Around the All-Star Break, I made a gentleman's wager with Sky about whether Gary Sheffield's production was a fluke and if he could match it in the second half of the season. I forget the actual wording of the bet, and what the standards were, presumably something like expected wOBA (does this even exist?), but considering how poorly Sheffield hit after the break, combined with the fact that he is no longer playing, I figured there was no way that I could claim to have won the bet. As befitting my status as somebody who is all that is man, I owned up to my losing bet, told Sky to do his worst, and walked away with a beautiful new avatar and a slightly deflated sense of self worth.
I'd be lying if I said I slept peacefully that night. There might have been some forsaking-of-God. Maybe some questioning of the meaning of life. I may or may not have gone into a diabetic coma after gorging on Mallomars in a self-pity fueled binge. None of that really is really important now. What does matter, to me at least, was the question of whether I was wrong to think that Sheffield's first half performance was indicative of his true talent level at this stage of his career and was more than just fun with small sample sizes.
As Sky gloatingly pointed out, it seemed as though I was guilty of "making plausible stories fit the data." Bearing in mind that the hitter is Gary Sheffield, this seems quite possible. To begin with, he has a HOF resume, so there is the natural inclination to give him the benefit of the doubt RE: regaining his hitting prowess. More pertinently though, is the fact that Sheffield looks like he was put on Earth to do one thing, and that is to take frighteningly violent cuts at baseballs. The universe doesn't always unfold as it should, despite whatever Harold and Kumar claim, but sometimes, it seems as though it manages to get things right. Gary Sheffield found his true calling of hitting baseballs, Gallagher found his calling of hitting things with a gigantic hammer, and Bill Clinton found his way into a position of power that maximized his ability to seduce unattractive women (and what do all three have in common? they were in their prime in the 90s).
What this means is that when you see Gary hitting baseballs, you feel as though this is his birthright, and you tend to overlook the possibility that luck is aiding him in some way. How could his BABIP be inflated if he hits balls 200mph? How could you call it a fluke if he hits an inside fastball 400 feet? That's Sheffield being Sheffield. It's what he's always done and was meant to do. Of course, you overlook the times when he takes his massive hack and rolls over a slider, or gets beat by a fastball and pops it up in the infield, as all players do.
All of that being said, I'm not sure that I was wrong to think that what Gary was doing was flukish. His OPS in 2008 was .725, but his PrOPS was .826. This year? A PrOPS of .811, with an actual OPS of .828. In 2007: a PrOPS of .916, with an actual OPS of .839. Is it really a stretch to say that Gary was capable of an .850 OPS in the NL? Is is true that the only way you could come to this conclusion is by being seduced by the name on his jersey and by ignoring sample size? I don't think so.
What remains is why Gary tailed off after the ASB. My hypothesis is simply that he's old as dirt and wore down physically, and also checked out mentally and started swinging for the downs at every opportunity. That may seem like an anti-intellectual cop out, but considering Sheffield is presently incapacitated, threatened to walk out on the team, and has in the past purposefully thrown balls away to be traded, I think it's both plausible and probable that these are likely reasons for his decline. That doesn't excuse me for betting on him. To paraphrase Chris Rock, when Gary Sheffield gets hurt and checks out, he's not going crazy. He's going Gary.
No matter how you slice it, I lost this round. I may be stubborn for saying so, and perhaps I'm guilty of not knowing when I'm beaten, but I don't think I was wrong to believe in Gary's first half performance.
I'll get you Sky Kalkman! If it's the last thing I do!