One of the things that peeves me about modern-day sabermetric analysis is the way in which fans go about being armchair GMs. In and of itself, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with criticizing your favorite organization’s maneuvers. But too often I witness saber-minded writers do a few basic calculations about a contract then firmly conclude that the front office must be out of their mind.
The fault in this type of thinking is that it assumes we as fans have the same amount of information available to teams—a generally unlikely scenario. It also makes the ludicrous assumption that general managers and those that work for them either a) somehow are unaware of basic statistical methods or b) simply refuse to acknowledge the advances of baseball talent evaluation. I’d bet that the people that get paid to do this in Major League Baseball front offices know about DIPS, and that saves are a pretty useless metric.
All that being said, Ruben Amaro has a tendency to make statements in the media that suggest he is, well, less than rational. Most recently, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports published an article detailing the inevitable frustrations that the Phillies will encounter as they try to lock up Hamels before he hits free agency next offseason. Included were a handful of quotes that might make you scratch your head and say, “Really, Ruben?” The first of these selections is in regards to Cole Hamels, and about whether the club has the financial means to keep him in Philly:
"“Just like I tell most guys, if it’s about making the last dollar, I don’t know if it can end up working out. But if it ends up being a situation where he feels he’s treated fairly and the player will accept that, we can make it work.”"
Okay, nothing too preposterous here. But bear in mind that there are two hefty contracts sitting on the payroll right now that were all about making the last dollar. These, of course, are the above-market salaries paid to Ryan Howard and Jonathon Papelbon. Amaro goes on to say the following about Hamels and how his potential extension would compare to Howard’s:
"“The difference between Ryan’s and Cole’s situation is that we’re talking about a guy (Howard) who is very, very difficult to match up what he did in successive years and equate that with what Cole has done.”"
Hmmm. Whether you want to take a more traditional viewpoint of this statement, or look at it through the lens of sabermetrics, the logic doesn’t seem to hold up. Sure, Howard had been a productive player pre-extension, but arguably no more than Cole has been. As Rosenthal points out, Hamels ranks second in ERA+ over the last five years among qualified lefties. He is also likely just hitting his prime years whereas it was pretty certain that Howard’s peak would be behind him at the age of 32. Regardless, this statement isn’t that far-fetched, at least relative to what Amaro said next:
"“(Howard) was probably the most productive player during that span of anybody, including Pujols. This is not a slight against Cole — he has had some phenomenal years. But he is not the most decorated player in baseball.”"
And there it is. No longer are we dealing in opinions here—we’re dealing in observable, measurable facts. There is not a single intelligent argument to be made to defend the claim that Howard was somehow more productive that the best player in baseball during that span. By any measure of the stick Pujols is quite obviously superior, and I mean absolutely no disrespect to Big Piece. It’s just that saying that qualifies Amaro as either grossly misinformed or a liar.
Which brings me to the title of this post—Ruben Amaro is probably a bit both. There’s the side of me that thinks he might be delusional. After all, this is the man who is on record saying that he ignores the opinions of sabermetricians. He’s a former player who made his way into the front office, not an MBA with loads of experience in advanced analytics. It very may well be that Amaro isn’t as rational as we hope.
But then again, baseball general managers typically stay relatively political when it comes to dealing with media criticisms, and it’s not too often that we see one publicly admit they to making a mistake. Mr. Smug himself would certainty be the last to come out and say that perhaps he was wrong. Like any business, the Phillies do everything in their power to look professional. Amaro’s comments seem to smell of public relations impression management, and I’m probably reading too deeply into what he says.
Sometimes though, I just can’t help but wonder.