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Results from the “Challenge the Narrative” Game

What an amazing turnout!

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

I have to start this article with this; Wow, what an amazing turnout. The discussion in the comments was fantastic, spoilers were mostly avoidly, and there were upwards of 200 participants in the voting as you’ll see below. Thank you! I will be sure to do more games like this in the future.

Anywho, back to the discussion at hand. Last week, I described a few “anonymous” players with some very sective stats and situations and asked you all a question about each player(s). The theme of the article was to present the audience with data that would possibly “challenge” what each person might think of said player in general. There was no intent in actually changing anyone’s minds on any of the players that were chosen; it was purely to get each person to do a little critical thinking and challenge how each opinion was created. By challenging ourselves to think deeper and a bit more critically, it can make us handle future situations with a more open mind. Outside of baseball, I’ve found this method of self-reflection to be incredibly beneficial to me as a person, both in my career and outside of it, and the same methodology can be applied to being a fan.

But this was also a bit of an experiment. I wasn’t sure how you were going to respond to the questions. There was a big concern that the examples would be too obvious and you would vote from your opinion instead of from the facts. I was also worried that people might just vote a lot different than I thought they might.

But in reality, you all aced the test. I couldn’t have asked for better results. This isn’t some “I’m smart, you’re dumb” sort of thing. The situations below are purposefully picked and worded to lead your overall line of thinking in one direction (more on this later). This means we can have a discussion about all of the examples! Let’s dive in!

Let’s start with the top, Player A is one of the most classic examples where the overall fan opinion of a player (at least that which is online) didn’t match the actual production or value that the player brought on the field. This was the question for Player A:

Over 4 consecutive seasons, Player A had a .286/.362/.485 line with 91 HR, 77 SB, and plus defense in the outfield. This combined for 16.1 fWAR over 4 seasons. How would you rate this player?

And this is how you voted:

The results make a ton of sense. That player’s OPS for that four year stretch was .846 and translated to a 124 wRC+ at the time. Combine that with plus defense in the outfield and suddenly you’re at a 4-win player. By all accounts, that should be an all-star, though the 124 wRC+ and 91 HRs would be low by other outfielder standards (and defense is underrated in All-Star Game voting).

Player A is Justin Upton. The line above are his 2009-2012 years combined. These were his last four years in AZ before he was traded to the Braves.

I am going to say this a lot: but I am not trying to change your opinion on Justin Upton (or any of these players). I think most of us are in agreement that Upton was a solid player for us but he seemed like a universal disappointment to the fanbase. And I understand that he had some pretty lofty standards being the #1 overall pick in 2005. But it seems like fans just seemed to hate Upton. A lot of people thought his defense was bad. A lot of people didn’t like his attitude and whatnot. And some people thought he wasn’t a good batter.

But do you really know why fans didn’t like Upton? Because he always seemed to fail in the clutch. In fact, from 2009 - 2012, he was the 16th-least clutch hitter out of 293 hitters. Remember last week when I said that bad memories tend to stick around more than good memories? Justin Upton was the sole cause for that statement because the fan base really scrutinized Upton for this very reason.

However, don’t let the clutch failures fool you. Did you know that Upton has had 20.9 fWAR since 2012? That’s a little under 3.5 WAR/season. His defense has declined, but his bat has been good. Yet, doesn’t it seem like Upton is a long ways from stardom or any sort of real notoriety? When we played him and the Angels last year, I never really thought of him as a feared hitter. Yet... there is Justin Upton having yet another really good season.

Upton has 37.0 fWAR and 35.0 bWAR since being drafted #1 overall in 2005. Per BBREF, Upton has the third-most WAR of any #1 pick since 2001, surpassed by only David Price and Joe Mauer. Isn’t that kind of amazing to think about?

Obviously some fans just don’t like Upton and that’s perfectly fine. But Upton seemed like the perfect combination of lofty standards, not being terribly charismatic (and therefore likeable), and terribly unclutch, to be widely disliked by the fanbase while being a really damn good player. It’s a shame, too, because Upton was pretty much forgotten the moment he was traded.

The lesson here is that sometimes we’re too critical of our young players. Upton was 19 years old when he made his MLB debut. As fans, we tend to hold players to extremely high standards of maturity and performance but maybe we need to tone it down a bit for the younger guys? When you have someone as gifted as Upton, we need to be looking for the hidden gem inside, not looking for the first reason to dismiss him.

Onwards to Player B. And also Player J. As some pointed out in the comments, it seemed like these two players were somehow related and I did pick them as a comparison for each other. It also seemed like a few people figured out Player B but I think only one or maybe two people figured out Player J. Anyways, to the voting:

Player B had a batting line of .272/.313/.508 with 31 HR and 83 RBI. Would you like this bat in your lineup?

Player J had a batting line of .251/.300/.473 with 95 HR and 282 RBI over 3 seasons. Would you like this bat in your lineup?

Excuse me while I take five minutes to recover from this laughing fit I had... because 92% of you just said that you wanted Yasmany Tomas’s bat in the lineup. (Yasmany Tomas is Player B).

All kidding aside, there are plenty of reasons to not like Yasmany Tomas. He has plate discipline concerns and doesn’t seem to take them very seriously and will give up at bats. He seems to have poor self control with his weight and other issues with his life (see the reckless speeding arrest a while back). And he’s a terrible defender, at least at third and in the outfield.

You are completely justified in disliking Tomas and I don’t want his bat on the roster at all, other than perhaps as a DH. Yet, you all seemed to like Tomas more than Player J. Which really sucks because we traded Adam Eaton and Tyler Skaggs for Player J. Player J is none other than Mark Trumbo.

So why am I comparing Tomas to Trumbo? Well, for three years, Trumbo pretty much performed as Tomas’s upside as a hitter: little walks, lots of strikeouts, good power, decent BABIP. Their profiles are very similar. Yet, Tomas is getting blasted by the fans in Arizona while an almost-identical player in Mark Trumbo gets traded for two prospects (Eaton, Skaggs) and earned a 3 year, $37.5 million contract from the Orioles. Wait, what?

The difference between Tomas and Trumbo was simply the opportunity. If Tomas could ever get his head on straight, he would be a better hitter than Trumbo. But instead, Trumbo proved to be consistent and it worked out for him. Yasmany Tomas is currently not on an MLB 40 man roster.

But it’s also been a much smoother ride. Trumbo played in America and was drafted right out of high school, where he then got to play in the minor leagues for over 5 seasons (and over 2500 PA) before making the MLB. That’s a lot of time to polish your game and develop a lot of important habits.

It’s a lot murkier for Tomas. We don’t know what baseball leagues he played growing up in and when he did make the Cuban National Series, he got less than 1000 over 5 seasons combined. Tomas was extremely young for the league and barely played; meanwhile Mark Trumbo is getting regular playing time playing professional baseball in the Minors. To add icing on the cake, Tomas then had to stop playing for a whole year just to defect to America. There is so much development time here that is just completely lost.

Then the team throws a lot of money at the very unproven Tomas, trying to ride the Cuban bandwagon that had been sweeping baseball. And to capitalize on this... the team puts Tomas at third base. Obviously that didn’t work out and the rest is history.

The moral of the story here is that we have two very similar players and yet their stories couldn’t be more different. What if Tomas had played first or DH his entire time in the MLB? Would we still be having this conversation? Would he still be playing in the MLB somewhere? I still think his bat has real power, if he could ever find a way to make it play.

The lesson here? It’s not easy being an MLB player. And while Tomas did nothing to earn any respect for the fans, the team did nothing to make it easier on him, either. Considering his lack of development, his lack of self control, and the many holes in his game, it was clear that Tomas needed more time to develop instead of being throwing into the MLB fire trying to learn third base on the fly. We need to be more cognizant of these issues and hopefully the team will be smarter in the future.

And now the fun REALLY begins here with Player C and Player D.

Player C and Player D had the following stats the past two seasons. Who would you rather sign as a free agent for 2019?

Player C: Ages 27-28, 1202 PA, .305/.389/.534, 49 HR, 192 RBI, 138 OPS+

Player D: Ages 29-30, 1355 PA, .294/.396/.547, 69 HR, 203 RBI, 139 OPS+

All but 71 one of you failed as Arizona Diamondbacks fans. The ~64% of you that picked Player C or “I don’t know; it’s too close to tell” just picked against Goldy. Player D is Paul Goldschmidt and his stat line from the past two seasons (2017 and 2018). Player C is Anthony Rendon, the star 3B on the Washington Nationals.

Oh, by the way, did you know that Anthony Rendon will be a free agent in 2020, the same time that Goldy was going to be a free agent (before he signed his extension with the Cardinals)? The real question is: will Rendon make more than Goldy got from STL?

Rendon is an amazing player. He is a very good defender at third base and beats Goldy in regards to defensive value (good defense at third is valued more than good defense at first). And over the past two years, he has been very close to Goldy in terms of offensive production, too. He doesn’t hit homers at Goldy’s rate nor walk like Goldy does, but he makes up some of this difference with a lot less strikeouts, good power, and a good BABIP. He’s still not quite Goldy, especially when Goldy has captured all of our hearts, but he’s very close.

This question was meant to bait you (and you can thank Jack Sommers for the comp): Obviously looking exclusively at nearly identical players, you’re probably going to take the player that’s younger (which was Rendon). With context, I think very few people would actually pick Rendon over Goldy, even outside of Arizona.

The lesson here is essentially the same thing you tell any friend that’s going through a breakup: there are other fish in the sea. It really hurts losing someone you really love (Goldy), but in baseball, there are going to be other opportunities. And while it may take some time to get over it, time does heal all wounds.

With Player E: we’re going back a few years.

Say Player E had the following pitching line last season: 200 IP, 61.2% GB%, 3.78 ERA, 3.85 FIP. Where would they rank in our current rotation?

Heh. Heh, Hahahaha. I just made you guys pick Trevor Cahill (Player E is Trevor Cahill).

I’m surprised not many people figured this one out. I picked a single season and didn’t pick any weird endpoints to try and hide it. I know a lot of fans are down on the rotation right now, especially Robbie Ray and Zack Godley, but do you really want Trevor Cahill over them? Hell, some of you would rather have this one season of Cahill than Greinke!

Now, obviously, the picture for Cahill is a lot bigger than a single season. He was another player that really struggled with his consistency and didn’t seem very relatable, but I’ve seen very few Diamondbacks receive more hate than Cahill did in his rather brief experience in AZ.

In the end, Cahill left AZ and struggled for several years before seemingly turning things around the last two years. He’s still striking out batters, getting grounders, and keeping homers down. He would have been a good #5 had we not getting Merrill Kelly. Luckily for us, trading away Jared Parker and Ryan Cook didn’t really come back to haunt us.

I don’t really have a lesson for Cahill. I mostly just picked it because it seemed fun. I’m sure talking about Trevor Cahill might trigger a few memories of some fans here.

This next one is another that I’m surprised that people didn’t really figure out. But this is one of the old Dbacks trades that gets talked about here still to this day, and the perception of the trade still doesn’t really match what really happened.

Player F, Player G, and Player H have the following stats and corresponding price tag. Would you rather have Player F or a combination of Player G and Player H?

Player F: 1013 IP, 9.6 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 3.52 ERA, 3.32 FIP for $29 million


Player G: 624 IP, 8.0 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 3.55 ERA, 3.84 FIP for $1.35 million


Player H: 301 IP, 7.1 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 3.01 ERA, 3.26 FIP for $0.42 million

It’s the Max Scherzer trade, dumbed down.

Player F is obviously Max Scherzer, with the statline and the money he made in his five years in Detroit.

Player G is Ian Kennedy as a Diamondback. Player H is Daniel Hudson as a Diamondback starting pitcher (pre injury).

I’ve done the math in the comments here before (though I can’t find it in a search) but if you capture the WAR breakdown on both sides (only using the five years in Detroit for Scherzer; his FA years after that don’t count into this equation), the trade is really close to being dead even for both teams.

This trade is one where the Diamondbacks are regularly considered to be the “loser” but the only real thing they “lost” here was Daniel Hudson’s promising career. If Hudson doesn’t have his career derailed by Tommy John surgery (twice), it’s likely the Diamondbacks win this trade in a landslide. Both Kennedy and Hudson were excellent in Arizona for several years and has seen above, the vast majority of fans would take the two really good pitchers for cheap over the ace making more money.

The Diamondbacks traded risk (Scherzer was considered a huge risk by the entire baseball industry due to his windup) for cost and control. That’s what small(ish) market teams have to do sometimes.

The lesson here is that sometimes you have to trade your stars. Scherzer’s trade happened before he was a true star but we all saw the potential. But as is the case in many trades for star players, often times the multiple pieces will outweight the value of the star. I feel like this lesson could be applied to a pretty recent trade...

Another fun little one. This is another one from Jack Sommers.

Player K and Player L are both relievers with the following stat lines over the past two seasons. Which would you rather have in 2019?

Player K: 101 IP, 10.2 K/9, 4.1 BB/9, 0.4 HR/9 137 ERA+; $1.9 million in 2019

Player L: 131 IP, 12.0 K/9, 5.2 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9, 138 ERA+; $9.0 million in 2019

This time we’ve mixed things up and now we’re looking at some relievers!

These are the stats from the past two seasons (2017 and 2018) for each reliever. Their peripherals are pretty similar so naturally, you all picked the cheapest option for 2019. Which makes sense, without context.

Player K is Andrew Chafin. The reliever that gets hate on regularly by the Dbacks fanbase.

Player L is Adam Ottavino, who just signed a 3 year, $27 million deal with the New York Yankees this past offseason.

Andrew Chafin is a good reliever and is often underrated by fans. He gets strikeouts at a very good clip and he is fantastic at surpressing home runs. In fact, he gave up zero homers last season in 49.1 IP.

I’ve written about Chafin before. The Diamondbacks seem to be using him as a one-batter lefty specialist when that really isn’t his strength.

And while some people might prefer Ottavino for a variety of reasons, here is something that really stands out:

In the last 2 years, Andrew Chafin has inherited the 4th-most runners in baseball, with 87. Ottavino has inherited just 43. This means Ottavino is entering games with a clean slate far more often than Chafin. Chafin and Ottavino have nearly identical percentages of runners that were allowed to score (29% for Chafin, 28% for Ottavino). Considering that Chafin has performed at a similar level to Ottavino except with double the volume (at least with runners on base). In this situation, I would rate Chafin better than Ottavino.

Therein lies the problem with Chafin: we’re back to the problem where negative memories far outweigh the positive ones. When you’re being thrown into so many situations where you have a lot of baserunners on, you’re occasionally going to fail. And these are the memories that so many fans seem to keep in their mind regarding Chafin, all-the-while disregarding everything good Chafin has done. Chafin is a good reliever and needs to be used more (okay I lied, I am trying to change your mind with one example).

This next one is my favorite.

Player M had a batting line of .272/.332/.485 with 183 HR and 587 RBI and a total wRC+ of 124 over 6 seasons. Player M was an above average defender at 1st. What would have been a fair average salary for that player?

This is another Goldy example. With all of the sadness regarding the Goldy trade, which is 110% deserved and okay, by the way, I had to challenge the narrative here. Not to get people to change their thoughts on Goldy, but rather bring some optimism to the trade itself.

Except in this case, Player M isn’t Paul Goldschmidt. Player M is Albert Pujols in his age 31 through age 36 seasons (2011 through 2016).

Why is this relevant? These mirror the same ages that the Cardinals currently have Goldy under control with the extension (age 31 on his current deal at $14.5 million and ages 32 - 36 at $26 million per year).

The results from this yielded a nice bell curve. But what’s intriguing here is that you gave Pujols a mean annual salary of around $17.5 million per year. That’s far short of what Goldy is currently getting from the Cardinals in his extension.

The point of this is not to make a one-player comp and declare the extension a bad one for the Cardinals. The point here is that players age and as they age, their performance declines over time. Even the best players.

There is a long track record of players declining as they enter their 30s. MLB 1B tend to have this the worst, as they tend to be bigger (which leads to bigger physical declines) and they are the worst defenders on the field, giving them less buffer to stay in the league. We’ve seen examples of hitters staying good well into their 30s, but this often comes at a cost of speed, defense, and overall value.

Albert Pujols was the Paul Goldschmidt of the Cardinals before they ironically acquired Goldy. He was the face of the franchise. And no offense to Paul Goldschmidt, but Pujols was an even bigger deal than Goldy (at least to everyone outside of AZ). This does NOT mean Goldy should be treated less than he receives here in AZ (Goldy is insanely underrated), but that the feelings that Cardinals fans had when Pujols left has got to be extremely similar to what Dbacks fans are feeling today.

Let’s compare Pujols and Goldy before their age 31 seasons:

Pujols: .332/.428/.626, 371 HR, 1100 RBI, 170 wRC+, 77.2 fWAR

Goldy: .297/.398/.532, 209 HR, 710 RBI, 144 wRC, 35.2 fWAR

Look, Goldy is a fantastic player but Albert Pujols was an absolute legend before the age of 30. Yet, the decline hit him hard and fast. If a player of Pujols’s caliber can turn into a player that deserves less than $20 million a year by his early 30s, what does they say for Goldy?

As fans of Goldy, it is acceptable to maintain optimism that Goldy will beat the odds and continue to be a great player in his 30s. But the reality is that the extension that Goldy signed will overvalue Goldy for his age 32 to age 36 years. It’s not the albatross that Pujols’s 10 year, $240 million contract was, but big(ish) contracts to players in their 30s tend to not go well. Just look at us trying to deal with Greinke’s salary right now... and that’s with him performing really well the past two years.

The lesson here: it really really sucks losing Goldy right now. You can’t put a price on a fan favorite. But in a few years, we will recover. We got some pieces that all look really promising. We might have avoided a bad extension. Or maybe Goldy proves us wrong. Only time will tell.

And now for the last comparison.

Player N has a batting line of .246/.312/.438 (100 wRC+) and average defense in the outfield. How would you rate this player?

Player O has a batting line of .341/.393/.595 (161 wRC+) and average defense in the outfield. How would you rate this player?

At first glance, it may seem like these players are total opposites. One is on the all-star/superstar fringe and the other seems to be an average to below-average regular per the consensus votes. And that makes sense regarding the state lines that I presented.

I also gave a fun hint during one of the Gameday threads (the day game that Robbie Ray pitched): both of these players were playing in that game.

For a few minutes, there were some guesses and some digging to figure it out but no one did.

Because it was a trick.

Player N and Player O are the same player. They are both David Peralta. Specifically, they are both David Peralta from 2018.

Wait, what?

This was simple a manipulation in splits. The Player O version of David Peralta were his home splits from last season - a 161 wRC+. In 81 games, David Peralta was a borderline superstar.

However, the Player N version of David Peralta were his away splits from last season - a 100 wRC+. Which, according to you, is on the line of being an average regular or below-average regular.

Now, we now know how the season turned out for Peralta - he was one of our best players last year. And he’s been really good for years. Peralta is also a decent fielder and extremely likeable and passionate, everything you’d want from a fan favorite.

Now, these splits don’t really mean much for David Peralta. He’s still a very good overall player and splits like these tend to even out over the course of several seasons, though a slight home advantage would still be expected.

The lesson here is that very good players - especially one that we like - can still play like very average players for a lengthy portion of the season. In Peralta’s case, it was literally a half season. Also last season, Goldy had an OPS below .700 through the end of May. These things happen.

Luckily, David Peralta has done enough to earn our respect and love. But not every player will have done that prior to having such a polarizing season (though, in Peralta’s case, it might have been harder to see). We should try harder to find the good through the bad. If we do that, we’ll find more players that we love.

Also, if David Peralta gets an off day on the road... maybe it’s for the best. I know we, as fans, tend to overreact to each lineup that’s posted, but we have to get through 162 games. Players need days off. For Peralta, maybe it’s best if he gets his days off on the road?

This was a lot of fun. I enjoyed seeing our players in a different light.

But if you caught on, I was also manipulating you. Fangdango caught onto it last week. But all of these examples are purposefully cherry-picked and narrowed down to make a point. When you’re doing a game like this, it’s okay to do something like this. It’s fun to have some counterpoints to make you re-evaulate some thoughts.

But context is extremely important, especially when you’re dealing with narrow splits of individual players. I stripped the context away from all of these players and I was able to get you to vote exactly like I wanted to in every single poll to prove the point I wanted to prove.

None of the players above would ever be purely judged on the simple stat lines that I provided.

As I mentioned, I wasn’t trying to change your opinion on any of players - when you add the actual context to the examples above, the opinions that you have are pretty justified. This exercise was purely for fun and to give us some new ways to think about situations, nothing more.

So, to sum it all up, there are two lessons here. If you can, try to find ways to be more open-minded about players and try not to dwell on just the bad moments. But also, be wary of context. Splits are fun but they don’t mean a lot without context or without an extremely large sample size. There is often a lot of strife between the “stats” people and the “fans” people but there is no reason we can’t co-exist. By working to collectively keep open minds and be more informed with what we analyze, we can all be better fans.