GLENDALE, Ariz. – I would like the record to show that I did not goad Jeff Samardzija into speaking ill of Sabermetrics. In fact, the new White Sox pitcher brought up his feelings on his own Sunday, and if he didn’t quite sneer as he talked about analytics, he at least engaged in some devoted scoffing.
Even though I find advanced statistics to be as compelling a read as the list of active ingredients on a bottle of sunscreen, I don’t want this to devolve into a war between the pro-metrics camp and the anti-metrics camp. I only bring up Samardzija’s dislike to let you know that the numbers revolution isn’t a hit with all the people who are supposed to benefit from it.
The topic Sunday morning was whether Sox pitching coach Don Cooper’s methods were old school in this day and age of Sabermetrics.
“Sabermetrics, nyeh. Sounds like a lot of hot air,’’ Samardzija said, smiling. “I think there are definitely positive aspects to it. I think there is some information you can take from it that’s important. But ultimately from a player’s point of view, you want a coach that can relate to you. Can help you with adjustments mid-game.
“I think preparation with numbers and stats and all that’s great, but when the bullets are flying, you need a guy that knows your personality, can relate to you and get you to change or fix what’s going wrong. If you don’t respect the guy that’s telling you that information, you’re not going to listen to him.’’
Metrics are used in at least three ways: One, for an organization to measure a player’s performance using various statistics in order to paint as full a picture as possible of him. Two, for players to learn about opponents’ tendencies. Three, for us to understand what death feels like. Just kidding!
It’s the second item that doesn’t pass Samardzija’s personal inspection. For him, the test is on the field and not in the pregame information session. All the studying in the world isn’t going to prepare him for what occurs on the mound, he said.
“So much of the game happens so fast that you’ve got to trust yourself and your instincts and trust what you remember before from facing guys,’’ he said. “You go off that. I think a lot of money is wasted in Sabermetrics, in producing information and hiring people to produce information. If it’s not being taken from the paper and processed by the player, it might as well just be a waste.
“I think you need to know the player and what they like and what they don’t like. If they like numbers and they like to see those percentages, then you feed it to them. If not, then you go about it a different way.’’
I’m sure the analytics people will argue that some of what Samardzija is saying is analytics-backed, whether he knows it or not. He remembers what he did against hitters in past matchups — isn’t that part Sabermetrics? Yes, but without feeling like you had to spend the summer at math camp. Kidding!
Samardzija had a very good and very classical 2.99 earned-run average last season with the Cubs and Athletics.
“Listen, I can get (hitters) out without even throwing a pitch,’’ he said. “If I can intimidate them or maybe I’ve had success against them in the past, then sometimes these guys are out before they even get to the plate. Or they’ve had success against you, and it causes you to four-pitch walk them. There are a lot of numbers that don’t get written down or can’t be kept. A lot of internal things that take place with guys, confidence and rhythm and things like that that aren’t on paper.
“(Metrics enable) a lot of people to have jobs in baseball, I think. But is it necessary? Yes and no.’’
There’s no doubt that the game has a certain mustiness to it and that some people involved don’t want to change. Tradition is both a lovely thing and a burden. On the other side, although some analytics followers insist that stats are only one tool among many, it’s the only tool they seem to want to discuss. Perhaps that’s why they’re alone so often at parties. I kid!
There are obvious benefits for players.
“You understand how pitchers are pitching you, you understand where teams are playing you, you understand where other guys are going to hit the ball,’’ Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “It gives you an extra step. I think your anticipation is a little bit better of what might be happening before it happens.
“Those are all things that you take into consideration. You want them to be able to have all that information. Some guys it might be too much, but there are a lot of guys who eat this stuff up.”
When it comes to metrics, Samardzija is counting his calories. And looking good.