Eye Of Newt, Powdered Bat Wings And Incantations
by John Brattain
March 11, 2005
“Intangibles” ... “Clutch” ... “Chemistry” ... words guaranteed to start a debate between the forces of SABR and the traditional baseball fan. It’s Joe Morgan vs. Bill James, Tim McCarver vs. Joe Sheehan; it’s the “statheads” vs. the scouts, etc. At Baseball Think Factory (my favorite hangout on the web), it’s always good for an ol’ fashioned knock down, drag out, cyber brawl where Billy Beane is considered somewhere between the love child of Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein and a lobotomized Irish Setter that’s been paper-trained by Ralph Wiggum.
When it comes to sabermetrics vs. traditional -- I’m firmly on the fence; an excellent way to ensure that you get kicked at by both sides. Don’t get me wrong, I think sabermetrics to be quite valuable. This is a blurb I wrote on the topic in my blog last spring:
I’ll open with a caveat: I am not a stathead. The reason is simple--I reek at math. Suffice it to say, for the most part, sabermetrics goes waaaay over my head. I understand the basic principles behind it and agree with them. Folks sometimes disparage sabermetricians as stat geeks but let’s face it--we’re all statheads of one kind or another. People shake their heads at the methods used by Bill James, Baseball Prospectus etc. while forgetting that the biggest difference between they and themselves is the stats they use. They berate the use of VORP, RARP, RCAA, adj. OPS+ etc. and then turn around and start spouting off about Wins, RBI, ERA, and batting average. I just prefer the sabermetrician approach. I thought I’d give a quick overview on why sabermetrics is preferable to conventional evaluations.
To begin with, one of the appeals of traditional stats is that they’re easy to follow and understand. A player crosses home plate and we call it a run. A player, bat in hand gets a hit and the runner on second scores; or maybe a runner on third comes home on a deep fly ball to CF or a ground ball hit deep to short brings him in--we call it an RBI. It’s simple, tangible, and easy to keep track of.
However as Mark Twain once opined, there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. To illustrate one way, let’s look at part of what might be part of the Blue Jays lineup in 2004: