Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Mixed Feelings

Sometimes I wonder if I'm a self-hating sabermetrician or simply a member of the reformed sect. I mean, on the one hand, I know and appreciate all of the arguments and I've internalized all of them in my understanding and analysis of baseball. On the other hand, however, I have cut way back on the extent to which I speak in the unadorned language of objective analysis (example: instead of simply saying that Baker doesn't understand what a leadoff hitter is supposed to do, a year ago I might have broken out charts and linked to people's work on run expectancies, etc.)

This is partially because the audience around here has grown far beyond the core of statheads that formed my initial readership and I don't want to alienate anyone, but a lot of it has to do with an independent relaxation of orthodoxy on my part in which I've allowed myself to enjoy the simple pleasures of baseball, even when they involve less-than-optimal play. I mean, I'll never endorse a sacrifice bunt in the early innings of a 0-0 game, but I sure as hell enjoy them from time to time.

Against that backdrop, I link to a post by MGL from the Inside the Book blog, in which he lists all of the things he'd do if he worked for a team and was given free reign over on-the-field strategy. In it, MGL (a) makes a lot of good points about strategy; while (b) providing a pretty good example of just about everything traditionalists and casual fans hate about sabermetricians.

I'm with you on the merits, MGL, but if your post goes wide, you're going to be a punching bag for stathead-bashing traditionalists. It probably doesn't matter, but I get tired of the fight from time to time and would prefer not to have it again.


Mr. Thursday said...

I love MGL--some of his arguments on baseball strategy have really blown me away. I had never considered the complexity of the sac. bunt until reading that part of The Book.

That said, he is certainly aggressive and enthusiastic with his opinions, and even as I agree with him, I'm sometimes put off by the way he says stuff. For someone who isn't already inclined to agree with him, I can understand why they would dislike the guy's writing.

Personally, I've grown sick of all the New vs Old debates: Blogs vs MSM, Sabermetrics vs Jay Mariotti, and so on. I don't think my position has changed on any of it, but I cannot abide the repetition.

Daniel said...

Most of the stuff he says there is interesting, but I have to agree with mr. thursday - his tone could use some refinement.

One of the items I don't fully agree with is the part about throwing away recent stats. Obviously, the sample size argument is relevant in this case, but a player's mechanics are also relevant. Recent stat trends, while not statistically relevant to the player's overall worth, can indicate a departure from the mechanics that led to the player's career stats. In that case, it may be wise to sit a player for a game in order to get some extra work in and fix those mechanics. But maybe I'm nitpicking here. Everything else seemed reasonable at first glance.

Osmodious said...

Craig, I tend to be a 'middle of the road' kind of guy...not on the fence, per se, but more recognizing that the world is not black and white, but a mottled mixture of all shades.

I think that a lot of people forget that stats are a tool, and are useless without analysis and just pure attention (watching games). People get trapped in this need to be able to explain everything via metrics, but sometimes things just can't be explained that way...especially with something as variable as human performance.

To my mind, a balance is required. Yes, I pay attention to the statistics, but I use them as a tool to understand what I've already witnessed or analyzed. One of the things I love about your blog is that you don't get mired down in statistics...if I feel the need to check on what you state, I can go to any one of a hundred different sites to get the stats to analyze (or crank up my own database and have at it). Personally, I like the story behind the stats...and that's what I feel like I can get here. To be honest, most of the time I have a decent idea of the stats to back things up (or disagree), just from picking them up here and there, so I don't need them spoonfed to me yet again.

Yes, statistics are an important tool for analysis, but they are not the only tool or element involved. Stats are data, data plus analysis is information. Discussion is a great tool for analysis as well, and there is no better way on earth to create new knowledge than to exchange information via discussion (and occasionally, debate).

Ron Rollins said...

So if the computer that plays chess and (according to the programmers) can replace actual players is called Deep Blue, what will the computer be called that replaces baseball managers?

Deep Skippper?

Deep Coach?

Deep Manager?

And what I really want to know is hw they plan on programming a computer to know when a player has a hangover, or had a fight with his wife, or has a slight injury they don't want the media to know about, or is unhappy with his playing time, or is just a lazy jerk with all the talent in the world and has to have his ego stroked in order to be ready for the game?

Or are we going to replace the players with robots who never swing at a pitch out of the zone, or take a chance on an extra base (think Dave Roberts in the 2004 playoffs, no computer manager would ever send him), and don't make mental mistakes?

Because, you know, the Jetsons was one of the greatest shows ever and I can't wait until my car flies and I get 3-D video at home.

Craig Calcaterra said...

Deep Casey?

Good points, all Ron. To be fair, I don't think MGL was proposing rules so darn rigid that none of those things should be taken into account (at least I hope not), but I agree: ultimately I want people managing people because there are far more variables involved in all of this than the sabermetric principles imply. If I'm running a team, I come up with somthing like five or six general principles for my manager to follow, but then step back and let him do his job.

By the way Ron -- I clicked over to your new blog, and I am quite moved by the enormity of a life change you're undertaking. For those who don't know, Ron is long, longtime ShysterBall reader and commenter 64 Cardinals. He just moved to the UK in a truly life-changing way, and is blogging about it here:

Ron, I've only read your first few posts, but from what I can tell, you are doing a noble and extremely brave thing. I couldn't countenance not being a part of my daughter's life. We never know how these things will work out, but even if this turns out to be a disaster, the very fact that you're making the effort will be a lesson and a blessing for your daughter that she will carry with her for the rest of her life.

Good luck, man.

Ron Rollins said...


Thanks for the nice words. I've only had a few minutes each day to check my e-mail and my essential reading. You, Neyer, Joe Pos, and Bill James. My Kansas City connections are coming through.

I looking for a place to live right now, but hope to get a couple of more posts up today. I hope you come back and take a look. One of them will really cut to the heart of the matter about what I'm doing. And I would appreciate any feed back you or comments you might have.

As far as the saberstuff, I actually love it all, while still being traditionalist. Is that like being a conservative liberal, or a liberal conservative?

I also think the MGL stuff is good, and some of it actually worth trying. But I just thnink sometimes the saber guys (some of them) forget about the human element. But your post was absolutley correct. We can coexist in peace. If not exactly harmony.

Drew said...

If I'm running a team, I don't give my manager any rules to follow. Instead, I hire a manager who thinks the way I'd like a manager to think, and turn him loose. I think that just about any time rules start coming down from above, the manager either resents them, and can get passive aggressive about them, or he follows them too closely, when every rule is made to be broken sometimes.

That said, the one thing I'd like to see changed is that I think managers often worry too much about extra innings. If you aren't going to have enough bench or enough pitchers to go 16 innings in May, it probably doesn't matter. You'd likely be better off managing to win in regulation, and conceding the occasional long extra inning game, since there really aren't all that many of them anyway. Huh. That paragraph is almost completely off-topic.