cult of Sabermetrics, that’s why. The fascinating yet very unproven method of statistical theory favored by Epstein (and more or less invented by Sox adviser Bill James) caused the Red Sox to brand the low-OPS Hillenbrand as essentially worthless, and thus he’s been shipped out.
I’m not saying I don’t at least partially buy into the sabermetric phenomenon- clearly, it’s right a lot of the time. But I think it’s bad for the game to consider OPS and other “new math” stats the be-all-and-end-all of judging talent, especially considering that exactly zero teams have ridden sabermetrics to a championship, and exactly one team (Oakland) has become a consistant winner because of it. So if Shea Hillenbrand becomes a perennial All-Star with the D-Backs while Kim blows it against the Yankees in September, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
On top of that, there’s a certain elitism, I think, associated with sabermetric triumphalism: now, all of a sudden, according to most sportswriters these days, the world’s primary baseball experts aren’t coaches or managers or scouts, but rather guys with masters degrees from Harvard (Yale, in Epstein’s case) who’ve never set foot on a baseball field in their lives. All of sudden, the old archetype of the baseball card-collecting, boxscore-reading baseball fan going with Dad to games has given way to the guy who approaches baseball the way others would regard astrophysics.
I’m about to read “Moneyball” (like Gleeman, I’m planning to do so in one sitting); I’ll let you know if it changes my mind.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I’ll

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I’ll just add a strategic point, the kind of thing they teach in business school. If you are going to adopt a strategy to be a national newspaper, you must add the capabilities to be a national newspaper… It means having lots of well-staffed bureaus and, if necessary, credited stringers. It also means breaking out of a worldview that considers Manhattan normal and every other place weird. The truth is that the NYT is not a national newspaper. It is the New York Times (more accurately, The Manhattan South of Harlem Times). It assumes its readers have the prejudices of well-educated, affluent Manhattanites, and it staffs, writes, and edits accordingly.” -The world’s most beautiful libertarian, and occasional Times writer, Virginia Postrel.

AOL BITES: When I logged

AOL BITES: When I logged on to AOL this evening, the top news story listed was some sort of survey of “The Best Companies For Diversity.” Fair enough, except for the accompanying photo: one of Mike Tyson. Strange, I thought- are the AOL machers so clueless about diversity that they decided they needed a picture of a black person and the first they found was Tyson?
I later realized, of course, that the two stories were in fact alternately flashing, and there’d just been a delay in the photos. Tyson was in the news again over his latest psycho pronouncement, that he’d like to once again rape Desiree Washington, the beauty pageant contestant who he was convicted of sexually assaulting a decade ago. Had any other athlete in any other sport said such a thing they’d likely be suspended Bob Ryan-style, although since boxing is a mess of unregulated anarchy, Tyson will likely get off scot-free, once again. Now it’s up to the media to realize that it’s time to start ignoring Tyson, because he’s not only a rapist and violent sociopath, but he’s also a has-been in the ring.
Though on second thought, the juxtaposition of AOL stories could’ve been worse, I suppose. Like, if the “Best Companies for Diversity” had been rotated with a story about, say, Jayson Blair.

A MAVERICK CHOKE: Ouch. Cuban’s

A MAVERICK CHOKE: Ouch. Cuban’s boys looked like they had Game 6 all sown up after three quarters, but for the second straight game in the series a team came back from a huge deficit in the fourth quarter, and the San Antonio Spurs clinched the Western Conference championship and will face the New Jersey Nets in an all-ex-ABA NBA Finals.
The Spurs comeback was largely thanks to heroics from Steve Kerr, who despite the onset of premature rigor mortis, nevertheless managed to hit four consecutive three-pointers to put San Antonio ahead for good. I, like most people watching the game, was under the impression that Kerr had retired three or four years ago; apparently all of the Dallas players thought so as well.
The Spurs-Nets Finals won’t start for over a week, so get ready for plenty of hype based on Nets star Jason Kidd squaring off against the team that he’s been rumored all season to want to sign with. The implication of course will be that if Kidd can’t beat the sure-to-be-favored Spurs, he might join them; it’s an echo of last year’s best Finals joke, which was that the only way Jason Kidd could beat Shaq would be if he married him.
Kidd’s done beating people for the year; my pick is Spurs in 5.