Friday, February 20, 2009

Trads Versus Stat Heads

The traditional way of looking at statistics has indubitably taken a huge hit in recent years due to the new statistical tools generally called Sabermetrics. The old school of whom the Fan was a card carrying member, looked at homers, batting average, wins, losses, RBIs and stuff like that. Sabermetrics looks at OPS+, Win Shares, FIP and others. As mentioned before in the FanDome, the Fan is slowly poking around with all this wonderful data and is slowly coming to the present. No doubt it's a case of a dinosaur suddenly rising from the LaBrea Tar Pits.

What is surprising is the venom that these two points of view seem to generate. The Fan was a little shell-shocked from being called stupid on too many occasions to be able to tolerate further hits on his self-esteem. So, slowly and surely, the Fan is becoming educated and the more these numbers are delved into, the more the Fan likes them. However, statistical points of views are kind of like politics. There is room for middle ground and for lucid conversations. But that rarely happens. Instead, insults are thrown across the room (or chat room) and one side's followers are called "dullwits" and the other, "stat-heads," which apparently is the new term for nerds.

And just when old "Trads" like the Fan are venturing into the cool and deep waters of the Saber world, guys like Keith Law spout something so inherently unwarranted, it just fans the flames further. Today was a good example. In Law's post on (which is now unavailable for some reason), he calls the Griffey signing in Seattle, "short-sighted" and "cynical." Those are strong words. His point was that Seattle is ignoring statistical data and hindering development of its younger players for a cynical play at gaining attendance.

Whoa, dude! The Fan concedes that sabermetrics are cool. You've won at least this battle. But they aren't the end all to every single situation (which is also Joe Torre's point in his now famous new book). Does the Griffey signing have to be "cynical"? Can it also be a feel good story that doesn't make any statistical sense and wasn't meant to? Is that possible in this new world we live in?

The Griffey signing should be viewed for what it is--a sentimental tug from his former team and a sentimental farewell journey for "The Kid." It doesn't have much to do with stats, or sense, or anything else for that matter. For sure, the Mariners are probably considering that Griffey will sell a few more tickets. So what? Why shouldn't they look to sell more tickets? This is a tough economy. Every little thing will help. The fans in Seattle are thrilled and most true baseball fans feel good about this story. Leave it at that.

The point of all this is that when two sides disagree, it is polite to listen to the other point of view with at least a shred of an open mind there might be a nugget of truth in there somewhere. The day when the Fan thinks he has it all figured out is probably the day after the obituary is written. So whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, a Christian or an Agnostic or a traditionalist or a sabermatrician, there is no cause for outbursts and personal attacks. That's just not cool.

It's better to agree to disagree than to be disagreeable as a person. Welcome home, Junior.

1 comment:

Josh Borenstein said...

Keith Law needs to get his head out of his ass. It's a feel-good story and an appropriate bookend to a remarkable career. Don't get me wrong, stats are important. But as you said, they're not the end all of everything. If all you care about is stats, you're not really seeing the big picture.