Saturday, November 17, 2007

No Fehr for Barry Bonds?…

A lot of folks are bemoaning the timing of Barry Bonds’ indictment. They say ‘Why couldn’t this happen before he broke Hank Aaron’s record?’ The thing is, it may well have come at the worst possible time for one Barry Lamar Bonds. Here is the thing, there has been a lot written about how his career is not just over, so are his Hall of Fame chances. Initially I thought the first part was likely if for no other reason than by the time all these legal procedures have run their course, Bonds may be too old and rusty to play. I thought the whole ‘Barry Bonds will be banned for life a la Pete Rose and ‘Shoeless Joe’ was little more than overwrought rhetoric.

Then it hit me.

Bonds filed for free agency. This means he is not employed by major league baseball. I assume this also means he is not under the protection of the MLBPA--a private citizen as it were. Unless I am misunderstanding, the fact that he is not under contract, ergo not subject to the collective bargaining agreement means if Bud Selig were to ban him for life then Bonds would have to seek legal redress rather than arbitration.

Of course, perhaps a player has to file retirement papers with both the league and the union before he is outside the umbrella of the MLBPA. I will have to touch base with some folks and find out what is what in this regard. If Bonds is not covered by the CBA, he will have to fight a permanently ineligible ruling in court.

So maybe the whole ‘blew his chance for the Hall of Fame’ has some legs.

To me, it is absurd. I always laugh when people talk about the clause in HOF voting about character, integrity and sportsmanship. Allow me an analogy, up to very recently certain statistical baselines generally guaranteed a spot in the Heroes Gallery whether it is 3000 hits, 500 HR or 300 wins. So then, what is the baseline for ‘character, integrity and sportsmanship’? Ty Cobb was not only a charter member of the Hall of Fame he was also the number one vote getter … so there ya go.


The thing that bothers me about all this is the fact that a lot of tremendous players have been nasty to the media. The BBWAA members realize that to not vote for players like Eddie Murray, Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Rod Carew etc. would reveal them as small and petty. Barry Bonds has given them an out to deny a player honours due to his prickly personality--and its steroids and a grand jury indictment. This is something tangible they can point to as why they voted no when in reality they went thumbs-down because Bonds acted like the south end of a north bound mule blowing kisses into their faces.

Of course, Bonds could fight an attempted Selig banishment on antitrust grounds that may obligate them to settle out of court on a finite suspension. The Mitchell Report may prove that Bonds was simply one of a vast number of juiced players in which case the media may hold their noses and vote from him or risk looking like total hypocrites.

The Bonds Market...

Switching gears for a moment…

I have got to go waaaaay off-topic. At Baseball Think Factory (my cyber clubhouse), a primate (AKA a poster) named Gaelan made a terrific point about sample sizes. I’ll post it without editorial comment but I want it here so I can always find and reference it:
Everyone here knows the power of sample size. The larger the sample size the more reliable your statistics. It is because of sample size that things like MLE work. The problem with any sample is that it is based upon the assumption that for any sample that is drawn from events across time, the thing that is being measured (in this case ability) has not changed. In many cases this assumption turns out to be valid which is why statistics have any use at all. The problem is that there is no way of knowing, on the basis of statistics alone, whether this assumption is valid. Which is another way of saying that statistics are not self-grounding. It stands to reason then that an intelligent observer would want to ground those statistics in meaningful first hand observations.

For example there are many instances that we know, without a shadow of a doubt, that a player's ability has changed. For instance:

1) when a player is young and developing their skills
2) when a player is old and losing skills
3) when a player is injured
4) when a pitcher learns a new pitch

In all of these cases the assumption that underlies statistical analysis is not reasonable. Circumstances have intruded and disrupted the sample size that gives statistics its power. Moreover if you are making a decision worth millions of dollars you don't have the luxury to wait and let the player build a new sample size. You need to make a decision now and the sample size you have is not reliable.

This should be obvious. It's well known that pitcher projections are much less reliable than the projections for hitters. The hard core stat bias is to say that this is due to luck. A more reasonable explanation is that the "true" ability that is being measured has actual variance (dead arm, hurt arm, new pitches, etc.). A smart man will send someone to watch that pitcher and not rely on unreliable projections.
Finally, my recent columns are up (oh no, not again!) although I have still got a couple in the hopper at MSN. The Hardball Times piece is the culmination of my search for baseball’s 100/100/100 men that I entitled The 300 Club. I was actually disappointed in the final result (the column itself); the research was fun and all but I couldn’t give it the oomph (oomph? Who says oomph anymore away from the loo?) I had hoped.

The MSN column was dealing with the Bonds indictment and how Barry Bonds made himself Baseball's Fall Guy for the steroid era. I also did one on the A-Rod negotiation where I can finally give the man some props away from the diamond. I have ranted here often about what has happened to free agency and I am thrilled that Mr. Rodriguez had the epiphany that he could go wherever he wanted on whatever terms he found satisfactory. Read the Wall Street Journal’s account of Mr. Rodriguez taking the reins from Scott Boras and deciding for himself where he wished to play in 2008 and beyond. Again, all I can say is--well done.

Best Regards


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