I’m reminded of a scene in the film North Dallas Forty (okay, a football movie, but go with us here). We’re at a team meeting, and head coach B.A. Strothers, who runs every play and player through an IBM for analysis, is none too pleased with his charges. “No one of you is better than that computer,” he barks. We’re not supposed to like B.A., and we don’t: With his heartless mechanical analysis, he’s taken the humanity out of the game.
And so we come to the Yankees shortstop “dilemma,” such as it is. In today’s NYT–in the Week in Review section, of all places–Allen Barra argues that we don’t really have any good method for quantifying defensive ability, as we do for offensive play. We’re not so sure. There are, in fact, plenty of statistics that point to A-Rod’s defensive superiority. Some of these are readily comprehensible and available to the public, others are created by firms that sell their confidential and complex analyses at top dollar.
But the greater point is that to some degree, all statistics–offensive, defensive, otherwise–are subjective. Baseball is not played by the would-be automatons of North Dallas, but by humans with egos and emotions and all of that other stuff that makes people people. Which doesn’t mean we throw all of those stats out the window, because they are of course valid informational tools. But stats don’t necessarily tell the whole story. And this is why Joe Torre–never really a stat man–is such a wonderful manager.
So who should play shortstop? Let’s think back to another film, this one with Abbott & Costello. Who’s on first. What’s on second. At short: I Don’t Give a Darn.