The Case for Confronting Sabermetric Skeptics

R.A. Dickey has benefited from the pitcher wins stat. (via Keith Allison)

R.A. Dickey has benefited from the pitcher wins stat. (via Keith Allison)

The Internet is one of society’s greatest achievements. It’s right up there with the wheel, soap, air travel and the ability to eradicate disease. But as with all of those extraordinary feats, there are obviously plenty of negatives associated with the world wide web. Among those negatives is how easy the internet makes it to beat a dead horse.

Now certainly no one would argue this is the worst thing that happens on the internet, but in our little corner of the world, it’s extremely common to observe the same conversations happening again and again. Specifically, any time a prominent voice makes a derisive comment about sabermetrics or analytics in sports, there’s a pretty well-prepared, cookie cutter script that we all follow.

First, the prominent voice – sometimes it’s a current or former player, sometimes it’s a media personality – makes the comment. After that, a sizable number of analytics-friendly writers and fans respond by calling attention to the original commenter’s ignorance, stupidity, etc. This, of course, leads to blowback from more traditionally minded people who call for civility or respect, and sometimes they lean on an appeal to authority. Recently, we’ve also started to see the emergence of a thread in which members of the pro-saber crowd demonstrate frustration with their compatriots due to the pointlessness of their anger.

Put another way, there is a growing number of sabermetrically friendly people who are annoyed by the echo chamber and believe the heated responses to anti-saber comments serve no purpose. It’s an interesting development. There are people who believe in sabermetrics who think we shouldn’t respond to superficial critics because there’s nothing to be gained by doing so.

Are they right?

About 18 months ago, Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller invited Brian Kenny onto their podcast to discuss his “Kill The Win” campaign and his confrontational brand of sabermetrics. Kenny, a broadcaster at heart, had recently taken up the mantle as the public face of sabermetrics. He was working advanced stats into studio shows and posing more thoughtful questions than many in his medium.

Kenny had made it his mission to take the movement mainstream, but he was also ruffling plenty of feathers along the way. Ben and Sam noticed, leading them to ask Kenny why he was angry and why he cared so much that people saw the light?

To his credit, Kenny acknowledged that some of it was good theater and that he didn’t lie awake at night cursing Jerome Holtzman’s name. But the crux of Kenny’s argument in favor of his confrontational brand was essentially that there are people out there spouting nonsense and we have to make sure other people don’t listen.

The two writers and the broadcaster they interviewed that day perfectly encapsulate the question before us. The substance of their views on the game are more or less in line. They lean on the same stats and evaluate players in generally the same way. There’s variation among them, but they’re more or less alike relative to the overall population of baseball fans.

Yet their approaches to communicating those views are wildly different. Ben and Sam are both tremendous writers and analysts who favor what I’ll call the “Live and Let Live” approach to sabermetrics. They use advanced stats to educate and entertain. They pose interesting questions and the statistics help them answer those inquiries. They might offer a sarcastic quip or two at the expense of a member of the old guard, but they wouldn’t be caught dead in a shouting match with anyone.

Kenny, on the other hand, is interested in eradicating foolishness. He might come to the same conclusion as the men who interviewed him with respect to pitch framing, but he’d take his opinion on the offensive. It’s not enough to discover something and be right about something, Kenny wants to make sure the public record reflects that.

Two very different approaches to the same fundamental reality. Should we, as people who care about sabermetrics, be trying to conquer the world?

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Let’s first start by considering what happens if we don’t confront the critics. In this world, people emulate Ben and Sam. Lots of smart people produce interesting work and share it among themselves. The best analytically themed writing is housed on saber-friendly sites and it occasionally seeps out into the larger consciousness through an outlet like Grantland, but it’s a fairly isolated world.

Yet it’s almost entirely positive. There’s no confrontation or turf wars, just the occasional joke at the expense of the person who makes a silly comment about stats. In this world, we can avoid the frequent feuding. No one has to use the word “nerd” as an insult and sabermetrics and traditional analysis exist in their own peaceful spheres of influence with very little interaction.

Yet amid this peace, there are limitations. You can’t turn on a broadcast and hear any sort of commentary about baseball that uses an analytic approach. Sabermetric-inclined blogs are limited in the salaries they can offer writers and publications geared toward gut reactions rake in the page views. The quality of the dialogue is excellent, but the number of people who are exposed to it is limited and the venues at which you can find great work are small in size and in number.

There is peace in a world of Lindberghs and Millers (in addition to plenty of The Good Wife discussion and drafts), but fewer people are exposed to new ideas and many people believe wrong ideas because no one is around to tell them when they’re being misled. Society functions, but the sabermetrician who wishes to engage more broadly doesn’t have an outlet to do so.

In the world according to Brian Kenny, we are in a constant battle with someone. There’s conflict and name-calling, which turns plenty of people away from the entire debate as confrontation over substance quickly turns into confrontation over personalities. It’s less pleasant and there’s no time to banter about what baseball would look like if teams were forced to rotate positions volleyball style. There would be much less whimsy in Brian Kenny’s sabermetrics and maybe even a little less groundbreaking work, but for good reason.

Instead of sharing the joys sabermetrics can bring with members of our own tribe, we’re pushing the rest of the game into the modern era. In Ben and Sam’s sabermetrics, we make progress but we share it only with people who really care. In Kenny’s sabermetrics, we share everything we know with anyone who hasn’t blocked us. The goal isn’t joy, it’s making everyone smarter.

Really what we’re dealing with is a fundamental question of science. That’s a pretty bombastic assertion, but one that holds a fair amount of water. Should our goal be to engage with every interested person or with every person, regardless of their interest? Clearly Lindbergh and Miller lean more toward the former and Kenny leans more toward the latter (I’m simplifying the three men for the purposes of a good example, obviously).

One way of thinking turns sabermetrics into an academic department at a research university. The goal isn’t to educate the masses, it’s to foster the development of new knowledge and engage with other, like-minded experts. There’s nothing wrong with those who treat sabermetrics as academia. We need people who are capable of doing sophisticated and high-minded work, but a great deal of that work lacks accessibility for even the intelligent fan.

Jonathan Judge’s cFIP is a tremendous example. It’s a well-done piece of research that poses thoughtful questions and moves the debate forward, but the number of people who have the necessary background to read and fully understand that article is rather limited. Judge is using mixed-models, which typically don’t show up in your life unless you’ve taken specialized undergraduate or graduate classes. Even correlations are stretching the bounds of what the above average person can fully understand.

This isn’t to say that we couldn’t take the essence of his findings and explain them to the masses, just that the actual product is a challenging read. Pick up any academic journal and you’ll find the same thing; smart people working very hard to get things right. But it’s worth wondering if we need more than that. A liberal arts, general education curriculum for sabermetrics, if you will.

As you advance in any discipline, the material becomes more and more specialized. By the time you’re a junior or senior in college, and certainly by the time you’re in graduate school, you’re working almost exclusively with material known only to other people in the discipline. I have a background in political science and even the least worldly political scientist is familiar with two or three dozen books and articles that no one on the outside world has ever heard of. It’s the nature of specialization and I’m sure it’s true in all fields.

But in high school and the early years of college, everyone is required to take a wide range of classes that run the gamut of human knowledge. You take some math, but also creative writing and art history. You learn civics and rudimentary chemistry. These general requirements are designed to help you figure out what your specialty should be, but also to give you a wide range of knowledge to draw from as you engage with the broader world.

This is Brian Kenny’s sabermetrics. There’s rarely a discussion of exact modeling strategies and he doesn’t debate DRS vs. UZR. It’s a general approach and it’s designed to expose a large number of people to the modern way of evaluating the game. And not everyone likes it.

Think back to those entry level college courses and the kinds of debates you would have about history or literature with people who weren’t experts in either. A lot of the time, they drove you crazy. As people started to sort into their own silos, you could avoid a lot of those issues and turn your attention to more specific and interesting questions.

Think of it this way. There was once a group of people who thought the Earth was flat and they vastly outnumbered the people who knew the Earth was round. Somehow, we arrived in state in which everyone thinks the world is round. Did that happen because everyone read and observed carefully designed experiments or because members of the scientific community worked hard to make the evidence easy to understand?

And that’s still necessary, even if it isn’t always pleasant. Socrates was sentenced to death. Galileo was placed under house arrest for the last nine years of his life. I’d never equate baseball’s statheads with those scientific trailblazers, but our species has a long history of unpleasant responses to good science and progress.

But efforts to bring new knowledge to the masses is valuable and necessary. Think about campaigns to get people to quit smoking or to wear seat belts. Think about current controversies relating to vaccination and climate change. People are resistant to things that force them to challenge their own beliefs, and as a result, things can get heated and confrontational. It would be easy to avoid these debates by not trying to communicate something like wOBA outside of the sabermetric salon, but that will do little to improve the overall baseball-loving world.

I don’t disparage anyone who wishes to live the life of the academic sabermetrician, as there work is vital to the advancement of knowledge as well. Without Voros McCracken or Tom Tango, there isn’t anything for the masses to learn. It’s certainly not an either/or situation. But the public relations aspect of the science is also important and necessary. It might seem easy to dismiss a comment from a broadcaster or ex-player because, as a sabermetrician, you know it’s ludicrous, but most of the baseball world takes those comments very seriously because those people are the ones the world considers to be experts.

It’s a matter of credibility and ex-players and coaches are treated like experts by the general public, even if they actually don’t have a mastery of the material at hand. The only way to teach the public the right way is to confront those people who are spreading misinformation by demonstrating why they are incorrect. You have to show the world why they should trust the scientist rather than the pundit.

Among the stat-friendly world, Nate Silver (originally a sabermetrician) received a decent amount of criticism for not sharing the workings of his election forecasting models. In fact,  quite a few forecasters in academia have been forecasting electoral results with similar accuracy for quite some time. Silver’s success, however, was in how he took the forecasts to the people and made them easy to understand. He consistently rebuked people like Joe Scarborough for their incorrect predictions by demonstrating how such a simple method (averaging polls) worked extremely well. It was a small step in the right direction, but it shows that even something that isn’t very complicated (polling forecasts) seems complicated to people without any background.

Put another way, we need to work hard at giving everyone a background in sabermetrics. No one needs to know how to apply park factors in their very own Excel spreadsheet, but they should have a brief introduction to how ballparks affect the run environment. Does it matter that everyone can recite the wOBA weights? Of course not, but they should have a relative idea of how valuable a single is compared to a double.

A general education for all will improve our long term enjoyment of the game because there will be fewer wrong ideas thrown at us during broadcasts and in print. This education will also help recruit new “scientists” who might make important future discoveries and it will allow people with different experiences to apply their knowledge to the game. For example, baseball fans with backgrounds in psychology could be extremely useful in understanding certain aspects of player development, but if they don’t understand other parts of the game properly, they won’t be as useful.

Granted, we are just talking about a game. The stakes here aren’t equal to the stakes in a medicine or politics, so a geocentric group of baseball fans won’t wind up damaging the planet or starting a war, but all of us here care about the future of the game and a smarter future is a better one in my book. To arrive at that smarter future, we need to do our best to spread knowledge to all fans, not just the ones who are already interested.

Some of that dissemination of knowledge will put us at odds with people, and we need to attack that confrontation head on. Not with insults, of course, but with aggressive and cogent arguments on behalf of our evidence. Allowing incorrect statements to go unchallenged only leaves them to live longer. If someone with a platform makes a patently false assertion, it’s in the best interest of our community to respond to it. The goal isn’t necessarily to change the pundit’s mind, but to make sure the impressionable fan is exposed to what we consider to be the truth. We need to engage in debates with those who oppose our viewpoints and have the discussion at a level of complexity that benefits everyone.

Maybe you don’t value a future where the average fan is better versed in sabermetrics and broadcasts cite relevant details instead of worthless factoids, but if the cost of getting there is as small as a few uncomfortable or repetitive Twitter interactions, it seems worthwhile nonetheless. A rising tide lifts all ships and all that.

Sabermetrics, at its heart, is pretty simple. But many of us have been involved in sabermetrics for years and it’s easy to forget that not everyone has such a rich background. Creating knowledge and spreading knowledge should be complementary goals. While expansive data analysis is important, we should be working to help more people understand the basics too. Just because you know the basics and think they are self-evident enough that anyone who cares should be able to learn them does not make it so. The average fan receives a lot of information on a daily basis and if no one is there to correct the misinformation, it will take hold and live on.


Neil Weinberg is the Site Educator at FanGraphs and can be found writing enthusiastically about the Detroit Tigers at New English D. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @NeilWeinberg44.
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tz
Guest
tz

Great article Neil!

One of the reasons that we need both the “live and let live” and “confrontational” types of sabermetric discussion is that people’s desire to understand details is scalable. A casual fan, or a serious one who doesn’t care for math will want a different level of discussion than, well, most of us reading THT. And with the internet allowing folks to hyperlink to their heart’s content based on their level of interest, having both benign and provocative options for Saber 101 instructors will expand the reach of modern baseball analytics.

Eric
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Eric

So what would you included in that general “curriculum?” If you have friends who are willing to listen and learn what are some of the first resources that you give them?

Marc Schneider
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Marc Schneider

I share the frustration of the lack of sabermetric analysis on TV, but this sounds very much like the “New Atheists,” who not only don’t believe in a deity but also can’t abide the fact that other people do. It’s just a game. I do believe that sabermetric analysis provides a more correct understanding of the game, but at the same time, I like talking about pitcher wins because it’s part of history, even though I know it’s a misleading stat.. I just can’t abide the militant “we have to abolish the old ways of thinking” kind of attitude toward… Read more »

MullenOfEire
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MullenOfEire

Education is a responsibility of all people, but at the same time the level of that responsibility, as he said, is relative to the importance of that information. Teaching is a job (such as high school) that we all accept at least, if not agree, is important and necessary for exactly the reasons he states. Not everyone wants to be a teacher, and teachers don’t always teach. It really comes down to picking your battles, which is also another way of thinking about what I think he’s getting at. You can’t force anyone to accept anything, but if you give… Read more »

Marc Schneider
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Marc Schneider

I believe that one of the reasons that people resist sabermetric analysis is that it’s more than just a matter of a different analytical approach. It essentially cuts to the heart of why people watch sports and, to a certain extent, how they view life. Much of the resistance, I think, is to the idea that much of what happens in baseball is random; for example, the idea that clutch hitting does not exist. I think that’s correct, but think about what this is saying. It is saying that we don’t control our destiny; that whether we win or lose… Read more »

Murray Ross
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Murray Ross

I could not have said it any better than that, and I’m surprised not to see the religion analogy in the article, especially given how the US is such a devout country.

A.C.
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A.C.

Actually David Eckstein was a very good player his first two seasons (4.2 WAR and 5.2 WAR). For some reason he never came close to matching those two seasons again.

Randy
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Randy

As a vegan, an atheist, and a huge proponent of sabermetrics, I go through this same thing quite a bit in my own mind. How much do I ‘spread the word’ and how much do I let people come to their own conclusions (even if I believe they are dead wrong)? I still don’t feel I have the answer.

dp4000
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dp4000

Randy, as someone who only holds 1 of your 3 beliefs/value systems/ideologies, I really appreciate your comment. I sometimes feel the same way. I feel that reasonable people can disagree. Presenting the evidence that has brought you to your conclusions in hopes that it would bring that dissenting but still reasonable person to their own conclusion is something that I have thought about. I feel like the article, while very good, does verge on “telling people what/how to think.” I feel that can disrespect the dissenter and cause a bigger rift. I think that when I have been exposed to… Read more »

Randy
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Randy

Thank you.
It’s nice to be able to comment on an internet article and actually receive an intelligent response.

Steve
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Steve

“Galileo was placed under house arrest for the last nine years of his life”

Many would argue that sabermetricians are under house arrest in their mother’s basement…

A.C.
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A.C.

Well played, sir, well played. 🙂

J. Cross
Guest

I’ll admit that I don’t care if people don’t know what a park factor is but I’m on board to the extent that this is one front in a larger battle against BS more generally. It strikes me that the common thread between James, Tango and MGL isn’t some specialized set of technical skills but rather a palpable disdain for BS. Personally, if someone’s thinking is wrong-headed but they accept that it may be wrong, that’s not only fine but essentially an unavoidable situation for all of us almost all of the time. It’s unthinking BS spouted with unerring confidence… Read more »

BMarkham
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BMarkham

Very well put, JCross. We don’t just get annoyed at mainstream baseball fans for their belief in pitching Wins and RBIs, it more has to do with most people’s lack of rigorous thought in the pursuit of any type of knowledge. No matter the topic, most people take the easy way out, taking for granted simplified yet flawed concepts that more knowledgeable people in the field understand is hogwash. Evaluating and projecting baseball outcomes are just another battle in that fight.

Marc Schneider
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Marc Schneider

J Cross, that’s a good point and sort of reflects my own ambivalence. I believe in sabermetrics and I find the resistance based on the arrogance of ignorance annoying. At the same time, I want to be able to enjoy discussions about 300-game winners, for example. I think one of the big problems with the world today-and, probably, forever-is the fact that most people, whatever their ideologies or beliefs, refuse to even countenance the notion that they could be wrong.

Bruce Markusen
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Bruce Markusen

The reason many fans don’t embrace Sabermetrics has little to do with their supposed disagreement over the statistics; they simply want to watch and enjoy the games. They don’t want to be hit over the head with numbers, they just want to watch and react. It’s entertainment, not something that they need to carry a torch for. And there’s really nothing wrong with that. Now, at the other end, it perfectly fine for Sabermetricians and historians to get into debates and arguments about this stuff with each other, because we all have a degree of interest in this stuff. And… Read more »

BMarkham
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BMarkham

but that’s not true at all. Go to any sports site that doesn’t have a statistical-centric approach and check out the comment sections. They are full of people debating the same things we are here, player value and team value. Future outcomes for both. Which team got the best of a trade. Who got the better end of a contract, the team or players. They are just doing so with inferior metrics and logic.

rubesandbabes
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rubesandbabes

So, the thing is that the original Bill James question: ‘Why did the KC Athletics radio announcers hurt my brain so bad every year?’ Has been turned around – spun around, really.. Take a photo of 25 Fangraphs readers. Take a photo of 25 people at a baseball game. Examine the photos. See… — 60% 70% of Fangraphs readers cant do the basic analysis of the advanced baseball stats. Add in the internet “Hive Mind” Mindset, and the culture is totally apart from baseball, and boring. Disconnecting… — Yes, your baseball team is terrible. Yes, your baseball team’s management has… Read more »

dj_mosfett
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dj_mosfett

Very well put!

Tyler
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Tyler

I agree with the thesis– that sabermetrics presents a better way to understand baseball and should be taught to casual fans– but I disagree with the result. I fell in love with baseball again (after a long hiatus from childhood through early adulthood) as the Phillies started to be good again, as a bandwagon fan in the late ’00s. I didn’t understand the nuances of the game but I was capable of being swept up in the energy of fandom. I was a fan of the Phillies, not a baseball fan. Once I started trying to become a BASEBALL fan,… Read more »

dj_mosfett
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dj_mosfett

Neil, this is a really great article for the first 2/3rds, but after that, you go off the rails into something completely contradictory and self-defeatist. If your goal is “giving everyone a background in sabermetrics”, then setting up a false dichotomy of “academic” and “practical” sabermetrics kills it dead before it even got a chance. What you advocate for, a “liberal arts” mentality for sabermetrics, is fundamentally incompatible with the dismissal of the technical and rigorous as unapproachable. A liberal arts education provides both breadth and depth, and gives motivated students the tools, resources, and encouragement to pursue depth as… Read more »

dj_mosfett
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dj_mosfett

I meant “good communication skills aren’t incompatible with good mathematical skills,” of course. Blasted typos!

RMR
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RMR

I think there’s something to be said for the notion that future progress relies on today’s progress becoming so widely accepted that it no longer requires great effort to spread the knowledge widely. That is, if we were still having debates over whether or not the earth was round, it is highly unlikely science would have advanced sufficiently to get us to the moon. On the other hand, fans aren’t practitioners. Our perspectives and beliefs about the game are essentially irrelevant beyond the context of whether or not we enjoy the product we’re watching. If you enjoy following game while… Read more »

Jason B
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Jason B

“I think there’s something to be said for the notion that future progress relies on today’s progress becoming so widely accepted that it no longer requires great effort to spread the knowledge widely.” I think that’s very well said, RMR. And a bit worrisome for our future, when there’s so much misinformation and disinformation being spread widely and loudly in any number of areas (from important areas to health, medicine, climate, and the environment to more recreational pursuits like baseball). There’s not a lot of cost in acquiring a platform to espouse whatever views you want these days, which is… Read more »

Michael Bacon
Guest

I will turn 65 in a few months and have followed baseball since I was 9. Sabermetrics is the best thing that has ever happened to baseball; the antithesis of the Dreaded Hitter. You know, the clunker who REALLY clogs up the bases, as Dusty and Harold would say…Because of Bill James, and his acolytes, I now know why big Bob Veale allowed more hits than innings pitched in 1969-the manager had Al Oliver at 1B and Willie Stargell in LF, when it should’ve been the other way. And he had Freddie Patek at SS, which cost his team about… Read more »

bucdaddy
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bucdaddy

“like hearing fingernails scraping a chalkboard.” See, I would have known you were an old-timer just by reading this. I’m almost 58 and I use that phrase from time to time, and then I stop and think: How many people under 30 have ever heard fingernails on a chalkboard? Does scraping fingernails on a whiteboard make the same sound? Do they even use whiteboards in classrooms anymore? Anyway, yeah, I like baseball better with new stats too. It gives me insights into the game I never had before. But I also know that a lot of fans don’t want to… Read more »

bucdaddy
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bucdaddy

One other thing: Your Lew Burdette example now fits the closer who gets sent out there to “save” a three-run lead and implodes and blows a game with nobody warming up in the pen. Because, you know, “saves.”

Andy
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Andy

“Think of it this way. There was once a group of people who thought the Earth was flat and they vastly outnumbered the people who knew the Earth was round. Somehow, we arrived in state in which everyone thinks the world is round. Did that happen because everyone read and observed carefully designed experiments or because members of the scientific community worked hard to make the evidence easy to understand?” Neither, actually. It happened because the theory was tested by people like Christopher Columbus, and eventually belief in it became essential to everyday life. Why does everyone accept Newton’s laws?… Read more »

Immanuel Kamment
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Immanuel Kamment

Nobody thought the world was flat in 1492, and Newton’s laws were demonstrably false by the time we landed on the moon. Jsyk.

Tangotiger
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Tangotiger

The important part here is that there must be an actual depth to the field, a scientific process that assures even novices that their time isn’t being wasted by some newfangled number-slinger. That doesn’t exist in sabermetrics yet, no matter how many Voros McCrackens or Tom Tangos or Ben Baumers there are, because sabermetrics is not a science. It is a collection of data analysis techniques generally figured out by enthusiasts eager to prove their point. No, you don’t need a “scientific process” to do any of that. And I’m not eager to prove my point. I’m eager to follow… Read more »

Andy
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Andy

We can quibble about exactly what defines science, but I think sabermetrics qualifies, and TT’s “what works” approach is very much scientific. In the broad scheme, science is validated by what works as I noted in my earlier post (which seems to have been lost)—the practical applications function to validate the theory. But “what works” is also part of science in the nitty-gritty everyday world of the laboratory. Scientists frequently can’t say exactly why certain specific conditions are necessary to run an experiment, they just know the experiment works better under those conditions. As long as the results are replicable,… Read more »

Joe Runde
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Joe Runde

Great piece of analysis! I have heard far too many “experts” disparage SABRmetrics in general and specifically (WAR, DIPS, etc.) simply because they didn’t understand them or they felt threatened by them. What they fail to see is that these tools just provide more perspective and usually more dispassionate observation.

Michael Bacon
Guest

Andy said… April 16, 2015 at 8:24 pm “Think of it this way. There was once a group of people who thought the Earth was flat and they vastly outnumbered the people who knew the Earth was round. Somehow, we arrived in state in which everyone thinks the world is round.” This is false. “Everyone” does not think the world is round. For example: The Flat-Earth Conspiracy Paperback – November 9, 2014 by Eric Dubay Wolves in sheep’s clothing have pulled the wool over our eyes. For almost 500 years, the masses have been thoroughly deceived by a cosmic fairy-tale… Read more »

Andy
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Andy

Actually, some (not all) ulcers are caused by bacteria, not viruses.

Sabertooth
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Sabertooth

‘As Roseann Roseanna Danna would say, “Never mind.”’

It was Emily Litella’s quote.

If I never contribute anything else to sabermetrics, so be it.

Ullu Ka Patta
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Ullu Ka Patta

While we should seldom be satisfied that we know is absolute (science, after all, is less a description of The Truth than it is the incremental process of describing it more and more accurately) society definitely *does* have an interest in challenging scientific illiteracy. The very same mindset that encourages superstition and fuzzy thinking when it comes to baseball likewise encourages it when it comes to much more important things. It’s hard to compartmentalize irrationality.

Marc Schneider
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Marc Schneider

That might be true, but the problem I have is with this mindset that says we must battle ignorance on all fronts. People must be taught to think right. Yes, there is probably a connection between resistance to sabermetrics and resistance to scientific thinking generally, but irrationality is part of human existence. The attempt to stamp out irrationality (defined by whoever) at whatever cost is what has led to some of the greatest tragedies in human history. Yes, I find it frustrating that people do not believe in evolution, but this idea that “irrationality” must be wiped out is somewhat… Read more »

Paul G.
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Paul G.

If you want to advance sabermetrics, the solution is quite simple. Prove that they work. Nothing brings in interest like success. If you can prove that it works then teams will start adopting said philosophies, the teams that adopt will benefit from those philosophies, and the fans will notice the success. That’s it. See Moneyball. Of course some of the old guard will remain oblivious and/or resistant. This always happens. I have heard it said that revolutionary ideas in science never fully take hold until the resistant scientists die out and are replaced by the new scientists without the built… Read more »

Paul G.
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Paul G.

Quibbles: 1. It is possible that the majority of people believed in a “flat Earth” at some point, but in the West that was probably well before the Middle Ages if not before the birth of Christ. Aristotle knew that the Earth was spherical and the concept spread wherever Greek culture spread, which was rather extensive given the exploits of Alexander the Great and the Roman Empire. From the historical texts the belief in a spherical Earth was the majority opinion among educated Europeans in the early Middle Ages, eventually being the almost only opinion by the end of the… Read more »

bucdaddy
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bucdaddy

That was entertaining. Thanks.

d_sel1
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d_sel1

Thanks Paul G for your comments,

In addition, your comment illustrates one problem between sabermetricians and anti-saber/sabr-idks etc. No one like being called an idiot especially by someone that be perceived as pompous. Little tip for sabr-evangelists, be polite, show evidence, and don’t be a know-it-all.

Kevin Corbett
Guest

The idea of an “academic” Sabermetrics approach seems sort of odd, since as far as I can tell, many if not most Sabermetricians are amateurs in terms of statistics, and indeed, tend to pooh-pooh attempts by academic writers who attempt to enter the conversation or, God forbid, criticize some of the basic tenants of the field (see http://blog.philbirnbaum.com/2007/04/another-academic-champion-of-peer.html). Another thing I notice is that Sabermetricians always go for the low-hanging fruit like the Win or the RBI. You know what I want to see? In a situation in late innings with one man out that starts with a 5-2 score,… Read more »

Michael Bacon
Guest

Maybe I should’ve just written “Gilda Radner” and left it at that…At my age I’m just happy to recall Saturday Night Live… Bill James is now the “old guard” and he is receptive to new ideas… I am watching the free game of the day on MLB TV and after a picture of a fan wearing a “Puhl” jersey, with the number 21, the announcer said, “Terry Puhl had the highest outfield fielding percentage for many years. “Whoop de do” I thought. What I want to hear is something like, “Paul Blair still holds the record for most defensive runs… Read more »

ThePuck
Guest
ThePuck

Overall, I like this article, but at the same time it seems like it’s calling for people to act like they did in high school. The popular kids/the jocks can continuously take pot shots at SABR people (like Reynolds and many others on MLB Network and ESPN do daily). And, so as not to upset them, the SABR guys should huddle up and chat amongst themselves and try not to get too loud or speak up too much lest they be the confrontational ones and get labeled by the old guard minds are pushy.

Bill
Guest
Bill

No, this isn’t reality. Give it time. In a market driven economy, the cream rises to the top. We already see almost every team embracing SABR driven analysis. They need to if they want to be successful. Viewers will eventually begin to question why the Harold Reynolds are always wrong and the Rob Neyers are wrong much less often. Look at what Nate Silver has done for political polling. FiveThirtyEight is now the gold standard. It’s funny because when his analysis predicts Republican success, Democrats question his methods. When it shows the reverse, Democrats question them. Every election he gets… Read more »

ThePuck
Guest
ThePuck

‘and get labeled by the old guard minds are pushy.’

meant to say ‘As pushy’, not ‘ARE pushy’.

Calvin Liu
Guest
Calvin Liu

Sabermetrics has its place and value, but I do think that many/most sabermetricians discount what they simply do not know.
I like the mention of framing in the article, and there are many more areas in which statistical analysis is limited by the quality and/or availability of data.
Discounting the wisdom that players may have accumulated is no different a way of worshiping orthodoxy – only one of numbers – much as is said individuals are being accused of worshiping a different orthodoxy, and it is in this area that fanatics like Kenny are so destructive.

Ryan
Guest
Ryan

The desire to convert or persuade those who disagree with you is often an externalization of doubt in one’s own beliefs. If the entire field of Sabermetrics is merely factual or scientific, why the need to convince anyone? I think one needs to distinguish sabermetrics as a tool vs. sabermetrics as an overall philosophy of baseball. The former is useful and widely accepted. MLB network looks at WAR and UZR! Is this not proof that sabermetrics is widely accepted? The problem lies in the reductionist approach to baseball, which I think is going too far. Some fans are turned off… Read more »

Bill
Guest
Bill

In my experience, people who are obsessed with eradicating foolishness are usually so close minded that they frequently end up blind to the truth even when it hits them in the face. They have a belief that they are right and that anyone who disagrees is as an idiot and hence not worth listening too. This is no way to convince someone of the merits of your argument. Pitcher wins aren’t without value. Look at the top twenty pitchers in wins in the last 30 years. All but three of them are also in the top 20 in WAR. In… Read more »

Marc Schneider
Guest
Marc Schneider

Great point!

ABsteve
Guest
ABsteve

I think people that have seen the light with advanced stats owe it to their team to try and convert as many casual fans as they can away from the old school way of thinking. They phone into talk shows , and have some bearing on the direction front offices take. As an example the team I cheer for let a left fielder walk this offseason, he was a lawn ornament in left field, and he lost value on the paths..but he hit .300, there was a lot of public pressure to re-sign him to a big contract, I think… Read more »

Marc Schneider
Guest
Marc Schneider

What I would like to see is more acknowledgement by broadcasters and such that sabermetrics is a legitimate method of analysis. As professionals, I think these people should be required to have at least a nodding acquaintance with the basic concepts, just as a professional in any field should know about developments in that field. I don’t expect the jock color guys to accept it, but I get frustrated that the broadcasts usually don’t even acknowledge advanced analytics except generally in a mocking way. As I have suggested, I do want to talk about RBIs and pitcher wins, but there… Read more »

Al
Guest
Al

Ned Yost or Billy Beane? I don’t have a problem w/Sabermetrics, and most of it is legit. But some of its prominent supporters act like they’re a combination of Einstein, Whitey Herzog and God (Keri, Jazayerli). I also believe the Saber crowd is stubborn to acknowledge how the game is changing/has changed. KC has been successful for 1.6 seasons because they decided to rule the last three innings and have great defenders in a pitcher friendly park. It was/is a brilliant strategy on a budget. Then you have teams like Oakland who score enough (though they’d score more if they… Read more »