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Baseball’s official historian slams statistical analysis

Mar 16, 2011, 10:31 AM EDT

John Thorn

What’s more unexpected: me linking a Bleacher Report column or baseball’s official historian — and sometime sabermetrician — John Thorn talking about how apocryphal tales are preferable to the actual nuts and bolts of what happened on the baseball diamond?

For a whole generation of fans and fantasy players, stats have begun to outstrip story and that seems to me a sad thing. Even the unverifiable hogwash that passed for fact or informed opinion in baseball circles not so long ago seems today wistfully enticing, for its energy if nothing else … Frankly, in today’s baseball writing I miss such [broadcaster Bill Stern's] balderdash: the wink and the nudge of a Barnum or the tall-tale bluster of a Davy Crockett. Amid today’s mix of straight-on account and sabermetric analysis, I miss the fun …

… A decade ago, when counterintuitive strategy briefly was fashionable, someone thoughtfully provided a list of the all-time leaders in receiving intentional bases on balls with no one on base. This put me in mind of Thoreau’s remark in Walden: “It is not worth the while to go round the world to count the cats in Zanzibar.” Fixate on the particular and you miss the big story.

Except, the big story is often baloney without the particulars.

The reason why someone might measure intentional walks with no one on base is to figure out how fearsome the hitter was at the time in the eyes of his contemporaries.  To take that analysis away and rely on “ripping yarns,” you get people simply asserting that a certain player — like, say, Jim Rice — was feared when, in fact, he really wasn’t as scary as everyone says. Oh, and then that allegedly fearsome guy gets elected to the Hall of Fame based, primarily, on the strength of a ripping yarn as opposed to merit or even fact.

There is such a thing as bad or pointless statistical analysis, sure, but one of the biggest reasons sabermetrics exists is because there was so much bad narrative history being done that it left a significant segment of the fan base (i.e. the future statheads) dissatisfied with the way baseball was handling its history. It’s entirely possible to lose sight of the big picture when you dig into the numbers, but it’s just as easy — I’d say easier — to lose sight of what actually occurred when you rely on anecdote and memory.

The point of any worthwhile sabermetric analysis is to answer a human question, not to traffic in numbers for numbers’ sake.  Human questions that help illuminate baseball’s history in ways that, one would hope anyway, would inform someone who was just named baseball’s official historian.  That he seems to be missing this is somewhat unsettling.

  1. scratchbomb - Mar 16, 2011 at 10:41 AM

    reminds me of Ed Wood’s take on filmmaking: “It’s not about the little details, it’s about the big picture!” Intoned right after Tor Johnson walked into a doorway.

  2. Professor Longnose - Mar 16, 2011 at 10:42 AM

    Sabermetrics IS fun. If someone presents boring stories with sabermetrics in them,stop reading that commenter and try another (I suggest Bill James, of course). Being accurate and being interesting are not inversely related.

    Oh, sorry, that was kind of technical of me, wasn’t it? I mean that you can be both…AT THE SAME TIME! Wow!

    • BC - Mar 16, 2011 at 10:46 AM

      Sorry. I could care less about WHIP, WAR, VORP, BURP or whatever. Just win games, get saves, hit homers and drive in runs. It’s much less taxing for my feeble brain to keep track of.

      • Professor Longnose - Mar 16, 2011 at 10:49 AM

        No problem! Enjoy the game. But there’s no need to denigrate those new stats. They can be both fun and accurate,but they aren’t mandatory

        As Max Planck said, new theories don’t get accepted by convincing people who believe in the old theories to change their minds. They get accepted because the people believing the old theories die. Eventually, 5-year-old kids will know what VORP is and won’t know what BA stands for.

      • BC - Mar 16, 2011 at 11:34 AM

        I don’t necessarily believe in old theories. I’m just mentally lazy. 21 years of schooling is enough for me. Now I just like watching guys hit dingers, stock cars turning left, NFL football, playing billiards and occasionally betting the ponies.
        For what its worth, I can make infinitely more sense of The Racing Form than WAR, VORP or BURP*.
        (I like BURP as an acronym. Some stathead needs to come up with a stat to fit it)

      • gbsimons - Mar 16, 2011 at 11:57 AM

        Um, that’s “couldn’t” care less, BC.

        Sincerely,
        The Grammar Police (they inside of my head, they come to me in my bed…)

  3. BC - Mar 16, 2011 at 10:44 AM

    OK.
    Tell me another player who had 39+ home runs, 200+ hits and 100+ RBI in three straight seasons. Gee, there aren’t any.
    Tell me another player between 1960 and 1996 that had 400 total bases in a season.
    Gee, there aren’t any.
    Throw in eight 100-RBI seasons.
    No, he wasn’t feared. He was just the best power-hitter in the AL for a span of a decade, picking up where Aaron and Reggie left off.
    C’mon.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 16, 2011 at 11:04 AM

      Not sure if serious, but I do like how you took almost all of his peak information to compare it against other players, and not his averages. Also, if he was so feared, why did he peak at 62 walks a season with a whopping 5 IBBs?

      • BC - Mar 16, 2011 at 11:15 AM

        Because Rice had no one hitting behind him. Most of the time, Carlton Fisk or a 50-year old George Scott hit behind him. Fisk is a Hall of Famer, but I wouldn’t say he was ever a top-40 hitter in the league except for one year (1977). The other issue is Rice put the ball in play an incredible percentage of the time – that led to high hit totals, and also grounding into a lot of double plays (I’d never claim he could run). Kirby Puckett was the same way – nowhere near as much power as Rice, but he almost never walked, even with Hrbek and for a time Gaetti and Brunansky hitting behind him – three guys with B+ to A- power. Puckett just put the ball in play at an insane rate.

    • Chris Fiorentino - Mar 16, 2011 at 11:07 AM

      BC, Jim Rice hit around .300, had 2450 hits, was an 8-time All Star and was in the top 5 in MVP voting 5 times, winning it once. But his OPS+ was only 128 so the stat nerd will never give the man his due. Even if their hero, Bill James, has Jim Rice at a 144 on his “Hall of Fame Monitor” stat, where a likely HOFer is over 100 and over 130 is usually a mortal lock. Also where just about every hitter above him is either in the hall, going, or is not in for some reason(gambling, steroids, etc).

      Sadly, the debate over Jim Rice turned into a stat-geek vs traditional contest and thankfully, the man made it where he rightfully belongs.

    • Ari Collins - Mar 16, 2011 at 11:09 AM

      Seems like he was the best power-hitter in the AL in a hitter’s park for the span of three years.

      • BC - Mar 16, 2011 at 11:19 AM

        From 1977 to 1986 in the AL, tell me who was a better power hitter. And don’t go the Dave Kingman or Rob Deer route – Rice routinely hit 80 points higher than them. And Reggie was winding down by 1980.
        Schmidt was a clear overall #1 during that time. But Rice was #1 in the AL.

      • Craig Calcaterra - Mar 16, 2011 at 11:24 AM

        Eddie Murray. Dave Winfield. Hell, Dwight Evans, which means that Rice wasn’t even the best one on his team.

        Of course, I’m measuring in terms of “power hitters who were far more valuable in an overall sense than Jim Rice,” not just “power hitters who were better than Jim Rice in the somewhat narrow categories on which Jim Rice’s supporters like to focus because Jim Rice did well in them.”

      • BC - Mar 16, 2011 at 11:42 AM

        Dwight Evans was a better power hitter than Jim Rice??? Craig, can I have some of what you’re drinking?
        Now, as a pure player, Evans was better – he was arguably the best defensive outfield in the game for over a decade. Little bit of speed until he got older. Not as much power as Rice, not as high of an average, but he turned into a walk machine in the second half of this career.
        I wouldn’t put Murray in the same class as Rice – though he played FOREVER, and was remarkably consistent – kind of like Carl Yazstremski. But as suspect as Rice was defensively (maybe give him a C as a grade, not 1973 Willie Mays, but not overly good), Murray was something akin to putting a queen-size mattress at first base.
        Winfield. Hmm. That’s a good parallel to Rice. Winfield was an outrageous defender early in his career. Longer peak. Wow. I could go either way on that one.

      • hackerjay - Mar 16, 2011 at 11:57 AM

        If you look at who hit the most home runs in the AL during Rice’s career, 1974-1989, Rice does indeed lead the league. Though he is only eight ahead of Reggie Jackson. Oh, and Rice had 1425 more plate appearances then Jackson. 1425 PA’s to get 8 more homers. Yeah.

        Compared to Eddie Murray, Rice had 1268 more PAs and only 49 more homers.

        The thing is, to really make an argument for Rice you have to do three things:
        1) Ignore anything but hitting
        2) Ignore his home field.
        3) Believe that a Hall of Fame career can be built off of cherry picking a length of time when your player was at his peak. For example, most home runs in the AL from 1977-1986.

        When you have to dig that deep to find a worthwhile reason to elect a guy, then you probably shouldn’t even try. Evans was far more deserving then Rice, and he was a borderline guy.

    • hackerjay - Mar 16, 2011 at 11:43 AM

      So, what you are saying is, “stats are stupid, here’s why Jim Rice is a Hall of Famer based on stats.”

      Also, those are some of the most cherry picked stats I’ve ever seen. Yeah, he’s the only one to hit 39-100-200, but why does that even matter? There are plenty of guys that had better three year peaks but missed on one of the stats by some small amount. For example, Pujols was four hits in 2004 and five hits in 2005 shy of pulling off this “feat”. You can pick out some set of numbers from almost any good player and find something no one else has done.

      • cur68 - Mar 16, 2011 at 12:28 PM

        This Rice thing is news to me. I don’t really know him as a player, I only know of him as the guy who went into the stands to grab that kid who was beaned by a foul ball (HOF right there). But to me, who knows nothing, the guy must be HOF because look who you have to compare him to beat his stats. If you have drag the likes of Pujols, Murray, Winfield, & Jackson into a discussion of who’s better than the guy, clearly he was some ball player and likely among the best of his era and, thus, heroics aside, deserved of the HOF.

      • Joe - Mar 16, 2011 at 5:11 PM

        “If you have drag the likes of Pujols, Murray, Winfield, & Jackson into a discussion of who’s better than the guy, clearly he was some ball player and likely among the best of his era and, thus, heroics aside, deserved of the HOF.”

        That’s the thing, you don’t HAVE to bring those guys into the discussion. You can bring Dwight Evans, or Darrell Evans for that matter, into the discussion of players who were better than Jim Rice.

      • cur68 - Mar 17, 2011 at 12:12 AM

        Hey Joe: Finally got around to checking back here and saw this. Since this post is all about stats vs stories here are some. Now, in all fairness, I’ve had a some time to consider why I think he not only belongs in the HOF on stats alone but is also a wonderful HOF anecdote for a historian, so forgive the verbosity; it’s kind of complicated, and I’d like to amend what I said. Here goes.

        Dwight Evans
        Runs scored 1470 (76th)
        Hits: 2446 (107th)
        HR 385 (55th)
        RBIs 1384 (72nd)
        BA .272

        Darrell Evans
        Runs scored 1344 (103rd)
        Hits: 2223 (166th)
        HR: 414 (44th)
        RBI 1354 (81st),
        BA .248

        Jim Rice
        Runs Scored: 1249 (142nd)
        Hits: 2452 (105th)
        HR :382 (58th)
        RBI: 1451(57th)
        BA: .298

        You’ll note that Rice enjoys a much better BA than the other 2, and produced more RBIs than the other 2 and Darrell doesn’t even belong in the same discussion with him when it comes to hits. Fact is Dwight doesn’t belong when we talk of BA and RBI. But Rice isn’t in their league with the other stats. Rice suffered because he hit into a lot of DPs but hey, he hit the ball hard. Still HOF stats, just on their own. Now, all in all, the 3 are probably about equal, but NOT 1 better than the other 2, not really. To better him you really do need the likes of Winfield et al. The kicker is that Rice has the edge when it comes to the stats vs the stories angle. He has the HUGE edge. The bit which always pushes him over the top for me is the going into the stands after that kid. That was truly quick thinking and the kind of thinking I can respect. Since this post is all about stats vs stories I submit, with respect, that Jim Rice is HOF hands down because he’s got damn good stats AND an unbeatable ballpark story. I bet a good baseball historian can look at Rice’s actions on that day and say, “THAT was some quick thinking right there. Kid was a smart ballplayer. HOF player.” That’s the kind of baseball logic you can pin on Rice and he has the stats to cover the rest.

  4. stealofhome - Mar 16, 2011 at 10:48 AM

    I totally agree with you, Craig. The point of sabermetrics is to figure out what actually happened. It’s just looking deeper at facts and asking questions to validate or invalidate perceptions. That sounds like…I don’t know…the history of the game of baseball. Someone ripped a yarn that Abner Doubleday created it. Then someone wrote a book that looked at facts instead of winks, nudges and tall-tale blusters and determined that the history of baseball was actually quite different.

    If your big story is “How many cats are there in Zanzibar?” then you better go round the world to count the cats in Zanzibar. Fixate on the balderdash and you miss the truth.

  5. b7p19 - Mar 16, 2011 at 10:50 AM

    Surely there is room in baseball for both right? I’m a sabermetrics guy, but baseball and it’s history are poetic and should include some fantasy. As a kid growing up I had no idea how Babe Ruth stood up to modern players in WAR or VORP, but I read the stories of how he was a baseball God and got goose bumps. Turns out everybody was right. Baseball is at it’s best when you’re a kid because you don’t have to know who the player REALLY is (statistically or personally). They can just be the heroes fantastical writers make them out to be.

    • larryhockett - Mar 16, 2011 at 10:55 AM

      Spot on.

    • IdahoMariner - Mar 16, 2011 at 12:12 PM

      absolutely. I was thinking that the lyrical, poetic, epic part of baseball isn’t even delineated or touched by stats. Read Pos’s The Soul of Baseball, or any number of great books or essays about the sport, and you can be enthralled without being required to “decide” if you are old school or stats. You can be both, or some blend. You can love the game so many different ways, and there are so many ways to write and talk about it, that to default to an attitude that pouts, gives up and whines that “stats make it all math” just speaks to a confounding lack of imagination and spirit.

  6. Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Mar 16, 2011 at 10:51 AM

    I don’t get your argument, Craig, because I haven’t seen the background stats yet.

  7. larryhockett - Mar 16, 2011 at 10:54 AM

    I think his point isn’t so much to disparage sabermetics as it is to pine for the childhood fantasy of unverifiable fables. We live in an information-overload society where every citizen is armed with a video camera and a blog (or at least a Twitter account). Every single thing that happens anywhere is instantly scrutinized, analyzed and ultimately criticized millions of times over. There can be no more “I was there at the ballpark and you should have seen it!” moments to tell your grandchildren when you get older because they can easily see it dissected twelve different ways with a few mouse clicks.

    • Lukehart80 - Mar 16, 2011 at 12:52 PM

      Wait, WHY can’t there be any “I was there” moments? I don’t understand how better statistical analysis of the game would prevent anyone from sharing their excitement at having seen something happen.

  8. Paul White - Mar 16, 2011 at 10:54 AM

    I don’t disagree with the overall premise that properly applied sabermetrics enlighten us far more than they detract from our experience with the game, and it’s sad that Thorn seems to be downplaying their overall value. At the same time, it’s worth noting the truth in some of what Thorn is saying. Using your example, yes, Jim Rice shouldn’t be elected to the Hall of Fame based on whether or not pitchers feared him. But to then apply a statistic to measure “fear” is silly on its face, because there is no such stat. Maybe pitchers didn’t fear him, maybe they did, but IBBs won’t tell us that, certainly without any other context applied. They might give us an indication, or they might not. Maybe Rice had a great hitter behind him in the lineup so he couldn’t be pitched around as easily as someone else. Maybe managers were more loathe to use the IBB in that era, particularly with runners on base, a situation Rice faced a lot in the Red Sox lineup. Or maybe IBBs really are a great indicator of fear and the stories we hear from pitchers of that era about fearing Rice really are apocryphal. I don’t know the right answer, but I know it’s far better application of sabermetrics to prove that Rice made too many outs to be as productive as people remember than it is to use them as a measure of something esoteric and unprovable like “fear” or “intimidation”. For that kind of feeling, I suspect Thorn is right, and it’s best to let the stories, apocryphal or not, stand as they are.

    • okobojicat - Mar 16, 2011 at 11:50 AM

      The fans of Sabermetrics do make that argument, that Rice made way too many outs and was actually detrimental to his team on defense. The Rice supporters come back that he was feared. The sabermetrics, while admitting that Rice was a very very good player, use the IBB and BB stats to show that he wasn’t feared.

      You’re right, we can’t get into the head of the 1980s pitchers. But we can use their actions to see what how they pitched. They didn’t fear him. They like pitching to him with people on base because he hit into an absurd amount of double plays. He actually had less than the expected number of RBI’s for someone who came to bat with as many people on base as he did.

      Rice was a very good player. He’s not a HoF. Its similar to the Jack Morris argument. They’re both amazing, very good players. They don’t belong in the HoF.

      • Paul White - Mar 16, 2011 at 12:01 PM

        “The sabermetrics, while admitting that Rice was a very very good player, use the IBB and BB stats to show that he wasn’t feared…You’re right, we can’t get into the head of the 1980s pitchers. But we can use their actions to see what how they pitched. They didn’t fear him.”

        It’s that kind of misapplication of stats that I’m referring to. The BB and IBB stats don’t lead, in any conclusive way, to the conclusion you draw. They show he wasn’t a terribly patient hitter and that he wasn’t walked intentionally very often. But how does that tell me what his opponents felt about that? It would be equally inconclusive to argue that Rice must have been feared because Whitey Herzog decided to play four outfielders against him and said he’d position one in the screen if it was legal. My God, how terrified he must have been of Jim Rice, right? Well, no, that’s would be just as silly an assertion to make. Maybe he was jsut being a smart strategist. I don’t know, and you don’t know, what level of fear Jim Rice struck in the hearts of his opponents, and using stats won’t get you any closer to that conclusion. You can make a compelling case that Rice doesn’t belong on the HOF without resorting to an attempt to prove the unprovable.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 16, 2011 at 12:44 PM

        The BB and IBB stats don’t lead, in any conclusive way, to the conclusion you draw.

        Yes they do, see Barry Bonds when he hit the juice. Pitchers didn’t want him to hit a HR, so they walked him, either intentionally or unintentionally, far more than any other hitter in the game, ever. It’s a logical conclusion that if you feared what a hitter could do to a pitched ball, you’d lessen the opportunities he had to hit one. His career high in walks came well after the seasons BC described.

      • okobojicat - Mar 16, 2011 at 12:51 PM

        @Paul White,

        Rice backers make claim: (Rice Feared-absolutely no evidence provided). Rice Haters refute claim, and provide evidence (few walks). Rice backers say “your evidence doesn’t count.”

        And you wonder why us stat heads get annoyed. You can’t just have it your way without evidence. You can make a claim that my evidence isn’t great. That’s fine. Perhaps you’re right. But you have to provide some counter evidence that mitigates what I said.

        Also, notice how I said he hit into an absurd amount of double plays above? That means that he got pitched to a lot when there were other people on base. If he was feared, wouldn’t people AVOID pitching to him? Isn’t that a logical conclusion?

      • Paul White - Mar 16, 2011 at 4:06 PM

        @churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged – I didn’t say IBBs could NEVER be considered evidence that pitchers feared particular hitters. If you want to cite the most extreme example, Bonds, then yes, obviously, pitchers were pitching around him out of fear. But considering that Bonds was intentionally walked more times in 2004 than almost all players have been in the entire careers, I think we can agree that’s not the norm. In a normal case, IBB’s can be an indicator of how pitchers viewed a player, but drawing conclusions about pitchers’ feelings based on performance on the field isn’t something I care to partake in.

        @okobojicat – No need to be obtuse in your argument, or “annoyed” for that matter. Some people who back Rice cite the silly “most feared” argument, but not all. And those that do cite it also generally offer some evidence. (e.g. Herzog’s actions cited above, Gossage’s comments once Rice was elected, etc.). The fact that you don’t like the evidence they cite and there isn’t a number or measurement to put on their anecdotes doesn’t mean it shouldn’t still be considered evidence. And I haven’t seen anyone say the IBB totals or other contrary evidence simply “doesn’t count”. What I said was that they weren’t conclusive, and to me they aren’t. The anecdotes just mentioned aren’t really conclusive either. Hell, even a poll of all pitchers who ever faced Jim Rice wouldn’t be conclusive at this point, given the nature of memory and the time that has elapsed. It’s all guesswork when it comes to judging the emotions of players, which is really my only point here. Some things are measured really well by stats, and some things, like “fear” or “intimidation”, aren’t. I guess I’m not sure why that’s a stance that should annoy anyone.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 16, 2011 at 11:54 AM

      The problem is that if a pitcher “feared” a hitter, don’t you think they’d do everything they could to not throw him a hittable pitch (hence my comment on IBBs)? Also, his H/A splits are pretty sizable. The guy hit:

      H – .320/.374/.546
      A – .277/.330/.459

      The A splits are worse than Derek Jeter’s career line. I wouldn’t exactly call DJ feared, nor would anyone try to claim he’s a power hitter.

  9. yankeesfanlen - Mar 16, 2011 at 11:41 AM

    Well let’s have both! The marketing gets the warm-and-fuzzies to get us to the ballpark, the stats bring their group to see if these guys are as good (or bad) as their stats. And even the stats have to have a look-see to verify, and keep them from being too stuffy.

    Example: You’re buying a car. Marketers say you’ll love the Utopian Turtletop because it will make you feel ___________. Stat guys go to specs, V-8 turbo hybrid mid-wheel drive, 1.6 g-forces, even go so far as Consumer Reports to fall asleep with in 2 seconds.
    Customer goes and buys car? No, test drive! Have to see it, drive it, have suspicions answers. So it’s in your driveway because of a little bit of both.

  10. apbaguy - Mar 16, 2011 at 11:45 AM

    Let’s turn the Historian’s argument towards him a bit:

    Look at that sad sack in the picture: old, crusty, rumpled-a perfect metaphor for the game as perceived by his generation. He sat in the stands, swilling high-calorie beer and gobbling nitrate-loaded dogs, neither “Greatest Generation” nor baby boomer, neither fish nor fowl. He and his commissioner dream wistfully of a baseball utopia, where the gods bestride the earth, and their misdeeds are hushed into background hiss by a compliant media.

    What an accurate picture!

    Except, it’s not. Facts intrude. The guy does indeed understand statistics beyond those of the 1920’s. He’s just a bit of a romantic, and he wishes for a little more of that old-style baseball romance, sort of like watching “Bull Durham” with sabermetric subtitles.

    Nothing wrong with that, really, baseball is a big tent. He loves the game, maybe not like we do, but certainly as we do. Nothing wrong with that.

  11. Reflex - Mar 16, 2011 at 11:53 AM

    I don’t really understand why these things are mutually exclusive. Whats wrong with using the statistics to figure out who is really good, then finding out the story around that player?

  12. Mark Armour - Mar 16, 2011 at 12:20 PM

    I agree with much of what John says, and I use statistics in my writing a lot. If you are talking about building a team, the stats might be 80% of the story. When you are talking about the game’s history, for me it might be 10%. John is more than capable of talking about either, but I think he believes (and I agree with him) that many people use the 80% figure when talking about the game’s history, rather than the 10%.

    You can find 100 people on the internet that can tell you why George Kelly does not belong in the Hall of Fame. But I doubt many of them can tell you another thing about him. I am guessing this is part of what John is longing for.

  13. natedawg321 - Mar 16, 2011 at 1:12 PM

    Thorn’s point-of-view is that sports should not be about knowing “what happened” but rather about “what was experienced”.

    I understand perfectly well why Craig disagrees with that, but it’s far more amusing knowing why Craig is not capable of understanding that’s what Thorn’s belief is.

  14. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Mar 16, 2011 at 1:20 PM

    I don’t think the guy is even saying stats are bad. He is just saying that the fan experience was more fun before they became so prevalent. It happens with many things…once you study a thing and really know how it works inside and out, there is a certain awe and mystery that can’t be recaptured.

    As far as the arguments above, they go to illustrate perfectly the old saying that ‘statistics lie.’ Or more accurately, statistics can be molded and twisted and cherry picked to say just about whatever you want them to say. Defensive stats are still in their infancy, and there is nothing more dangerous to common perception than a semi-accurate method being held out as gospel. But remember last off-season when everyone said Jason Bay was the worst outfielder ever, until someone tweaked the UZR engine and then it turned out he was pretty good? Jason Bay didn’t change in the middle of the offseason, the stats did. Or better yet, remember when science said it was an indisputable fact that the flat Earth was the center of the known universe?

    All this is to say that for as bad as it was when anecdotes went completely unverified, it is entirely possible, and less fun, that the pendulum could be swinging too far on the side of blind reliance upon statistical analysis by certain members of the stat loving community.

  15. wonkypenguin - Mar 16, 2011 at 1:47 PM

    I love stats, I enjoy sabermetrics, I am way too obsessed with reading HBT and prepping for my fantasy league, and I agree that RBIs and BA are fairly awful ways to determine if someone is good or not.

    I also never ever ever ever talk about a no-no or a perfect game while it is happening. Both can (and do) make the game enjoyable for me.

  16. The Baseball Idiot - Mar 16, 2011 at 2:35 PM

    Maybe he’s just talking about the oversaturation of it, and how you can’t mention baseball without someone throwing some kind of sabermetric stat, even when it isn’t really relevant.

    Sometimes the game can speak for itself.

  17. monsieurbear - Mar 16, 2011 at 3:15 PM

    In the excerpt, Thorn bemoans the loss of poetry in baseball writing. The way Red Smith wrote. Like this: http://deadspin.com/#!5615284/stories-that-dont-suck-the-shot-heard-round-the-world-and-the-greatest-lede-ever-written. Do you disagree?

  18. thoran85 - Mar 16, 2011 at 3:21 PM

    Player A: 382 HR, 2452 Hits, 1451 RBI, .298/.352/.502, OPS+ 128, 670 BB
    Player B: 393 HR, 1949 Hits, 1199 RBI, .284/.376/.527, OPS+ 132, 998 BB

    A: 1 MVP, 6 top 5 MVP, 8 All-Star Games, 2 Silver Sluggers and 0 Gold Gloves
    B: 0 MVP, 2 top 5 MVP, 4 All-Star Games, 1 Silver Sluggers and 8 Gold Gloves

    Saber Stats:

    A: Total WAR = 41.5, Years Above 6 WAR = 1
    B: Total WAR = 68.3, Years Above 6 WAR = 6

    • thoran85 - Mar 16, 2011 at 3:35 PM

      Player A is Hall of Famer Jim Rice
      Player B is Jim Edmonds

      Edmonds was 50% more valuable then Rice during his career and yet many of the same people here who are defending Rice probably feel that Edmonds doesn’t deserve to be in.

      • Paul White - Mar 16, 2011 at 4:32 PM

        Not sure why that’s the presumption. I think Jim Rice should be in the Hall of Fame, and make no apologies for that. I also feel that Jim Edmonds and Dwight Evans, and many, many others should be in the Hall of Fame. I don’t think the Hall should be so small, particularly given its history. Even in the earliest years of the Hall, players were elected that weren’t anywhere near as good as Edmonds or Evans or Rice. (Buck Ewing? Hughie Jennings? Hugh Duffy? King Kelly? Roger Bresnahan?) I’m not sure where people got the notion that the Hall has always been for just super-elite. It’s been far more inclusive than that from almost it’s first year of existence.

  19. ta192 - Mar 16, 2011 at 3:33 PM

    What the…? This is the same guy that took my hard earned money in exchange for a book that he collaborated on that said, in so many words, “Don’t listed to all those anecdotes, they’ll just mislead you! Here are some new metrics you can hang you hat on, aren’t you lucky I came along to straighten you out!” Is this a case of selling out, or just senility?

  20. lanflfan - Mar 16, 2011 at 3:55 PM

    Personally, I think Sabermetrics ruin baseball when used to compare current players. After looking at the traditional approach and the statistical approach for a few years, neither has any advantage in predicting how a player will perform. Why? The human element, something no one can predict and no formula can emulate.

    However, I can see their value in examining historical data. Again, don’t lose the human element. Don’t let your only look at a player, be it for HOF consider or trading his baseball card, be what a math formula states. Get a sense of who he was and how he played by his opponents. The human element.

  21. Mark Armour - Mar 16, 2011 at 4:42 PM

    Again, I don’t think many of you are correctly understanding John’s point. He is NOT saying, “numbers can not properly express Jim Rice’s value.” He is saying, “There is more to Jim Rice than his value.”

    For many people, and this discussion sort of proves his point, history is 90% about how good someone was, or who was better than who, or who belongs in the Hall. For these types of discussions, sabrmetrics are generally the right tools to use. If Jim Rice has been mentioned on this blog 1000 times, 995 of them have been about how good he was.

    John is more than able to participate in these discussions. But I think he wishes there were more people interested in talking about other things. Were one to do survey your favorite baseball blogs looking for articles about anyone who played “in the past”, I think you would discover that there are not many people interested.

    • thoran85 - Mar 16, 2011 at 7:13 PM

      But I think this whole discussion is about stats backing up the historical notions that are attached to people like Jim Rice. Was Jim Rice really such a feared hitter that his reputation should get him into the Hall of Fame? Well judging by walks and intentional walks he was not.

      This is obviously overly simple, but I think you can understand what I am trying to say.

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