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L.A. Times writer ignorantly bashes “statistical gobbledygook”

Mar 11, 2013, 6:34 AM EDT

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Bill Dwyre was the sports editor of the L.A. Times for a quarter century and now writes columns. And he’s apparently quite proud of being an ignorant, uncurious know-nothing which, when thinks about it, should be disqualifying traits for a journalist. But hey: this is sports journalism and newspapers apparently don’t care if the folks who do that work are embarrassments. Indeed, some papers apparently embrace it.

The column he wrote which fully justifies the charges above came out in Friday’s paper and concerned Dwyre’s visit to the SABR Analytics conference in Phoenix. He went to hear Angels’ GM Jerry Dipoto speak, but spent most of his column bashing statistical analysis of baseball, which he calls “statistical gobbledygook.” You’ve seen columns like this before, but this is particularly egregious example of the genre.

I highlight Dwyre’s column less to bash it in its own right, however, and more to highlight a couple of responses to it that I find particularly apt in insightful. Less so for what they say than for who is saying it.

The first comes from Graham Womack of Baseball Past and Present. He writes an open letter response to Dwyre.  Graham is a member of the Los Angeles chapter of SABR and he speaks from the perspective of someone who once had some meaningful interaction with Dwyre which helped shape his views on sports writing and now finds himself disappointed in what this person now seems to champion. The second comes from former L.A. Times staffer Matt Welch, who once worked for Dwyre and offers a thorough rebuttal over at Halos Heaven.

Both Graham and Matt do more than mock this silly stuff, which is what I’d be inclined to do if I were to offer my own specific rebuttal to it. They explain, with some degree of sadness it seems, how unfortunate that this is what passes for journalistic curiosity and insight from a major figure at a major daily newspaper. These are two people who, one presumes, represent no small part of what was once newspapers’ customer base but which have now lost faith in the institution in one way or another. As time goes on — and if nothing changes in the approach of people like Dwyre — they will be joined by many more.

  1. mrfloydpink - Mar 11, 2013 at 6:42 AM

    In other news, Bill Dwyre has invited all Los Angeles children to stay off his lawn.

  2. mrfloydpink - Mar 11, 2013 at 6:44 AM

    Also worth noting: Dwyre is the man who hired both Bill Plaschke and TJ Simers.

    • unclemosesgreen - Mar 11, 2013 at 9:52 AM

      Why don’t you just get it over with and put in a link to your “gossip about writers” blog already.

    • mrfloydpink - Mar 11, 2013 at 2:07 PM

      I get it unclemosesgreen, you don’t like me because I have been very critical of Joe Posnanski (and have shared some insider information about him). That said:

      1. I work for a Los Angeles newspaper (not the Times), and live in Los Angeles, and have been subjected to Dwyre’s and Plaschke’s and Simers’s nonsense for a long time, so I feel entitled to comment.

      2. Pointing out that Plaschke (hired 1987) and SImers (hired 1990) began their L.A. Times careers during Dwyre’s tenure (1981-2006) is not “gossip,” it’s just a fact. To borrow from Inigo Montoya, “That word that you keep saying–I do not think it means what you think it means.”

      • unclemosesgreen - Mar 11, 2013 at 2:15 PM

        I don’t know you and reserve the right to possibly like you at a future date. I am a huge Roger Waters fan and suspect we would have a lot to talk about.

        I don’t like the fact that you have shared insider info about Joe Po both anonymously and without saying how you know what you know.

        Furthermore, I would suggest that this is an inappropriate forum for pursuing personal grudges against people you actually know. (I added the ‘you actually know’ clause so that Gator never stops bashing Scrooge McLoria.)

      • mrfloydpink - Mar 11, 2013 at 2:26 PM

        I have no problem explaining how I know what I know about Joe Posnanski. Several writers, after working for our sports department, have gone on to SI or to comparable national publications. I am in touch with them, and they–including the ones who actually work for SI–tell me that it’s s poorly kept secret that Posnanski was pushed out the door. Again, Jeff Pearlman–himself a former SI writer–expressed shock that Posnanski was not disciplined immediately for his actions in the days after the Penn State scandal broke. Is it really that hard to believe that SI decided they wanted to cut ties right around the time Posnanski’s contract was up? And that they kept it fairly quiet for both their sake and for Posnanski’s?

        As to your instruction/advice/order/whatever that this is not “an inappropriate forum for pursuing personal grudges against people you actually know,” I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’ve never claimed to know Posnanski, if that’s what you mean. And if you’re referring to Dwyre/Simers/Plaschke, nowhere in my post do I say I know them personally. I’ve met Plaschke and Simers once each, about 10 years ago, and I’ve never met Dwyre. What I said was that I live in a town where they have substantial control over the dialogue about professional sports–newspaper coverage, talk radio discussions, etc. As such, Dwyre is more than a one-time annoyance for me.

        And finally, even if I did know these people, I don’t need you to be my mommy or my personal HBT police. I can decide for myself what is and is not apropos, and if I cross the line, there are blog admins to take care of it. As, for example, halladaysbicepts learned all too well.

      • unclemosesgreen - Mar 11, 2013 at 2:32 PM

        It was a gentle suggestion of my opinion, which I would further suggest is a more appropriate use of the comments section. Your incivility and anger is noted.

      • mrfloydpink - Mar 11, 2013 at 10:15 PM

        If you detect incivility or anger in MY posts, then I think you were reading a bit much into things. From where I sit, my posts have been either (a) snarky remarks about Dwyre, et. al., consistent with the general tone of this blog and its comments section or (b) responses to specific questions/criticisms you have sent in my direction. If anyone has crossed the line into stridency, I would submit it is you. The responses of other readers–as expressed via the thumbs–would seem to sustain my interpretation.

  3. andreweac - Mar 11, 2013 at 7:11 AM

    Matt Welch at Halos Heaven with a superb takedown: http://www.halosheaven.com/2013/3/8/4081784/bill-dwyre-advertises-his-own-willful-self-defeating-ignorance

    I simply can’t top that.

  4. fanofevilempire - Mar 11, 2013 at 7:12 AM

    how did baseball survive almost 100 years without SABR Analytics, that is the real question.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Mar 11, 2013 at 7:18 AM

      It didn’t, broadly speaking. The game grew and advanced by teams learning and trying new things, constantly, as they still do. It’s only in the past decade or so as sportswriters have become threatened by such advancements, that anyone has decided that it’s awful.

      • Old Gator - Mar 11, 2013 at 7:42 AM

        As Earth Week approaches, it occurs to me that perhaps we need to find ways to make threatened spawrtsrighters feel more comfortable in a world whose analytical ecology has changed around them due to gullible warning. Perhaps actually compiling a list of threatened spawrtsrighters so that state legislatures can spend millions to protect them – as, for example, we have protected the Bummerese python, the lightmyfire ant, the giant Gambian pouched rat, the blunt-spoken anole and Danton’s Toad – would let them relax and enjoy counting on their fingers and toes again.

      • heyblueyoustink - Mar 11, 2013 at 8:28 AM

        Speaking of Earth Week, did Earth Week kill Arbor day? There used to be tree plantings and such that have disappeared.

      • jarathen - Mar 11, 2013 at 8:51 AM

        Heyblue, a few years ago Lowe’s gave people free trees at the end of Earth Week. It was awesome. And then someone broke my little baby tree after a few months of growing and all that.

        I was kind of heartbroken.

      • heyblueyoustink - Mar 11, 2013 at 9:59 AM

        Sorry to hear it Jar, it was probably a Republican.

        ( Because all things evil are caused by Republicans, wink, wink )

      • jarathen - Mar 11, 2013 at 11:37 AM

        Happened again with some real city-planted trees later on, too. I’ve seen chipmunks upend flowers to plant seeds and all, and that’s nature, but the willful destruction of something so naturally good by people with nothing better to do vexes me terribly. Glad I have moved to a neighborhood where people respect your private property.

      • Old Gator - Mar 11, 2013 at 12:34 PM

        Technicalityily, Arbor Day is the last Friday of April. It hasn’t been replaced by Earth Day as much as overshadowed by it – kinda like planting a dwarf magnolia next to a hundred year old jakfruit, or maybe like asking George W. Bush to square off against Stephen Hawking on Jeopardy.

    • indaburg - Mar 11, 2013 at 7:29 AM

      No. No, it’s not. That question is besides the point. The analytics have improved our understanding of the game. The lack of advanced metrics doesn’t preclude survival. It’s an enhancement, a way to make the game better. Who doesn’t want that? Other than people stubbornly unwilling to learn or adapt, that is.

      • unclemosesgreen - Mar 11, 2013 at 7:46 AM

        Here’s what it boils down to – there’s really no incentive for sportswriters to get it right. They aren’t in the business of getting it right, they’re in the business of selling progressively less and less advertisements and subscriptions.

        For a baseball executive whose continued employment depends on some degree of year-over-year accuracy (unlike Dayton Moore, that is) the new numbers mean everything.

        If you want to know whether the new statistics are important and game changing, all you have to do is look at how many front offices are using them. Since all 30 front offices use them to one degree or another, you have your answer.

        During the roaring twenties, there were countless editorials demonizing the dangerous new contraption with an engine and four wheels that was pushing out the horse-drawn buggy. In my day, the streets were absolutely full of horseshit, and spooked horses would suddenly take off and kill a bunch of pedestrians at random. It worked, and we liked it.

      • indaburg - Mar 11, 2013 at 8:23 AM

        Excelent point. From a baseball executive’s perspective, yes, those analytics are critical for survival. I should have been more clear in that I was speaking from a fan’s point of view, where those numbers are an enhancement to the viewing experience and not critical for survival. Sportswriters are in the business to sell stories, and advanced metrics aren’t sexy enough to sell. There aren’t enough extrinsic rewards for the average sportswriter to get it right. It’s just about what sells and numbers aren’t sexy.

      • unclemosesgreen - Mar 11, 2013 at 9:21 AM

        If you don’t think numbers are sexy, you probably aren’t using them right. ;)

        Numbers are inextricably linked to the history and enjoyment of baseball. One of the main beefs that the old-timers have with the new numbers is that they can no longer make (false and misleading) apples-to-apples comparisons between modern players and old-timers. I also believe this is at the heart of their anti-roid rage. It’s not as much about the illegality or possible dangers of steroids (see, e.g. “greenies”) as it is about cheating the old guys out of their records.

      • indaburg - Mar 11, 2013 at 10:02 AM

        Oh, I think numbers are very sexy, personally. Especially number 5, that little minx. But my tastes are probably not the same as the average Joe Schmo fan buying the NY Post on his way to the subway.

        As a fan, I know that analytics have made me a better fan. Not that I’m the world’s foremost expert. I have a lot to learn. What I like is that as a fan, they’ve forced me to think critically about the game. The more I learn about them, the more I realize that my perception isn’t always reality, that what I thought was gospel as a kid isn’t necessarily true (the illusion of a clutch hitter comes to mind) and that yes, my eyes can deceive. That’s not say I don’t appreciate the human element or narratives in the game. I just try to take a balanced approach.

        If I may draw a parallel to my career–in nursing, we call it evidence-based practice. In baseball, it’s called sabermetrics.

    • bolweevils2 - Mar 12, 2013 at 9:48 AM

      The human race survived millennia without electricity. That doesn’t prove electricity isn’t advantageous. You can survive without SABR Analytics. But if you try to while your opponents are using them, you put yourself at a distinct disadvantage.

      Sports is all about finding an edge. And sabermetrics is an edge.

  5. bigdinla - Mar 11, 2013 at 7:32 AM

    I do think the statistical part of baseball is over blown. If it was the end all be all of player evaluation Oakland and Boston would have won a lot more WS. Too many people, fans especially get way to hung up on stats. The more obscure the better. I think it is pretty easy to spot the teams that use statistics as part of the equation and those that live and die by them.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 11, 2013 at 7:55 AM

      If it was the end all be all of player evaluation

      I’ll take, Strawman arguments that are never actually said for $500 Alex…

    • Joe - Mar 11, 2013 at 8:28 AM

      I do think the statistical part of baseball is over blown. If it was the end all be all of player evaluation Oakland and Boston would have won a lot more WS.

      …because Oakland and Boston are the only teams in Major League Baseball using advanced statistical analysis.

  6. takingbovadasmoney - Mar 11, 2013 at 8:07 AM

    And? Yet another Craig Claptrap article demeaning someone else’s point of view, because they disagree with him. Craig, when does the criticism of the Baseball Prospectus stating WAR is just one tool to be used in conjunction with a myriad of others?

    • skeleteeth - Mar 11, 2013 at 9:12 AM

      Did you bother to read any of the articles he linked to? The Matt Welch article is far more judgmental of Dwyer than anything CC writes above. On top of that, anyone that feels the need to take pride in their own ignorance and unwillingness to educate themselves on the subject matter that they claim as livelihood should be taken to task and often.

    • paperlions - Mar 11, 2013 at 9:13 AM

      That is exactly the point. No one that has any sabermetric knowledge has ever said that WAR is anything more than one tool. Everyone that uses WAR-type statistics for their intended purpose uses it as a starting point, not an end point. No team has ever fired scouts as a result of analytics, they just hired guys to add information to the discussion. Indeed, many teams have hired more scouts, not fewer, because of analytical insights.

      Dwyer is saying that tool is useless, despite the fact that 29 out of 30 teams have an analytical department and many have hired sabermetricians that wrote online content and independently developed metrics and no teams have hired old-timey baseball writers to help them make better baseball decisions. All Craig is saying is that willful ignorance is unbecoming, particularly for a journalist, for who curiosity is a pre-requisite.

      The fact is that more information is better, and better information is better….saying you are anti-information is a view that should be discouraged.

  7. heyblueyoustink - Mar 11, 2013 at 8:25 AM

    Sabermetrics? You mean the stuff that didn’t work out for either the Jedi Knighthood or General Custard? Those sabermetrics?

  8. Joe - Mar 11, 2013 at 8:31 AM

    I find the “sabermetricians are not real baseball fans” trope so very tiring.

    Practically everybody who knows me knows that I am a huge baseball fan.

    About ten of them have heard of sabermetrics, and know that I enjoy the analytical side of the business, too.

    • historiophiliac - Mar 11, 2013 at 8:46 AM

      Can you actually talk to them about that? I lose people when I start talking about individual players and game specifics.

      • skeleteeth - Mar 11, 2013 at 8:49 AM

        Christ, I lose people when I ask them to name 2 starting outfielders for other teams in their division.

      • chacochicken - Mar 11, 2013 at 1:06 PM

        I suppose I’m lucky. I’ve got about 6 very good friends who all discuss baseball, strategy, stats, contracts, games, spring training, the minors, more or less the whole damn thing. We regularly discuss SIERA and WAR. Even my dog appreciates WAR. Although he and I have a very contentious debate going about just how much “luck” and other factors go into a hitter’s BABIP. True story.

    • jarathen - Mar 11, 2013 at 8:52 AM

      It’s such a logical next step, too. Baseball fans have often been nerds who know all about the back of the baseball card. Is it so weird that this statistical fetish now goes further than just a few token statistics?

  9. dolphindubs - Mar 11, 2013 at 9:21 AM

    Gobbledygook? A new word has been added to my vocabulary today. It’s gonna be a good week!

    • js20011041 - Mar 11, 2013 at 9:39 AM

      What’s the over/under on the minimum age requirement for the use of “gobbledygook”? It’s got to at least 70, right?

  10. Chris Fiorentino - Mar 11, 2013 at 9:43 AM

    Wow HBT is so touchy about their stats. Geeze guys. Some people like stats and some people don’t. To come on here, first thing in the morning on a Monday, and rip a guy a new asshole for his opinion is pretty lame, Craig. Especially after everything that happened this weekend with the greatest tournament in the history of baseball, the WBC.

    You disagree with him…OK, that’s fine. No reason to personally bash the guy for an entire blog posting. And believe me…you may not think it was personal, but every sentence Craig wrote above oozes with hate for the guy whether it was a conscious decision or not. And of course every comment oozes with hate for the guy too, although that’s fine because we commenters are not professional writers.

    Why not write why you disagree and move along. If enough people feel the way that you do, they will move along as well, and this Dwyer guy will fade away. If enough people don’t feel the way that you do, then he will remain.

    • jarathen - Mar 11, 2013 at 9:51 AM

      I think there’s a natural animosity between writers who have held positions for ages but refuse to change their interpretation of the game from reasonable sources, especially against a new guard of writers who are open to new ideas and valuations of how the game is properly paid. That these old school writers have access and pull is, I imagine, particularly galling.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Mar 11, 2013 at 9:56 AM

        To me, it’s galling to personally attack someone for their views. No matter how stupid they may be. Sure, Dwyer is living in the past in a “Get off my lawn” way. But it’s not like he’s being a racist. Or a sexist. Or anything particularly evil. He doesn’t like stats. Whoopdie-freaking-doo. Is that any reason to call the guy an “ignorant, uncurious[sic], know-nothing”?

    • chacochicken - Mar 11, 2013 at 9:54 AM

      We should probably throw out all the stats (since they can be so confusing after my 10th beer) and judge players more objectively by seeing who is the best arm-wrestler. Listen, while it may be egregiously intellectually lazy, to ignore advanced metrics, its just basic human nature to fear/hate things one doesn’t understand. One of the most frustrating things I deal with personally is the tremendous misunderstandings people have toward evolutionary theory. Starting with the word theory. While they maybe entitled to their own “opinion” and opinion born only of comically self assured ignorance is totally worthless to both them and those they interact with. Same case here.

    • naliamegod - Mar 11, 2013 at 10:40 AM

      Go read the articles before posting. Noone is ripping the guy for having a different opinion. He is being ripped because;

      A.) He randomly insulted a fairly well respected organization for no reason (SABR) and

      B.) He didn’t bother to do even the most basic research before insulting such organization (SABR isn’t even a stat/number crunching group; it’s mostly known for history work and had nothing to do with the stats mentioned in the article).

      In otherwords, he is being ripped, by fellow journalists FYI, for being completely unprofessional and lazy at his paid job. Seriously, actually read the articles linked before acting like the superior one.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Mar 11, 2013 at 11:52 AM

        I read the article by Dwyre that Craig talked about in his blog posting. No matter what Dwyre did, to write a blog post personally attacking the guy within the second sentence is completely out of line in my opinion. Just because you have your panties in a bunch about what Dwyre wrote also doesn’t make him ignorant or lazy. He doesn’t agree with you, Craig, and most here, including ME, about the use of stats in baseball. However, to take his opinion, and call the man an ignorant know-nothing is simply rude. The guy did get a degree from Notre Dame, which is not a bad school the last time I checked.

        Again, I don’t agree with what Dwyre wrote…I just don’t think it warranted being called an ignorant know-nothing. But whatever…to each his/her own.

      • naliamegod - Mar 11, 2013 at 10:49 PM

        I suggest you read the other articles posted. Once again, he is not being attacked for disagreeing. He is being attacked, because he wrote an article on an event he covered where:

        A.) He insulted the subjects in the article for no reason (He called the organization a bunch of rattlers) and;

        B.) Didn’t bother to do any research on the said group. If he did, he would know that they have little to do with the advanced statistics being made recently.

        You might think the attack is “personal,” but when an editor of a major newspaper is refusing to any basic research on his subject and is insulting them within the article title, than he deserves such criticism for being lousy at his job.

  11. elmo - Mar 11, 2013 at 11:03 AM

    You seem to imply that this has something to do with failing print media. I don’t think this has anything to do with that. Knuckleheaded sportswriters write for a mass market. Sabermetrics is for a niche market. General readers, and most fans, have no need or desire for complex statistical analysis. Print publishers aren’t losing readers because of a failure to keep up to date with innovative yet arcane sports trivia. That’s happening for other reasons.

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