Thursday, June 18, 2009

Stats Inc., Sabrmetrics, et al

The following is written by David Kamoe, a life-long sports fan whose sister is a close friend. David is an avid A's fan, wen to to high school with Drew Gooden and can't believe that Giants commentator Mike Krukow used to refer to the right-centerfield expanse at Pac Bell Park as "Finley Alley," referring to Steve Finley who remarkably wore a Giants uniform for a season. David will likely be stopping by these parts a few times a month, so treat him right. And no sister jokes.

Perhaps it is because I strayed from the A’s in the early nineties. Maybe it’s because I waited for six years after the publication of Moneyball before I began reading it. I don’t think that’s it.

I offer the following commercial slogan from the aforementioned nineties: “Squeeze the fun out of it!” Such was the command of General Mills’ sugary drink “squeeze-it.” Such is how I feel reading about the rise of Bill James and his sabrmetrics. I have never met Mr. James nor have I read any of his publications. What I have gleaned, however, is that Mr. James appears to be over analyzing the sport of baseball.

To be fair, I am just as much a fan of a good stat as anyone else. Bob Gibson’s 1.12 ERA for the entire 1968 season is unconscious. Johnny Van Der Meer pitching back-to-back no-hitters is ridiculous. So to is Brooks Robinson winning 16 gold gloves throughout his illustrious career. These are all stats to be true. What is lost about these men is that they have and had incredible immeasurable talent. Bob Gibson is 74 years old and last pitched for the Cardinals in 1975. I’m convinced he could get guys out today if umpires would let him establish the inside corners. Brooks Robinson was so dominant at third that often is the time I have heard Ray Fosse talk about hitting during BP and saying “Nice play Brooks” whenever a ball was hit toward third.

I understand that fantasy baseball is a burgeoning money making industry that creates more interest in the game for those who would otherwise gamble. I also realize that it creates an entire wing of ESPN with Matthew Berry at the helm. That’s dandy but that’s not me. I have been asked a few times why I don’t play fantasy baseball and I offer that I don’t want to root against guys on my team. Such is not the full nature of Sabrmetrics or Stats Inc.

Sabrmetrics is a system of compiling stats and creating OPS as a way of noting that bunting and stealing bases is bad. It also completely de-values defense because you can stat defense. You can use your eyes though and I can tell when someone makes a good or bad play. Coaches the league over chart these things to know how to position outfielders. Eric Chavez gave his first gold glove to then A’s third base coach Ron Washington because he valued his teaching so much. Yet somehow, the idea of defense can’t be stated and thus doesn’t matter as much.

The mantra is “defense wins championships.” While I used to roll my eyes whenever I heard Rick Barry say it on KNBR, it is true. Look at the 2006 Detroit Tigers in the World Series. Each game, a pitcher on the Tigers had an error. Even Kenny Rogers whose errors are usually limited to Texas area cameramen. They lost to Tony LaRussa and the Cardinals in five games.

Above all this, I’m trying to watch the game. There is something pure about green grass, sunshine, and white uniforms. That’s baseball. The crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, and someone making the difficult look routine. What devalues baseball in the eyes of some fans is the appeal to the casual fan. What’s also a fact is that there are more statistics around baseball than during the election. Then again, that would make Nate Silver’s ability to predict poll results all the more understandable.

So: yay stats or boo stats? Your feelings in the comments.


GMoney said...

Stats and fantasy baseball make the game even better. Normally, I would have no opinion on Geovany Soto. But when last year's all-star and rookie of the year is hitting .219 with 3 HR's through 60+ games this season and is killing my team, fantasy gives me the opportunity to absolutely hate this guy. It's awesome. It's why me, an Ohio resident, actually roots for Pablo Sandoval.

Drew Gooden still sucks.

Ryan M said...

Not sure this article makes much sense - what is your point, that you can tell more about a player by watching him and listening to your "gut" then to using objective statistics to value a player's relative worth to another player? You sound like Joe Morgan. I don't understand why people are so anti-stats. I get that focusing purely on statistics does take the fun out of the game sometimes, but using statistics to enhance your enjoyment of the sport should be a compromise allowed by all.

And there are stats that value a player's defensive ability relative to other players at their position. I would much rather look at this and come up with a well-thought out conclusion of which players are good at defense and which players are bad, rather than use anecdotal evidence that "defense wins championships" just because the Tigers happened to have errors committed by their pitchers during their World Series loss. A more accurate phrase would be "scoring more runs than your opponent wins championships". Whether that is done by a team who is offensively better than their opponent or by a team who can play defense or one that can do both, that is all that matters. I am sure there are some stats out there to show that not all champs were ones who played defense best, which you will ignore because stats are gay.

Anonymous said...

Not related, but how come the big picture is not ripping Joe Buck´s Show?

HM said...

I have always found that in looking at NBA basketball players, if you look at their stats, you will learn about 96% of the time why guys are considered great/good/average/poor. There are maybe 4% of NBA guys who are good productive players because they play good defense and effectively move the ball on offense (Shane Battier being the best example). But if you want to know whether to sign 96% of guys as NBA free agents, you can look at their stats (as long as you know your needs and what you want to get from them).

In MLB do the best defensive teams win titles? If you include pitching, I am sure they do. If you can't pitch at all, you aren't going to win much. But "defense" in the truest sense? Like having a bunch of gold glove winners?

I don't know if that correlates with winning titles one way or the other. It may, it may not. But I know this -- some stat guy has figured it out, and it is probably on the Baseball Reference site. Why guess when the stats will tell you the answer?

shamm said...

Defense doesn't win championships in baseball. Cmon, that's just dumb, unless you count pitching as defense.

Also, OPS is pretty main stream and most "sabermetricians" or whatever don't really think it's that good a stat. If you think that OPS is complicated you should actually read the stuff about VORP and WARP etc. It's insane.

Anonymous said...

Fuck Stats Inc.! They are a fucking biased piece of shit website that don't always have the facts straight! I won't feel sorry for them one bit the day a gigantic meteor falls on top of their godless asses! Fuck them straight to hell!

-James Harvey of Toonzone