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Old people (like me) and sabermetrics

Feb 22, 2010, 3:10 PM EDT

My friend Russ Smith, late of the Mugger column in the New York Press and currently the proprietor of Splice Today, is a big baseball fan. A fairly traditional one, however, as he doesn’t get too hung up on stats and sabermetrics and stuff. His teenage son, however and it has led to some communications problems between father and son.

Given that I’m a little older and a little more liberal arts-inclined than most Internet baseball writers, Russ asked me my thoughts on stats and stuff. So I gave them to him, blockquoted near the bottom. If you care about such things — and based on some pointed comments in recent weeks, some of you do — it’s probably the closest I’ve ever come to explaining how stats and I get along.

  1. Old Gator - Feb 22, 2010 at 3:24 PM

    I wouldn’t mind if my daughter slept with a stat – but I wouldn’t want her to marry one.

  2. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - Feb 22, 2010 at 3:33 PM

    Good article Craig, and it’s nice to finally read someone who, while they may not understand the new “fangled” stats, doesn’t resort to the tired cliche that guys like Heyman/Hat Guy/Richard Justice/etc use (ha mom’s basement!).
    Those in the stats camp don’t mind if people don’t understand the latest stuff they create; however, don’t try to argue with them using things like BA/R/RBI when there are far better, and more accurate, ways to determine the value or a hitter/pitcher/fielder.

  3. Wooden U. Lykteneau - Feb 22, 2010 at 4:39 PM

    And it doesn’t help that, unlike Bill James and Rob Neyer, many of the people doing the good work now aren’t necessarily the most gifted of writers.
    Nor does it help that some of these folks are arrogant snobs, the kind that will simply delete your posts questioning them and refuse to acknowledge that’s bullying and/or censorship. Isn’t that right, Mr. Tango?

  4. DiamondDuq - Feb 22, 2010 at 4:43 PM

    Craig, I agree with most all of your comments regarding Sabermetrics but I have a problem with the way people look at these things. For instance, even your own position that OBP is matter-of-factly more important than BA. While that assessment is correct to a point, a blanket statement that states the whole is more important than a major part of that whole is a slippery slope. Two players can have the same OBP but one of those players could have a .015 higher batting average, more RBI and just as many runs scored and those players are nowhere near equal.
    There are many ways to get to a destination and in baseball there are certainly better ways to do it than others. The problem with these stats fanatics is that they often lose sight of that distinction. For instance, in 2009 Joey Votto had a significantly higher OBP and OPS than Ryan Howard but absolutely no one would say he’s a better offensive player than Ryan Howard, however, if the names were removed from the statistics stats fanatics would take Votto’s every time in lieu of each player’s actual impact on the field. How is that credible?

  5. DiamondDuq - Feb 22, 2010 at 4:47 PM

    An example to my equal OBP example is as follows (from 2009):
    PLAYER R RBI BA OBP
    Shin-Soo Choo 87 86 .300 .394
    Matt Holliday 94 109 .313 .394

  6. Phil - Feb 22, 2010 at 5:38 PM

    Where to start? First, Rs and RBIs are team-dependent stats, i.e. they are not completely under the control of a single player. Not a good way to compare. In 2009, Choo had an OP+ of 137 while Holliday has an OPS+ of 168. But Choo walked three times as much as Holliday and has more defensive value since he can play all three OF positions. Choo is two years younger. So while Holliday may be the obvious choice in 2009, as Holliday ages and his power declines, it may be Choo who will be the better player and better value.
    And you are saying no one would say Joey Votto is a better offensive player that Ryan Howard? Really? Votto’s OBP was 54 points higher, his SLG just 4 points less and his OPS+ 15 points higher. What exactly would it take for you to change your mind? True, Howard has the edge in HRs (20 more in 159 more PAs) but all that gave him was a 4 point advantage in SLG. Given that Votto is 4 years younger and Howard has “future DH” written all over him, I’d have to ask who wouldn’t take Joey Votto over Ryan Howard right now?

  7. diamondduq - Feb 22, 2010 at 9:54 PM

    Thank you Phil for making my point for me, you did a far better job than I ever could have. I’ll give you Shin-Soo Choo and Joey Votto for the next 5 years and I’ll take Holliday and Howard and we’ll see how that works out for you, haha. Any GM in the entire world would be not only fired but shunned from baseball for such ridiculousness. You’re all about random, formulated statistics that are supposed to tell you what wins games rather than what actually wins games in the real world and Ryan Howard wins games, Joey Votto doesn’t, Matt Holliday is a marquee player capable of carrying a team, Shin-Soo Choo isn’t. You probably believe Edgar Martinez is a HOFer too, such a sad existence.

  8. Charles Gates - Feb 22, 2010 at 10:44 PM

    diamondduq: if Shin-Soo Choo were on the Yankees, for arguments sake, would you expect him to have more, the same or fewer RBI’s?

  9. DiamondDuq - Feb 23, 2010 at 8:47 AM

    So you want to go down that route? Well let’s use a more apt comparison. Matt Holliday played for the St. Louis Cardinals who scored 43 fewer runs than the Indians, Shin-Soo Choo’s team. Even still, Holliday scored more runs and had more RBI than Choo in addition to a higher BA. Now I hear the rebuttal already “Well he played with Albert Pujols”. Yeah but he certainly wasn’t taking a whole lot of RBI away from Pujols since Pujols had the 2nd highest RBI total of his career, which may explain the difference in runs for Holliday but not the overall offensive production. There’s no comparison. Unless you can somehow argue that Choo would go to a team that had less offensive production, the Cardinals, and put up better offensive numbers? Good luck with that one.

  10. Steve-O - Feb 23, 2010 at 12:50 PM

    Ryan Howard wins games and Joey Votto doesn’t? How do you quantify that? What you’re doing is simply making a blanket statement without backing it up with facts which is exactly what you railed against in an earlier post. No GM would be laughed out of baseball for taking Votto over Howard. Votto is a younger more complete player than Howard who is in my mind one of the more overrated players in the game today. He’s a one dimensional player who is incorrectly credited with most of the Phillies recent successes without even being the best player on his own team. As long as the sample size is large enough rate statistics are almost always more telling than counting stats.

  11. DiamondDuq - Feb 23, 2010 at 2:49 PM

    Steve-O, it’s not that difficult to see if you merely watch some baseball that Howard positively affects the outcome of more baseball games than Votto but even using stat fanatics’ methods Howard has a higher WAR (wins above replacement) than Votto, hence accounts for more wins than Votto. Additionally, Howard’s runs created for 2009 was over 17% higher than Votto’s. Again, as Craig frequently does, you attempt to discount counting statistics but all other variations of statistics use those same counting statistics to make their formulations which are fabricated based on assumptions of what is important in baseball when those assumptions do not tell the entire story. You can’t objectify everything and especially in baseball the eyeball test needs to be applied when making baseball assessments. There’s a reason guys are simply labeled “winners” and that reason is because no matter how hard you try you cannot objectify their impact but their teams win, period. If the stats “mama’s basement dwellers” champion were so good at determining what wins games then they’d be making a fortune in Vegas but they’re not and can’t. Sure, you may do well in Fantasy but it’s called Fantasy for a reason, it’s not the real world and in the real world their use is supplemental at best.

  12. bigcatasroma - Feb 23, 2010 at 9:29 PM

    My thoughts exactly, CC.

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