The fact that the Mets hired Sandy Alderson to be their new General Manager brings me hope as a Mets fan. For an organization that has made so many puzzling decisions as far back as I can remember, the Mets seem to have gotten it right this time. There’s no guarantee that Sandy will turn the Mets around, get them back to the playoffs or achieve his – and every GM’s – goal of winning a World Series. But the vast majority of what he said on Day One was encouraging.
What’s amazed me about the Mets’ fan base is that the hiring of Alderson has served as a bit of a lightning rod for the "sabermetrics vs. scouting/old-school" debate. A lot of the comments being thrown about on blogs, Twitter and WFAN about the whole thing made me think: why the hell are people resistant to statistical analysis as an integral part of building a successful baseball team?
In college, I had an English professor for a basic college writing class, one of those core classes that everyone had to take but barely anyone took seriously. He basically opened up the class by saying that everything we’d been taught in school about the English language was bullshit.
There were rules, he said, that were drilled into our heads to prevent us from making mistakes. And one of them was that you couldn’t start a sentence with the word and. That may sound like a small thing, but it opened my mind. When it came to writing, we’d learned the basics and gone through school systems which may have varied in quality but didn’t stray too far from the standard approach when it came to teaching kids how to write.
I’m thrilled that I took that class for two reasons: it drastically improved my confidence in and ability to write, and it was a tangible exercise in challenging things that seemed set in stone for nearly two decades. In our own minds, we’d all like to think we’re rebels who question everything that’s presented to us, but the grand majority of us – people, that is – don’t experience that on a regular basis.
How the hell does this relate to baseball, you ask?
As kids, we learned the basics of how to play the game from parents and coaches who were devoted as hell to teaching us how to play the game. From the basic fundamentals of hitting a ball on a tee and catching it through playing in high school, the focus was on how to play the game. Most of us measured our successes and failures through all those years in the "hits-for-at-bats, # of RBI" format.
After high school, possibly earlier than that, most of us stopped playing baseball, and there was no core class with a professor who was going to make the grandiose statement that everything we had learned about baseball statistics was bullshit.
The word "everything" was, of course, an exaggeration in the English class I took, and it’d be an exaggeration if someone came out and said it about baseball, too. There were fundamental aspects of both subjects that we learned that would be applicable to the best writers and baseball players the world had to offer. The message in that English class, though, was that you had more tools at your disposal than you realized, and if you were willing to acknowledge that fact, it could do you a whole lot of good.
I guess that’s why I don’t get the divide amongst Mets fans when the topic of sabermetrics comes up. Statistics, particularly progressive ones, can be a tool not only for front offices to use to run a professional baseball organization but also for fans to increase their enjoyment of the game.
So to answer my own question, I think people are resistant to statistics in baseball because they are comfortable with what they know, and even with the vast amount of information available on the internet, it takes an effort to start getting into this stuff on your own.
Merely looking at statistics to understand and enjoy baseball would make about as much sense as starting every sentence of this piece with the word and. The excitement of going to a game, the thrill of freezing your ass off in April just because you get to see baseball in person, enjoying a beer or two once the temperature finally warms up, catching a foul ball, spending time with your family and closest friends and possibly making new friends in the process and chanting "Let’s Go Mets!" as loud as you possibly can – these are all great parts of being a Mets fan. And there’s no reason that looking at stats on Fangraphs or Baseball Reference can’t be added to that list.