Friday, June 22, 2012

Vladimir Guerrero: What Does He Have to Do About Politics?

Last week, one of my favorite baseball players of all-time retired. Vladimir Guerrero played right field for the Montreal Expos at the beginning of his career. He had a cannon for an arm but was more importantly, downright entertaining to watch. You never knew what was going to happen when Vlad was playing. He never met a pitch he didn't like and would swing at anything. There are all sorts of stories of Guerrero swinging at pitches that bounced in front of the plate, only to be hit out of the park by him. There was a story I rad from a catcher who set up on the outside corner of the plate and had to reach another six inches off of the plate to go after the pitch and Vlad pulled the ball to left field for a home run. Just to give a little perspective, you are taught as a hitter to try not to pull balls on the outside part of the plate because you'll end up having a bad swing. It's pretty hard to pull a pitch from the outside part of the plate. He played the rest of the game much like he was batting. He would steal bases but would also frequently get caught. In the outfield he would showcase his strong arm by throwing out runners all over the bases. Occasionally, his strong arm would cost him as he had no idea where the ball was going or if he was throwing too hard. He frequently was at the top of the league's leaderboard in both assists and errors. Jonah Keri, Grantland writer among other sports and financial writing, tells a story about how the bases were loaded in the bottom of the 9th of a one run game. Jason Kendall hit an opposite field single (like he did so often) and the runner on third scored easily and the runner on second was going to test Vlad's arm going home. The crowd was excited because they assumed Vlad would nail the runner at the plate. Vlad fielded the ball cleanly and launched the ball home. Only to have it thrown way over the catcher's head allowing the winning run to score. Vladimir Guerrero might not have been the best player in baseball but to me he was the most entertaining. Thinking about him at his peak, he still would have been the most exciting players to watch, of all-time, to my biased eye. He was the only player where anything could happen to him in a game. He could swing at pitches that bounced in the dirt or when the pitcher was trying to intentionally walk him and strike out or hit it out of the park. He would make a baserunning gaffe that would have made a five year old in tee ball look bad or he coud steal second base standing up. He would launch a baseball from his right field haven and nail a runner at third base or uncork a ball into the stands on the fly. As Kevin Garnett would later scream at reporters after the Boston Celtics won the championship, "ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!"

Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs launched an all-encompassing baseball statistic known as WAR (Wins Above Replacement Player), where if a player earns 0 WAR for a season he is a replacement player or a player who can easily be found on the scrap heap or in AAA or whatever. According to WAR, a player who has 2 WAR or higher is an average player, a player between 3-5 WAR is usually a good player, a player with about 5-7 WAR are considered to have all-star seasons, and players with 8 WAR or higher are considered to have an MVP type season. Despite all of Vladimir Guerrero's greatness as I looked at him, he only 6 seasons that were all-star quality according to WAR and he didn't have a single season of an MVP caliber, according to WAR. It should be noted by Fangraphs author and stats guru, Dave Cameron, that there is a margin of error of WAR due to conflicting defensive stats that they use to calculate it. Vladimir was a great player, even according to WAR, but he was not as good as my memories of him might suggest.

Unfortunately, in politics we do not have all encompassing numbers that are widely supported to show how good a particular politician is. We have to rely on statistics supplied by third party organizations that we hope we can trust but are increasingly produced by various companies and organizations who are using distorted figures to advocate whatever position they want to push at the given time. Or we ca wait for political watchdog organizations or nonpartisan organizations to do research and publish their reports. Sadly, an increasing number of these “nonpartisan” organizations are really financed by various rich people or interest groups. These reports are quoted by politicians and pundits to show who is correct but need to be corroborated by “objective” evidence or by a third-party. I try to use evidence that is corroborated by a third party or an objective party as much as I can because my views and memories are slanted to those who I enjoy. I try to advocate for using third party or as close to objective evidence as I possibly can when discussing politics. The fear is that if we're not using objective, third party, nonpartisan, or whatever you want to call it sources, then we're going to have the same argument but instead of getting anywhere, we are just going to accuse the other one of bias. The lesson of Vladimir Guerrero is that our memories and our eyes can deceive us into attributing a person with better qualities than they really have. Conversely, we attribute people with negative qualities due to our negative memories or perceptions.

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