If you’ve read my posts on Yanks Go Yard before or you follow me on Twitter, you know that I am a big proponent of sabermetrics – that is, the use of statistics and objective reasoning to discover the truth about questions pertaining to baseball. However, I have a feeling that many of the readers of this site either dislike/disagree with sabermetrics or just don’t know much about it. There’s nothing wrong with disagreeing with it, as long as it’s done with adequate knowledge of what sabermetrics actually is.
One of my goals as a writer is to use advanced statistics in such a way that my pieces are readable to the general public, but also maintain the integrity and usefulness of sabermetric principles. A few months ago, I wrote a series called “Sabermetric Outlook,” in which I looked at each player on the Yankees and analyzed their season and future using advanced statistics. The series was an attempt to introduce sabermetrics and its uses to the traditional-minded fans among us. You can find my primer, in which I summarize some of the most important advanced metrics, here, and the last post, which contains links to all the others, here.
I want to attempt to clear up some of the misconceptions about sabermetrics and ultimately give you all the opportunity to express any issues or questions that have always held you up. The supposed divide between the “stats crowd” and the “traditional crowd” is born more out of misunderstanding than an actual philosophical difference between the viewpoints. Despite the polarity of the recent AL MVP race, I don’t believe that there needs to be such a gap between the two groups. There is misunderstanding on both sides of the coin, and as a sabermetrically-inclined writer for a traditionally-inclined site, I have a great opportunity to help foster understanding and progress rather than disdain and confusion.
Before I open up the floor to you for questions or concerns (which I urge you to take advantage of if you have an opinion on the matter), I’d like to state some facts about sabermetrics, advanced statistics and stat nerds – at least, what they should be theoretically – that are often misunderstood or forgotten.
- Sabermetrics isn’t about predicting baseball. No one in their right mind believes that we can predict baseball using statistics. Just read Dave Cameron’s recent article over on FanGraphs for evidence of that.
- WAR is the starting point, not the ending point. That is, no one serious about sabermetrics believes that WAR is perfect, nor do they believe that it should be the end of the conversation. It’s a great way to group players based on value, but it should only be used alongside other factors.
- Sabermetrics can be misused just as much as, or more than, traditional stats can. But that doesn’t mean they’re no better. The problem is that sabermetrics aren’t always as simple as stats like batting average or RBI, so there is greater room for misunderstanding. However, there is also greater opportunity for analysis and knowledge of baseball.
- Stat nerds love watching baseball as much as the rest of them. Look, the reason people get into sabermetrics isn’t through their love of math, for the most part. It’s because of their love for baseball. If we didn’t watch the games, there wouldn’t be much point in analyzing the game would there? But we can watch games and love analyzing it statistically at the same time. In fact, I’ve found myself enjoying the game much more since I got into sabermetrics. It adds a whole new layer to the sport that I already loved.
- Defensive metrics are still a far way off, but that doesn’t mean they’re useless. Sometimes I see people say that this or that UZR rating is obviously wrong, and therefore defensive metrics are useless. We don’t have to jump straight to that. In a large sample, they are often reliable, and even in a smaller sample, they can at least suggest a player’s defensive value. UZR and DRS are useful, but we must use them alongside our, and scouts’, eyes.
- All front offices, and I mean ALL front offices, use advanced statistics and most of them use stats that are far more complicated than anything we have access to. Despite occasional articles claiming the opposite, organizations like the Giants employ numbers people that have a huge influence over their decisions. No general manager will use only numbers and not scouts, nor vice versa. Though “Moneyball” is a term commonly associated with Billy Beane and the A’s, there is no team in baseball that isn’t using the same techniques and philosophies that Beane made famous.
I’m sure I didn’t cover everything in these points, but that where you come in. I really want to hear what you all have to say about sabermetrics. Do you believe that they’re useful? If not, why? Is there a particular stat that you disagree with? Do you believe that one of the above points is incorrect? My goal is not to convince you all to become stat nerds or to start doing statistical analysis, but to make sure that if you disagree with sabermetrics that disagreement is based on correct information and sound reasoning. The more we understand, the more productive our discussion will be, and, for me at least, the more enjoyable baseball will become.