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. Mets, Dodgers not having “active discussions” about Jon Niese trade

    Jun 29, 2015, 8:09 PM EDT

    TORONTO, CANADA - JUNE 17: Jon Niese #49 of the New York Mets makes his way from the bullpen to the dugout before the start of the MLB game against the Toronto Blue Jays on June 17, 2015 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) Getty Images

    It was reported over the weekend that the Dodgers and Cubs were among the teams with interest in a trade for Mets left-hander Jon Niese.

  2. MRI comes back negative on Hanley Ramirez’s hand

    Jun 29, 2015, 7:28 PM EDT

    cD05ODdlNmNhY2MwMjRlZWQzNTJhM2ViYTQ1Y2VlY2YzOCZnPTcxZThlNjJlYTk2MzE4ZmFhMzc4MDliNDI4YjY5ZDUy Getty Images

    Ramirez has been cleared to swing a bat and Red Sox manager John Farrell is optimistic that he’ll be able to return during the team’s four-game series in Toronto this week.

  3. Tigers acquire infielder Alexi Casilla from Rays

    Jun 29, 2015, 6:14 PM EDT

    PORT CHARLOTTE, FL - FEBRUARY 27:  Alexi Casilla #10 of the Tampa Bay Rays poses for a photo on photo day at Charlotte Sports Park on February 27, 2015 in Port Charlotte, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Casilla has mostly played at the Triple-A level for the past two seasons.

  4. C.J. Cron hits his way back into the Angels’ plans

    Jun 29, 2015, 5:40 PM EDT

    C.J. Cron Getty Images

    Cron hit well at Triple-A, batting .323 with six homers and a 1.014 OPS.

  5. Wanna buy Felix Hernandez’s house?

    Jun 29, 2015, 5:30 PM EDT

    Felix Hernandez house

    It’ll only cost you a cool $3.8 million.

  6. The Orioles shut down Dylan Bundy

    Jun 29, 2015, 5:03 PM EDT

    Toronto Blue Jays v Baltimore Orioles Getty Images

    More bad health news for a guy who has had his fair share of it in his brief career.

  7. Ruben Amaro will be making all of the Phillies’ moves for the rest of the season

    Jun 29, 2015, 4:35 PM EDT

    Ruben Amaro Getty Images

    As of now, Ruben Amaro is in control here, in the White House. Er, I mean in the Phillies’ front office.

  8. NL All-Star voting update: Carpenter vs. Frazier, Holliday vs. Aoki

    Jun 29, 2015, 3:50 PM EDT

    Matt Carpenter AP

    Six of the eight spots seem all but settled.

  9. AL All-Star voting update: now “only” five Royals in the starting lineup

    Jun 29, 2015, 3:40 PM EDT

    All-Star Logo

    By this time next week we may have an actually acceptable All-Star squad for the Junior Circuit.

  10. Oakland may have to choose between the A’s and the Raiders

    Jun 29, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT

    Seattle Mariners v Oakland Athletics Getty Images

    I know which one I’d choose, but then again I’m biased on the subject.

  11. Andy MacPhail introduced by the Phillies. And the first topic of conversation is sabermetrics

    Jun 29, 2015, 2:39 PM EDT

    phillies logo Getty Images

    He will become President, overseeing baseball and business operations, at the end of the season.

  12. The Rays were early supporters of the same-sex marriage case as well

    Jun 29, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT

    Rays logo

    It wasn’t just the Giants who signed on to the amicus brief.

  13. Mets move Wilmer Flores off shortstop

    Jun 29, 2015, 11:44 AM EDT

    Wilmer Flores AP AP

    He’s a second baseman now.

  14. Bob Costas and Tim McCarver are going to call a game together

    Jun 29, 2015, 11:32 AM EDT

    old TV

    Your memory may trick you into thinking this has happened a lot in the past, but it has only happened twice. And not since Jimmy Carter was president.

  15. Josh Hamilton could come back today

    Jun 29, 2015, 11:02 AM EDT

    Josh Hamilton Getty Images

    Hamilton went 4-for-12 with three RBI in four rehab games for Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock.

  16. Hector Santiago’s autograph collection is something to behold

    Jun 29, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT

    Hector Santiago Getty Images

    As are his reason for amassing the collection in the first place.

Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. S. Matz (4102)
  2. B. Harper (3994)
  3. J. Hamilton (3588)
  4. H. Ramirez (3550)
  5. G. Stanton (3311)
  1. F. Freeman (3093)
  2. Y. Puig (3052)
  3. M. Franco (3024)
  4. M. Moore (3009)
  5. A. Jones (2901)