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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Graham: An open letter to Bill Dwyre

Graham: I Want To Live! (to see the day when this is all behind us)

So we’re clear, I embrace sabermetrics. I didn’t a few years ago– like you, I once joked about the meaning of VORP– but after I began writing often about baseball, I found that basic advanced stats improved my understanding. The story side of baseball history was and is my primary love. But I like being able to rely on something besides quotes and opinions to tell stories. I’ve read of Casey Stengel bemoaning one of his outfielders driving in a run but letting three more in with shoddy fielding. I like that there’s a way to quantify this with metrics such as Wins Above Replacement that assess a player’s total value, taking all facets of his play into account. I like OPS+ and wRC+ that compare a hitter’s production to league average, normalizing for ballpark and era. For me, so much about baseball research is establishing context. While I don’t think sabermetrics alone can do this, they’re a valuable part of the equation.

That being said, I think the majority of SABR members hold true to traditional stats like batting average, runs batted in and pitcher wins. Jack Morris’s Hall of Fame case is a source of continual derision among many sabermetricians, as Black Jack has underwhelming ratings for various advanced stats; I read somewhere that more than half of SABR members support Morris being enshrined. At a SABR meeting in January, I took in a presentation from a fellow member who talked about flying to libraries around the country to look through old newspaper records to doublecheck long-ago RBI totals. I personally think RBIs are a misleading indicator of player value, since they’re dependent on a number of factors outside a hitter’s control. I rose my hand to ask this fellow why he wasn’t putting all this (commendable) effort into researching another stat. He tersely replied something to the effect of, “Well, you know, runs decide games.” I don’t know if people like this fellow would ever attend SABR Analytics. I suspect not.

I’m sorry you got the wrong idea about SABR, near as I can gather from reading your column. I invite you to give my organization another shot in the future. Perhaps the Allan Roth Chapter in Los Angeles could have you speak at a future meeting. Beat writers, broadcasters and other media members are common fixtures at meetings. I imagine you have loads of great baseball stories that a lot of us would love to hear.

Regardless, I close respectfully.

Graham Womack

Repoz Posted: March 10, 2013 at 01:22 PM | 3 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: sabermetrics

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   1. AndrewJ Posted: March 10, 2013 at 04:55 PM (#4385664)
By the way, SABR predates the term “sabermetrics” by about a decade. There’s no official connection between the two terms. Most SABR members aren’t sabermetricians, I’d venture.

In 1985 Bill James was interviewed for SABR's Baseball Research Journal, where he said he regretted coining the term "sabermetrics" precisely because it conflated SABR with stat-crunching in the general public's mind. There's much, much more to SABR than sabermetrics.
   2. Los Angeles El Hombre de Anaheim Posted: March 10, 2013 at 05:01 PM (#4385666)
Bill Dwyre's probably loving all this attention.
   3. Tim Wallach was my Hero Posted: March 10, 2013 at 05:59 PM (#4385703)
Consider this as an opportunity for dialogue and education.

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