I’ve recently been irked by this article at The Barnstormer by Mike Spry, which seems to hold that fans who are “into advanced stats” can’t appreciate the abstract beauty of the game, or that such fans are unable to participate in true, scintillating arguments about baseball topics. It’s a tired argument that shouldn’t need to be refuted again. Even if there are such closed-minded “statheads,” if you don’t like them, don’t read their blogs, don’t engage them. There are enough baseball fans and websites that there should be conversation and internets enough for everyone. While there are plenty examples of statistically-minded baseball fans making fun of those who eschew advanced stats, I think we’d be hard-pressed to find a stat-fan who’d say that stat-haters are not fans at all, which seems to be something that is often argued or at least heavily implied in the other direction.
A player like Liván Hernández is, for me, one of so many examples of how looking at the stats can lead to fun and productive arguments. His stats can create any number of narratives, any number of discussions about the usefulness of stats, where they still fall short, etc. They can lead us to consider — in conversations with palpable friends over analog beer and under the analog sky — about the value of an innings eater, what makes an average player, what sorts of teams would most benefit from a guy like Liván this season — the list approaches infinity. Any of these would be a fun conversations to have, with real room for dialog and insight. I know that I have had many such exchanges with friends, and if there’s a “stathead” who hasn’t had the same, I truly feel sorry for him/her, but I suspect that such specimens are few and far between.
Whether you’re already starting to petrify in front of your basement-computer or need to have your MLB-video-archive-cherry popped, please join me now in celebrating a pinnacle in the career of Liván Hernández, one of MLB’s “lesser freaks” of the late ’90s and early ’00s: his record-setting 15-strikeout game in the 1997 NLCS against the Atlanta Braves. (Video after jump.)
Liván’s fastball never averaged more than 85 MPH in any season, but he threw five different pitches with regularity. He rarely “pounded the zone” more than the average pitcher (per Zone%), but somehow he walked fewer batters than the average pitcher and frequently kept the ball in the park better than the average pitcher (though not park adjusted) despite less than stellar GB%. He’s a great example of how stats sort of can but also can’t explain the success, failure, or, in this case, the very thorough averageness of certain ball players.
Hey, Mike Spry, if you’re ever in Milwaukee, let’s get together and celebrate/discuss this. I’ll buy.