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Monday, September 19, 2011

Nicholls: Baseball Brainwashing Gone Wrong

Releasing the Barry Bonds: Empowering Your Children to Think for Themselves!

My son and I love both love the sport of baseball but unfortunately we don’t love it in the same way.

And for me that’s a cause for real grief.

...The problem is my son understands the game, but not its soul. And this is clearly manifested in his approach to statistics.

To my mind, if you want to know if a hitter is any good there are only three stats that really matter: batting average, home runs and runs batted in. For a pitcher, it’s wins and losses, earned run average and strike outs. That’s the way it’s been since the days of Abner Doubleday.

But my son only talks about statistics you need a PhD in physics to understand. We will be watching a game and I will say something like “John Jones is a great hitter; he has a batting average of .290.”

In response my son will roll his eyes and say, “His ‘isolated power’ stats are weak, plus his ‘super linear weights’ and ‘wins above replacement’ numbers are a joke.”

...The sad fact is, for my son baseball isn’t a grand romantic narrative, it’s a cold, sterile mathematical equation.

In short, we love the same sport, but not the same game.

Repoz Posted: September 19, 2011 at 01:47 PM | 38 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: fantasy baseball, history, sabermetrics

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: September 19, 2011 at 02:11 PM (#3929392)
Baseball needs to go back to being a game for whites only, played east of the Mississippi and with games only on radio, played in front of crowds of 8000 or less.

I do think fans should be more aware of the game's history, but I wonder how many Boomers like Gerry Nichols are familiar with players and teams that played 20-40 years before he was born.
   2. Sweatpants Posted: September 19, 2011 at 02:12 PM (#3929395)
My friend and I love both love the game of baseball but unfortunately we don’t love it in the same way.

And for me that’s a cause for real grief.

...The problem is my friend understands the game, but not its soul. And this is clearly manifested in his approach to statistics.

To my mind, if you want to know if a hitter is any good there are only three things that really matter: his hitting, his speed, and his intensity. For a pitcher, it’s his control, his speed, and his intensity. That’s the way it’s been since the days of Abner Doubleday.

But my friend only talks about statistics you need a PhD in physics to understand. We will be watching a game and I will say something like “John Jones is a great hitter; he has a great swing.”

In response my friend will roll his eyes and say, “His ‘batting average’ stats are weak, plus his ‘home runs’ and ‘are be eye’ numbers are a joke.”

...The sad fact is, for my friend baseball isn’t a grand romantic narrative, it’s a cold, sterile mathematical equation.

In short, we love the same game, but not the same sport.
   3. Greg K Posted: September 19, 2011 at 02:15 PM (#3929396)
The sad fact is, for my son baseball isn’t a grand romantic narrative, it’s a cold, sterile mathematical equation.

Maybe it's just not a narrative you like.

It never ceases to amaze me. Who is the one who loves the soul of baseball? The one who digs through the game data, trying to find out how it works, or the one who can't be bothered to look at more than a batting average?
   4. BDC Posted: September 19, 2011 at 02:19 PM (#3929399)
TFA is tongue-in-cheek, so I wouldn't really pan it too vigorously. It's a kind of scattershot satire. Of what, I'm not too sure.

I can't tell how old the son is from the column. If he were six, there would be some humor to the piece. If he's 21, you worry about the guy, particularly if his mom has a basement.
   5. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: September 19, 2011 at 02:22 PM (#3929402)
I see that now Repoz is putting up pinata post tirades against sabermetrics that read as if they were themselves written by a computer. It's a nice bit of low grade irony, but what can he do for an encore?
   6. Greg K Posted: September 19, 2011 at 02:24 PM (#3929404)
Yeah in reading the article now I see it isn't an entirely serious piece.

I guess I get an itchy trigger-finger when people set up "us" and "them" situations, in baseball or life in general.
   7. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: September 19, 2011 at 02:26 PM (#3929408)
TFA is tongue-in-cheek, so I wouldn't really pan it too vigorously. It's a kind of scattershot satire. Of what, I'm not too sure.


It's a 500 internal server error whenever I try to click on TFA.

If that's satire, it's not very original.
   8. PreservedFish Posted: September 19, 2011 at 02:38 PM (#3929416)
I will say something like “John Jones is a great hitter; he has a batting average of .290.”


Maybe I should work more semi-colons into my daily speech.
   9. Tim McCarver's Orange Marmalade Posted: September 19, 2011 at 02:58 PM (#3929435)
John Jones is a great hitter; he has a batting average of .290.


When did hitting .290 make someone a great hitter, even when batting average is considered a central stat? Didn't they at least have to hit over .300?
   10. Hack Wilson Posted: September 19, 2011 at 03:04 PM (#3929442)
his ‘super linear weights’ and ‘wins above replacement’ numbers are a joke.”

Back in my day baseball players were not allowed to lift weights. If a coach found a player doing super linear weights, he was off the team.
   11. Dale Sams Posted: September 19, 2011 at 03:04 PM (#3929443)
If he's 21, you worry about the guy, particularly if his mom has a basement.


And that he's something of a ######### for rolling his eyes at his dad and not explaining in terms that even a baseball Neanderthal can understand.
   12. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: September 19, 2011 at 03:43 PM (#3929490)
In response my son will roll his eyes and say, “His ‘isolated power’ stats are weak, plus his ‘super linear weights’ and ‘wins above replacement’ numbers are a joke.”

This reads like one of those animated Internet videos on the financial crisis with the computerized voices.
   13. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: September 19, 2011 at 04:19 PM (#3929519)
Is the article tongue-in-cheek? I'm not sure.
   14. Benji Gil Gamesh VII - The Opt-Out Awakens Posted: September 19, 2011 at 04:20 PM (#3929520)
If that's satire, it's not very original.
It's also pretty poor satire, unoriginal or not (if that's what it is).

On the plus side (if he's serious), his son is a lot smarter than he is.
   15. Greg K Posted: September 19, 2011 at 04:37 PM (#3929533)
On the plus side (if he's serious), his son is a lot smarter than he is.

His son also kind of sounds like a jerk.* If someone thinks batting average is all you need to evaluate a player, then spouting WAR numbers at him isn't really going to be too productive (aside from reassuring yourself that you're smarter than him). Similarly, "I don't give a #### about Ted Williams" or \"#### the Brooklyn Dodgers" or whatever conversations they had that convinced the dad that he doesn't care about the history of the game probably weren't too diplomatic either. There's something to be said for adapting your conversation to the person you're talking to.

*by "sounds" I mean assuming the writer is serious and accurately describing the conversations with his son. Which are assumptions I'm only prepared to make in the hypothetical.
   16. Rally Posted: September 19, 2011 at 04:43 PM (#3929536)
David Eckstein was probably my favorite Angel during his time with the team. He's the kind of player that someone like this author (assuming this isn't parody) would say "He doesn't put up the numbers but helps you win in ways that don't show up in the box score".

What WAR does is find those things that don't show up in the box score - the times he goes 2nd to home or first to third, beats out a possible DP grounder, takes a pitch in the shoulder to get on base and start a rally, etc. and adds them up. And yet guys like this seem offended.
   17. Benji Gil Gamesh VII - The Opt-Out Awakens Posted: September 19, 2011 at 04:44 PM (#3929538)
His son also kind of sounds like a jerk.* If someone thinks batting average is all you need to evaluate a player, then spouting WAR numbers at him isn't really going to be too productive (aside from reassuring yourself that you're smarter than him). Similarly, "I don't give a #### about Ted Williams" or \"#### the Brooklyn Dodgers" or whatever conversations they had that convinced the dad that he doesn't care about the history of the game probably weren't too diplomatic either. There's something to be said for adapting your conversation to the person you're talking to.

*by "sounds" I mean assuming the writer is serious and accurately describing the conversations with his son. Which are assumptions I'm only prepared to make in the hypothetical.
Yeah I'm not sure about that assumption either. But as long as we're making assumptions, I'm assuming that dad was an ass first and dismissing out of hand anything other than BA, HR and RBI.
   18. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: September 19, 2011 at 04:45 PM (#3929539)

On the plus side (if he's serious), his son is a lot smarter than he is.


He should have his children taken away from him.
   19. bads85 Posted: September 19, 2011 at 04:52 PM (#3929543)
It's also pretty poor satire,


He should have eaten his son.
   20. Sean Forman Posted: September 19, 2011 at 05:33 PM (#3929589)
RBI's were a 1920's invention.
   21. gef, talking mongoose & vexatious litigant Posted: September 19, 2011 at 05:35 PM (#3929593)
Lou Gehrig never should've created that statistic.
   22. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: September 19, 2011 at 05:38 PM (#3929606)
"My son also has an infuriating tendency to occupy space on my lawn."
   23. OsunaSakata Posted: September 19, 2011 at 05:58 PM (#3929665)
“John Jones is a great hitter; he has a batting average of .290.”


The real John Jones was only a .200 lifetime hitter. There's probably a great story about why he made two appearances in the majors nine years apart. I guess he was one of those career minor league stars of the past.
   24. Ron J Posted: September 19, 2011 at 06:13 PM (#3929709)
#20 I'm pretty sure you know this, but the early days of RBI are pretty fascinating.

First time they were presented in Chicago, the offending paper had to apologize -- and then dropped them flat. Howls of protest which basically centered around the fact that players didn't have equal opportunities.

Then they were privately compiled by a few true believers for something like 40 years before surfacing as an official stat.
   25. ChuckO Posted: September 19, 2011 at 06:18 PM (#3929722)
It really annoys me that this is framed as a generational thing. I'm 66 years old and I understand perfectly well what things like WAR, linear weights, and isolated power are, and I know how to use them to evaluate a player's performance. IMHO, the people who dislike the analytic approach to the game are the people who are too stupid to understand the concepts involved, so they attack those who do.
   26. SoSH U at work Posted: September 19, 2011 at 06:26 PM (#3929734)
The people who dislike the analytic approach to the game are the people who are too stupid to understand the concepts involved, so they attack those who do.


Yeah, those guys suck.
   27. Rants Mulliniks Posted: September 19, 2011 at 06:48 PM (#3929772)
IMHO, the people who dislike the analytic approach to the game are the people who are too stupid to understand the concepts involved, so they attack those who do.


I hate to have to agree with this, but I do. A former co-worker of mine is my case in point. Real nice guy, biggest Red Sox fan you can imagine, but he CANNOT look beyond wins when evaluating pitchers. He was incensed that Felix won the CY last year, and today lamented how disappointing it was that Lester had only 15 wins. So I had to tell him Lester's ERA was a career low. I won't even attempt to bring up something like FIP or WAR.
   28. Nasty Nate Posted: September 19, 2011 at 06:49 PM (#3929775)
\"#### the Brooklyn Dodgers" or whatever conversations they had that convinced the dad that he doesn't care about the history of the game probably weren't too diplomatic either.


maybe the kid's a Giants fan
   29. Shock Posted: September 19, 2011 at 07:27 PM (#3929824)
To my mind, if you want to know if a hitter is any good there are only three stats that really matter: batting average, home runs and runs batted in. For a pitcher, it’s wins and losses, earned run average and strike outs. That’s the way it’s been since the days of Abner Doubleday.


Well, Runs scored were much more important to the public before we arbitrarily moved to RBI, and BA was panned when it was introduced for not including walks. Also, there weren't many homeruns back then. Otherwise, spot on.
   30. vortex of dissipation Posted: September 19, 2011 at 07:35 PM (#3929828)
The real John Jones was only a .200 lifetime hitter. There's probably a great story about why he made two appearances in the majors nine years apart. I guess he was one of those career minor league stars of the past.


He had a .318 lifetime minor league BA over 13 seasons. My hunch would be that he was a Smead Jolley-quality fielder...
   31. vortex of dissipation Posted: September 19, 2011 at 07:36 PM (#3929831)
That’s the way it’s been since the days of Abner Doubleday.


That one line alone indicates that it's satire.
   32. Crispix Attacksel Rios Posted: September 19, 2011 at 07:50 PM (#3929849)
The real John Jones was only a .200 lifetime hitter. There's probably a great story about why he made two appearances in the majors nine years apart. I guess he was one of those career minor league stars of the past.

Quite the journeyman, though. Even if we conclude that those stats are a conflation of more than one contemporaneous John Jones.
   33. vortex of dissipation Posted: September 19, 2011 at 07:56 PM (#3929864)
Even if we conclude that those stats are a conflation of more than one contemporaneous John Jones.


I didn't think about that. It's very possible, although kind of strange that they're all outfielders.
   34. Buzzards Bay Posted: September 20, 2011 at 01:13 AM (#3930323)
"if it is not statistically significant it's meaningless" ( this is out of context )
Please read Kristin Luker "Salsa Dancing Into The Social Sciences"
She has a measured approach to the quantitative/qualitative challenge
in the spirit of "Best Regards John" who I thought about after I finished the last page
   35. Where have you gone Brady Anderson? Posted: September 20, 2011 at 03:02 AM (#3930536)
My dad and I have conversations like this. We go to about one Nationals game a year, and he'll be talking about how good some player is. I'll point out that his on base percentage is around .300, and he's not that good. This year, it was Ian Desmond, and after I'm done saying how not good he is, he hits a home run with two outs in the ninth to tie the game.

It's just different ways to enjoy the game. My dad watches most Nationals games on TV and reads the Washington Post. I hardly ever watch games because I don't have cable, but I spend about an hour a day reading about baseball here and other places around the web.
   36. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: September 20, 2011 at 03:14 AM (#3930546)
My ex-book shop manager is a big Cardinals fan who's been following baseball for over 60 years, and watches games every day. I started dropping OPS+ in conversations with him about a dozen years ago, and he was positively hostile to the idea. I've gotten him to the point where he'll now sometimes ask about a player's on base percentage or slugging average, but never the dreaded OPS, let alone OPS+ or ERA+. It's not that he's the slightest bit stupid, but it's like trying to get a dog to swallow a pill.
   37. Stormy JE Posted: September 20, 2011 at 04:21 AM (#3930575)
Wrong thread.
   38. Athletic Supporter is USDA certified lean Posted: September 20, 2011 at 06:15 AM (#3930600)
I've gotten him to the point where he'll now sometimes ask about a player's on base percentage or slugging average, but never the dreaded OPS, let alone OPS+ or ERA+. It's not that he's the slightest bit stupid, but it's like trying to get a dog to swallow a pill.


Maybe it's the opposite. Maybe he realizes it's stupid to add two stats with different denominators.

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