We have entered sports’ industrial revolution. Statistics are making sports homogenized, faster and efficient. For those standing in the hallway or blocking up the hall, it will only get worse.
We’re three sentences in, and I have no idea what the heck is going on. This is always a promising sign.
Seriously though, I don’t know how statistics are making sports faster or more homogenized. Given the various debates that rage more or less constantly over the use of various statistics, the validity of certain ones, etc., I really have no idea how stats have made sports more homogenized. As they say, that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.
Sports consciousness is in for a sea change and ESPN plans to be at the forefront.The WWL has hired engineer and former NBA consultant Dean Oliver as “director of production analytics.” Wielding ESPN’s power, he will infuse new stats into the marketplace to weed out the common, misplaced understanding.
Oh no, the television production of a baseball game may adapt to include more of things fans and teams are using when they talk about and analyze the game!
Soon, every young sports fan in America will be dropping acronyms and formulas like they are distilled rap terminology.
You hear that America? Formulas! You ever read any of these stat-friendly blogs? You can barely even find the words in the middle of all those formulas they’re constantly feeding you, because every single time they reference these “statistics” they have to tell you the entire formula they use to get the number.
So I guess that settles it then, we’ll just stick to non-formulaic statistics like batting average and ERA from now on. And RBI, because we can’t have acronyms either.
I like statistics. I cringe when baseball analysts make sweeping claims based on “wins” and “RBI.” They should be used as a tool, to help us grasp sports more intelligently.
Ok, so what we’ve got here is someone who isn’t at all familiar with the arguments they’re describing. Since the arguments against pitcher wins and RBI are totally different things, I’ll take them seperately.
I actually think the case against RBI is a bit overstated. RBI are fine from a numerical sense; somebody drives in a run with a hit, walk, or sacrifice fly they get credit for one. As a statistic, they record what happened in a game and over a season. If they’re used in that manner, there’s no reason to have any problem with them at all. The problem comes when you try to use RBI to evaluate individual player performance, since there’s a large effect from factors out of the individual’s control at the margins of RBI.
Pitcher wins, on the other hand, are an inherently arbitrary, stupid, and worthless “statistic” in basically every way, right down to the concept of trying to credit a team’s victory to one position in all cases. It has no value whatsoever, and I really wish more saber-friendly writers would stop referencing it altogether. But that’s a discussion for another day.
Stats don’t worry me, but their ferocious inertia does. The refrain isn’t “we can” understand sports better, it is “we have to.” We’re on WAR footing and we never ask why.
In all truthfulness, I’m still trying to comprehend how someone could even write a sentence like this. It’s just really bizarre isn’t it. If “we can do better,” then why in the heck wouldn’t we? This would make sense if the author had said we can do things differently, and maybe that’s really what he meant to say, but if you accept the idea that there’s a better way to do something, then why on Earth wouldn’t you want to do something better?
Sports are an escape. It’s no coincidence organized, professional leagues developed alongside urbanization. Industrialism created an alien culture. Sports offered an outlet to reconnect with the pastoral world, to create a sense of community and to provide drama and purpose to an otherwise soulless world. Sports should be a departure from modern life, not a reflection of it.
Here’s some friendly advice from me to everyone else who ever writes about baseball; if you find yourself considering channeling your inner George Will, don’t. Ever. I mean that; never, ever, do it. Aside from being pretentious and annoying, you just look like you don’t have anything other than vague generalities and barely relevant histrionics to offer. And in context, this paragraph does indeed look an awful lot like filler. (For what it’s worth, I was going to respond to this by noting that the professionalization of baseball re-enforced existing class differences by making it basically impossible for the poor or working class to see a professional game, or note that non-whites weren’t welcome to play with whites, even in the North, but I decided to be nice).
A baseball GM could construct the ideal statistical team. Tremendous athletes would blanket the field. Dispassionate hitters top to bottom would work pitch counts and be excruciating outs. It would be successful and efficient. It would be awful to watch. Every game would take five hours with minimal scoring. The game needs to entertain.
This should, I guess, be the crux of the argument, and boy is it a doozy. I’m honestly and truly not even sure how to begin to untangle this jumbled mass of nonsense, so bear with me while we try to sort through the problems here.
First of all, every batter should try to be an “excruciating out.” The point of hitting is to get on base, after all, so whatever the best way to get to that aim is, everyone should be trying to do it in most scenarios. I’m not even sure what the alternative is; a game in which a batter intentionally makes an out just to speed the game up? (And again I’m left to point out how stupid these length-of-game arguments are. Baseball doesn’t have a clock involved, it progresses by getting outs. Sometimes that means some games are longer than others. Some are really long affairs. If you prefer your sports timed, go watch football already. I don’t want to seem nasty about it, but this is a fundamental aspect of the game itself. Leave it alone already!!!!)
Secondly, the notion that of “statistically ideal teams” is so ridiculous on its face I’m starting to wonder if this wasn’t really a satirical piece. To wit, sports are a zero-sum, competitive event. Baseball involves three core aspects; hitting, pitching, and fielding. Any time one of these does something positive, another one necessarily did something negative. If a batter gets a hit on a ball through the infield, the defense’s stats take a hit. If the batter hits a HR, it impacts the pitcher’s home run rate. If the pitcher strikes the batter out, or the defense converts an out on a ball in play, it adversely impacts the batter’s stats. I can’t believe I actually have to say this, but a hypothetical league in which none of the pitchers allow runners to get on base yet all of the batters have high on base percentages simply isn’t possible.
And it’s almost incidental at this point, but the “tremendous athletes blanket[ing] the field” thing is, again, obvious nonsense. There are only so many people out there talented enough to play Major League Baseball, and among that subset even fewer are good-to-elite. The implication that every team will have a Josh Hamilton at every position and 12 Tim Lincecums on their pitching staff is, again, completely absurd.
Sports are beautiful. Seeing Lionel Messi dribble through three defenders or Larry Fitzgerald make a leaping catch in the end zone exhilarates us. We need to know the mechanisms behind those feats as much as we need to know the composition of Van Gogh’s paints or a diagram of Shakespeare’s sentence structure. We understand because we experience greatness organically. We don’t need to double check the spreadsheet.
Then don’t! I swear, I am so fed up with this strawman I can barely stand it anymore. There are millions and millions of people who turn on a game in July, watch all or part of it, then turn the game off and give it barely any more thought than that. And that’s fine! There are countless sports fans out there who don’t read blogs, or internet sports coverage/columns, and just basically barely digest any more than the games themselves. That’s how they enjoy the game, and that’s fine. There are others of us who like to write about, analyze, dissect, and obsess over the sport, or read someone else do that. The existence of one type does not negate the validity of the other in any way, shape, or form. This trope really needs to go away for good.
And even if you take this literally, you could just as easily apply it to batting average or RBI or earned run average. If you just want to watch the game and don’t care about statistics in general, you shouldn’t care about those things either. But no one ever suggests you should excise those things from the common vernacular of the sport, because they aren’t really arguing for that. They want you to keep your new stuff off of their yard.
Statistical progress is wonderful – I love my adjusted OPS just as I love my iPod – but if we progress for the sake of progress itself we risk ruining the things we love about sports.
Again, Duffy’s trying far too hard to concern troll, and he winds up embarrassing himself with his own phrasing. “Progress” is generally considered a good thing, so why you would ever want to not “progress” is a mystery to me. I believe the word Duffy wants to use is “change.” That would at least make sense.