After “Michael Jackson,” the phrase “why is Emilio Bonifacio playing everyday” was the most popular worldwide search term in Google last week. Or maybe it just seems that way. Earlier in the week, Juan Rodriguez’s Sun-Sentinel blog basically told Marlins fans, ‘you may wanna back off, Bonifacio might not be going anywhere.’ That blog post made sense because Bonifacio has become the favorite target of local sports talk shows callers [no doubt only temporarily supplanting Freddi Gonzalez, who is filing in ably for Randy Shannon until football season begins]. I was going to describe those callers as hyper-critical and illogical, but since I already noted that they called sports radio shows, that would be redundant.
Later in the week, Dave Hyde weighed in with a balanced take on Bonifacio, pointing out positives, for example how his OBP has improved by month. However, the negative crescendo reached its peak with Joe Sheehan from Baseball Prospectus on the Jonathan Zaslow radio show on Friday. Joe really doesn’t like Emilio. I believe the nicest thing he said was that ‘Bonifacio really wasn’t really a MLB player.’ I enjoy the analytical approach which sites like Baseball Prospectus have opened up to us fans. But in listening to Sheehan, the limits of statistical analysis, or more accurately, the limitation of statistical analysis without imagination, became evident.
What’s the point in just saying that Bonifacio’s OBP and OPS need to improve? If you say it with enough invective does it become more interesting? The real questions worth analyzing are whether Bonifacio can be expected to improve or how long the Marlins can afford to continue to play someone with his current level of stats. Clearly the Marlins believe he will improve [as he has begun to do so already]. Those who say that Bonifacio should not be playing are in effect stating that he will not improve. Based on what? Do they discount the improvement he has already shown? Are they aware that many good players struggled early in their careers?
I had a post where I discussed Dan Uggla’s performance by month during his first 3 seasons and made certain assumptions based on that [namely that if the Marlins were to trade him, they should do so right after the month of June]. If someone had replied that 3 years was not enough of a track record to assume how he would perform in his 4th or 5th seasons, I think that would be a fair point to make, especially if someone could back it up with examples.
That is the area that I expected someone from Baseball Prospectus to get into. But that’s not what Sheehan did [it took me a while to realize that he wasn't just another angry white man from Aventura]. I looked up Bonifacio’s stats, he has 500 MLB at bats. In those 500 at bats, Bonifacio has walked way too little and struck out way too much, but are Bonifacio’s critics saying that after 500 at bats, you pretty much know the what type of MLB hitter someone can be?
That doesn’t make sense to me. Even my late night cursory look at other 2B revealed that Brian Roberts had a similar poor start to his career — perhaps not coincidentally when Roberts was 23 & 24 years old — check out their stats at the beginning of their careers:
Bonifacio: 500 AB / .244 AVG / .296 OBP / .310 SLG
Roberts: 401 AB / .244 AVG / .294 OBP / .327 SLG
Also, keep in mind the following facts about Emilio Bonifacio:
- He is 24 years-old.
- He is really fast.
- This is his 3rd organization in 3 years. In practical terms, he’s worked for 3 different bosses, 3 different management teams, while living in 3 different cities / homes.
- Bonifacio is learning a new position at the MLB level, 3B.
- The Marlins baseball operations — widely regarded for their ability to compete with minimal payrolls — believe enough in Bonifacio to have traded for him and then stuck with him through major struggles.
- He’s hitting just 4 points less than Jeremy Hermida.
- He is really, really fast.
I love stats. But the type of people who used those stats to beat up on players without also conveying that they are just guessing about the prospects of that player’s development — a guess, by the way, which is at odds with the collective opinion of Larry Beinfest, Michael Hill and Freddi Gonzalez — strike me as just a cut above a fan yelling obscenities at the ballpark, especially when they avoid criticizing someone like Beinfest with the same amount of intensity.
The reason I equate the two is that just like I assume that fans who specialize in obscenity-laced tirades at the ballpark would never speak that way, especially without the alcohol, face to face to the athlete. Similarly, analysts or commentators who go after someone like Bonifacio, rarely attack those ultimately responsible for putting him in the lineup [i.e. Larry Beinfest] with the same amount of gusto. The reason they don’t in the case of Beinfest, is that he has a very good reputation [and memory, no doubt] in MLB. As such, those who pull their punches when it comes to those who are actually putting Bonifacio in the lineup, are glorified bullies in my book.
They represent a new set of MLB powers that be, armed with too many spreadsheets and too little humility. If they ever get tired of baseball, they probably would fit right into Washington DC. To paraphrase Nick Carraway, I think ‘they’re a rotten crowd, the whole damn bunch put together.’