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On Embracing (Imperfect) Fun

A meditation about statistics, the offseason, and Mariners fandom. Plus a picture of Chone Figgins.

Texas Rangers v Seattle Mariners
Still handsome, even in profile.
Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

I have been a baseball fan for seventeen years.

I’ve gone from my favorite team setting a league record for wins at the start, to sixteen long years of missing the playoffs. In that time, I’ve played everything from tee-ball to varsity high school baseball, with opponents ranging from “that kid who picks flowers in left field” to “literal future top-10 overall MLB Draft selection.” I’ve read, re-read, and re-re-read Moneyball. I’ve embraced analytics, challenged conventional wisdom, and learned to love the art of deal-making. For that last reason, I often enjoy the offseason, where a random trade made on a random Tuesday can spawn dozens of analysis pieces.

Yet this has felt like the longest offseason I can remember.

I think I’ve finally figured out why. On the one hand, I’m in the “I want this team to get better” camp. This seems obvious — who in their right mind wouldn’t want their favorite team, perhaps on the cusp of playoff contention, to improve? — and it’s a viewpoint firmly rooted in fandom.

On the other hand, the Mariners are hamstrung by a combination of earlier choices, poor drafting, and different organizational priorities. Trading from the farm system, at this point, isn’t really an option. And as a Fangraphs-obsessed stats maven, I know the dangers of investing too heavily in free agency. So I find myself trying to balance that previously-mentioned fandom with my roots in “I don’t want the Mariners to add players on Bad Deals.”

But then I read this debut piece on Fangraphs by Rian Watt, which summarized much of what I’ve been grappling with. Go read it and then come back. (Seriously, please come back!) Still with me? Okay, wonderful. This article really resonated with me, but I want to bring it around to focus on the Mariners and their particular situation.

I always have, and always will, enjoy analyzing various possibilities for the Mariners, whether that includes trades, free agency signings, draft selections, or anything in between. And I’m going to keep my analytical bent when I do so. That’s not going to change.

However, this article made me realize how insane it is that we so often take the side of the owners and the front office, instead of plain ol’ fun.

I’m not making a political point here (No Politics); rather, I’m coming to grips with the fact that I’ve been willing to criticize the Mariners for making a deal instead of the perfect deal. I’ve been willing to let my desire to win eventually (and to take the best possible analytical route to do so) dominate my desire to win now.

In essence, I want us to win. Yet because of my fandom, I’m willing to say that it’s okay the Mariners didn’t sign Yu Darvish because (to quote Rian’s Fangraphs piece) “perhaps in graphed line met another somewhere around age 35 and they together suggested that a combination of Alex Cobb and half a backup catcher might return more value per dollar spent.”

I’m not writing this to yell at Jerry Dipoto for not signing Yu Darvish. This squad is already at a club-record payroll, and I’m guessing there’s not only some reticence at adding a $20+MM/yr player, but some real backlash from ownership.

At the end of the day, however, there are moves that can be made that this team isn’t taking advantage of. (Here’s looking at you, Jaime Garcia.) The front office needs to be willing to look at all the relevant details and decide that even if a given contract doesn’t make sense on a $/WAR basis, or if it adds a little more long-term risk than they’d like, or if it pushes the payroll beyond where they’d like it to go, it’s worth it to improve the team and to make this team more fun. And, of course, to make it more competitive: If this front office is only willing to look at the perfect deal, then they’re not doing their absolute best to make this team into a playoff contender. That goal can still be furthered without sacrificing the Mariners’ long-term future.

Baseball is built to be analyzed. It’s built to be scrutinized and broken down. This game is an amalgamation of one-on-one matchups, and it lends itself beautifully to in-depth insight.

But sometimes, even those who worship at the altar of the Sabermetric Gods need to take a step back and embrace (imperfect) fun. We need to embrace a little cognitive dissonance and be willing to take a good deal rather than hold out for the best deal.

So this is my pledge to do that. Let’s hope the Mariners are willing to do the same.

Go M’s.