The other day Kevin Burkhardt read Sam's long, good, right analysis of the Mejia situation and tweeted back a bit of nonsense designed to avoid reasoned argument. "Well, I'm happy with my dumb opinion, what can I say?" it essentially said.
Now this bends a lot of people out of shape around here, and that's no surprise. At risk of being a bit contrarian, though, I'm going to here argue a theory that puts KB & co. in the best light allowed by circumstances. It isn't a defense, and I don't know if it's the best theory of their behavior, but I tentatively think that we're approaching a point where detente with the media might be constructive. To that end, it's worthwhile to think, for a second, like partners.
The "best light" theory is this: people like Burkhardt have a real conundrum, not an imagined one. They know baseball and they're savvy enough to see that there's a wind a-blowin that's carried up someone like Jack Z. But they are professionals with a job to do, and sabermetrics do nothing but obstruct their ability to do that job. That's an overstatement, of course, but let me make their hypothetical case for them.
Note: it is NOT a case for GMs OR Joe Morgan!
Sabermetrics are Tiring, From our Point of View, for the Following Reasons
by The Media
1. They need to be explained.
The type of explanations we like involve Ronnie grabbing a baseball and showing how to grip a circle change. If we cannot show something then we can't entertainingly explain it, and sabermetrics is a language that needs to be spelled out with near geometric discipline.
2. They go against the conventional wisdom.
This point is related to the first. What business do we have second-guessing a manager's decision unless we can cogently explain our reasons? We'd be forced to say, "Trust Us On This One," and look like esoteric asses. And considering the way games are managed, our criticism would be a never-ending stream. This isn't our role.
3. They bust up the narrative of the game.
Let's imagine this is a big game in September. You would have us remind the viewer that a guy going 0-4 then striking out in a big spot is just caught in the logic of statistical fluctuation. You would have us further explain that the 1-2-3 inning pitched by the closer is valuable, but not nearly so valuable as the mediocre performance turned in by the starter. In other words, you would have us hedge against the excitement of the game in the name of accuracy of expression.
4. They try to replace the game narrative with another that is too broad for us to cover.
Your premise is that a single ballgame, or a single week, or a single month, is of limited use in analyzing the performance of a player or team. We are paid, however, to find meaning in these small units. If we tried to cover a broader spectrum we would either be late to dinner or forced to constantly retread the past.
5. They de-humanize baseball.
Yes, we know that you get really mad when we say this, but in a big crass world full of corporately-sponsored ballparks, you guys are the ones talking about "the cost of a win on the open market." Many fans would revolt if we took it to this level.
6. They need to be done right or not at all.
Sabermetrics are not proscriptive. The moment we dipped our toe into them within the limited confines of our columns or broadcasts, we'd be lambasted for drawing sloppy, unscientific conclusions, and with good reason.
Therefore, our only recourse is to ignore them more-or-less entirely.
Now I'm sure many objections can be found to the points above, and I'd be interesting to hear them. But I'd also guess that many of you find yourself equally concerned with shifting the parameters of the debate. "Come on," you might be thinking, "we're not asking you to be on-air baseball scientists! We understand that you have a job to do. We just want you....."
And there's the question. How do you finish that sentence?
Naturally, the first thing that popped into my head was "... to stop saying dumb shit." But really that's not very helpful as a guide. Hmm. Then I thought, "...to stop saying stuff you know not to be true." That seemed eminently fair at first, but since we also insist that media figures cast off their ignorance and learn a new truth... is it? Perhaps it just takes us back to where we started, with the enemy camp renewing all of its stated objections.
I suggest a detente, half-seriously, because I think that
1. Osmosis is doing its work slowly, and their community is taking notice of ours.
2. The two communities misunderstand each other, and it doesn't really matter that we're more right when it comes to cooperating fruitfully.
3. There is almost certainly something to be gained by our community thinking about ways to enrich the non-esoteric language of baseball, not just the knowledge of it.
Anyway those are a lot of thoughts.
"Come on," you might be thinking, "we're not asking you to be on-air baseball scientists! We understand that you have a job to do. We just want....."