Finding a Balance Between Sabermetrics and Purity
September 22, 2011 4 Comments
Moneyball is out today. Sabermetrician’s rejoice!
Now, the simplest of baseball fans can learn all about what makes the science of baseball the only way to look at baseball. Logic and reason. There is no other way, right?
We need to find a balance to combine the views of the sabermetricians and baseball purists of the world. Neither is necessarily wrong but neither is necessarily right either. However, both sides are too stubborn to give in to each other.
The sabermetricians are ruining the game and the purists are backward thinking Neanderthals.
The debate is never-ending.
I like to think of it this way:
The sabermetrician’s are the atheist’s of our world. There is no reasoning with them. They contend that it is impossible to argue with logic and reason yet it is impossible to reason with them.
The baseball purists are the religious fanatics. They are stuck in their ways, unwilling to adapt to the changing times and the piles of evidence staring them in the face.
There is no give and take from either side. Only give. What both parties fail to realize is that they are more similar to each other than they could ever imagine. Putting aside the contrasting views, their stubborn and narrow-minded nature is very much the same. If they could just realize how similar they are, maybe a happy medium could be found.
Alas, this is a dream that, unlike Martin Luther King’s, will probably never come to fruition.
If things keep going the way they are then the die-hard sabermetrician’s could ruin the game of the baseball for the rest of us. It’s not simply taking the fun out of the game like Jason Whitlock suggested recently. Although, that is part of it.
Like a good Jehovah’s Witness, the sabermetrician must spread the word of the WAR to anyone and everyone, whether they want to hear it or not. Moneyball is perfect because it’s like knocking on the entire countries door.
Free promotion anyone?
The problem with sabermetrician’s, on top of taking the art out of baseball, is that their science is hardly flawless. Despite being a science that has been developed in the last decade, their word is law. WAR is the end all and tell all of statistics. It doesn’t matter what we see with our eyes because they have their WAR, OBP, OPS, wOPA and BABIP’s.
It’s nice to have these stats but we have to take them with a grain of salt. The sabermetricians don’t.
Unlike the baseball purists, I feel that these stats do add a lot to the game. They give us another dimension and a better understanding of the game. We can’t discount the fact that these formulas should have merit.
The purists are right to a certain extent though in saying that we need to keep the artful and subjective aspect of baseball intact. Not everything can be quantified contrary to the script of the sabermetrician’s bible.
The little nuances of the game only to be seen with human eyes that are thrown out the window when it comes to sabermetrics, can’t be ignored. The thing I’ve found in life is that the atheists can’t get pleasure out of the little things in life. Sabremetric diehards are the same. They don’t get as much pleasure out of the subjectiveness of life and sports because in their eyes it isn’t logical. Everything must be filled with reason. Not what you see with your eyes, but what you see on paper. Something that can be quantified.
Not everything can be calculated
Using fun as the sole reason for discounting advanced statistics is just giving more ammunition to the sabermetrician’s argument. It may be true, but when used alone it is a bit of a juvenile and unintelligent argument. The logical and reasonable sabermetrician will jump all over it.
And we can’t have that now, can we?
Personally, it is hard for me to believe that we can put a single number on a player and say that he is so many wins better than another. The sabermetrician’s think so. But what happens in a decade or 25 years if and when a new, possibly better method for measuring players comes out? The fact that we already have two websites (Baseball Reference and Fan Graphs) giving us two different formula’s for statistics like WAR should already be a flashing yellow light that indicates proceed with caution.
It’s not as simple as the statistics that they are giving us.
Jose Bautista is not the American League MVP this season. Dustin Parkes, one of my two favourite Blue Jay writers, is all over the debate. However, he is one of those atheists. There’s no arguing with him. In fact, he took down Jason Whitlock’s article yesterday.
Jose Bautista isn’t the American League MVP for the reason that a baseball purist would give. He plays on a losing team, that shouldn’t matter. He barely has over 100 RBI’s, that shouldn’t matter.
The reason should be that Jose Bautista has been abysmal in the second half. At least, comparatively to his fabulous April and May.
On paper, Jose Bautista’s WAR, OBP and OPS for the entire season are off the charts. His current .301/.444/1.056 line combined with an 8.3 wins above replacement have made everyone around the league take notice.
His .249/.408/.880 line post-all star break isn’t quite as impressive.
But something that can’t be quantified but should have been noticed by even the most casual fan is the difference in the pitches Jose Bautista has seen since his beast mode setting has been disabled. Compared to April and May, when Bautista wasn’t getting a thing thrown his way, pitchers have been willing to challenge him.
The thing is, post all-star break, Bautista hasn’t connected at a rate that has scared pitchers in nearly the same way. Bautista’s plus .400 OBP hasn’t been a product of his play but rather more a product of his good eye and his inability to connect on pitches in the strike zone, thus allowing him to see more pitches at the plate. Pitchers are still cautious but they aren’t assuming the fetal position like they did when Jose Bautista stepped in the batter’s box during the first two months of the season.
BABIP can’t tell me how hard Jose Bautista is hitting the ball. WAR can’t tell me that Jose Bautista hasn’t looked like an MVP since the end of May. The inflated numbers that he produced prior to the all-star break have skewed his 162 game totals. His value has no doubt still been immense to his team but it hasn’t been MVP worthy by any means.
The short is, sabermetrics do not tell the whole story. No matter what the sabermetrician’s try to tell us.
Sports, much like life, are subjective. In life, the money, the job, the family, the status, all the things that we can measure, never give us the entire picture.
As I said above though, advanced statistics can and are helping us. My eyes have been opened over the last year to the value that these stats offer. Yours should be too.
For both the sabermetrician’s and purists, it’s time for the blinders to come off. You don’t have to be friends but try to get along at least.
It may be a fools dream but it is a dream that, if fulfilled, would change the world of baseball for the better.
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