When Joe Girardi was faced with the task of replacing the injured Justin Morneau on the American League All-Star roster, most here in Boston probably thought it would be an easy decision. Kevin Youkilis, after all, was an MVP candidate who had already been snubbed twice. A top offensive and defensive first baseman who had just missed the cut in the final vote, finishing second to the undeserving Nick Swisher by the slimmest of margins--who else could it possibly be?
Apparently, Paul Konerko. When asked why, why, why? Joe Girardi came up with this:
"I'm looking at the numbers, the numbers are close and one guy's numbers are a little bit better,'' he said. "I took the guy whose numbers are a little bit better.''
A good reason. Except that it's crap.
What numbers does Paul Konerko have on Kevin Youkilis? The kind you find on the back of baseball cards, certainly, and the ones that they used to show on television exclusively five or six years ago. But not the ones that indicate how good of a player someone is.
I mean, let's just look at these three stats: batting average, home runs and runs batted in. So we're ignoring doubles, triples and walks? Are those unimportant? Compared to RBI, which is better at showing who gets lucky with having baserunners on ahead of them when their hits fall, or who has faster teammates? Why is RBI better than runs scored (not to say the latter is particularly good)? The selection is just sort of random.
I do not hide the fact that I'm a fan of more advanced statistics, but I also understand that a lot of people don't particularly want to go there. Using the new triple slash of batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, however, just is not too much to ask. The ESPN analysts of the world cite it with regularity, they show up prominently on player pages on all major websites, and your average baseball fan has a good idea of what these numbers mean. They are far from obscure.
The stats may seem a bit more abstract than homers and RBI, but the difference in how well they represent actual offensive ability is so great that it's easily worth it. On-base percentage takes walks into account with a player's average, and slugging takes into account doubles and triples as well as home runs. They account for the obvious omissions of the original triple slash without diving too far into the complicated world of linear weights, keeping it simple and understandable. A high slugging? The guy hits the ball hard. A high on-base percentage? The guy doesn't make outs.
So when the average baseball fan for the most part gets the value of these stats, why is it that a professional manager (and probably quite a few more than just this one) is stuck in the world of RBI and bombs? With home field advantage in the World Series relying on a win in this All-Star Game, Girardi owes it not only to his team, but to all the other American League teams he's representing to make the right choice. Not the guy who's got the best baseball card numbers, but the guy who gives his team the best chance to win the game. In this case, that was absolutely Kevin Youkilis.