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Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Futility Infielder: Stat Crazy After All These Years: The Numbers Game

Jay Jaffe’s thorough review of Alan Schwarz’s The Numbers Game: Baseball’s Lifelong Fascination with Statistics.

The book is a terrific read….but I’m surprised Schwarz never touched upon the George Ignatin/Allen Barra SLOB stat from the 70’s.

Repoz Posted: August 10, 2004 at 03:16 PM | 40 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Plastic Bag and a Rubber Band Posted: August 10, 2004 at 03:55 PM (#787774)
I have a large baseball library. Over 1,000 items. I have not and currently don't plan to purchase this one. I would like someone to change my mind though.

My thought process is this: This is a book about the history of baseball stats. All though I'm interested in stats, it's only to get a further appreciation and understanding for game. Won't I get a better appreciation and understanding for the game by reading the Memoirs of Bing Devine? Which was a recent purchase.
   2. bob gee Posted: August 10, 2004 at 04:00 PM (#787785)
i found a bunch of things i didn't know about...eric walker was one of them.

the first couple chapters are more of a historical point of view, and are significantly different than much of the rest of the book.

the tidbits in there were nice (the strat o matic guy got his data free from elias!)
   3. GregD Posted: August 10, 2004 at 04:07 PM (#787793)
I agree with bob gaj. Most of the broad strokes will be familiar to most of the people who post here. A good number of the details were not and some of them were quite amusing. I'd skim a while, then slow down, then skim a while.
   4. Stately, Plump Buck Mulligan Posted: August 10, 2004 at 04:25 PM (#787820)
I liked the book, although at times his attempts to bring the characters to life were a little forced. It seems like 90% of the people dabbling in baseball statistics worked for defense contractors, so after a while, that doesn't seem so interesting.

One thing I liked was the fact that Schwarz is clear about attribution. He goes out of his way to find sabermetricians who have been forgotten by today's fans (even if their work is still around) -- Earnshaw Cook, Eric Walker, etc. And I personally like the fact that Schwarz "gets" the Codell-Boswell controversy over base-out percentage, although I wish he'd spent more time on it.
   5. The Polish Sausage Racer Posted: August 10, 2004 at 04:55 PM (#787867)
The most interesting thing about the book was the consistent theme of the statheads for over a century that the order of players in the lineup makes no difference whatsoever. Has that claim ever been definitively disproven, or is it a piece of Conventional Wisdom that just goes without saying?
   6. Los Angeles Waterloo of Black Hawk Posted: August 10, 2004 at 05:33 PM (#787922)
My thought process is this: This is a book about the history of baseball stats. All though I'm interested in stats, it's only to get a further appreciation and understanding for game.

The book's not really about the stats so much as about the people behind them, and how they did or didn't have an effect on the game. I found it a good and quick read (it took about a day), and it filled in a lot of detail and gave some character to people about whom I only knew their names.
   7. Traderdave Posted: August 10, 2004 at 06:37 PM (#788032)
Anyone care to expound on the relative merits of OPS vs SLOB?
   8. Ark Actor Posted: August 10, 2004 at 06:50 PM (#788052)
Anyone care to direct me to the recent quick-DIPS thread? Someone had a nice little back-of-the-napkin formula for DIPS around here somewhere.
   9. 185/456(GGC) Posted: August 10, 2004 at 06:53 PM (#788058)
SLOB is more accurate than OPS, but I have no idea what makes a good SLOB while I have a ballpark idea that OPS/3 roughly equals EQA.
   10. 185/456(GGC) Posted: August 10, 2004 at 06:57 PM (#788063)
Also, OPS is easier to calculate in my head. I ain't no mathlete, lady!
   11. GregD Posted: August 10, 2004 at 07:03 PM (#788073)
No
   12. jayjaffe Posted: August 10, 2004 at 08:10 PM (#788164)
SLOB is useful because it comes out to a number that's roughly runs created per at-bat (not per PA). This makes quantitative comparisons, such as "Sheffield is 20% more productive per at-bat than A-Rod" much easier. You can't really do that with OPS.
   13. VG Posted: August 10, 2004 at 08:24 PM (#788177)
I had completely forgotten about SLOB until I saw it again here. I would think one of the benefits of OPS is that it's a more easily understood number than SLOB for fans who aren't stats-inclined. Multiplying two numbers that are less than 1 is a great way to make most people's eyes glaze over, especially the non-mathletes.
   14. jayjaffe Posted: August 10, 2004 at 09:10 PM (#788223)
Bagman, I guess it all depends on whether you want a first-person inside account of one man who goes into great depth about a particular team he worked for and about which much has already been written, or whether you want a third-person survey of an area about which much less has been written, especially nin book form.

I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with either, but I don't understand why you have to make an either/or choice unless it's which one you're taking on an airplane.

I haven't read the Devine book, but I can say that the Schwarz one is the definitive book on the history of stats to date. If that's not enough for you, then I'm not sure what is.

If you’ve got 1,000 baseball books in your collection, I guarantee you’ve got several hundred that are less satisfying than this one.
   15. studes Posted: August 10, 2004 at 10:29 PM (#788344)
I enjoyed the book too, and thought it was a good addition to my collection (though I have far less than 1,000 baseball books). I agree with Jay that the Baseball Encyclopedia chapter was the best part. I still remember getting mine for Christmas in 1969. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in a flood in my house about ten years ago! So the chapter was kind of painful for me too -- bringing back bad memories.

I thought about SLOB, too. It's always seemed to me that "OBP times TB" is the tip of the grand unified theory of baseball.

Schwartz called PECOTA "amazingly accurate" if memory serves. Has that really been established?

Also, he didn't get into the linear weights vs. runs created argument, which I've always considered central to the development of sabermetrics. In Rich Lederer's recent Abstract review, he said that James slammed Cook's book, which I find really interesting. That's consistent with the way James has slammed linear weights through the years, too. Is there a story there, or am I making that up?
   16. Steve Treder Posted: August 10, 2004 at 10:38 PM (#788356)
I still remember getting mine for Christmas in 1969.

Me too, same year.

I clearly remember eagerly flipping the huge tome open (it weighed about as much as I did) and the first player whose career record I examined was that of George Caster, the pitcher.

"He was four-and-nineteen with a six-fifty-six ERA! Woahhhhh!"

35 years later, and my nose is still rarely far from that glorious book.
   17. The definitely immoral Eric Enders Posted: August 10, 2004 at 10:42 PM (#788363)
35 years later, and my nose is still rarely far from that glorious book.

Alas, mine is always quite far from it, unless I need pinch hitting or relief pitching records.
   18. Repoz Posted: August 10, 2004 at 10:58 PM (#788387)
...the Baseball Encyclopedia chapter was the best part. I still remember getting mine for Christmas in 1969. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in a flood in my house about ten years ago!

Studes...Didn't yours come with the NASA ok'd hardened box? That cover was built to withstand anything!

I have seen that covering used to protect the Crown Jewels, Gold Kryptonite, an ultra rare 1952 Topps #1 Andy Pafko baseball card and the only known 45 copy of "Coffee, Tea or Me" by those 60's punks, The Fink Muncx 4!
   19. Plastic Bag and a Rubber Band Posted: August 10, 2004 at 11:05 PM (#788400)
Sold. I will pick the book up.
   20. Los Angeles Waterloo of Black Hawk Posted: August 10, 2004 at 11:10 PM (#788407)
Schwarz should send us all a royalty for that one ...
   21. Steve Treder Posted: August 10, 2004 at 11:16 PM (#788422)
Didn't yours come with the NASA ok'd hardened box?

The box! I'd forgotten all about the box. Had a black-and-white photograph of the crowd from some old ballpark printed on it.

My box gave up the ghost about 20 years in. The book itself -- spill-stained and dog-eared -- is still rarin' to go.
   22. AndrewJ Posted: August 10, 2004 at 11:25 PM (#788435)
The 1969 Mac was the best of that series. When Neft and company left Macmillan in the mid-1970s, the quality of the Macs declined precipitously; IIRC the second edition didn't even give complete career stats for anyone with less than 25 at bats/10(?) innings pitched.

The career interruption info in the first Mac is great. Neft and his colleagues retained it in their SPORTS ENCYCLOPEDIA: BASEBALL books. (That might be the next great Internet baseball research project... the all-time disabled list -- documenting when, how and for how long every major leaguer was injured.)

THE NUMBERS GAME is terrific too, by the way.
   23. Repoz Posted: August 10, 2004 at 11:29 PM (#788446)
Steve...."The Box".
   24. Steve Treder Posted: August 10, 2004 at 11:33 PM (#788453)
You know, Repoz, that you just forced me to stand at attention and salute my computer screen, while a single tear silently made its way down my cheek ...
   25. studes Posted: August 11, 2004 at 12:36 AM (#788673)
Alas, the box didn't save my encyclopedia. It was incredible, by the way.

Damn those old sewers!
   26. Repoz Posted: August 11, 2004 at 01:16 AM (#788871)
Steve... I'm really surprised your box cover never made it. Every time I used the book...back into the tight fitting box it go, while making that exhilarating sound of sexual suction... ssscccllllummp!

Hey...what did I know, I thought McMillan and Wife was going to be about the book!
   27. Jarrod HypnerotomachiaPoliphili (TeddyF.Ballgame) Posted: August 11, 2004 at 02:23 AM (#789145)
One of my favorite things about that book is that the title on the spine appears as

The
Baseball
Encyclo-
pedia

Which park is that on the box, by the way?
   28. Steve Treder Posted: August 11, 2004 at 02:24 AM (#789147)
Yeah, that sound was exquisite.

Perhaps the fact that my brother and I deployed that box in innumerable physical contests and exertions, few of them having anything to do with baseball, might have something to do with it.

It was just a really cool box.
   29. studes Posted: August 11, 2004 at 02:27 AM (#789158)
I don't remember which park was on the box -- Polo Grounds, maybe -- but I remember showing it off to my sister right after I opened it, and she asked me what park was on the box. I had to admit that I didn't know, and she wasn't really impressed.

Just adding to my Encyclopedia trauma!
   30. Steve Treder Posted: August 11, 2004 at 02:30 AM (#789172)
Is it Dodger Stadium?
   31. Repoz Posted: August 11, 2004 at 03:02 AM (#789254)
I've always thought it was Shea, because of the plexi-glass screen behind homeplate...which I think might have been the first to have that feature.

There is a runner on second base, the lefty batter is wearing #43, the pitcher is a righty.

The stadium has three decks ( excluding press row that encircles the stadium as far as I can tell) behind homeplate and then tapers off to two decks behind the dugouts.
   32. 185/456(GGC) Posted: August 11, 2004 at 01:11 PM (#789568)
Which park is that on the box, by the way?

This sounds like a job for George Michaels P.I..
   33. John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: August 11, 2004 at 04:37 PM (#789883)
I've always thought it was Shea, because of the plexi-glass screen behind homeplate...which I think might have been the first to have that feature.

There is a runner on second base, the lefty batter is wearing #43, the pitcher is a righty.

The stadium has three decks ( excluding press row that encircles the stadium as far as I can tell) behind homeplate and then tapers off to two decks behind the dugouts.


...and what year was the book created? :-)

I was only four when the book came out in '69, so I didn't get it brand new, but I got a copy of it in the mid-eighties. I had swap/borrowed it from a friend of mine for my copy of Mitts (which wasn't a bad book, BTW). He "liberated" it from a library and it wasn't in the best shape, but had a lot of info that wasn't in my newer version of the Macmillan. For some reason, I never saw him again so the book is still part of my library.

I also swap/borrowed his The Ultimate Baseball Book (which I also still own) for an Elias Baseball Analyst . That was a definite win on my part there, don't you think? :-)
   34. Rex Posted: August 11, 2004 at 05:07 PM (#789949)
Getting to this party a bit late, but I find the theoretically imperfect SLOB to be a terrificly useful stat, and much better to work with than OPS. Depending on the year and the league, baseline tends to be .14 or .15 (let's drop the false precision of working in thousanths) with your top hitters (sans Bonds) generally coming in about double that. Additionally, it's great for measuring pitching performance too, with top starters posting figures roughly half the baseline. That ungainly OPS gained mindshare over SLOB just never made any sense to me.
   35. 185/456(GGC) Posted: August 11, 2004 at 06:01 PM (#790061)
Has anyone come up with a SLOB+ or normalized SLOB?
   36. Rex Posted: August 11, 2004 at 07:39 PM (#790266)
Tony - Over on espn.com they have home/away splits for teams as well as individuals that give you the "raw material" to create workable normalized figures. As an example, Colorado hitters have a SLOB of 20 (I drop the decimal) at home, but only a 12 (12.5 for sticklers) away. The pitchers are 20 & 15 respectively.
   37. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: August 11, 2004 at 07:53 PM (#790296)
That ungainly OPS gained mindshare over SLOB just never made any sense to me.

You try multiplying .378 x .443 quickly, in your head. I'll add them. Let's see who comes up with a result first. The explanation is really that simple. People prefer a stat they can calculate.

Besides, SLOB -- and I assume everyone here knows that James' RC is just a modified SLGxOBP -- is only more accurate at the team level. At the individual level, it's conceptually wrong. A player's SLG interacts with his teammates' OBP (and vice versa), not his own. His home runs don't become more valuable as his own OBP increases.
   38. Steve Treder Posted: August 11, 2004 at 08:18 PM (#790337)
A player's SLG interacts with his teammates' OBP (and vice versa), not his own. His home runs don't become more valuable as his own OBP increases.

Good point.

OPS is obviously flawed, but it is also plenty accurate enough for most quick-and-dirty uses. Being ridiculously simple and easy to calculate from readily available component stats gives OPS a very high ROI.
   39. Rex Posted: August 11, 2004 at 09:11 PM (#790419)
David - I fully agree there are technical limits to SLOBs precision, as I alluded to in post 35. That said, it is still pretty handy, and the scale you are working with (say 7 to 30 for most cases) is, atleast for me, much easier on my noggin' than the OPS one. Also, as you (and Jay in post 13) point out, SLOB is essentially two of the three factors in the simple RC formula, allowing you to easily go from a rate of production to a quantity.

I'll assuming you were kidding about the challenges of multiplying the two factors, but if not, playing with this for a short time will get one up to speed awfully quickly.
   40. Mike Emeigh Posted: August 11, 2004 at 09:35 PM (#790448)
A player's SLG interacts with his teammates' OBP (and vice versa), not his own. His home runs don't become more valuable as his own OBP increases.

That's correct. And someone did the math one time that demonstrated that (SLG*teammates OBP)+(OBP*teammates SLG) was actually closer to OPS than SLOB.

-- MWE

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