Monday, March 24, 2008

The Hot Hand

Today's Dog Trainer:

But contracts are not likely to sway Torre's decision in picking a starter
in left field where Juan Pierre, in the second year of a five-year, $44-million
contract, is battling Andre Ethier, who will earn $424,000 this season.

Both players will make the team but it's becoming more and more likely that
Ethier, who is batting .344 and is tied for the lead among National League
players with five spring homers, could start over Pierre, who is hitting .188
with a .253 on-base percentage.

The idea that Ethier will start is good news. Good news? Great news -- the news we've been waiting over a year to hear.

But scratch the surface and this is actually a little troubling. For example, the next paragraph is this:

"You're going to play the players that you think are going to best serve you
that day," Torre said.

This begs the question: will Torre play the hot hand in left field all season long?

Playing the hot hand can sometimes have benefits. We all remember Marlon Anderson. It is possible that Ethier was a better player than Anderson in September 2006, but Anderson was so hot that it's difficult for me to argue that the decision was wrong*.

(*Note that I say that it's merely possible that Ethier was a better player that month. That might not be true. Ethier was a rookie and showed signs of fatigue. He had also been riding an inflated batting average all season long and may have been returning to earth. At that particular moment in time, without even considering the fact that Anderson was so hot, it's possible that Anderson was the better ballplayer. Add in his serious hotness -- he played the best month of baseball in his life -- and starting Anderson makes a lot of sense.)

The problem with playing the hot hand is that it is sometimes code, a thinly-veiled excuse, to play a lesser player over a better one. Even if the lesser player is producing at the moment, you don't know what the better player would be producing while riding the bench.

More troubling, it's sometimes difficult to tell when the hot streak is over. Sure, a guy might be hot now, but when do you take him out of the lineup? After one 0-for-4 day? Two one-for-five days? That can happen to anybody and in fact happens to everybody. It doesn't necessarily mean anything. That's baseball.

The fact that Ethier may be getting the job because he's the hot hand right now is ridiculous. Juan Pierre, for all his faults, is not a .188 hitter. Andre Ethier should get the job not because he is hot but because he is a better player than Pierre. The idea that as soon as Ethier is not so hot, Pierre will be starting -- which Torre might be implying in his quote -- is an anathema.

Taking this one step further... and in fact one step too far...

Because it's fun and because I'm feeling particularly obnoxious today, I think I'll make up a ridiculously unlikely scenario. Let's say that Pierre has a streak where he gets hot for, say, 10 games -- let's say he bats .400 over that stretch -- and then follows with 10 games in which he goes 1-for-5 over half and 2-for-5 over the other half. Now he has a 20-game hit streak, meaning people are starting to pay attention, and he's batting .350 over that stretch, which is good enough for him to keep starting.... Now here's the ridiculous part -- let's say that every single day for the next 37 games he goes 1-for-5. He now has broken DiMaggio's record.... and over that 57-game stretch, including the hot streak, he's batting .218.

See what playing the hot hand gets you? A cherished record, broken by a .218 hitter. Is that what you want?


Joseph said...

Ned should have been fired the minute he gave Pierre his contract.

No wait--forget that. He should never have been given the job in the first place.

This team's payroll is $120 mils and wont even sniff the division title. All the while, the Padres/Dbax/Rockies all do well. Pathetic.

Sell the team Mr. McCourt.
At the very least get rid of the dumb ass running the operation that doesnt even know Juan Pierre in fact sucks at baseball.

The only people with less baseball knowledge than Ned (what the hell kind of name is that?!) Colletti are the hacks at the LA Times and the bloggers at

When the only joy of the season is counting down the days to Nomar retiring, Juan Pierre's contract ending, and Ned Colletti getting fired---> gonna be a long hot summer my friend.

Keep up the good work.
Going to need some comic relief for the cess pool of PVL that currently is the LA Dodgers.

jimbilly4 said...

Whether we like the present GM or not, I think we can all agree that
Ned is a ridiculous name.

I mean, whoever heard of someone named Ned?