A Response to Bob Ryan

Here on FanGraphs, we don’t do a lot of writing about other writers. It’s actually a site policy, and when someone joins FanGraphs, we make a point of telling them that our goal is to talk about baseball, not talk about the people who cover baseball. I have little to no interest in media criticism, or in advancing any kind of notion that the “traditional” and “new” media outlets need to be at war with either. But yesterday, Bob Ryan published a piece in the Boston Globe that I think is worth responding to.

In some ways, the piece isn’t that different from what hundreds of other sports writers have written over the last few years. However, I think this one is worth a response, or put more accurately, I think Bob Ryan is worth responding to. He’s one of the most respected sports writers in America, generally, and his body of work suggests that this article was born out of a genuine belief system, not just an attempt to stir the pot and generate discussion. My experience in reading and listening to him has always led me to perceive him as a reasonable man, and so I’d like to offer a reasoned response to his column.

The central tenet of Ryan’s piece can be essentially summed up in these two paragraphs.

Where I’m going with all this is that I’m wondering if all this, to borrow a phrase, Inside Baseball is just, well, Inside Baseball, of interest to the working baseball people and to the new breed of baseball writers and analysts who are perfectly comfortable micromanaging every game they encounter. I read some of these people, and, yes, I learn. But I feel like I have to follow them because I don’t want to be perceived as a baseball Luddite.

My question is, does the average person care? Is the average fan still content with batting average, runs batted in, and earned run average being the Holy Trinity of baseball stats, even though the modern Smart Guys have discredited all three? Oh, and — how could I forget? — wins. Speak not to the modern baseball analysts about a pitcher’s wins, those being the most circumstantial of pitching developments, at least in their eyes.

Ryan is right: the average baseball fan does not care about the numbers found here on FanGraphs. This is a niche industry, a community of enthusiasts whose interest in baseball goes far beyond that of the general sports fan, the type who follows baseball to the same degree that they follow football, basketball, hockey, soccer, tennis, and golf. We are baseball’s equivalent of automotive gearheads, craft beer enthusiasts, or foodies, and the size of our community is dwarfed by the number of casual fans, just as the number of Camry owners, Budwiser drinkers, or diners at Applebees far outnumber people who are passionate about their specific hobby. By definition, enthusiast communities are always a minority of the population, because they self-select based on being hyper-interested in that specific event or activity. Enthusiasts will never be the majority in any venture, because then that would simply require a new definition of enthusiast.

But there’s an assumption in the paragraph that follows the two above paragraphs that I disagree with, and that was the impetus for writing this response.

I’m guessing that most fans are oblivious to all the new statistical stuff. They just want to watch and enjoy a game. They will continue to evaluate players and teams by giving everyone the Eye Test, just as their father, grandfather, and great-grandfather did. If this means they are then wallowing in some kind of statistical ignorance, then so be it. I think the average fan really didn’t understand the recent fuss over whether Miguel Cabrera was worthy of an MVP. He won the Triple Crown in 2012, didn’t he? Isn’t the Triple Crown supposed to be baseball’s crowning offensive achievement? Hadn’t we been waiting since 1967 to see another one? Of course, Miguel Cabrera was worthy of being MVP. Next question.

I think the first half of this paragraph is entirely correct. Most baseball fans, most sports fans, watch for the enjoyment of the emotion and the contest itself. But the second half of the paragraph assumes that there is an innate understanding that the Triple Crown is “baseball’s crowning offensive achievement”, and that “the eye test” leads one to evaluating players by the “Holy Trinity of Baseball Stats”. That paragraph suggests that the casual fan comes to value batting average, RBIs, and ERA as the definitive metrics of player performance on their own.

In reality, I think casual fans value batting average, RBIs, and ERA because that’s what 100 years of baseball journalists have told them to value. These numbers are not the product of “the eye test”, as they were both created and placed on a pedestal in the age that preceded television. These statistics came to prominence at a time when the only way people could apply “the eye test” was to actually attend a game in person, and few did so more than a handful of times per year. The average fan being able to watch hundreds of baseball games and create their own evaluation based on what they themselves have seen is an extremely recent phenomenon.

Put simply, I believe the average fan will place value on the metrics that the media tells them to value. The average fan of the NFL knows what Quarterback Rating is — despite it being a complicated formula that they could not recreate themselves — because the broadcasters talk about it regularly and it is listed in the on-screen graphics right next to things like attempts, completions, touchdowns, and interceptions. It isn’t a matter of ease of calculation; it’s simply a measure of the experts telling the viewers that this is a statistic that matters. Baseball fans care about things like pitcher wins not because they pass “the eye test” — awarding a win to the closer who blows a save, only to watch his teammates make up for his failure in the next inning doesn’t make any sense to anyone who watched the game — but because they’ve been told that pitcher wins matter and take the statement at face value.

I’d suggest that the statistics that the average fan puts emphasis on are solely a reflection of the statistics that the media puts an emphasis on. The numbers that are displayed prominently on Sportscenter, by beat writers, or are shown and discussed during a team’s telecast are the numbers that fans will value. If the media emphasizes a different set of numbers, then so will the average fan.

But here’s the thing: the actual numbers themselves are kind of irrelevant. Beat writers and reporters don’t need to use wOBA, FIP, or WAR in their stories, and I don’t think the baseball media would be improved if everyone simply replaced the “Holy Trinity” with a selection of stats from FanGraphs. The use of numbers only matters to the extent that they inform our ability to tell the right story.

We — those privileged enough to write about sports for a living — are all storytellers. I don’t believe that a good story needs to include any numbers at all, as long as its an accurate reflection of the truth. A good storyteller doesn’t need tables, graphs, or charts; I need those because I’m not a very good storyteller. Those who were born with better writing gifts can tell far better stories than I, and can do so without ever referring to a number. The point of our community isn’t to promote the numbers; it’s to promote the story those numbers tell.

The problem with the “Holy Trinity” statistics is that, far too often, they tell the wrong story. Putting value on things like pitcher wins or RBIs isn’t a choice about aesthetics or enjoyment; it’s about continually propagating myths at the expense of the truth. I think telling an accurate story is more important than telling a comfortable one, and the reality is that the numbers that are commonly used generate stories that are factually incorrect.

So why should we continue to use them? As those entrusted with telling the story of baseball, why continue to lean on tools that mislead rather than inform? We should value accuracy over tradition. We should strive to tell interesting stories that are rooted in fact. If that takes a re-education of the public due to several generations of emphasizing and valuing flawed statistics, so be it, and that’s where the numbers have value.

We’re not replacing the “Holy Trinity” of baseball statistics because we can’t enjoy the game. We’re pointing out that these statistics breed false narratives, and we value the truth. This isn’t about replacing old numbers with new numbers, or attempting to dissuade anyone from enjoying the aesthetics of the game. It is simply about telling the average fan about the reality of what actually happened on the field. The “Holy Trinity” of baseball statistics fail at this most basic task, and so they are not worth deifying any longer.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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S. Urista
Guest
S. Urista
2 years 9 days ago

After struggling all morning to try and articulate what I thought of Bob Ryan’s article, Dave basically wrote exactly what I was thinking, and did it in a far better manner than I could have done.

Thanks for an outstanding read.

Rubén Amaro, Jr.
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Rubén Amaro, Jr.
2 years 9 days ago

There’s nothing wrong with the Holy Trinity.

I’ve always used batting average, runs batted in, and earned run average to value players.

Dusty Baker
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Dusty Baker
2 years 9 days ago

Don’t forget pitcher wins! They’re very important.

Trevor
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Trevor
2 years 9 days ago

While I’m sure your comment was sarcasm, I do believe wins should be considered when voting for the Cy Young award. Not the only thing considered but it should be part of the conversation. I feel most baseball awards are part team award and part individual award.

baycommuter
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baycommuter
2 years 9 days ago

Here’s the argument from a sociological perspective: If the players and managers think stats like wins are important, they may be self-reinforcing, because relative status levels can affect performance.

Hurtlocker
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Hurtlocker
2 years 9 days ago

Trying to intellectualize a great game like baseball through obscure statistics is like intellectualizing sex. In life, sometimes it just feels good. I’m also thinking the average baseball fan can’t calculate ERA.

SMSF
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SMSF
2 years 4 days ago

Thumbs up just for the: “I’m also thinking the average baseball fan can’t calculate ERA.”

Andy
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2 years 9 days ago

It’s so true that it’s a niche interest–what we do. Twitter makes this easy to forget because we’re all surrounded with like-minded people, and yet this community makes up a tiny fraction of the audience that Bob Ryan is paid to reach and does, in fact, reach.

TapRat
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TapRat
2 years 9 days ago

As an admitted Cameron Critic, I will also admit that I 100% agree with this article. Well put.

Seconded
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Seconded
2 years 9 days ago

I am also a harsh Cameron critic, usually due to what I perceive as strongly manipulated bias to support a narrative and blind support from many people way too smart to give anyone their blind support. This piece was poignant, honest, insightful, fun, and even human and fair. Good job DC! Nay, great job!

DNA+
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DNA+
2 years 9 days ago

It is worth pointing out that FanGraph’s favoured statistics are not truth and also lead to many false narratives. Probably less so than the Holy Trinity, but the difference is one of degree rather than kind.

Andy
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2 years 9 days ago

“not truth”? All these statistics, including RBI, are truth in the sense that they are facts. The issue is only how individuals value the players based on which facts they use, the context, etc.

DNA+
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DNA+
2 years 9 days ago

I am using “truth” in the same context that Dave is in the article.

Wally
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2 years 9 days ago

Which is what exactly, then? I think if you reread those paragraphs regarding the “truth” by Dave you won’t find him stating any stat, new or old, is the “truth”. Rather that the numbers used need to truthfully reflect the point of the story being told. Ie if you’re talking MVP, things like BA, RBI aren’t going to accomplish that, but WAR or WPA is going to more accurately do so.

DNA+
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DNA+
2 years 9 days ago

I think if you reread what Dave wrote you will see that he is correctly saying that the player with the lower ERA or the more wins is not necessarily the better or more valuable player. However, the same is true of WAR or FIP, etc. Simple as that.

Nick
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Nick
2 years 9 days ago

If one values the truth, one should attempt to move closer toward it. Truth (in this context, baseball value) is unattainable and therefore all differences are differences in degree.

Wally
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2 years 9 days ago

To which the only rational response is, “no shit.”

We do not have absolute knowledge of anything in this universe. The point is, use the best thing you have…..

Wally
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2 years 9 days ago

Previous message is to DNA+, not Nick, btw.

Kris
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Kris
2 years 9 days ago

Exactly. Stats like wOBA are going to give you a more compelling and accurate argument as to player value than context driven stats such as RBI’s and pitcher wins. And generally fangraphs writers aren’t just relying on a single metric or a holy trinity of any type of stat as the basis of their entire argument.

Wally
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Wally
2 years 9 days ago

It depends on the context put around them and I don’t see many articles here on Fangraphs falling into those false narratives that can be created by an attempt to wrap a complicated and intricate game up into any single number or even a small handful of numbers.

I think you’re missing the point of Dave’s piece, or at least pointing out something that irrelevant to it. Descriptive numbers can only help you tell some story, and if you use the right numbers in the right way your criticism above is not applicable to any stat. BA, ERA, Wins can all tell a story, nothing is necessarily right or wrong. It all depends on context.

If your point is that someone could write a very well informed and factually correct article about baseball using only the holy trinity, while an ignorant and incorrect article using WAR, wOBA and FIP, well, no shit.

DNA+
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DNA+
2 years 9 days ago

There are plenty of false narratives on FanGraphs. Often they concern trying to uncritically apply generalized models to specific situations.

In any case, I agree with Dave’s point that we are trying to better understand the truth. My point is simply, that we don’t understand it yet, and should always be more circumspect.

Wally
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Wally
2 years 9 days ago

I’m not sure which Fangraphs you’re reading. I rarely come across an article that used, what you refer to as “generalized models” in “specific situations” without appropriate context. This may happen occasionally, and there are pieces I disagree with, but I can’t recall any specific cases.

Me thinks you’re trying to sound too smart….

arc
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arc
2 years 9 days ago

You have been pretty careful about maintaining a level of a generality that can’t be scrutinized or challenged in a meaningful way. This seems deliberate.

The moment you introduce something specific is the moment we’ll be able to determine if you’re actually saying anything useful.

Wally
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2 years 9 days ago

Well put arc.

DNA+
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DNA+
2 years 9 days ago

http://www.fangraphs.com

I recall Dave writing an article about how Raul Ibanez should not have started last year against CC Sabathia because he doesn’t hit lefties well. I remember Dave writing several articles that stated unequivocally that the best way to win a single game is to use your bullpen for the whole game.

In any case, this is all beside the point. I’m really not interested in a battle. I made what I consider to be an uncontroversial comment about the need to be circumspect.

Wally
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Wally
2 years 9 days ago

Ok DNA, I remember the bullpen article and I don’t remember much wrong with it given the this is a single elimination. I also don’t remember the extent of anything being “unequivocal”. So please do provide the link and point out the specifics. Otherwise you’re maintaining this generality that is frankly meaningless and beside the point of the article above.

Dave K
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Dave K
2 years 9 days ago

“I made what I consider to be an uncontroversial comment about the need to be circumspect.”

Read: I’m trolling.

Mr baseball
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Mr baseball
2 years 9 days ago

Wow..the masses at FG is unabl to endure any critical thoughts.

Wally
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Wally
2 years 9 days ago

And the critical thought was…

Johnston
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2 years 9 days ago

Mr. Baseball: we like critical thoughts, but we hate stupid thoughts.

DNA+
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DNA+
2 years 9 days ago

..ahh, the internet. Where a trivial comment makes you either a troll, or stupid, or both….

Wally
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Wally
2 years 8 days ago

DNA, your first comment hardly made you a troll or an idiot, but your response there after gave the impression you weren’t interested in much of a conversation explaining your point. That gives the impression that you’re being disingenuous and pretentious.

This isn’t the first time I’ve run across comments of yours that you claim to be “uncontroversial” causing a bit of a stir….

Harold R
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Harold R
2 years 9 days ago

Well one has to ask how do fangraphs writers predict player performance based on their vision of the truth? I would say as a whole they do rather poorly. If their analysis brings them closer to the “truth” one would expect better predictive results, I’m not sure we see that.

DNA+
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DNA+
2 years 9 days ago

Baseball is stochastic. Even if we had perfect information about player ability, we would still not be able to predict baseball with any precision. This is an unfair standard.

David
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David
2 years 8 days ago

We started figuring out how to predict sochastic systems in the 1920s… unless your definition of “any precision” is “perfect accuracy”, which, even if so, we come damn close in some fields.

DNA+
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DNA+
2 years 8 days ago

Accuracy and precision are different. I think we probably already do predict baseball pretty accurately. I think the problem is that we are imprecise enough that the predictions are often wildly wrong for any given instance. My guess is that the scale of a baseball game (nine innings, 27 outs, 4-6 plate appearances, etc.) is impossible to predict precisely given the inherent stochasticity, even with perfect knowledge. It would be pretty easy to measure this with simulation, and perhaps it is already known.

Joe
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Joe
2 years 9 days ago

I just wonder whether these national columnists even need responses. What audience do they even have anymore? Are they even swaying anybody’s opinion? I just think sabremetrics is winning over fan mindshare, and the younger generation of fans knows it while having never even heard of Bob Ryan or read his column.

Aaron (UK)
Member
Aaron (UK)
2 years 9 days ago

Long-term, you may well be right. But courtesy costs nothing, and it may even win over some of those you disparage.

Joe
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Joe
2 years 9 days ago

I don’t mean to be disparaging to any individuals, just noting that I am doubtful this sort of column is championed by anyone in 2014, other than the many who use it as an easy target to criticize. why are the alarms sounded every time a sportswriter with a limited audience gets something wrong? I would rarely even hear their opinions if the sabremetric twitterverse didn’t blow up in disdain every time.

David
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David
2 years 9 days ago

This is a reflection of the communities you are a part of, not the whole of society. Bob Ryan and the Boston Globe have significantly larger audiences than “the sabermetric twitterverse”. In addition, for better or worse, the Boston Globe has significantly more credibility amongst the general population than does “the sabermetric twitterverse”. For perspectives sake, Bob Ryan’s piece will likely receive a larger audience than the aggregation of all its response pieces.

The reason it is important to respond, as per Dave’s hypothesis, is that casual fans value what popular media tells them to value, and as such, convincing popular media to value the correct things will lead to a mass renaissance of baseball understanding. This is presumably a good thing for Dave, based on his statement that a story must be true to be good. Although I suspect that were he to be questioned on the nuances of this assumption, he would admit that the perspective is limited to certain types of stories, namely, ones that purport to be true.

Mr baseball
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Mr baseball
2 years 9 days ago

Well said Joe. It’s like those trolling the bowels of the Internet to show there really is indeed some deranged ideas out there. It’s pointless because their influence is small. Their reach limited and decreasing by the hour.

Holland
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Holland
2 years 9 days ago

You’re a fucking idiot. Ryan has 1000x the audience of Fangraphs and its Dave. Ryan a damn good writer but, you know what, even shitty writers have 100x the audience of Fangraphs. That’s not going to change either. There are more pure sabermetricians laughing at UZR, FIP and other stupefied stats this site has successfully shoved down your throat, than there will ever be fans who doubt AVG, ERA and RBI’s. All of which work perfectly fine except for occasional outliers, BTW.

vivalajeter
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vivalajeter
2 years 9 days ago

While I have no idea how many followers they each have, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that more people read Bob Ryan than Fangraphs.

Kris
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Kris
2 years 9 days ago

Exactly. If you surround yourself with likeminded people then you’ll come to the conclusion that more people are into saber type analysis than the more traditional type of analysis. But if that was really the case you wouldn’t have all these talk radio stations with callers lining up to talk about how Joe Mauer’s contract is bad and how he lacks the “clutch gene” or what have you. That type of “analysis” is far more common and popular than you’d think.

fenwik
Member
fenwik
2 years 9 days ago

I’m sure there’s some sort of bias at work but it’s still interesting to me that Dave’s piece generated 128 comments (as I write this) and Ryan’s has 28.
Though maybe counting comments is the RBI of internet metrics, I have no idea.

David
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David
2 years 9 days ago

Professionals like Dave Cameron responded to Bob Ryan, compared with that, counting internet comments from Shlubs like us is nothing.

Also, wasn’t Ryans article printed… in the newspaper… where peoples comments are not readily available for mass consumption?

Holland
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Holland
2 years 9 days ago

People who read Ryan aren’t 12 year olds with an insatiable need to conform to strangers. They read, they mostly appreciate. Some with send their thanks.

In other words, everyone who read this probably commented.

frivoflava29
Member
frivoflava29
2 years 9 days ago

Not me.

…oh

Holland just may, in fact, be a dumb@ss
Guest
Holland just may, in fact, be a dumb@ss
2 years 6 days ago

“People who read Ryan aren’t 12 year olds with an insatiable need to conform to strangers.”

Yes, that’s what all FG readers and commenters are. Straw man much?

sn4k3
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sn4k3
2 years 9 days ago

oh Trust me, there are still a Tidal wave of the “unwashed masses” (for lack of a better term) even in the younger generation. I live in an area of the country where the younger generation is fanatical about baseball while being entirely stubborn and knuckleheaded about anything that isn’t the “holy trinity”. Hell, my roommate is one.

John W.
Member
Member
John W.
2 years 9 days ago

Great (and very polite) argument.
Another would be to ask Bob Ryan to explain Jeff Samardzija’s very good winless year…

Slevin Kelevra
Member
Slevin Kelevra
2 years 9 days ago

Well said even if Bob Ryan doesn’t strike me as “reasonable man”

Youppi!
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Youppi!
2 years 9 days ago

you’re a good storyteller, contrary to your assertion, by your own definition.

PWR
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PWR
2 years 9 days ago

i love bob ryan so glad we all dont slander him for his misguided take on all this. thanks dave

CabreraDeath
Member
CabreraDeath
2 years 9 days ago

I understand why you complimented Ryan, as well as understanding that your point will be heard and thought about more by not being bombastic and disrespectful. You’re a respected columnist and should carry yourself that way, as you did. Well done.

But, I’m not a respected columnist and I don’t have to be magnanimous. Let us call a spade a spade: Bob Ryan is not, nor has he ever been a ‘reasonable’ man. One only has to read his columns or watch him on the various shows on ESPN or listen to his misogynistic views over the years to reach that obvious conclusion . He’s a yeller, a screamer, a one-notch-above-Bayless type of sports personality.

He is reflective of his views: outdated and inaccurate. He’s becoming (rightly) increasingly irrelevant. This was just another step in that direction.

In any event, great response, DC.

Jeff
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Jeff
2 years 9 days ago

I’ve been reading Dave’s work for many years in all of his various forums. There have been times when I thought Dave was a bit harsh in his delivery (though not usually in the overall message). This piece reminds me why I follow Dave and other writers who use better measures to understand and describe what occurs, and predict what will occur, on a baseball field. Great work, Mr. Cameron!

ms
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ms
2 years 9 days ago

Thank you, Dave. Great read.

TKDC
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TKDC
2 years 9 days ago

Maybe it’s because I generally hang out with smart people, but casual fans are actually easily swayed into believing in advanced stats and are usually at least somewhat interested in the conversation, even though they’ve never even heard of Fangraphs.

Matt
Member
Matt
2 years 9 days ago

That’s been my experience as well. I think those who are most resistant to sabermetrics are individuals who depend financially on traditional stats – writers like Ryan and others who are yelling the loudest during MVP ‘debates’.

arc
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arc
2 years 9 days ago

Yup. I don’t think this is limited to “smart people”, but to people genuinely enthusiastic about the sport.

If you don’t care about baseball that much, it’s tedious extra thinking about something you don’t much like thinking about it. If you *really enjoy* baseball, you’re already invested in who is best and why and what makes a player or team this or that; you’re invested in the elements of the game. Advanced stats open a window to that discussion, even if you ultimately reject some or all of them.

There’s going to be skepticism that follows from long-held beliefs about core numbers and what they measure and why – and that’s what a lot of the ‘debate’ here tends to focus on, the pushback – but interest in the conversation isn’t hard to come by among baseball lovers.

I think that’s the biggest problem I had with Ryan’s article. He miscasts “stat people” as something less than the average fan in terms of love of the game. For me and for most I know, the advanced analysis *amplifies* my love of the game. That’s where the curiosity came from and that’s where much of the satisfaction lies.

MrMan
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MrMan
2 years 9 days ago

This. Exactly.

I think the baseball Luddites like to project the image that only obsessive state-geeks care about “advanced” stats. But it’s simply not true.

I can’t count the number of people I’ve introduced SABR-thinking to simply by walking them through a few numbers.

First I use DIPS (or FIP or whatever….by pointing out the a pitcher like Greg Maddux might have an off-year in terms of ERA, while his FIP numbers remains very steady. I explain how FIP is determined solely by pitcher / batter.

Then I walk through BABIP and explain how a pitcher’s BABIP…or luck….can affect things like ERA and Win totals.

Then I’ll talk about OPS+ for the hitters, along with BABIP. If someone is truly interested in baseball, in 30-45 minutes they can get an introductory understanding of a few metrics.

My experience is anyone who can tell you the importance of 4,152 or why a .260 hitting 2B is a good player is willing to at least listen.

That’s where I think the MSM guys who feel the need to write the annual “stats are ruining baseball” article get it wrong. People who embraced BA / HR / RBI when they were 14 can learn to embrace BA / OBP / SLG or OPS just as easily. More importantly, today’s avid 14-year old is much more likely to see the value in new measures…as well as the limitations of the old measures.

David
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David
2 years 9 days ago

No OPS, stop with the OPS, it doesn’t make sense logically or mathematically, you are adding fractions with different denominators without weighting them. OPS is even more useless than RBI, because given the components (number of opportunities, etc.) RBI can answer specific questions. OPS can never answer a question, its just a lazy shorthand.

Who is better at offense? a player with an .800 OPS or an .820 OPS? WE DONT KNOW! in order to find out, we have to break OPS into its pieces and we never end up using OPS to actually get to the answer. Its not descriptive or predictive, it is completely useless. Even more than being useless, it is actively detrimental, because it promotes a potentially false narrative. If you ever look at or consider OPS or OPS+, you should read this article again and pay attention to the part about how important it is to tell accurate stories.

Cool Lester Smooth
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Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 9 days ago

It’s a quick and useful way of organizing tiers of offense (.700 average, .800 good, .900+ great), and a good gateway drug towards more advanced stats.

David
Guest
David
2 years 9 days ago

It is quick, it is also highly erroneous and flawed. Why use it? because it exists? there are better stats that are just as quick and easy, and not nearly as flawed. Wanna just measure offense? wOBA, wRC+, RE24, oWAR, wRAA… all single numbers that accurately measure things and don’t lie to you.

Im guessing that you want to use OPS for a number of reasons
1. it exists
2. you are familiar with the underlying numbers, OBP and SLG and recognize both of them as valuable and measuring different things
3. you are familiar with the scale on which OPS is measured and can instinctively identify “good” or “bad” contributors
4. In your attempt to educate “non-statheads”, you would prefer to use “advanced stats” that are incorporations of the “old stats’ that your student may already be familiar with

BUT

Its wrong! it doesn’t make sense. it doesn’t answer any questions. Its utility is a lie that further propagates misunderstanding. If you want to educate people, do it right. Don’t feed them poisoned knowledge which is likely to undermine their confidence in the process of data based analysis when they figure out how flawed it is. Stop being lazy, never use OPS again.

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 9 days ago

I never use OPS, but it’s a quick shorthand for people who are unfamiliar with advanced stats. wOBA and wRC+ are more effectively introduced as “this is a better version of OPS and OPS+” than “linear weights tell us…yaddayaddayadda.”

Pointing out the flaws in OPS is absolutely essential to helping people understand why linear weights based stats are great.

David
Guest
David
2 years 9 days ago

I certainly agree with that, OPS is a case study in what not to do with statistics and can help illustrate why things like BA and RBI may not be the best tools to apply against the questions they are usually applied against. This is because it is even easier to see why OPS is flawed than with BA or RBI. Case in point…

RBI=…RBI (the statistic is the defined measurable)
BA= (Times on base – BBs – HBP – E – FC)/(PA – BB – HBP – Sac)
OPS=…? (its not OBP+SLG, that would be (On base/PA)+(TB/AB)… which is not the formula for OPS)

My initial comment against OPS was responding to someone who apparently took pride in educating people about data based analysis by using OPS. This should not be done, you shouldn’t even use OPS in data based analysis, let alone teach others to do so. If one were to use OPS, it should be with the understanding of how flawed it is and why. People just being introduced to these concepts cannot understand this. It is detrimental to both your student, and the advancement of good quality analysis in the general population, to teach OPS. In fact, its continued use in the Fangraphs community disturbs me slightly, as we are supposed to be the ones pointing out these flaws to the traditional community.

“As those entrusted with telling the story of baseball, why continue to lean on tools that mislead rather than inform?” – Dave Cameron

“if you *do* think numbers matter, you have to actually think about which numbers matter, how much, and why. That’s not stat-head philosophy; it’s just the logical extension of your own belief.” – [arc “badly paraphrasing”] Tom Tango

Shankbone
Guest
2 years 9 days ago

I’ve heard this smug line “you should really use wrC+ instead of flawed OPS+ a lot”. David – give me 3 examples of players which OPS+ misses out on with a significantly different score by your superior method. I’m all ears.

David
Guest
David
2 years 9 days ago

there aren’t 3 examples, there is every single case. There is no situation in which OPS is superior or even equal to many other statistics. It neither describes nor predicts with the same accuracy as literally any other baseball statistic. It is not a mathematical formula, it does not answer a question. I will admit that the differences are not usually large due to the similar weighting of the two stats, but that does not mean that the difference does not exist.

OPS is not mathematically or logically sound. The fact that it happens to mimic useful statistics should not fool us into using it in lieu of the statistics it mimics.

You ask me for more proof of why you shouldn’t use OPS, why don’t you provide me with any proof that we should use it?

To generalize the fundamental point; One of the basic assertions of the “SABR” movement is that, while more weight has been traditionally given to BA, OBP is actually a better indicator of true value because BA incorporates a lot of noise. I think this premise is generally accepted and no longer debated, for good reason. This extends to OPS vs. wRC+, wOBA, oWAR, etc. Just because OPS can be found, and is sometimes referenced, doesn’t mean that its the best thing to use. The argument is even stronger for OPS however, because it doesn’t make mathematical sense. BA only lies to you if you think it means OBP. If you understand how its constructed, you can still use it for some productive things though. OPS always lies to you. Even if you know how it’s constructed, it can never be used for anything useful other than a shorthand to approximately group players. Given that the better stats are no worse at this function, OPS should never be used.

Shankbone
Guest
2 years 9 days ago

3 players. Not that hard. Give me 3 players that a scan of OPS+ would miss the boat on.

Shankbone
Guest
2 years 9 days ago

And for why you should use it… Why not? Its close enough for gov’t work. I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t look at the slash line at the same time. Stats are a guideline. If you know baseball well, you’ll know most of the 400-500 regulars, and if you know the minors, you’ll know another 400-500 names and their tendencies.

Stat-heads can’t fix a swing. They can’t adjust a leg kick on a delivery. What I see from the stats movement is a fundamental disrespect for guys who do those things. Going after low hanging fruit like Wins is almost like cable news chatter.

David
Guest
David
2 years 9 days ago

1. OPS misses the boat on all players, so pick 3, and those are my examples.

2. I have the utmost respect for all the people in the game who fix swings and pitching deliveries, position the defense, advance scout, coach, manage, and deal with the personal and professional issues of the players. I could not do their jobs, and their jobs are essential.

3. I never mentioned wins in any respect

4. “And for why you should use it… Why not? Its close enough for gov’t work.” I do not subscribe to this line of reasoning. “not the worst possible thing we could do” =/= “the best thing we could do”

I do acknowledge that there are worse ways to evaluate players than OPS. We could, for instance, just make up a number and assign it. That would undoubtedly be worse, but OPS is no better than K%+ISO, in that it is an aggregation of meaningful things into one meaningless thing.

David
Guest
David
2 years 9 days ago

Also, shouldn’t do this, but picking nits… over 800 active MLB players at any given time, a few thousand MiLBers.

Shankbone
Guest
2 years 9 days ago

If you’re going to pick nits, try reading comprehension first. 400-500 regulars. The other 400-500 are indeed part timers and rotate in and out of the show.

You’re weak when you lace your spikes. I haven’t found a single player that I missed, and I actually look at both. There really isn’t enough of a difference to bother. So which system has a better sorting system for looking at ballparks and splits? B/R.

David
Guest
David
2 years 9 days ago

This is why you don’t pick nits, they don’t matter and cloud the issue at hand, I apologize and suggest we move on from it.

But… “You’re weak when you lace your spikes. I haven’t found a single player that I missed, and I actually look at both. There really isn’t enough of a difference to bother. So which system has a better sorting system for looking at ballparks and splits? B/R.”

What?
Is, “you’re weak when you lace your spikes” a saying? you look at both whats? are you asking me to compare Fangraphs vs. Baseball References GUIs? I would like to respond, but I just don’t understand.

Shankbone
Guest
2 years 8 days ago

You wrote: “To generalize the fundamental point; One of the basic assertions of the “SABR” movement is that, while more weight has been traditionally given to BA, OBP is actually a better indicator of true value because BA incorporates a lot of noise. I think this premise is generally accepted and no longer debated, for good reason.”

This is a version of the old Moneyball ethos. Batting average IS important. When everybody is chasing high OBP types, they get overvalued. Players with hacker profiles (OBP dependent on BA, lower value OBP, lower BB rates) get undervalued. And even scorned.

If you don’t want to give examples where your superior formula has unlocked information not revealed from the flawed OPS+ jibby-jobby, there’s nothing more to say. From where I sit, they’re basically the same thing.

David
Guest
David
2 years 8 days ago

“basically the same thing” isn’t good enough for me. I want to use the right tool, not the tool that happens to function in a similar manner to the right tool. And yes, BA does mean something, its just not as descriptive as OBP with respect to the question it is usually applied to (who is better at offense). I don’t think you are taking my point with respect to examples either. Since OPS doesn’t make any sense, it is ALWAYS wrong. Even more than being wrong, it is not wrong in any consistent way, OPS can either overvalue or undervalue what it measures. Since we know its always wrong, but not in what way its wrong, OPS can never tell us anything useful. This is in contrast to useful stats previously mentioned, where, even if you have an issue with the methodology used to create the statistic, it is based on a mathematical formula and therefore at least consistent. OPS just isn’t anything.

BIP
Guest
BIP
2 years 9 days ago

I don’t think the resistance to advanced stats is rooted in a person’s general level of interest in baseball, but rather a specific axis of fandom: the level of devotion to a particular team. If you say that Mike Trout deserved to win the MVP over Miguel Cabrera, there are very few Tigers fans who would agree, with more devoted fans tending to disagree more strongly. It doesn’t really matter how patiently or eloquently you explain the statistics, because that axis of fandom is basically irrational to begin with.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
2 years 9 days ago

SSS here, but I don’t believe I’ve had many good experiences trying to explain advanced stats to people who wasn’t already interested in them.

Holland
Guest
Holland
2 years 9 days ago

That’s because there’s very little point to them and, worse, proponents such as David above are always irritating. No one wants to relate to David.

Top 10 in RBI’s? yep, generally top 10 in wOBA, wRC, all that redundant garbage. Top 10 in ERA? yep, generally the top 10 pitchers.

Wally
Guest
Wally
2 years 9 days ago

Right, generally 1-10ish in one even OK stat are going to be 1-10ish in another. The problem here is that your range is arbitrary and likely also flexible, plus order is ignored. Also, if you’re using ERA as a metric to define what you call the top 10 pitchers, then well auto correlation is a bitch.

For example here are the top 20 ERA leaders from last year and next to is their rank in by FIP (all with at least 180 IP):

ERA rank FIP rank
1 2
2 6
3 1
4 3
5 15
6 16
7 32
8 11
9 20
10 9
11 7
12 4
13 14
14 17
15 5
16 42
17 13
18 25
19 36
20 53

Just as many of the top 10 in ERA are also in the top 10 by FIP as aren’t. The R^2 between the two numbers is .378 if you go out to the top 30. How about RBI vs wOBA:

1 3
2 1
3 4
4 13
5 52
6 44
7 14
8 34
9 12
10 6

That’s even worse. The R^2 is zero after the top 30.

So….what’s that point again.

Holland
Guest
Holland
2 years 8 days ago

I believe you’ve reached the core of the problem. NO ONE cares who the 50th or 51st best players are, short of math geeks anyway. We care about the top players, period. And since every old school stat will accurately provide that to us, we’re cool with them.

Wally
Guest
Wally
2 years 8 days ago

So you’re happy that when you pick the top four, you’re actually picking, in order, the the 2nd, 6th, 1st, then 3rd pitcher….or by RBI, 3rd, 1st, 4th and 13th…

I recon you don’t really care then, and even casual fans would agree the difference between 1st and 2nd is pretty important.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
2 years 6 days ago

“And since every old school stat will accurately provide that to us”

False.

Chucko
Guest
Chucko
2 years 9 days ago

What I find interesting is that less than 10 years ago, these columns would be written routinely, so much so that FJM could find pieces to mock almost daily. Now, that number is significantly less and the advanced stats crowd have taken a role in the front office of every baseball team (how much they listen to these people varies, obviously). That’s an impressive feat in less than a decade.

Not necessarily germane to this article, I just find it interesting.

Cicero
Guest
Cicero
2 years 9 days ago

The greatest part of his article is that he states “Sometimes lost in all this is an appreciation of the aesthetics, whether it’s a great play in the hole by a shortstop or a snappy inning-ending 5-4-3 double play or a base runner cleverly taking an extra base” then argues we shouldn’t attempt to credit the players that do those things in our measure of value.

arc
Guest
arc
2 years 9 days ago

Exactly. I think Tango had one of the best canned responses for these types of diatribes. You either believe numbers matter or you don’t. It’s *perfectly okay* to believe they don’t matter. You can fully enjoy and revere the game without ever getting into numbers.

But if you *do* think numbers matter, you have to actually think about which numbers matter, how much, and why. That’s not stat-head philosophy; it’s just the logical extension of your own belief.

(Badly paraphrased.)

DavidJ
Member
DavidJ
2 years 9 days ago

Or the part where he says that regular fans need nothing more than the good old fashioned eye test–then says that all they needed to know to see that Cabrera deserved the MVP was that he won the triple crown.

Matthew Murphy
Member
2 years 9 days ago

One of the things about baseball fans (and sports fans in general) is that many of them tend to have very strong opinions. With this in mind, I think it’s only normal for a curious person to be interested in digging a little bit (or a lot) deeper to find out whether or not these opinions are true, and why.

Being interested in advanced baseball statistics doesn’t take away from my appreciate of watching a baseball game, and I wouldn’t try telling someone else that they can’t appreciate baseball without statistics.

hscer
Member
2 years 9 days ago

What are you talking about, the NFL QB passer rating is a piece of cake! Here, let me demonstrate from memory.

Subtract 0.3 from completions divided by attempts and multiply by 5. Set that aside, unless it’s less than 0, in which case you use 0, or greater than 2.375, in which case you use 2.375. Then subtract 3 from yards divided by attempts and divide by 4. Set that aside, again replacing it with 0 if less than 0 or with 2.375 if more than 2.375. Then take touchdowns divided by attempts, and multiply that by 20. Set aside the lower of that number and 2.375 too. Now, take the interceptions divided by attempts, and multiply that by 25. Take that last number, or 2.375, whichever is lower, and subtract it from 2.375. Now, add that difference to the sum of the other 3 numbers you have set aside. Take this new number, divide it by 6, and multiply that by 100.

See, nothing to it. I’d demonstrate ESPN’s QB Rating too, but that one is impossible.

Bill
Guest
Bill
2 years 9 days ago

QB rating is what you get when you get stupid people trying to create a metric. It’s like Jim Bowden’s favorite metric, OBP+RBIs. It’s higher for better players to be sure, but its development shows a complete lack of understanding of what needs to be measured.

Jimmer
Guest
Jimmer
2 years 9 days ago

That was hilarious!

David
Guest
David
2 years 9 days ago

I could be wrong, but I thought ESPN’s one was based on a situational WPA model. In which case, its super easy, just take the result and multiply by the weight… figuring out the weight is the hard part.

I think the artificial caps on passer ratings are hilarious… I mean… why? just why?

hscer
Member
2 years 8 days ago

Thanks Mr. Fredette above.

The caps hardly matter in samples any greater than a game’s worth, but are still silly. (Your 13 yards per attempt count the same as this dude’s 12 per attempt!) I think they’re there to make each statistic count for the same, because without them, yards and touchdowns are would be worth a lot more than completions and avoidance of interceptions. But I could be wrong.

The thing is, I still like it better than the ESPN stat, which is opaque, gives fishy results more often (though that’s subjective, but hey, this entire paragraph is), and doesn’t correlate so much better to winning than the NFL rating as to be that much better given its own shortcomings.

Urbanman
Guest
Urbanman
2 years 9 days ago

Sorry Dave, but Mr. Ryan schooled you on this one

Keith
Guest
Keith
2 years 9 days ago

Hey, Bob, glad to see you found the site and read this article!

Urbanman
Guest
Urbanman
2 years 9 days ago

Oops, I guess it was dumb to have a different opinion than Dave over here. *FACEPALM*

JusticeBruin
Member
JusticeBruin
2 years 9 days ago

I don’t think Keith’s comment was in response to your difference of opinion. It was in response to how you expressed it and failed to explain your position.

Jackie T.
Member
Member
Jackie T.
2 years 9 days ago

Kyle
Guest
Kyle
2 years 9 days ago

Many in the media believe endless debate in which there is no truth generates more interest and revenue than finding the truth. For example those praise the BCS for all the arguments it creates or those in the media who think the V in MVP can what ever the vote/writer want it to mean. They think facts and truth end arguements and leave article for them to write and less appearances as talking head. It’s all about the money.

MrMan
Guest
MrMan
2 years 9 days ago

This is true…especially of broadcast media.

See the big cable networks…whether news or sports….they thrive on creating farcical “this or that” binary conflicts void of any nuance or context. It allows for endless debate, which fills air-time and elicits strong reactions from viewers trained to go along with the unstated limitations of the discussion.

KK-Swizzle
Guest
KK-Swizzle
2 years 9 days ago

#politics…

On a more serious note, I think fangraphs readers are in danger of misinterpreting the site through the same sort of lens. Over the last few years, it seems that some of the comments here are as one-sided and narrowminded as those of Bob Ryan.

Mark
Guest
Mark
2 years 9 days ago

Not so much a response to Bob Ryan as it is the old-guard media establishment. Ryan is actually a progressive thinker open to new ideas.

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 9 days ago

Yeah, no.

He wrote an article last year titled “WAR, what is it good for” about how WAR is a useless stat because there’s no such thing as a replacement player. It displayed an impressive amount of what I can only hope is deliberate misinterpretation of pretty simple concepts.

will
Guest
will
2 years 9 days ago

Excellent article. I used to be a real fan of Mr. Ryan’s writing but his dated view of baseball really hinders his arguments.

Kris
Guest
Kris
2 years 9 days ago

You’re spot on about what fans value, taken from the broadcasters. I can guarantee the average Astros fan has more appreciation for WAR than the average Braves fan.

MrMan
Guest
MrMan
2 years 9 days ago

Yes.

I think local broadcast’s use…or lack of use…of new metrics goes a long way towards how “casual” fans feel about them.

It’s a delicate balance. Some fans, obviously, are hungry for the new numbers. But others aren’t interested and consider them unnecessary clutter.

But considering the amount of airtime (162 games * 3 hours per)….I think every team has opportunity to slowly introduce new statistical ways of looking at the game.

Dave
Guest
2 years 9 days ago

Kudos to YES for talking often about advanced metrics including catcher framing stats, which leads to discussions like back n the day we didn’t have a way to track that but everyone knew that certain catchers were better at getting strikes called than others.

David B
Member
David B
2 years 9 days ago

“The problem with the “Holy Trinity” statistics is that, far too often, they tell the wrong story. Putting value on things like pitcher wins or RBIs isn’t a choice about aesthetics or enjoyment; it’s about continually propagating myths at the expense of the truth.”

Exactly. Exhibit A: the truth is that even if Brandon Phillips drove in 100+ runs last season, he is a below average offensive player at his position. For the media to suggest anything to the contrary would be distorting the truth.

David
Guest
David
2 years 9 days ago

Brandon Phillips 2013 wRC+: 98
MLB 2B 2013 wRC+: 91

perhaps you did not mean to specify “at his position”, but as stated, you are distorting the truth.

Bobby
Guest
Bobby
2 years 9 days ago

Don’t confuse them with facts.

David
Guest
David
2 years 9 days ago

What does “them” refer to? because if you are talking about the wRC+ values I presented, they are facts. Brandon Phillips’ wRC+ in 2013 was 98… factually.

John Elway's OtherSelf
Guest
John Elway's OtherSelf
2 years 9 days ago

Exhibit B: Brandon Phillips is NOT a below average offensive player for his position. By wRC+ w/500 PA minimum, he was 12th in the league at 91.

John Elway's OtherSelf
Guest
John Elway's OtherSelf
2 years 9 days ago

Hrrmmm. I guess he was 14th – I order the list wrong, apparently. Either way, 14th in the league, not BELOW average.

robinst
Guest
robinst
2 years 9 days ago

i have been a devoted boston sports fan for 40 yrs,have read and admired bob all that time, and sit next to ryan in sect 19 grandstand at fenway.to see him watch and score a sox game is a lesson in intensity and immersion.

ergo, i was a little surprised by this column of his since he loves baseball completely(maybe even more than basketball?) and i would have thought that he would be one of the fans who appreciated the revelations and clarity that the newer stats bring to the game. i’m trying to think of another reason he wrote what he did,but i cant think of one.

Andrew
Guest
Andrew
2 years 9 days ago

Know what doesn’t pass the eye test and what’s a false narrative? Someone hitting .260 who strikes out 30% of the time being tagged as the third most valuable player. All the off field positional adjustments and mathematical weighting isn’t going to be accepted when it clashes obviously with, you know, the reality on the field.

AK7007
Member
AK7007
2 years 9 days ago

Maybe batting average and strikeout rate aren’t the best measures of value? Why would those things be “reality on the field?” Because somebody told you that those things were important and you believed them without asking why. Fangraphs asks why, and when the answer is unsatisfying, looks for a new way of explaining things.

Bill
Guest
Bill
2 years 9 days ago

Reality on the field:
45% better than average offense + elite defense + plus baserunning = very valuable player

His RAR is 25.1. Only 0.5 of that is positional adjustment. Completely remove the positional adjustment and he’d still rank third (not that exact rankings separated by tenths of a win in a SSS mean much of anything to begin with)

S. Urista
Guest
S. Urista
2 years 9 days ago

Off-field? I have no idea what you mean. I mean, yes, the adjustments it will clash with -your- warped, bizarro-world reality where we ignore everything a baseball player does outside the batter’s box.

If we actually do count everything that happens *on* the field, then yes, Trout is still the third most valuable player, and that does pass the eye test.

Mark
Guest
Mark
2 years 9 days ago

The world in which “the eye test” has come to mean “the small handful of markedly outdated statistics” is certainly a curious one. My eye sees great defense more than it sees an RP getting a W.

S. Urista
Guest
S. Urista
2 years 9 days ago

Off-field? I have no idea what you mean. I mean, yes, the adjustments will clash with -your- warped, bizarro-world reality where we ignore everything a baseball player does outside the batter’s box.

If we actually do count everything that happens *on* the field, then yes, Trout is still the third most valuable player, and that does pass the eye test.

a eskpert
Guest
a eskpert
2 years 9 days ago

With a Pitcher’s park at home while walking a lot, hitting for power, running bases efficiently, and playing good defense.

cass
Guest
cass
2 years 9 days ago

Batting average is a convoluted and misleading stat. Why would you reference it?

Times on base – walks – hit-by-pitch – reached on error – sacrifices/ plate appearances – walks – hit by pitch – reached on error – sacrifices.

Not only does BA tell you nothing of how many bases the runner advanced when he did reach base, it arbitrarily excludes many times he did reach base.

Batting average is not a fundamental stat. It tells you nothing basic about a player’s performance. It tells you nothing about a player’s value. It is complicated and useless.

I probably should write a bot that inserts this piece of information in response to anyone ever citing batting average until people stop. Use OBP if you want a simple measurement. Use something like wOBA, wRC+, RE24, WAR, or even OPS for crying out loud if you want an overall measure of a player’s production. But please, please do not use batting average.

Bill
Guest
Bill
2 years 9 days ago

Batting average does tell you something. But, yeah, it should be used like one uses line drive rate or pitch type selection. It tells you something about the type of player, but doesn’t tell you his value.

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 9 days ago

Yeah, remember that great piece from a couple years back about how Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder had an almost identical wOBA and wRC+ in 2010, but Fielder did it with a .261/.401/.471 line vs. Braun’s .304/.365/.501

Average is an essential part of the triple slash.

supgreg
Member
supgreg
2 years 9 days ago

Batting average tells you how often a player gets a hit per the number of times that he records an at-bat, I think that is pretty simple to see in the formula for it:

H/AB = hits per at-bat

It does not tell you how “good” of a hitter a player is, and I’d be willing to bet if you asked Batting Average thought about it, he would care, “I’m just here to measure how many times a player gets a hit per at-bat.”

cass
Guest
cass
2 years 9 days ago

But “hits” and “at-bats” have very complicated definitions that are not very intuitive on their own. Plate appearances and times on base are much simpler concepts to understand and answer a more basic question.

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 9 days ago

Vut a .300/.400/.500 line is more valuable than a .250/.400/.500 line, because hits are better outcomes than walks.

While average is not a useful measure of performance, it is useful for analyzing it.

Jon L.
Guest
Jon L.
2 years 9 days ago

The player with the .250/.400/.500 line is probably walking more, but he’s also hitting for more power.

Eric R
Guest
Eric R
2 years 9 days ago

In 600 PA, the difference between a .300/.400/.500 player and a .250/.400/.500 player:

51 singles vs 34 walks and 17 doubles.

Linear weights put those are roughly:
1B: .45 runs
BB: .32 runs
2B: .72 runs

=51 x .45 vs 34 x .32 + 17 x .72
=22.95 vs 10.88+12.24
=22.95 vs 23.12

You almost couldn’t possible get any closer.

Jon L.
Guest
Jon L.
2 years 9 days ago

No, Andrew is right. Batting .260 instead of .300 at this time of year means you’re missing 6 or 7 hits. It’s preposterous that a player could be great without those hits! How could they? Are baserunning and fielding and home runs and triples and walks and stolen bases somehow going to more than make up for those missing hits? Impossible! Those hits were really important.

TangoAlphaLima
Guest
TangoAlphaLima
2 years 9 days ago

I’m absolutely fascinated by the old guard’s reluctance to accept Sabermetrics. But even if we can’t get them to acknowledge that WAR is the best way to measure a player’s worth, for the life of me I can’t figure out their devotion to Wins and Losses. It’s an absolutely absurd statistic that tells us nothing about a pitcher’s quality.

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 9 days ago

I don’t think anyone would say that WAR is the best way to measure a player’s worth. It’s a conversation starter, not an answer.

a eskpert
Guest
a eskpert
2 years 9 days ago

As a single catch-all statistic, it’s probably the best (thinking about Fwar, Bwar, and VORP derivatives).

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 9 days ago

Yeah, but we shouldn’t be using “a single catch-all statistic” to evaluate a player’s worth.

Stats like WAR are a quick-and-dirty shortcut that gives a rough estimate of a player’s value, not a definitive measurement, and we need to remember that.

Steven
Guest
Steven
2 years 9 days ago

^Cool Lester

Agreed, but I’m not sure anyone is doubting that WAR is not always perfect. However, it’s pretty clearly the best generally-applicable statistic to measure performance that we have.

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 9 days ago

I see people claim that Player X is better than Player Y because Player X has a higher WAR all the time, and that’s simply the wrong way to look at things.

arc
Guest
arc
2 years 9 days ago

“I see people claim that Player X is better than Player Y because Player X has a higher WAR all the time, and that’s simply the wrong way to look at things.”

It’s the shorthand way to look at things. Whether it’s wrong to speak in shorthand depends on context.

I don’t think you’re going to find anyone *end* a long discussion with WAR – or even try to. WAR is primarily used in lieu of longer discussions.

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 9 days ago

not always, and that’s the issue. Dumb people who get their hands on advanced stats are awful.

TangoAlphaLima
Guest
TangoAlphaLima
2 years 9 days ago

I think a lot of people would say it’s the best objective way to measure a player’s worth. Would you rather go with a completely subjective approach? That’s what these old baseball writers do. For example, “That guy really comes through in the clutch”, or “That pitcher just knows how to pitch to the score.”

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 9 days ago

No, you have use a combination of objective factors in evaluating a player.

You have to account for the fact that the single season of UZR data in each year of WAR cannot be used as an objective measure of a player’s worth, and that even larger samples of UZR do not accurately account for Catcher defense or the finer points of 1B defense. Hell, it doesn’t even consider defensive shifting.

Then there’s the fact that some players consistently outperform their wRAA as “run producers.” It can be reasonably argued that WAR undervalues Ryan Howard by roughly half a win each year, if you consider his RE24. The same goes for Allen Craig, albeit over a less conclusive sample size.

WAR places players into a tier system (1-2 win guys, 2-3 win guys, 3-4 win guys, etc.) as a quick reference point, and it is a useful tool for comparing players across positions. It is not the answer to the question of “who is better,” it just tells us whether players are close enough to be compared.

TangoAlphaLima
Guest
TangoAlphaLima
2 years 9 days ago

Okay, dude, whatever. Sounds like you think it is a good way to generalize a player’s value, you just take issue with calling it the “best” way, yet give no other alternative that is a better method, except to point out where other advanced statistics might point out where WAR gets things wrong.

Sometimes I really wonder why I post on Fangraphs. Some people on here pick every post apart to try and prove a point or something. Please, ignore my main point that wins and losses are an absurd stat, instead focus on how I inappropriately labeled WAR as the best objective stat…

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 9 days ago

The point is that generalizing a player’s value shouldn’t be the end goal of analyzing them, but rather the first step.

WAR should be used to set a baseline from which the analysis begins.

Also, I’m not trying to pick your shit apart. It’s jst that pretty much everyone here knows that Wins and Losses are stupid. That’s not interesting to talk about.

The way in which we should use the tools we have to evaluate players, however, is very interesting to talk about, so that’s what I focused on.

BIP
Guest
BIP
2 years 9 days ago

When comparing players, of course WAR provides a definitive answer, as long as the precision of WAR is not overstated. If I cite WAR to say that Mike Trout is better than Willie Bloomquist, it would look very silly of you to respond with something like “that’s simply the wrong way to look at things.”

TangoAlphaLima
Guest
TangoAlphaLima
2 years 9 days ago

Dude, you are really annoying the heck out of me right now. Did I suggest we debate whether Wins and Losses were important statistics? No. I simply said that it baffles me that the old baseball writers cannot get over what a phony stat it is. That’s all.

You, however, decided that using WAR as a stat to discuss a player’s worth without delving into the complexities of advanced statistics is some unforgivable sin. It’s just kind of absurd how you jumped to that from my comment. But, you know, thanks, I guess? I appreciate you derailing my comment, which you had no interest in discussing except to force a retort on a topic that was not originally contemplated.

Cheesewhiz
Guest
Cheesewhiz
2 years 9 days ago

Wins and losses drive me crazy. Most worthless stats ever.

chief00
Guest
chief00
2 years 9 days ago

FTW

CSW
Guest
CSW
2 years 3 days ago

Brilliant!

Kris #2
Guest
Kris #2
2 years 9 days ago

One of the worst parts about growing up is realizing that all these adults you thought were so smart when you were a kid are just older kids.

It’s disappointing to turn on MLB Network and listen to Harold Reynolds and Bill Ripken make fools of themselves trying to explain why defensive shifts don’t work, etc. It doesn’t take a PhD in Statistics to understand, just a genuine sense of curiosity to sit down and think for a second about why things happen and the probability that they happen. This lack of curiosity is what troubles me most.

MrMan
Guest
MrMan
2 years 9 days ago

Yes.

This is true in many arenas. For instance, going into the 2013 Presidential election most of the conservative media-industrial complex convinced their viewers / readers the race was a toos-up and even looking favorable for them.

This despite the fact all statistical evidence pointed to an easy victory for the Democrat.

There are entire “information” industries that rely upon charm / volume / ability to repeat message….and have little to do with facts or truth.

Think broadcast news, financial news, sports news…..some of that is now under assault from younger people with new ideas about how to evaulate these industries.

The old “charm” guard will be around for a long time, but a gneration from now young people will look at Harold Reynolds and the like and wonder hown in the world they had a job.

B N
Guest
B N
2 years 9 days ago

I was surprised to hear that anyone won the 2013 Presidential Election, actually…

JusticeBruin
Member
JusticeBruin
2 years 9 days ago

I had this exact same conversation with a friend recently. It is disappointing how often people lose that curiosity and stop developing their understanding of the world in a meaningful way. Many people just seem to become so attached to a specific narrative of themselves or the world that they just cease recognizing new inputs.

A parallel example I have noticed in my own career is that many people in the legal field are more like old law students than actual attorneys.

IHateJoeBuck
Member
IHateJoeBuck
2 years 9 days ago

Agreed. I used to love Harold Reynolds on Baseball Tonight when growing up. Ignorance is bliss.

Jamie
Guest
Jamie
2 years 9 days ago

Thank you for mentioning QBR rating. I’ve been arguing the double standard with that stat for years. It’s amazing how widely accepted it is while similiar stats that combine a variety of factors, like WAR, are routinely mocked.

chuckb
Guest
chuckb
2 years 9 days ago

There are a lot of double standards about the way in which the media treats the NFL vs. the way in which it treats MLB.

JusticeBruin
Member
JusticeBruin
2 years 9 days ago

Although I’m sure the sports media will do all it can to decry any “advanced statistics” tying football to CTE or premature death. The NFL and NCAA sell a lot of ads.

Word
Guest
Word
2 years 9 days ago

We’re talking about two separate metrics, passer rating (the NFL’s official formula) and ESPN’s QBR, or Quarterback rating. The former has an arcane formula, and the latter’s formula has never been made public.

The NFL system is routinely mocked and disparaged, though it is also commonly referred to. It’s a fair basic measure of performance, better than Ryan’s “Holy Trinity” stats, and much better than pitcher wins.

Cliff Clavin
Guest
Cliff Clavin
2 years 9 days ago

The first (and last) time I checked out QB rating it was conspicuously missing anything about running, so I moved on. Not sure if it was ever incorporated; if not I’m amazed it’s still so widely referenced.

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 9 days ago

The name of the stat is “Passer rating,” not “QB rating,” which might explain why it doesn’t account for running…

Cliff Clavin
Guest
Cliff Clavin
2 years 9 days ago

Jesus Christ…. I don’t even follow football, but Passer rating and QB rating are synonymous. ESPN’s thing is called Total Quarterback Rating.

Regardless, a quarterback can run with the football, yes? Why doesn’t passer rating/QB rating include yards gained by QBs who run the ball? It’s like OBP without counting the plate appearances that resulted in walks or the walks themselves, which is essentially batting average.

Anon
Guest
Anon
2 years 9 days ago

I don’t even follow football, but [insert specific football information here].

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 9 days ago

Well, your not following football would definitely explain why you don’t understand not including running yards in a stat attempting to measure passing efficiency.

Cliff Clavin
Guest
Cliff Clavin
2 years 8 days ago

Lester – I’m not debating semantics. If you want to call the position a quarterback or a passer, or if you want to call the metric quarterback rating or passer rating, I don’t care. That’s not the point, so you can stop getting hung up on words.

What I am questioning is does a metric that attempts to rate QBs exclude running. A QB’s ability to gain yards and/or score on his own should be included in a stat that rates them overall. It’s like excluding strikeouts when rating pitchers.

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 7 days ago

It’s not fucking semantics. You’re essentially complaining that wRC+ doesn’t account for a player’s fielding, or that K/BB doesn’t include GB%.

It’s not measuring a QB’s performance. It’s measuring his efficiency as a passer. How well someone runs has exactly nothing to do with their efficiency as a passer, so passer rating does not include running stats in their evaluation of passing efficiency.

bakes
Guest
bakes
2 years 9 days ago

I think Bob is just saying most people are stubborn and lazy, and as long as they are there’s no reason for narratives to change.

LarryM
Guest
LarryM
2 years 9 days ago

The obvious – to me and most readers – unstated point is that the Media narrative could change easily without invoking ANY advance stats. Heck, if you simply replaced RBIs with OBP in the “holy trinity” of hitting stats, you would obtain at least half of the added accuracy of advanced hitting metrics. And I say that as someone who has all the respect in the world for advanced metrics.

If you supplemented that with a non-stat based discussion of positional value and defense (the latter often present now but with an undue weight being placed on error avoidance), the “narrative” that most baseball fans are exposed to would be far more accurate, with nary an advanced metric in sight.

Kevin
Guest
Kevin
2 years 9 days ago

Much as it surprises me, I think I may agree with Bob here, although I disagree with the conclusion he eventually reachses.

For Joe Averagefan, the major event of any sporting event is the scoring of points, as that is what differentiates the winning team from the losing one, which is the outcome of interest to Joe. At a baseball game, this is obviously the scoring of runs or the allowing of runs to score. If Joe is attending the game, he would notice other fans standing and cheering when the home team scores runs, which would naturally draw his attention to the most recent play. So it is natural that Joe may wonder, essentially ‘What player is most immediately responsible for the scoring of these runs or allowing these runs to score’? The simplest answer to those questions are RBIs/runs and Runs Allowed/ERA. By allowing that the casual fan would be interested in batting average (which I agree with), it logically follows that they would also be interested in who got the “best” or “most important” hits, or who allowed them. Hence RBI’s and ERA, as flawed as we may know them to be.

AK7007
Member
AK7007
2 years 9 days ago

This is a much better hypothesis. Clutchiness and grittiness are clung to dearly – and RBI/Wins are a visually useful proxy.

cass
Guest
cass
2 years 9 days ago

If you want to measure Clutch, there’s you know, a stat called “Clutch”. FanGraphs has a whole bunch of context-dependent stats that are far better at answering these sorts of questions than RBIs and Wins.

Specifically, RE24, WPA/LI, and Clutch are all useful here. Much more relevant than RBI and pitcher Wins.

RBI: How well did the people hitting in front of the player get on base? How often did they score during the player’s PA?

Pitcher wins: How many runs did the pitcher’s teams’s offense score? Was it more than the opposing team scored while the pitcher was in the game?

RE24: How much did the expected run value of the inning change during the batter’s plate appearances?

WPA/LI: How well did the player improve his team’s chance of winning in each at bat relative to the importance of the situation?

Clutch: How much better does a player hit in more important situations compared to less important situations?

AK7007
Member
AK7007
2 years 9 days ago

Yeah, I personally use RE24 for a lot of things – but good luck trying to tell RBI guys that they would be better off looking at run expectancy instead of “drove men in”

Kevin
Guest
Kevin
2 years 9 days ago

I think you misunderstand; neither AK nor I are arguing that RBIs or Wins are better stats, which is what your comment seems to focus on. I am (and I think AK is) simply pointing out that the average, reasonable, non statistically inclined sports fan is less likely to think of the probability matrices involved in calculating the RE24, and more likely to look at the last play on the field and assign credit/blame accordingly. The point of the article, I think, was to question if Mr. Ryan was right about people naturally valuing statistics like RBIs over better, but less observable, statistics like RC+. While things like the Quartback rating certainly prove its possible for people to accept or regect statistics based on what the media sells them, I don’t think Dave makes much of a case that this is actually what happened with baseball statistics. He needs to present evidence that, prior to extensive media coverage of baseball, no one cared about things like RBIs or pitcher wins, which (I think) you can do with QB ratings in football.

cass
Guest
cass
2 years 9 days ago

@Kevin

I see what you’re saying, but based on my own experience introducing an immigrant to baseball, I think I have to agree with Dave.

I have a friend who has become a big fan of the local team and even though I have explained how wins and losses are calculated and all the flaws, he still evaluates pitchers based on wins and losses. I can only imagine that it’s because the local media and broadcasters keep referring to these statistics and putting value on them. And this is a person who grew up in a country where there was no baseball present, so it’s not about tradition.

frivoflava29
Member
frivoflava29
2 years 9 days ago

^ This is true. I’d say advanced stats are generally more about the situations that can occur, not as much about what actually occurs in those situations.

Mark
Guest
Mark
2 years 9 days ago

I’m on board w/r/t what you’re saying about a casual fan’s interest in W and RBI/R, but not so much BA. BA is exactly an example of what Dave is talking about, a situation where a stat is so well-known that it seems coterminous with “the eye test” when of course there’s no reason for it to be so. As noted in a comment above, it’s actually an odd and relatively convoluted little stat, measuring something that OBP measures a lot better. If we grew up on OBP rather than BA, we’d see that as “the eye test” and Joe Average fan could easily appreciate that a guy gets on base a lot with his “eye test.”

Kevin
Guest
Kevin
2 years 9 days ago

Good point. The argument for BA must be essentially different from that for RBI’s/ERA, in that hits are less directly connected to the ultimate outcome of the game. I think if I were to respond from Mr. Ryan’s perspective, I would probably contend that people focus on hits not because they have been trained to do so (although, in this day and age, they almost certainly have), but rather because they are action plays where as walks (and thus what OBP adds above BA) are inaction plays, and thereby less memorable. But I do agree with your point here, that BA seems like more of a learned behavior, while focusing on RBIs/ERA/wins is an understandably intuative, if misguided, trait.

We could probably actually test this by getting a focus group from some country where baseball is virtually unknown, having them watch a few games, and then forcing them to choose a “MVP” for each one. Without having the context of media experience, how would they determine who was most or least responsible for the outcome of the game?

bpdelia
Guest
bpdelia
2 years 8 days ago

Now that’s a great idea. I don’t understand the histrionics on either side really. You think pitcher wins is a fun stat to rely on? Awesome. Pitcher wins it up my friend. I am troubled that sports writers propagating a distinct anti intellectual bias in young impressionable sports fans is a contributing factor in many of the political issues we have today. If you’ve been trained to not trust, and even dislike, pointy headed intellectuals trying to suck the fun out of your life your much more likely to have that same attitude about politics. Science etc. You are much less likely to be open to counter intuitive realities, of which there are many.

There are two basic responses to being told you are wrong even though you feel so very right. You can say “really? Prove it
“. And if the challenger can in fact provide proof. You say “hmm. That’s awesome! How wild is it I could believe something so strongly and then hear a counter intuitive argument that shows I was mistaken.”
Or, you can say “fuck yourself egg head. What you are saying sounds wrong. And a whole bunch of people who get paid to tell me what to think disagree with you. Furthermore you’re a prick for trying to make me feel stupid. That’s exactly what everyone warned me you would try and do with your fancy math and logic. Every one knows you can make words and numbers say anything.”

Which of those people is more likely to hear you out on the correlation between GDP and marginal tax rates?

And I don’t think people are born into either camp. People learn curiosity and skepticism.

Anyway I want that study done. It won’t convince anyone but I happen to be the curious sort.

Brendan
Guest
Brendan
2 years 9 days ago

I love FanGraphs.

Gordon Gano
Guest
Gordon Gano
2 years 9 days ago

I like American Music.

Brian Ritchie
Guest
Brian Ritchie
2 years 9 days ago

I like all kinds of music.

Dave
Guest
2 years 9 days ago

Country, and Western

Deelron
Member
Deelron
2 years 9 days ago

I could do without sea chant shanties.

Victor DeLorenzo
Guest
Victor DeLorenzo
2 years 9 days ago

…but I like American Music best!

peaceful femmes
Guest
peaceful femmes
2 years 8 days ago

……..baby

quincy0191
Guest
quincy0191
2 years 9 days ago

Average fans do care, they just don’t know that there’s anything to care about. It’s like asking if the average person would care about a genocide occurring somewhere in the world; they would certainly not be indifferent towards it, and may go as far as actually doing something, but without knowing about it it’s hard for there to be an impact. We know what we know, and sometimes we know what we don’t know, but the biggest problem is what we don’t know we don’t know.

I have taken baby steps toward educating friends and family about the easier points of sabermetrics, and have generally found them to be very receptive. It’s not hard to see why; when a batter smacks a line drive that’s caught by the shortstop, and the next guy bloops a double down the line, it’s pretty easy to explain why BABIP is valuable. When there’s a deep drive to the 431 marker in AT&T Park that’s caught at the wall, it’s pretty easy to explain why park factors matter. When Matt Cain is on your team, you understand pretty quickly that wins are stupid, often regardless of whether anyone’s said anything.

Broadcasters are taking steps to make sabermetrics more ubiquitous, as well. Jon Miller and Dave Fleming (sorry for all the Giants references, but that’s where I have information) do their part to reference advanced stats. They will talk about BABIP and WAR and UZR – they don’t always understand the finer points, but they get the general idea across and help the average fan understand why these things are valuable.

Most importantly, everyone seems to focus so heavily on the places where sabermetrics and old-school thought processes are at odds, instead of the vast majority of places where they are the same. Line drives are good. Baserunning is valuable. Catchers add a lot even if they’re not hitting – so do shortstops and center fielders. Working the count is great. Left-right matchups matter. Sabermetrics isn’t about destroying conventional baseball wisdom; the vast majority of the time, it’s being confirmed. It’s about making the things we used to think a little more accurate and refined; steals are good, but only if you’re doing it at a high enough rate. Defense-first players can have a lot of value, but there’s a tipping point (and vice versa). Strikeouts are bad, but maybe not as bad as we thought. There’s a perception on the other side of the “debate” that we’re coming for their women and children, when this is just a natural progression of science, like anything else, and by and large the advent of technology has improved the human condition. Their fear is unwarranted, even if they don’t see it.

rknecht17
Member
rknecht17
2 years 9 days ago

This is one of the best comments I’ve ever read

munchtime
Guest
munchtime
2 years 9 days ago

I think, in many ways, both Dave and Bob are correct.

I don’t think the casual baseball fan cares about WAR, or wOBA, or any other number of metrics. Probably in large part to what the media chooses to use on a daily basis – but the article wasn’t asking why.

I also don’t think someone should be ridiculed over their choice of metric (WAR vs Triple Crown stats), especially if there is solid logic behind why you would prefer one over the other.

Charlie
Guest
Charlie
2 years 9 days ago

Well the problem is that the Triple Crown stats don’t root in “solid logic,” right? They root in tradition.

Ballfan
Guest
Ballfan
2 years 9 days ago

Don’t tell Bob Ryan about your idea of 3 mini games in each game….

Kazinski
Guest
Kazinski
2 years 9 days ago

I think the problem goes beyond what the reporters tell the fans are the important stats. I think sabermetrics goes head to head against what players and managers value as the most important. After almost every win in the post game interviews with the winning team and what they will talk about the most is clutch hitting and hitting with RISP. That’s probably the most prized skill among baseball players, and Sabermetrics tells them its not a skill at all. That is where I think the biggest disconnect is. I don’t think the numbers lie, its not a repeatable skill. But I don’t see how, human nature being what it is, that Managers and players won’t take pride in their numbers and value that stat above things like OBP.

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 9 days ago

Sabermetrics don’t tell you that those things aren’t a skill. RE24 is exactly what managers and players value, and some players, such as Ryan Howard, have demonstrated the ability to have an RE24 well above their wRAA over their careers.

Advanced Sabermetrics tell us that “clutchiness” is absolutely a skill.

Bill
Guest
Bill
2 years 9 days ago

But most importantly, it also tells us how valuable and repeatable this skill is.

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 9 days ago

Yeah, Howard’s skill at hitting with RISP has allowed him to produce roughly 50 more runs than he would have produced in a context free environment over his career.

BIP
Guest
BIP
2 years 9 days ago

You haven’t even come close to showing that clutch is a skill, because to do that you would need to show that players have control over the distribution of their positive hitting outcomes. That a player has performed better in specific situations isn’t nearly enough. Also, if Ryan Howard can somehow selectively improve his hitting ability with RISP, then why doesn’t he just do that all the time regardless of how many baserunners there are?

Shankbone
Guest
2 years 9 days ago

A favorite Saber player Nick Swisher absolutely does not have the “clutch skill”. Maybe OBP is overrated at times. A certain revered GM claims his stuff doesn’t work in the post-season, but maybe he just doesn’t have what it takes to win, when it counts.

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 9 days ago

I don’t know why he doesn’t do it the rest of the time. Maybe he unconsciously focuses more in RISP situations, maybe the way they pitch to him changes. Maybe they can’t do the full shift with runners on base.

Regardless of why it happens, we know Ryan Howard is better at helping his team score runs than his context-neutral stats would indicate.

BIP
Guest
BIP
2 years 8 days ago

No. Not “is” better, “was” better.

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 7 days ago

Yeah, he finally fell off last year.

David
Guest
David
2 years 9 days ago

Sabermetrics don’t say that clutch isn’t a skill. They say that if clutch is a skill, our attempts at measuring consistent differences have failed so far, and for the most part we assume that every player who makes it to the ML has approximately the same clutch skill. But as we are getting better at separating inputs and outputs, we are developing a clearer picture as to league-wide clutch variation. Just as 5 years ago we thought BABiP wasn’t a skill, then we thought it was, but that we couldn’t separate the variables, and now we know (some of) why Votto and Trout have higher BABiPs than… Mark Texiera

Dave GB
Guest
Dave GB
2 years 9 days ago

I read fangraphs on a semi-regular basis and I still consider myself a “regular” fan of the game. The first thing I still look at is BA, HRs, RBI’s, K’s, ERA, and wins because, simply put, it’s more fun. Being a fan growing up in the 90’s that’s all I had and it’s more familiar, but today I appreciate websites like fangraphs, baseball prospectus and baseball reference because I also like to look beyond the tradiitonal stats. Even 20 years ago as a teenager, I knew there was more to it then 2 stats like ERA and wins because an awesome defense can make a solid pitcher look like an Ace. Now we can look deeper into it, and I think it’s great. I’m not hardcore over advanced stats, but opened my mind.
The only problem I’ve witnessed is people who are big into advanced stats can come off a pompous assholes, which usually will tend to drive the “casual” fan away from their self made clique.

arc
Guest
arc
2 years 9 days ago

People who like to argue (and argue obnoxiously) are attracted to sabermetrics the same way e.g. a bigot is attracted to the bill of rights.

I’m not disputing the fact that the reputation of sabermetrics is influenced by those who vocally represent it, but hoping you’ll observe the distinction between something that is *inherently* antagonistic or obnoxious and something which can simply be made to seem that way by antagonists.

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
2 years 9 days ago

Yeah, I think you may be giving this argument a little too much credit. I think people who are into advanced stats are generally much less obnoxious than average. I think this is a straw man that has been propped up by old school media.

arc
Guest
arc
2 years 9 days ago

That’s possible. But on any given fangraphs article with >20 comments, at least a handful tend to be obnoxious.

Then again, as I write that, I wonder how that rate I just made-up rate compares with the average sports message board.

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 9 days ago

I’d tell you to go to philly.com, boston.com, espn.com, etc., but I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.

dave in gb
Guest
dave in gb
2 years 9 days ago

Sorry, didn’t mean everybody. I remember when I first got into sabermetrics probably 7 years ago, I had never heard of stats like WAR, UZR, Park Factors ect. I forget the forum I stumbled on, Orioles Hangout I think, but when I tried arguing with BA and RBIs to whatever stats they were using to be in the conversation, the attitude was basically “you’re not in the club, go back to ESPN.” So, that’s what I meant when I said people into advanced stats can come off as pompous to the casual fan who only know traditional stats. That’s not how I feel now, like I said I appreciate and learn sabermetrics, but I still like looking at traditional stats too. Itjmakes the argument better and adds more substance behind regular stats.

RichW
Guest
RichW
2 years 8 days ago

I read/hear obnoxious comments by anti-advanced stats types all the time on sports forums, sports radio, game broadcasts pre and post game shows and commentaries. Unable to articulate a coherent argument the comments usually consist of low class geek-hate ie greasy kid living in Mom’s basement who never watches baseball.

They don’t represent “a group” anymore than some obnoxious advanced stat posters do.

Emcee Peepants
Guest
Emcee Peepants
2 years 9 days ago

I see the Sabermetrics vs. Holy Stat Trinity battle as mostly a battle of young vs. old fans. Older baseball fans are probably the most resistant to change of any sports fans out there, so of course if you challenge any stats that might disparage their childhood memories of Mickey Mantle (or probably Yaz in Ryan’s case), they’re going to throw a hissy fit. Younger fans who grew up in the age of the internet (basically anyone under 40-ish) are more open to change and new things. We are also used to looking up baseball stats online rather than opening the sports page and seeing traditional AVG-only box scores. Given how slow the game is, and how it is having trouble appealing to younger fans, you would hope MLB would encourage the use of advanced stats as a new way to get younger people interested in the game.

You would hope someone as passionate about baseball as Ryan is would recognize that, but instead he comes off sounding like Andy Rooney.

Paul Dreyfus
Guest
Paul Dreyfus
2 years 9 days ago

Bob Ryan’s comments (and others like it pertaining especially to BA, Wins, and RBIs) remind me of the story about the guy looking for his keys at night. His neighbor walks by and heads up the guy’s driveway toward his porch, where the guy is on his hands and knees. The neighbor asks him what he’s up to, and then asks him, “So where did you drop them?” The guy says, “Out by the street.” The neighbor says, “then how come you’re looking by the porch?” “Because the light is better here.”

Michael
Guest
Michael
2 years 9 days ago

Fans should be able to enjoy the game at whatever level of attention/depth they desire. Ryan speaks for a certain point of view, a sort of older, hunker down on a sunny day with a beer and a hotdog and take it all in at the park approach. Sports writers, especially older ones, then to think of themselves as curators of a certain type of golden memory chest. For Ryan, Yaz’s Triple Crown and his entire season are a living breathing thing, and the reference point for Cabrera’s Triple Crown. You can add in “Yaz had 12.4 bWar” and he couldn’t care any more about that number than what he remembers–Yaz doing the impossible almost every day. It has no more credibility to him than the new-stats argument that Jim Rice doesn’t really belong in the Hall of Fame. For baseball to succeed it needs both the “gut” fan and the stat geek.

Kevin
Guest
Kevin
2 years 9 days ago

Fans should be able to enjoy the game however they want. But we don’t need to accept all fans’ ideas about player value, etc as equal.
I know fans who love Randy Johnson cause he killed a bird that one time. And I know fans who love Randy Johnson for the way he was able to dominate into his 40s. Both fans should be happy and enjoy whatever they enjoy about Randy Johnson. Maybe we should listen to the latter fan more when we’re talking about who the best lefties ever were.

LaLoosh
Guest
2 years 9 days ago

The part about Dave being a lousy storyteller is bunk. This is a really well written piece – a terrific story, if you will.

I’ve been saying that there is a tipping point around age 50 above which people seem too rigid to accept new ideas about sports. Below that point I think there’s a much better chance of being open minded to new ideas. I’m about on that edge but have been open to new ideas about this sport for years. My biggest issue with the saber community is the de-emphasis on the specific player and that all the judgment is about “what is most likely” given the statistical profile. Players ripen and age at their own paces despite there being an average for those things for example.

I also find it almost impossible to opine on players w/o seeing them and good stat profiles alone don’t tell an entire pix.

LaLoosh
Guest
2 years 9 days ago

iow, while a firm believer in advanced metrics, I also feel like the eye test has a place at the table.

RichW
Guest
RichW
2 years 8 days ago

This could be classic stereotyping but I’d make the case that education and type of work matter more than age. Maybe it’s self serving (I’m 59) but I see little resistance to change or new ideas amongst people over 50 who work in technical fields like engineering and science or fields that use data to measure and improve performance. The resistance to this information, not just in Baseball, comes from those who don’t understand what the data means and how it should be used. In my experience this is regardless of age.

Brandon Warne
Member
Member
2 years 9 days ago

Great piece and sentiment.

Roger Daltry
Guest
Roger Daltry
2 years 9 days ago

You know what sucks…we are all gonna be jerks when we are old and our synapses are all clogged and slow and we won’t be able to understand why the new baseball stats are better than WAR and we will tell our grand-cyborgs that they don’t appreciate the game the right way.

Bill
Guest
Bill
2 years 9 days ago

No, I disagree. I and many here recognize the benefits and limitations of WAR. As long as I am still able to use reason when I’m old, I will be able to understand why the new statistic is or isn’t better. Nobody can make a reasonable argument that the “holy trinity” more accurately measure a player’s value than WAR so any reasonable old person will be able to see this. I anticipate being a reasonable old person.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
2 years 9 days ago

I doubt it, because WAR will not have been romanticized throughout our youths as RBI and Pitcher Wins was for the current generation of old-timers.

The pull of nostalgia for WAR won’t be nearly as strong. If WAR ever DOES get the same sort of penetration for young fans, they may continue the curmudgeon tradition. But by displaying your willingness to accept things like WAR into your heart despite not growing up with it, you are actually far more likely to embrace new metrics as they are discovered.

Brad
Guest
Brad
2 years 9 days ago

Ryan just doesn’t get it. The guys who write for Fangraphs love to watch baseball more than the average fan. And, so what if the way they enjoy it is different from the average fan.

BillC
Guest
BillC
2 years 9 days ago

Assuming the data is open to the public, any theories on how many seasons of data we’ll need to have improved measures of defensive performance (thanks to the new Trackman data)?

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/mlbam-announces-new-data-stream-the-future-is-almost-here/

Data like that (especially when accompanied by video) can help explain defensive skill.

Of course, I don’t really understand measures of defensive performance that are currently used on FG – so maybe asking for “improved” measurements is the wrong way to say it.

AK7007
Member
AK7007
2 years 9 days ago

Not that it has anything to do at all with the article in question – but I think trackman data will stabilize quickly. Reaction times, range, route running, etc seem like very repeatable skills. (maybe reaction time is pretty variable) It’s the end outcome that varies a lot. Then we can start looking at what happens when the fielder actually gets to the ball, (catch %?) throwing arm strength, time from glove to throw, accuracy, etc. What will take a lot of time though, is putting that data into a coherent form that is understandable, and quantifying what the run value is of each of these skills. But I think it will be a lot more reliable to say “Gomez reacts to balls in play within a quarter of a second, and is able to range 25 feet in the first second after he reacts, and 50 additional feet every second thereafter, with an average route efficiency of 90%. Once he gets to a ball in the air, he catches 97/100 of those balls.” and so on in comparison to what we do now (did he make play on ball that landed in area X – y/n?) – you can make specific player comparisons based on that, and assign value to what is actually happening.

You’ll notice that this is basically super quantified scouting, which ends up being pretty stable.

BillC
Guest
BillC
2 years 9 days ago

I think it is somewhat relevant to the article in that it’s basically the “eye test” but with measurements (and a lot bigger sample size with presumably less bias).

Basically, the advanced stats have potential to move closer and closer to what we actually watch occur on the field.

Whether or not someone chooses to believe the data tells us more meaningful things about defensive performance than gold gloves remains an open question, but the better the data inputs (radar/video over human notation) hopefully the more people are receptive.

harmony
Guest
harmony
2 years 9 days ago

One can appreciate the sun without all the years of study that goes into being a meteorologist. Nevertheless, meterology remains a valued science.

dalewilson13
Member
Member
2 years 9 days ago

The problem with the “Holy Trinity” statistics is that, far too often, they tell the wrong story. Putting value on things like pitcher wins or RBIs isn’t a choice about aesthetics or enjoyment; it’s about continually propagating myths at the expense of the truth. I think telling an accurate story is more important than telling a comfortable one, and the reality is that the numbers that are commonly used generate stories that are factually incorrect.

It is the above paragraph, and so many others like it, that has made you, Dave, one of my favorite writers for over a decade. The ability to bring clarity to complex issues is greatly appreciated. Nice work.

harmony
Guest
harmony
2 years 9 days ago

One can appreciate the sun without all the years of study that goes into being a meteorologist. Nevertheless, meteorology remains a valued science.

steex
Guest
steex
2 years 9 days ago

That doesn’t really summarize the debate at hand, though. I think virtually everyone interested in advanced metrics allows for the casual baseball fan who likes to watch the game without being bogged down in the numbers – that is the analog for someone who just enjoys the sun without worrying about the science.

However, there aren’t “old school” scientists out there still longing for the days that we could just enjoy the sun as it orbits Earth. Sure, they’d say, it may not be the most accurate, but the average beachgoer just doesn’t care what is circling what. That’s the approximate analog for Bob Ryan’s case supporting the “holy trinity” of stats.

Shaun
Guest
2 years 9 days ago

The concepts behind wOBA, WAR, FIP, etc. are more important than the stats themselves. Just learning the concepts and what goes into them helps get us away from the stats that breed false narratives, regardless of whether you care about the gory math details or whether you care about wOBA, WAR, FIP, etc. after you’ve grasped the concepts behind them.

Wally
Guest
Wally
2 years 8 days ago

That’s a very good point buried down here as the 200+th comment.

Steven
Guest
Steven
2 years 9 days ago

I still don’t understand why Bob (and others before him) feel the need to claim that sabermetric fans don’t enjoy the game of baseball. It seems like his only “supporting” evidence is that they are always complaining instead of watching the game aesthetically. That’s bull. I’m not sure if he is just trying to use an ad hominem, stating that only “true” baseball fans understand his point of view, but in any regard it’s a terrible and needless argument.

supgreg
Member
supgreg
2 years 9 days ago

The way I see it, for an overwhelming majority of Fangraphs users, like myself, the advanced stats are what we use to give us our “Holy Trinity” stats so we can do better in our fantasy baseball leagues, which also overwhelmingly use those stats still.

So, while we all like to bash win, batting average and RBI, we certainly do a lot of research to predict them.

Not Dombrowski
Guest
Not Dombrowski
2 years 9 days ago

Regarding Ryan’s claim that “statheads” deemed Cabrera “unworthy” of his MVP’s: I think this is the worst type of straw man. In historical terms, I don’t know many statistically inclined observers who would go so far as to argue Miguel Cabrera was “unworthy” of his two MVP Awards – the argument was actually that he wasn’t the *best* candidate. These are two very different claims!

As a statistically-inclined Tigers fan, even I accept that Mike Trout probably deserved at least one of Cabrera’s MVPs (and probably both). However, saying that is not the same thing as saying that Cabrera was ‘unworthy” of the awards – by any statistical metric you choose, traditional or new-school, Cabrera is a fantastic player who just put up two great years. He is not 1987 George Bell or Andre Dawson – now those were some “unworthy” MVPs.

This Mike Trout vs. Miguel Cabrera debate as a proxy for some larger battle has got to stop – they are both awesome baseball players that we should feel blessed to be able to watch perform!

Juan Gonzalez
Guest
Juan Gonzalez
2 years 9 days ago

What in the hell was wrong with Bell and Dawson winning the MVP’s???

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
2 years 9 days ago

In both 2012 and 2013, no one voting Cabrera anything but 1st or 2nd, so even those who though Trout deserved to win voted Cabrera second. That’s still extremely high praise.

triple_r
Member
Member
2 years 9 days ago

That should be “Budweiser”; aside from that, I’m slow-clapping unironically.

Dan
Guest
Dan
2 years 9 days ago

I’d suggest that the statistics that the average fan puts emphasis on are solely a reflection of the statistics that the media puts an emphasis on.

I think it’s more about the broadcasters.

All one has to do is listen carefully to what is said by the broadcasters.

It’s all about batting averages, RISP, RBI and the pitcher’s “earning” a win or “losing” despite pitching well, etc. etc. I could go on about this all day, I listen to a lot of Red Sox games on the radio and despite that we have one of the better broadcasting teams, they still drive me crazy every night with this Luddite nonsense.

nitpicker
Guest
nitpicker
2 years 9 days ago

broadcasters are part of the media

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
2 years 9 days ago

And now it’s this mind-numbing “shutdown inning” thing. It’s like someone went out of their way to invent and popularize the most useless stat imaginable.

Anon
Guest
Anon
2 years 9 days ago

About popularizing of ‘most useless stat imaginable’…

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/shutdowns-meltdowns/

sam
Guest
sam
2 years 9 days ago

Does anyone else find it pretty silly when people argue about the value or importance of advanced statistics when EVERY major league team employs some form of advanced analysis? I mean, the Phillies are at least somewhat on-board, and Oakland and Tampa Bay’s success over the past decade is more than enough proof that advanced stats have a lot more value than the ‘Holy Trinity.’ The case for sabermetrics no longer has to be made.

If you want to confine advanced stats to the front office or twitter then fine, go ahead, but know that the ‘average fan’ does not exist– for every casual fan who cares about RBI you can find fangraphers who like wOBA. I’m not sure there has to be a conflict, or that broadcasters can’t talk about both. Its a loooong game.

triple_r
Member
Member
2 years 9 days ago

Also, this whole thing reminds me of a quote from the sublime Charles P. Pierce:

I do think that my profession, journalism, went off the tracks when it accepted as axiomatic the notion that “Perception is reality.” No. Perception is perception and reality is reality, and if the former doesn’t conform to the latter, then it’s the journalist’s job to hammer and hammer the reality until the perception conforms to it.

As someone who’s looking into journalism (probably sporting-related) as a career field, this sentiment has been my guiding ligh; after reading this, I can safely conclude it’s been yours, too.

everdiso
Member
everdiso
2 years 9 days ago

Bob Ryan’s article, in shorthand: “Stats are boring and nobody cares about them, but Cabrera shoulda won the MVP because of Stats”.

Bobby
Guest
Bobby
2 years 9 days ago

He loves stats, just not your stats.

Shankbone
Guest
2 years 9 days ago

“This isn’t about replacing old numbers with new numbers, or attempting to dissuade anyone from enjoying the aesthetics of the game. It is simply about telling the average fan about the reality of what actually happened on the field.”

Fangraphs rated the Giants front office #23 in 2010 and #27 in 2012. If you are indeed going for “We should value accuracy over tradition. We should strive to tell interesting stories that are rooted in fact” you have missed the boat huge twice in 4 years, and appear to have done it again this year so far, although the rankings of organizations is gone, more than likely because of gigantic misses in the narrative with the Giants.

You can blend scouts and stats just fine. A lot of this is bluster, and looking for things to get outraged about. Ribeyes and Woba both have a place. Its too bad that narratives are built up about certain orgs, I see a lot of bias from the stat heads types towards the old school teams that cloud the analysis waters.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
2 years 9 days ago

The Giants have been one of most aggressive shifters this year. Dave also wrote about how the Giant’s contract to Lincecum indicates there must be some sort of defense-luck-independent evaluation going on there.

I don’t know how many legitimately old-school teams exist anymore. I would say that easily the majority employ some kind of advanced stats, and almost none are basing their decisions on wins and RBI.

Shankbone
Guest
2 years 9 days ago

Of course no old-school teams exist anymore. Every team has a stats section. Most have had a stats section for a long time now.

On defense, the Giants have had a proprietary video system for over FIVE years. They actively go after underutilized assets and are called “lucky” on these pages when they are successful. I see a lot of critical bias towards favorite saber pinatas such as RAJ or GMDM while others get long rope. I could pull up a dozen examples about the Rays or A’s doing something “smart” or Joe Maddon being “cutting edge” and give the exact same example from a “Old School” perceived FO and the “analysis” won’t be so rosy.

Kevin
Guest
Kevin
2 years 9 days ago

Process and results are differnt things.
Your fandom…because you are OBVIOUSLY a Giants fan…is clouding this difference.
In your comment you cherry pick numbers (2 our of 4 purposely selected yrs! Look at one team out of 30!) to cry about how unfair the Giants are being treated.
It’s cool to be a fan. And being a homer is cool, too. But have some self-awareness about that before you start calling everyone else biased against YOUR team. Because what’s more likely…lots and lots of people with different ideas and rooting interests are biased against you…or you’re the biased one?

Shankbone
Guest
2 years 9 days ago

Saber based analysis of the process was extremely flawed, was it not?

Shankbone
Guest
2 years 9 days ago

Or should we just pull up the quotes on Jack Z and the team “that’s going to win a lot of ballgames” because “its a brand new day”?

Jay
Guest
Jay
2 years 9 days ago

An example of one organization perhaps defying the sabermetric “rules” that we have come to accept and embrace on this site does not validate a homerism argument. Homerism begets homerism. When your mind is already made up before the discussion began all this data serves to do is reinforce what you were already looking for or what you were hoping to hear. Not what may actually be truth.

Shankbone
Guest
2 years 8 days ago

Jay – I used the Giants as one of the big examples of bias as well as faulty analysis on this site. I can bring others as well. “Sabermetric rules” eh? There are some interesting tools that have been unlocked. What people do with them…

BDF
Guest
2 years 9 days ago

Two things:

1. The sabrmetric narrative overstates the extent to which its discoveries were revelations. Did anyone look at Roy Face’s 18 wins in 1959 and think it meant that he was a better/more valuable pitcher than Drysdale because he only had 17? Certainly it’s been widely understood since the beginning that, all else equal, a player who walked a was better/more valuable than one who didn’t. Not that there haven’t been certain major revelations that have to change the way you look at the game (like DIPS), but to a large extent sabrmetrics’ contribution has been in defining the things it didn’t discover (Face v. Drysdale) with much greater precision.

2. The sole purpose of stats is not to say who is better/contributed more. They also tell what happened. Sure, Brandon Phillips is not a great player because he drove in all those runs, but it’s also a fact that he did drive in those runs and this affects our understanding of what happened. Again, hasn’t everyone understood since long before Bill James that there were “empty” 100 RBI seasons? Folks definitely let this descriptive aspect–the understanding of *what happened*–bleed over into the evaluative aspect, and sabrmetrics has been an incredibly useful corrective to that. But for folks interested in appreciating/understanding the game on a descriptive level (which I would think includes most of us), those old school stats are still meaningful. It’s *cool* that Roy Face went 18-1 in 1959. I want to know that even as I recognize that this was way more attributable to luck than anything else.

Shaun
Guest
2 years 9 days ago

It’s *cool* that Roy Face went 18-1 because tradition would have us view pitchers in terms of wins and losses. If we had more telling statistics from baseball’s beginnings, we probably wouldn’t look at something like how many times a pitcher pitched at least 5 innings and left with a lead (and the other definitions of wins).

The purpose of stats is to get as accurate a reflection of what happened as possible so that we can tell the story as accurately as possible. Yes, some stats, even stats that were invented before the advent of sabermetrics, are pretty good at this. But I would say other stats are artificial and are only interesting artificially.

Yes, 18-1 is what happened. But so is what a player hits on artificially turf in day games on Tuesdays. Stats should tell an accurate story, otherwise they are useless and might create false narratives or, at best, artificial narratives.

The irony of sabermetrics is that it keeps us from getting bogged down in useless stats and gets us to the real story.

BDF
Guest
2 years 9 days ago

True what you say about tradition, but that’s part of what happened, too! I’m pretty dedicated to the new school–regular Fangraphs reader, etc.–but I just can’t get the old stuff out of me. Personally, I remember looking at Bob Welch’s 27 wins as a kid in 1989 or 1990 and thinking, “I’m not sure he’s actually so great …” but not having sufficient language to articulate even to myself why I thought that. Sabrmetrics has given me that language and it enriches my experience of the sport. Major win.

Obviously, tons of other folks *can* get that old stuff out of them (or it was never in there), and that’s totally reasonable and I understand why. Totally fine, when I talk to them we’ll talk sabrmetrics. Maybe it’s idiosyncratic, but most of my baseball IRL friends are, like me, able to toggle back and forth between old and new and enjoy both ways of discussing.

And wins is not an ideal example of the point I was making. Wins are much more constructed than RBIs. There’s a much more limited sense in which a win is “what happened” than there is in which RBIs are “what happened.”

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 9 days ago

Well, the writers of 1959 looked at Early Wynn’s 22 wins and thought it meant that he was more valuable than Face, Drysdale, Bob Shaw and Sam Jones, so I’d say that’s a conclusive yes.

BDF
Guest
2 years 9 days ago

Yeah, maybe you’re right. Maybe I’m in a bit of denial about how gospel-y wins were/are.

Fred
Guest
Fred
2 years 9 days ago

I just think the date is worth circling on the calendar because I think this is the most humility and grace that Dave has ever shown in a baseball-related article or comment.

Bobby
Guest
Bobby
2 years 9 days ago

If it wasn’t for the number of casual fans caring only about the “holy trinity”, then the MLB would be the equivalent of the MLS and everyone would think you statheads are even weirder than they already do.

Satoshi Nakamoto
Guest
Satoshi Nakamoto
2 years 9 days ago

You can’t handle the truth.

Richard Sherman
Guest
Richard Sherman
2 years 9 days ago

Bob Ryan>Jerry Sandusky

Richard Feynman
Guest
Richard Feynman
2 years 9 days ago

I have a friend who’s an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don’t agree with very well. He’ll hold up a flower and say “look how beautiful it is,” and I’ll agree. Then he says “I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing,” and I think that he’s kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe. Although I may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is … I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it’s not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there’s also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
2 years 9 days ago

I’ve heard this type of argument many times in the context of Creation vs. Evolution.

Creationist: “You believe that our world is nothing but a random accident. Without the design or intention of a divine Creator, the universe becomes a series of meaningless reactions, instead of a work of art of a perfect mind.”

I’ve never understood this viewpoint. Anyone with even a casual interest in science surely has been repeatedly left in awe of the discoveries we have made, without ever having to consider how the phenomenon originated.

BIP
Guest
BIP
2 years 9 days ago

The creationist is not not saying that evolutionists can’t perceive beauty, but rather that they can’t perceive purpose or meaning (since they explicitly deny those things), which has siginificant philosophical consequences, particularly for morality.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
2 years 6 days ago

No. I believe in evolution. I also believe my life has purpose and meaning.

Maddog
Guest
Maddog
2 years 9 days ago

Hey, you beat me to it, Feynman!

Pete
Guest
Pete
2 years 9 days ago

This is great. I agree 100% – the idea that the stats of old are somehow any less statistical than the new ones is ridiculous. If you were going by the “eye test,” you might think Willy Mo Pena was one of the best power hitters in the game, and yet I can’t recall anybody making that claim.

KCDaveInLA
Guest
KCDaveInLA
2 years 9 days ago

I have to admit, that before Fangraphs, I was a baseball Applebee’s diner. But at some point, I had to ask: if a team has several players who get lots of RBI’s or pitcher wins, why doesn’t said team make the playoffs every year? It would take me quite a while to calculate a player’s WAR or even accurately explain what wOBA is without first looking it up, but if nothing else, sabermetrics taught me that there is way more out there to explain baseball success and failure than the old Topps baseball card stats. Many of the old guys just don’t get that yet.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
2 years 9 days ago

A good storyteller doesn’t need tables, graphs, or charts; I need those because I’m not a very good storyteller.

I don’t believe this at all. There are certainly some baseball stories that don’t require numbers. If a pitcher is changing his approach, then it is interesting to read about it even without numbers to back it up. However, most of the people who read this site would probably rather see that same article with the numbers that are relevant: what PitchFX sees as the difference in his repertoire, and how it has impacted his performance.

Numbers may provide seemingly redundant information in some cases. Maybe an article says that Pitcher A has changed his curveball grip to try to get on top of the ball more. Another article might point out that Pitcher A used to average 6 inches of drop on his curve, and he now averages 8. I know I’m not alone in saying I like to know both pieces. I like to know the point, and I also like to see the boring numbers that lead to that conclusion.

This may even hold for casual fans. Casual fans throw out stats all the time in conversation. Many of them love to look up wins an batting average and streaks and so on. The difference between us and them is not level of interest but rather a fundamental understanding of what statistics are.

chief00
Guest
chief00
2 years 9 days ago

Based on your comment above, I don’t think we’re on the same “wavelength” but bear with me if you will. I’m a pastor and, therefore, a public speaker. (I also did radio sports, but that’s another story for another time.) There are lots of parallels between what I do and what Dave does, especially in that we relate stories to people. If I share the underlying Hebrew/Greek/Latin/linguistic/grammatico-historical analysis during a sermon, losing the audience is relatively easy.

There are times, however, when a certain Hebrew or Greek word or turn of phrase that may have been out of use for thousands of years brings understanding. Generally I try not to use the sermonic equivalent of “tables, graphs or charts”, per se, but sometimes they’re invaluable.

What I’m saying, I guess, is that I agree with Dave in that these things can bog down a story unnecessarily. There are too many details that many people don’t want to hear or don’t understand. This is a good way to lose an audience. It’s the storytelling counterpart to the lonely tree falling in the forest.

Kevin
Guest
Kevin
2 years 9 days ago

I disagree. This may be a function of our professions (I work in the social sciences), but I actual find that I, and audiences for whom I have published, become MORE involved in a story when there are numbers and tables and figures and stuff involved. The reason is simple: it forces the reader to bring my/his/her intelligence to bear, essentially roping us into becoming a part of the story. We get to play the role of critic or investigator, determining for ourselves if the evidence presented by the author supports his claims or not. We from nuerology research that memories tend to be encoded more… thoroughly (massive oversimplification, but still) when the individual is invested in what he or she is doing. Therefore, when Dave or any other author here gives us a table or presents their evidence, they are inviting us to not just listen to a story, but take an active role in it, and by extension, increasing its memorability. That, I think, is the measure of a storyteller.

Nick
Guest
Nick
2 years 9 days ago

I agree that Bob Ryan deserves some respect but I don’t see anything in this piece the merits a response. It’s the same anti-intellectual nonsense we’ve heard a billion times over stated more politely.

Nick
Guest
Nick
2 years 9 days ago

However I will say, though there are certain aspects of it that are niche, that fact that Clayton Kershaw averages like 14 wins a year and is now the highest paid player of all time is not niche. That’s something casual fans and people like Bob Ryan have to notice and reconcile somehow, because they know he’s the best pitcher in baseball.

YankeeGM
Member
YankeeGM
2 years 9 days ago

How you found the inner strength not to string together the words “lazy sanctimonious dolt” is beyond me…but nice job!

RMR
Guest
2 years 9 days ago

I think the comparison with other industries and their consumer’s is a gold mine. Bob Ryan wants us to go on thinking that Apple-bees provides the best of what restaurants have to offer. He is sports equivalent of a food critic raised on Kraft mac & cheese, tuna noodle casserole and sloppy joes who has little interest in ever going to a fancy restaurant because he doesn’t see the “casual diner” there and sees the white tablecloth and nicer clothes as evidence that the restaurant must be full of people who just care about money and what to be seen.

He doesn’t even attempt to address the question of the value of the content on its merits. And it’s because he can’t. It’s because he came of age in an era where being a good sportswriter didn’t require a sophisticated understanding of the game. An age where he was the conduit by which the audience got its information. And to suggest that the audience can get better information without him is to suggest he ceases to provide value to the casual fan.

As Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

Richard
Guest
Richard
2 years 9 days ago

Very many if not most of those folks at the ballpark have IRA’s, 401K’s, College funds, 2nd mortgages etc. Saying that simply appreciate the old stats and wouldn’t welcome a deeper analysis of why the game works would akin to saying they would be happy with just interest bearing bank accounts

Frank
Guest
2 years 9 days ago

Both an overwhelming argument to quit using FIP, and also an excellent article.

KK-Swizzle
Guest
KK-Swizzle
2 years 9 days ago

When used improperly, FIP can mislead people into constructing false narratives. But it is actually less misleading than ERA, its old-school counterpart, since it is less team-dependent.

James
Guest
James
2 years 9 days ago

How do we use these WINS????

They exist but we sure don’t want them near us. All this packaging and trash they leave behind. You have to do so much explaining for your wins and at the end of the day they just don’t hold their value. They continue to pile up, yet nobody wants to look at them anymore. If you look you have to tell the story, and it can be a long and arduous task to tell this story.

“Well Mark Buehrle currently is tied for the American Leauge lead in Wins with 7, do you think he has a shot at the CY Young award this year Terry?”

“I’m sorry folks Terry has run from the building. It looks like he just didn’t have enough time to tell the story. He’s worried about his lungs folks.”

If Terry was a writer his wrists would be running as well. All that extra time dedicated to the “story of the win”. Children are required to gather around whenever the existence of a Pitcher Win appears.

“You see, Mark Buehrle has had a very nice start to the season. Runs aren’t scoring when he’s on the mound, and the bats and bullpen have been backing him up to help him earn 7 early wins.”

What a ho-hum story. Not sexy at all where are those juicy numbers we all like to see from the GOOD pitchers. The ones with the dangling K’s and the sparkling WHIPS. We get it, a lot has to happen correctly for that win to come flying in on a white horse to make the day for the beloved pitcher. Otherwise he won’t be NEARLY as cool as the dude rocking two more W’s (dubs) on his sleeve.

Wins are helmet stickers. Wins are special patches the high school football team sews on their jackets to celebrate that time they all high-fived after that one big play. If I was a pitcher, I would want the win. I would want as many wins as I could. If the way statistics were presented in media and print were to change and the win was completely eliminated, and I was still that same pitcher I was just talking about, I’d still track wins. In fact I’d make it a MUCH harder stat to accumulate. CG?->SO?->W would be how I calculate a win. Start from left to right and if the answer is yes keep moving right. THAT’S A WIN.

I think we should do our best to understand that some stats exist solely for the players themselves to hold urinating contests. If I was a player for a major league team, I would try as hard as I could do drive in that runner on base while I’m up. I’m sure all of us would. If I did it, I’d sure want that stat next to my name. I’d try to drive in the most runs for my team, and even though I know it is a statistic based on opportunity/circumstance and not my true abilities themselves, I’d still want to have the most. We should let these players WANT to have the most of a stat like that. Miguel Cabrera and his triple crown is a nice achievement he can use to lord over the rest of the league. “Look how many more numbers I was able to accumulate based on the opportunity that was presented as well as the circumstances leading to that opportunity!” is how I’d say it if I were Miggy. “I DID IT MORE THAN YOU”

I think it lights a fire under the players and I see these stats as something the players themselves value more than us. Personally, I’ll start with a triple slash line and then go from there based on what I want to see. For players that’s cool and all, but they want those shiny WINS, the glistening RBIs. They still are a measure of accomplishment, it’s just much more fun for a player to tell the story than the media.

Great article Dave, love your work!

Terry
Guest
Terry
2 years 9 days ago

I’m failing to see where the “holy trinity” isn’t the truth. It’s not really detailed, and definitely doesn’t tell the story as well as FIP, WAR, etc.

But to say that it’s not the truth or that it doesn’t tell the story truthfully seems a little far-fetched. Batting average is truthfully the percentage of at bats in which a player gets a base hit, that’s not a false telling of the story, it’s just an incredibly undetailed one, and even though we know OPS is a much more useful statistic as far actually evaluating a player’s value, it would shock me if you found that batting average and OPS weren’t correlated. Obviously some people with a lower average may have a higher OBP or slugging than somebody with a high average, but it would also seem that a person with a higher average is more likely to have both a high OBP and a high slugging, and therefore a higher OPS. So who’s likely to be the better hitter? The guy hitting .300 or the guy batting .127?

To go with that, who is more likely to have more wins? A pitcher with a low ERA, or a high one? And who’s more likely to have a lower ERA? A pitcher with a low FIP, or a high one? Sure there are exceptions and there are people who are close enough in ERA that one may actually have a better FIP than the other, but you still get a good picture of whether that pitcher is performing well. Who’s more than likely the better pitcher? The 20 game winner, or the 5-17 guy? Even more to the point, who’s more likely a better a pitcher? A guy with a 1.67 ERA or a guy with a 4.50 ERA?

Sure, average, ERA, RBIs, wins, etc. aren’t the most descriptive stats, but they do tell you a truthful story, and they do usually give a good indication of how valuable a player is, especially for the casual fan.

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 9 days ago

Who’s better the guy who went 8-14 or the guy who went 15-12? Who’s better, the guy who went 11-13 or the one who went 16-7?

Sabretorres21
Member
Member
2 years 9 days ago

I had originally planned to attack Bob Ryan on my blog, but this article has done a far better job than I ever could. Dave, I commend you on your maturity and professionalism in responding to Ryan. I believe in holding bad baseball journalism accountable. That being said, there’s a right and wrong way to do it. As a scientist, it drives me crazy when writers and analysts bash sabermetrics and try to resist any advancement in our knowledge of baseball. As a result, I fear that I tend to venture in the wrong way of responding to these types on my baseball blog. Nobody reads my blog, so it’s not a big deal, but seeing how well written this article is, not to mention the proper tone it sets, will hopefully help me to respond the same way in the future. I’m sure I won’t do it perfectly, especially at first. I’m still trying to find my voice as an amateur baseball writer, if that makes any sense.

I’ve always criticized the media for distorting facts to serve their narrative. An interesting point I thought you made was about fans following the stats that the media tells them to. I never thought of that and it sounds very reasonable.

Thanks for the great article, Dave. It has given me a lot to think about.

Fergie348
Guest
Fergie348
2 years 9 days ago

Well, sure. Of course people will gravitate toward the familiar to craft a narrative and tell a story, that’s human nature. What is not addressed and likely never will be is that people crave a simple story.

WAR seems simple enough until you dig under the covers and find out how complex it really is. RBI’s, batting average and pitcher wins are pretty simple, ERA a bit less so.

I was thinking about this the other day when I was at the ballpark and there were essentially three slots for batters. If the provided statistics weren’t meaningful to me, what would I prefer in those three slots? I’m not sure I came up with a compelling answer for myself, but I know those slots aren’t likely to get more numerous. What would you use?

Tyler
Guest
Tyler
2 years 9 days ago

Well put, I wouldn’t have been able to maintain such a high degree of civility, as I genuinely think Bob Ryan is a buffoon.

pft
Guest
pft
2 years 9 days ago

I like the old stats and some of the newer stats. In the real world I learned to value most real numbers. By real numbers I mean numbers derived from reality and not estimated numbers or adjusted numbers which use a number of untested assumptions which can not be validated or checked against a known true value.

As much as I enjoy looking at and pondering stats like WAR (many different versions with wildly different results, defensive metrics (UZR, DRS, Total Zone all having different numbers for the same players) and the various run estimators (BSR, RC) and rate stats based on LWTS (wOBA), and then you have RE, WPA for context, and BABIP, and of course stats like FIP and xFIP which assume pitchers have no control over BABIP or HR/FB, and the various park adjustments for many of these stats which are ridiculous to their extremes in assuming all hitters (pitchers) will get the same benefit or detriment from a given park regardless of handedness, hit charts and batted ball profiles; none of them deserve to be trusted anymore than RBI’s do.

Say what you will about RBI’s, ERA, etc. These are real numbers. If a player gets an RBI, a run actually scored. Not a theoretical run, a real run that changed the scoreboard. Obviously, people can read too much into some of these numbers, and some of the modern stats do help provide some clarity, but these were the numbers players were told for much of baseballs history were important. Players like Jim Rice did not get paid for OBP, he got paid for HR and RBI. Who knows what kind of hitter he would have been if told he would make more money putting up a higher OBP. Ted Williams felt BA was more important so would not swing at balls he could not hit hard, even if he had to sacrifice RBI’s. He got booed for it. But it was not OBP he was looking to increase it was his BA (and he wsa the last one to hot over 400)

Losing touch with the old stats comes at a great cost, losing a big part of the history of the game.

When told a player had 6 RBI’s, most people will know that player had a great game and probably his team won. If someone tells you a pitcher had a 3.00 FIP in a game , or a hitter had 2 RC in a game, would that tell you anything more?

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
2 years 6 days ago

“Say what you will about RBI’s, ERA, etc. These are real numbers.”

What? wOBA, wRC+, WAR are also “real numbers”. It’s just that some have been highlighted in the mainstream baseball media for so long (W, ERA, RBI) that we have become comfortable with them even though they may be badly flawed, telling an incomplete story or failing to provide proper context for an event. But we’ve grown accustomed to them, even if they’re not the best.

The newer metrics have less of a tradition of being seen in print or heard from baseball broadcasters, but they attempt to put us closer to the full context of what happened and who should be credited for it. Are they perfect? No. Are they improvements? Vastly. Don’t be scared of them. Don’t hate that they’re new and better. Join us. :)

Of course anyone can recognize that a 6 RBI game is a good game.

GradSchoolDebt
Guest
GradSchoolDebt
2 years 9 days ago

Simple test of the competing hypotheses here (Ryan H: Casual fans only care about stats which speak intuitively to their enjoyment) vs (Cameron H: Casual fans concern with stats are shaped by broadcasters) is WHIP. Do my friends who don’t care about Fantasy baseball or advanced stats use the stat? Yep- Whip it, whip it good.

Nick
Guest
Nick
2 years 9 days ago

Bob Ryan doesn’t watch games that don’t involve the Red Sox, that’s the great thing there. I guarantee every writer at Fangraphs is a bigger baseball fan than he is, and I’m just talking on a pure enjoyment level.

Kris
Guest
Kris
2 years 9 days ago

I think this might be the best article you’ve written, Dave

Quetzalcuddyer
Guest
Quetzalcuddyer
2 years 9 days ago

I don’t even think it’s really a stretch to suggest people value the standard stats because the media tells them. What’s worse about this is that baseball broadcasters are generally the main source of one’s information about the game and these guys are usually employed by the team they are covering. You won’t ever hear them criticize a player.

I am always having to have conversations with fans who say things like “Michael Kay thinks Andy Pettitte is a hall of famer” like this is some authoritative, objective source on a subject. I’m at the point where I don’t feel that traditional baseball writers or broadcasters, as a whole, are really just advanced traditional fans who only value the unelightened stats and analysis.

Stats don't lie
Guest
Stats don't lie
2 years 9 days ago

Stats don’t lie. But people do misinterpret them. Some fangraphs writers are just as dumb as Ryan because they use advanced stats without comment or question in the same way that traditional writers use RBIs etc without coment or question. Baseball seems to have more luck in it than most other sports, and the best writers acknowledge this by writing nuanced stories that highlight a statistical trend using appropriate stats while accepting the possibity of counter-narratives. Fangraphs authors sometimes seem to use advanced stats as if they are magic wands that allow users to see the hidden Truth about performance when these advanced stats are usually just minor incremental upgrades over more traditional stats and prone to measurement error and all kinds of messiness that afflict all statistical models of complex phenomena.

Ernie14
Member
Ernie14
2 years 8 days ago

I’m 65 years old and been a baseball fan since I was old enough to read the back of a baseball card. I’ve been reading BIll James since the inaugural “Abstract” and read FanGraphs every day. I follow other sports, but not like the year-round devotion I have to baseball. I think the notion that the “average fan” is being led around by the nose by the “mainstream” baseball media is misguided. You need to give the average fan more credit. We can make up our own minds about baseball numbers. People relate to the game in different ways. These debates remind me of Fox News vs. MSNBC. To the extremists on both “sides” of these baseball arguments, respectfully, get over yourselves.

grassyjones
Guest
grassyjones
2 years 8 days ago

How could Home Runs not be part of the casual fan’s Holy Trinity? It’s like the only thing they care about. Does any other stat get it’s own Derby?
Plus, Chicks dig the longball, in case anyone has forgotten.

JasonBVT
Guest
JasonBVT
2 years 8 days ago

My two cents on this:
Perhaps stats like AVG/OBP/SLG are revered because it’s easy to compare your favorite player historically. You can look back in time and say “Babe Ruth hit X/Y/Z and my favorite player is hitting (X-0.5)/(Y-.05)/(Z-.2). Oh… sad face.”
As the article states; I’m here because I love baseball more than most and want to dig into it deeper than most, but sometimes advanced statistics don’t pass the smell test. Perhaps that’s what turns people off from them sometimes. For example: like most people my age, mid-90s Ken Griffey Jr. is the definition of “greatest player ever”, but when I decide to look at his WAR numbers I see that Mike Trout already has 2 seasons more valuable than anything Griffey did???? Trout is awesome and all, but that doesn’t pass the smell test.
So I decided to convert Trout’s 2013 (wOBA 0.423) to 1996 numbers: new wOBA = 0.414. And Griffey Jr.’s 1996 to 2013 (wOBA 0.423): 0.428.

Yes, I get that IN COMPARISON with the CURRENT STATE OF THE LEAGUE Trout’s value is greater, but it takes me delving into mathematics and looking up conversion factors to explain that to anyone else. But, my dad can look at their raw stats and say “Griffey clearly outperformed Trout”.

Maybe, it’s not so much that the Media is pushing the triple slash, but that advanced stats don’t easily compare throughout history.

Ian A.
Member
2 years 8 days ago

Butthead: “I hate numbers!”
Bevis: “Yeah! Yeah! There’s like… too many of ’em.”

Craig Hennen
Guest
Craig Hennen
2 years 8 days ago

With all due respect for your history of fine insights, writing ability, and incredible body of work, I think you’re missing something fundamental, Dave.

I don’t think the old-time Chadwick stats were designed just to measure a player’s “eye test,” they were designed to measure results that fans were interested in learning, and that fans and writers were interested in promoting and encouraging.

Yes, a walk is worth 80% of a hit, but it is much duller entertainment than a hit. That is the reason walks were deemed a wash to the hitter.

So many players now look at first pitch strikes and concentrate on working counts, how can average fans not complain that this has something to do with longer, duller games – or the Tommy John epidemic?

Yes, runs batted in have an element of luck or whatever, but would you rather watch your .300 hitter put a fat strike in play with RISP, or work the count until he can walk and hope Josh Willingham or Trevor Plouffe comes through?

As I heard Tim Kurkjian say, the list of career RBI leaders is a pretty nice list of players.

cokane
Guest
cokane
2 years 8 days ago

So is the list of career BB leaders

RichW
Guest
RichW
2 years 8 days ago

And so is the list of career WAR players. Just my opinion but it looks more representative than the RBI list.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
2 years 6 days ago

“As I heard Tim Kurkjian say, the list of career RBI leaders is a pretty nice list of players.”

Obviously. People play long enough to accrue that many RBI because they are good hitters. If you’re a -0.2 WAR, 46 wRC+ bum, you probably won’t get a chance to get 10,000 plate appearances.

RichW
Member
RichW
2 years 8 days ago

Oh Oh, Ryan is going off on a rant right now on the Fan 590 in Toronto!

Hamranhansenhansen
Guest
Hamranhansenhansen
2 years 8 days ago

I agree we need editorial — numbers are not everything. But numbers are interesting to most people if they are not overused. We are a data-driven society more than ever, today. I think we do need to modernize the ones we see on broadcasts now that, for example, on-base percentage and slugging have gained so much respect and batting average has lost so much respect.

For hitters, as the primary statistic, I think batting average should be replaced by OPS (On-base Plus Slugging) because it tells you the bases the hitter conquered via walks, singles, and extra base hits, and is a better way to compare a hitter’s productivity than batting average. OPS is batting average “plus.” It tells a much more complete and interesting story: how much you got on base, and how much power you displayed to get you to extra bases. Home runs and RBI’s should stay as a complement because home runs and RBI’s are exciting events and are easy to understand for all fans. And 20, 30, 40, 50 home runs and 100 RBI’s are great milestones.

I would also like to see won-loss records for players more prominently displayed. Some players, their team is 75 and 50 with them and 10 and 27 without them. Look at Angel Pagan (Giants) or Hanley Ramirez (Dodgers) in 2013 — with them, their teams were winning teams, but when they were injured, their teams were losing teams. In spite of being very talented teams.

For pitchers, Wins are limited now by pitch count. Wins happen in the late innings that a starter never gets to. If pitchers really need to stop at 100 pitches, maybe MLB games should be 7 innings, like in the minors. That would shorten them also, which is what many fans want. Otherwise, we should show the team’s won-loss record when a pitcher starts and goes 5+ innings as the pitcher’s record. If you start 30 games and your team was 20 and 10, you put your team in a position to win a lot, and your record for that year should be 20 and 10. For relievers, you could show Holds and Saves but no won-loss record. Maybe add Comebacks to recognize when a bullpen gets a losing game and turns it into a winner. ERA still works for pitchers as a shorthand for how well they are pitching. For example, Tim Hudson of the Giants is having an awesome year and his ERA has been 2 or under all year. It matches what we have seen on the field. Same for Affeldt, Machi, and Casilla in the Giants bullpen: under 2 or under 1 all year.

Of course Miguel Cabrara wins MVP for 1) the Triple Crown, and 2) for leading his team to the playoffs. This question is a great litmus test. Those who think that Mike Trout running up a tiny edge in some personal statistics — when personal statistics were all that he had to do on a losing team — means he gets MVP are just showing that they can’t interpret the statistics rationally, that they are just robotically comparing numbers and ignoring context. Even with the stress and burden of a playoff run, Cabrara out-hit, out-homered, and out-RBI’d his entire league. He performed under pressure. Mike Trout had no such burden — his season was 100% about Mike Trout’s numbers. He is a great player, but maybe if he was traded mid-season to a playoff contender, his season collapses. We don’t know. His season did not include that test. Maybe in the future, new numbers will be invented that show that difference and prove even to number junkies that Cabrera deserved the MVP. But stripping the context from those 2 player’s seasons to satisfy a numbers fixation removes a key component of the MVP award.

I also think that WAR (Wins Above Replacement) needs a new name if it is standardized. It’s inappropriate to actual war and its victims and veterans, and doesn’t explain itself well. It could be AWE (Added Wins Estimate) or many other things.

And while we are modernizing statistics, the Indians and Braves need to have their trademarks revoked by the FTC (slurs cannot be trademarked today) and go back to their original names — Cleveland Spiders and Atlanta Bees — or come up with new names. They are a blight on baseball right now. Cultural imperialism has no place in baseball, especially as it expands internationally. Chief Wahoo and the Tomahawk Chop are abominations. It needs to stop before it is one of these teams turns to start the season in another country. It needs to stop right now.

Wally
Guest
Wally
2 years 7 days ago

Where the heck did the Indians/Braves thing come from? And in what world are the words Indians and Braves actually objectively defined as slurs? Yankee is still used as slur today, and certainly has plenty of history as such, I suppose we should change the name of that team in NY too? Maybe you have a point with Chief Wahoo, which is a caricature of a particular race, rather than just a term describing a race that may or may not be derogatory in intention. And heck, a Brave is a Native American warrior, how is that necessarily a slur? I suppose Mariners is a slur against all people that take boats on the sea? Athletics is a slur against all athletes? Giants a slur against all big people? Twins a slur against all people carried in the same whom at the same time as one other sibling? Padres a slur against all spanish speaking priests? Just because something is named after a group of people, that makes it a slur?

And jesus christ, we can’t use WAR as an acronym because it sounds the same as war?

Some people are a bit sensitive and I suppose would like everyone else to live in the same world made of glass as them…. no thanks.

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