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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Harvard Independent: How America’s pastime has drifted from humanity to a science

The Paper (old TSN) Chase.

But what is now lost from the game is the mystical feel of our pastime, found in the greats who once played the game. Sure, we still have legends. But even those are diminished in some respects. Take Derek Jeter, for instance. Many call him one of the greatest players to wear a uniform. But now, through advanced statistics, picking him apart for his below average UZR (which, in case you were wondering, measures the amount of space a fielder can cover). With sabermetrics, names like Ben Zobrist are thrown into the conversation as some of the most important players in baseball, while the Rays’ utilityman sports numbers that wouldn’t strike any onlookers as otherworldly.

The art of the sport is mostly lost, as the scientific backing for greatness is what many now look towards, rather than the intuitive feeling of watching good players play a sport.

This is not supposed to be a bitter, nostalgic rant against a movement that may indeed be improving how we think about baseball as a sport. Baseball is still America’s pastime. It is imbedded in the past, present, and future of our culture. That being said, it’s still worthwhile to embrace the beginning of spring and the sport the starts with it. Just know that it won’t be what your parents and parents’ parents were watching.

Repoz Posted: April 13, 2013 at 09:40 AM | 38 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, sabermetrics

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   1. BDC Posted: April 13, 2013 at 10:24 AM (#4412943)
names like Ben Zobrist are thrown into the conversation as some of the most important players in baseball

Funny that: for one thing, he's a heck of a ballplayer by conventional measures (over the last 4 years, averaging ~90 runs, ~90 walks, ~85 RBI, and ~18 stolen bases per season, in a time of declining offense). And the Rays seem to have put together fine records with him, Longoria, and a cast of, well, somewhat lesser players.

But he's one of my favorites for a non-numerical reason. At the Ballpark last year, Eddie Robinson came out to help some child throw out the first pitch. (Have I told this story before?) Anyway, Robinson's announced, the fans are like, who? and the kid throws the baseball. Robinson, 90 if he's a day, walks slowly back towards the 3B dugout leaning on the child. And Ben Zobrist races up out of the dugout, shakes Robinson's hand, slings an arm around him, insists that somebody take their picture together. A pretty special moment, and I didn't find myself dismissing it and wondering what Zobrist's UZR was while it lasted.
   2. BochysFingers Posted: April 13, 2013 at 10:31 AM (#4412946)
With sabermetrics, names like Ben Zobrist are thrown into the conversation as some of the most important players in baseball, while the Rays’ utilityman sports numbers that wouldn’t strike any onlookers as otherworldly.

Funny, I thought the point of the article was that baseball was a humanity... if that were the case, we wouldn't be looking at any stats at all, no?

And heaven forbid Ben Zobrist be considered great.
   3. JE (Jason) Posted: April 13, 2013 at 10:31 AM (#4412947)
In the author's next article, he will similarly damn those cretins who pointed out that FDR couldn't walk on his own and JFK was banging starlets.
   4. Rickey! trades in sheep and threats Posted: April 13, 2013 at 10:42 AM (#4412950)
Funny, I thought the point of the article was that baseball was a humanity... if that were the case, we wouldn't be looking at any stats at all, no?


I'm always amused when one of these (rather tame, on point articles) is posted, because you kids are so obvious and quick in your failure to read them at all. Or if you do, your ability to miss the point entirely is beyond kin.
   5. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: April 13, 2013 at 10:53 AM (#4412952)
In the author's next article, he will similarly damn those cretins who pointed out that FDR couldn't walk on his own and JFK was banging starlets.

And that presidents almost never write their own speeches!

--------------------------------------

I'm always amused when one of these (rather tame, on point articles) is posted, because you kids are so obvious and quick in your failure to read them at all. Or if you do, your ability to miss the point entirely is beyond kin.

Yeah, right. The author spends seven paragraphs denouncing the sabermetric trend, breaks in for one paragraph conceding that it's got a few beneficial points, and then continues his initial lamentation for baseball's lost "literary tales" for the rest of the article, with the obligatory mention of the way that statheads are nitpicking Derek Jeter's defense. It's not an article worth getting indignant about, but given its Harvard pedigree it's eminently worthy of lampooning.
   6. Rickey! trades in sheep and threats Posted: April 13, 2013 at 11:01 AM (#4412953)
You kids are still shocked that regular fans are less than embracing of your attempts to convert a beloved sport and pastime into another set of actuarial tables. It's amazing. It's like you've never seen _Office Space._
   7. Dale Sams Posted: April 13, 2013 at 11:01 AM (#4412954)
but given its Harvard pedigree it's eminently worthy of lampooning.


What perfidy thou hast committed, I have bespotted it.
   8. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: April 13, 2013 at 11:04 AM (#4412956)
Humanity to science. Tremendous way to put it. Captures it very well. Wish I'd thought of it.
   9. Dale Sams Posted: April 13, 2013 at 11:11 AM (#4412958)
Just know that it won’t be what your parents and parents’ parents were watching.


No? What was the last major rule change? The DH? That was 40 ####### years ago. And obviously this article wasn't about interleague play and playoff spots. It's still the same ####### game. You want to bury your head in the ####### sand. Go right ahead. You can still listen to radio games without having to be bothered by those heretical numbers! (crosses self) No one is holding a gun to your head to watch "MLB Now".

You go to the ballpark and you will still see people scoring the game. They still play the national anthem and you can still stand and sing along. So stop tilting at windmills and building strawmen.
   10. Jose Is The Most Absurd Thing on the Site Posted: April 13, 2013 at 11:16 AM (#4412961)
You kids are still shocked that regular fans are less than embracing of your attempts to convert a beloved sport and pastime into another set of actuarial tables.


Actually, I'm quite fine with that. My problem is with the compulsion they have to be critical of the numbers. I think everyone here loves Vin Scully and Vin's greatest skill is his incredible storytelling ability. The difference is that Vin is secure enough to tell the story and let it stand on its own. He doesn't need to turn "Joe Shlabotnik is a nice guy" into "Joe Shlabotnik is a nice guy and because of that even though he hits .207 he's a better player than Alex Rodriguez."
   11. Fancy Pants Handles lap changes with class Posted: April 13, 2013 at 11:21 AM (#4412965)
You kids are still shocked that regular fans are less than embracing of your attempts to convert a beloved sport and pastime into another set of actuarial tables. It's amazing. It's like you've never seen _Office Space._

Are you trying to change the subject, because your initial claim was the equivalent of crapping your pants in public?
   12. Morty Causa Posted: April 13, 2013 at 11:25 AM (#4412969)
It's the argument from ignorance, for, and idolatry of, an unexplainable mystical beauty that resides in making instinctive inference about the wonders and mystery of things we don’t know. We revert to it all the time, especially when we are ignorant about a subject or issue. It comes down to an “I don’t need to know—I’m attuned to God’s (or Nature’s).” As some scientist once cynically put it, if you want to understand creation, but are too lazy to study physics, you become a mystic.

Poet John Keats famously lamented that Sir Isaac Newton had "unweaved the rainbow". People would never be able to appreciate the wonder and beauty of the rainbow in the way they once instinctually were able to. It's the flying by the seat of your pants aesthetic. It was cogently refuted by Richard Dawkins in his book Unweaving the Rainbow.

Richard Feynman in this one minute clip slaps it down:

Ode on a Flower

There is something to be said for it, just as there is something to be said for introducing a toddler to language with baby talk. You shouldn't still be speaking baby talk when you're ten or 20 or 30. You should outgrow it as a method of communicating. If you want to be taken seriously by serious persons, at some point you will have to ditch that stance. As Isaac Asimov said, "The argument for ignorance is premature. It's always been premature."
   13. GotowarMissAgnes Posted: April 13, 2013 at 11:30 AM (#4412972)
I refuse to choose. My analytical brain loves the ability to better quantify performance. And that does not diminish my ability to appreciate the ballet of a double play or enjoy the poetry of a triple. There is no contradiction there, nor a need to abandon one for the other.
   14. Rickey! trades in sheep and threats Posted: April 13, 2013 at 12:06 PM (#4412987)
Morty @ 12 is the gist of the problem you kids have. You honestly believe you understand the world better than the stupid lumpen prole. You have nothing to contain your own hubris.
   15. Morty Causa Posted: April 13, 2013 at 12:14 PM (#4412989)
Yes, I do. I have you. And others who hold me to strictures of logic and evidence (and me them). The alternative is painting yourself purple and gold, sticking feathers up your ass, and doing a dance in praise of the thunder.
   16. OCF Posted: April 13, 2013 at 12:22 PM (#4412992)
Interesting thing about terminology. All the stuff about "playing the game the right way" and "doing the little things" like bunting and having productive at bats. The best-read writers were writing about that 100 years ago. And what did they call it 100 years ago? They called it "scientific baseball."
   17. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: April 13, 2013 at 12:40 PM (#4412998)
The alternative is painting yourself purple and gold, sticking feathers up your ass, and doing a dance in praise of the thunder.

That's all well and good, but my gay-league team doesn't play the SF Thunder until tomorrow.
   18. DJS and the Infinite Sadness Posted: April 13, 2013 at 12:42 PM (#4412999)
I USED TO BE ABLE TO ENJOY A BEAUTIFUL DAY UNTIL YOU ############# TOLD ME ABOUT RAYLEIGH SCATTERING AND NOW THAT I KNOW CLOUDS ARE WATER VAPOR AND NOT DUST BUNNIES FROM JESUS'S FOYER, IM GOING TO GO STRANGLE SOME PUPPIES. NEXT YOULL TELL ME THAT AT SUNSET WHEN THE STAR OF PHOEBUS LEAVES THE SKY A BEAUTIFUL CRIMSON THAT THE ITS JUST SOME GAYASS BALL OF GAS HAHAHA YEAH RIGHT.
   19. Voros McCracken of Pinkus Posted: April 13, 2013 at 12:48 PM (#4413001)
Oh, the humanity!
   20. GGC don't think it can get longer than a novella Posted: April 13, 2013 at 12:51 PM (#4413002)
No? What was the last major rule change? The DH? That was 40 ####### years ago. And obviously this article wasn't about interleague play and playoff spots. It's still the same ####### game. You want to bury your head in the ####### sand. Go right ahead. You can still listen to radio games without having to be bothered by those heretical numbers! (crosses self) No one is holding a gun to your head to watch "MLB Now".

You go to the ballpark and you will still see people scoring the game. They still play the national anthem and you can still stand and sing along. So stop tilting at windmills and building strawmen.


Well, there are more relievers and strikeouts; as well as shorter fences and less foul territory. There are more defensive shifts, too. So the rules may be the same, but the game has still changed.

As an aside, isn't Morty way older than you Sam? I'm guessing you are around my age while Morty is in his fifties at the very least. And I don't think too many of the regular posters are much under thirty here.
   21. JE (Jason) Posted: April 13, 2013 at 01:08 PM (#4413010)
As an aside, isn't Morty way older than you Sam?

I don't think I have ever met a "Morty" who wasn't already in his late 50s.
   22. Morty Causa Posted: April 13, 2013 at 01:13 PM (#4413015)

I'm probably older than everyone here except for Jolly Old and Gandalf the Wallbanger.
   23. bobm Posted: April 13, 2013 at 01:22 PM (#4413024)
From the April, 1890 issue of THE HARVARD MONTHLY (via Google Books):

COMMUNICATIONS: WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH HARVARD ROWING? [...]

The other games were rudimentary in my day. In baseball we used to choose two captains, one of whom would spit on the flat side of a bat (some had flat sides), and toss it in the air, when the other would call "spit side" or "plain," and the result of the toss would give each captain alternate choice of players. "One out, all out." would perhaps be the game, and fun and not science was the object. [Emphasis added]






   24. Morty Causa Posted: April 13, 2013 at 01:29 PM (#4413039)
Always with the spitting. Why didn't they just call flat side or round side? I think maybe it was more about spitting than baseball.
   25. Srul Itza Posted: April 13, 2013 at 01:37 PM (#4413059)

I'm probably older than everyone here except for Jolly Old and Gandalf the Wallbanger.


Maybe, maybe not.
   26. cardsfanboy Posted: April 13, 2013 at 01:38 PM (#4413061)
First off, this was a pretty good article, even if I don't agree with it. Where he bemoans the lost of legendary players like Jeter because of analytics, he missed the point that Jeter isn't that legendary. His legend is as much a product of who he plays for and not just his ability. The true legendary players who's career overlapped with Jeter, is guys like Chipper, Arod, and Pujols. These guys are just as loved by the traditional methods of looking at players, as well as the newer methods.

(of course his memory of the catch was wrong..but why nitpick with facts)

The thing about Zobrist, is his best season would look perfectly in line with a Jeter season... .297/.405/.543, 27 hr, 91 runs/rbi....that is better than all but one of Jeter's seasons...add in his actual gold glove quality defense and you can see that he had a hell of a year. You don't need his 8.6 war to tell you that. His 2011 year(the year of the 8.8 war) is hidden more, as offensively it's more in line with Jeter's career averages(trading power for obp though...) but anyone who sees a true gold glove quality shortstop, that is hitting 20 homeruns a year, should know that he is a special player, even without dealing with war.
   27. Dale Sams Posted: April 13, 2013 at 01:59 PM (#4413088)
while the Rays’ utilityman sports numbers that wouldn’t strike any onlookers as otherworldly.


Ben Zobrist career OPS+ 118
Dustin Pedroia career OPS+ 117
Derek Jeter career OPS+ 117
   28. Voros McCracken of Pinkus Posted: April 13, 2013 at 02:03 PM (#4413092)
Those aren't the numbers that count. You have to count the rings. This is why Antonio Alfonseca had the potential to be the greatest player ever.
   29. cardsfanboy Posted: April 13, 2013 at 02:07 PM (#4413098)
Ben Zobrist career OPS+ 118
Dustin Pedroia career OPS+ 117
Derek Jeter career OPS+ 117


That is including Jeter's decline phase though. Jeter had a 122 at the same age as Zobrist, and a 127 if you overlap their same age seasons. Jeter is by far the better hitter than Zobrist, it isn't particularly close. It's the great defense that puts Zobrist in the discussion(along with the poor defense from Jeter)

On top of that Zobrist doesn't have the average that one expects to see when talking about a good hitter.

(I'm not sure if the lack of other great hitting players up the middle have helped make Zobrist look better. He doesn't have to compete with Arod/Tejada/Nomar like Jeter did, but I'm not sure if that affects the replacement level any for shortstops)
   30. GGC don't think it can get longer than a novella Posted: April 13, 2013 at 02:08 PM (#4413099)
Three Fingers Brown sucked. But at least he was better than Pete Gray or Jim Abbott.
   31. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: April 13, 2013 at 05:36 PM (#4413334)
From the April, 1890 issue of THE HARVARD MONTHLY (via Google Books):

COMMUNICATIONS: WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH HARVARD ROWING? [...]

The other games were rudimentary in my day. In baseball we used to choose two captains, one of whom would spit on the flat side of a bat (some had flat sides), and toss it in the air, when the other would call "spit side" or "plain," and the result of the toss would give each captain alternate choice of players. "One out, all out." would perhaps be the game, and fun and not science was the object. [Emphasis added]


Bob, when I read that, I figured it was about 50-50 whether you were a brilliant parodist or a tireless miner of obscure 19th century journals. After running a tracer, I wish I could say you were both, but I guess I'm reminded once again that some truth is beyond parody. What a sublime passage.
   32. Jarrod HypnerotomachiaPoliphili(Teddy F. Ballgame) Posted: April 13, 2013 at 08:09 PM (#4413449)
I'm probably older than everyone here except for Jolly Old and Gandalf the Wallbanger.


I had to play catcher for an hour at my son's baseball practice, so right now I feel older than all of you combined. I may not use my knees again for a week.

Do you think we can get Harvey's to change his handle to Gandalf?
   33. spike Posted: April 13, 2013 at 08:40 PM (#4413459)
Jesus this guy is sore about getting old. Want to bring back the magic? Take a kid to a ball game. If two hours with my 7 year old doesn't conjure sufficient evidence that the mystical feel of our pastime is still quite extant, well you got a hole in your soul. Plenty of people still enjoy baseball the same way it's always been enjoyed, and adding some new words to the vocabulary to describe it isn't going to change that.
   34. AROM Posted: April 13, 2013 at 08:40 PM (#4413462)
"The alternative is painting yourself purple and gold, sticking feathers up your ass, and doing a dance in praise of the thunder."

I like Kevin Durant, but if I paint myself purple and gold and stick feathers up my ass, it will be to get the Lakers into the playoffs.
   35. Jack Carter, calling Beleaguered Castle Posted: April 13, 2013 at 09:12 PM (#4413469)
Many call him one of the greatest players to wear a uniform.

Is this remotely true?

Morty @ 12 is the gist of the problem you kids have. You honestly believe you understand the world better than the stupid lumpen prole.

Well, I won't speak for Morty, but, yeah, I'm pretty sure I understand the world 'better than the stupid lumpen prole'. I mean, have you ever talked to the stupid lumpen prole? Hell, they can't even understand adjustable rate mortgages, never mind understand the positions of the candidates they vote for.

Do you think we can get Harvey's to change his handle to Gandalf?
Stop. Just stop.
   36. Tuque Posted: April 14, 2013 at 09:44 PM (#4414175)
I took Zobrist with the #7 pick in my Scoresheet draft...between his positional flexibility (he qualifies at SS, 2B, and OF, and he won't hurt you at any other IF position except catcher) and excellent health record with lots of playing time, he's an extremely valuable player. Right now he's my starting SS - which alone is worth a ton of value - but also my primary backup at pretty much every other position, and he gives me a lot of options if one of my players decides to suck or get hurt (for example Granderson).
   37. BDC Posted: April 14, 2013 at 10:26 PM (#4414201)
Many call him one of the greatest players to wear a uniform.

Is this remotely true?


Derek Jeter? I think many do call him that, probably. And if you're talking "greatest 100" or thereabouts, it's probably true. Greatest 10 or 12, no way.

Zobrist, now, people aren't saying that yet. But I remember the time Zobrist … stop me if you've heard this one.
   38. Jack Carter, calling Beleaguered Castle Posted: April 15, 2013 at 01:28 AM (#4414265)
And if you're talking "greatest 100" or thereabouts, it's probably true.


Hmm. I think we'll discover his D is actually as bad as the worst estimates consider him. If he's something like the tenth best SS, that puts him in a rough tie for 73rd among position players, with a whole passel of pitchers ahead of him. So, fair enough. He certainly has a case for top 100.

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