And that’s a shame. Over the past few years, I’ve come to love the sabermetric community and many of the people within it, but situations like this remind me that legitimacy and the struggle for it is like walking a tightrope. It’s a perilous climb to the top where a breeze one way or the next might knock you off (this is where sabermetrics is, and this is the most dangerous part; once you get to the other side, it’s harder to be knocked off), and when you get to the end, it often looks a lot like it did when you started. Sabermetrics is getting to the point where its ideas are becoming legitimized and accepted, and as they gain this new power, certain people seem to be taking liberties with it, including the right to not be challenged.
Tom Tango called out the post and colored his audience’s reading of it before he even gave it a chance.
Rob Neyer came with attacks on Hippeaux, the person, and whether or not you agree with something, you might as well stick to the argument. Once you start focusing on the person, you’re no longer debating the argument.
Listen, I have no problem with either of these men. Tango’s The Book has taught me a myriad of things, and he’s opened my eyes on a lot. Neyer has been a must-read for years now. I only point them out because they are the most visible. People are allowed to make mistakes, and I think these two made a very common and understandable one. They saw the title “Is WAR the new RBI?”, and they assumed it wasn’t a good idea in an almost eerily similar way that people see Moneyball and make assumptions. But what would have been hurt with a little clearer thinking before reacting? Was Hippeaux’s one post going to bring down everything sabermetrics stands for? And if it was, it probably needed a better argument if you wanted to win the support back. Why not, if Hippeaux’s post had created such a stir indicating he had made a point worth discussing, give it full attention before saying anything? Why not think the response all the way through? And why on earth would you attack him?
Sabermetrics’ purpose, unlike some believe, is not advanced metrics. It’s not new statistics. It’s about questioning the ideas used in baseball, and the questions are generally answered by metrics that are well-thought and figured. Questions come first, and numbers come after. That’s the point of it all. Hippeaux asked a question. Now, here comes the big question. Was he right? There are specific problems, sure, and while that doesn’t help his argument, it didn’t defeat it, either. His argument wasn’t about the specifics, though he uses them. It was about the general idea. He asks the basic question, “Is WAR perfect, and should we take its findings without question?” The answer is no, and while Neyer, Tango, and many others know that it isn’t to be taken that way, there are a whole host of new indoctrinees that DON’T KNOW that. Was the title perfect? No, but considering titles are supposed to be more attention-grabbing than informative (that’s what the post is for), it did its job very well, thanks.
While this is one isolated incident that shouldn’t be blown out of proportion, I don’t like what it symbolizes. For a movement based on questions, it got really defensive when it was questioned, again in an eerily similar way as those sabermetricians fight against. Don’t be like that. Be better. If you want legitimacy, you need to be able to answer the questions. You need to expect the questions. You need to welcome the questions. Questions will do one of three things. They will prove you wrong, which will lead us to more truth. It will lead to more questions, which I thought was a good thing. Or it will reinforce your legitimacy, which is what we’re going for.
And if you believe you’re legitimate (I believe that sabermetrics is legitimate), why are you afraid?