Trying to bring a little common sense to the game of baseball. But considering many of the people who read baseball blogs, I'm probably just pissing into the wind.

Monday, August 8, 2011

10 reasons I don't like sabermetrics

Just some random thoughts about random subjects.

1. Do we really need a Grand Unified Theory?

Isn't one of the great things about baseball the debate on who is the greatest, who is the MVP, who deserved the Gold Glove, etc.? I mean, do we really want, or need, to know the answers to all the questions? Someday someone will find that magic formula and the magic will be gone. The debates are one of the things that keep the interest in the game going, particularly in the off-season. Right now, who the greatest player of all time is still open for discussion. Some say Ruth, some say Cobb, some say Bonds (bulls!!t), and I don't think Aaron ever gets the serious look he should. But they are our opinions, not our facts. Isn't it more fun this way?

2. When did traditionalist become a dirty word?

What's wrong with the stats I grew up with as a kid? Why can't I like Win's and RBI's, and still have a clue about the game? The counting stats are the basis of everything and they've been around since the beginning of the game. The percentage formulas that came from them were easy to use and to understand, and still tell us a lot about the game. Most of the old stats were around for over 100 years before sabermetrics came along, and they served the game well. I realize there are different ways to look at the game, but why am I considered an ignorant doofus for liking batting average? We shouldn't be abused for mentioning a pitcher's ERA, but we are.

3. There is so much of it I can't keep track:

Every month, some new formula pops up, and the author claims it’s the only way to evaluate players. There are probably 3 dozen websites touting something sabermetric, all claiming to be relevant, but who can monitor it all. If you tried, you would spend so much time reading web pages that it cuts into the time actually watching the game. Seriously, there are days when I feel I need a supercomputer just to track and collate all the information out there. Sabermetrics should make the game more fun, not make it harder than work.

4. Do you really understand all of it?

It's getting to the point where you need an advanced degree in math and computer science just to understand it all. Some of the formulas are so complicated they can't be understood. I'm not a stupid person, at least in my mind, but I just don't get some of the stuff. But not to worry, you don't have to. The guy who invented the formula will tell you it's not important to understand the math, just trust him when he says his formula works and he knows what he's talking about. You don't have to know how he gets to the point, but his point is better than everyone else's. Trust him. Really.

5. None of it jives:

Shouldn't all of these different formula's and sabermetrics kind of work together? Shouldn't they all point the same way? Why do they give us some many variables and different outcomes? If you look 20 different top-10 lists compiled by any of the saber-tools, you're going to get 20 different results. They don't match each other. Sure, they'll all say Albert Pujols was the best, or second best, or third best player last year. But do we need a formula to tell us that? I already know Pujols is one of the best to ever play the game. All of these sabermetrics don't form any kind of consensus at all. They're all over the place. To paraphrase Gallagher - "how can you take the numbers seriously if they don't take themselves seriously?"

6. Flat-lining:

I might be wrong on this, but does sabermetrics effectively measure players from year to year? If these formulas are so good, shouldn't they show consistency from year to year? But players will go from an above average season to below the next, then back above the next one. Shouldn't a graph of a players career look like the plains of western Kansas, and not the skyline of Denver?

Aren't the great ones always great, and the bad ones always bad? Shouldn't this be reflected? But most graphs of players are a series of peaks and valleys, not a wavy line. And since all these formulas are designed to measure a player's ability, and not his playing time, shouldn't it be a flat line?

Someone will probably prove me wrong on this one, and that's fine. But I point to Derek Jeter's fielding.

7. Robotics:

Managers and General Managers are now idiots unless they use sabermetrics in all aspects of the game. In fact, lots of people won't be happy until the manager is taken out of the dugout and the lineup and all game decisions are made by a computer, giving readouts on what to do based on whoever can sell his formula to a particular team. People seem to have forgotten that sabermetrics, just like counting stats, are an evaluation tool, and should be used as such, and not as a decision making tool. Sabermetrics should be used to help make a decisions, but not be the decision maker. Get a grip guys. It's a game played by people, for people. It's not a video game. It's real life.

8. The jerks:

Sabermetrics, for all the good it has done, has created a multi-headed monster. Mainly, the group of people who don't really know much about the game beyond the statistics, and they are a bunch of jerks. They inhabit the blogosphere, lurking wherever intelligent discussion of baseball lurks. As soon as someone tries to make a point about anything, they swarm up from their mothers' basement, and immediately launch a cyber-attack, letting the rest of us know how stupid we are. Seriously, have you ever seen one of the discussion threads where someone makes the mistake of mentioning batting average? They are immediately besieged by at least a dozen stat heads, who inform us how unintelligent we are for believing in nonsense, and start throwing more numbers at us they the normal human mind is able to comprehend.

I know they don't live in their mother's basement, but you get the point. This phenomenon is actually not the guys who develop the saber stuff themselves (in most cases) but are a group of loyal followers who have appointed themselves the final arbiter of all things baseball.

9. We're not allowed to use dirty words:

If it can't be expressed in numbers, then it doesn't count. Don't ever use the word intangibles. Don't suggest a manger or ball player 'knows' the game. Hunches aren't allowed. Experience doesn't count. If it's not on a spreadsheet, then it just doesn't matter. Because managers don't know their players. Guys don't have injuries they hide. They don't stay out all night drinking, or sit with their wife at the hospital waiting on a baby. They don't give up at the end of the season. They don't play harder for a new contract, or get complacent when they get it. I've been called names and insulted continuously for suggesting these things might need to be taken into consideration. But I guess I'm an idiot and don't know anything about the game. Because I don't express it all in numbers.

10. What happened to the numbers?

For guys who try to express everything in numbers and formulas, they seem to be missing something. Where are all these numbers coming from and what do the mean. How is something expressed as 1/3 of a win? A win is 1 win for one team, and 1 loss for another. Not fractions of wins, but whole numbers. And all these numbers they come up with don't add up. If a guy is worth 10 "whatever", and a teammate is worth "2", shouldn't they all add up? If the Yankees had 103 wins last year, shouldn't all the numbers add up to that? Or give us an approximate percentage? Something? Shouldn't the total for the team be the combined numbers for everyone who played a game that year? Shouldn't all the numbers add up and balance out? Even in Win Shares, which I like, you have to divide by 3 to get back to the original number. Baseball doesn't do that. The numbers equal themselves. But how do they just add a number to a formula and say it works. How do we really know a HR should be multiplied by 1.3, or a triple by .65? Making a formula equal zero doesn't mean it’s correct, it just means it equals zero. If your formula can't stand on its own, without having to add a created number to it, then is it really accurate? And how does a player end up with a negative number for anything? The only negative number in baseball is games behind. That's it.

I'm not anti-Sabermetric. I like Sabermetrics and understand it. Most of it. I'm a cross between stat heads and traditionalists, and understand both sides.

But these are legitimate complaints against Sabermetrics.

Feel free to discuss, agree, disagree, whatever. Just have a legitimate comment, and not the typical, "you're stupid, you don't understand anything, my (insert favorite formula) says this" argument.

To believe in the numbers, the numbers have to believe in themselves - Gallagher (or so)

A rebuttal will be offered tomorrow.

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