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  • Inside, Outside And Truth

    Bloggers and sabrmetricians are sometimes portrayed as treating players as tumbling dice. It's rhetoric meant to discredit and vilify, but it's not totally without merit. I know this because I think I'm about to treat Kyle Gibson and Chris Colabello as tumbling dice.

    Insiders (players, coaches, etc.) and outsiders (sabrmetrician, bloggers) have vastly different perspective on players and their development in two important ways. First, there is the matter of how much we value our projections. From the outside, we can talk of a player's development curve as an abstraction. We see him as a 22-year-old with an outstanding walk to strikeout ratio and we project him to become a different player four years from now. That projection is a range of possibilities, but it's a statistically backed range. We average them out and derive a destination.

    However, to the player in that development curve, and to the organization responsible for that development curve, there is no range. There is one spot: where he ends up. The range includes success and it includes failure and he can end up in either. That spot is everything. To them, the range means nothing. The average of that range certainly means nothing.

    So the first lesson is that player development curves, which are derived from watching groups of players, mean very little to the individual player or their organization.

    But there is a second and scarier aspect and that surrounds responsibility. We talk about these curves as if the player's progress along it is mandated from some higher forces. But the player and the organization can't count on that. They have to live it. They have to find their way through the obstacles, face the setbacks, make the adjustments.

    There are hundreds of games, thousands of repetitions, and uncounted adjustments for each player. These are what, when we add them all up, constitute improvement. They do not just happen. From the outside, we see a certain inevitability of improvement. But from the inside, improvement is far from inevitable. It is work and it is risk.

    However, there is value in being an outsider, too. There is an objectivity that can be lost while working one's way through the maze from the inside of the curve. Maybe some of those improvements, while not inevitable, are very likely. Maybe there are some basic aspects of being human that we eventually overcome.

    I'm hoping that is the case for Kyle Gibson and Chris Colabello. I talked to each earlier this week about their struggles after they were called up last year. From a distance, I wondered if Gibson thought his struggles were related to arm fatigue after coming back from Tommy John surgery. I wondered if the patience Colabello showed in a few games this week was due to some adjustments he's making in the batters box.

    They both said I was wrong. Instead, they both listed the same problem and that problem was far more basic and human: they had been nervous.

    Here's Gibson when I specifically asked him about wearing down at the end of the year.

    "No, I was just tense. I was not relaxed. I wasn't loose. And I wasn't very aggressive. I fell behind a lot of hitters and when you fall behind guys, big league hitters are pretty good. It makes a big difference.

    "Even in the starts when I struggled, the hitters who I got ahead of, they didn't really have too much success off of me. But I got behind a lot more hitters than I got ahead of. Getting myself in trouble was a lot of that. That's one thing I've worked on this offseason was being more aggressive and throwing more quality strikes.

    "I think some of it is confidence and some of it is just getting comfortable and getting used to your surroundings and playing in front of 30 or 35,000 fans every day. About seven or eight starts in, I realized I was gripping the death out of the ball or the life out of the ball. I wasn't relaxed and I wasn't loose. I'm just now figuring out how to transition that from the bullpens to the game because I've never had to really deal with that kind of adrenaline and excitement. I'm starting to get better at it, but it's still a process."

    This makes perfect sense. I know I'd be nervous. So I wasn't too surprised when later that day Chris Colabello said something very similar

    "I think it's a little bit of everything. In terms of just creating a mindset where you're relaxed, allowing yourself to remember how to slow the game down. I talk about that a lot. Last year, coming into this year, that was important to me. Obviously, having been around some guys here for a while now, getting a little bit more comfortable, and trying to know who I am, and them knowing who I am as well. It's more about approaching your at-bats with a little calm."

    Both players provide a perspective from inside the development curve. Anxiety is one of the challenges with which they have to wrestle. They feel like they're making progress with that. They feel like that progress is a big part of changing where they land on the development curve for the better.

    But from the outside, I don't know if I believe what the dice are telling me. I believe they are being totally honest. I know they have put a lot more thought into their development than I. I know they have a lot more data from which to base their conclusions. I believe that discomfort was a factor in their struggles.

    But ultimately, I still wonder if Colabello had trouble making adjustments to big league stuff because it's hard for 30-year-olds physiologically to make adjustments to big league stuff. And I wonder if Gibson wasn't as aggressive because he was getting hit when he was aggressive, and he was getting hit because his arm had been through a hell of a couple of years.

    It is also not surprising to me that neither player would concentrate on these factors because both are out of their control. Colabello cannot become 24. He can only approach each at-bat more mindfully, which he is demonstrating. Gibson couldn't do anything about what his arm has been through, other than resting it this offseason, which he did.

    The players don't care about those things for the same reason the bloggers and sabremetricians treat them as dice: you don't focus on on that which you cannot control. Both groups, inside and outside, look for truth based on their position in the curve. I suspect the truth lies somewhere in between.
    This article was originally published in blog: Inside, Outside And Truth started by John Bonnes
    Comments 46 Comments
    1. jimv2's Avatar
      jimv2 -
      Adding my voice to the chorus--excellent article.

      But I want to expand on "That projection is a range of possibilities, but it's a statistically backed range. We average them out and derive a destination." This is completely accurate in the sense of how people on the outside tend to behave. But that behavior represents a gross misunderstanding of statistical analysis. It is not statistically valid to assign characterizations of a sample group to any one data point. You can use statistics to predict an average outcome for a group of people. You can use statistics to say for example (I'm making this up) that 90% of pitchers in AAA who strike out less than 7 batters per nine innings will never win more than 1 major league game. But that doesn't mean that it's unlikely that a specifically idientified pitcher in AAA who strikes out less than 7 per 9 will succeed. People throw out statements like "the odds of Bob hitting above .250 are slim" based on some sort of analysis of other players. But it's meaningless, because there aren't a bunch of Bobs. There's just the one, and he could end up anywhere.

      Saying the same thing more statistically, if batting averages are normally distributed and the population mean is .250, then when estimating the mean of a sample group you can say that you have x% confidence that it will between .250 plus or minus y. The smaller the sample size, the smaller x is and/or the greater y is. And for a sample size of 1, assuming a large population, either x is so small or y is so big that your conclusion is useless. For example, you could say that you're 99% confident that the one person will hit between .000 and .500. But you didn't need statistical analysis to tell you that.

      A demographer can tell in a group of 10,000 people all the same age, about how many will die this year. But assuming comparable health, s/he has no idea which ones will die. A sabermetrician can tell you of a group of 1000 ballplayers with a given characteristic, how many will make the majors. But s/he can't tell you which ones. Could be any of them. So like a doctor works with people to assess their health, so the coach has to work with each of the players to figure out which ones will make the grade. And even then, neither the doc nor the coach is going to be right 100% of the time.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by Dman View Post
      While I agree with you that being a good person does not necessarily translate to helping the Twins there are some things we need to be mindful of when talking about CC. Chris was the MVP of his AAA league last year. He had an amazing season. If CC is as bad as you claim then what does that say about the rest of players in AAA? They must really be bad? I understand that CC's age makes him a tough sell especially for a team looking to the future but I don't think you can just ignore his talent and potential either.
      You could say the exact same thing about Randy Ruiz as well...

      just sayin'
    1. nytwinsfan's Avatar
      nytwinsfan -
      Bonnes, did you major in epistemology or something? This is some profound philosophical ****.
    1. Riverbrian's Avatar
      Riverbrian -
      I loved the article because I think about this a lot. I'm into stats but not so much from a projection standpoint.

      I think the mental part of the game is huge. Put yourself in Colabello's shoes.

      He's advanced in age so he will only get one or two windows. He has to prove himself with the clock ticking.

      He earned a major league uniform with his play in AAA but he only got that uniform when Plouffe was placed on the 7 day. He knows his primary skill is his ability to hit the ball a long way.

      You got 7 days to show something... You are facing the best pitchers in the world for the first time. He knows Morneau is the 1st baseman and he got a job with a 7 day expiration date.

      He gets 11 at bats and all he wants in life besides health for his family is to make an impression and stay in the majors and... And... His primary skill is hitting the long ball.

      When you consider all of that... I don't care what age you are... How do you not try to hit a 5 run homer every time you step up to the plate. The coaches will tell him... "Relax it will come" but you are trying to prove you belong and they didn't bring you up to walk or bloop singles.

      It's my guess why rookies struggle. They are trying to prove they belong. And its hard to prove it by drawing a walk.

      You gotta be aggressive defensively and on the base paths. But... At the plate... You have to relax. If you don't relax... You swing at crap and if you swing at crap... You hit like crap.

      If Colabello is given the chance to relax and he actually does relax... He could turn into something and i'm pulling for him.

      My guess is... His AAA numbers are an example of a relaxed hitter. A guy with a job and a few cookies to swing at. No guaranteed job and less cookies makes it hard.
    1. Foul Weather Wags's Avatar
      Foul Weather Wags -
      Great article. Really captured the potential noise. Especially difficult after having interviewed Gibson and Colabello in person. Can't help but wonder how increased access will affect the message.

      Based on the comments, this article also appears to hold up a mirror to those who read it. Well crafted!
    1. ND-Fan's Avatar
      ND-Fan -
      I believe sabermetrics has a pretty important place in baseball it still doesn't determine whole picture of player because with all players there's norm or average over players career but in that career there's year or maybe two he out performs the average of his career. I think position the Twins are in now they are looking at a lot of players hoping to find player that put up bigger numbers for a year or two. They are also trying to do this on cheap and no long term commitment to declining or marginal players. The plan is fill the gap until there talent arrives from the minors. What they are hoping is to put team that could out perform and get near 500 for the season. Also part of this plan is they signed some quality pitchers to keep them close in the games and they may be able to pull off season or two of this until cavalry arrives from the minors. Also these pitchers will provide leadership to young pitchers coming up giving them in future a pretty quality pitching staff.

      I could also show lots examples of players that statistics showed they were done or not ever be significant player again. One example when I was young was when Twins let go of Jim Kaat to the Whit Sox it looked like his career was about done. Then he had two stellar years for White Sox winning 20 games and if you look at his statics you have agreed with the Twins on getting rid of him. But here he reversed his statics and if were looking at from war perspective he went from negative to positive 7 + in war, lower his ERA, increased his strike out rate back to near his peak years. I think I could also find many more like this of players that broke the normand another I would guess would be David Ortiz. The Twins are hoping they can find a player like this help them to become respectable for the coming year.
    1. Sleestax's Avatar
      Sleestax -
      Quote Originally Posted by Dman View Post
      That is a really nice article. Your take on this resonates with my own. I do think the players are right to some extent a lot of what happens is mental, but you are also correct that training and talent come in to play because the better those things are the better they are able to have success and improve their confidence. I think you are dead on in your analysis but that is just my opinion I am sure others will have a different take.

      Xanax or Clonazapam in small dose.
    1. Paul's Avatar
      Paul -
      Nice article John. I thought it was one of the most insightful things I've read on this interweb thing in some time... until I got to your last sentence. "
      I suspect the truth lies somewhere in between." (I'm bettin' you couldn't resist turning that phrase.) I think without question both perspectives are the truth. And further, it can be successfully argued that BOTH viewpoints are most definitely subjective. We all see this beautiful immense diamond we call life, but we all only see the facets in our field of vision.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Nice take John. To me, it points out how little we know when we project players and how much of our opinions are dependent on the experts (scouts).

      We can use PitChFX data to test Gibson's claims. He did indeed pitch up more in his later starts. Why? My hypothesis is he wasn't getting the low strike. I watched several games early after his call up and the umps just didn't call the sinker at the knees. It reminded me of Hicks' debut. He had strikes called on him that were in the other batters' box. After that, he expanded the zone and got himself out. In Gibson's case, he would fall behind when they didn't call the knee-high sinker, and bring it up a few inches, where it would get hit.
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      Quote Originally Posted by jimv2 View Post
      Adding my voice to the chorus--excellent article.

      But I want to expand on "That projection is a range of possibilities, but it's a statistically backed range. We average them out and derive a destination." This is completely accurate in the sense of how people on the outside tend to behave. But that behavior represents a gross misunderstanding of statistical analysis. It is not statistically valid to assign characterizations of a sample group to any one data point. You can use statistics to predict an average outcome for a group of people. You can use statistics to say for example (I'm making this up) that 90% of pitchers in AAA who strike out less than 7 batters per nine innings will never win more than 1 major league game. But that doesn't mean that it's unlikely that a specifically idientified pitcher in AAA who strikes out less than 7 per 9 will succeed. People throw out statements like "the odds of Bob hitting above .250 are slim" based on some sort of analysis of other players. But it's meaningless, because there aren't a bunch of Bobs. There's just the one, and he could end up anywhere.

      Saying the same thing more statistically, if batting averages are normally distributed and the population mean is .250, then when estimating the mean of a sample group you can say that you have x% confidence that it will between .250 plus or minus y. The smaller the sample size, the smaller x is and/or the greater y is. And for a sample size of 1, assuming a large population, either x is so small or y is so big that your conclusion is useless. For example, you could say that you're 99% confident that the one person will hit between .000 and .500. But you didn't need statistical analysis to tell you that.

      A demographer can tell in a group of 10,000 people all the same age, about how many will die this year. But assuming comparable health, s/he has no idea which ones will die. A sabermetrician can tell you of a group of 1000 ballplayers with a given characteristic, how many will make the majors. But s/he can't tell you which ones. Could be any of them. So like a doctor works with people to assess their health, so the coach has to work with each of the players to figure out which ones will make the grade. And even then, neither the doc nor the coach is going to be right 100% of the time.
      Well said.
    1. Since71's Avatar
      Since71 -
      Wow ! Great article. Really improved my insight. I Love Colabello's story and hope that the Twins at least give him a fair look. I thought the way he was used last year was not conducive to getting a realistic look at what he could or could not do. I have no idea if he can be a productive player at the MLB level or not, but I know that giving him a start every 3 or 4 days isn't going to tell us.
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      I'm really hoping for Kyle Gibson to be much improved this year. He's no longer a young prospect, so I hope the breakthrough is this year.

      As far as Colabello goes, he is a hitter, so he has to hit. I just don't like his approach at the plate and major league pitchers worked him hard. I can't see him hitting big league pitching, but I sure hope I'm wrong.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by oldguy10 View Post
      In what role can Chris Colabello possibly help outside of pinch hitting and DH against southpaws. He assuredly cannot help in his defensive outfield play, can he? Again as I said before and maintain strongly peopling a roster with folks like him guarantees a team totaling 90 loss seasons. I wish Chris well but in Rochester not in Minnesota as that is simply not going to happen. If he were to have had a decent MLB career it would have happened five years ago or so.
      I think he could be a useful bench bat if we had room for a right-handed DH/PH/back-up 1B. Well, not if he hits like he did last year, but if he makes adjustments. He has an unorthodox hitting style with huge holes in his swing. In AAA, pitchers struggle to exploit those holes. In the majors, not so much. The trouble is, the kind of adjustment he needs to make requires daily at bats, typically. It is tough to do as a PH and occasional DH.

      Also, I don't know if the roster will accommodate such a player. I continue to hear talk of 13 pitchers, which means three back-ups, including a catcher, an infielder and an outfielder. The infielder needs to be able to play every infield position and the outfielder needs to play every outfield position. That doesn't leave much room for a guy like Colabello. If they go north with 12 pitchers, maybe. Even then, they might prefer Kubel in the bench bat role assuming the corners are manned by Parmelee, Arcia and Willingham with the DH rotating among them.

      If they take 13 pitchers, the bench will have Pinto, Bartlett and Presley, assuming Hicks starts in center and Suzuki starts at catcher. Lots of people think the infielder will be Escobar, but I just don't see him being able to play first base. Bartlett has been working out there a lot. Lots of people prefer Fryer at catcher. I just don't understand that. What does Pinto need to do to earn a job? Some people think Hicks should go to AAA. I don't get that either. He proved he could handle it up here in May and June last year, at least as well as Presley.
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      Hicks only had 25 ABs in June, so basically you are talking about one month where he hit satisfactorily. For one month, Trevor Plouffe was Babe Ruth. I firmly believe Hicks should and will start the season in Rochester. I presume a recall will happen early, but that depends on players' health and Hicks' performance. On Pinto, I think another month of Triple A won't hurt and might help and that it certainly will give the Twins control of his contract for another year.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by stringer bell View Post
      Hicks only had 25 ABs in June, so basically you are talking about one month where he hit satisfactorily. For one month, Trevor Plouffe was Babe Ruth. I firmly believe Hicks should and will start the season in Rochester. I presume a recall will happen early, but that depends on players' health and Hicks' performance. On Pinto, I think another month of Triple A won't hurt and might help and that it certainly will give the Twins control of his contract for another year.
      If two players have about the same success in the majors, all things considered, you take the more talented guy because he has higher upside. I don't know what Hicks can learn in AAA. When healthy, he did fine in AAA. His problem there was an injury. All that said, the team they go north with is rarely the team they have in June. As long as he's the starter in June, I'll be OK with it. But I still think he's better now and in the future than Presley.
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      If two players have about the same success in the majors, all things considered, you take the more talented guy because he has higher upside. I don't know what Hicks can learn in AAA. When healthy, he did fine in AAA. His problem there was an injury. All that said, the team they go north with is rarely the team they have in June. As long as he's the starter in June, I'll be OK with it. But I still think he's better now and in the future than Presley.
      Presley is a 4th OF, who can play an acceptable center field. This is about Hicks' development. I disagree that he "did OK" at Rochester, he had a .650 OPS in about 80 PAs. I certainly don't think that he mastered the level. I would say that Presley "did OK" in Minnesota, but that only really qualifies him as a fourth OF, if that. Presley is 28. I doubt there is much more development left.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by stringer bell View Post
      Presley is a 4th OF, who can play an acceptable center field. This is about Hicks' development. I disagree that he "did OK" at Rochester, he had a .650 OPS in about 80 PAs. I certainly don't think that he mastered the level. I would say that Presley "did OK" in Minnesota, but that only really qualifies him as a fourth OF, if that. Presley is 28. I doubt there is much more development left.
      Yes. So you're saying you want a fourth outfielder starting in the majors, with little hope that he'll improve? I don't.
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      Yes. So you're saying you want a fourth outfielder starting in the majors, with little hope that he'll improve? I don't.
      Until Hicks finds his footing in Rochester, yes. I think Presley will be acceptable for then and the transition would be easy with Hicks taking over and Presley moving into the 4th OF role. I think Hicks needs more than 100 Triple A plate appearances to build his confidence. It also sends the wrong message to all the other young players. Just because he's a high draft choice with "tools" doesn't mean he can claim a spot on the big league roster. Spring training means something, but spring training stats mean pretty close to nothing. The Twins thought that Hicks could handle the major leagues, but he didn't. Hicks didn't perform well enough in Rochester to be called back in September. I think he now has to prove it outside of spring training that he's ready to go back to Minnesota.
    1. h2oface's Avatar
      h2oface -
      What I remember about Gibson last year was that he got pinched on the strike zone drastically. So many of his great pitches just on the plate, especially the low part of the zone, were called balls. Bad umpiring making one almost throw it right down the middle to get a strike call. It is hard to not be nervous in those conditions. Until fx calls the balls and strikes, and it will and should, the game will continue to be compromised by blue, and the fake strike zones will affect the game more than can be quantified.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by stringer bell View Post
      Until Hicks finds his footing in Rochester, yes. I think Presley will be acceptable for then and the transition would be easy with Hicks taking over and Presley moving into the 4th OF role. I think Hicks needs more than 100 Triple A plate appearances to build his confidence. It also sends the wrong message to all the other young players. Just because he's a high draft choice with "tools" doesn't mean he can claim a spot on the big league roster. Spring training means something, but spring training stats mean pretty close to nothing. The Twins thought that Hicks could handle the major leagues, but he didn't. Hicks didn't perform well enough in Rochester to be called back in September. I think he now has to prove it outside of spring training that he's ready to go back to Minnesota.
      That wouldn't suck. Pretty much what they did last year after the all-star break. It would take a roster spot to move Mastro off the 40-man to fill the fourth outfielder spot. And since he's out of options, you'd have to DFA him to send him down when you want to call up Hicks. Maybe they'd do that. Not sure 100 PAs against weaker pitching makes that much difference in the grand scheme of things.
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