Typically, I dismiss most articles in my RSS feed produced by the mainstream media. Generally with a raised brow and a quick decisive click of the mouse ,they’re gone and I’m onto the next topic du jour. I have to give Jason Whitlock of FOX Sports credit though for grabbing my attention after producing one of the more myopic posts I’ve read in quite some time — one that I’d like to take a few moments to furiously protest against respond too.
I won’t be going to see “Moneyball.” The movie celebrates the plague ruining sports: sabermetrics. … [James, Bean, and Lewis] unwittingly conspired to remove much of the magic and mystery from baseball. They reduced the game to a statistical bore. It’s no longer enough to be down with OBP (on-base percentage). To talk the game, you now must understand OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging), VORP (value over replacement player), BABIP (batting average on balls in play) and on and on.
I’ll start by saying this. Baseball has most certainly not been reduced to “a statistical bore” (at least for me). I suspect many fans watch baseball (or any sport for that matter), because it is inherently enjoyable. For fans such as myself who embrace the sabermetric revolution (if you can call it that), the stats serve as a supplementary enhancement; a mode, if you will, designed to help one better understand the actions unfolding on the field — or a means of exploring further curiosity. These sophisticated models of analysis also help one to appreciate the various complexities of the game which ultimately results in a very rewarding experience.
Now my father, on the other hand, proudly considers himself an “old school” type of fan. He doesn’t really focus on advanced stats at all. He regularly advocates the importance of intangibles and frequently mentions the various “human elements” that would probably make many saber junkies cringe. The point is though, he loves watching baseball just as much as I do. Neither of us have a deeper appreciation for the sport per se. Rather, we just appreciate the game in different manners. Neither of us would be compelled to classify the other as any less of a fan and we certainly have no problem whatsover in reaching common ground in a baseball conversation.
While I generally do not bombard my father with SABRy terms, I occasionally include the principles of certain advanced metrics into my points. This allows him to conceptually relate to my perspective and respond however he sees fit. It actually makes for very stimulating discussion. In return, he poses challenging questions which force me to verify that which I consider to be self evident. For example, when I had first told him that Derek Jeter’s range was rather limited, he immediately inquired as to how that could be determined — especially if the players surrounding the Captain were especially dextrous thusly making his job less difficult. We both agree that Derek Jeter isn’t the best defensive shortstop on the planet just as we can accept that the stats I refer to have their limitations.
As to the magic/mystique/intrigue (or whatever else you want to call it) of baseball, events occur all the time that we cannot adequately explain regardless of the information available. Hell, the Yankees radio play-by-play hosts remind us almost nightly of all the circumstances that we simply can’t predict. While it’s true that someone out there could almost certainly provide one with the odds on how often a triple play occurs in a given inning (just as one can reasonably estimate the chances of winning the lottery), this doesn’t make the actual event any less awesome as it unfolds. Knowing Albert Pujols’ HR/9 rate doesn’t make his 400+ foot laser-beam into the stratosphere any less magnificent. Similarly, knowing that Pujols’ WAR is perennially awesome doesn’t deflate the conversation that he’s among the game’s elite and may go down in the books as a generational talent — in merely reinforces it.
When our eyes lead us to believe something that conflicts with what the data suggests, the response shouldn’t be that the pencil pushers – who huddle together in a windowless conference room in the depths of some soulless Fortune 500 corporation’s basement, and who for some reason, now all physically resemble Jonnah Hill – are ruining everything sacred about our beloved pastime. Rather, it should simply spark more discussion on a topic that we’re all stoked up about anyway.
“There’s a stat for nearly every action in baseball. Little is left to the imagination. Sports were never intended to be a computer program, stripped to cold, hard, indisputable, statistical facts. Sports — particularly for fans — are not science. Sports, like art, are supposed to be interpreted.
It’s difficult to interpret baseball these days. The stat geeks won’t let you argue. They quote sabermetrics and end all discussion. Is so-and-so a Hall of Famer? The sabermeticians will punch in the numbers and give you, in their mind, a definitive answer. It’s boring. It’s ruining sports.”
I absolutely agree sports are (and should continue to be) open to interpretation. That said, it’s beneficial to incorporate some objectivity into the discussion along with subjectivity. The discussion pertaining to Hall of Fame candidacy obviously lends itself pretty well to heated debate among fans. If a pitcher has 300 wins and a reputation for clutch postseason play or a batter mashes 600+ home runs, that’s a great place to start the conversation.
Perhaps that same batter demonstrated particularly prodigious raw power through all those extra base hits when compared to his peers too. A point such as that adds value to the discussion and reinforces a perspective that the hitter was really good and deserving of Cooperstown. It also tiptoes dangerously close the border of sabermetric territory. While Isolated Power (ISO) may mean little to the casual fan, the principle behind the stat can still be interesting to anyone. Part of the beauty of advanced stats is that it allows us to be informed in ways we never could have been in the past. In my experience, this has encouraged far more creativity in conversation as there are now so many more elements to consider.
In the case of the pitcher, in addition to copious wins, his presumably low career ERA is a great start in cementing his eligibility to the HoF. But how would the said pitcher have done if he wasn’t the benefactor of a particularly pitcher-friendly ballpark for his whole career? Although the discussion regarding the pitcher has been decidedly not SABRy up until this point, the advanced stat concepts quickly present themselves. Even if one had never heard of ERA+, he would likely use the principle in his defense (albeit anecdotally).
Thanks to advanced stats, we can also be more open to players we may otherwise (unfairly) overlook had they not existed. Guys like Zack Greinke may never have had a chance to win a Cy Young award because of antiquated stats such as Wins and Losses. Sure 20 wins looks sexy on paper, but it doesn’t take much scrutiny to realize that a pitcher’s record provides very little insight into the pitcher’s actual performance versus his team’s contributions (or lack there of).
Finally, no fan (regardless of his feelings towards advanced stats) should talk in absolutes as it definitely results in a tedious conversation. However, it’s hypocritical (at the very least) to criticize a stat guy for preaching dogmatic metric-based views, Jason, while your simultaneously spewing statements like, “I can and have argued credibly and passionately that Elway is the best QB and player in the history of the league. You are free to disagree. I invite you to disagree. I’d love to refute your erroneous position. Just bring more than stats to the table.”
Utterly dismissing a completely practical form of empirical evidence is downright obtuse. Open conversation should always be encouraged and people should have a right to their opinion without feeling belittled about it. Of course, I’d argue that stats (traditional or not) don’t belittle people. People belittle people. The same personality who speaks in absolutes is going to do so regardless of his view.
And finally, there is this little gem.
“The nerds are winning. They’re stealing the game from those of us who enjoy examining the gray areas of sports. We’re about 10 years away from a computer program that will write stats-based opinion pieces on sports. … Sabermetrics/analytics undermines the debate. They try to interject absolutes.”
First and foremost, it’s insulting to think that anyone who likes stats is, by default, some self-gratifying lonely cyborg-nerd living in their parents’ basement, staring at what undoubtedly would be multiple monitors filled with “Matrix-esque” patterns of numbers in Excel spreadsheets. Just look at TYA’s very own Moshe and Larry; they live in their parents’ respective attics and even managed to find women who tolerate them (kidding fellas!). I’ve been an avid fan of sports my entire life and have competed in them clear through college and beyond. I shouldn’t have to be labeled or insulted though because I seek information that furthers my understanding of a sport that I spend an inordinate amount of time passionately watching.
This isn’t about “nerds winning” or the “real fan losing.” This is about appreciating the evolution of our nation’s fantastic pastime. Baseball is as much mine as it is yours. Debates, by very nature, are discussions based on multiple view points. By eliminating half the discussion preemptively, ultimately, we’re just limiting the amount of quality analysis we get to enjoy in the end.
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