Posted by Peter Hyatt at 10:00 AM
If you look at long term statistics, the modern "holy grail" of those enslaved to statistics is the "Wins Against Replacement" stat in which a player's value is estimated.
This estimation is interesting and it is an important stat.
It is not, however, the entire story that young statisticians would have us believe. I offer for your consideration the Most Valuable Player Award.
Take a look at MVP winners at Baseball Reference, and the WAR stat. Of modern years, there is consistency: players with the highest WAR are often the recipient of the Most Valuable Player award.
Go back a few more years and it is not the same consistency. In fact, some are quite telling where the MVP did not even finish in the top 3 WAR winners.
What has changed?
We have devalued the psychological impact that players have upon others. Teams value the statistic of "batting average with runners on base" for example, which presupposes that clutch hitting is contagious.
If you've played team sports, you already know the contribution that some make go beyond statistics. Inspiration is a powerful element. If you saw a player sacrificing his body for a win, you were likely to follow suit. If you played against real winners, you knew it was a "culture of winning" that said, "leave it all on the field"; that is, 100% effort, no matter what.
Some NY examples: When Mark Messier came to the New York Rangers, young players feared him. These young players that feared him were not those who played against him. They were Messier's teammates. When did they fear him?
He would, routinely, lead by example in practice with strong and sustained effort and if a young player gave less than 100%, he was given "the look" from Messier, which was cold as the ice beneath them. The infraction cost him and he knew it.
But what if the same young player or an older player who knew better still dogged it at practice?
Messier was known to deliver an elbow to the mouth of the guilty.
Then, the rookie was to meet with Messier after practice and Messier took him out to dinner and bought him a very expensive suit, to welcome him to the team. The message was clear: we live or die together but we always honor our uniform by giving our all.
Tom Seaver, at a young age, badgered hitters into hitting the weights. He also got on the other pitchers to raise competition between them as hitters decrying the "automatic out" that some pitchers seemed to accept. Like Messier, Seaver was driven to excellence for victory.
Pete Rose took ball four and ran to first base. He put himself, psychologically, in high gear and it was contagious. How does one shirk hustle while playing with Charlie Hustle?
Love him or hate him, Wally Backman's uniform told a story at the end of every game.
Pitchers live and die on the mound. They hold to an extreme level of concentration, overcome nervousness, and give everything they have for the purpose of success. It is fair to say that even selfish pitchers, driven by their own success for contract, want to win.
If they do their part, they still cannot win without hitting.
It is now fair to add: pitchers love hitters giving them run support.
Turning Back Time
As kids, we used to imagine what Seaver's record would have been had he played for teams that produced runs.
If you could go back in time, would you have kept Strawberry and Gooden away from the drug dealers who came around Shea?
Reports from the Dodgers tell us that teammates despise Puig, not as a player, but as a person. Zack Greinke threw Puig’s suitcase onto a Chicago street after riding with him on the team bus. Justin Turner's frustration almost led to a public fist fight.
"He's the worst human being I have ever met" one former Dodger said.
But, you might counter, these players compete with Puig and have a personal vested interest in having him off the team. This is a fair argument. Some players will go to a specific team not only for the most money but for opportunity.
Don Mattingly said he could "barely stomach" to be even around Puig.
The combination of arrogant boasting and not hustling is something that bristles those on the team committing to winning.
There have always been arrogant players, but consider how even a once honest media described them: "Willie Mays lacks familiarity with the language of humility" putting things rather politely and respectfully. Mays was a showman with a very loose hat, but he was never accused of disrespecting the game.
Ali boasted to sell tickets. He was his own PR man and it worked. Love him or hate him, no one ever said he disrespected boxing.
With Puig, there are votes of "the most hated athlete of the 21st Century" instead. Puig gets no pass because not only of the productivity, but because he is said to "disrespect the game." It is a game that many Americans hold sacred and if this is not his "culture", he can play in Cuba or where what we call "disrespectful", they label positively.
But even here, self interest should be considered...not Puig's, but someone else's.
Yasiel Puig is a talented, powerful hitter.
Clayton Kershaw may be the games most talented pitcher.
When a Kershaw wants to be rid of a power hitter, the statistics do not tell us anything about what the team is experiencing.
As a 22 year old rookie in MLB, he hit 16 home runs, knocked in 42 runs, with a .319 batting average.
Consider the promise that this talent could produce for a team.
Yet, year by year, players cannot bear to be around him.
The Dodgers have had their PR work in full gear the last several years, going from demotion to promotion to declarations of getting "help" to pronunciation of "maturity." Yet, although not yet 26, he is said to be on his last chance with the Dodgers.
He insults the game, insults opponents, and holds the paying Dodger fans in contempt.
If character does not matter, and only winning does, certainly it is fair to say Clayshaw wants to win.
The Cy Young Award winning pitcher believes his odds of winning are increased without Yasiel Puig. The value of the team is increased without Yasiel Puig.