Subjectivity is still king. See: Abreu, Jose


SOUTH HILLS –  Bullpen usage would seem like a timely issue today with back-to-back, walk-off losses — and Ernesto Frieri being employed in a tie game in the ninth inning — but we just covered that issue in this space recently. So I’m going elsewhere.

In early June, when criticizing the Pirates about their tardiness in promoting Gregory Polanco, former GM turned ESPN analyst Jim Bowden wondered ‘What if the Pirates had landed Jose Abreu?; How might that have changed things? You’re probably aware Abreu has been dominant this year for the White Sox, on pace for a 50-home run season.

The Pirates don’t have a ton of lineup needs, but they don’t have a clear No. 4 hitter, or a first baseman of the future. I think in the offseason, even before knowing Abreu would be this good, I think the consensus was Abreu would have been an upgrade above a Pirates’ 1B platoon. Moreover, the Pirates don’t have a clear, future 1B in the pipeline. Abreu is 27. So why were not just the Pirates, but  the entire industry, unwilling to pay Abreu more than a 2-WAR player?

Because of the risk with Abreu, not knowing how his Cuban stats would translate. This means there was a buying-below-true-value opportunity for small market club just as there was with the A’s and Yoenis Cepedes.

Abreu’s start has been surprising. But should it be?

Check out his Davenport translations.

Sabermetric analysis had Abreu as an immediate super star.

Subjective, human scouting questioned Abreu’s bat-speed and to match-up with premium velocity.

It looks like a victory for objective, sabermetric scouting. Perhaps it’s a lesson that subjective scouting still rules the day in evaluations. There’s no doubt sabermetrics play a larger role, that objective data has revolutionized the game, but I suspect many GMs still lean toward trusting the subjecting scouting eye over objective data. Just look at how long it took for shifts to proliferate throughout the game.

Perhaps the analytical-heavy Pirates should have bought more into the numbers and taken advantage of the risk aversion teams had in translating the performance of a Cuban product.

You can say that Abreu was always unlikely for the Pirates, because of the dollars required. He signed for six years and $68 million and the Pirates have never guaranteed more than $17 million to a free agent in a contract. … Still, that contract is fewer dollars than the Jason Kendall contract adjusted for 2014 dollars.   The unwillingness speaks to the Pirates being very conservative in giving a player beyond two years unless they know a player extremely well (Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte). The Pirates did have the AAV dollars to spend as they were willing to go to $12 million AJ Burnett. But the Pirates weren’t comfortable going to three years on James Loney.

Perhaps the lesson is at some point you have to take the risk especially in a game devoid of right-handed hitting power. It was a rare opportunity for a small-market team to acquire game-changing power at a reasonable price.

– TS