FIRE JOE MORGAN: Causality v. Coincidence: A Refresher Course


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Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Causality v. Coincidence: A Refresher Course

Causality is when something causes something else to happen. For example. The Yankees signed Jason Giambi in 2001, and he caused their offense to be better.

Coincidence is when something happens, and something else happens, too, but not because of the first thing. For example: Yahoo! CEO Terry Semel resigns; Dan Uggla homers to lead Marlins over ChiSox.

Let's see if the New York Times's Jack Curry can tell the difference.

Yankees Get Boost From Loss of Giambi

No. He cannot.

The correct headline should read: "Yankees Get Boost from Many Players Playing Better than They Were; Giambi's Replacement (Damon) and Damon's Replacement (Cabrera) Probably Like 7th Most Important Factor"

...the Yankees have moved on without [Giambi]. In fact, they are playing their best baseball of the season, by far, without him.

Without Giambi, the Yankees are 13-3 and have scored 6.9 runs a game. With Giambi, the Yankees were 22-29 and averaged 5.3 runs.

Interesting. Perhaps there is some causality. Let's find out.

After Giambi went on the disabled list, Torre moved Johnny Damon and his wobbly legs from center field to designated hitter and inserted the energetic Melky Cabrera in center.

June stats for these people:

Damon: .230/.299/.328/.627 in 61 AB.
The Energetic Melky Cabrera: .300/.368/.433/.801 in 60 AB.

Season stats for Giambi: .262/.380/.436/.816 in 149 AB.

Damon has hit considerably worse in June than he was hitting before that.

I know Giambi was in a miserable slump right before the DL trip, but it doesn't seem to me that replacing Giambi/Damon with Damon/Cabrera could possibly ever be worth 1.6 extra runs per game. Hmmm. Causality taking a beating here. Could there possibly ever be any other explanation for the Yankees' scoring spree?

Also, Bobby Abreu, Robinson Canó and Hideki Matsui, left-handed hitters who were slumping, have contributed more.

Oh. Well, why didn't you just say that? Why didn't you title this article: Non-Giambi/Cabrera/Damon-related Hitters Hitting Better; Yanks Winning More"?

Since Giambi went on the disabled list, the Yankees’ designated hitters have batted .299, with 3 home runs and 11 runs batted in.

Well, hang on -- if these non-Damon DH's were additions to the team that would not have been possible if he were taking up that position, then there would be causality at work.

While Damon has started 12 of 16 games as the designated hitter, Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez and Josh Phelps have also started at D.H.

In other words, the title of this article could also have been: "Guys Who Are Always Playing in the Yankees Line-Up Continue To Play, Sometimes At Different Position; Put Up Good/Typical Numbers in Sample Size of Four Games"

Giambi hit .177 with three homers in May.

His OBP that month in 62 AB was 51 points higher than Damon's is so far in June. Also, Damon has one HR so far in June. Hmm. I wonder if there's any other factor in the Yankees' resurgence?

Of course, the most significant part of the Yankees’ offensive turnaround has been Rodriguez’s incredible June. He is batting .393 with 8 homers and 28 R.B.I. this month.

Ah. So, the guy who plays every day at third, whether or not Jason Giambi is playing DH or DL, is crushing the ball after a mediocre May. And he might have actually had more RsBI if Giambi and his Damon-besting .380 OBP were hitting in front of him. Interesting.

Perhaps the causality vs. coincidence argument will never be answered. But if there's one thing we can conclusively say, it's that the Yankees are definitely scoring more runs because of the insertion of worse hitters in their line-up, and not because the other hitters who have nothing to do with the switch are all hitting better.

We can all agree on that, right?

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