On the fan-analyst

by Jason Wojciechowski

The blog over which I have sole dominion, Beaneball, is, as you might be aware, an A’s-focused place. I wrote about the more analytic aspects of the Trevor Cahill-Jarrod Parker trade over there, and I certainly won’t rehash it here, but the difficulty of figuring out just what the hell a Trevor Cahill is supposed to be raised some issues that I want to address here, in a more general forum.

Hegel. It will become clear.

The question comes down to analysis and fandom and where the lines between those things blur. I can read Baseball America handbooks in a dispassionate way, examine a Baseball Prospectus player card with a cold, calculating eye, slice and dice PITCHf/x data until I arrive at a moment of profound clarity. What I cannot do, after engaging in all these actions and more, is tell you what Trevor Cahill would have done in Oakland next year. (I certainly can’t tell you what our delicate flower will do now that he’s transplanted to the harsh climes of Arizona.) And you know what? This frustrates me. It frustrates me so much that I’m actually happy the A’s traded him.

Here is a conversation I feel like I’ve had a lot, whether in guest appearances on the Over the Monster podcast (plug! It’s fun and informative!), on Twitter, or on my blog:

Them: How good is Trevor Cahill?
Me: I dunno.

Scintillating, right? But it’s not an unthinking “I dunno.” It’s an “I dunno” borne of hours and hours and hours of fruitless exploration of every piece of data I have access to, of deep pondering that would put The Fool on the Hill to shame, of note-taking and careful study of the man’s actual games on TV. And now, all that exploration, all that pondering, all that careful study … you can have it. You, my friend the Diamondbacks fan, you can have it. I no longer bear this burden. I cast it down.

But now! I’m letting the fact of my inadequacies as an analyst change the way I view the game as a fan, because I want to be perfectly clear — my joy and relief are not contained merely on the pages of my stat-nerd blog or my internet persona. I feel actual pleasure that Cahill’s abundant mysteries, his weird lack of control over a strange sloppy mess of pitches, have been swapped out for that most simple of creatures: a young pitcher with a hard fastball. It’s not that I think the A’s will be better in 2012 or even 2015 with Parker instead of Cahill. It’s not that I have some aesthetic dislike of Cahill’s game. It’s simply this: I will enjoy watching Jarrod Parker next year (or in 2013) more than I would have in other circumstances because of the fact that I will not have to write about Trevor Cahill after the game.

So you see? The lines are bleeding. I don’t just get happy about a trade because it makes my team better — I get happy about a trade because it makes my job easier.

And it’s not even my job! It’s my second job at best, and it’s probably more like my third or fourth job.

I’m not entirely pleased about this, as I think you guessed. I should be sad, I tell myself, that the baby-faced assassin of the A’s pitching staff, the chubby guy who might be working at Lowe’s if he didn’t have a sinker that sometimes crosses county lines on the way from his hand to Kurt Suzuki’s, one half of the all-awkward-all-the-time pairing of Trevor ‘n’ Brett, is gone to the Diamondbacks, a team I watch only intermittently, and then only because it’s late at night and they’re the last game still going. But I’m not that sad, and my lack of sadness should make me sad, but even that meta-sadness is sitting somewhere just out of reach.

I test myself at this point. “What happens if Brett Anderson gets traded?” I query. I have no qualms about this one. The sadness I’ve been missing would come flooding home. I’d miss Anderson’s goofily perched hat on the bench, his propensity to fall down for no discernible reason while pitching, his intermittently amusing Twitter account. I can focus on these things because I know what Brett Anderson is: he’s a good pitcher with health difficulties that are beyond my ken. I can’t tell you whether he’ll keep his arm in one piece, but I know that almost no one can, so it doesn’t bother me. I can’t tell you whether Trevor Cahill will keep his ERA in one piece, either, but I think that someone out there has the answer, or at least can ask the right question, and it drives me to distraction. Literal, actual, honest-to-god distraction. I cannot focus on Coco Crisp’s play in center field for worrying about whether Cahill actually has a good sinker (movement!) or a bad one (command!).

So I have a real problem I’m facing here, and I think the only way to solve it is dialectical reasoning.

Starting where you start, the Abstract: the analyst does his work and answers his questions apart from his rooting interests, compartmentalized such that we can achieve confidence in a lack of hidden bias. But, Negation, “apart” isn’t possible — there is necessary bleed in both directions (we are blind to the flaws of our favorite players; and our favorite players arise from our understandings of the game).

The sublation that brings us to the Concrete or Absolute? The hyphen in analyst-fan is false — there is no ability to separate the two. Which is not to simply accept the Negative! The answer is not bleed, it’s unity. Analyst and fan isn’t two sides with a porous boundary, it’s one whole that engages in many activities. It is not even a case of sets, where every analyst is a fan and every fan is an analyst. It is a case of linguistic imprecision — analysts and fans aren’t people, they are people-doings. They label the activity of a person while attempting to label the person herself.

The last step, not so much as a matter of the dialectical process, but in terms of my therapeutic reasons for engaging in such exercises in the first place, is to apply the Absolute: and lo and behold, I am no longer sad. Why should I feel sad about my so-called inability to be a fan without analyst tendencies when this very sadness reflects a false understanding of the way of the baseball world? If there is no hyphen, then there is no sadness.