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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Spiting Rick Reilly: Is Straw Man Bill James Baseball’s Harold Camping?

I didn’t know Lebowitz even had a show on Family Radio! (must be on after that uplifting Beyond Intelligent Design program)

What does any of this have to do with baseball? Perhaps more than one might expect. In the last decade, baseball has been overrun by a seemingly countless number of “stat-heads” extolling the virtues of “advanced metrics”. They’ll say that their statistics — usually based upon a confusing algorithm and often truncated in a similarly perplexing acronym — are the end-all, be-all way to analyze the game, moreso than the ages-old “eye test” of trusting what one sees when they watch a ballgame. These people are entitled to their opinion, to be sure, but the fact that so many followers of baseball — long-time scribes, former players, and the vast majority of fans among them — reject many of these principles seems unusual. If this “informed” way of thinking really was as advertised, wouldn’t it be embraced by more of those closest to the game?

...Whether it’s the failings of the sabermetric community — until recently — to account for the importance of team defense or Camping’s erring for a second time on his forecast of the demise of human civilization, it should be clear to any rational being that there is plenty of truth in the old adage (or counterargument) “sometimes, numbers do lie”. How often they do so, particularly in relation to baseball, is a debate that will probably continue until the end of time. Some will continue to swear by VORP, WAR, and the like. Others will prefer to watch the game in peace, and make judgments based on what they see — agree to disagree, and all of that.

Hey, it’s not the end of the world.

Repoz Posted: May 24, 2011 at 09:23 AM | 47 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, sabermetrics

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   1. TomH Posted: May 24, 2011 at 12:13 PM (#3836191)
From the article:
For years, these folks alleged that defense was the least important aspect of the game, save for baserunning. They would advocate shoehorning inferior defensive players onto the field in exchange for having their offensive contributions in the lineup

The first sentence is accurate, and still true. Most would still assert that defense is less important than offense or pitching. And somehow, this is evidence of an equivalent 'missed predicted rapture'? As in, the argument is provably wrong? I laugh.

The second sentence, that saber-ists collectively wanted the Mannys and Dunns to play in the field and move clumsy infielders to shortstop to get more bats in, was never part of the generally accepted wisdom. Yes, there has been some tweaking in the past few years, but nothing huge.

If anything, where is the credit for CORRECT predictions? Where the conventional wisdom HAS indeed bowed its knee to the obvious altar calls that walks were an important tool?

it should be clear to any rational being that there is plenty of truth in the old adage (or counterargument) “sometimes, numbers do lie”.

More often, conventional wisdom lies. Wake up and smell the coffee, dude. You missed the rapture.
   2. Dan The Mediocre Posted: May 24, 2011 at 12:20 PM (#3836192)
I assume the article is a troll. If not, well, this is the sort of hatred of anything scientific that is at the root of Sarah Palin's popularity.
   3. Mister High Standards Posted: May 24, 2011 at 12:26 PM (#3836194)
Yes, there has been some tweaking in the past few years, but nothing huge.


Actually, go back and read some old prospectuses from the early 00's. The collective view on the importance of defense is signifigantly different than it is today. While, it's a stretch to say the consensus was defense didn't matter... it wasn't trhat big of a stretch.
   4. Der Komminsk-sar Posted: May 24, 2011 at 12:40 PM (#3836202)
Actually, go back and read some old prospectuses from the early 00's. The collective view on the importance of defense is significantly different than it is today.
But that's different than what James espoused.
   5. Rusty Priske Posted: May 24, 2011 at 12:40 PM (#3836203)
The fact that 'opinions' can change as available data (and our understanding of it) changes is the thing that religious types (and I am lumping the old-school-Joe-Morgan-baseball types in here) just can't wrap their heads around.
   6. Shooty Is Disappointed With His Midstream Urine Posted: May 24, 2011 at 12:45 PM (#3836205)
I assume the article is a troll. If not, well, this is the sort of hatred of anything scientific that is at the root of Sarah Palin's popularity.

I wish those people would practice what they preach and stop using the internet and viagra and red food coloring #9.
   7. Lassus Posted: May 24, 2011 at 12:46 PM (#3836206)
Anything that uses scare quotes for advanced metrics is not worth anyone's time to read.
   8. Russ Posted: May 24, 2011 at 01:03 PM (#3836215)

Actually, go back and read some old prospectuses from the early 00's. The collective view on the importance of defense is signifigantly different than it is today. While, it's a stretch to say the consensus was defense didn't matter... it wasn't trhat big of a stretch.


There's a gigantic difference between saying that defense doesn't matter and saying that the uncertainty regarding its measurement makes it foolhardy to come to important decisions based upon noisy measures of it.
   9. fra paolo Posted: May 24, 2011 at 01:21 PM (#3836223)
I've come round to thinking this New Age Sabermetrics' attitude to defence is to some extent a bit of marketing, especially after Colin Wyers' assault on the underlying data of the PBP metrics. It was also partly a reaction to the conventional wisdom concerning Derek Jeter's mastery of the shortstop position.

By traditional standards, Derek Jeter ought to have been a sabermetric poster-boy. His batting contributions far outweighed his fielding shortcomings, and showed you could win rings with a below-average fielding shortstop. But for some reason it didn't work like that. Statues may have been erected to Jeter, but sabermetricians pointed to their feet of clay.
   10. TomH Posted: May 24, 2011 at 01:26 PM (#3836228)
Derek WOULD have been a sabr poster-boy. If he had toiled away somewhere, winning no rings, and gotten little press. Along with zero gold gloves. Sabr-ists reacted against the prevailing wisdom tha the was ultra-clutch and a good fielder.
   11. Dan The Mediocre Posted: May 24, 2011 at 01:27 PM (#3836229)

By traditional standards, Derek Jeter ought to have been a sabermetric poster-boy. His batting contributions far outweighed his fielding shortcomings, and showed you could win rings with a below-average fielding shortstop. But for some reason it didn't work like that. Statues may have been erected to Jeter, but sabermetricians pointed to their feet of clay.


It didn't happen because sabermatricians have been celebrating players who were undervalued as opposed to overvalued.
   12. Shooty Is Disappointed With His Midstream Urine Posted: May 24, 2011 at 01:28 PM (#3836230)
I don't really tjink of myself as a sabrmetrician because I don't have a handle on the math, nor have I ever really tried. That said, I can't think of anything except the value of OBA sabremetricians have ever agreed upon. These articles always remind me of that joke on The Simpsons about hack comedians, "Black people drive like this and white people drive like this!"
   13. Super Creepy Derek Lowe (GGC) Posted: May 24, 2011 at 01:31 PM (#3836232)
It didn't happen because sabermatricians have been celebrating players who were undervalued as opposed to overvalued.


This leads to statements like Jay Bell > Jim Rice.

Someone in the Lounge recently made a good case for Jeter being better than his ZR. I'll have to see if I can find it.
   14. Mudpout Posted: May 24, 2011 at 01:32 PM (#3836233)
Eh, not worth getting worked up over, but I don't seem to remember anyone saying defence didn't matter *at all* (save for Duquette before the '96 season), just that it was easy to overstate the importance. Also, I'd take Adam Dunn over Dave Kingman any day of the week, and I don't seem to recall SABR Troopers going back in time to hold the Giants hostage for the 148 games he started at 3rd.
   15. TomH Posted: May 24, 2011 at 01:56 PM (#3836258)
Bill James later said "anybody could have told them that Kingman could NOT play third". James also pointed out that attemptng to convert 1B/OF to 3Bmen RARELY worked, and teams oughta quit tryin.
   16. TomH Posted: May 24, 2011 at 02:02 PM (#3836262)
The fact that 'opinions' can change as available data (and our understanding of it) changes is the thing that religious types (and I am lumping the old-school-Joe-Morgan-baseball types in here) just can't wrap their heads around.

Funny thing is, you're arguing the OPPPOSITE of hat occurred here. James was new thinking. Camping was also (tragically, horrifically) new thinking also. He thought he had figured out what no other 'religious type' had, and was trying to warn everyone. So this link made the (foolish) comparison.

And there are certainly plenty of 'naturalist types' who stubbornly stick to their theories in spite of new data. They just don't get mocked as often for it. At least in public.
   17. Daunte Vicknabbit! Posted: May 24, 2011 at 02:13 PM (#3836270)
Also, for all the hubbub about statheads reviling defense, wasn't one of the biggest points of debate in the earlier part of last decade Derek Jeter's defense? And if I do remember correctly, it was the statheads claiming that Jeter lost so much value in defense that he undermined his historically great shortstop offense? Meaning that statheads actually did care about defense?
   18. Daunte Vicknabbit! Posted: May 24, 2011 at 02:13 PM (#3836271)
Wow, double post AND I forgot about the thread for over an hour.
   19. The District Attorney Posted: May 24, 2011 at 02:18 PM (#3836274)
If this “informed” way of thinking really was as advertised, wouldn’t it be embraced by more of those closest to the game?
That's what you're gonna go with? Really?

Boy, I sure wish we could get real, live teams to use "advanced metrics" to make their "decisions"!
   20. Tuque Posted: May 24, 2011 at 02:24 PM (#3836279)
From the site's "about us":
Hi. I'm Kevin...I’ll probably mostly write a bunch of satirical “columns”, because I think I’ve got a decent idea of what bad sports writing looks like, and a gift to ape it.

And the post is tagged as "satire." Nothing to see here, folks, move along....
   21. Eraser-X is emphatically dominating teh site!!! Posted: May 24, 2011 at 02:24 PM (#3836281)
I always felt like the danger with critical thinking movements was to grab the rare, but long-hanging fruit. In other words, to use new metrics, but also replicate the mistakes of the status quo by assuming that the easily, accurately quantifiable are the extent of the world. Or on a slightly lesser level, to simply ignore stuff that's hard.

Obviously, that's an oversimplification, as in sabermetrics, there have always been brilliant people seeking to quantify metrics to answer the deeper questions, but I do think it's a good approximation to what happens in most conventional wisdoms, including sabermetric conventional wisdom.
   22. The District Attorney Posted: May 24, 2011 at 02:27 PM (#3836284)
the post is tagged as "satire."
Whew.
   23. Ron J Posted: May 24, 2011 at 02:28 PM (#3836285)
#3 Not exactly the case. We talked more about the offensive side because there was a lot more confidence in offensive evaluation, but it's always been stathead conventional wisdom that a position player's value is the sum of his offensive and defensive contributions.
   24. Lassus Posted: May 24, 2011 at 02:30 PM (#3836289)
If you have to tell people it's satire, you're not really doing it right.
   25. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: May 24, 2011 at 02:38 PM (#3836296)
If you have to tell people it's satire, you're not really doing it right.

Ya think?

Oh, and if you really want to see satire of the unintentional variety, here's the latest Camping update:

Preacher says world will actually end in October
   26. Super Creepy Derek Lowe (GGC) Posted: May 24, 2011 at 02:42 PM (#3836304)
BWV 1129 - 09 November 2010 06:09 PM
So I have a theory I’m developing about shortstops. It’s not really original to me, but anyway.

I think that, almost as important as a shortstop’s fielding skill, is his ability to not be an idiot. SS handle a lot of balls, throws, everything. They need to have their act together. They need to know where to go. They need to know where to throw. Etc.

I was thinking of this because of Erick Aybar. Aybar has a great arm, terrific range. His hands are a bit inconsistent, but on the whole he’s a plus fielder.

But he is a moron. He lets pop-ups drop in the infield. He doesn’t know how to tag. He constantly makes mental mistakes, which cost bases and runs.

Contrast him with Jeter, who has poor range. But Jeter always knows what to do. I think this gives him a big advantage.

And then I think of people like Orlando Cabrera and Edgar Renteria and David Eckstein, middle infielders who always seem to be on winning teams. Guys who aren’t great hitters, guys who may have had good defensive stats at some point in their career but are definitely removed from their fielding peak. But guys who continue to win. Could it be because they know what the #### they’re doing, and aren’t giving away outs and bases through stupidity?

I don’t know how to test this hypothesis. But I also don’t think the Angels can win anything worth winning with Erick Aybar at shortstop, unless he wises up.

   27. smileyy Posted: May 24, 2011 at 03:08 PM (#3836327)
[24] It's called Poe's Law. But you're right in that the good satirist needs to leave those couple of ragged edges in there to have you saying "Wait a minute..." I feel like traditionally, those "ins" to the satire took the form of outlandish extremism, but there's no extremism too outlandish for the internet, methinks. It's as if Swift were flanked by pamphlets with actual recipes for babies.
   28. smileyy Posted: May 24, 2011 at 03:14 PM (#3836336)
On the other hand, for a satirical blog named "Spiting Rick Reilly" I was really hoping for some bloviating ############# mocking Rick Reilly's style. On the gripping hand, and back to Poe's Law, I think that's called "a Rick Reilly column".
   29. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: May 24, 2011 at 03:20 PM (#3836343)
Could it be because they know what the #### they’re doing, and aren’t giving away outs and bases through stupidity?

1: No, it's because they are on good teams
2: Plus the guys you mention tend to be decent hitters for SSs,

The real why the fcuk are these guys getting PT are guys like Cesar Izturis and Ronny Cedeno and Yuniesky Betancourt
and Tony Pena and you get the idea.

Betancourt over the last few years is ten runs a year worse in hitting than Cabrera, don't really need to go mining for some unmeasured intelligent play intangibles
   30. bads85 Posted: May 24, 2011 at 03:23 PM (#3836345)
often truncated in a similarly perplexing acronym


That was pretty good satire. "I just figured out how to say NATO; now I have to figure out WAR?"
   31. bads85 Posted: May 24, 2011 at 03:27 PM (#3836347)
If you have to tell people it's satire, you're not really doing it right.


Or the wrong people are reading it. Satire is wasted on the slow.
   32. CrosbyBird Posted: May 24, 2011 at 03:50 PM (#3836370)
We talked more about the offensive side because there was a lot more confidence in offensive evaluation, but it's always been stathead conventional wisdom that a position player's value is the sum of his offensive and defensive contributions.

I seem to remember quite a few discussions in the early 90s where plenty of people (including me) suggested that fielding was something on the order of 10% of baseball value. I've definitely come around to the idea that 10% is too low, but there's still quite a bit of disagreement about just how much it can matter. I think we've swung quite a bit too far in the other direction, where there's a bit of overvaluing fielding.
   33. Steve Phillips' Hot Cougar (DrStankus) Posted: May 24, 2011 at 03:59 PM (#3836379)
It's as if Swift were flanked by pamphlets with actual recipes for babies.


Google returns 124 million results for 'how to cook a baby'
   34. zenbitz Posted: May 24, 2011 at 04:29 PM (#3836406)
My eyes tell me the world is a flat disc, and a very small sun bounces across it everyday.
   35. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: May 24, 2011 at 04:46 PM (#3836428)
Bill James later said "anybody could have told them that Kingman could NOT play third". James also pointed out that attemptng to convert 1B/OF to 3Bmen RARELY worked, and teams oughta quit tryin.


He wasn't really a 1b/of
he really had no position, he was actually a converted pitcher- he had the ARM to play 3b, so I can see why the Giants tried.
The problem was that Kingman was a DH - oh he had the raw athletic ability to play dee- he ran well (when young) he had a strong arm - but he was terrible at any defensive position, 3B/RF/1B...

in the end his NL teams basically decided he did less damage at 1B- unfortunately his bat was less of a plus (career 115 OPS+) at 1B... Of course if he could field 1B competently, given his arm he would also have also likely been able to play 3B competently... That's why the Giants tried
   36. SteveM. Posted: May 24, 2011 at 05:07 PM (#3836442)
I quit trusting defensive meterics when someone on this site kept insisting the numbers showed Fred McGriff was an excellent fielding first basemen. I watched enough Cubs to know McGriff was god awful out there.
   37. Moloka'i Three-Finger Brown (Declino DeShields) Posted: May 24, 2011 at 05:47 PM (#3836473)
People still read Rick Reilly?
   38. Moeball Posted: May 25, 2011 at 05:55 AM (#3837118)
Actually, it's not quite accurate to say the sabermetric community rejected the importance of defense until recently.

The sabermetric community - specifically, Pete Palmer's Linear Weights approach - was a major reason Bill Mazeroski was finally inducted into the HOF.

When "The Hidden Game of Baseball" came out in 1984 and led to the Total Baseball encyclopedias, we could see, for the first time, that there were certain players who really were so outstanding defensively that they were saving HOF levels of runs with their gloves that more than offset their weak offensive numbers. When word started circulating that Mazeroski wasn't just viewed as a Gold Glove Second Baseman, but as possibly the Best Fielder Ever, Any Position, Period - his stock started to rise considerably and, ultimately, he was eventually honored with a plaque in Cooperstown.

Although there are many other defensive metrics that have subsequently supplanted linear weights in popular use over time (various types of Zone Ratings, Win Shares, WAR, etc.), let's not forget the influence of linear weights back in the 80s and 90s that started people re-thinking evaluations of overall player contributions.
   39. Ron J Posted: May 25, 2011 at 07:00 AM (#3837123)
#38 Palmer's TPR was like the system James used through the 1984 Abstract. An explicit attempt to account for defense in a great statistic.

The problem though with TPR is that the defensive component was just laughable. I mean Johnny Bench as the worst defensive catcher of all time. Roy Smalley, defensive God. Dick Stuart, adequate at first.

I've described TPR as being comprised of a very accurate offensive component (one Palmer dealt with the problem with base stealing in the early versions), a reasonable position adjustment (I don't precisely agree with the way he does it, but it's a minor quibble) and a random number (for defense)

Pete Palmer's done a lot of great work. His defensive system isn't among that great work.

EDIT: It didn't work at all for first-basemen, catchers, defensive replacements, multi-position players or guys who split time. The problem with catchers and first-basemen can't be fixed without a complete systemic overhaul. The other problems though can be fixed. Basically the problem is that Palmer attempted to estimate defensive innings from plate appearances and it just didn't work.

Of course now we have defensive innings broken down by position.
   40. Walt Davis Posted: May 25, 2011 at 10:46 AM (#3837135)
Derek WOULD have been a sabr poster-boy. If he had toiled away somewhere, winning no rings, and gotten little press. Along with zero gold gloves. Sabr-ists reacted against the prevailing wisdom tha the was ultra-clutch and a good fielder.

Nah. We were just pissed he stole all our girlfriends.

I am never forgiving Jessica Biel.
   41. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: May 25, 2011 at 11:23 AM (#3837141)
Google returns 124 million results for 'how to cook a baby'

Top two hits from the mighty Uncyclopedia:

How to: Cook Children

HISTORY
Cooking children has been a popular means of population control since the primeval period. It is often implemented by elderly women living in houses. Some child eaters say that the legs are the best tasting part of a child, but I think the child's hindquarters are the greatest tasting. It might not seem right, but butt tastes good. To get a child's hindquarters find a child between the ages of 3 to 9. Drag them into your home. Then somehow attach the child to the roasting pan belly first so his hindquarters are facing you. Then put stuffing up his hindquarters. Then take the child and eat the rest of him for dinner....[much more]


How to Cook: A Fetus

“Something Smells Goooooddd........oh.. OH GOD!!!”
~ Oscar Wilde on Fetus Stew

“Finally!!!”
~ Charles Manson on this page

“I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!”
~ Oscar Wilde on Fetus
   42. RMc is a fine piece of cheese Posted: May 25, 2011 at 09:43 PM (#3837573)
I assume the article is a troll. If not, well, this is the sort of hatred of anything scientific that is at the root of Sarah Palin's popularity.

I assume this response a troll. If not, well, this is the sort of hatred of anything Republican that is at the root of Barack Obama's popularity.
   43. cardsfanboy Posted: May 25, 2011 at 10:10 PM (#3837583)
I quit trusting defensive meterics when someone on this site kept insisting the numbers showed Fred McGriff was an excellent fielding first basemen. I watched enough Cubs to know McGriff was god awful out there.


What numbers show that? His time in Chicago he was a below average fielder, heck most of his career he was a below average fielder, and considering that defensive metrics have some notable flaws when it comes to first baseman it's conceivable that he was worse than below average.

One thing people who judge by their eyes have a problem with is that their standard of average may not jibe with reality. (A lot of corner outfielders who are thought as being poor are actually average just because the average player there is basically a poor fielder, it's accepted by the establishment)
   44. Joe Bivens, Minor Genius Posted: May 25, 2011 at 10:42 PM (#3837598)
Wow. Look at RMc, jumping in to defend Sarah Palin. You go, boy!
   45. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: May 25, 2011 at 11:23 PM (#3837615)
Wow. Look at RMc, jumping in to defend Sarah Palin. You go, boy!


Hey, Palin fans, there's MOVIE coming out, "Undefeated" which will purportedly show Palin's time as Governor of Alaska as a "sweeping epic ... Rife with religious metaphor and unmistakable allusions to Palin as a Joan of Arc-like figure."

2+ hours, being premiered next month in IOWA
[yes that means she's RUNNING]
   46. My Grate Friend Peason's pants are rankled Posted: May 25, 2011 at 11:53 PM (#3837626)
allusions to Palin as a Joan of Arc-like figure


Does her rifle melt?
   47. Joe Bivens, Minor Genius Posted: May 25, 2011 at 11:59 PM (#3837630)
Sarah Palin is the best thing to happen to the Democrats in the last 60 years.
   48. Moeball Posted: May 29, 2011 at 10:04 PM (#3840598)
#39 Ron J - not arguing that there were issues with Pete's defensive linear weights measurements. He even admitted at the time Hidden Game was published that he knew the catcher ratings in particular needed a whole lot of reworking.

As I originally mentioned, there have been subsequent replacement measurements such as various types of Zone Ratings, defensive WAR, etc. that we now view as more accurate measures of defensive performance.

That's not the point, however. The point was that with Pete's system we were seeing for the first time numeric representation of the possibility - the belief - that a player really could save so many runs with his glove that he could way more than offset what he was costing the team with his weak bat. That you could justify this player's spot in the lineup, even consider him an All Star or HOF worthy if the run differential was great enough.

I think it was the change in this belief system that got the Veteran's Committee to thinking that maybe Maz was a HOF player after all. It was around the same time that Ozzie Smith was selected by the BBWAA so I think it interesting that the poster boys for the "Defense First" mindset were inducted in successive years(Maz 2001, Oz 2002).

We may have changed our methods for measuring defense over the years but I hope we still recognize how important defensive contributions can be. After all, even the favorite manager of most sabermetricians (Earl Weaver) understood that - he kept Mark Belanger at SS for several years and insisted on playing Brooks at 3B even after he could no longer hit so I think Earl still viewed them as "+" players overall. I think WAR backs up this interpretation as well.

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