Now that Joe Morgan is telling tales 'round the national campfire, who out there is left to make specious, proudly ignorant arguments about the value of baseball statistics? Batter up, Harold Reynolds!
I'm going to quote this in full, partly because you really need to read the whole thing to get the warp and woof of his argument, but mostly because it approaches, by the end, something like abstract art. From Reynolds' blog, called "Harold Reynolds Presents":
It's been real interesting in the last couple years as I've watched how the importance of statistics has taken over how to analyze a baseball game. I used to play for an old time manager named Dick Williams who used to tell me, "The situation will dictate what happens." He used to call me to his office and say, "I should never have to give you a sign. You should know this is a bunt situation, you should know this is a situation where you need to take a trike, you should know the situation calls for getting the man over. I should never have to give you a sign, the situation dictates what happens."
But what I've been witnessing while I've been a broadcaster is everyone using these stats to try and explain the game of baseball. Not all statistics work. Some do, some don't. And one of the stats that has become real popular is OPS. On-base plus slugging. All of a sudden, it's this stat that defines whether a guy is a good ball player or not. And the fact of the matter is, if you're a power hitter then the situation will dictate what a pitcher does with you - either walk you or pitch you real careful. So more than likely you're going to end up on base and therefore your on-base percentage goes up. This in my mind has become the stat the everyone thinks is the be all and end all. It is not. If you have a ball club that's a great offensive team then that changes everything. But if you have a guy like Adrian Gonzalez, for example, his OPS is going to be high - he's got a lot of home runs and walks a lot...because you're not going to pitch to him. Power guys like Giambi and Dunn have always had high OPS because no one wants to pitch to them. But it takes two hits to score them from first.
This is how the game has changed. Dick Williams is pulling his hair out. This is not something people have reinvented in the game. You can go all the way back to Dave Kingman. When Kingman was hot, you didn't pitch to him. If he wasn't hot, you pitched to him. Big power hitters swing and miss and strikeout. Or they hit home runs and walk. And at the end of the year their OBP is always going to be higher than most of the other guys on the team because they clog the bases.
A few years ago this stat grabbed my ear when someone said that Ichiro doesn't walk enough. So I said, "What do you mean?" And they said his OBP could be so much higher if he walked more. The guy gets 200 hits a season! And he scores over 100 runs. I think that speaks for itself.
So as the old, wise Dick Williams used to tell me, "I should never have to give you a sign. The situation dictates what happens."
I know how he feels. I'm not even sure where to begin. In the year of our Lord two thousand and nine, a respected baseball personage is taking to the Internets and criticizing players who "clog the bases." He is not talking about VORP or FRAA or any of those other newfangled acronyms that seem to amuse certain analysts so. He is talking about OPS, which I had figured was one front on which the jocks had conceded the point. I guess I was wrong. I hesitate to speculate, but perhaps Harold is a little miffed that the bulk of objective analysis now tends to devalue speedy ballplayers with a career OPS of .668, which is understandable and even a little sad. Reach out to him, statheads. Give the man a hug.