I have to give the nod to Ken Harrelson mainly because Brian Kenny was out-manned in the Thursday edition of MLB Now. Not only did Kenny have to contend with his co-host Harold Reynolds, another old-school guy, but a fired-up Hawk was like the voice of three men.
This wasn’t about content; both men made good points. This was about Harrelson controlling the debate.
After the opening pleasantries, Harrelson opened by saying:
“Let me ask you a question. Did any of you guys see the movie Moneyball? Was there anything in there that struck you as funny or odd?”
Old-school Reynolds replied, “They didn’t talk about the pitching in that movie.”
Harrelson: “That’s exactly right, Harold. When you got Mulder, Zito and Hudson, you can write any kind of book you want to write, and it’s going to be successful. This game is a game of defense with pitching being the first line of defense.”
Obviously, Harrelson is right, but it does help to have some hitting. The team he watches, the White Sox, are hitting .160 with runners in scoring position, the worst in baseball. Yes, it has been painful to be a Sox fan thus far.
Harrelson then mentioned the one trait that can’t be measured in a player: “TWTW, the will to win.” Whenever Kenny tried to box him in a corner, Harrelson repeatedly fell back on “TWTW.”
“Harold is a good example,” said Harrelson, no dummy on how to get people on his side. “40-50 years from now, people will look at his stats and say Harold was a pretty good player. No, he was an outstanding player because you don’t measure the game with numbers only. Harold was the kind of the guy who would stand there and turn the double play when he knew he was going to take a hit from guys like myself or Kirk Gibson or whoever was going to knock him into leftfield….Those are things that aren’t put in numbers.”
Kenny tried to get some shots in when Harrelson brought up bunting late in a game.
Kenny said, “What gives us the best chance to score a run? If you knew that the odds were better not bunting, wouldn’t you not bunt, or visa-versa? Wouldn’t you want to know those percentages?…
“One thing I don’t get is, ‘Wouldn’t you want as much information as possible as a manager?”
Harrelson replied: “The more numbers you bring to the game, the more instincts you take out of the game. We’re inundated with too much numbers and sometimes you get bogged down. This is a kids game. It always has and always will be.”
Then as I wrote yesterday, Kenny brought up Harrelson’s career year with Boston in 1968 when he hit .275 with 35 homers and an AL best 109 RBIs in the year of the pitcher. Kenny used sabermetrics to adjust the numbers to show what they would be if he was playing for the Colorado Rockies in 2000: 49 homers and 187 RBIs.
“You were playing in a dead ball era,” Kenny said. “Sabermetrics puts things in their proper context.”
The debate then veered into the value of wins for pitchers and whether sabermetrics can be used to evaluate defense.
“It’s not ready yet,” Harrelson said. “Until it gets ready, it’s TWTW.”
Kenny tried to get in a last word: “Offensive metrics are extremely accurate. It’s been here for awhile, Hawk. I think you’d enjoy it.”
Not a bad closing shot. However, when the segment was over, Kenny, who boxed as an amateur, had a dazed look. You see, Harrelson also was a boxer. He controlled this bout simply by throwing punches and never letting up.
Hopefully, Kenny and Harrelson aren’t done. It was an enjoyable debate. Definitely would like to see a rematch.