Monday, June 23, 2008

Character Counts

Neyer posted a link to it this morning, and Sara pointed it out to me because I was too busy watching myself get yelled at, but here's a neat passage from the recap of Bill James' and Rob's presentation at the Boston Museum of Science:
[James] prefers to talk about elements of the game that he has not yet been able to measure.

For example, there is what he calls “The Dick Allen Problem.”

Dick Allen was a talented baseball player for the Phillies in the 1960s who had trouble getting along with management and many of his fellow players. Many believe Allen was a clubhouse cancer whose antics (he fought with teammates on a few different occasions and once missed a double-header because he was stuck in traffic) cost the Phillies wins.

The problem for James is how to measure the impact of a player’s personality on the team’s wins and losses. He has no idea how to go about doing that, but thinks it will have to involve practices from other scientific disciplines, such as organizational psychology. He sharply disputes the idea that off-field behavior doesn’t matter.

“There are some people who seem to think the things that happen off the field have no effect on teams whatsoever. That strikes me as idiotic,” he says.
When Sara forwarded that to me, she said "Bill James is working on scientifically measuring the "human element"? Good lord, what would the Old Guard say about that?"

I think the Old Guard will say something like "Finally that geek James has given up his cyberball and figured out what we've been saying all along! Character counts and chemistry matters!" Of course when they say that, the old guard will be ignoring that:
(a) James has never said that character doesn't count, and his comments here reaffirm a lot of what he has said in the past;

(b) Even if he did, looking at chemistry/character and looking at stats are not mutually-exclusive exercises; and

(c) Even though the Old Guard may claim that they were right all along in talking about chemistry, that talk has been much like their appreciation of stats: shallow, lazy, and resting on old canards and cliches as opposed to any objective observation.
I don't get the sense that James is actually looking at "the human element" as opposed to merely talking about it, but I'll bet that if he decides to do so he'll beat the old guard at that old game just as much as he beat them at the "new" game over twenty years ago.


Ron Rollins said...

Actually, I would disagree with you on the Old Guard thing. I count myself with that crowd, even though I do like the saber side of things also. (Is that allowed?)

That follows along my line of thinking that a formula or a spread sheet don't convey the whole game. Too many guys think if there's a number, its the end all of evaluating a player.

Most of the Old Guard guys (in my opinon) are the ones who believe outside influences make a difference, which is why you can't use a computer program to manage a line up.

Things like hangovers, disagreements with teammates, a sick family member, or even road rage all play a part in how prepared a guy is too play. Or his willingness to play, ala Dick Allen.

I think Bill James is on to something. Its just a matter of actually measuring it.

But then doesn't that make it a sabermetric thing. Never mind, maybe you were right.

Jason said...

Baseball Prospectus has supposedly developed the DAF statistic for off field issues. The DAF, or Domestic Abuse Factor, measures a player's performance directly before and after a domestic abuse incident.

A DAF or +.031 or higher prior to an abusive incident is actually quite good.

RoyceTheBaseballHack said...

Man, Shyster - they were tearing you a new one, over there. Where's the love, man?
My take on this whole thing is that there are a lot of professional athletes who are pretty sorry. Most are not, but just like any subset of society, there is a Sorriness element. Talent can blind us to some of it, some of the time, but it's always there.

Craig Calcaterra said...

That's fine by me, Royce. I've been at BTF for years and years (many years before I began writing) so I hope they treat me like anyone else they disagree with.

It's almost always civil. And to be honest, I probably shouldn't have called feller an ass. Maybe a crotchety old man saying ill-considered things or something, because most of the criticism focused on "ass."

Greg P said...

John Sickels wrote a biography of sorts about Feller about four or five years ago. I think Sickels has about the same web persona as you do, Craig. I pretty clearly remember Sickels thinking Feller was a pompous ass, too, as he didn't get much (any?) information from Feller for the book.

I must say that I didn't think much about your headline, because I was already pretty sure that Feller was an ass.