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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Sabermetric Movement’s Forgotten Foremother - The Ringer

Her work was truly ground breaking. I learned about r.s.b in the middle 90’s and was a big fan of Defensive Average. Baseball lost a great mind when her interests and responsibilities took her away from the game.

“I thought DA was a very interesting system that advanced our understanding of defense during that time,” Tippett says via email. Before spending 13 years with the Red Sox, Tippett developed the computer baseball sim Diamond Mind, which relied on Defensive Average ratings for a few years in the early ’90s. Subsequent stats also owe a debt to DA; “Defensive Average was definitely an influence on the development of UZR,” Lichtman says via email. SABR director Chris Dial emails an even more sweeping statement: “Sherri Nichols’s original DA/DR work is the framework for everything.”

Jim Furtado Posted: February 20, 2018 at 08:07 AM | 51 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: sabermetrics

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   1. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: February 20, 2018 at 09:29 AM (#5627264)
I don't really have anything to say about this piece, other than that it's good and you should read it.
   2. bob gee Posted: February 20, 2018 at 10:52 AM (#5627313)
loved reading this piece! as soon as it mentioned sherri's name, i remembered her posts from r.s.bb days...

glad to know that things have gone well for her, and that she's been properly acknowledged.
   3. dlf Posted: February 20, 2018 at 10:54 AM (#5627315)
I've lost touch with the forefront of sabermetrics and don't know enough about Statcast and the analytical output to have an opinion, but prior to that, the biggest changes in the measurement of defense during my fandom since the mid 70s have been Sherri's work to measure fielding by plays made vs. opportunities weighted by the value of the play and Voros' contribution to allocate run prevention between fielding and pitching. Pretty much everything else, at least until Statcast, has been a refinement of those concepts. I thank both for the contributions to my enjoyment and understanding.
   4. Pat Rapper's Delight (as quoted on MLB Network) Posted: February 20, 2018 at 11:15 AM (#5627336)
Shout out to NLoCD!
   5. Der-K: downgraded to lurker Posted: February 20, 2018 at 12:23 PM (#5627397)
Indeed!
   6. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: February 20, 2018 at 12:30 PM (#5627405)
How many of us here are RSB alums? (I mean, here on BBTF; I assume people in this thread are.)
   7. Jefferson Manship (Dan Lee) Posted: February 20, 2018 at 12:43 PM (#5627415)
I imagine a lot of us. I lurked for years in RSB without really ever participating. NLoCD and Axiom #1 from Voros had huge influences on the way I look at baseball.
   8. Srul Itza Posted: February 20, 2018 at 12:43 PM (#5627416)
I got into it very, very late. Within a very few years, most everyone had migrated to other platforms.

[But that is where I learned what a SDCN was!]
   9. Curse of the Graffanino (dfan) Posted: February 20, 2018 at 12:46 PM (#5627418)
I don't follow baseball that carefully anymore and mostly just check out BBTF when something interesting pops up in my RSS feed, but I was a voracious reader and semi-active poster on rec.sport.baseball and rec.sport.baseball.analysis back in the era covered by this article. One of the few appearances of my name in print is Don Malcolm deciding to call me out in a Big Bad Baseball Annual because of a (very polite) criticism of his writing style I had made on Usenet. Anyway, it was fun to encounter all those names again, especially Sherri's.
   10. asinwreck Posted: February 20, 2018 at 12:53 PM (#5627426)
Great piece, and this detail is worth discussing:
she’s monitored the sabermetric movement closely enough to express concern about the number of baseball analysts being snapped up by teams and having their research sequestered.

Given how crucial the open nature of Retrosheet has been for its use and influence, what are we losing with the current trend towards private data?
   11. Pat Rapper's Delight (as quoted on MLB Network) Posted: February 20, 2018 at 01:29 PM (#5627452)
I discovered r.s.bb c.1993 and was a semi-active poster and avid reader.
   12. DL from MN Posted: February 20, 2018 at 01:58 PM (#5627493)
Agree, great article
   13. DL from MN Posted: February 20, 2018 at 02:00 PM (#5627495)
what are we losing with the current trend towards private data?


Is it really going to be private forever? Retrosheet was able to convince teams to let them be the archive for all of their scorecards they kept over the years. Why wouldn't they archive it all publicly at some point rather than keeping it sitting in a box unused?
   14. Rally Posted: February 20, 2018 at 02:10 PM (#5627515)
I missed RSB. Would have been right up my alley but I just didn't find it in time.

Great article. I've heard of defensive average and Nichols. I did not know about her role in making retrosheet freely available, for which I (and many others) are extremely grateful.

Given how crucial the open nature of Retrosheet has been for its use and influence, what are we losing with the current trend towards private data?


It's the analysis that has gone private, there is more baseball data freely available now than ever before. True there are some new things that have been kept private, but the public is richer for what % of that which is made public.

In terms of statcast, we have publicly available on Baseball Savant: More pitch details (ex spin rate) than were available before, sprint speed, exit velocity, launch angle, outfield runs saved. I don't know what percentage that represents of useful baseball information (since I only have knowledge of what one of the 30 teams can do with it), but the full dataset wouldn't fit on your hard drive anyway.
   15. DavidFoss Posted: February 20, 2018 at 02:20 PM (#5627524)
Is it really going to be private forever? Retrosheet was able to convince teams to let them be the archive for all of their scorecards they kept over the years. Why wouldn't they archive it all publicly at some point rather than keeping it sitting in a box unused?

'At some point' is the key issue. I'm thrilled that teams are giving copies of their pre-1984 scorecards to retrosheet, but that cutoff is 34 years ago now and 34 years from now is 2052.

Of course, you can't expect competitive front offices to release all of their current data.

Edit -- I'll completely agree with rally that data is more available now than ever before. The entire lahman download is actually fairly small by database standards so it has turned into a common example dataset for how to learn python or R or whatever.
   16. Sunday silence Posted: February 20, 2018 at 02:33 PM (#5627535)
its a pretty damning commentary on the state of defensive metrics when no one can agree on whether Hosmer's fielding is above average, below average or average. Really? In this day and age?

Not to disparage this lady's contribution to sabermetrics. Just more of another daily rant on the limitations of defensive numbers. But really, how can we not even agree o where Hosmer is?
   17. Rally Posted: February 20, 2018 at 03:30 PM (#5627588)
The metrics seem pretty much in agreement as to Hosmer being a below average defender. It's the gold glove voters who don't agree.
   18. Der-K: downgraded to lurker Posted: February 20, 2018 at 03:37 PM (#5627596)
15/DavidFoss - As it happens, I remember a date (who was not into baseball) asking me if I was familiar with lahman for exactly those reasons (I was but have never learned r or python.)
   19. OsunaSakata Posted: February 20, 2018 at 03:55 PM (#5627602)
"Roger Maynard cordially, as always"
   20. cardsfanboy Posted: February 20, 2018 at 04:53 PM (#5627644)
15/DavidFoss - As it happens, I remember a date (who was not into baseball) asking me if I was familiar with lahman for exactly those reasons (I was but have never learned r or python.)


Not that you need to, but they are both good tools and there are plenty of free resources to learn them. This is a nice tool to start learning. EdX is a free site for education and this course is a very nice way to learn. Sabermetrics 101: Introduction to Baseball Analytics(of course that is no longer an available course, I should have clicked it before posting...still there has to be others out there. )
   21. Sunday silence Posted: February 20, 2018 at 05:16 PM (#5627677)

The metrics seem pretty much in agreement as to Hosmer being a below average defender.


Really? I thought Walt just the other day was speculating on the value of Hosmer's contract depending on whether we think he's above average or below average. I saw other people debating this issue as well a few months ago.
   22. cardsfanboy Posted: February 20, 2018 at 05:54 PM (#5627697)
Walt was arguing more or less where you lie on the spectrum of thinking his defense is at....metrics compared to scouts type of thing.
   23. Der-K: downgraded to lurker Posted: February 20, 2018 at 06:27 PM (#5627709)
20\cfb: Oh, I'm not averse to it, I just have enough on my plate that I'm not adding more means to code for fun anytime soon.
   24. Billy Sunday Posted: February 20, 2018 at 06:47 PM (#5627720)
I was on r.s.bb back in the day, still have my white copy of Baseball Prospectus. Lurking here and at BravesJournal these days. Wonder whatever happened to Dale Stephenson?
   25. Zach Posted: February 20, 2018 at 07:26 PM (#5627735)
“At this time, that was a derogatory thing,” Huckabay says. “It was considered, like, ‘Don’t play lawyer ball, get up there and swing the bat.’ Which is another way of saying, ‘Go up there and make some outs.’”

In softball, this is a correct opinion.
   26. Zach Posted: February 20, 2018 at 07:27 PM (#5627737)
Depends on the skill level, obviously, but the beer's not going to drink itself, and the players are going to make more than enough mistakes on balls in play. Go up there and make some outs!
   27. John DiFool2 Posted: February 20, 2018 at 08:14 PM (#5627754)
Last I checked the last regular (non-spammer) was that Pete Rose for the HoF guy, each time making a very tenuous analogy as to why Rose belongs. Think he's been at it for close to 20 years now.
   28. Shibal Posted: February 20, 2018 at 08:27 PM (#5627763)
The metrics seem pretty much in agreement as to Hosmer being a below average defender. It's the gold glove voters who don't agree.


His ability to scoop balls out of the dirt turns him into an average defender. He's below average otherwise.

Overall, it was a solid article. Her idea to make Retrosheet free is certainly her biggest contribution. The part I highlighted below is pretty silly, though. Baseball Prospectus didn't create the wave, it got swept up in it.


It’s easy to imagine a dramatically different alternate history in which Nichols never joined r.s.b. It’s a baseball butterfly effect: Without Nichols, Huckabay might not have seen the sabermetric light. Without Huckabay’s conversion, Baseball Prospectus might never have formed. And without Baseball Prospectus—whose alumni litter front offices, whose analysis has reshaped the game, and whose brand of acerbic, highly literate, and, frankly, Nicholsesque commentary has hastened the acceptance of stats among media members and consumers not just in the sports ecosystem but across the culture at large—the world wouldn’t look quite the same.
   29. Rally Posted: February 20, 2018 at 08:36 PM (#5627764)
Hosmer’s career ratings by a few commonly available stats:

TZ -35
DRS -20
UZR -29
   30. AndrewJ Posted: February 20, 2018 at 09:18 PM (#5627778)
I started going online in the spring of 1995 and was an RSB lurker the remainder of the decade/century/millennium. Don't remember Sherri specifically, though. But still a great article.
   31. Neal Traven Posted: February 21, 2018 at 04:53 AM (#5627827)
Oh man, the memories. I was a minor contributor to r.s.bb, these many years ago. I still chuckle about "the Davids", so prominent in the group -- Nichols, Nieporent, Grabiner, Tate (who worked in Pitt's engineering building, right next to the Graduate School of Public Health, where I was studying for my PhD), and others.

The net was young and innocent in those days. It was vastly more fun than what we have today. While BP still runs something it calls HACKING MASS, the thing just doesn't look as cool as the r.s.bb. original.

During the two years of the Great American Baseball Stat Book, when Sherri and David were the heads of the Pittsburgh contingent of data collectors and enterers (using David's software, of course). I did a good bit of the data entry. The first time I met them was when I hand-delivered my accumulated games to them on a floppy. I don't recall whether it was a 5 1/4 or 3 1/2 disk. Oh, and I wrote some essays in the GABSB, mostly on Phillies (Schmidt, Von Hayes, Glenn Wilson, ...).

I'm pictured, by the way, in the "inaugural Retrosheet meeting in 1994," directly across the table from Sherri and David, and to the left of Luke Kraemer. Sadly, at least three of the participants in that meeting -- Clem Comly (nearest to the camera, on the left), David Vincent (nearest on the right, at his laptop), and Doug Pappas (last man on the right side, next to the standing Dave Smith) -- are no longer with us.

   32. manchestermets Posted: February 21, 2018 at 05:49 AM (#5627833)
I was a lurker/occasional poster to r.s.b, but only came to it towards the end of Usenet's useful life. I got interested in baseball on a 6-week work trip to New York in September/October 1999, so when I got home Usenet was the obvious place to go to find out more. Because I came in with no preconceptions, some of what at the time were still fairly shocking ideas in the wider world (RBIs/pitcher wins are more measures of team achievements than individual achievements, OBP is more valuable than AVG, and so on) seemed to be nothing more than obvious common sense, so the pushback against these ideas in mainstream sports media seemed very odd. I ended up spending more time in alt.sports.baseball.ny-mets than in r.s.b, which is probably where I first encountered the BBTF poster now known as Rickey - I remember him getting quite upset when I suggested the Mets should have been in for Gary Sheffield, since the Braves got him for the equivalent of Benny Agbayani and Glendon Rusch.

Last I checked the last regular (non-spammer) was that Pete Rose for the HoF guy, each time making a very tenuous analogy as to why Rose belongs. Think he's been at it for close to 20 years now.


Was that the guy who referred to himself as The Pete Rose Committee, and would hand out the daily "Rose Award" to whoever had gone 3-4 with 3 RBI the previous day? The last time I looked, the monthly VORP figures by position were still being faithfully posted.
   33. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: February 21, 2018 at 06:40 AM (#5627834)

September/October 1999, ... I ended up spending more time in alt.sports.baseball.ny-mets
The Joe Hershfield era.
   34. villageidiom Posted: February 21, 2018 at 07:07 AM (#5627839)
How many of us here are RSB alums?
Me, but barely, and of no consequence. Much like here. :-)
   35. I Am Not a Number Posted: February 21, 2018 at 07:42 AM (#5627848)
"Roger Maynard cordially, as always"

Daddy, what's a usenet troll?
   36. manchestermets Posted: February 21, 2018 at 07:54 AM (#5627852)
"Roger Maynard cordially, as always"

Daddy, what's a usenet troll?


Bow down to the King!
   37. DavidFoss Posted: February 21, 2018 at 08:34 AM (#5627866)
"Roger Maynard cordially, as always"

Speaking of python, rec.sport.baseball is also featured in the scikit-learn package's "20newgroups" dataset. One thousand random baseball posts from the mid-90s (along with 19k from other groups) are now used to demonstrate document-classification algorithms. I checked it out and there are 2-3 Maynard posts in there with the 'cordially' phrase at the end. Even another post calling him out 'cordially? yeah right!'. No big flame wars that I could see, though.

Silly to see those in the mix, but I guess real-world datasets can be messy.
   38. McCoy Posted: February 21, 2018 at 10:14 AM (#5627921)
I remember when I first started lurking here/posting that there were quite a few references to r.s.bb and quite a few arguments that seemed to be continuations of arguments that had been had ad nauseam over there. After a few years the references to r.s.bb quite of dropped away. Perhaps those guys went off to the forums.

There also seemed to be quite a few posters from Rob Neyer's board as well back in the day.

For me I got my start on the old Cubs message board and eventually came here after that place turned into a dumpster fire. I think at one point they had a troll who flooded the site with porn pics. I was more active on Baseball-Fever for years and years until I basically researched everything I wanted to research and argued everything about baseball that I had wanted to argue and nothing really left to argue about in terms of baseball. So now I post here, shooting the shvt about food or clothes or politics and occasionally on present day baseball.
   39. dlf Posted: February 21, 2018 at 10:37 AM (#5627945)
I missed r.s.bb. My on-line forays started with dial-up bulletin boards in the early 90s and really got started later in the decade with baseballboards before moving here in pre-registration days when the former was sold to an entity that got pissy with a bunch of posters.

During the two years of the Great American Baseball Stat Book, when Sherri and David were the heads of the Pittsburgh contingent of data collectors and enterers (using David's software, of course). I did a good bit of the data entry. The first time I met them was when I hand-delivered my accumulated games to them on a floppy. I don't recall whether it was a 5 1/4 or 3 1/2 disk. Oh, and I wrote some essays in the GABSB, mostly on Phillies (Schmidt, Von Hayes, Glenn Wilson, ...).


I'm pretty sure it was 5.25". At least that is what I was mailing back to Chicago when I was doing data entry from a dorm room a bit north of where you were. Oh, and my (very crappy) entries were mostly on Red Sox players, Gedman and Greenwell and a few others. I know that very few people really care, but I'd love to know more about what caused Project Scoresheet to implode and the personalities involved. I remember getting a few contradictory and accusatory written missives from a few of the folks high up in the food chain.

   40. Tom Nawrocki Posted: February 21, 2018 at 11:08 AM (#5627992)
I got to r.s.bb in about 1994, and Sherri Nichols had pretty much stopped posting by then, and was already treated like a departed legend. She mostly lived on in Nichols' Law of Catcher Defense.
   41. DJS, the Digital Dandy Posted: February 21, 2018 at 02:15 PM (#5628174)
There are a lot of usenet guys still around here. Some went off to the rest of the blogosphere and/or Twitter (and there are number in the forums mainly).

I was a couple of years too young to know Nichols directly, mostly second-hand. I started reading usenet during the strike and de-lurked like a year and a half later. But she was universally respected by the time I got to usenet.

I do get nostalgia at times for those mid-late 90s usenet days. We were all a lot less respected in baseball, but there was something so exciting and vibrant about being a pure outsider. I like that usenet eventually led to a career I did not expect, but I do kinda miss the revolutionary days from time-to-time.

Plus, I got to be one of the young guys at the time. Of the regular useneters, Dave Cameron and I were the young guys. Now we're both approaching middle-age.
   42. Colin Posted: February 21, 2018 at 03:34 PM (#5628248)
I was an asb.atlanta-braves regular, posting way more words in there than I ever wrote in the dissertation upon which I was procrastinating. Occasional rsb poster and longtime lurker, but I felt kinda out of my statistical league in there.
   43. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: February 21, 2018 at 04:17 PM (#5628274)
There are a lot of usenet guys still around here


me me me!!!
   44. PreservedFish Posted: February 21, 2018 at 04:39 PM (#5628287)
I do get nostalgia at times for those mid-late 90s usenet days. We were all a lot less respected in baseball, but there was something so exciting and vibrant about being a pure outsider. I like that usenet eventually led to a career I did not expect, but I do kinda miss the revolutionary days from time-to-time.


I lurked usenet a bit, mostly long after its heyday, when Neyer was already doing his ESPN thing. I used to lurk a small and slow sabermetrics forum where 80% of the comments came from tangotiger and MGL. I identified enough with the stathead movement enough to feel, like, incredibly excited when Keith Law got hired by the Blue Jays. I actually greeted the publishing of Moneyball with a shrug ... who's this mainstream writer trying to swoop in and talk about our culture? (Of course that wasn't really the focus of the book by any means)

It's funny. I'm probably not alone in this, but when I was 18-20 I wanted to be a part of a movement of some sort. Like the Lost Generation in Paris, or the beatniks, or the CBGB punk scene ... part of an exciting cultural vanguard. Of course I wasn't cool enough or artistic enough to ever approach that sort of thing, and the closest I ever got was probably nerdily staring at my computer and witnessing this tiny subculture of older, smarter nerds that eventually did in fact revolutionize baseball.
   45. Los Angeles El Hombre of Anaheim Posted: February 21, 2018 at 07:51 PM (#5628363)
There are a lot of usenet guys still around here
R.S.BB.Calif-Angels, represent!
   46. Zach Posted: February 21, 2018 at 08:10 PM (#5628369)
I was never a Usenet guy. I got into it from Rob Neyer's column and the comment threads. So I'm not quite the vanguard, but then again, there were probably a lot of guys in Paris in the 1920s who went to the parties but never wrote anything.

I do kind of miss the days when everybody had their own crazy systems and argued about them. Nowadays, everything seems commoditized.
   47. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: February 21, 2018 at 08:29 PM (#5628375)
I actually greeted the publishing of Moneyball with a shrug ... who's this mainstream writer trying to swoop in and talk about our culture?

Billy Beane.
   48. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: February 21, 2018 at 08:37 PM (#5628379)
I actually greeted the publishing of Moneyball with a shrug ... who's this mainstream writer trying to swoop in and talk about our culture?

Billy Beane.

should never have written that book
   49. DL from MN Posted: February 21, 2018 at 09:07 PM (#5628395)
I do kind of miss the days when everybody had their own crazy systems and argued about them.


Come join a Hall of Merit thread
   50. Hysterical & Useless Posted: February 22, 2018 at 11:36 AM (#5628682)
I never did much rambling around the net on my own time, so never stumbled on RSB. Found this site while bored at work during pre-registration days. Then was out of work for a time, didn't keep up, and when I went back to work looked for the site again. The address I remembered took me to Baseball Prospectus, which was very confusing, as it looked totally different and you had to pay to read most of the stuff. And there were no characters! Searched some more and re-found BTF, where I could once more delight in the stylings of Backlasher and Kevin and RossCW (and Admiral Ackbar and Mike Piazza and The Bearded Wizard...). Ah, memories.
   51. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: February 22, 2018 at 09:17 PM (#5629193)
some of what at the time were still fairly shocking ideas in the wider world (RBIs/pitcher wins are more measures of team achievements than individual achievements, OBP is more valuable than AVG, and so on) seemed to be nothing more than obvious common sense, so the pushback against these ideas in mainstream sports media seemed very odd.


It was all obvious common sense to Branch Rickey 40 years before usenet, which made the pushback seem even odder.

There also seemed to be quite a few posters from Rob Neyer's board as well back in the day.


Still are.

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