clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

How I learned to stop caring about cost efficiency and embrace the Tigers' spending ways

Check out my column in the News today.

Ezra Shaw

I believe there's a learning curve you go through when it comes to using sabermetrics. At least, there was for me.

You start to learn about them, read every site you can find, maybe pick up a book or two, discover how they work, and start dabbling in making your own predictions based on them and amaze yourself when you're right. You find that some of the stats really work well, and sniff your nose at the traditional ones that just don't tell the whole story. You believe that every team and everyone should operate using these things, and people must be crazy if they don't.

You see everything through a sabermetric prism.

That, I fear, is where many people remain on the sabermetric curve. Depending on the personality and skill of the writer, this can come off as prickish or snobby, but for some occasionally endearing.

If you don't travel far enough along the sabermetic curve, however, you fail to learn the limitations of the stats, why they're sometimes wrong, and when not to use them.

We could benefit by many sabermetrically-inclinded writers making that next step.

Sabermetrics have done many great things to increase our understanding of the game, and they offer many useful and valuable insights into building a club. Every team should be using them -- and far as we can tell, they all do.

What sabermetrics don't do is contain a one-size-fits-all blueprint for building a winning baseball team.

So when I look back at some of the things I thought, some of the things I wrote, man, I really feel like a bit of a rube. Some of my long-time readers, many who disagreed with me on things at the time, have probably noted the change in tack I've made over the past year.

I still use the stats, just more conservatively. I realize the saber stats aren't quite as infallible as they once seemed. I cede ground back to some of the traditional stats that served us well. Like saber stats, they have limitations, but when placed in the right context are still useful.

Paraphrasing what Miguel Cabrera said about statistics after winning the MVP award, I think we can use both.

I bring all this up as an introduction to my column in the Detroit News for one reason: In the past, spending such large amounts as their 2013-14 payroll would have been cause for concern. I might have noted just how much the Tigers had to pay for each win, how inefficient they are compared to other teams. How a deal like Sanchez's might throw a giant wrench into the future.

But seven years of writing about the Tigers, and doing so by taking sabermetric angles, has taught me a thing or two.

One of them is that signing closers and paying a few million a year to relievers isn't the worst thing in the world. Sure I'll still tell you how I'd prefer not to put all the eggs in one basket, but it turns out things have gone just fine for the Tigers either way.

The other is that not every organization has to be built of prospects and players who were drafted (or signed as international free agents as teenagers) for a club to compete year in and year out.

So, the Tigers don't act like the Rays or Royals or Twins or whoever.

So what?

The Rays' formula has worked OK for them. Yet the always on-the-verge Royals never really seem to turn out as well as prospect-watchers keep decreeing. Even when a team's formula does work, they have a limited window before they have to trade their stars away and start over.

But you know what? Tigers' formula has worked fine, too. Pundits have been calling for the Tigers' "overspending" and their trading of prospects to be their down fall for almost the entire time I've been blogging.

Sure, it hasn't led to winning the division every year. Yet a team that went 13 years between above-.500 seasons has played .500-or-better ball all but one year since 2006. They've made two World Series appearances. They've won two division titles, and fell a play or two short of three.

The Tigers are doing just fine doing business their way.

If they want to push their payroll to $150 million or more, who am I to complain?

It's probably not going to turn out like the naysayers believe. The more they moan, the more they're wrong.

Using statistics can be great., but you need to be informed by experience, too.