Friday, March 14, 2008

The Middle Ground

I've probably run too many meta-items lately, but it's spring, and not much really substantive is going on, so here's another one, from Mets Geek:

So what do Posnanski, James and Schur have in common? They’re all heroes of the statistical analysis movement in baseball, yet none of them are really sabermetricians. James asks great questions and gives interesting answers, but the hardcore geeks find his work flawed and limited. Schur writes snarky articles in which he criticizes sports writers’ reliance on terrible statistics like wins and RBI, but he gets his own criticism for using FRAA and OPS. Posnanski, too, has not been immune to criticism. After all, he’s a sports writer himself and he just dabbles in this stuff.

In the current Internet-driven world of baseball fandom, statistical accounts and economic analysis are cheap. But good, humorous baseball writing is worth a lot more to the future of baseball and the makeup of its fans. That’s what the critics on either side—both the newspaper hacks and the spreadsheet geeks—don’t understand . . . Sometimes being interesting is better than being right.

I think that's right. When I started ShysterBall last year, my eye was certainly on that middle ground, as is evidenced by my profile: "Craig tends to see things from a sabermetric point of view, but he's not a fanatic about it." Anyone who hangs around here a lot knows that while I have a personal and spiritual relationship with OBP, I'm an Easter and Christmas sabermetrician at best. Lucid and entertaining writing is what matters to me the most, and I think I get there most of the time.

The point of all of this, I think, is to note that to the extent the larger part of the MSM and common fandom ever take a shine to sabermetric principles, it will have been accomplished via the Trojan horse of good and entertaining writing by the Jameses, Posnanskis, Schurs, and (hopefully) Calcaterras of the world as opposed to some eureka moment perusing sortable stats.

13 comments:

Mac said...

Amen

Roger Moore said...

The point that many hard-core stats people seem to miss is that you can get most of the benefits of serious analysis with a relatively small effort. You don't need to go to some convoluted formula like EqAvg or the technical form of Runs Created to get a pretty good understanding of an offense. 90% of the benefit comes from moving from BA/HR/RBI to BA/OBP/SLG and remembering to consider park effects.

The difference between BA/OBP/SLG and the technical formulas is at the level of noise. As far as I can tell, the huge number of hypercomplex formulas are mostly a result of pissing contests between their advocates. Everyone wants to prove that his formula is a tiny bit more accurate than the next guy's, or to mark his sabermetric territory by using a different formula. It winds up making things unnecessarily confusing and intimidating to the uniformed without adding any real benefit.

melodyjbf said...

>...good, humorous baseball writing >is worth a lot more to the future of >baseball and the makeup of its fans.

Um, in using Posnanski as a counter-example here, is this guy suggesting that he doesn't offer "good humorous baseball writing?" Because that's why I check Posnanski's blog every day. The guy is @#$@%! hilarious. It's not that hard to use some stats and still be funny. Hell, lots of stats are inherently funny.

Shyster said...

Roger:

I don't know if I can agree with you about the motives of people doing the analysis, but I do agree with you that for the vast majority of people, a basic understanding of OBP/SLG and contexts (both park effects and era adjustments) is more than enough.

Shyster said...

melodyjbf: I actually think he means that Posnanski is good and humorous, and that because he is, he's more likely to appeal to people than the hard-nosed stats guys.

At least that's how I read it.

John Peterson said...

Yea, I meant that Posnanski has a wider appeal because he is a good writer and he's funny.

Shyster said...

Hey, thanks for stopping by, John!

Great article!

Tangotiger said...

To the extent that what roger moore says is true, then the hitting and pitching stats we needed was furnished by Pete Palmer 25 years ago in The Hidden Game of Baseball.

He gave us both OPS+ and Linear Weights in that book. Bill James however did not embrace LWTS, and so, everyone was on a quest to get a run estimator better than Runs Created.

Shyster said...

I think Tango's point (thanks for stopping by, Tom!) identifies the real issue here: whatcha tryin' to do?

For most fans and snarky bloggers, the BA/OBP/SLG + contexts stuff probably is enought. However, if you're trying to predict something -- say, because you're an assistant GM or a hardcore fantasy player -- those things aren't going to help you that much. In those cases you HAVE to go into the nitty gritty, and the little differences around the edges can mean the difference between first and fifth place, or having a job or being fired.

John Peterson said...

No problem, Shyster. Glad I found your blog.

I hope my article didn't peeve you, Tom. After all, I'm the dummy who can't take the time to calculate WAR.

Tangotiger said...

John, I commented on my blog.

Voros McCracken said...

Just wanted to say it's great to see you here, Roger. Learned a lot from you back in the glory days of rsbb.

Shyster said...

Same here, Roger. I was too late to the game to make it to rsbb, but I am honored to have you reading and commenting.