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San Francisco Giants fans see Madison Bumgarner ranked sixteenth

By Mark ONeill
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San Francisco Giants star Madison Bumgarner, currently basking in the glow of accolades cascading down on him as a result of his World Series success, had some of the air removed from his sails by being placed number sixteen on a list ranking Major League Baseball’s top starting pitchers.

Brian Kenny wrote an article in which he attempted to adequately explain how it was that sabermetrically, he ranked MadBum as low as he did. Kenny acknowledged right away, thankfully, that his opinion was going to shock many fans, and that even his peers did not reach the same conclusions that he did.

Kenny writes for Sports on Earth (“Bumgarner not a top 10 pitcher” January 30th) and began hedging his bets early on by declaring that with the “depth of excellent pitching, the starting pitcher Top 10 was especially difficult and created two camps, those who are in and those who are out.” While readers are still staggering under the weight of this brilliant observation, Kenny fires another salvo and scores a direct hit: “And for me, Bumgarner is out.”

Because he’s number sixteen, one might surmise.

Kenny also states that others using sabermetrics rank MadBum in the Top 10, and that,

“It’s crazy. It’s not allowed. I’m totally missing the boat. The Shredder (our formula) had him ninth, John Smoltz had him third, and Bill James himself had him second. The godfather of Sabermetrics is free to fire thunderbolts from on-high as he pleases, but…I am merely adhering to the principles he has taught all of us.”

To his credit Kenny goes on to explain his logic. He goes back to 2011 and compares Bumgarner to many of the other pitchers, and he imbeds charts, graphs and other means of presenting information to justify his reasoning. It is all very fascinating, I suppose, but beyond my grasp.

The words are easily accessible but the meaning is not; it simply does not compute.

Looking at the numbers and understanding how they are derived, are two different matters entirely.

Having been immersed in baseball one’s whole life does not help. The bottom line is that sabermetrics is more than a language or a set of numbers; it’s an offshoot of baseball that requires members to have more than just a basic interest.

Those who want to become computer specialists, go to college but it helps if you grew up using one. Sabermetrics has been around a long time so the now-generation was able to pick up the language as kids. Of course, some old-schoolers got into it as soon as the stats arrived. It’s always going to be just so.

Around the Foghorn intends no disrespect towards the field of higher-level numbers. They serve a significant purpose for many fans who feel that conventional stats are too broad and easily cherry-picked through for optimum results. Higher-level statistics examines players in the context of their teammates and the environment in which they play, and so much more, that it is foolish to dismiss the results simply because they are too sophisticated.

It’s like saying there’s no such thing as global warming because it’s snowing outside. Not understanding how the big picture works, can allow one to draw the wrong conclusions from micro-examining.

Oct 31, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner waves to the crowd during the World Series victory parade on Market Street. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

All that being said, based on Bumgarner’s epic World Series performances over his career, especially that of the just-completed postseason, unsurpassed in Major League History, one might think he would place higher on this list. What fans must deduce from this rather interesting omission, is that there is more to evaluating players than statistics.

That profoundly obvious statement bears clarification. There are statistics which are benchmarks in terms of easily measurable achievements. For the offense home runs, triples, doubles, RBIs, SBs and on-base-percentage (or any additional areas of interest) might be some that fans would examine. Defensively, fielding percentage, number of chances, put-outs, and assists might top the list, but no matter how the numbers compare to those of others, there is only a finite amount of knowledge to be gained. What there is must be weighed meticulously as well as metrically, for the best results.

When you are done with the paper angle, look at the man in terms of three dimensions instead of two. In MadBum’s case, you have to go to the fourth level and that’s not one you find on any paper anywhere. You find that one in the trenches.

Saber-metrics is to baseball what a set of directions is to assembling a bicycle: they may help or they may just get in the way, especially if you think you already know what you are talking about. After all, how hard can it be to put a bike together, asked the poor dad after working for four hours on Christmas Eve, and winding up with a nut, a washer and two bolts too many? They’re extra but he doesn’t know it because he did not read the directions.

The notion that using all the statistics in the world would justify the placement of the stoic, snot-rocketing North Carolinian, that far down on the list, is ludicrous. Therefore, the conclusion one must draw is that considering all factors (CAF) is always a prerequisite.

Not all pitchers with top-echelon numbers, have correspondingly top-notch temperaments. Conversely, some of the most unflappable players in the history of the universe, unfortunately, have stratospheric stats. Take your pick, or better still, spread everything out on the table and consider all factors. And never accept sabermetrics as anything but one piece of the jigsaw puzzle that comprises a major league ballplayer.

By the way, Clayton Kershaw is number one on that same list. Kershaw has been in the league longer than MadBum and has amassed far more impressive statistics than the Giants’ ace.

If it’s stats that light your fire, then Kershaw is your torch. If it’s jewelry, then it’s MadBum with those three rings.

What do fans remember more about a given season, who had the best stats or who won the World Series?

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