Baseball, I mean. It’s back. And so am I, I suppose. And so is idiotic sportswriting! It’s like the salad days of 2011 all over again. I haven’t done this in a while; I sure hope I can remember how.
Don’t Let Statistics Ruin Baseball
It’s all coming back to me. It’s just like falling off a log! Only it’s probably a whole lot more painful.
Baseball is a language unto itself, a language to be enjoyed and understood by any fan — at least until the talk turns to Babip, FIP and WAR.
You read it in the New York Times, friends: comrade de Blasio will no longer permit you to enjoy that language.
Thanks to "Moneyball" and stats-driven fantasy leagues, advanced statistics have changed how fans think about the game.
One of the surest signs that a crotchety sportswriter is really, really old is that he has no idea what the internet is. That’s where them nekkid pictures are, right? No way that’s had any impact on anybody’s understanding of baseball! The only explanation is a book Michael Lewis wrote twelve years ago.
On the whole that’s a positive trend — but not when the numbers begin to eclipse a more nuanced appreciation of baseball.
Here in the real world, mind you, having a "nuanced appreciation" of something tends to involve appreciating the nuances of it. Apparently this is not true in Angry Baseball Man World, where attempting to learn the intricacies — nuances, you know? They’re synonyms! — of the game sucks all the fun out of everybody else around you.
When it comes to watching a matchup of, say, the Mets pitcher Matt Harvey and Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins, statistical analysis is about as helpful in deepening an appreciation of the human drama unfolding before us as it would be for a Pavarotti aria.
Hog fucking wash. Look! Look! Here are Matt Harvey’s splits! And here are Giancarlo’s! You really think there’s nothing to be gained from information about how these guys perform in specific situations as opposed to just "yo brah harv b straight DEALIN?" I mean, okay.
Being alert to the twists and turns of a game is vital, since it’s the glimpses of character that emerge during these unlikely sequences that give baseball its essential flavor.
And this is at odds with statistical analysis in what way? They can coexist, dude. It’s not like the ghost of Tommy Lasorda hangs out at the turnstile and requires you to choose your path before you can enter the park.
I was on hand in Oakland in October 2001 when the Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter won a game — and, arguably, a playoff series — against the A’s by having the foresight to anticipate an errant throw and make an improvised little flip to home plate to nail a lumbering Jeremy Giambi trying to score.
Oh for fuck’s sake. It is the year 2015, and you people are still using the flip game as your go-to argument? Man, the simple, undeniable fact that the game you’re citing is fourteen years old should indicate to you that your argument needs a bit of assistance.
Statistical analysis had absolutely zero to do with that play.
What does that even mean? When does statistical analysis ever have anything to do with any individual, specific play? By definition, statistical analysis looks at aggregate trends. We learn how, historically, players have performed in various situations. It’s not like Joe Torre pulled out his graphing calculator and punched in
COPY CON JETER.BAS
10 MAKE PLAY
20 GOTO 10
And then sent it to the JeTron-9000 for execution.
Managers agree. "I watch the game," said Bruce Bochy, the manager of the World Series champion San Francisco Giants.
Bruce Bochy is probably the worst active manager in baseball. I know the Giants just won the World Series; this is because the Giants have great pitching and the manager matters for fuck-all.
"You don’t see me writing down a lot of things or having to look down at stats. They’re important, but there are some things that you can’t see on a spreadsheet."
Name one. Name one, Bruce Bochy, and then demonstrate one single way in which it has any impact on the game of baseball. You are the kind of nitwit who has your team’s best hitter bunt in a high-leverage situation even when he has successfully done so exactly zero times ever. So perhaps we will not listen to you on the subject of knowing anything about anything.
The real problem isn’t in the dugout, though. It’s with the way the game is discussed off the field. I grew up on vivid reporting that teased out details from the day’s action to give us a more flavorful and insightful narrative — not just by accomplished magazine writers like Roger Angell, but by the scores of beat reporters covering the game nationwide.
Yes, yes. Those young people these days have no respect, et cetera, et cetera, get off my lawn. You could consider — and this is just a wild idea I had, mind you — writing some insightful narrative yourself instead of just bitching. But, yes, back in your day…
In any press box, most reporters are texting, tweeting or Googling stats. This doesn’t work.
What, you mean like Juan Uribe has sabotaged the press box to keep reporters from getting accurate information? In what way does this not work?
You can go to the symphony and hear the music even as you’re texting with a client to close a deal. As your thumbs fly and you try not to be distracted by the dirty looks of the guy next to you, you might note the orchestra is playing Mahler’s Ninth. But with your attention so cratered, are you really listening to the music? Are you enjoying it?
Are you like some type of professional orchestra scout who’s trying to sign a hot young violoncello for your orchestra team? Because, if you are, then I expect you do need to be communicating with somebody while this is going on. Otherwise you’re going to get scooped by another, different scout, right? In this case, I gotta be honest with you: whether or not you’re enjoying the performance is neither here nor there. I’m paying you to do a job, not to go have a fun evening. So too with reporters: they’re not there to have themselves a blast, they’re there to do a job. Do you really not know this?
Also, Mahler 9 is like eighty minutes long. It would be the entire concert by itself, and you’d know that’s what’s playing because it’s on the marquee. Weirdo.
The importance of being fully present for a game, shorn of distractions, lies not in sentimentality about the nobility of baseball (even Mr. Angell once groused that "The ‘Field of Dreams’ thing gives me a pain!"), but in continuously deepening one’s understanding of the game.
But not deepening your understanding so much that you actually start to understand it, right? Because that would be bad.
The art of hitting a baseball starts with emptying the mind. As Jonathan Fader, a psychologist who works with Mets players, told me: "Essentially, what we’re trying to do in sports psychology is helping people to not think."
That sounds like the exact lesson the Mets have taken to heart.
Fans and writers need to adopt a similar attitude.
Only the Grey Lady could actually go to print explicitly telling people to stop thinking.
Also, here’s a thing: hitting a baseball needs to become an instinctive process because you have zero time. Is that the case when you’re discussing the game the next day at the office? Is it so urgent that you cannot spare the time to think, and must instead just grunt out "Lucas Duda heap good batter-man ugh?"
An overly analytical approach, centered in the cerebral cortex, is a distancing mechanism that puts a fan at a remove from how the players — and most fans — are experiencing a game.
So, in a nutshell, your point is "I’m a lazy dum-dum and everybody else agrees with me, so shut up?" Because if that says anything else, I can’t find it.
Often the greater rigor that results can be readily understood and applied, to exciting ends. For example, the shift of the game toward flame-throwing, late-game relief pitchers makes it natural that we’d be more focused on a previously obscure statistic: batting average against relievers.
Literally nobody is focused on that statistic, because it is shit.
The trouble is not with the numbers.
There’s some trouble with that last one you cited.
The imposing Babip just means "batting average on balls in play." And FIP stands for "fielding independent pitching," an attempt to offer a broader measure of a pitcher’s performance than the traditional E.R.A. (earned-run average).
I’m about 90% certain Steve just Googled those as he was writing this article. And he still managed to fuck it up! FIP is not "an attempt to offer a broader measure of a pitcher’s performance than the traditional E.R.A.," which does not mean anything anyway. FIP is an attempt to remove the influence of fielding on pitching data. That why it’s called "fielding-independent pitching," Steve. Do you see?
And BABIP should be capitalised. It’s not a word, goofball, as you yourself immediately pointed out. And "E.R.A." never ever ever has periods in it. Have you ever actually read anything about baseball?
There is a risk that numbers become an end in themselves, and arcane stats proliferate.
Steve? Numbers have always been an end in themselves. The entire point of the game of baseball is to score more runs than the other team. Those are numbers, Steve! Contra what you may have heard back when you were a wee nipper in the halcyon days of the American Association, the goal of baseball is not to look as dapper as possible.
A good rule of thumb is that the more a stat relies on abstraction, the less likely it’s going to be consistently useful to a wide audience.
I don’t think you understand what a rule of thumb is. Just as a general guideline for you, if there are more weasel-words than like regular real words, probably it’s not very good. And I guess ERA’s "earned runs" and BA’s "at bats" aren’t sufficiently abstract to disqualify them as "consistently useful." Who decides? Steve’s vote is for Steve.
Even an old stat like WAR, or wins above replacement, continues to have both backers and detractors, since it relies on comparing a given player to the abstraction of some hypothetical median player, the "replacement."
… He says, without offering any potential alternatives. Should all players across all ballparks and in all years be compared to one specific player? We’ll make a new stat, you and me, Steve. We’ll call it "wins above 2004 Neifi Perez, but only the part of the year he spent with the Giants." Since that’s a lot less abstract, I’m sure it’ll be more useful to a wide audience. Right?
Also, I hate to be "that guy," but the dreaded "replacement" is definitely not a median player. He is an absolutely minimal player. That is the whole point, Steve. Perhaps you should learn something about your subject matter before your next deadline, hey?
Baseball is slow, and in that slowness comes the opportunity to let the mind and the imagination wander and move along with the action. Mr. Angell has said that for him, even later in life as a fan, the music is still playing. If we can’t clear our attention span enough to focus on the action, if we don’t tune in to baseball the way we do music, we’re never going to hear the tune.
You’ve clearly mastered the fine art of not thinking, Steve.