Skip to content

Deep Thoughts: Sabermetrics and my annual checkup

Feb 13, 2013, 12:56 PM EDT

LDL

I went for my annual physical this morning. I’m OK and stuff, but I am NOT in the Best Shape of My Life. And the entire conversation I had with my doctor about it made me realize how silly and stupid old school, anti-sabermetric arguments are.

Note: I warn the medical professionals among you that I am going to refer to some things in a very hamfisted way. Please feel free to correct my mistakes and misleading statements in the comments.

Most of us know that you really don’t want to have a high cholesterol number. We probably had it ingrained in our heads since the 1980s at least that if your “cholesterol” — the term usually used generically, but also known as “bad cholesterol” or LDL-C — is pushing 200 or more that you’re in a bad place and at risk of heart attacks and all of that.  So, dude, lower that cholesterol!

Except it’s not that simple anymore. In the past few years general practitioners have increasingly moved away from talking to their patients about that old bad cholesterol scale to more sophisticated and refined measures. Measures which have a much greater correlation with heart health than the old numbers. I’m sure it’s way more complicated than this (really, talk to your doctor), but for our purposes, LDL-P is a WAY better measure than the bad cholesterol/LDL-C measure. Indeed, you may very well have a low LDL-C number but still be at serious risk of a heart attack because your LDL-P number is too high.

This is where I am. I get a physical every year. After a not great one in 2010 I bought a treadmill, cut out sweets, cut back on beer and lost weight. I lost about 25 pounds or so, in fact. I went for a physical in December 2011. My “bad cholesterol” number was much improved. In the healthy range. As far as I knew, I was in the BSOML.

Since last year, however, my doctor began, as a matter of course, testing LDL-P levels. I am way, way too high in my LDL-P levels. This is true even though I’m still down in weight from where I was back in 2010 and despite the fact that my bad cholesterol numbers are still in good shape. The old metrics are misleading! They were failing me because they were not telling me and my doctor about my heart attack risks nearly as well as the newer, more sophisticated metrics.

After getting lectured by my doctor about how I need to change my diet, I began to laugh. I began to imagine myself as an old school baseball writer listening to this. I began to formulate a rebuttal to my doctor that could have easily shown up in Jon Heyman’s Hall of Fame column or something, switching out WAR for LDL-P:

“LDL-P. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.  Look, doc, you can bury your head in your spreadsheets and clinical studies which purport to show correlation between dying of heart attacks and your fancy acronyms, but bad cholesterol numbers are widely accepted and understood by people who aren’t doctors. If they were good enough for the doctor I had in 1984 they’re good enough for me. I prefer the eye test anyway. I look in the mirror and I see a much thinner me than I saw two years ago. I see that my 34 jeans are actually loose. I see my breakfast each morning and note that I’m eating way more cereal now than eggs, and my 1984 doctor told me that’s what I should do.  I don’t need some abstract number to tell me something which goes against all intuitive sense. You’re using LDL-P as an argument-ender, and frankly, the tone of you LDL-P people has gotten extreme.”

Science and math is science and math no matter what you apply it to. If people in any other field besides baseball treated scientific and mathematical metrics with the sort of willfully ignorant disdain that many baseball writers treat advanced baseball metrics, they’d be laughingstocks. And while, yes, it is an extreme example, if doctors did so in the medical field more people would die.  Baseball isn’t life and death of course, but I’m glad my doctor doesn’t approach his field of study like Jon Heyman and guys like him approach theirs.

Anyway, end of deep thought. I’m off to chuck all of the cereal, bread, crackers and pasta I have into the garbage and begin steeling myself for egg-white omelets, fish and a lot more lentils and things. If that makes me a dietary stathead who needs to get his head out of his laptop and eat some damn bagels once in a while, well, so be it.

Latest Posts
  1. Happy Birthday, Willie Mays! Good luck, A-Rod!

    May 6, 2015, 11:32 AM EDT

    Willie Mays AP

    There’s a chance for some history on the Say-Hey Kid’s 84th birthday.

  2. Can the Royals’ bullpen get even better? Luke Hochevar set to return from Tommy John surgery

    May 6, 2015, 10:15 AM EDT

    Luke Hochevar AP AP

    Two years ago Hochevar a 1.92 ERA and 82/17 K/BB ratio in 70 innings.

  3. Brook Jacoby and umpire Doug Eddings were in a “loud, obscenity-laced, nose-to-nose exchange”

    May 6, 2015, 9:01 AM EDT

    Tampa Bay Rays v Toronto Blue Jays Getty Images

    A new report on the incident suggests that the umpire was just as much an aggressor as Jacoby was.

  4. And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights

    May 6, 2015, 7:04 AM EDT

    Carlos Perez Getty Images

    This is easily the most photo and video-heavy ATH of all time. Mostly because pitchers did things with bats and teams wore throwbacks last night.

  5. Video: George Springer makes another catch at the wall

    May 5, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT

    springer getty Getty Images

    George Springer has been robbing opponents all season, and he did it again Tuesday night …

  6. Christian Yelich expected to rejoin Marlins on Friday

    May 5, 2015, 10:22 PM EDT

    yelich getty Getty Images

    Some very good news here for the Marlins …

  7. Devin Mesoraco could need hip surgery

    May 5, 2015, 9:15 PM EDT

    Screenshot 2015-05-05 at 5.21.58 PM Getty Images

    Mesoraco is still unable to squat and acknowledged to John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer on Tuesday that he might need surgery to get over the injury — a surgery that would come with a four-month rehab.

  8. Video: Todd Frazier takes NL lead with ninth home run

    May 5, 2015, 8:29 PM EDT

    Screenshot 2015-05-05 at 7.08.27 PM Getty Images

    Frazier’s last five hits have been home runs and he has now leapfrogged Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez for the National League lead in that category (at nine total).

  9. Marco Gonzales to return from AAA disabled list Saturday

    May 5, 2015, 7:47 PM EDT

    marco gonzales getty Getty Images

    He’ll be on a pitch count in his first game back, but if the outing goes well and Lyons struggles there will probably be strong consideration given to promoting Gonzales late next week.

  10. Padres lose Brandon Morrow to shoulder injury

    May 5, 2015, 7:03 PM EDT

    morrow getty Getty Images

    The 30-year-old righty was looking like a tremendous offseason find for the Padres on a one-year, $2.5 million free agent deal.

  11. Alex Cobb confirmed to have elbow ligament tear

    May 5, 2015, 6:18 PM EDT

    cobb getty Getty Images

    It’s an awful situation for the Rays, who are off to a surprising 14-12 start this season. Cobb, 27, boasts a 2.82 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 8.2 K/9 over his last 309 2/3 innings.

  12. Royals expected to get closer Greg Holland back tomorrow

    May 5, 2015, 5:05 PM EDT

    Greg Holland Getty Getty Images

    Kansas City’s bullpen has an MLB-best 1.00 ERA this season.

  13. Indians activate Nick Swisher, demote Tyler Holt to Triple-A

    May 5, 2015, 4:22 PM EDT

    Nick Swisher AP

    Nick Swisher has made it back from a pair of knee surgeries.

  14. Brewers activate Scooter Gennett from DL after shower injury

    May 5, 2015, 2:32 PM EDT

    Scooter Gennett Brewers AP

    As far as silly injuries go slicing your hand open while reaching for some shampoo in the shower is pretty bad.

  15. Alex Cobb may have a torn elbow ligament

    May 5, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT

    alex cobb getty Getty Images

    It’s just “informed speculation” at the moment. But the speculator tends to be pretty well-informed.

Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. A. Rendon (3697)
  2. A. Cobb (3100)
  3. J. Hamilton (2944)
  4. D. Wright (2896)
  5. A. Colome (2805)
  1. D. Span (2648)
  2. A. Pujols (2643)
  3. G. Holland (2546)
  4. H. Ramirez (2452)
  5. A. Escobar (2443)