The Harold Reynolds Problem
I don’t need to tell anyone that Harold Reynolds is a controversial figure in baseball coverage. He’s become the face of the anti-sabermetric movement and has taken it upon himself to attack the new way of thinking about baseball at every turn. I’m not going to chide Reynolds for disagreeing with me and the sabermetric community. It’s fine that he disagrees and it’s fine that he plays it up for the cameras. I imagine it’s good for his career as a TV pundit. That’s fine.
But Reynolds actually represents the most serious problem in sports analysis today. Harold Reynolds makes claims without relying on evidence. Again, this isn’t Harold saying Player X is the best player in baseball because of what he sees with his eyes, I’m talking about Reynolds making claims that are factually incorrect because he simply doesn’t want to or know how to find the answer.
I’ve been trying to stay away from this, but the guys over at @HeardonMLBT pushed me into it and HR finally said something so foolish on Thursday night I couldn’t resist. In case you’re wondering, Heard on MLB Tonight tweets silly things said on air by their commentators and it’s a must follow.
But last night, Harold Reynolds blamed Starlin Castro’s terrible 2013 season on the Cubs Front Office and their “Moneyball” tendencies. Basically, HR said that the Cubs got in his head about taking pitches and working counts and it got him away from his style of play which allowed him to get 200+ hits every year.
I don’t agree with Reynolds’ anaylsis because I’m a fan of walking and a good approach at the plate, but I’ll play along. Let’s say batting average is all that matters and OBP is worthless. Here is Castro’s AVG over his career:
So we can all agree that Castro had a very good average in his first three seasons and it has fallen off in a big way in 2013. Reynolds says it’s because the Cubs want him to work counts. But Castro is walking less than ever. Even if we ignore that and say that the new approach is putting him in a bad position to hit and walk, we can go deeper.
Starlin Castro isn’t swinging less and he’s not swinging at worse pitches. In fact, he’s getting himself into almost the same counts he did in 2011. Here are the percentage of PA that got to each count.
So Harold Reynolds is not only wrong about valuing average over on base, but he’s just fundamentally wrong about the facts. Castro’s approach at the player hasn’t changed at all. The facts are right here. He’s not getting deeper into counts. He’s not swinging less. He’s not swinging at different pitches.
I don’t mind that HR is wrong about what leads to wins and losses and I don’t mind that he likes to pick on sabermetrics. But if he’s going to do both, he at least needs to avoid saying things that are so provably false. This isn’t just Harold Reynolds, it’s a lot of people. But he’s made himself the face of the movement.
Like I said, I don’t mind his old school skepticism, I mind that when presented with facts that directly contradict his point, he doesn’t acquiesce. Right here, he made a case that Castro’s approach was changed by the Cubs which has lead to his batting average decline. But if HR made any attempt to look at the facts, that is just so obviously not true.
This is just one example, but there are many cases of the same. I mean, on Thursday, he said the Phillies shouldn’t trade Papelbon for Castellanos and Smyly, but should only deal him for Prince Fielder. That’s not great analysis, but he’s charismatic and certain swaths of people like him. I used to like him because he was always excited about baseball, but now he’s complaining about every new thing in baseball. He hates walks. He hates strikeouts. He hates valuing defense in WAR when it says the Triple Crown winner isn’t the MVP, but loves it when it helps his case about OPS being misleading. He hates new thinking. And he turns everything into a chance to bash on new ideas.
So Harold Reynolds has made himself the poster-boy of terrible analysis and it’s getting worse because he’s fighting a battle against progress. The game is changing and his job is to analyze baseball, but it appears as if he doesn’t even understand the new statistics. It’s not that he disagrees, it’s that he hasn’t even done the work to learn about them. It’s lazy, it’s obnoxious, and it makes him the butt of many jokes.
Dude, Starlin Castro’s approach hasn’t changed at all. It took me less than 30 seconds to look up the evidence to prove you wrong. Maybe you need some help.