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Monday, December 12, 2011

Finn: Q&A with MLB Network’s Brian Kenny

I haven’t been this riveted to a TV show since Roy Thinnes got a severe pinky cramp and had to hide it during a whole The Invaders episode!

The resistance from—I guess you could call it the long-established media, since mainstream applies to the internet these days—seems to be fading. Writers such as Keith Law or Dave Cameron at Fangraphs have BBWAA membership, which is a wonderful, progressive development. But there’s still that challenge of making sabermetrics accessible to the those who are skeptical or intimidated. How do you approach that challenge on the show?

Kenny: “That’s always the challenge in knowing where the line is. I want any baseball fan to be able to tune into the show and have a passing knowledge of statistics to be able to watch the show and enjoy it. So I really take my time and take particular care to explain the methodology and to explain what some of these new analytical tools are and how they are used and why they work.

At the same time, I stress this is not math class, a lot of times I try to say, hey, this is wins above replacement. Try not to get caught up in what goes into the number, just look at what the numbers are telling us. We can look at OPS, we can look at weighted on-base average, let’s see what all the evidence is telling us. I don’t get caught up in one number because there is no magic number. A fan is already looking at the numbers. How do you know someone is a good hitter? He hits .300. He drives in 100 runs. Those are metrics. They’re just not the best possible metrics to analyze production and project future performance. There are other numbers for that and we’re going to teach people what they are and how to use them.”

...Before I let you go, I have to ask since he’s one of my favorite players and his Hall of Fame candidacy is cause of sabermetricians: Does Tim Raines belong in the Hall of Fame?

Kenny: “Tim Raines is two Hall of Famers.”

Repoz Posted: December 12, 2011 at 10:01 PM | 19 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: announcers, baseball geeks, history, media, projections, sabermetrics, television

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   1. AROM Posted: December 12, 2011 at 10:58 PM (#4014405)
“Tim Raines is two Hall of Famers.”

Not to dispute that, but if true it means Rickey! is three Hall of Famers.
   2. AROM Posted: December 12, 2011 at 11:00 PM (#4014409)
I do love this show. It is almost surreal to watch every episode and see some reference to numbers that were crunched on my computer.
   3. charityslave is thinking about baseball Posted: December 13, 2011 at 02:53 AM (#4014653)
This show is hot stove sustinance, sabermetric manna. I don't know what the ratings are like, but I hope it's a huge success for Kenny.


Not to dispute that, but if true it means Rickey! is three Hall of Famers.


I think Bill James said something very close to this on Kenny's show- (paraphrasing) "Tim Raines problem is that he was the same type of player as Ricky Henderson. And half of Ricky is still a hall-of-famer."
   4. PreservedFish Posted: December 13, 2011 at 03:18 AM (#4014684)
“Tim Raines is two Hall of Famers.”


I dispute that.

With Rickey it's sort of plausible. Not with Raines.
   5. Voros McCracken of Pinkus Posted: December 13, 2011 at 07:21 AM (#4014813)
I do love this show. It is almost surreal to watch every episode and see some reference to numbers that were crunched on my computer.


It is quite something, isn't it? I'm not used to it yet, and probably won't ever be in case you were wondering when that feeling would subside.
   6. Dr. Vaux Posted: December 13, 2011 at 08:02 AM (#4014824)
I just wanted to post that it feels great to be able to read a message board to which some of the most important sabermetricians of all time contribute. It's the baseball version of having, say, Allen Forte and David Lewin or something.
   7. Zac Schmitt Posted: December 13, 2011 at 09:00 AM (#4014832)
I once told a baseball loving but non-sabermetrically inclined friend of mine Bill James's line about Rickey being two hall of famers. He proceeded to literally halve all of Rickey's statistics and concluded that, no, two Rickeys didn't really have that great a chance.
   8. Don Geovany Soto (chris h.) Posted: December 13, 2011 at 02:50 PM (#4014891)
I agree with #6. Hell, my *kids* have heard of Voros. Pretty awesome.
   9. AROM Posted: December 13, 2011 at 05:01 PM (#4015054)
Hell, my *kids* have heard of Voros. Pretty awesome.


My kids have heard of me.
   10. Accent Shallow Posted: December 13, 2011 at 05:13 PM (#4015072)
My kids have heard of me.

Glad to hear you've gotten out of your mother's basement to do some parenting.
   11. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: December 13, 2011 at 05:24 PM (#4015087)
I loved Kenny's radio show - haven't checked out his TV show, but I just got MLB Network this week so I'm DVRing it.

FTA:

"Well, you look at everything that's there. I do it with the researchers every day -- do we want to use WAR, do we want to use OPS ... the best way to look at it is to look at everything that's available. Because what makes up WAR are the guys singles, doubles, triples, and home runs, then in what context. Were there two guys on base? Were they down by a run? You can use that for leverage, clutch hitting. Statistics are shorthand. If you want to boil it down to one number, you really just can't, because you can find a flaw at every system. It's really about asking the right questions. It's about value.

"And I think fans are becoming more sophisticated. And any time they get back to RBIs and home runs. You're looking at numbers, too. You're thinking sabermetrically. Those are numbers everybody should look at. They're just not the best numbers."


That's a great answer. Kenny really is a great ambassador for those open to learning about sabermetrics.

I have been a big stats guy since the 90s and I don't really know the methodology or computations of many of the stats I follow. I guess I know generally that WAR incorporates things like defense and baserunning, but I don't know its computed or anything like that. I don't see that necessarily as a prerequisite for understand those stats - in fact I think the appeal of WAR is its simplicity as a stat and what it represents. I've never understood the resistance by fans and writers that don't like stats because they don't know how to compute them. So what? I bet they don't know how to compute Quarterback Rating or BCS Standings either, yet those get used.
   12. Don Geovany Soto (chris h.) Posted: December 13, 2011 at 05:43 PM (#4015113)
I'd argue that those who don't like WAR because they don't know how it's computed also don't like QBR or BCS standings, either.

And it's a viewpoint I understand. I'm an engineer at heart and I want to know how EVERYTHING works. I've learned to use WAR (and others), but at one level it does bother me that I haven't taken the time to figure out how it's computed. It almost feels like faith.
   13. Bad Doctor Posted: December 13, 2011 at 06:00 PM (#4015154)
And it's a viewpoint I understand. I'm an engineer at heart and I want to know how EVERYTHING works. I've learned to use WAR (and others), but at one level it does bother me that I haven't taken the time to figure out how it's computed. It almost feels like faith.

This is the one complaint I have about the excerpt above, particular w/r/t this part: "Try not to get caught up in what goes into the number, just look at what the numbers are telling us." To me, the best way to foster a better understanding of the advanced metrics is to talk about what makes them up (in broad strokes). If you get a fan who swears by traditional stats to just talk through indisputable facts -- (i) positional/replacement value -- a shortstop hitting .280/.350/.450 is a stud, a first baseman doing that is closer to part of the problem than part of the solution, (ii) the value of defense and baserunning, and that mathematicians estimate that good performances by a player in either can add a win a season, bad performance in either deduct a win a season, (iii) a walk is not as good as a hit, but it's closer to a hit than an out, and (iv) ballpark and era adjustments -- that gets you like 90% of the way to being what is generally considered a sabermetric savvy fan. That should get that fan 90% of the way to understanding WAR. And it's much more persuasive than just saying, Player A had 7.5 WAR and Player B had 6.0 WAR, QED.

And to combine threads, this is kind of the problem I have with the Raines' HoF movement. For guys like Blyleven, Santo, Grich, etc., you don't need to reverse engineer the numbers, you just have to realize what generally goes into them, and that leads you to understand how these players would fit in the HoF. Raines is so distinct because so much of his value is in stolen bases and not getting caught. I struggle to try to apply that when determining his value and comparing him to his peers and other HoFers or HoVGers, and it's just not very satisfying to have someone say, "Look at WAR or wRC+ ... this guy was two HoFers!"
   14. Jose Is The Most Absurd Thing on the Site Posted: December 13, 2011 at 06:07 PM (#4015170)
As someone who does not know how to calculate WAR but does use it from time to time I find my ignorance of the process useful. It forces me to look at WAR with some skepticism, I believe it is accurate but I'm not going to blindly follow it. My inability to do it myself means that I use it as a starting point, not an ending point, for discussions.
   15. Don Geovany Soto (chris h.) Posted: December 13, 2011 at 06:56 PM (#4015281)
As someone who does not know how to calculate WAR but does use it from time to time I find my ignorance of the process useful. It forces me to look at WAR with some skepticism, I believe it is accurate but I'm not going to blindly follow it. My inability to do it myself means that I use it as a starting point, not an ending point, for discussions.

That's actually an incredibly good point. I hadn't thought of that, but you're right: I'm skeptical of WAR, mostly because I can't calculate it, and that's not a bad thing.
   16. Xander Posted: December 13, 2011 at 07:03 PM (#4015292)
You never know who from the show is lurking and looking for ideas. So, if you guys have suggestions or advice, speak yo mind...
   17. Don Geovany Soto (chris h.) Posted: December 13, 2011 at 07:16 PM (#4015310)
I haven't got a ton of suggestions yet, as I've just started watching. So far I like it a lot.

If they haven't done this yet, they might consider an occasional "primer" segment where they explain some saber concepts.
   18. Ron J Posted: December 14, 2011 at 04:31 AM (#4015932)
#12 There are aspects of WAR that are black box, but that's not the end of the world, since the modular design allows you to substitute any other method.

But for the most part it's like anything that gains acceptance in the sabrmetrics world. It's a real safe bet that somebody who knows what they're doing has run a sanity check.
   19. Ray (RDP) Posted: December 14, 2011 at 04:42 AM (#4015938)
But for the most part it's like anything that gains acceptance in the sabrmetrics world. It's a real safe bet that somebody who knows what they're doing has run a sanity check.


And I would argue that WAR doesn't pass a sanity check for defense. I don't really need to "know what I'm doing" - I just need to compare WAR's defense numbers to those of other accepted defensive metrics. Honestly, these systems are in conflict with each other too often for me to have much faith in them, and, consequently, in WAR.

I use WAR as a blunt tool. If b-r had VORP and was sortable for it, I'd use VORP instead of WAR in many cases.

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