But aren’t these statistics supposed to predict the future? They didn’t see the Padres coming! Not exactly. The idea is that, after identifying the problems above and answering them to a degree, the new statistics can better predict what’s going to happen. They never said they can predict with absolute certainty what will happen. Injuries, performance, randomness, etc. fluctuate due to all sorts of factors, and there is no way to definitively state what will happen. However, sabermetrics can say with a greater degree of accuracy what will happen. This is important when fans evaluate GMs … and even when GMs evaluate themselves. If you have to make a decision and we’ve agreed that nothing on earth can definitively state what will happen, you essentially have to take the option that has the greatest chance of occurring. It’s playing the odds like you would anywhere else. And yes, something else might happen, which is why we say ODDS, but that does not mean that the idea/theory is wrong. The hope is that your team will make more good decisions and that they will outweigh the bad decisions other teams are making.
But I don’t care about the future. My statistics say what actually happened! Well, not exactly. Lots of people have discussed why pitcher wins, ERA, BA, etc.
don’t really measure what we are told they measure. We’re told they mean one thing, but they actually mean that thing along with a few other things that combine to mean something else. I talked about this in reference to Joba a few weeks ago, and if you want more of an explanation of the topic, I suggest you go there before you read any further. The short explanation is that sabermetrics DO measure what has happened. We often talk about regression in association with these statistics, but that is simply to aid in understanding the new statistic in terms of the older ones (In my opinion, this was done with the best intentions, but I often wonder if it worked out long-term. Sabermetricians tried to relate the new stats to older stats in order to make comprehension easier, but when they did so, it created another misunderstanding due to the somewhat complex nature and some propaganda. I don’t know definitively that it was detrimental, but it’s just a thought). For example, “His ERA will regress to this because of his FIP”. The pitcher is pitching to his FIP, and we expect that his ERA will eventually reflect that FIP. People think that means that FIP indicates what a pitcher should have done because they still see ERA as the measurement of pitcher performance, but FIP actually measures pitcher performance. ERA regresses because defense and luck even out over the course of many years, leaving only pitcher performance. But the new statistics DO measure current performance, but because they are better at doing so, they are also better predictors of future outcomes. Sabermetrics, in addition, has created several PROJECTION systems such as PECOTA, ZIPS, etc., but they include newer statistics along with historical trends of similar players in order to try to predict the future. But they usually tell you that they are low, medium, high, or the percentile of performance, meaning that they recognize the uncertainty. What this means for you is that you’ll have to learn some new acronyms. Sorry, but it’s not that hard.
But they don’t include intangibles! Okay, I said I’d leave this alone, but I won’t go too far. Most sabermetricians won’t completely disregard intangibles, but they will warn you that they may not affect the game as much as you think they do. The caution is due to the uncertainty. We don’t know how they affect certain players, and they don’t affect each player equally. Ascribing a value to it is arbitrary and not helpful. In addition, intangibles are difficult to determine because we’re talking about the top percentile of all baseball players, and what would affect us may not affect them. Sabermetricians aren’t atheists. They’re more agnostic.
But I just want to watch the game! Sabermetricians do, too. Just because they can manipulate formulas does not mean that they do not appreciate human skill. The desire to appreciate that human skill is the reason that they do what they do. They want to make sure everyone is appreciated in the way they should be because they know this game is hard, but they want to give credit where credit is really due. They know few can do it. It’s their appreciation of that human skill that brought them to the game. It’s watching the game that got them hooked. They don’t have a lesser appreciation for the “human element”. They just see it differently.
But I like the human element. Don’t boil baseball into a bunch of computers! Ah, we’ve arrived at my main point. Sabermetrics was not created by a bunch of computers. It was invented by humans. Humans realized the logical disconnects. Humans set about trying to identify the problems. Humans identified the problems. Humans came up with the methodology to solve the problems. Humans came up with the formulas (yes, computers do the calculating, but humans could, too. Computers just do them faster). Sabermetrics should be a CELEBRATION of the human element, not a detriment to it. People often ask what the difference between humans and animals is. This is it. No, not sabermetrics specifically. CRITICAL THINKING is. The ability to think deeper is our greatest achievement. Our behavior is animalistic, but where we distinguish ourselves is in the ability to reason. Sabermetrics is simply an example of it.
And celebrating it does not mean simply embracing it. Ask questions. Demand better research. You should because humans need to be pushed to reach our potential. But don’t interrogate simply to prove someone wrong. Ask questions because you don’t understand. Ask questions because there are things that haven’t been discovered yet. If we can have civilized, intelligent discussion, it can go farther. And then, it doesn’t have to be the “sabermetric” movement. It can be a HUMAN movement. I realize this sounds a bit idealistic, and that’s okay. It probably is, but I have also resigned myself to the fact that some people just refuse to change. But I also think that the reason some haven’t changed, that some refuse to listen is because it’s never been explained in a good enough way. And that’s what this post is about. It’s about trying to explain what’s going on in a different way because it might, just might, hit home with someone. I think we give up too easily sometimes. It doesn’t take much to reach frustration, but I think frustration is a poor reason to give up. So, I’ll continue to try.