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On Sabermetric Rhetoric

Dear FanGraphs community,

This isn’t a post about baseball, per se, but rather about the way we talk about it. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to improve the quality of dialogue surrounding sabermetrics. Please excuse my rambling, as I tend to get rather emotional and philosophical when discussing this particular topic.

When reading posts and especially comments, I sometimes get the sense that we think we are right merely due to the fact that statistics are objective. In a sense, this is true. As long as the methodology is clearly laid out, stats really are just numbers. But people are biased. All language is persuasive in some sense, and the inherent neutrality of numbers is often hijacked by various human agendas. Sabermetrics are not exempt from this phenomenon.

Most modern discourse surrounding baseball analysis pits “old-school” vs. “new-school” in a largely arbitrary ideological cage fight. These sorts of polemical constructs make for good television, but slow progress. Its easy to get caught up in the excitement of a debate while completely missing out on what really matters. Baseball is a beautiful game and it brings people together. It’s America’s pastime for a reason! It transcends cultural differences, generation gaps, and even language itself.

Statistics help us to understand and evaluate how well this great game is being played. They act as a mental “handle” by which we can intellectually grasp the importance of each individual event and performance. Everyone, regardless of their stance on sabermetrics, wants statistics that are both intuitive and accurate. So let’s set aside our agendas for a minute and think about how to proactively bridge the gap between these two sides that have so much to offer!

For starters, we should minimize our implementation of hostile methodologies. Getting on a soapbox and proclaiming the evils of traditionalism simply doesn’t do anybody any good. It feeds our pride, as well as the opposition’s presumption that we care more about our statistics than we do about, you know, actual baseball. Over the last few years, I’ve begun to think of myself more as a teacher of sabermetrics than a defender of them. This approach has two important ramifications.

First, it dictates that we get along with those who disagree with us. In my experience, people are only open to new information in the context of a trusting relationship. As fellow baseball fanatics, we have an easy point of contact with traditionalists: we both like baseball. Duh! Focus on that first rather than stuffing a lecture on DIPS theory down their throats.

Second, a teaching disposition encourages us to refine and adapt our communication of sabermetric concepts. Next time you want to call someone a nincompoop on a message board, first ask yourself, “What could I have done to explain this idea more clearly.” Chances are, the person isn’t stupid, just unenlightened and/or overly argumentative. Over my next few posts, I’ll get into the nitty-gritty of how we might make this happen.

Contrary to popular belief, numbers aren’t evil. Baseball statistics in particular have come a long way toward being less deceptive. Let’s represent them well, shall we?

Sincerely yours,