No, today isn’t the day we talk about intangibles. We’ll just have to agree to leave that quagmire for another day. No, today I want to talk about the feeling that sabermetrics is about trying to calculate baseball and remove the “human element”. I often hear people say/write (something to the effect of), “See. [Player X] did fine despite [sabermetric statistic that stated otherwise].The game isn’t played on a computer screen.” Like most of the arguments in the debate over newer statistics, it comes from a misunderstanding of what is actually happening and what the purpose of sabermetrics is. So, let’s talk about it.
Sabermetrics does not exist to eliminate the actual play of baseball. Sabermetrics does not exist so that nerds who have no athletic ability can take away from the players with immense athletic ability. Sabermetrics does not exist to render human beings into numbers. So, if it’s not that, what is it?
The purpose of sabermetrics is to rethink orthodoxy in baseball when there is a logical disconnect between the original statistic/strategy/theory and what actually happens. For example, ERA is supposed to measure pitcher performance, but someone realized that ERA actually incorporates other things such as defense. Batting average is supposed to measure hitter performance, but someone noticed the value of a walk and that all hits are not created equally. Sabermetricians did not simply wake up one day and say, “Today, I think I’ll try to destroy the very fabric of the game I love.” That doesn’t make any sense. Sabermetricians fight so hard because they love baseball, not because they hate it. No, they woke up and say (something to the effect of), “You know, this doesn’t make sense to me. So, let’s figure out why. First, what is the historic significance of the stat, and why was it implemented? Second, does it really measure what it says it does? Third, can we use computers, which the pioneers of the game did not have, to parse out performance and evaluate it more accurately?” The purpose of sabermetrics is to identify these disconnects and then critically and scientifically find out what is actually happening.
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