Transitioning from a player to media member requires that we leave our rose-colored glasses and personal loyalties out of our analysis.
Playing in Boston for several years and then in Tampa for two, I learned to know and hate the Yankees. It’s extremely difficult to avoid taking on the personality traits of the fans in the city you represent.
In the Red Sox clubhouse in 2003 and ’04, we talked openly about how much we hated the Yankees and some of their players. We were an extension of the Fenway faithful who bypassed T-shirts bearing their own logo for garb that read “Yankees Suck.”
It was in our best interest as players to not be too friendly with the teams we regularly competed against. It’s a whole lot easier to drive a stake through the heart of an enemy than your very likeable buddy. As a player, this enmity was praised and celebrated. As a media member, it’s an obstacle and a liability.
Evaluating myself, I don’t believe I’ve been totally unbiased when it comes to evaluating the New York Yankees. I may have had no choice but to despise them when I was on the field, and later as a member of an MLB club off the field, but now, as a man paid to analyze baseball, it’s time for me to acknowledge that I’ve been unfairly (and, in most cases, unconsciously) hammering the organization and its major league club in particular.
Early in the season, Frank Thomas and I chatted on MLB Whiparound about which teams might sit atop the AL East at season’s end. I realize now that the second "Yankees" came out of Big Frank’s mouth, I built my case about why his statement was absurd. Whether or not it actually was is immaterial. The fact that I stopped listening to him is notable.
As of this writing, the Yankees boast the highest K% in the American League, the second-best FIP, and the lowest BB% in all of baseball. The staff is essentially controlling the elements it can control — the homer, walk and strikeout. Before I even glance at ERA to predict what happens going forward, I’ll study these three stats.
Rather than trumpeting the fact that these Yankees have been exceptional on the bump thus far in 2014, I’ve done the opposite by illuminating their age and the inexperience of their staff. I’ve been blinded by my personal history as a player and have been uncharacteristically unscientific, leaning on anecdotes rather than metrics.
I’m aware of fans in Boston and Tampa and how they might view my endorsement of the Yankees, but it’s time for me to remember that my obligations have changed. I no longer reside in Boston; I call FOX Sports home.
Now, it’s perfectly acceptable to hate other media conglomerates, but it’s no longer acceptable for me to hate the Yankees. I will never face Vidal Nuno. Yangervis Solarte will never dive to his left, robbing me of a base hit.
On that note, I’m not alone. Media members are consistently accused of being "homers." It’s relatively difficult to picture Hines Ward objectively discussing the Steelers-Ravens rivalry or Phil Simms musing gleefully about the Eagles. It’s important that we acknowledge those previous biases and work to move beyond them.
In observing myself further, I’m recognizing that I have other biases that absolutely need work. I consider myself to be progressive as an analyst. As a result, I’m finding myself rolling my eyes and turning off as I listen to more traditional philosophies on player development, scouting and analytics.
What a waste of energy, being annoyed at another’s viewpoint. An old-school scout’s ability to identify baseball speed or "instincts" without a stopwatch, first-to-third times and stolen-base success rates is to be celebrated rather than lamented.
Perhaps he can show me how it’s done intuitively and I can introduce him to the value of backing his hypothesis up with data. This is only possible with open conversation.
We as a society love to pit one against another and choose sides. Yankees vs. Red Sox, Miggy vs. Trout, old school vs. new school, organic vs. conventional. These debates can be healthy and productive provided we stay open and objective.
In my new world of analyzing baseball, said objectivity and open mindedness is not just responsible, it’s essential.
I’ll take my first step now.
Based on the aforementioned pitching, the wOBA about as good as the Orioles, a bullpen striking out substantially more batters than the AL’s second club in this category, Baseball Prospectus’ playoff odds pegging the club at 47 percent and the team’s ability to take on a bad contract at the deadline, I’ll say now that they Yankees will be in the AL East race in September.
How’s that for unbiased … and safe?
Below is a video of Gabe and Frank’s predictions before the season started.