Baseball Appreciations: Philosophy, Analytics, and Rick Ankiel

Baseball is full of the best of both worlds. Baseball gives you the (Ken) Burnsian #narrative that is fun and enjoyable at times, infuriating at others (Michael Young!”Leadership”!, jk). It combines that, with a real analytical (sabermetrics) appreciation of science, logic, math, intelligence. Most know that I tend to discuss analytics often; but I have a deep appreciation for the rich history of the game (we should note, there is a stark difference between what is narrative, and history or storytelling). Much like the supposed Malcolm/Martin “split”, I consider them to be complementary, two sides of the same coin.

I tend to think of the story as a vehicle to relay the existential aspects of life; and recognize that the importance of that exists for the observers. I also think analytics allows us to heap praise on those who normally don’t get that.

The importance of really measuring and appreciating/valuing the often underappreciated due to the use of less useful (traditional) statistics, such as Ben Zobrist, whose incredible value would be lost, unappreciated, without advanced statistics. Analytics offers us the ability to get away from the standard (often charismatic) leader who is seen as default by a traditional set of values; and allows us to find real value and appreciate it. But this post is not about Zobrilla, this is an appreciation of Rick Ankiel.

For those who don’t know the much discussed story of Ankiel, he was a 2nd round draft pick/pitching phenom who famously lost his ability to throw strikes (which happened, brutally, in the MLB playoffs as a pitcher for the Cardinals, Game 1 of the 2000 NLDS). You can read all about it the story here, but the real triumph is that he goes all the way back to Single A, and rebuilds his career as a hitter/OF; and manages to come back to the majors.
This isn’t to say he is any Hall of Fame candidate or anything at all, but just a fascinating story. In fact, by and large he’s been a replacement level player per fangraphs WAR (wins above replacement). But his story is really fascinating. He made it to the majors, twice. In two very different capacities. There is something really amazing to be said about that.

Ankiel was designated for assignment this last week by the Houston Astros, and released into free agency. This is likely the end of the line for Ankiel, given he’s striking out nearly 54% of the time he comes to the plate and has an abysmal .194/.231/.484 slash line.

For what it’s worth, thanks Mr. Ankiel.

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