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Great Moments in Sabermetric Discourse

Jun 26, 2014, 9:45 AM EDT

I have always had great respect for Mitchel Lichtman, known more widely as MGL, sabermetrician extraordinairre. He’s a really smart guy who is able to cut through a lot of baloney when it comes to baseball stats. Most of my experience with his work has been me looking blankly at what he says or writes, failing to comprehend it and then, some time later, be it ten minutes or two years, saying “wow, that was pretty damn insightful.”

But I have to be honest and also admit that, if any sabermetrician comes close to fitting the stereotype that non-stats people throw at them, it’s Lichtman. He has a fierce dedication and seriousness to his craft which, intended or not, comes off as humorless and lacking in larger perspective. Specifically, the perspective that baseball is, you know, kind of fun and cool sometimes, even if the fun and cool stuff causes us to lose sight of the nuts and bolts of it from time to time.

Maybe his best ever example of this came in a series of tweets last night:

I don’t think anyone reasonably thinks that Tim Lincecum is the same pitcher today that he was three or four years ago. And I don’t think appreciating his no-hitter yesterday — or even his messy no-hitter last year — requires one to make a judgment about his overall quality. Yes, people will go overboard when stuff like that happens, but c’mon.

Put differently: lighten up, Francis. Maybe pick a different battle? That game was as fun as hell to watch and seeing an outstanding performance from someone who has lost the thread in his game in many ways is way, way more uplifting and inspiring than seeing someone at the top of their game remain at the top.

Put differently again: Mitchel, let’s go get a beer sometime and just enjoy a ballgame on a shallow, entertainment-first level. We can really do that once in awhile.

  1. [citation needed] fka COPO - Jun 26, 2014 at 9:58 AM

    The simplest way to describe MGL is: he’s incredibly smart person who is also a giant a$$hole. Reading his “comments” on fangraphs/tango’s blog is painful with how awful he treats people.

    • timmmah10 - Jun 26, 2014 at 10:07 AM

      Once’s intelligence is usually directly correlated by their ability to be annoyed by ignorance.

      So, I completely buy that this guy is an asshole, because he is very smart.

      • raysfan1 - Jun 26, 2014 at 11:48 AM

        On the contrary, arrogance needs very little justification for a jerk to display it. If he is an intelligent jerk, then he’d merely be a dumb jerk if he were not intelligent.

      • yahmule - Jun 26, 2014 at 2:48 PM

        “A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer.”

        ~ Bruce Lee

        “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.”

        ~ William Shakespeare

        “Shut up, stupid.”

        ~ Yahmule

  2. beepbeepbeeplgb - Jun 26, 2014 at 10:06 AM

    man that guy sucks

  3. stex52 - Jun 26, 2014 at 10:07 AM

    Not too familiar with him at this point. But that was an ill-considered set of comments. Craig is right. He needs to lighten up and have more fun with baseball.

    • [citation needed] fka COPO - Jun 26, 2014 at 10:37 AM

      Ever have a coworker that’s super helpful/smart, and almost always seems willing to put aside their work to help you with something? That’s TomTango. Ever have/had a coworker that’s incredibly smart, but makes you feel dumb every time you ask him a question? That’s MGL.

      They wrote a book together that’s a fantastic read if you are into sabermetrics:

    • blacksables - Jun 26, 2014 at 10:45 AM

      I’ve read him quite a bit. To him, it’s only about the numbers, and the game is secondary.

      He has stated that he doesn’t understand why people watch the game without a computer to check every stat and second guess every opinion made.

      • stex52 - Jun 26, 2014 at 11:09 AM

        I actually can understand the different perspective if it is how he makes his living. And, having a science background, I appreciate the enlightenment on the game that statistical dara brings.

        But he is in a place that is a lot further down that road than I care to go.

      • gibbyfan - Jun 26, 2014 at 11:28 AM

        If he actually said that I think it begs the question, unless you are professionally involved, to what end would someone go to such extremes?
        Maybe I’m just an old baby boomer but I would prefer watching the game as a form of relaxation with a refreshment rather than a computer.

      • [citation needed] fka COPO - Jun 26, 2014 at 11:40 AM

        If he actually said that I think it begs the question

        Pretty sure you’re being trolled, especially with the last comment.

      • jwbiii - Jun 26, 2014 at 1:38 PM

        I use my meager knowledge of statistics to enhance my enjoyment of the game, not supplant it. But I’m not going to tell anybody how to watch a baseball game.

      • clemente2 - Jun 26, 2014 at 2:54 PM

        MGL can be awful as noted above, but I do not believe what blacksables says is true about him.

  4. jc4455 - Jun 26, 2014 at 10:16 AM

    Mitchel!

  5. renaado - Jun 26, 2014 at 10:17 AM

    Not related to statistical analysis.

    Indeed it may be true Tim was not the pitcher he was before those years, but there is a possibility he could rebound back to his top form… Pitchers with skills of high caliber can’t be the only ones who can achieve no hitters or perfect games, any pitchers can achieve that, we just dont know when or who can do that. Clearly this is not just a game of skill and analysis… But also LUCK.

    Tim Lincecum is still a good pitcher, but not as good as you can call “Very”.

    • paperlions - Jun 26, 2014 at 10:48 AM

      All of that is true, except for the part about him still being a good pitcher (assuming you meant a good MLB pitcher and not just that he is good compared to non-professional pitchers).

      His ERA the last few years:

      2012 5.12 (NL starter average 4.07)
      2013 4.37 (NL starter average 3.87)
      2014 4.42 (NL starter average 3.81)

      470 innings of being well below average is not good.

      • aresachaela - Jun 26, 2014 at 11:12 AM

        This guy is overrated. Cant even believe they’re paying him big bucks for that.

      • renaado - Jun 26, 2014 at 11:23 AM

        Just took a quick peak of his stats durin that time, 2012 is certainly the worse year for him, but he’s gradually improvin it as time passes by… SO/W ratio was certainly better at 2013 and kept his era better that year if you compare it to the previous one. Dunno this year but if he keeps doin what he’s capable of doin best like what happened today just as an example. Im sure it’ll be good.

  6. beepbeepbeeplgb - Jun 26, 2014 at 10:28 AM

    ohhhhh can you still have any fun now, Mitchell?

  7. philliesblow - Jun 26, 2014 at 10:39 AM

    Dude needs to log off his computer and go find a lady for the evening.

  8. ezthinking - Jun 26, 2014 at 10:57 AM

    He’s got his dog for his avatar….

    • gmagic9044 - Jun 26, 2014 at 11:14 AM

      And he looks to have bored his dog to death…

      “Just throw the ball…don’t tell me my catch/return percentage.”

      • xmatt0926x - Jun 26, 2014 at 2:18 PM

        good stuff, gmagic.

  9. danaking - Jun 26, 2014 at 11:04 AM

    This guy is the reason I stopped reading and commenting on Tom Tango’s otherwise great blog. He’s an arrogant asshole who’s never wrong. He wrote something a couple of years ago about how he knew more about baseball strategy than all 30 managers, and i asked him that maybe there was more to being a good manager than knowing what the numbers said in a given situation, you have players’ psyches and physical conditions to deal with, so he pretty much trashed me, too. No discussion, no, “well, sure, there’s more to it,” or, heaven forbid, “I should have taken some of that into consideration.” Nope: I wasn’t just wrong: I was stupid.

    He’d be hell as a manager in APBA or Strat-O-Matic, but it would probably have to be a solitaire league. Who’d want to go into his mother’s basement to play with him?

    • ezthinking - Jun 26, 2014 at 11:22 AM

      His mom kicked him out years ago for not putting the toilet seat down after being repeatedly reminded to do the same over his entire life. So now he has a place of his own with blackout window shades and WarGames-style WOPR computer spinning away. Little does he know that his game playing will lead to the destruction of “America’s Game” and lead to World War III.

      Unfortunately for baseball fans and the planet, John Wood (Falken) is long dead.

      So who will stop him??? Is Ally Sheedy still around to talk some sense into him?

    • Detroit Michael - Jun 26, 2014 at 11:26 AM

      Tom Tango and Mitchel Lichtman have been running separate blogs since January 2013. If you previously enjoyed reading and commenting on Tango’s posts, I suggest you give it another try. For those of you who like sabermetric content (and can ignore the non-baseball topics he veers into), I’d recommend it. Google “Tangotiger blog” and you’ll find the current blog right away.

      • danaking - Jun 26, 2014 at 10:18 PM

        Thanks, Michael. Tango is great, and likes to go back and forth with readers. I’ll look him up.

  10. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Jun 26, 2014 at 12:08 PM

    Yes, a no-hitter is a statistical anomaly that is not necessarily indicative of a pitcher’s overall level of skill. It usually requires (a) a pitcher having a good day, duh, (b) the defense having a great day, and (c) the opposing offense having a terrible day. Two, and possibly three, of those things are not entirely within the pitcher’s control. No pitcher’s true talent level is a 0 WHIP.

    That said, It does require SOME level of skill on the part of the pitcher. Perhaps it is a pitcher who is unable to sustain that level of skill throughout an entire season, but the skills are still there. Lincecum will always suffer for being compared to earlier Lincecum. While he is far from being that pitcher anymore, he does occasionally show flashes of dominance. It seems to be unsustainable for him now, but every now and then we get a peek. Let’s just enjoy those for what they are without throwing the baby out with the bath water.

  11. miguelcairo - Jun 26, 2014 at 12:10 PM

    Sounds like Lichtman needs to get laid.

  12. psunick - Jun 26, 2014 at 12:11 PM

    Right on, Craig!!

  13. wiseguy5050 - Jun 26, 2014 at 3:02 PM

    The fact is that Tim Lincecum is a below average pitcher at this point in his career. He knows it, the Giants know it, and the fans know it. He is not overrated when everyone can clearly see his stats. It doesn’t matter! The fans in S.F. love him! He is San Francisco. He has pitched two No hitters, won two Cy Young awards, and was a key member of two World Series Championship Teams! We all hope (giants fans anyway) that Tim continues to perfect his new way of pitching and provides us with many more memories!!

  14. tmc602014 - Jun 26, 2014 at 3:32 PM

    Lots of good comments – the gist being that a guy like Tim Lincecum is more than the sum of his current stats. ARod, on the other hand, is a player that is less than the sum of his stats. Some players you want to watch, and cheer for, even if they underperform.

  15. sportsfan18 - Jun 26, 2014 at 4:10 PM

    Well, Lincecum’s ERA+ has nose dived…

    2012 68
    2013 78
    2014 77 (so far of course)

    There is no way to spin that as being good and it’s for a two and a half year period, so it isn’t just a bad stretch…

    Does he still have talent? Yes. His no hitter was great (sadly didn’t see it though).

    I still root for Timmy and hope he does well… luckily for him he’s signed for next year at $18 million.

  16. mazblast - Jun 26, 2014 at 4:58 PM

    Sometimes you just want to tell some of the sabermetric folks, “Just watch the game and enjoy it. Don’t overanalyze the sh** out of everything.” Other times you want to say, “Do you ever get any JOY out of this game–or anything?”

    Sabermetrics is (are?) wonderful, but it’s not everything. Sometimes guys can just PLAY, no matter what the ephemeral numbers say, and sometimes they can have all the numbers in the world but can’t actually play. Look at all those terrible high draft picks the A’s made when they were the supposed poster child for what The Numbers Alone Can Do, the “we don’t need no stinking scouts, our printouts tell us everything we need to know” phase.

    “Lighten up, Francis”, indeed.

    • [citation needed] fka COPO - Jun 26, 2014 at 6:05 PM

      Sabermetrics is (are?) wonderful, but it’s not everything.

      No one says this though. In fact, most at the forefront of sabremetric research* acknowledge that you need both scouts and stats in the game. It’s why every front office has both. Your comment about the A’s is also a gross exaggeration (and if you think it’s true, that is probably more for the Ricciardi Blue Jays than the A’s).

      • [citation needed] fka COPO - Jun 26, 2014 at 6:06 PM

        Forgot the *:

        It needs to be clarified that those doing the research aren’t the same as those who follow it. We don’t blame the scientists for people misreading scientific journals.

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