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. Cardinals shut down Jaime Garcia with more shoulder problems

    Mar 30, 2015, 1:49 PM EDT

    jaime garcia getty Getty Images

    Carlos Martinez time in the Cardinals’ rotation?

  2. Mets find a lefty, acquire reliever Alex Torres from Padres

    Mar 30, 2015, 1:20 PM EDT

    San Diego Padres v San Francisco Giants Getty Images

    He posted a 3.33 ERA in 70 appearances for the Padres in a limited role, logging a total of just 54 innings with a 51/33 K/BB ratio.

  3. The Cubs assign Kris Bryant and Addison Russell to the minors, option Javier Baez as well

    Mar 30, 2015, 1:07 PM EDT

    Kris Bryant Getty Images

    Service time manipulation, the depth chart and hacktastic tendencies mean that the future is not quite here for three of the Cubs’ top prospects.

  4. Reds release left-hander Paul Maholm

    Mar 30, 2015, 12:46 PM EDT

    paul maholm getty Getty Images

    Maholm has indicated that he wants to continue starting, which likely sealed his fate in Cincinnati and limits his options going forward.

  5. It’s OK for ballplayers to be friendly with one another. Really.

    Mar 30, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 12.11.07 PM AP

    Baseball technically has a rule against “fraternization.” It’s a dumb rule.

  6. 2015 Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks

    Mar 30, 2015, 12:04 PM EDT

    Chip Hale, Dave Stewart, Tony LaRussa AP

    New regime, different results?

  7. MLB owns a stake in daily fantasy sports

    Mar 30, 2015, 11:35 AM EDT

    Money Bag

    Daily Fantasy Sports is not, legally speaking, gambling. But it is somewhat surprising to see Major League Baseball taking a stake in it.

  8. Mets “still may try to trade Dillon Gee within the month”

    Mar 30, 2015, 11:19 AM EDT

    Dillon Gee Getty Getty Images

    He’s owed $5.3 million for 2015 and is also under team control for 2016 via arbitration.

  9. Marlins release outfielder Reed Johnson

    Mar 30, 2015, 10:47 AM EDT

    Chicago Cubs' Reed Johnson watches a 2-RBI against the Boston Red Sox during their MLB Interleague baseball game at Fenway Park Reuters

    Looks like the end of the line for the 38-year-old.

  10. The New York press is getting desperate in their search for A-Rod intrigue

    Mar 30, 2015, 10:36 AM EDT

    Alex Rodriguez AP AP

    A-Rod’s worst offense yet: not giving the press anything to be offended about.

  11. Brewers release former All-Star closer Chris Perez

    Mar 30, 2015, 10:15 AM EDT

    chris perez getty Getty Images

    Perez was a back-to-back All-Star in 2011 and 2012.

  12. Players are taking home a much smaller percentage of revenue than they used to

    Mar 30, 2015, 10:04 AM EDT

    Tony Clark AP

    What, if anything, will Tony Clark and the MLBPA do about it?

  13. Vazquez insurance: The Red Sox acquire catcher Sandy Leon from the Nationals

    Mar 30, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

    Sandy Leon Getty Images

    Leon looks to have the inside track on the Sox’ backup catching gig.

  14. 2015 Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

    Mar 30, 2015, 8:33 AM EDT

    John Gibbons AP

    Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the Blue Jays look like a club that’ll mash the hell out of the ball but have a hard time with run prevention.

  15. Is spring training “horribly, utterly broken?”

    Mar 30, 2015, 7:24 AM EDT

    Equipment Bags

    The first rule of solutions: make sure you’re employing them to address actual problems.

  16. Rangers release Ryan Ludwick

    Mar 29, 2015, 11:55 PM EDT

    Ryan Ludwick Getty Images

    Ryan Ludwick didn’t hit much during Cactus League play, resulting in the Rangers releasing him on Sunday.

  17. Nick Martinez wins No. 5 spot in Rangers’ starting rotation

    Mar 29, 2015, 11:20 PM EDT

    Nick Martinez AP

    Nick Martinez beat out the field to win the final spot in the Rangers’ starting rotation.

  18. Mike Pelfrey recants his comments about the Twins trading him

    Mar 29, 2015, 10:25 PM EDT

    Mike Pelfrey Mike Pelfrey

    Mike Pelfrey took back his comments about being happy with a trade to a team that would use him as a starter.

  19. Video: Ben Revere robs Rajai Davis of a home run

    Mar 29, 2015, 9:20 PM EDT

    Ben Revere Ben Revere

    Ben Revere broke a promise to Rajai Davis when the Phillies’ left fielder robbed a home run.

Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. J. Fernandez (4491)
  2. Y. Tomas (3834)
  3. S. Doolittle (3827)
  4. K. Bryant (3804)
  5. C. Rodon (3714)
  1. H. Olivera (3674)
  2. G. Richards (3661)
  3. A. Cobb (3620)
  4. T. Walker (3506)
  5. K. Jansen (3455)