Final Thoughts On Close-Mindedness

In a response to a response to a response to a post I made last week (isn't the Internet great?), Mike Silva of New York Baseball Digest wrote (excerpted):

The Battle of Dueling Baseball Philosophies

To quote the great Vin Scully, "Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamp post: for support, not illumination." I need to see a player in order to get the entire package. I like to know what people in the game think of him as a person, in the clubhouse, and if he has a reputation of performing in big spots. Also, how will he handle failure?

WAR is a perfect example of assessing a player in a vacuum. It’s a very dangerous method of evaluation. I spoke to a baseball person on Friday and he told me, to his knowledge, this stuff isn’t even used by teams in arbitration. That should tell you something right there.

My first problem with WAR is crediting a "win to an individual player. All sports are won and lost as a team. You can’t tell me Ryan Church is worth two more wins over Jeff Francoeur, because we just don’t know how games would play out if Church stayed in New York and Francoeur in Atlanta.

Next, WAR cites the "average minor league player" as its benchmark. Who is the typical average minor leaguer? Anderson Hernandez? Nelson Figueroa? Sergio Mitre? Josh Towers? Fernando Martinez? Shelley Duncan? Do you Get the point? Average to you and me can mean all different things. We are probably in the same ballpark, but I value a Nelson Figueroa much more than Josh Towers. I also think the gap between Figueroa and Mike Pelfrey is smaller than, lets say, Josh Towers. The fact that defense, a subjective measure to being with, is weighted also gives me pause. The lack of respect given to the position of first base tells you how flawed the stat really is. Ask the greatest infield ever if John Olerud was overrated at first versus Todd Zeile the following year. What about Keith Hernandez and his impact for the late eighties Mets. Do you think the Yankees are better off with Teixeira’s defense at first? I believe excellent defensive first basemen makes all the players around him better by saving throws and cutting down base hits.

There is nothing wrong with using modern statistics like WAR. A good general manager should have a department that focuses on sabermetrics.  To not consider all angles of baseball research is unacceptable in this day and age. I believe the sabermetric crowd deserves a seat at the table, but a very small say in the final decision. None of those numbers account for makeup, character, and fortitude.

In the end I believe this is all great debate. Everyone has a point and a valuable piece of information that helps achieve the ultimate goal: a winning ballclub. It’s almost become like American politics where both sides draw a line firmly in the sand and won’t consider some valid points by the other.

If you read the whole piece, it's a pretty measured response.  Regardless, the fictional "stats vs. scouts" debate is a major pet peeve, a divide created by the likes of Jon Heyman and propagated by pieces like this.  No one questions the existence of intangibles.  It would be silly to do so.  However, we have no way of knowing what effect these intangibles have on on-field performance.  Too often a player's "awesome leadership" or "grit" is discussed only after a team wins (see Derek Jeter and the entire Phillies team).  Intangibles cannot be quantified, so I would rather discuss easily researchable concepts like WAR than waste time debating whether or not David Wright is a leader.  Are character and fortitude really more important for winning ballgames than hitting, pitching, and fielding?  Silva can cite all of the "anonymous baseball persons" he wants in order to tell us that teams don't use metrics like WAR (are these the same sources that declared "Julio Lugo Will Be a Met" and "Mets will be obtaining Adam LaRoche from Boston"?), but the fact remains that stats like this are very real and here to stay.

The replacement level concept is still misunderstood here, and probably always will be.  Explaining advanced statistics to talk radio disciples is like Galileo explaining heliocentricity to the 17th Century Catholic Church.  One party has made up their mind about the topic and is unwilling to listen to new ideas.  Rather than keep an open mind, listen, and ask relevant questions, these types would rather try to poke holes in everything they hear.  It's unfortunate.

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