A Tale of Two Southpaws

Something has been weighing on my mind recently so I thought I would take time to address this nagging question: How do we as fans choose which players on our team to root for over others? The obvious answer is performance. If a player performs well on the field, the fan base is likely to favor him over another who is under achieving. The problem is it isn’t that simple. We are human and we let issues unrelated to baseball influence who our favorite players are. I’m not saying this is wrong, I’m simply stating it is a fact we can’t deny.

To prove my point I want to do a blind comparison of 2 player’s stats from last year. (Note that I will not use “Wins” as a statistic because it is in fact a team statistic and a poor representation of the actual pitcher’s performance.):

LF1

ERA = Earned Run Average WHIP = Walks + Hits per Inning Pitched
ERA+ = Adjusted ERA. Its earned run average adjusted for the ballpark and the league average.
WAR = Wins above replacement player.
FIP = measures what a player’s ERA should have looked like over a give time period, assuming that performance on balls in play and timing were league average.

The numbers are quite similar, aren’t they? There is no doubt both of these young pitchers are very good. Now what if I told you that “Player A” is beloved by his fan base, while the accomplishments of “Player B” go largely undetected by his fan base?

There are a few more similarities between these 2 players. They are both hard throwing left handed pitchers who showed significant improvement in 2011. Both players have had inconsistent careers to this point. It gets better. Both players play for the same team

Player A is Derek Holland

LF2

Player B is Matt Harrison

LF3

Yet in my opinion, Player A has a much more favorable public opinion than Player B.

There is one more trait these players share: Awful, unforgivable, terrible facial hair. Most of you probably know who I am talking about: Derek Holland (aka Player A) and Matt Harrison (aka Player B).

I wanted to do this little exercise because I am convinced we as Ranger fans don’t appreciate how good BOTH of these pitchers are. I am not saying one is better than the other. I am just saying they are both very good.
Now obviously Derek has more personality than Harrison. I highly doubt I will ever hear Matt Harrison on the Ben & Skin show doing his best Larry the Cable guy impersonation (even though judging by his voice, I imagine it would be AWESOME). But we as fans need to separate personality traits we admire or find endearing from the actual performance on the field.

With speculation running rampant that the Rangers are trying to acquire another starting pitcher, people are asking “Which pitcher do you take out of the rotation?” Two answers dominate the discussion when that question is asked: Alexi Ogando or Matt Harrison. Not one time have I see a person answer with “Derek Holland”. I am not advocating that Derek Holland be removed from the rotation in the event that the Rangers acquire another starting pitcher. I am just pointing out that our perception does not always meet reality.

I have said it many times before, but baseball is the most cerebral sport on the planet. Very intelligent people like Bill James, Rob Neyer and many, many others have worked countless hours looking at and analyzing numbers to help us better understand the game we all love so much.  The amazing thing about baseball is there are ways to study and learn about the game above and beyond what we can see on the field. Advanced statistics are nothing more than tools to help you understand the game. Never stop watching the product on the field, but know that perception does not always equal reality.

Lincoln Floyd

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