Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Baseball Number Crunchers vs. The Average Fan

(This is a response to DRays Bay's recent post "Processes > Results". Don't get me wrong, I like those guys. Sometimes however ...)

As much as my educated mind loves statistics and analysis, some baseball fans just take statistical analysis a little too far. At least they do in their writing. Today I read a piece by prominent Rays' bloggers DRays Bay on the idea that wins and losses aren't always the most important idea in baseball. To quote,

"Yes, wins are the ultimate goal in baseball (and all sports), but how you get those wins are also important. The problem is a lot of people take that quote to heart. These people watch Pitcher A give up five runs, have his offense bail him out with six runs, get a winning decision and proclaim Pitcher A did his job. These people are wrong."

Ugh.

The problem as I see it depends on perspective. Whereas the guys over at DRays Bay love processes, methodology, and the inner workings of mechanics, most fans couldn't give two wits about that stuff. They care about wins and losses.

And I hope that never changes. Honestly.

Again, I love stats. I used to stare at the back of baseball cards night and day. But I am insulted when the guys from DRays Bay say things like thinking only about wins, losses, and other results is "simpleton thinking".

Quick question: if Stephen Hawking took a day off from physics and went to a ballgame and during this game he cheered when his favorite team won on a few "lucky" breaks, would the guys from DRays Bay call Hawking a simpleton?

Here is a small list of people who don't care about the processes of baseball:

Casual fans
Kids
Gamblers

These people will never be concerned with VORP, ERA+, WARP, or LD%. Why? Because to them it is a game, not a complex equation. My guess would also be that these groups put more money into the game than people who know anything about Third Order Wins. (To be honest, I don't even know what a Third Order Win is.)

I understand DRays Bay is not written for kids, casual fans, or gamblers. It is written for people who look at baseball deeper than most. For people who approach the game from an almost graduate level viewpoint. But what pisses me off is their occasional "holier than thou" attitude towards the casual fan. For example, this quotes from their commentors:

"We can sit here and explain the virtues of BABIP and FB and GB% until we’re blue in the face, but it’s going to take many many years before Mr. Joe Everyfan, or most mainstream/national writers for that matter, learn to see past the traditional metrics and expand their baseball IQ."

What they don't understand is that most fans don't care. It's like a stock broker advising a buyer to change their portfolio because certain stocks have a higher or lower P/E Ratio. If it makes a buyer happy, and they are getting what they want out of it, they don't have to listen to one word the broker says. It's their money.

Before I go, compare DRays Bay's line that "Things (in baseball) are not always as black and white as 'pass/fail'" with Ty Cobb's famous statement that "I have observed that baseball is not unlike a war".

What matters in war is wins and losses (at least in force-on-force direct combat). War is black and white. Kill or be killed. Most people like their baseball like that too. That doesn't make them simpletons.

3 comments:

NoleCC said...

Holy cow... I'm really starting to despise the statheads that talk that kind of garbage. The only thing I've ever learned about statistics is that I can spin them pretty much however I want.

Hell I spun the Jeff Bowden buyout as a good thing for FSU a couple of years ago in a post. If that's possible, anything is.

Keep up the good work Jordi!

The Hundley said...

Ha, yes! It's way more fun to say that Player X is better than Player Y because "he just is". That's the best part about sports - subjective arguments between people, with passion being the driving factor. Somehow, I don't think the arguments are as fun if you're pulling out "Field Coverage" stats or the like.

Gosh, how long until Pitchers and Catchers report??

Anonymous said...

The day that myself, along with all the other "casual" fans start giving a damn about this stat and that stat, is the day when these statistical, analytical douchebags remove the serious stick from their asses and go to a game simply to enjoy it, without making it some calculus like equation. Awesome post Jordi!