Let me just get the most quotable line of this poorly-though-out irrational piece out of the way:
Sabermetrics has the potential to make you a worse fan.
Realizing where we are right now, this statement will of course come with enough backpedaling to stop Lance Armstrong. But, after reading Jonah Lehrer, Colin Wyers, Joe Pawlikowski, Eric Simon, Bill Petti and Matthew Callan on the subject of the importance and benefits of sabermetrics, there did seem to be one thing lost in the shuffle. What is the effect that the study of the interaction of numbers and baseball might have on your ability to be the best fan you can be?
This is no evisceration of that Lehrer piece. There isn't really a need to rehash it. And there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that major league teams should and do (for the most part) benefit from using statistical analysis to better their teams. Why a business wouldn't use all possible resources at their disposal just doesn't make any sense. It follows that those interested in furthering the study of baseball should also engage the numbers. Is there really a reason to discuss these statements?
But what we can discuss is our own personal interaction with the teams we support.
What is an ideal fan? It seems that he is both knowledgeable and passionate. Let's break down the effect of sabermetric analysis on those two facets of fandom.
Obviously, this part of being a fan benefits greatly from statistical analysis. Knowing more about what the numbers say about correct strategies and the value of players is a wonderful thing. Not only can you trounce the loudmouth two seats down at the bar (with evidence), but you're also showing that your passion for your team on your sleeve. Like the management of your team, you are delving as deep as you can into the future of your team.
There's been some talk in these various pieces about failing to fully understanding saber concepts and how that might have a negative effect on our pursuit of the truth. Concepts of all kinds can be misunderstood. The pursuit of knowledge is always good, whether for fan-related or business-related reasons. Even if it's not always perfectly applied, it's only good.
This is where things get tricky. Like Pandora's box, some knowledge, once released, changes the way a person looks at a baseball game going forward. In your heart of hearts, is there no facet of the game that has been negatively effected by saber philosophy?
Consider Dillon Gee. He's 17 starts into an incredible run to begin his Mets career. Maybe one half of your brain is coming up with "Gee" puns and t-shirts, imagining Gee at the top of a Mets lineup and circling potential no-hitters on the schedule. That's the passionate, pre-saber fan in you. The saber side is looking at his BABIP and home runs per fly ball and wondering when the house of cards will fall.
Consider Jose Reyes. He's having a career year and watching him play is a great personal joy to most of us Mets fans. There might not be a greater play in baseball than the Jose Reyes triple. And yet, we know that his xBABIP is .315, not .370. And we know what the value of the compensation picks are should he walk, and the value of the prospects he could bring now, mostly because of sabermagicians. We know that if the team isn't looking at preparing a winning financial bid for his services this off-season, the best move would be to trade him soon.
In both of these cases, the unbridled passion of a less-informed fan has to give way to the more measured support of the saber-fan. In some circles, that measured fandom is most certainly the lesser of the two.
This is not black and white. There is the moment, and there is the bulletin board. When you're at the game, Dillon Gee is the man - his BABIP doesn't matter. If Jose Reyes is chugging around second, hair flying, even the jaded James Kannengeiser will stand and shout. These are the moments of true passion. This is live baseball, and there's no time to calclulate xFIP. Every sabermetrician loves baseball on this level, why else would he or she spend so much time trying to understand it?
On the flip side, when we listen to the radio and read some newspapers, we've seen what more passion and less information can do. It's certainly not very pretty. This is not to advocate that we put pandora back in the box. Information is king.
But maybe there is a little part of me that is nostalgic for the days of naivete. In those days, I would have been proudly rocking my home-made Gee-Unit shirt, trading for every Gee card I could find, and sleeping soundly, knowing that Jose Reyes would always be a Met. With knowledge comes a more tempered fandom, for sure.
Different is not always worse, though. Even a less passionate fandom has its benefits. At least a few poor Gee starts in a row won't make us question our very existence like it might have so many years back.