Monday, June 2, 2008

Sweet, Wonderful Context

For as far as we have come in terms of baseball writers recognizing the notion of context, I'm certain that for as long as Chipper Jones stays within shouting distance of .400, we will see 10 mindless "Can Chipper do it?!" articles for every one, like this one from Tim Marchman, which rationally assesses his chances rather than simply concludes "nah probably not":

The main reasons why it's impossible to reach baseball's most mythic mark are quite plain. Most important is that much as the 60-home run campaign is basically an artifact of the steroid era, the .400 batting average was more or less an artifact of the early live ball era, when fielders hadn't yet adjusted, in terms both of technique and equipment, to new realities of the game. Between 1921 and 1930, batters hit .400 seven times, which is one more time than all major league hitters managed between 1901 and 1920 and between 1931 and the present day. We can either conclude that all the best hitters for average in history peaked in the 1920s and that all the best home run hitters in history peaked in our own time, or we can acknowledge that all baseball numbers are a product of their time, to be viewed with a wary eye.
Marchman goes on to make a great point that no one else is making, and that's that for as nice and satisfying as .400 might be, it may be just as big an accomplishment, adjusted for context anyway, for Jones to hit .375 as .406 was for Williams in 1941.

5 comments:

Drew said...

I think the "baseball fan community" as a whole doesn't want to see landmark numbers approached, and certainly doesn't want to see them broken. Consider how aside from people like Marchman, nobody's talking about context when it comes to hitting .400, but as soon as someone hits 60+ homers, it's all about how the game has changed. In the back of their minds, most people know this stuff. They just don't want someone to think about Chipper Jones and Ted Williams as being anything close to peers.

Peter said...

Numbers must be viewed in the context of their era? Heresy! We could compare statistics from 1911 to statistics from 1976 until big bad Barry Bonds and the 'roided up evil-doers came along and ruined everything!

Daniel said...

Barry Bonds and the 'Roided Up Evil Doers is a great band by the way.

Rob said...

It's not that someone hit 60+ homers and all everyone talked about was how the game had changed, it was two players doing it in the same season, with one of them hitting 70, then both hitting 60+ the following year, and then Bonds hits 73.

If multiple players were to threaten .400 this season, I guarantee you that all anyone would talk about would be how the game had changed and how no one can play defense anymore.

Peter said...

The point is that the context of the era always mattered and that, in the bigger picture, steroids didn't destroy our ability to compare eras any more than segregation, amphetamines, etc...let alone the advancements in technology, nutrition, health care, training, etc.