Once we get past this little detour—which is much smaller than I’m sure I’ve made it out to be—“The Stat Story” actually levels off pretty well, attempting to shed a positive light on statistics and telling the story of how statistics have impacted the game of baseball. In fact, after it was all said and done, our Finley/Brock/Lasorda spectacle became much more of an afterthought, almost included to say, “OK, there are still people who don’t agree with all this, but it’s here, it’s undeniable, and here is the impact it’s having on front offices, Hall of Fame and awards voting, and the way fans view the game”. All in all, despite my wariness after the first few minutes, the documentary wound up being fair.
In fact, one of the first such things I noticed and really appreciated was that many of the interviewees were prominent internet writers. Of course there’s excellent work being done behind closed doors in front offices, but much of the modern day sabermetric movement is taking place on the internet at places like Baseball Prospectus, The Hardball Times, Beyond the Boxscore, etc. I wasn’t sure if this would be acknowledged in the documentary, and while specific mention was scarce, many of their authorities came from our little corner of the internet: former BPers Jonah Keri and Joe Sheehan, SBNation’s Rob Neyer, The Baseball Analysts’ Rich Lederer, FanGraphs’ David Appelman, and Retrosheet’s David Smith.
...One of the biggest things that casual observers of statistics—and, it seems to me, the makers of this documentary—fail to understand is the distinction between statistics and sabermetrics (words which the documentary used fairly interchangeably). Sabermetrics is the search for truth, which isn’t limited to numbers. I’ve long been a supporter of using qualitative information and was both honored and thrilled to have had the opportunity to attend MLB’s Scout School a couple years back. Scouting is a part of sabermetrics. On the quantitative side of the coin, sabermetrics isn’t just about using numbers; it’s about analyzing which numbers are useful and how to properly use them.
Statistics, on the other hand, are composed exclusively of numbers and, in the improper context, can be misconstrued. In this documentary, it mentions how Earl Weaver used batter/pitcher matchup data to set his lineups, with one of the interviewees chiming in, “And it worked!” But batter/pitcher matchup data is essentially useless. Yes, it’s statistics, it’s numbers, and it’s quantifiable… but it’s not sabermetrics.
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