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Who is this pro-human element, anti-computers in the dugout guy?

Apr 15, 2013, 3:00 PM EDT

Oh, it’s just Bill James. In 1984. Writing about how people shouldn’t get upset about teams hiring computer specialists to analyze baseball because it doesn’t change a thing about what people who are working in or thinking about baseball are trying to do, and that’s to understand baseball and make baseball teams better:

There is, you see, no such thing as “computer knowledge” or “computer information” or “computer data.” Within a few years, everyone will understand that. The essential characteristics of information are that it is true or it is false, it is significant or it is trivial, it is relevant or it is irrelevant. In the early days of the automobile, people would say that they were going to take an “automobile trip.” That lasted about ten years; after that, people went back to taking trips as they had before. They were vacation trips, or they were business trips, or they were trips on personal matters, or they were trips to the coast or they were trips to the mountains. After the novelty wore off people still traveled in automobiles, but they ceased to identify the trip with the machine and returned to identify it with its purpose. People stopped driving to Cleveland just to have some place to drive. That’s what we’re going through now with the computer; twenty years from now, the term “computer information” will sound quaint and silly … I am engaged in a search for understanding. That is my profession. It has nothing to do with computers. Computers are going to have an impact on my life that is similar to the impact that the coming of the automobile age must have had on the professional traveler or adventurer. The car made it easier to get from place to place; the computer will make it easier to deal with information. But knowing how to drive an automobile does not make you an adventurer, and knowing how to run a computer does not make you an analytical student of the game.

People who bemoan “sabertmetrics” are like the people who used the term “automobile trips” back in the day. They are mistaking the means of transport for the purpose of the trip. They believe that, say, calculating some complex statistic is the purpose as opposed to trying to figure out which baseball player is better and thus which player is worth trading for or starting or platooning or what have you. They’re hating on the tool and believing it’s the job.

And they’re doing it because they have made some silly caricature out of Bill James and the people who have followed in his footsteps.  The man himself was saying nearly 30 years ago that it’s not about the computers or the calculations. It’s not about the means. It’s the end. Understanding baseball. That’s what matters. Who cares how it’s accomplished?

(Thanks to Baseball Crank, who reminded me of this one a few minutes ago)

  1. Rich Stowe - Apr 15, 2013 at 3:05 PM

    Bill James and the other “computer geeks” have simply changed how stats are evaluated and it has led to a better understanding of how good or great a player actually is. The ones who are bemoaning it simply don’t understand that batting average means almost nothing when you have OBP, OPS etc at your fingertips to get a more complete picture of a hitter. They are also the ones who believe pitcher wins actually matter even though all the stats show that the majority of a win for a pitcher is out of their hands – the stats show whether a pitcher is lucky to have 15 wins, unlucky to only have 10 or is truly dominant and is in full control of how many wins they get.

    I’m still amazed that people are still fighting this – computers and more in-depth stats are here – they just need to deal with it.

    • tuberippin - Apr 15, 2013 at 3:46 PM

      Wait, so you’re saying people that are kind of dumb are opposed to learning about new and valuable sources of information?!

      Seriously though, we’re in the USA. We’re a country that has at least 25% of the population reject the concept of evolution ffs. The fact that people can’t wrap their head around new types of numbers is unsurprising when you really think about it.

      The opening couple of sentences really got me though. Poor 1984 version of Bill James…so naive.

      “There is, you see, no such thing as “computer knowledge” or “computer information” or “computer data.” Within a few years, everyone will understand that.

      If only the bold part had actually turned out that way.

    • tuberippin - Apr 15, 2013 at 3:52 PM

      Wait, so you’re saying people that are kind of dumb are opposed to learning about new and valuable sources of information?!

      Seriously though, we’re in the USA. We’re a country that has at least 25% of the population reject the concept of evolution. The fact that people can’t wrap their head around new types of numbers is unsurprising when you really think about it.

      The opening couple of sentences really got me though. Poor 1984 version of Bill James…so naive.

      “There is, you see, no such thing as “computer knowledge” or “computer information” or “computer data.” Within a few years, everyone will understand that.

      If only the bold part had actually turned out that way.

    • blacksables - Apr 15, 2013 at 3:53 PM

      People can deal with the fact that advanced metrics exist to help define and understand the game.

      What we can’t deal with is when we are told that is the only way to define and understand the game.

      Numbers are numbers and nothing more. Its the attitude of those who use the advanced metrics towards those who choose to look at the game in a different light that cause the problems.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Apr 15, 2013 at 7:20 PM

        What we can’t deal with is when we are told that is the only way to define and understand the game.

        Who says this? I often see it as a strawman from the luddite crowd, but what sabr-inclined writer has said or does say it?

      • ILoveBaseball - Apr 16, 2013 at 11:01 AM

        Sabremetricians are like people; there are good ones and bad ones. Just because some people have crappy attitudes doesn’t mean their analysis is flawed.

    • tuberippin - Apr 15, 2013 at 3:53 PM

      Wait, so you’re saying people that are kind of dumb are opposed to learning about new and valuable sources of information?!

      Seriously though, we’re in the USA. We’re a country that has at least 25% of the population reject the concept of evolution. The fact that people can’t wrap their head around new types of numbers is unsurprising when you really think about it.

      The opening couple of sentences really got me though. Poor 1984 version of Bill James…so naive.

      “There is, you see, no such thing as ‘computer knowledge’ or ‘computer information’ or ‘computer data.’ Within a few years, everyone will understand that.”

      If only the second part of that quotation had actually turned out that way.

    • tuberippin - Apr 15, 2013 at 3:54 PM

      Wait, so you’re saying people that are kind of dumb are opposed to learning about new and valuable sources of information?!

      Seriously though, we’re in the USA. We’re a country that has at least 25% of the population reject the concept of evolution. The fact that people can’t wrap their head around new types of numbers is unsurprising when you really think about it.

    • tuberippin - Apr 15, 2013 at 3:56 PM

      So you’re saying people that are kind of dumb are opposed to learning about new and valuable sources of information?

      Seriously though, we’re a country where at least one quarter of the population reject the concept of evolution. The fact that people can’t wrap their head around new types of numbers is unsurprising when you really think about it.

      • cktai - Apr 16, 2013 at 2:16 AM

        You argument carried more weight the first dozen times :(

      • cktai - Apr 16, 2013 at 2:17 AM

        Your argument carried more weight the first hundred times.

    • tuberippin - Apr 15, 2013 at 3:57 PM

      I don’t know why HBT won’t take my comment (i’ve tried to post it about five goddamned times now), but is it really all that amazing? In a nation where a quarter of the population doesn’t believe that we evolved from other organisms over time?

      • twinsapologist - Apr 15, 2013 at 4:47 PM

        Someone really wanted to get their point across.

      • Hoss - Apr 15, 2013 at 6:44 PM

        You did post it five goddam times you impatient asshole. Don’t be in such a rush to hastily generalize a group of people who don’t think the same as you do. The main problem people have with sabremetrics is that it’s a bunch of fucking nerds analyzing every single thing a baseball player does when they know almost nothing about playing the game themselves. Same reason people don’t like bloggers.

      • tuberippin - Apr 15, 2013 at 8:44 PM

        I could not give less of a fuck if the server delays my post by minutes or hours. I was posting something, it didn’t take, I tried again. And way to chastise me for generalizing…and then turn around and promptly do the exact same thing.

      • tuberippin - Apr 15, 2013 at 8:44 PM

        and FWIW I’m also thumbing down all five of my posts because I suck for having done that.

  2. pinkfloydprism - Apr 15, 2013 at 3:08 PM

    Poor Bill… he had third deck seats in the same row as I did for the World Baseball Classic USA vs Mexico game. I could not figure out how he got placed there.

  3. kjericho43 - Apr 15, 2013 at 3:10 PM

    Hawk Harrelson hates this post, Craig.

  4. oldpaddy - Apr 15, 2013 at 3:12 PM

    Boston marathon was just bombed. At least two explosions.

    • silversun60 - Apr 15, 2013 at 4:21 PM

      Are you saying Bill James did it? Or that computers did it? Or…. just posting random facts?

    • Glenn - Apr 15, 2013 at 7:29 PM

      Thanks for posting important news in a timely manner – this was my first source for this horrible incident.

    • oldpaddy - Apr 15, 2013 at 9:27 PM

      It’s been a horrible day for us in new england.
      I’m beyond sadness. Just numb.
      Give your children and loved ones and extra hug.

  5. dowhatifeellike - Apr 15, 2013 at 3:51 PM

    Computers and humans do the same calculations, it’s just that computers do them much more quickly. It’s still up to the human to decide what to do with the output.

  6. The Dangerous Mabry - Apr 15, 2013 at 4:13 PM

    This just in: 1984 was nearly 30 years ago. Oof.

  7. katra2logic - Apr 15, 2013 at 4:15 PM

    Could only find some nutty rambling from some paranoid loser on the Baseball Crank link and not much on BB at all.

  8. cur68 - Apr 15, 2013 at 4:21 PM

    Tuber, you got wordpressed. Happens to us all. This time I think we should cut MSNBC some slack. Their servers just got jumped on, big time. A series of bombs have gone off at the Boston Marathon finish line. Some deaths are being reported. I imagine that all the news, and especially the sports news, servers are being overwhelmed right now.

  9. conjecture101 - Apr 15, 2013 at 5:47 PM

    People who bemoan “sabertmetrics” are like the people who used the term “automobile trips” back in the day.

    I think people who bemoan “sabermetrics” are the same people who bemoaned the term “automobile trips.” A new concept is introduced and it becomes more about the newness of that concept than its actual purpose. You don’t drive to Cleveland just to drive. You also don’t look at Adam Jones O-Swing Percentage just to look.

    Just like there are ignorant baseball fans who think all statistics are worthless, there are just as many self-proclaimed “sabermatricians” who couldn’t really care less about the actual game of baseball, and are attracted merely to the newness of “sabermetrics.”

    • cktai - Apr 16, 2013 at 2:19 AM

      Are there? What fun could there possibly be in sabermetrics if you de-attach it from baseball?

      • conjecture101 - Apr 16, 2013 at 5:31 PM

        Last time I played Strat-O-Matic it wasn’t on a field with a bat and a glove.

  10. jiminthebay - Apr 15, 2013 at 6:39 PM

    i can still pretty fairly judge a player using a handful of the “old” normal stats. i think it was the scott boras’s who beat us to death with all the “new” bill james sabremetric stats flouting them in the faces of g.m.s at contract time. all i need to know about coco laboy is that he didn’t play like a lagirl…..oooooph

    • Hoss - Apr 15, 2013 at 6:46 PM

      Yeah, you can tell who is good by fucking watching players play. you’re not going to get the season long trends and things like that from just one game but you can definitely see in a moment what one player can or cannot do.

      • ILoveBaseball - Apr 16, 2013 at 11:17 AM

        The issue is that yes, you can see what a player can do but not what he will do.

    • ILoveBaseball - Apr 16, 2013 at 11:14 AM

      … and pitchers can be fairly judged by wins

  11. crackersnap - Apr 15, 2013 at 7:40 PM

    James missed his own point. People stopped saying “automobile trip” not because was it no longer new. They stopped saying it because it became redundant, and it became redundant when it became the overwhelmingly dominant mode of transportation. Prior to the automobile, people didn’t say “I am going to walk to Cleveland”, or “I am going to ride my horse to Cleveland”. But they did, and still do, say “I am going to take a bus ride to…” or “I am going to take the train to…” or “I am going to fly out to…”. In fact, now that the automobile is dominant, the phrase “I am going to hike to…” is perfectly acceptable.

    IMHO, people will stop saying “computer information” when the vast majority of information is consumed via computer. But, with the rise in compute power and network bandwidth, the information being consumed as time goes on is actually via more and more alternatives that are not considered to be computers (HD televisions, PDA’s, smartphones, eReaders, car consoles, etc.). Sure, they really ARE computers, but they spend most of their time rendering and a lot of that rendering on real-time information. “Computer information”, as a term, is going to become synonymous with concepts such as “static”, “archive”, “voluminous” and “library”.

    It’s only a matter of time before a meaningful, compelling and gratifying looks into the stats integral to the game at hand become as functional as a programmable remote and the resistance will be overwhelmed. But we still be calling all that stuff on Baseball Reference “computer information”.

  12. Brian Donohue - Apr 15, 2013 at 9:14 PM

    I actually submitted this link to Slashdot (very popular info-site for geeks). I just think it’s a perspective that techies need to be reminded of every so often.

  13. sportsdrenched - Apr 16, 2013 at 10:19 AM

    For me, my biggest frustration with the new statistics isn’t with the statistic themselves…it’s the presentation. When OPS and other stats first emerged whoever was referencing them would just throw out: “Calico Joe has an OPS of 1.012″

    Is that good? Is that the worst in the league? I had no idea. I had to find out for myself.

    I think “Sabremetrics” could go a long way if there was some context put around the numbers.

    • cggarb - Apr 16, 2013 at 10:47 AM

      It’s absolutely no different than traditional stats, other than the fact that you aren’t 7 years old when you were first exposed to them. At some point, you learned that a .300 batting average was good, right? That 20 wins reflected an exceptional season by a starting pitcher, right? That 30 HR was good, 40 HR was very good, and 50 HR was something that happened once a decade?

      Pay attention for 15 minutes – or run one Google search – and you’ll learn the same thing about OPS.
      It’s really not that hard to find context for “new” metrics.

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