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Lies, Damned Lies, And Statistics

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Peanuts Copyright United Feature Syndicate

While the rest of you try to use your divining rods to determine who's going to be the next manager of the Cubs, and when, I thought I'd write about Henry Blanco.

Why? Because yesterday, in the comments, I was presented with the remark that "fifty catchers" in baseball are better than Henry Blanco.

On its face that statement seems absurd, because if we assume that each team has two catchers (yes, some have more, but this is probably pretty close), then he would be among the ten worst catchers in baseball.

Now, I do not believe this to be true. But I am certain that there is a measure out there, that will be quoted forthwith, that will show Blanco is one of the ten worst catchers in baseball, in some statistical list. And that statistic or "metric", having been shown to be true, will be irrefutable.

However.

Statistics, in baseball, and I believe in many areas of business and life, are a MEANS to an end, not an end in itself. I could be shown "proof" in any number of statistical lists that Henry Blanco "sucks", but I won't believe it, and I will tell you why.

Blanco has had the two best offensive seasons of his career with the Cubs in 2005 and 2006. Much of this is likely due to having Wrigley Field as his home park; in 279 career AB there he has hit .251/.318/.362 with 5 HR and 42 RBI, not too far off his numbers of the last two years. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to assume he could do that again for the next two years, even with a decline from his 2006 performance. Doing that would be far, far better than replacing him with Geovany Soto, who has one month of major league experience.

And why is this? Because Henry Blanco, having caught over 600 major league games, knows how to call a game, knows how to handle a pitching staff, remembers tendencies of hitters who have faced pitchers he's caught, and all of this can help get hitters out. Blanco's pitch-calling abilities and ability to throw out baserunners is well-documented -- in 2006 Blanco threw out 18 of 42 runners who tried to steal against him, an excellent ratio, and has had only two passed balls charged to him in each of the last two seasons, another excellent ratio considering the hard-throwing pitching staff he has caught.

He has also played in the postseason twice -- with the 2002 Braves and 2004 Twins. The value of this experience cannot be underrated.

There is value in statistics, but you can make them say anything you want them to, thus Charlie Brown's statement to Schroeder to tell them to "shut up". I'm not saying that -- I will listen to any statistical comparison I am shown, if it has logic to it, rather than a blanket statement that "Henry Blanco sucks and there are fifty catchers better than he is", but I will also repeat this statement, which I have made before:

There are things about winning baseball that cannot be measured on a stat sheet.
And since baseball is not played on a laptop computer, but on a field of grass and dirt by actual human beings, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that this statement is true.

Is Henry Blanco the key to a Cub championship? No, he's not. But players LIKE him are -- and keeping him, at a cost likely to be lower than what the Cubs foolishly gave Neifi Perez last winter (and fortunately, got someone else to take on his deal), won't break the bank, won't prevent them from going after high-quality starting pitching -- for which, incidentally, it would be a fine idea to have a good, experienced pitch-caller to have behind the plate. Keep him. Not only is he worth it, but if the Cubs don't, someone else will snap him up, and the Cubs' only alternative will be "Henry Blanco lite", a guy who has, granted, similar skills, but a lifetime's less experience and baseball instincts.

And that is something that cannot be measured on a stat sheet.