Stark Responds to Me

Jayson Stark was kind enough to send a rebuttal to my comments on the Andruw is overrated debate. Here is the post he is responding to, and here is my original post on the subject.

Hi J.C.
I was referred to your latest blog by a friend. And I found it reasonable and insightful. I appreciate the way you framed the debate, as opposed to the way some people have been interpreting it.

I’ve never claimed Andruw was now an inferior centerfielder, or a below-average centerfielder. And I certainly have never said he’s some broken-down stumblebum, as Scott (Boras) has been insinuating. But it seems to me that we both agree with the premise that he has regressed somewhat since his peak — at least until this year, when he happened to get back in tremendous shape in what was (coincidentally, I’m sure) a major contract year. Even if he has regressed 52 putouts a year, that’s still two balls a week he’s no longer getting to that he used to. And the fact was, I didn’t only use his best year as a comparison. Even his second-best year, in 2001, represented nearly 100 more putouts than last year, in only two more games played.

Did I break this down as closely as you did? Obviously, I didn’t. But there HAD been a definite decline no matter how you break it down. Basically, we’re only debating how much of a decline. Am I correct?

And I didn’t just use stats as my guide here. As I said in the email I sent Dave O’Brien, Scott would be shocked by what scouts and GMs and other club executives have been saying about Andruw over the last few years. THEY think he has declined. I know that. And I still hear that. In fact, after I wrote in that email that I would still take Andruw over Torii Hunter, one scout who read it called me and said, “You’re wrong. In that series in Minnesota last week, Andruw was the second-best centerfielder on the field – by far.”

It would be tempting to pass along some of the even more harsh assessments i’ve heard. But I have no desire to do that because I’ve been consciously trying NOT to bash Andruw, who I still think (and say repeatedly) is a tremendous player in many respects, and highly employable, obviously.

I also wanted to make the point that when I first started talking about Andruw, this was not all about defense. Andruw’s offensive issues are readily apparent. And as I wrote in the book, even his 50-homer season was misleading in some ways, because all the Sabermetric indicators rate it as the least productive 50-homer season of all time. But I’ve found that the conversations and interviews have evolved away from the offensive part of the topic and gotten us stuck in a debate over Andruw’s defense. That was never my original intent. But especially in these interviews, there’s limited time to get into everything.

So all I really attempted to say in that chapter was that here we have a guy who burst onto the scene in the ’96 World Series, was so good so young he had his GM invoking Hank Aaron as a comparison, and he hasn’t really been all that we expected. Now maybe we expected too much. But that’s a separate debate.

The other part of this argument is that we have this impression now of Andruw as this 50-home-run-hitting, nine-0time Gold Glove winner — and when you hear that, you’d think he was Willie Mays reincarnate. In fact, Scott loves to drop Willie Mays into all the Andruw conversations. But the fact is, THAT impression is misleading and over-inflated. And THAT’S where Andruw is overrated.

This book is about perception, and performance relative to that perception. And what’s been lost in this is that THAT’S what I wrote. People have been focusing way too much on defense, and this chapter was really more about the big picture. So I want you to know that your blog has helped remind me to readjust the focus of this conversation, so that future discussions ARE about the big picture and not just on how we interpret defensive numbers.

I’m a reasonable guy, just trying to raise reasonable issues. But people’s emotions have caused this debate to veer into a whole different sphere. So if you could do your part to help redirect us back into an arena where normal people can agree to disagree and debate in a more relaxed, this-is-what-baseball-fans do kind of climate, I’d be greatly appreciative.

Thanks for hearing me out.

After discussing this a bit further with Jayson, it seems that we agree on what type of player Andruw is, but we differ on how the general public perceives him. And Stark may have the edge in gaging this perception, because most of what I hear from Braves fans is how he is responsible for all Braves losses…and possibly the Iraq War. Thus, Stark thinks he is overrated, and I don’t.

So, when you are ordering your copy of The Baseball Economist, save on shipping and pick up The Stark Truth while you are at it. 🙂

10 Responses “Stark Responds to Me”

  1. pawnking says:

    Just imagine how heated this debate will be in 2018, when Andrew is eligible for the HOF. He’ll have the raw numbers, but there is a sizable contengent of both writers and statheads who don’t think he will belong. I forsee a lot of acrimony on his behalf in the future.

    By the way, did you see Baseball Prospectus’ blog entry speculating on Chipper’s HOF chances?

  2. Marc Schneider says:

    I think Stark is right to some extent about Andruw’s public perception, at least based on ESPN. I think the ESPN announcers went wild about his 50 homer season and his clutch homeruns and have always sort of ignored his offensive shortcomings, especially the great Joe Morgan. But you are right that that’s not the perception among Braves fans.

  3. Ron says:

    If Andruw continues to hit homers like he has in the past (not a sure thing after his bad start to this year), he’ll end up with more than 600 career homeruns and a ton of RBI. Especially if he moves on from the Braves to a northeastern team (Mets, Yankees, Red Sox), he should be a shoo in for the Hall of Fame. There’s been no rumors of steroid use on Andruw’s part that I’ve ever seen, so 600+ homeruns from him should basically punch his ticket to Cooperstown even if accompanied by a .260 career BA or thereabouts.

  4. Dave says:

    I’m not sure I know where I stand on whether Jones is overrated or not. But I have a feeling JC may be basing his perspective on Joe Simpson alone. Until this season I had never noticed the Atlanta announcers say anything ill of Jones. Sutton and Skip seemed to go on and on about how great Jones is. Since Sutton’s departure Simpson now is the greatest player in the booth and he feels it necessary to question Jones manhood because he doesn’t hit everything to right field. By the way, the Superman theme song at Turner Field is a bit over the top. Suffice it to say I don’t think Jones is the man of steel.

  5. mraver says:

    I think I agree with Marc Schneider: perhaps fans who don’t understand baseball too well think Jones is a top-teir hitter. But that’s mostly the crowd that still enjoys BBTN. People who read BP or have even a passing knowledge of SABRmetrics pretty much agree that Jones has been a good-but-not-great hitter over his career. If he was a guy with a mediocre glove in LF, he’d basically be Pat Burrell.

  6. Wendy says:

    Braves fans are down on Druw more than usual right now, but until 2005, I thought he had a local rep as an “unclutch” player. He was not considered someone you wanted up there with the game on the line and baserunners on. I’m not sure that’s fair, but that’s the perception here. You knew what he was – great defense, prodigious power, and prone to chasing bad pitches. I think his rep is more favorable outside the city among more objective fans.

    The standards for him were set so high when he arrived that I think he’s seen as underachieving offensively for his career, at least around here. Especially when the average baseball fan will pay particular attention to his AVG, which will never be all that good. There were times when local radio guys would call him “2-5” rather than his name, so it’s not like this is his first prolonged slump.

  7. Marc Schneider says:

    I think mraver is right–the BBTN crown tends to put a lot of emphasis on “clutch” hitting, which influences the way players are seen by the general public. When Andruw had his fifty home run year, a lot of those were important home runs, especially with Chipper out and BBTN went crazy about him. I think BBTN almost got Andruw the MVP over a much more deserving Albert Pujols.

    I think the standards for Andruw were set, not by Willie Mays, but by Vladimir Guerrero. They both came up about the same time and there was a lot of debate about who you would rather have. Guerrero has obviously been a better hitter and a very good fielder but at a less important defensive position. Personally, in retrospect, I would rather have had Guerrero because I think his offense was so much superior that it would have compensated for having a lesser defensive player in centerfield. Defense is important but it’s easier to find a good defensive centerfielder (albeit not as good as Andruw)than a dominant hitter. At least, it has been for the Braves. In that sense, I have always thought Andruw has been somewhat overrated.

  8. Stretch says:

    There’s no question in my mind that local fans have a different perception about their players than national fans. When you watch a player in 100+ games a year, you get to see all sorts of chinks that someone watching only a few games a year would completely miss. You can readliy identify, even without statical methods, flaws in a player’s game that tradtional metrics conceal.

    On the national stage, a great diving catch made against your team is first and foremost what shapes your perception, and the idea of comparing putouts between seasons remains in the hands of relatively few. As a Phillies fan, I get to see Jones play more often than 90% of baseball fans, but it’s still tiny compared to the avalanche of information that even a casual Braves fan has.

    In other words, you don’t think Jones is overrated simply because you (and other Braves fans) don’t overrate him. Nationally, I beleive Jones is perceived as top-tier a-list both offensively and defensively, and this is not quite the case.

  9. John McCann says:

    J.C., of course you have Andruw accurately pegged. The point is he was at one point maybe the best defensive CF of all time, but lately he is maybe the 2nd best in his league, so he has slipped. I love how Boras is all bent out of shape with this debate. You know he would be quoting putouts and zone rating himself if they helped his case.

    P.S. Andruw will sail into the HOF. They love CF’s and they love big HR totals.

  10. Richard says:

    Maybe, but he may be pulling a Dale Murphy right before your eyes. Murph’s last good season came when he was 31; A Jones is 30 this year.