Sunday, August 26, 2007

On History, Performance and Disappointments

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
- George Santaya

You’ve probably heard this historical quote before, but the truth is that Santaya never said it, or at least that is not what he wrote. What he actually wrote was “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Santaya wasn’t even talking about history – he was talking about change and retention.

Which means that the quote most often used to justify studying history isn’t itself accurate. Apparently, we’re open to learning from history, so long as we can mold it to say what we want it to say.

I’ve felt the same way over the last month reading the various requiems by bloggers, sportswriters and talk show hosts about the Twins disappointing season. They differ on the importance of various mistakes, but they seem united in one point – that the Twins should have been able to foresee this stuff. And that the Twins need to learn from their mistakes so they don’t make them again.

I’m not so sure. As I look at the performances of many of the players and compare them to my own expectations, I see a lot of gambles that didn’t work out, and very few that did. In short, I see a fair amount of bad luck, and not something that can necessarily be learned from.

Rather than go through the various criticisms, try doing the following: name all the Twins who disappointed you this season and compare them to all the ones who outperformed your expectations. Go ahead, try it.

My list of those who clearly performed worse than expectations (because of injuries or otherwise) includes Nick Punto, Rondell White, Jeff Cirillo, Jason Bartlett, Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Denys Reyes, Jesse Crain, Juan Rincon, Glen Perkins and Boof Bonser.

And here are the ones who have exceeded expectations: Torii Hunter, Scott Baker, Carlos Silva and Matt Garza.

It doesn’t have anything to do with signing mediocrity or over-emphasizing speed or trusting veterans too much. It has to do with too many bad years by too many players. About the only thing we might be able to learn is that expectations for some of these guys may need to be altered. But for most of them, I’m not even sure that’s appropriate.

So I’d urge readers to be careful when reading or listening to these orations. Ask yourself if what they’re proposing is really the lesson we should learn. Or whether we should instead listen to a different quote attributed to Santaya:

History is a pack of lies about events that never happened told by people who weren't there.


Brian said...

I dunno - I think Neshek kinda surpassed expectations as well.

Shanghai Twins said...

I enjoy reading your comments more than most, as they intend for us to think, rather than simply react. There have been, and may they continue, some good things this year, with still a month to see how things play out. As often quoted, lots of divisional play left to go. In fact only a 3-day diversion with the Rangers; and the close-out at Fenway. If the pitching continues to perform better than expected; and the performance of Bartlett, Kubel and White continue the recent turn around; there's always hope. As last year; if the Twins can get into 2nd place (now 3 back), then anything can happen.

SoCalTwinsfan said...

Now think about 2006 in the same way. Maybe this year is just a team "regressing to the mean." Of course, with all the injuries this team has sustained the last two years, hopefully that means they will be uncommonly healthy next year.
Here's hoping the offense will "regress to the mean" after six weeks of offense not seen in Minnesota since the late 90s. Or maybe not since the late 70s-early 80s. Or maybe not since the late 60s. Anyways, it was really bad. And anyone who says they predicted Punto to be this bad is just lying or completely beyond pessimistic.

brianS said...

George Santaya may well have written exactly that title quote.

George Santayana, on the other hand....

David Wintheiser said...

My list of those who clearly performed worse than expectations (because of injuries or otherwise) includes Nick Punto, Rondell White, Jeff Cirillo, Jason Bartlett, Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Denys Reyes, Jesse Crain, Juan Rincon, Glen Perkins and Boof Bonser.

A very good point, and pretty much the flip side of last year, when plenty of players having outstanding seasons helped drive the Twins to a division title.

A few points about some of the individuals on your list, though, Geek, as I think a few of these names could (and should) have been predicted:

Nick Punto - socaltwinsfan is right when he says that anybody who predicted that Punto would hit .200 is either lying or beyond pessimistic. I, however, expected Punto to hit a lot closer to .230 (his career average heading into 2006) than .290. The idea that Punto's great 2006 was a fluke should not have been resisted as much as it appeared to be. (Even now, some fans with severe cognitive dissonance argue that Punto is the modern Al Newman, forgetting that the years where Newman racked up 350+ PAs, the Twins didn't do all that much.)

Rondell White - Shaping up to be a whipping boy for 2007, despite barely being on track to crack 100 PAs for the year. He's barely played, and there hasn't been an obvious replacement for his roster spot, so I can't really see putting too much blame on Rondell for this year's disappointment - except in the sense that it wasn't a continuation of the second half of 2006, which should have been predictable.

Jeff Cirillo - A veteran pick-up intended to be a stop-gap; nobody should have expected that he could take over daily duties at third base, considering he'd only managed to come within spitting diatance of 400 PAs twice since 2002. He's about on-pace to match his 2005 production with Milwaukee, adjusted for age.

Jason Bartlett - You can't ever say you can predict injuries, but on the flip side it was his first full year as a regular, and you also can't say that a near-trip to the DL is all that shocking in a player's first full season. On one hand, he's improving -- if he continues to hit well, he'll surpass last year's OPS even with a lower batting average, which is a good thing. On the other hand, last year's league-adjusted OPS+ was 99, and this is his age-27 season, so it's not likely he's going to get that much better.

Joe Mauer - I've heard some fan grumbling regarding Mauer this year, but seriously - did all the talk about how hard it is for a catcher to lead the league in batting while Joe was doing it last year not prepare anyone for the thought that maybe the grind might catch up to him this year? Go look at Yogi Berra's or Carlton Fisk's or even Johnny Bench's year-to-year batting averages, then realize that Joe is right about where he was in 2005, only a bit better in 2007. Disappointing? Sure, but not outside the realm of possibility.

Michael Cuddyer - This is the only one I'll really argue, because 2007 is shaping up to be Cuddyer's second-best hitting season of his career, right after his age-27 season.

Basically, as far as the offensive players are concerned, most of the guys are only really disappointing in contrast to what they did in 2006 - which I'll point out was an unrealistic expectation from the start, particularly for guys like Mauer and Cuddyer who were having career years.

I'm more inclined to agree with you about pitchers, though I'll also point out that the Twins are on pace to allow fewer runs in 2007 than they did in 2006, when they were considered to have one of the best staffs in baseball. Guys have been disappointing, but other guys have stepped up, including Guerrier, Neshek (as brian points out) and even Silva, whom many were willing to give up on even before spring training.

It's a funny game that way.

Anonymous said...

Here's a couple of guys that performed exactly as expected (in other words it was foreseeable that spending money on those guys was a mistake and would be better spent on some help in the everyday lineup):

Ramon Ortiz
Sidney Ponson

Maybe you forgot about those guys.


BD said...

The problems with mostly standing pat in 2007 are:

#1, the Twins 2006 offense wasn't great even though Mauer, Cuddyer, Morneau & Punto had career years (to date).

#2, a number of the guys who were so good in 2006 were around & not nearly so good in 2005. What made us think the 2006 version was the "real McCoy?"

In the end, I think the organization got a bit freaked out by the thought of having neither Radke nor Liriano in 2006 - they (like the fan base) convinced themselves that starting pitching was the real weakness of the team in February.

A lot of us thought that at the time. Thing is, Ryan, et al. are paid a lot of money to be smarter than us.

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