Late last night, in the middle of the American League Wild Card game, I found myself -- as I often do during baseball games -- on Twitter.
Naturally, when a fan in Toronto threw a can of beer down at Baltimore outfielder Hyun Soo Kim as he attempted to make a catch, the social media platform exploded. It was then that I went from mildly interested observer to a baseball fan rooting for Toronto to fail.
So when the 9th inning came along and Buck Showwalter refused to put Zack Britton in to pitch, it was confusing. Britton, he of a 0.54 ERA on the 2016 season, gave up a total of four earned runs all season. He'd allowed one home run.
And it wasn't as if it was some new trend for him. His HR/9 in 2014 and 2015 was 0.47 and 0.41, respectively. We're talking about a pitcher who has a three-year trend of giving up 8 total home runs in 204 appearances. Say what you want about the value of relief pitching relative to starters, but that's fantastic. Which made the decision to have him not pitch at all and proceed to watch Edwin Encarnacion hit the walk-off home run off of Ubaldo Jimenez dubious, at best.
Apparently, not everyone agrees. Namely, C.J. Nitkowski .
Nitkowski may be a name familiar to some Rangers fans, as he pitched for the Rangers in the 2002 and 2003 seasons, although his stat lines are mostly forgettable. He's fairly active on Twitter these days, and does play-by-play for Fox Sports One as well as various radio shows. To the average fan, he's a trusted source of baseball information. So I took interest when he posted about the Britton situation on Twitter.
So hilarious seeing these stats heads get so worked up about Buck's bullpen moves. You mad dudes? Experience & instinct > your spreadsheet.— CJ Nitkowski (@CJNitkowski) October 5, 2016
In case it isn't obvious, C.J. isn't just a huge fan of advanced metrics. Not just that, but he's not a fan of things that don't involve "experience", "guts", or "instinct".
The perplexing part is this idea that some guy is just sitting in front of a computer with a spreadsheet instead of actually, you know, watching the game.
He was immediately rebuffed by many, including current Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy and former pitcher Dan Haren. At which point the backpedaling began.
Dang you guys are sensitive. I was called a nerd in the big leagues in 1995 b/c I had a laptop and a website in 1997. Lighten up.— CJ Nitkowski (@CJNitkowski) October 5, 2016
The classic, "Hey I was just kidding. Can't you take a joke?" And a hint of, "Hey, I've been called that before, so it's OK for me to throw it around at everyone else."
Which, fine. Whatever. But this wasn't the first time C.J. went off on his followers to let them know just how much smarter he is than they are.
So, if you're a fan, you're always wrong. You'll never know what you're talking about.
Over the years, the underlying message appears to be: If you didn't play the game at the Major League level, you need to shut up and realize how dumb you are. The guys who played clearly have a better grasp than you.
Which, if that's the case, then give me a player who has better than a career 5.37 ERA. If Major League experience is the benchmark, I want a great former Major League player giving me my info. You know, like Pedro Martinez. Or Jimmy Rollins. Or even Brandon McCarthy and Dan Haren.
All of this completely ignores the fact that of every team that made the postseason, the number of front office executives running those teams that have Major League experience is a grand total of... zero. Not even one. Are they dumb too?
At which point I culminate by pointing out that, as is often the case, people who hate advanced statistics do so because they don't understand them. And clearly, C.J. doesn't.
It's a common mistake, but a mistake nonetheless. This was around the time Mariano Rivera hurt his knee in 2012. And if you look at the statistic many of us know as "WAR", it stand for "wins above replacement". So when you see a guy that has a WAR of 2.0, that doesn't mean he'll be worth two wins, or that the team loses only two wins when he's not playing. It means that he's worth two more wins than the average replacement player from the minor leagues.
A replacement-level team doesn't automatically default to zero wins on the season. The assumption is that even a team of replacements could win over a quarter of their schedule. So simply looking at the stat and subtracting that number of wins is flawed logic.
And if we're keeping track, the Yankees made it to the ALCS in 2012, in part on the strength of one of the American League's best bullpens. So maybe that "nerd blog" was a little more right than wrong.
All told, I guess I shouldn't be really surprised. Making it to the big leagues is very hard, and even if you're not among the best in the sport, you're still among the best on the planet at what you do. It just irks me that we keep perpetuating this idea to the masses that sabermetrics are useless, in no small part due to baseball analysts like C.J. Nitkowski who are paid to offer their opinions refusing to even try to understand the very things they're shunning.
I'd like to see more of guys like Brandon McCarthy, who is easily one of the best Twitter follows in sports. And while advanced metrics, to a part of C.J.'s point, don't tell the whole story, they're also not simply made-up garbage that "nerds" throw around on spreadsheets.