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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

True Blue LA: Stop stat abuse

As much as people try to tell you otherwise, stats don’t lie. “Jack Morris would have one of the highest ERAs in the Hall of Fame” is not something up for debate as much as some would like to think otherwise. However, translating those numbers into something that predicts human behavior is damn near impossible. ESPN’s 2014 MLB preview brings us their new chemistry score. Through some simple inputs ESPN’s crack team is able to determine how much people like each other4. Not only that they’ve managed to turn compatibility into wins.

Unfortunately, part of this algorithm actually involves grading a team on racial purity. This leads to someone saying the difference in the AL West could be that “Dominican reliever Fernando Abad is the only nonwhite pitcher on the [Athletics] projected roster”, and the Dodgers will suffer because Hyun-jin Ryu and Kenley Jansen are the only people from their respective countries on the roster. Suggesting that the Dodgers would be better off if they managed to trade Ryu and Jansen for their white guy equivalents would look horribly racist 25 years ago, let alone today. However, because “it’s based on real math” there will be some people out there that take this seriously and argue the Dodgers should deal Ryu for Mike Minor.

This isn’t the last we’re going to see of this either. Baseball Prospectus suggests that we have the potential to use the new field f/x data to look into a players mental state and see if he’s depressed. This is incredibly dangerous. Being able to measure every single thing a player does means you can certainly find a smoking gun somewhere to prove whatever it is you want to, and making a leap from “this guys first step is slower” to “he’s suffering from mental illness” is hugely irresponsible. Again because it’s backed up with “evidence” people are going to take opinions like that much more seriously.

Tripon Posted: March 25, 2014 at 12:21 AM | 19 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: abe attell, abominations, about damned time, absurd, sabrmetrics, statistics, wtf

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   1. The elusive Robert Denby Posted: March 25, 2014 at 10:02 AM (#4676678)
Time to bring back Phrenology! Help your team separate the ballplayers from the stagecoach tilters!
   2. cardsfanboy Posted: March 25, 2014 at 10:25 AM (#4676690)
That chemistry score is a crock. I was just reading my ESPN magazine and it is just so much unsubstantiated bs that it was hard to even look at the charts and not want to rip the magazine up.

They have three scores, one of which is "ego" which is mostly about a players salary in comparison to other people on the team. It's ridiculous..The Phillies have a high ego factor because of Ryan Howard. Anyone who has ever met or dealt with Ryan Howard will say he's a great guy, great teammate etc...his ego isn't a factor. The factor is how much he is being paid relative to his value, and all of that is already included in any analysis, adjusting it a second time because of "chemistry" score is double dipping in my opinion.

Unfortunately, part of this algorithm actually involves grading a team on racial purity. This leads to someone saying the difference in the AL West could be that “Dominican reliever Fernando Abad is the only nonwhite pitcher on the [Athletics] projected roster”, and the Dodgers will suffer because Hyun-jin Ryu and Kenley Jansen are the only people from their respective countries on the roster. Suggesting that the Dodgers would be better off if they managed to trade Ryu and Jansen for their white guy equivalents would look horribly racist 25 years ago, let alone today. However, because “it’s based on real math” there will be some people out there that take this seriously and argue the Dodgers should deal Ryu for Mike Minor.


It might be based on real math, but it's not based upon any type of science other than the most simplistic 8th grade concepts. Basically they argue for isolation factor which is a negative if they don't have enough of a particular demographic so it makes a guy "lonely" or whatnot...note there is nothing in their formula that talks about playing time of these individuals that are getting dinged (not to mention the real life clubhouse environment...Ichiro may have been isolated on the Mariners, but nobody got the feeling he felt isolated) so if you have one eskimo on the team and he's your 25th man, you are getting the same ding on the chemistry scale, as you would if he was the star player.

There is nothing wrong with researching this stuff, but a broad claim that this is making, based roughly on demographics and salary is completely inane...this makes WPA and Productive outs appear to be the baseball equivalent of Nobel Prize material in comparison.
   3. JE (Jason Epstein) Posted: March 25, 2014 at 10:29 AM (#4676695)
Did you read Phil Birnbaum's take on the subject, CFB?

His conclusion:

Anyway, this is overkill, and I probably wouldn't have written it if I hadn't gotten so frustrated when I read ESPN's piece. Geez, guys, you have as much right to draw dubious conclusions from fancy regressions by academic experts as anyone else. But if the regression isn't already public, you've got to publish it. At the very least, give us details about what you did. "We figured out the right answer and you just have to trust us" just doesn't cut it.

Journalistically, "We have a secret algorithm that measures clubhouse chemistry" is the sports equivalent of, "We have a secret expert that proves Barack Obama was born in Kenya."
   4. cardsfanboy Posted: March 25, 2014 at 10:30 AM (#4676697)
Here is their definition of the three traits they are looking at.

1. Demographic Factor: The impact(I know bbtf loves that word) from diversity, measured by age, tenure with the team, nationality, race and position. Teams with the highest scores have several overlapping groups based on the shared traits and experiences.

2. Isolation Factor: The impact from players who are isolated because of a lack of subgroups from these shared demographic traits. Too much diversity can in fact, produce clubhouse isolation for players who don't have teammates with similar backgrounds or experiences.

3. Ego Factor: The impact from individuals differences in performances and monetary status. Too few All-Stars and highly paid players signal a lack of leadership, too many however creates conflict. The ideal level falls in the middle.



   5. cardsfanboy Posted: March 25, 2014 at 10:31 AM (#4676698)
Did you read Phil Birnbaum's take on the subject, CFB?


No, but I'm going to.. I agree with the part about the frustrated when I read ESPN's piece.

Read it...excellent piece. I can feel the same frustration about the piece as Phil Birnbaum's did and many of the same objections.
   6. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: March 25, 2014 at 10:34 AM (#4676700)
Here is their definition of the three traits they are looking at.


The solution seems to be 25 Willie Bloomquists.
   7. cardsfanboy Posted: March 25, 2014 at 10:46 AM (#4676709)
Reading the article now...good article, and that 538 piece on Gretzky was utter crap... How can you talk about save percentage and not mention shots on goal? (Shots on goal has gone up over the years, because teams are coaching take the shot instead of setting up the perfect play, this means more easy to save shots than before, so save percentage is going up.... Mind you I only looked at shots on goal in comparison to 2000 season to 2013 season so I could be wrong on that, but no mention of shots on goal and ignoring improved defense schemes --again meaning they'll allow lower risk shots--and instead crediting it all to the butterfly goalie technique seems a little dishonest)

The criticism on the 100 prospect article from 538 is very accurate.... that article provided not one piece of information or analysis.



   8. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: March 25, 2014 at 02:39 PM (#4676843)
Wait, this is actually a real thing on ESPN? No way.

Seriously?

I mean, for real?
   9. BDC Posted: March 25, 2014 at 03:10 PM (#4676852)
Interesting, fanboy.

Birnbaum makes the point that by projecting "pre-chemistry" wins for a club, ESPN is including last year's chemistry. This is a subset of a larger problem: how on earth do they know that any of these "chemistry" projections make sense, based on past teams' chemistry? Have clubs that have just a single player of a given ethnicity (e.g.) actually tended to underperform projections in the past? From all I can tell, they haven't considered this at all, they've just quantified a couple of assumptions in an arbitrary fashion.
   10. The District Attorney Posted: March 25, 2014 at 03:16 PM (#4676856)
Wait, this is actually a real thing on ESPN? No way.

Seriously?

I mean, for real?
Yeah, that's my reaction. I mean, I understand that -- especially when millions of people are constantly trying to get heard -- saying controversial things is a way to get attention. But there's a big gap between understanding that concept, and expecting an outlet like ESPN to publish something saying teams are better off if everyone is the same race. Even not being easily shocked... I'm shocked.

I mean, sure, science doesn't always give us conclusions we love, and it's possible that, if I saw the research this was based on, I might agree with it. And I know that ESPN the Magazine is not the place to publish sabermetric studies. That, however, suggests that ESPN the Magazine should be one of the final places where the fruits of this effort show up, rather than one of the first.
   11. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: March 25, 2014 at 03:18 PM (#4676860)
Wait, this is actually a real thing on ESPN? No way.


Your move Nate Silver!
   12. Moeball Posted: March 25, 2014 at 03:22 PM (#4676861)
1. On the one hand, I know in the jobs I've had - of course it is easier to go to work each day when you work with people you like and get along with.

2. That being said, "chemistry" on a baseball field has always been way, way overrated. Tinker and Evers didn't get along but could still turn two with the best of them in helping the Cubs win back-to-back titles in 1907 and 1908.

3. The 1970s featured two historic teams that were constantly at odds within the clubhouse - the A's and Yankee teams that won titles in '72-'74 and '77-'78. Reggie Jackson was the centerpiece of both squads although each had several colorful characters. Sal Bando and Graig Nettles have both often spoken of all the fights that went on in the clubhouses and sometimes spilled into the dugout as well. Yet these teams still won championships anyways.

4. The 2002 Giants came within an imploding bullpen of winning the World Series and was basically carried by Messrs. Bonds and Kent. Although their dislike for each other was well known (and other teammates' dislike for the both of them as well), they also both respected what each could bring to the team and were vocal with the front office in proclaiming that the other was needed for the team to win.

5. I seriously doubt that the 2013 version of the Red Sox had the same "us against the world and historical curses" camaraderie that the 2004 squad had, yet they still got the job done.

You show up, you do your job the best you can, and you deal with the results, just like in any other profession. Like Grandfather says in the movie "Little Big Man", "Sometimes the magic works...sometimes it doesn't."
   13. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: March 25, 2014 at 03:41 PM (#4676868)
That being said, "chemistry" on a baseball field has always been way, way overrated.


You forgot Exhibit A, A-Rod's championship ring.
   14. cardsfanboy Posted: March 25, 2014 at 03:46 PM (#4676874)
That being said, "chemistry" on a baseball field has always been way, way overrated.


I've always felt that chemistry is a real thing, and that it's not something that can be measured, and it may not even be what people think it is. As your point about teams with players who don't get along show, it's very possible a combative environment might be good for certain people's motivation/attitude, and it's possible that a larger percentage of people that, that type of environment is good for, are in the sports field.

I also feel that there is probably a good chance that bad chemistry (whatever that is) is more detrimental than good chemistry is a positive(I feel the same way about clutch likelihood, where it's very possible that chokers exist, but clutch doesn't)

And I absolutely do not think that this "chemistry" stat is remotely close to measuring anything real or imagined. It makes significant personality assumptions on people based upon limited data(demographics and salary)
   15. cardsfanboy Posted: March 25, 2014 at 03:48 PM (#4676877)
5. I seriously doubt that the 2013 version of the Red Sox had the same "us against the world and historical curses" camaraderie that the 2004 squad had, yet they still got the job done.


By their metric, the Cardinals have one of the worst chemistry scores out there, and I think anyone who has hanged out in the dugout or interacted with the team, would say positives about the Cardinals clubhouse chemistry.
   16. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: March 25, 2014 at 03:52 PM (#4676881)
No doubt the power of the BFIB.
   17. cardsfanboy Posted: March 25, 2014 at 03:58 PM (#4676885)
No doubt the power of the BFIB.


edit: nevermind, I shouldn't feed the trolls.
   18. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: March 25, 2014 at 04:03 PM (#4676890)
You forgot Exhibit A, A-Rod's championship ring.


Actually, that *is* Exhibit A for this - the inter-species "isolation rating" would certainly be high enough to make any team's chemistry score too bad for them to win the Series. See how that works?
   19. GregQ Posted: March 25, 2014 at 05:29 PM (#4676951)
Hopefully ESPN will now bring back Buster Olney's productive outs stat. Just because most of the teams that made the most were bottom feeders does not mean it was totally worthless!

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