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Friday, April 03, 2009

Novick: Why Haven’t Sabermetrics Gone Mainstream?

In a word…Michaelfuckingkay.

In response to a previous Pizza Cutter post, Tom Tango wrote the following, which was directed at the people on the fringes of baseball analysis: “The world is big enough for all of us. Join us if you want. Just don’t stand in our way.”

While those posts are unrelated to this one, that statement got me thinking. My dad and I are both big Yankee fans, and as such we constantly talk about roster decisions, free agents, trades, etc. I’m obviously a numbers guy, and while my dad will hear my arguments, that’s still not his forte. When I say that player X will help the team a given amount, that number has virtually no meaning to him.

While the kind of people who read this blog probably constantly think about player value in real terms, it’s a topic that doesn’t seem to come up in the minds of most people. A manager will tell you that player X will help the team win and fans collectively think, “He’s probably right.” And the manager, more often than not, is correct. But when he says that the player will help the team win, how many people think to themselves, “How much?”

We are the kind of people who think “How much?” This is no great strength of ours and no great weakness of the general population. I think it is simply an attribute—whether it is positive or negative is not for me to decide.

Repoz Posted: April 03, 2009 at 11:50 AM | 75 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: sabermetrics

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   1. GotowarMissAgnes Posted: April 03, 2009 at 12:57 PM (#3122987)
I tend to believe that intellectual curiosity is a positive attribute. How do I know if the manager is right "more often than not" unless I probe the evidence? The issue ISN'T the numbers. It's the probing. The willingness to investigate a question, rather than just trust that the manager or scout or GM knows best. It's the willingness to try to demonstrate the answer with logic and facts, rather than just follow some collective fan clone-think.

I can understand just wanting to enjoy the game without focusing on those arguments or the numbers. There are lots of times I'm just happy to watch a great game. But, I really don't understand defending your argument with "Hey, he's probably right".
   2. Chipper Jonestown Massacre Posted: April 03, 2009 at 01:10 PM (#3122993)
Why Haven’t Sabermetrics Gone Mainstream?


Mostly because the purveyors of sabermetrics tend to be a--holes, or if not actual a--holes, they at least adopt a--hole-ish personas. And most decent folk don't wish to keep company or be associated with a--holes.
   3. The District Attorney Posted: April 03, 2009 at 01:29 PM (#3123004)
Why Haven’t Sabermetrics Gone Mainstream?
It has.
   4. tfbg9 Posted: April 03, 2009 at 01:31 PM (#3123005)
Why Haven’t Sabermetrics Gone Mainstream?


I don't want it to.
   5. Shooty Survived the Shutdown of '14! Posted: April 03, 2009 at 01:40 PM (#3123010)
Mostly because the purveyors of sabermetrics tend to be a--holes, or if not actual a--holes, they at least adopt a--hole-ish personas. And most decent folk don't wish to keep company or be associated with a--holes.

Unlike those purveyors of old school baseball thinking Bill Plaschke, Murray Chass, Jay Mariotti, etc.

Anyway, it seems that sabrmetric thinking has gone mainstream in a limited way. On base % gets used in a lot of baseball telecasts and I hear a lot of announcers talk about SB success rate as much as bulk SB #'s. I hear other sabr-truisms creep into telecasts, especially from the play-by play guys who tend to be younger and not as tied to old school baseball thinking. I'd like it if more telecasts had a kind of new thinking/old thinking dynamic in the booth. The perspectives play well off each other if you have the right guys doing it. I don't like know-it-alls from either side of the divide.
   6. Dr. I likes his panda steak medium rare Posted: April 03, 2009 at 01:41 PM (#3123011)
We also shouldn't confuse media critics of certain baseball analysis methods with actual baseball decision makers. I don't have any inside knowledge, but I get the sense that many teams employ certain forms of quantitative analysis in their decision making. (That last sentence was full of weasel words, I know.)
........

Sure, there are some areas where strategies that appear to be suboptimal are employed. Take a look at AL lineup splits by spot in the batting order. There are lots of low OBP guys batting second. This is probably suboptimal. But we also see a lot of high OBP guys batting lead off. As a point of reference, the league average for OBP at #1 is .347, compared with .334 at #5. Compare that with 1988, where lead off OBP is pretty similar to the #5 hitter.

I haven't taken the time to look exhaustively, so perhaps these differences are a consequence of the years and leagues that I picked. But my impression is that there are a lot more high OBP guys batting lead off, and a lot fewer fast/low OBP guys at the top of the order these days. There wasn't an announcement about this, but the change just happened.

Note: A quick perusal of the tables from baseball-reference, and it looks like there might have been a change in #1 vs. #5 OBP that occurred around 2003? I will try to plot it out to see if I am not just fooling myself. And also, it could just be a coincidence.
   7. A.T.F.W. Posted: April 03, 2009 at 01:43 PM (#3123012)
because most people hate stuff like that.
   8. Jose Is The Most Absurd Thing on the Site Posted: April 03, 2009 at 01:46 PM (#3123015)
Why Haven’t Sabermetrics Gone Mainstream?


It has.

This was my take also. You can find sabermetric stats at ESPN, FoxSports and anywhere else. Little things like the importance of OBP or the way fielding is being evaluated are coming from many sabermetric principles. The teams themselves seem to be using sabermetrics pretty regularly these days and fans more and more seem to be comprehending the concepts if not the exact numbers. My sense is that fans are appreciating the well-rounded player more than they used to and I think that's due largely to sabermetrics.
   9. RJ in TO Posted: April 03, 2009 at 01:49 PM (#3123019)
I don't have any inside knowledge, but I get the sense that many teams employ certain forms of quantitative analysis in their decision making.

You get that sense since most teams have either hired a notable figure from the Sabrmetric community (BP seems to lose someone every year to MLB), or have openly discussed their interest in improving their statistical analysis abilities. I doubt that there is a single team left out there who doesn't have at least a couple individuals doing hard core number crunching for them.

At this point, the difference seems to no longer be between which teams are and are not doing analysis, but instead the type of analysis, and the weight which they're willing to give it.
   10. mashimaro Posted: April 03, 2009 at 01:50 PM (#3123020)
To simplify, the telecasts use so many crappy statistics (x player is batting .400 over his last 5 games), that people don't want to hear about "the numbers". The haven't been properly introduced to the useful stats and shown why they are useful and good. Think about how many people criticized the book "Moneyball" without actually having read it. Critics look ridiculous because they don't even know what they are talking about with the advanced metrics.
   11. RB in NYC (Now Semi-Retired from BBTF) Posted: April 03, 2009 at 01:52 PM (#3123022)
It has.
That's my feeling. Obviously that doesn't mean it has been accepted wholly into the Mainstream, it probably never will. But for goodness sake, according to this interview, Alyssa Milano references BPro in her baseball book. How more mainstream than that can you get?
   12. Dan The Mediocre Posted: April 03, 2009 at 01:56 PM (#3123028)
I've hear Len Kasper talking about the Three True Outcomes a couple years ago. It's pretty safe to say Sabermetrics are mainstream.
   13. McCoy Posted: April 03, 2009 at 01:58 PM (#3123034)

Mostly because the purveyors of sabermetrics tend to be a--holes, or if not actual a--holes, they at least adopt a--hole-ish personas. And most decent folk don't wish to keep company or be associated with a--holes.


And yet A--holes like Marriotti and Lincicome and Bayliss and the little midget in NY keep on trucking along. It has nothing to do with the personality defects of the people and everything to do with what people want to hear or read.


edit:
owe shooty a Diet 7up
   14. Dr. I likes his panda steak medium rare Posted: April 03, 2009 at 02:00 PM (#3123039)
In reference to my previous post:

I may be full of crap. But here is what we have. (I wish I could post a graph. Oh well, graph it yourself.)

Here are the raw data:

AL OBP for the lead off (#1) hitter and the #5 hitter between 1995 and 2008.

year      #1       #5
1995    0.350    0.354
1996    0.362    0.352
1997    0.349    0.355
1998    0.353    0.350
1999    0.348    0.357
2000    0.351    0.343
2001    0.331    0.337
2002    0.335    0.336
2003    0.331    0.339
2004    0.353    0.347
2005    0.345    0.339
2006    0.350    0.357
2007    0.349    0.339
2008    0.347    0.334 


Generally, OBP for both of these spots in the order track together. Some years, #1 is higher, some years #5. In 2007 and 2008, to my eyes #5 seems to drop off relative to #1. Actually, OBP at #1 has been pretty steady since 2004, whereas OBP at #5 has bounced around a bit more. (Also, what happened between 2001 and 2003? OBP dropped at both spots.)

This may be the case of having too few data. We would need to track it longer to see if it is a trend. I am too lazy to do the NL right now.

Edit: of course, my source is baseball-reference.com. (The beta site is fantastic!)
   15. Dr. I likes his panda steak medium rare Posted: April 03, 2009 at 02:03 PM (#3123042)
Actually, what are ways that we could measure the effects of the diffusion of quantitative analysis methods into baseball?
   16. GGC don't think it can get longer than a novella Posted: April 03, 2009 at 02:03 PM (#3123043)
Unlike those purveyors of old school baseball thinking Bill Plaschke, Murray Chass, Jay Mariotti, etc.


Yeah, but two wrongs don't make a right, turn the other cheek, etc..

FWIW, there are occasional player comments at BPro and Transaction Oracles that have rubbed me the wrong way, but everyone has bad days. I just wish that Chipper was more specific.
   17. RJ in TO Posted: April 03, 2009 at 02:05 PM (#3123044)
Actually, what are ways that we could measure the effects of the diffusion of quantitative analysis methods into baseball?

A couple which I can think of:
1) Changes in SB percentage, and optimization of timing of steals
2) Changes in the use of sac bunts, and overall bunting
3) Lineup optimization
4) Leveraging of relievers

EDIT: Considerations with respect to BIP data for hitters and pitchers (bad year/good year across multiple seasons) leading to more "second chances".
   18. Joe Bivens, Minor Genius Posted: April 03, 2009 at 02:11 PM (#3123049)
Why Haven’t Sabermetrics Gone Mainstream? Moreso than some say it has?

Because we are suffering from a shortage of nerds in this world.
   19. Shooty Survived the Shutdown of '14! Posted: April 03, 2009 at 02:12 PM (#3123051)
FWIW, there are occasional player comments at BPro and Transaction Oracles that have rubbed me the wrong way, but everyone has bad days.

People tick me off all the time here. 98% of the time I type a response and then don't post it. Anyway, my larger point about Plaschke, etc. is that it's easier to lampoon any group of people if you shine a focus on the a-holes. It's a dishonest endeavor to my way of thinking. #2 is full of #### is what I'm trying politely to say.
   20. Shooty Survived the Shutdown of '14! Posted: April 03, 2009 at 02:13 PM (#3123053)
Because we are suffering from a shortage of nerds in this world.

Heh. Mention Star Trek or some obscure punk band from 1978 and see how wrong you are!
   21. Dr. I likes his panda steak medium rare Posted: April 03, 2009 at 02:16 PM (#3123056)
1) Changes in SB percentage, and optimization of timing of steals


Changes in SB % ought to be easy to track. The optimization part is a bit harder to measure, I would guess.

2) Changes in the use of sac bunts, and overall bunting


How about early inning bunting?

3) Lineup optimization


This is what I was driving at above, but it would take a lot more work to get it right.

4) Leveraging of relievers


I suspect that reliever leverage ideas have not diffused that heavily into actual MLB practice. I also wonder how practical it would be to manage bullpen usage strictly around leverage concepts. The advantage of the current system (one guy takes most of the save opportunities, and the rest get slotted around him) is that it makes it pretty easy to manage a bullpen. The major downside is that the top reliever gets too few innings, and sometimes pitches when the game isn't really on the line.

But this is a good list. They are all "on the field" sorts of things. Are there some roster management, off the field things we could look at?

My thought would be to see if guys get paid for OBP today, compared with what similar players made in the past. I am not talking about the slugger with high OBP (those guys always got paid), but the guys that are more marginal in their abilities, but make fewer outs at the plate. This would be an interesting test to see if sabermetric ideas have influenced the game.
   22. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: April 03, 2009 at 02:19 PM (#3123059)
Math.

Most people can't do it and don't like it.

Take a look at the most highly compensated professions in American, you will find a disproportionate number that require serious math skills (finance, engineering, medicine, actuaries, computer science). Since people that can do this stuff are in short supply, you have to pay up to get them.

I always joke to my boss that instead of playing soccer/basketball/tae kwon do etc. his kids should be practicing their Excel skills, b/c that's probably how they're going to earn a good living.
   23. Dingbat_Charlie Posted: April 03, 2009 at 02:23 PM (#3123062)
what is mainstream?
   24. Dr. I likes his panda steak medium rare Posted: April 03, 2009 at 02:25 PM (#3123064)
tae kwon do etc. his kids should be practicing their Excel skills, b/c that's probably how they're going to earn a good living.


I think tae kwan do will be far more practical in the coming hunter/gatherer society.
   25. RJ in TO Posted: April 03, 2009 at 02:26 PM (#3123066)
I always joke to my boss that instead of playing soccer/basketball/tae kwon do etc. his kids should be practicing their Excel skills, b/c that's probably how they're going to earn a good living.

Tell him to get them into the trades. Engineering, computer science, and a lot of other fields can be sent overseas, but a plumber always has to be in the area.
   26. Dr. I likes his panda steak medium rare Posted: April 03, 2009 at 02:36 PM (#3123072)
Math.

Most people can't do it and don't like it.

Take a look at the most highly compensated professions in American, you will find a disproportionate number that require serious math skills (finance, engineering, medicine, actuaries, computer science). Since people that can do this stuff are in short supply, you have to pay up to get them.


While maybe some baseball writers are in the "hate math" group, I am guessing that even they know how to calculate batting average and ERA. And really, is calculating OBP any harder?

Railing against things gives writers something to write about. That thing could be A-Rod, or it could be HGH, or it could be some statistic. I view all of this as a sidelight, and try not to get worked up about it.

The guys who run baseball teams probably don't hate math. I view rudimentary acceptance of math as a basic skill required of anyone who runs a business. And these guys can clearly do that. They can hire number crunchers/programmers to do the heavy lifting. And that is happening right now.

One question, I have always assumed that these people who get hired to do calculations for baseball teams are not all that well paid, relative to what that skill set could earn in another setting. Is this assumption right?
   27. GGC don't think it can get longer than a novella Posted: April 03, 2009 at 02:37 PM (#3123074)
People tick me off all the time here. 98% of the time I type a response and then don't post it.


A very good book could be made out of my unsent posts. You could also make one out of my unscent posts, but it wouldn't be scratch and sniff.
   28. Dan The Mediocre Posted: April 03, 2009 at 02:40 PM (#3123076)
While maybe some baseball writers are in the "hate math" group, I am guessing that even they know how to calculate batting average and ERA. And really, is calculating OBP any harder?


It requires significantly more complex math to show that OBP is a better stat than the ones they've always used. So it's either a hatred/fear of those who can do math or a hatred/fear of those who want to change things.

Or maybe both.
   29. GGC don't think it can get longer than a novella Posted: April 03, 2009 at 02:41 PM (#3123078)
One question, I have always assumed that these people who get hired to do calculations for baseball teams are not all that well paid, relative to what that skill set could earn in another setting. Is this assumption right?


More guys want to work for teams than slots available. I think Theo Epstein was working 16 hour days for the Padres doing everything down to cleaning toilets when he started out. This is true for assistant coaches in football. IIRC, Mangini leaved in tenement like conditions when he started out; just like his mentor.
   30. ellsbury my heart at wounded knee Posted: April 03, 2009 at 02:42 PM (#3123080)
I don't think sabermetrics will have gone mainstream until we start seeing OPS+ or ERA+ in telecasts or in the major media. They're probably the most user-friendly sabr stats outside of stuff like OBP.
   31. Dr. I likes his panda steak medium rare Posted: April 03, 2009 at 02:44 PM (#3123082)
Engineering, computer science, and a lot of other fields can be sent overseas, but a plumber always has to be in the area.


This I don't entirely agree with. I mean, in principle it is correct. Someday, it may be the case, but we are a few years away from it happening.

North America has a large and powerful infrastructure for cranking out scientist and engineers, and either employing them or funding them to start companies. Other countries have made positive steps, but by and large I don't think that a country like India (for example) can yet produce the number of high quality scientists and engineers needed. And once India builds up to the point where they can produce enough scientists and engineers (that stay in India, as many of the good ones these days come to our part of the world), then the Indian engineers probably won't be quite as cheap as they are right now.
   32. McCoy Posted: April 03, 2009 at 02:52 PM (#3123094)
I think it is a false belief that plumbers will always be here. Yes, plumbers will always be here but it doesn't mean they will get paid the same as they do now.

For instance in the restaurant industry at one point in time you could argue that restaurants would always need cooks and they would have to pay them a salary based on that value. Well, fast food restaurants came along and basically streamlined the process and made the short order cook all but extinct. They took a job that paid relatively well and allowed people to make a living and turned it into a minimum wage job. Then decades later chefs and cooks are now getting confronted with the same corporate streamlining in casual and white tablecloth restaurants. They are bringing in immigrant work and streamlining the process by buy prepared ingredients from distributors. They are once again trying to take jobs that paid relatively well and created stable careers and make them extinct.

It can happen for basically any service job here in America. Sure somebody has to do the job but there really is no reason why they have to be paid well.
   33. Dock Ellis on Acid Posted: April 03, 2009 at 02:53 PM (#3123096)
Does it matter? Do we care?

I don't care if Jay Mariotti or whomever doesn't know anything about BABIP or whatever, just like I don't care that MTV doesn't play my favorite bands. I gave up this fight a long time ago.
   34. Joe Bivens, Minor Genius Posted: April 03, 2009 at 02:57 PM (#3123101)
Heh. Mention Star Trek or some obscure punk band from 1978 and see how wrong you are!

I didn't mean there was a shortage on this site.


.I don't think sabermetrics will have gone mainstream until we start seeing OPS+ or ERA+ in telecasts or in the major media.

I've heard OPS mentioned on EEI on occasion (McAdam, I think). Not OPS+, though.

edit...and I think Dale Arnold is Sabr-friendly.
   35. Dr. I likes his panda steak medium rare Posted: April 03, 2009 at 02:58 PM (#3123102)
It requires significantly more complex math to show that OBP is a better stat than the ones they've always used.


My understanding is that the central argument is that OBP is more strongly correlated with runs than BA is. (With something like OPS being even better.) While calculating things like a correlation coefficient takes some algebra, illustrating a correlation takes almost no math at all. A graph or a ranked list is all that is required.

"Look at this table. The Royals had a better BA then the White Sox, and the Royals sucked. Teams with higher OPS almost always score more runs than teams with lower OPS."
   36. Phenomenal Smith Posted: April 03, 2009 at 02:59 PM (#3123103)
It might help a little if the Tangos, mgls, and Nate Silvers were not such a fresh steamy pile of excrement with the moral compass of Stalin.
   37. Dr. I likes his panda steak medium rare Posted: April 03, 2009 at 03:06 PM (#3123106)
I've heard OPS mentioned on EEI on occasion (McAdam, I think). Not OPS+, though.


Also, OPS+ is great and all, but for most broadcasts the modifications OPS+ puts on OPS aren't worth the trouble. A lot of the point of OPS+ is to compare across eras. (There is also a park correction factor, which would be more useful.)

So getting OPS is a big win.
   38. villageidiom Posted: April 03, 2009 at 03:12 PM (#3123115)
(I wish I could post a graph. Oh well, graph it yourself.)
OK.

.3700                                                    
.3675                                                    
.3650                                                    
.3625       1                                            
.3600                                                    
.3575                   5                           5    
.3550   5       5                                        
.3525       5       1                       1            
.3500   1       1   5       1                       1   1
.3475                   1                   5               1
.3450                                           1        
.3425                       5                            
.3400                                   5       5       5
.3375                           5   5                    
.3350                               1                       5
.3325                                                    
.3300                           1       1                
-------95--96--97--98--99--00--01--02--03--04--05--06--07--08
   39. John DiFool2 Posted: April 03, 2009 at 03:13 PM (#3123117)
Changes in SB % ought to be easy to track. The optimization part is a bit harder to measure, I would guess.


The data is very obvious and clear that SB% has gone up significantly over the past two decades. It has cleared 70% on a number of recent occasions, something never done before in history.

Going every five years in the NL:

1953: 61%
1958: 62%
1963: 58%
1968: 60%
1973: 64%
1978: 68%
1983: 67%
1988: 71%
1993: 69%
1998: 68%
2003: 69%
2008: 73%

My memory was faulty: the first time a league cleared 70% was in the late 80's (I would have sworn it was the late 90's). Anyhoo the NL actually cleared 75% in '07. My WAG is that teams are not only picking their slots better, but that the hit-and-run is being used less often (that is the likely culprit in the crap percentages seen thru '68), and catcher's arms have been deemphasized a bit since the Roid Era began.
   40. PerroX Posted: April 03, 2009 at 03:15 PM (#3123121)
I gave up this fight a long time ago.

Novick has a pretty good take, as does Dock. It's basically human nature, including the human nature of the saberheads. Why not just accept the influence sabermetrics has obviously had on baseball thinking and not worry about whether everyone accepts it or even uses it?

Diversity is good. Resist the totalitarian impulse. Time will tell who has fell and who's been left behind...
   41. Shooty Survived the Shutdown of '14! Posted: April 03, 2009 at 03:16 PM (#3123123)
Time will tell who has fell and who's been left behind...

We are idiots, Alex
It's a wonder we can even feed ourselves

Bob Dylan wrote some awesome break-up songs.
   42. RJ in TO Posted: April 03, 2009 at 03:19 PM (#3123129)
My WAG is that teams are not only picking their slots better, but that the hit-and-run is being used less often (that is the likely culprit in the crap percentages seen thru '68), and catcher's arms have been deemphasized a bit since the Roid Era began.

And in Will Clark (and the rest of the Giants) in 1987. 5 for 22 as an individual, and 126 for 233 as a team.
   43. GGC don't think it can get longer than a novella Posted: April 03, 2009 at 03:22 PM (#3123133)
A lot of the point of OPS+ is to compare across eras. (There is also a park correction factor, which would be more useful.)


It's more useful for adjusting for park. When you go across eras you run across problems with how talent is distributed.
   44. Dan The Mediocre Posted: April 03, 2009 at 03:24 PM (#3123136)
My understanding is that the central argument is that OBP is more strongly correlated with runs than BA is. (With something like OPS being even better.) While calculating things like a correlation coefficient takes some algebra, illustrating a correlation takes almost no math at all. A graph or a ranked list is all that is required.


But the problem is that most people don't understand correlation, and that it's harder than "Hits divided by at bats" or "runs divided by innings times 9." People very often don't understand things and refuse to try when it goes against what they already believe.
   45. Styles P. Deadball Posted: April 03, 2009 at 03:26 PM (#3123142)
Math.

Most people can't do it and don't like it.


I think this is the most pervasive point. I consider myself a convert to sabermetric principles, but I don't consider myself a math person at all. Somebody mentioned above that ERA+ and OPS+ are quite useful. I see them quoted all the time, but to me they haven't become part of my language. I know what an average OPS is, but I don't know, even in the ballpark, what Matt Holliday or Willy Taveras' OPS+ was last year.

I'm willing to learn and I will eventually, but many people don't really see the need to go beyond the stats that flash on the screen when a guy comes up to hit. Heck, I'll bet there are a lot of people that consider themselves baseball fans and know what an ERA is, but have no idea how to calculate one.
   46. Dr. I likes his panda steak medium rare Posted: April 03, 2009 at 03:41 PM (#3123158)
38. villageidiom. That is good. Very clever. Thanks.

Like I said, I don't want to make too much of the 2007 and 2008 numbers. But I found it interesting that OBP for the #1 and #5 hitters basically are the same in most years.
   47. PerroX Posted: April 03, 2009 at 03:43 PM (#3123159)
Notwithstanding Cate Blanchett's performance, my favorite scenes from I'm Not There were the ones between Heath Ledger and Charlotte Gainsbourg.
   48. PerroX Posted: April 03, 2009 at 03:49 PM (#3123170)
You pretty much need an education in math to get sabermetrics beyond its generalizations. Nobody really likes to be made to feel like an illiterate #####, so they don't even bother trying.

Math and science will always be elite occupations as long as the current civilization stands.
   49. villageidiom Posted: April 03, 2009 at 03:58 PM (#3123186)
Take a look at the most highly compensated professions in American, you will find a disproportionate number that require serious math skills (finance, engineering, medicine, actuaries, computer science).
Agreed.

So it's either a hatred/fear of those who can do math or a hatred/fear of those who want to change things.
I disagree. It's not hatred or fear, it's distrust.

Just about any sales pitch will include numbers that suggest you would be colossally stupid not to buy the product being sold. Very rarely can the numbers be fact-checked. The lack of fact-checking capability, plus the salesperson's expressed level of certainty, lead some people to buy; others faced with the same situation tend to distrust.

In sabermetrics it's not the underlying info that prevents fact-checking, as much of that is readily available. Rather, it's the math. If one must significantly develop mathematical skill even to begin fact-checking, it's likely not happening. If sabermetricians push certainty of their conclusion - rather than acknowledging the inherent uncertainty of projections - some people won't buy what they're selling. Those people aren't stupid; they just have no reason to trust the answer.
   50. Dr. I likes his panda steak medium rare Posted: April 03, 2009 at 04:05 PM (#3123196)
Somebody mentioned above that ERA+ and OPS+ are quite useful.


No stat is perfect, but these are two of my favorite ones. Both are actually very simple. Both miss some subtle effects, but capture much of the big stuff. Both are designed to take something like OPS or ERA, add a park factor, and give league average values of 100.

To me, the best part of these statistics is that they are not black boxes. No details about replacement level or relative value of positions need to be understood (or assumed in the calculations). And they are very handy for scanning a player's career line and quickly finding their best (or worst) seasons.

.........

In the article that started this thread, the author suggests that fantasy baseball is a big factor. People who play follow BA, WHIP, ERA, etc., but don't follow OPS. If this argument is a good one, then it suggests that there are plenty of fans with the intellectual capacity to understand and follow OPS, but their exposure to it is limited.
   51. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: April 03, 2009 at 04:06 PM (#3123198)
In sabermetrics it's not the underlying info that prevents fact-checking, as much of that is readily available. Rather, it's the math. If one must significantly develop mathematical skill even to begin fact-checking, it's likely not happening.
Even if you have the skill, it'll take lots of work to check. I think it's pretty similar to your salesperson example, structurally - the information explaining that most of the products advertising their lack of transfats never had them in the first place and aren't healthy regardless is available, just not simple to acquire.

I do think it would help if more people in sabermetrics acknowledged that in the late nineties, punting defense was broadly "sabermetric", and into the middle of this decade, drafting college players exclusively was as well. We now "know" better, but the fact that what is "sabermetric" is a changeable thing should be acknowledged.

(What counts for knowledge in any working field is going to be in flux, and it's bad when it isn't in flux. But I think there's a tendency toward a lack of humility in sabermetrics that arises in many ways out of refusing to recognize the field has a history.)
   52. Jose Is The Most Absurd Thing on the Site Posted: April 03, 2009 at 04:07 PM (#3123200)
You pretty much need an education in math to get sabermetrics beyond its generalizations. Nobody really likes to be made to feel like an illiterate #####, so they don't even bother trying.


What bothers me though is the segment of society that doesn't try. There are a lot of willfully ignorant people out there who are content not to be more educated. They blindly follow whatever they are told and anyone who tries to upset the status quo isn't to be trusted.

I'm fine with the guy who says "I don't know enough about VORP to understand it so I don't pay attention to it." The guy who says "I don't know enough about VORP to understand it therefore VORP is wrong" bothers the hell out of me.
   53. Dr. I likes his panda steak medium rare Posted: April 03, 2009 at 04:12 PM (#3123208)

I do think it would help if more people in sabermetrics acknowledged that in the late nineties, punting defense was broadly "sabermetric", and into the middle of this decade, drafting college players exclusively was as well. We now "know" better, but the fact that what is "sabermetric" is a changeable thing should be acknowledged.

(What counts for knowledge in any working field is going to be in flux, and it's bad when it isn't in flux. But I think there's a tendency toward a lack of humility in sabermetrics that arises in many ways out of refusing to recognize the field has a history.)


This is where the a-hole thing came into play.

The sabermetric writing on the internet often has a disdain for factors that people haven't figured out how to measure yet.
   54. Rickey! trades in sheep and threats Posted: April 03, 2009 at 04:23 PM (#3123221)
It has.

This can't be reiterated enough. SABR has gone mainstream. Every major sports outlet - ESPN, Fox, CBS - list OBP, SLG and OPS. Commentators, play by play guys, daily beat writers all reference at least first gen SABR metrics regularly. (Anecdotally, the Braves added a play by play guy last year whose primary job qualifications were 1) looking like Syndrome from The Incredibles and 2) calling Joe Simpson on bullshit by pointing out OBP/OPS.)

I think that when people ask "why hasn't SABR gone mainstream" they fail to understand the history from whence we came. First gen sabremetrics - OBP, OPS, basic concepts like park and league adjustments - are mainstream. They're the Death Cab For Cutie of SABR. Sure, there's a less accepted trailing edge of second and third gen stats - EQA, linear weights and such, the defensive metrics - but those two are coming along. They too will break the mainstream in due course. You just have to understand where it actually started before asking why we're only "so far along."
   55. Rickey! trades in sheep and threats Posted: April 03, 2009 at 04:27 PM (#3123226)
I do think it would help if more people in sabermetrics acknowledged that in the late nineties, punting defense was broadly "sabermetric", and into the middle of this decade, drafting college players exclusively was as well. We now "know" better, but the fact that what is "sabermetric" is a changeable thing should be acknowledged.

A great point. SABR did not spring forth, fully formed from the mind of Bill James. The 90s, in particular, were quite ugly at times.
   56. Styles P. Deadball Posted: April 03, 2009 at 04:29 PM (#3123230)
What bothers me though is the segment of society that doesn't try. There are a lot of willfully ignorant people out there who are content not to be more educated. They blindly follow whatever they are told and anyone who tries to upset the status quo isn't to be trusted.


I routinely tell my eighth graders that they can probably forget everything I teach them in history class and still get through life. They just won't be as interesting and they'll end up the kind of people that I make fun of to my students. Since very few at age fourteen see themselves as intending to be lifelong buffoons, they get the message.

One of the other things I've noticed as a teacher is how wide the spectrum of abilities is compared to what I thought it was when I was younger. I assumed that all of the other kids were more or less like me when I was a student. That wasn't the case at all.
   57. rfloh Posted: April 03, 2009 at 04:31 PM (#3123232)
the defensive metrics - but those two are coming along. They too will break the mainstream in due course. You just have to understand where it actually started before asking why we're only "so far along."


Just look at how often mainstream writers are referencing the Fielding Bible for an example.
   58. studes Posted: April 03, 2009 at 05:33 PM (#3123343)
Somebody mentioned above that ERA+ and OPS+ are quite useful.


FWIW, I never use those. The scales for both metrics are wrong, but particularly for ERA+. They do seem popular, but if most people saw how OPS+ is calculated, they'd shake their heads and walk away.

And I agree with Sam. Sabermetrics is probably as "accepted" as it should expect to be. And what is sabermetrics anyway? To me, it's the "search for objective baseball truth." It's the research. Most fans don't want to, and shouldn't want to, research baseball analytically. What a boring world that would be!

Sabermetric "wisdom" (which is, I guess, what Dan is talking about) may be accepted slowly, but that's a good thing, IMO.
   59. Babe Adams Posted: April 03, 2009 at 05:34 PM (#3123345)
"My name is Bill James. I am NOT a Bill Jamesian...."
   60. Rickey! trades in sheep and threats Posted: April 03, 2009 at 05:42 PM (#3123365)
Sabermetric "wisdom" (which is, I guess, what Dan is talking about) may be accepted slowly, but that's a good thing, IMO.

Baseball is a conservative institution. Change seeps in at the margins. Very, very rarely will you see some major shift in conventional wisdom take hold quickly. Hell, it took multiple seasons for traditionalists to figure out that the "Ruthian style" might be something other than a fad. Jackie Robinson was such a cultural marker because his story was such a big change in such a slowly changing game. SABR "wisdom" is creeping in along and along, and I for one would hate for it to flood in faster. I'm quite happy that the game was smart enough to ignore all of the "just stick Jeremy Giambi in centerfield" catcalls.
   61. The Buddy Biancalana Hit Counter Posted: April 03, 2009 at 05:49 PM (#3123378)
Just look at how often mainstream writers are referencing the Fielding Bible for an example.

Stranger than me having read both a copy of ESPN the Magazine and Sports Illustrated this week is that both included an article quoting mgl and treating his POV as expert rather than crank. It took Okrent almost two years to get his Bill James profile (the first thing I ever read about James) published in SI. I'm guessing whoever thinks sabermetrics hasn't gone mainstream is significantly younger than I.
   62. dcn29 Posted: April 03, 2009 at 05:58 PM (#3123402)
Thanks for all the comments guys... I understand some of the criticisms above, so I'll direct you to the comments section of the FanGraphs thread, specifically this post by Dave Appelman and the one below it by me (dan):

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/sabermetrics-in-the-mainstream/#comment-70143
   63. BFFB Posted: April 03, 2009 at 06:38 PM (#3123460)
Alot of the friction seemed to appear because while many had enough nous to grasp the concept of, to pull something out of my ass, linear weights. Things which measure what happened. Equally as many didn't really grasp the concept of a mathematical model and conflated it far too much with reality, not acknowledging that it's a model. It has, always, to be verified against reality. And there will always be things you either know you don't know or don't know you don't know that will cause errors. E.g I'm a Process Engineer. Sometimes you get asked to troubleshoot a column so you might do a simulation. However, the simulation by itself isn't very useful. You always have to match it against plant operating data, the adjust the model to match reality. Not try and bend reality to the model.
   64. tfbg9 Posted: April 03, 2009 at 07:17 PM (#3123544)
Again, as a Red Sox fan, I don't want Sabermetrics to catch on, or at least I want it to catch on
at a rate of 4-5 years behind the latest stuff.

BTW, there are some posts in SOSH's current Jimy Williams(hated him)thread the guy being some kind of anti-BABIP genius--
Matty's term about the saber-people "punting defense" back then brought it back to mind.
   65. phatj Posted: April 03, 2009 at 07:27 PM (#3123555)
I don't think sabermetrics will have gone mainstream until we start seeing OPS+ or ERA+ in telecasts or in the major media. They're probably the most user-friendly sabr stats outside of stuff like OBP.


There was a program on MLB Network last night listing the top 9 hitting seasons (only including the single best for players who otherwise would appear multiple times on the list). They were ranked by OPS+.
   66. GGC don't think it can get longer than a novella Posted: April 03, 2009 at 07:37 PM (#3123577)
SABR did not spring forth, fully formed from the mind of Bill James.


SABR and sabermetrics are two different things. AFAIK, a lot of the younger sabermetricians aren't even in SABR.
   67. DCA Posted: April 03, 2009 at 07:45 PM (#3123594)
FWIW, I never use those. The scales for both metrics are wrong, but particularly for ERA+. They do seem popular, but if most people saw how OPS+ is calculated, they'd shake their heads and walk away.

I think the OPS+ scale is far more wrong. ERA+ makes sense. Yes it really should be measured as 1/ERA+, but if you want a higher number to be better, the inverse is the only logical way to do it. The OPS+ scale makes no sense at all. There's no advantage to not doing it properly as (100 + OPS+)/2, which makes it the measurement that most people think it is and lower bounds it at 0 instead of -100.
   68. Blackadder Posted: April 03, 2009 at 07:48 PM (#3123597)
I would make a small adjustment to some of the claims here: it is not mathematical knowledge that is relevant for understanding most sabermetric work, but rather a sort of comfort with numbers and quantitative means of reasoning. To understand most things people talk about, you really don't need much more than simple arithmetic and some sense of what a regression is. I have a friend who has not taken a math class since high school who is very comfortable with sabermetrics. Of course, to actually carry out interesting new work you do need to know some statistics, as well as knowing how to actually work a computer, but just to follow the discussion I don't think the knowledge requirements are very high.
   69. tfbg9 Posted: April 03, 2009 at 07:54 PM (#3123605)
#65-they used ERA+ for the pitching episode also
   70. Styles P. Deadball Posted: April 03, 2009 at 08:13 PM (#3123644)
I would make a small adjustment to some of the claims here: it is not mathematical knowledge that is relevant for understanding most sabermetric work, but rather a sort of comfort with numbers and quantitative means of reasoning. To understand most things people talk about, you really don't need much more than simple arithmetic and some sense of what a regression is. I have a friend who has not taken a math class since high school who is very comfortable with sabermetrics. Of course, to actually carry out interesting new work you do need to know some statistics, as well as knowing how to actually work a computer, but just to follow the discussion I don't think the knowledge requirements are very high.


No, but it takes a certain amount of time to become comfortable with those numbers, even if they're not all that tough to figure out. I haven't gotten to the point where I can estimate what any random player's OPS+ is because I haven't sat down for the few minutes necessary to figure it out. Now that I've opened my big mouth in this thread, I'll be ready for the quiz on Monday, but otherwise I probably wouldn't feel the need to make a specific effort to learn it.

Really, "measurement sense" is just from familiarity. We could convert to the metric system in this country if more people could look across their family rooms and estimate the distance in meters rather than feet. Since most Americans haven't taken the time to learn that, they're resistant to the change. They know how much a gallon looks like, whether it's in a milk jug or a bucket. They can't look at the same quantity and estimate liters. Give them a week and it'll get done, but since it isn't really necessary in order to drink the milk, nobody bothers to learn.

In baseball, for a long time, we trusted numbers that didn't tell what we thought they did. Some people are slower to catch on to that, but that's because knowing that something dopey like WHIP being more accurate than wins doesn't really affect their basic enjoyment of the game, which involves beer and hot dogs at least as much as VORP.

Never once have I explained to someone why pitcher wins really don't tell you how good a pitcher is and had them dismiss my point. In fact, the most vehement defense of things like that come from the ex-players that clutter up the studio shows.
   71. Dr. I likes his panda steak medium rare Posted: April 03, 2009 at 08:21 PM (#3123668)
I have a friend who has not taken a math class since high school who is very comfortable with sabermetrics.


Right. Even to do the research, the ability to think logically and do research seems more important that the ability to do mathematical gymnastics. How advanced are Bill James' math skills? (I don't honestly know.) But from the stuff I have read, most of the math behind what James did isn't that hard. But the guy clearly understands how to think systematically.
   72. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: April 03, 2009 at 08:47 PM (#3123709)
I would make a small adjustment to some of the claims here: it is not mathematical knowledge that is relevant for understanding most sabermetric work, but rather a sort of comfort with numbers and quantitative means of reasoning.

Yes. But that's still very rare. Most people are neither particularly numerate or quantitative in their reasoning.

Algebra is pretty easy too, but most people just don't get it, and like to loudly proclaim it is useless.
   73. Zach Posted: April 03, 2009 at 09:46 PM (#3123748)
But from the stuff I have read, most of the math behind what James did isn't that hard.

That's true in two ways. Most of the valuable stuff in sabermetrics doesn't involve particularly hard math, and a lot of the people who try to do particularly advanced math with baseball stats stumble pretty badly over things that are well known in the saber crowd.

My take on James is that he has a very good nose for interesting questions, as well as a freakishly good knowledge of baseball history and historical statistics. That lets him get away with things like Win Shares and the like, where there are a lot of free parameters that James supplies himself.
   74. Danny Posted: April 04, 2009 at 05:07 AM (#3124029)
I think the OPS+ scale is far more wrong. ERA+ makes sense.

I agree with this. OPS+ kinda sucks, but the PI is a great, great tool.

I do think it would help if more people in sabermetrics acknowledged that in the late nineties, punting defense was broadly "sabermetric", and into the middle of this decade, drafting college players exclusively was as well. We now "know" better, but the fact that what is "sabermetric" is a changeable thing should be acknowledged.

I didn't follow sabermetrics in the late 90s, but who was making these arguments? As for drafting college players, do you just mean Moneyball (2003) to the mid-decade?

As for sabermetrics in the main stream, ESPN had this today:

Geren is amazingly organized. He has a board in his office on which he has three weeks of games planned out, and what pitchers the A's are going to face. He is a real student of the game, and big believer in the statistical end of the game, some of which he gets from a book called "The Book." He knows, from reading, that over the course of the season, a No. 3 hitter is going to get 15 more plate appearances than the No. 4 hitter.

"If you have a strikeout guy, sometimes it's best to hit him second, not fifth," Geren said. "There are more productive outs at the fifth spot. And did you know that the No. 3 spot in the order comes to the plate with no runners on base more than any spot in the batting order?"

This would make me much more excited if 1) Geren wasn't batting Ryan Sweeney and Orlando Cabrera in the top two spots with Cust 6th, and 2) Geren wasn't so off on the 3 spot getting more PA with the bases empty than the leadoff spot.
   75. Nineto Lezcano needs to get his shit together (CW) Posted: April 04, 2009 at 05:28 AM (#3124042)
I think the OPS+ scale is far more wrong. ERA+ makes sense. Yes it really should be measured as 1/ERA+, but if you want a higher number to be better, the inverse is the only logical way to do it. The OPS+ scale makes no sense at all. There's no advantage to not doing it properly as (100 + OPS+)/2, which makes it the measurement that most people think it is and lower bounds it at 0 instead of -100.


There certainly is an advantage - you get a better correlation with actual run scoring and you get a measure that scales appropriately. If you take OPS+:

OBP/lgOBP + SLG/lgSLG - 1

then what you get actually scales properly - an OPS+ of 125 produces 25% more runs than the average player. This isn't true of OPS/lgOPS. (I don't know what you're suggesting here, but think that's it.)

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