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Room To Hope

While still a big proponent of sabermetrics in general, I've become a little disenchanted with its current direction as a movement. Why? Well you could buy our book, in which I exhaust this topic, but knowing the cheap, ungrateful bunch that you are, I'll summarize. Sabermetricians always worked with a supposed end-point in mind: a holistic statistic, in which performance could be easily and exactly measured. So when the first such measure appeared--WARP, later renamed WAR to sound more masculine and less like a Star Trek sound effect--people tripped over themselves to incorporate it in their analyses. Now most sabermetric work starts with WAR as an assumption, a starting point, and uses it to prove whatever conclusion, like the 2010 Mariners will the World Series. 

Ironically, Wins Above Replacement undermines the principle that made sabermetrics useful in the first place: empiricism. By its very nature, WAR encourages season-by-season analysis and the fascination with wacky numbers in small sample sizes, specifically, single season fielding runs.

My newest hobby is advanced hockey statistics, which, while not as exciting as BASE jumping, involves me staring at a lot of spreadsheets in my basement, and was thus an easy transition from Mets blogging. In measuring probably the most complex and fluid sport in the world, "hockey sabermetrics" are refreshingly simple. While they will probably soon make all the mistakes of the sabermetrics movement, advanced hockey analysis concerns itself mostly with the accumulation of huge sample sizes and the separation of noise from talent. 

Ironically, what I find most encouraging about hockey stats, and what first attracted me to sabermetrics, really killed my enjoyment of the Mets the last few seasons, more than any embarrassing off-field controversy. Critics argue that stats kill the fun of the game, and I think they're kind of right. Granted, the alternative is being uninformed and sounding like a blathering idiot every time you open your mouth to talk about Carlos Beltran. But they do have a point. 

Sabermetrics is really quite fatalistic. It teaches that the more a ballplayer bats, pitches, or fields, the more we know about his skill. A player's statistical track record slowly accumulates to a near inescapable reality of his ability, good or bad. I desperately, and in retrospect, embarrassingly, clung to the idea Jeff Francoeur would turn his career around with the Mets, not because I particularly cared for the guy, but because he represented a potential break from my deterministic view of the sport. When he failed, I was resigned to the idea that, short of growing a beard and learning the knuckleball, you are who you are. And the Mets were bad. 

Even during Spring Training, when hope abounds, the Mets gave me nothing to work with. Remember the news of last year's Opening Day lineup, as camp broke? 

1. SS Alex Cora-- .652 OPS in 3653 PA
2. 2B Luis Castillo-- .723 OPS in 7172 PA
3. 3B David Wright-- .907 OPS in 3665 PA
4. 1B Mike Jacobs-- .789 OPS in 2089 PA
5. LF Jason Bay-- .896 OPS in 3897 PA
6. CF Gary Matthews Jr.-- .740 OPS in 4552 PA
7. RF Jeff Francoeur-- .735 OPS in 3443 PA
8. C Rod Barajas-- .691 OPS in 2744 PA

Not just awful, it was well-established awful. Besides, with many of those guys, even hoping for the career number was foolish. He was never really a good player, but hey, he's old now!

What a difference a year makes:

1. SS Jose Reyes-- .769 OPS in 4254 PA
2. CF Angel Pagan-- .770 OPS in 1331 PA
3. 3B David Wright-- .899 OPS in 4335 PA
4. RF Carlos Beltran-- .853 OPS in 7132 PA
5. LF Jason Bay-- .882 OPS in 4298 PA
6. 1B Ike Davis-- .791 OPS in 601 PA
7. C Josh Thole-- .729 OPS in 286 PA
8. 2B Murphy/Emaus-- .768 OPS in 707 PA

Now Mets fans can actually root for the veteran players to play to their established performance-levels and the young guys to grow. We can root for the likely scenario, not for Jeff Francoeur to turn the water of his career into wine. The Mets left a little room to dream, to imagine a #winning scenario, which this time of year, is all I really need.