Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Response to BB Think Factory

My previous blog, "Is Adam Dunn?" was linked to the high-profile BaseballThinkFactory.com and posted in their forum.
It's pretty surprising when you realize that someone's actually reading what you write. Unfortunately, it also places a larger burden on the writer not to make mistakes and to carefully clarify your statements. I got a lot of responses to my entry, and although some were less than flattering, I appreciate all the response and feedback.
The blog was done in about 5 minutes, and I mainly intended for it to indicate my shock at seeing Dunn so closely associated with so many of the archetypal "old players' skills" players. It was not intended as an absolute statistical argument for Dunn's imminent decline.
The BR similarity scores are useful, but are not enough to stake an entire argument to. If I were to make a compelling argument that Dunn was a high-risk player entering his mid-30's, I would use more refined similarity scores. I would also -- as many readers rightly pointed out -- pay more attention to the comparables through age 26 instead of comparing Dunn's short career so far to Ron Kittle. I would also take into account other indicators of aging -- such as speed and defense, which don't show up strongly in the Similarity Scores -- if I were really trying to make an absolute argument.
The argument was meant more as an observation than any argument of certainty. I wasn't trying to argue that Dunn's similarity scores alone prove that he's dead meat. I only said that it was discouraging to see the players Dunn was so similar to. The prime reason for my argument concerning Dunn's career was not based on a few numbers I saw on BR. The similarity scores were of secondary concern to the fact that Dunn displays strong signs of the dreaded "old player's skills," and the story for players of his type is not a rosy one after age 30.
If it seemed like the BR Similarity Scores were the only basis for my argument, then I apologize for not clarifying. The "Dunn" entry was not meant as an absolute statistical evaluation of Dunn's career chances. They were merely the 2 AM observations that Dunn's list of comparables wasn't a rosy one.

Others pointed out that the fact that Dunn's #1 comp through age 26 is Darryl Strawberry, and there's nothing wrong with that. I wasn't trying to dispute Dunn's quality, nor was I suggesting that it was impossible for him to put together a Boog Powell-esque career. One fact that I nor anyone mentioned was that Dunn reached the majors at a very young age, 21 years old and proved productive right away. So even if Dunn is out of the majors at age 35, he can still put together a hell of a career. I'd argue that his chances of making the Hall of Fame are limited by his skill set and the track record of low-average, high-strikeout players. But then you don't have to get inducted into Cooperstown to have a great career, or make a lot of money for that matter.
The 2006 Baseball Prospectus annual lists Dunn's top 3 comparables, and this is a system much more refined and reliable than the BR lists, which are more for entertainment than analysis. Dunn's top 3 comparables are Troy Glaus, Boog Powell, and Hee Seop Choi. So the risk is still there, as evidenced by Choi. Powell's last effective season was at age 33 with Cleveland, and he retired by his age 35 season.
It's evident that I didn't do a good enough job of expressing myself. It's also true that I need to think twice before publishing an "observation" blog, without carefully clarifying what it is I'm saying. But one argument I can make and publish with a good amount of confidence is that Dunn looks like he could be headed for the Boog Powell career path. Powell didn't display the "old player's skill" as strongly as Dunn; only once in his career did he strike out more than 100 times in a season, and his walk rates were above-average, but not as high as Dunn's. With home runs, I'm not the person to run an official translation, but both men seem to have comparable power considering their eras.
I hope it did not sound like I was guaranteeing than Adam Dunn was going to go into a tailspin after age 30 and be gone by 35. Dunn has already exhibited much better production and better consistency than his #1 BR comp, Kittle. His #1 PECOTA comp, Troy Glaus, is 30 years old and doesn't appear to be deteriorating much at all. Considering injury, Glaus has actually been quite consistent. Last season, he hit 252/355/513, and in 2001 with Anaheim he hit 250/367/531. Considering that league AVG and SLG have both dropped by about 10 points since 2001, that's a good sign of staying productive.
One thing I also said but didn't stress enough is that Dunn is still very young. He'll just be 27 next year, and so it's academic to be debating what his age 35 season will look like. We'll learn a lot about Dunn over the next three or four years. Then we will be in a much better position to pass judgment upon his career.
I also mentioned in the article (but perhaps didn't stress) that I like Adam Dunn. I think he's a very productive hitter who doesn't get enough credit from Reds management. I also don't think he'll be experiencing any major downturns in the near future.
I also didn't mean to dismiss Pat Burrell, J.D. Drew, or Glaus by mentioning them in the article. Burrell pays a passing resemblance to Dunn in that they're both homer/strikeout guys in hitter's parks with little defensive value. Burrell's batting average is below-average, but not as much as Dunn's. His strikeout rates also aren't as high as Dunn's. As for Drew, I listed him simply because he showed up on Dunn's comp list. I was not trying to argue that J.D. Drew is really similar to Dunn, because they're miles apart. Drew's strikeout rate isn't nearly as high as Dunn's, and his career batting average (.286) is well above that of the league. Drew is also more athletic. They bear only the faintest resemblance.

The point of the article "Is Adam Dunn?" was to say that Dunn's comparable players only reinforce the idea that he is an "old player's skills" type that will likely decline rapidly after age 30 and reach a high attrition rate by age 35. I used the Similarity Scores because they struck me as reinforcing my thesis, not because I considered them to be solid evidence, or even the most important evidence of my claim. This wasn't really clear, as I should have stated explicity that the blog was not meant as a sophisticated argument but rather as an observation.

There have been many responses and comments to my entry. All of them were critical to some degree, and some were less than kind. But I appreciate the feedback, and I also appreciate the fact that someone's actually reading what I say. My thanks also to Tom at the BBTF for linking to me.

In the theatre, they tell you to listen to all criticism whether you agree with it or not. Hopefully, I'll always keep my ears open to those who disagree, in the hopes that it will only make my writing better (and my meaning clearer).

Let's just hope I can start to grow a thicker skin . . .

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