Taking Sabermetrics to the Streets


A simple request this weekend begat a nerdgasm: Maury Brown asked for favorite concert on twitter, and just a little listicle tickling jarred something loose.

It wasn’t so much the particulars of the list. I’ve liked a lot of bands, and in my case, it was as easy as picking the best of each genre. Phish played from before midnight till dawn of 2001 in the swamps in Florida, that was pretty amazing. One of the hipster halloween shows — Flaming Lips in London or Fischerspooner in New York — had to be there, although since I was a perfect Kenny G in New York, I suppose that’s the pick. Arthur Lee and Love got the ‘orchestral arrangement’ pick. Amon Tobin’s ISAM got the electronica pick, even if Goldie at The End in London was epic. Burning Spear with 500 people on the beach in Negril got the reggae bid. The Meters at the Fillmore for funk. Goldfinger and Reel Big Fish together in some category or another, even if Less Than Jake’s spiderman dude makes for a lot of fun. Ratatat at Terminal Five has to register.

When I got to the hip hop entry, the saber side of me began to percolate.

Again, number one was pretty easy. I saw Mos Def and Talib Kweli perform as Black Star not long after their legendary album dropped. It was a small venue, and I had easy access to the bar, and as many Long Island Ice Teas as my young, fresh liver could handle. Decent sound system, and I was feet away from Mos in a zoot suit. And their music has never reached that same apex again since, so there’s a fair amount of nostalgia figured in.

But number two on that list? Either Kool Keith or Snoop Dogg, and the two couldn’t be more different. Keith played in Santa Cruz at the Catalyst, which was weird enough, until he yelled CHICKEN BREAK and threw drumsticks at us. He played everything from Sex Style to Dr. Octagon, and generally cared enough — this is an issue with him — to make it a great show. Snoop? It was a big show in a big venue with big lights and big performances. At one point, him and Dre did Let Me Ride… while driving an Impala on stage, hitting switches.

How do you compare those two?

Now you’re getting it, right? You’d have to extract the core of the performance away from it’s context, and we know from baseball that’s incredibly tough. What did you have for dinner before? Were you on good terms with the people that attended that concert with you? What was going on in your scholastic or work life at the time? What was the weather like?

These are uncontrollable aspects of the experience that seem unfair to put on the concert itself. The Shins didn’t care that I had a flu, even if they were playing a tiny venue in Paris and I really really really wanted to have a ball. Lee Scratch Perry didn’t care that I was passing out from exhaustion after a strenuous finals week.

And that’s just taking the context out. To really nail the rankings, you’d want to weight the different aspects of the show correctly. The artist himself should get the most weight, cause you’ll trek to those huge, crowded, messy, stinky festival shows for Radiohead, or I will at least, and you might even like it despite all the other crap going on. Then you’d have to find empirical weights for sound system, size of venue, accessibility to the bar, quality of beverage/nourishment, nastiness of the toilets… all that stuff. Because it matters, and it’s inherent to the show itself — you can’t take a bad sound system out of the show’s score, it’s not just a ducksnort/BABIP situation, it’s real — and if you really want to split hairs between shows, this is what you might do. Something like this:

Best Shows, Hip Hop wART+ wVEN+ wCONC+ wCRWD+ wSOUN+ overall
Black Star at the Justice League, SF, 1999 158 131 143 126 101 131.8
Kool Keith at the Catalyst, SC, 2000 149 111 118 119 113 122
Snoop Dogg at the Shark Tank, SJ, 2000 133 95 91 109 119 109.4

Of course, then you’ve just ranked all YOUR own shows, which already happened, and nobody really cares. Could you find a way to make this universal to venues or artists? Then you might have a FanGraphs of a different flavor.

Next up: beer.

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With a phone full of pictures of pitchers’ fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A’s or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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Arcade Fire at Summerstage when Bowie came out and played with them….

I think there would have to be a factor in there for catching a band on the rise as well, being on something before it went big….


I saw arcade fire when they were just arcade moderate increase in warmth