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Sunday, June 21, 2009

BDD: Butterflies & Dr. Statlove (or How They Learned to Stop Watching Baseball and Love the Numbers)

or…Two Hours to of DOOM?

Sometimes I think there are baseball fans of the sabermetric sort that would rather watch FanGraphs’ Live Scoreboard than actually watch a game of baseball. This isn’t a knock on how people choose to enjoy the National Pastime, just an observation. Heck, having seen Adam Eaton pitch more times than I care to remember, there have been times I wish I wasn’t actually watching the game.

Those who love the numbers of the game are often refer to sabermetrics and almost treat as a way of life when discussing how they choose to enjoy the game. Wikipedia defines sabermetrics as the analysis of baseball through objective evidence, especially baseball statistics. While this is a simplified definition, I always found the definition ironic. The notion that sabermetrics is truly objective is silly when there are a number of ways to “objectively” look at a situation statistically depending on your subjectiveness toward the game. Take player value, for example. Some prefer VORP, others look at WAR and others consider Win Shares. Each serves a purpose and each way to evaluate players has its following and detractors. So, it is truly not objective.

...I know, I know. I’m hard on those who love sabermetrics. My guess is while I love the numbers of the game, I will never be truly accepted in the sabermetric fraternity. But, at the end of the day, you can’t understand baseball just by looking at the numbers. The statistics of the game are too malleable to make an iron-clad complex argument without someone else manipulating the numbers slightly to fit their hypothesis. And no matter how snarky you are in your commentary or how sure you are in your conclusion, there’s another way to look at it.

It’s chaos theory, at it’s best. Too bad it sometimes brings out the worst.

Repoz Posted: June 21, 2009 at 04:42 AM | 131 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: projections, sabermetrics, zips

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   101. 185/456(GGC) Posted: June 22, 2009 at 03:18 PM (#3227671)
We called it a censer, when I was an altar boy, IIRC.
   102. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: June 22, 2009 at 03:26 PM (#3227683)
Don't worry, Sam, Jim Leyritz is safely locked up in jail.

It won't help.


Well, that link doesn't even mention Mr. Leyritz, but OTOH you're sure on the money about those Red Sox fans.
   103. Rally Posted: June 22, 2009 at 03:31 PM (#3227690)
I'll repeat, because it's been 10 years and there are new kids and all that: when the revolution comes, I'm behind the barricades with Don. BPro can do whatever it is they like, but when the shooting starts, you want Malcom on your side.


Sounds good to me. I've always considered Malcolm a must read whenever his work surfaces. He occasionally does a guest shot on BTF. Does he have his own site anywhere?
   104. 185/456(GGC) Posted: June 22, 2009 at 03:31 PM (#3227693)
I don't get the Leyritz stuff, but I never really perused those threads.
   105. Coot Veal and Cot Deal taste like Old Bay Posted: June 22, 2009 at 03:32 PM (#3227694)
We called it a censer, when I was an altar boy, IIRC.


yup, we did as well...
   106. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: June 22, 2009 at 03:50 PM (#3227714)
I don't get the Leyritz stuff, but I never really perused those threads.

Don't worry, GGC, Sam can explain that Leyritz stuff. In fact if you wire his bedroom he'll probably blurt it out at three o'clock in the morning, complete with a few scatological references to Mark Wohlers' mother.
   107. Tom Nawrocki Posted: June 22, 2009 at 03:51 PM (#3227716)
Since Chris Dial does not appear to be here, I'll add that we dissected the BBBA and Don Malcolm's work ten years ago on RSBB. The most relevant thread is here.
   108. 185/456(GGC) Posted: June 22, 2009 at 04:01 PM (#3227727)
Don't worry, GGC, Sam can explain that Leyritz stuff. In fact if you wire his bedroom he'll probably blurt it out at three o'clock in the morning, complete with a few scatological references to Mark Wohlers' mother.


Aha! I'm so used to people discussing off-field stuff that that possibility slipped my mind.
   109. The Interdimensional Council of Rickey!'s Posted: June 22, 2009 at 04:06 PM (#3227734)
Sam can explain that Leyritz stuff. In fact if you wire his bedroom he'll probably blurt it out at three o'clock in the morning, complete with a few scatological references to Mark Wohlers' mother.

Common wisdom among the hoi polloi would be that Wohlers' mother might have some 'splainin' to do. Those of us in the know are far more interested in how Rafeal Belliard's immediate family justifies a failure to turn the most routine double play in the history of all of baseball prior to the bald troglodyte ever coming to bat that inning. It's not like Belliard was in there for defense or anything.
   110. 185/456(GGC) Posted: June 22, 2009 at 04:16 PM (#3227744)
Interesting thread so far, Tom. I like this line by a Ted Frank:

The acronym-and-jargon-to-prose ratio is otherwise jarring.
   111. 185/456(GGC) Posted: June 22, 2009 at 04:25 PM (#3227753)
But there's a big difference
between calling Herk Robinson an idiot and calling a competitor one.


Is there?
   112. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: June 22, 2009 at 04:32 PM (#3227758)
Sam can explain that Leyritz stuff. In fact if you wire his bedroom he'll probably blurt it out at three o'clock in the morning, complete with a few scatological references to Mark Wohlers' mother.

Common wisdom among the hoi polloi would be that Wohlers' mother might have some 'splainin' to do. Those of us in the know are far more interested in how Rafeal Belliard's immediate family justifies a failure to turn the most routine double play in the history of all of baseball prior to the bald troglodyte ever coming to bat that inning. It's not like Belliard was in there for defense or anything.


Apparently the same trusting mentality that once mistook General Sherman for a Jehovah's Witness proselytizer also never bothered to trace the phone calls that Rafael Belliard was making to Tampa, with equally unfortunate consequences.
   113. 185/456(GGC) Posted: June 22, 2009 at 05:17 PM (#3227819)
This was a little before I hit the scene, but it seems like Malcolm's gravest sin was being mean to the wrong people. Sure, it was fine for some statheads to rip into GMs. managers, and the media. But the minute they got a taste of their own medicine, they didn't like it.

Unfortunately, I wasn't there and have only read some of the relevant threads at usenet and at the old bbba.com, so I could be wrong.
   114. Backlasher Posted: June 22, 2009 at 05:20 PM (#3227827)
But the minute they got a taste of their own medicine, they didn't like it.

Very true. The old guard was a very thin skinned lot.
   115. The Interdimensional Council of Rickey!'s Posted: June 22, 2009 at 05:27 PM (#3227841)
it seems like Malcolm's gravest sin was being mean to the wrong people.

Pretty much, yeah. There were a lot of petite kingdoms in those days, and people defended their little empires excessively. Don was never one to pull his punches if he thought you were doing shabby work, and he clearly thought the would-be Prospectus empire was built on shabby work. He never said as much (to me at least) but I suspect Don's critique of BPro (minus the volley of slings and arrows) boiled down to "they're more interested in the business model than the data." I don't know that I disagree with that idea.
   116. Rally Posted: June 22, 2009 at 05:30 PM (#3227844)
Who are you talking about?

I know Don was very critical about the BPro guys, but I wouldn't have characterized that crew as either "the wrong people to anger" or "the old guard".
   117. The Interdimensional Council of Rickey!'s Posted: June 22, 2009 at 05:32 PM (#3227848)
I think BL was talking about some of the Bill James era of analysts. He didn't reserve his poisoned pen for his immediate contemporaries as I recall.
   118. DJ Endless Grudge Says "Cheers, Witches" Posted: June 22, 2009 at 05:33 PM (#3227851)
I finally got to the point where I felt comfortable with responding. This is what I wrote over there:

Rob, it would greatly help the cause of being “less antagonistic” if Brian would lay off the cliched and needless personal insults and stereotyping at the beginning of this article. If he wants his ideas taken seriously it would be better to not start off tarring “statheads” as people who don’t watch baseball games and as a cult. Brian set the tone to begin with, so you’ll excuse me if he later complaints about the tone of the responses do not excite in me much sympathy.

As for the park factors - if he seriously did understand the issues as expressed in his followup comment, then it was either reckless or dishonest or both to phrase his criticism of them the way he did. As he acknowelges himself, Halladay’s impact on his home park’s RPG is offset by his impact on his team’s road RPG. If you want to argue that there are differences in playing time between a player on the road and at home, that’s fine, but that’s not what the original article said, and I don’t see how it’s unfair to call it an ignorant criticism in that it ignores that fact. (Ignoring the fact even after you are aware of it is not, by the way, a defense. It is in fact the refuge of the worst cheats and scoundrels - to make a point by ignoring the facts inconvenient to the point you are making.)

As for Wieters, simply Googling “wieters projection” would lead you to this critique (full disclosure: I wrote it) of that projection, from a “cultist” in Brian’s argot, written before the start of the season. Far from being an arguement against the sabermetric community, the Wieters projection is a moment where the community actually went out, questioned something and found a different answer. If you want to know why the Wieters projection, as-is, was published in that form, don’t use it as an excuse to blast those of us who are in the analytic community.

As a company owned by Baseball Prospectus, it seems to me the height of insult to mock the sabermetric community for the Wieters projection, when we’ve known damn well for a while now that it was full of hot air. Why don’t you instead direct your critical energies at your bosses who have yet to make a correction to the projection in the face of the outcry from the sabermetric community?


I feel better now.
   119. Rally Posted: June 22, 2009 at 05:48 PM (#3227879)
As a company owned by Baseball Prospectus, it seems to me the height of insult to mock the sabermetric community for the Wieters projection, when we’ve known damn well for a while now that it was full of hot air.


Well said Colin. I didn't realize that was a Prospectus owned site.
   120. 185/456(GGC) Posted: June 22, 2009 at 06:07 PM (#3227921)
I think BL was talking about some of the Bill James era of analysts. He didn't reserve his poisoned pen for his immediate contemporaries as I recall.


IIRC, James went out of his way to say that his critiques of Pete Palmer's work weren't personal. Unfortunato, he criticized linear weights, which were better than his Runs Created method but didn't attack his methods for deriving Fielding Runs, AFAICT. As for BPro, they were probably guys you wanted on your side back then, but, yeah, Malcolm didn't like the road they were going down with non-open source methods and consulting for teams and doing proprietary research; leaving the general public in the dark about some of their stuff. (I forget if they were ever hired as an entity, but a number of them have gone on to work for teams, like Dan Fox.)
   121. Rally Posted: June 22, 2009 at 06:18 PM (#3227948)
Unfortunato, he criticized linear weights, which were better than his Runs Created method but didn't attack his methods for deriving Fielding Runs, AFAICT.


James does quite a bit of criticism on fielding runs in the Win Shares book. And once again, he goes out of his way to praise Palmer and make sure everyone knows it's nothing personal.
   122. Rally Posted: June 22, 2009 at 06:22 PM (#3227954)
The Win Shares book is a great one, btw. Even if I think there are better way to rate players, James does a great job of explaining the issues behind everything he does and making you think through it. It's a great resource for anyone who wants to try and design their own stats.
   123. Ron Johnson Posted: June 22, 2009 at 06:50 PM (#3228021)
Specifically the attacks that riled a lot of people were focused at Clay Davenport. And Clay seemed poorly equipped to deal with what were really needlessly personal. I mean nobody got riled when David London simply pointed out that he couldn't reproduce Clay's results using the methods Clay published.

And Clay was not one of the (eventual) prospectus crew that generally played rough. His signal to snark ratio was as high as anybody not named David Grabiner or Roger Moore.

Now Clay didn't exactly follow that form in responding to Don's criticisms. The resulting threads are useful to bring up any time anybody wants to talk about stathead group think.
   124. Ron Johnson Posted: June 22, 2009 at 06:55 PM (#3228032)
James' criticism of linear weights was a simple one. They don't work a damn without the "slope correctors"

As he points out this effectively means a separate formula each year.
   125. BDC Posted: June 22, 2009 at 06:59 PM (#3228035)
The Win Shares book is a great one, btw. Even if I think there are better way to rate players, James does a great job of explaining the issues behind everything he does and making you think through it. It's a great resource for anyone who wants to try and design their own stats

It's a fascinating book: essays like the Hamner/Ashburn piece are really intriguing, for instance. But it's a really poorly-edited book; it wanders all over the place. I think it wasn't edited at all; James had such mystique by the time the book came out that nobody dared help him structure the arguments, and the resulting prose is somewhat of a mess.
   126. 185/456(GGC) Posted: June 22, 2009 at 07:00 PM (#3228040)
James does quite a bit of criticism on fielding runs in the Win Shares book. And once again, he goes out of his way to praise Palmer and make sure everyone knows it's nothing personal.


True. But that was years later. BTW, I have my copy readily available now and have been reading random things from it every other morning or so. Ed Yost's low SZR prompted me to look up that essay.
   127. The Interdimensional Council of Rickey!'s Posted: June 22, 2009 at 07:34 PM (#3228098)
But it's a really poorly-edited book; it wanders all over the place.

The reason I never read stat books. If you can't put together a narrative and work with a copy editor to make it readable, just ship me the damned spreadsheets.
   128. Steve Treder Posted: June 22, 2009 at 07:50 PM (#3228128)
It's a fascinating book: essays like the Hamner/Ashburn piece are really intriguing, for instance. But it's a really poorly-edited book; it wanders all over the place. I think it wasn't edited at all; James had such mystique by the time the book came out that nobody dared help him structure the arguments, and the resulting prose is somewhat of a mess.

Absolutely. It's a bizarre dichotomy of a book: an A+ on content, and a D- on format.

Not only do the explanatory essays in the front sections (fascinating indeed as they are) maddeningly meander, the meat of the book -- the reference section of charts/lists -- is agonizingly difficult to navigate. "Looking something up" in the Win Shares book invariably takes four times as long as it should.
   129. Rally Posted: June 22, 2009 at 08:01 PM (#3228144)
To each his own. I can see how some would be frustrated with the format.

"Looking something up" in the Win Shares book invariably takes four times as long as it should.


Time well spent in my opinion.
   130. Mr Dashwood Posted: June 22, 2009 at 09:53 PM (#3228284)
I'll add that we dissected the BBBA and Don Malcolm's work ten years ago on RSBB
That thread started my quest for BBBAs and the earlier Hanke-edited books. Someone posted a link somewhere here on Primer, and I thought I'd investigate.

I thought QMAX was an attempt to improve the Quality Start by turning the QS from a binary measure to one that's more 'granular'. The assault on it in that thread seems to be based on what it doesn't do, not what it does. That begs the question of what QMAX was meant to do in the first place. I don't think, reading the first article about it, the criticisms are wholly fair.

Now, it could be that hyperbolic assertions were subsequently made about QMAX, but until I find those I'm puzzled by the idea that it's been dissected.

The Win Shares book is a great one, btw.
It used to be available electronically, but no more it seems. I guess I should have a look for it on Alibris or ABE. I remember seeing a copy at the dear, departed Sportspages in London. It was very large.
   131. 185/456(GGC) Posted: June 23, 2009 at 10:39 AM (#3229066)
I looked up QMAX. All it is is ((H-IP),(W-IP)) or vice versa. It seems like it is missing a lot of other info. Nothing about Ks, for instance.
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