It’s become apparent, from watching ballgames with my 56-year-old father nearly every night, that two baseball fans can watch the same game and see totally different things. I’m 17 and am highly influenced by the rapid rise of Sabermetrics in the sport, while my Dad has accepted them begrudgingly. For him, judging a pitcher based on ERA and important peripheral stats as opposed to almost solely on wins was as tough a transition as switching from vinyl to CD or VHS to DVD.
In a recent AL MVP debate, my father cited Boston’s Adrian Gonzalez as the man to beat because of his lofty batting average and prodigious number of RBI’s. Meanwhile, I, the sensible one, pointed to Toronto’s Jose Bautista and stated that he won the award in June. Joey Bats’ 1.092 OPS, 37 home runs, and 20.0 BB% are unrivaled, but according to the old adage, “They could’ve lost without him.” They, meaning the Blue Jays, who will most likely finish in fourth place and currently sit one game below .500. The argument does hold some merit; however, according to WAR, which Bautista leads among all players, pitchers included, he is literally the most valuable player. The statistic takes nearly everything into account, and while it does have its flaws, it can pretty accurately determine how much a single player was worth to a team in terms of wins. Had a major league average player replaced Bautista to start the season, Toronto would have lost 7.8 more games thus far.
The differences don’t stop there, though, not by a long shot. Dustin Pedroia is in the middle of the best season of his career, that much Dad and I can agree upon. We start butting heads when the subject of why it’s his best is discussed. Despite the pace-setting offensive numbers the Red Sox have put together as a team, there has been a surprising amount of close, one-run ballgames. Much like David Ortiz in 2004, Pedroia seems to come through at all the right times. My Dad is convinced that the all the adrenaline in his body reaches a crescendo when he comes to the plate in a tight situation. That adrenaline effectively elevates Pedroia’s ability to make contact to a godly level, making the chances of him getting a hit all the more likely. Okay. That would all make sense if there was a such thing as a clutch hitter. But there isn’t. Clutch hitting boils down to batting average with RISP, which varies from year to year. The leader in RISP one season will likely not make the top 10 the next, and if he does it’s pure coincidence. I guess Captain Clutch, aka Derek Jeter, needs a new nickname.
Mainly, though, our long-term vs. short-term goals are completely different. My father wants to win every year; every single game matters. It doesn’t matter what it takes, the team always has to remain in contention. Constantly winning is the ideal scenario for everyone, no matter your age, but it’s still unrealistic. The Brewers took an all-or-nothing approach this offseason, and while they’re playoff bound in 2011 and possibly 2012, Milwaukee has a dismal farm system. Instead of trading for two years of Shaun Marcum, a great starter, but not an ace, GM Bob Melvin could’ve had six seasons of Brett Lawrie, who’s currently mashing for Toronto. Two years of Zack Greinke cost them the rest of their talented minor leaguers. All these trades would be justified if they had the payroll flexibility to lock up their returns, but they don’t. In addition to that, Prince Fielder, their best hitter, will leave via free agency this offseason. No matter the budget, teams should always keep a stocked farm system, because homegrown talent is the best, and cheapest, kind.