In case there are any FJM fans out there, or slaves to the new metrics, let me just clarify my headline. I am not someone who thinks Felix Hernandez shouldn’t have won the Cy Young because he didn’t have enough wins. I know that OPS trumps RBIs, and any stat that can discount a Derek Jeter Gold Glove, I am a fan of. I appreciate the way our approach to baseball stats is constantly changing and how much the game lends itself to numerical analysis. Part of baseball is debating the numbers, I don’t think there is any debate about that. As the new metrics take over, though, I wonder if we aren’t sucking a little bit of the fun out of everything. Let me explain…
Thanks to various websites like Baseball Reference and Fangraphs it is incredibly easy to get your hands on all the statistics. We’ve gone from people needing to be walked through what WAR is to having it be on everyone’s fingertips if they so desire. What this has led to, in my opinion, is the emergence of a new type of sports column. It’s completely drowned in stats and comparative figures. There was one on Raul Ibanez a couple of days back. Someone had quickly assimilated all this data for players in their 39-year old season. How many players had this OPS, how much fall off from the 38-year old season, what about the next year at 40? In the end you feel like Ibanez has no impact on his own results. The clear historical blueprint for the season he will have is laid out in front of you. The metrics don’t lie, it is reporting without bias.
There is some place for that information, but the problem I have is the backlash against people who don’t base everything on the metrics. If you simply have an opinion, but the stats don’t agree with that opinion, you get killed for it. If you have a feeling that Raul Ibanez is going to have a great season in 2011, you almost can’t say it without being ridiculed. Even if you qualify it by saying something like, “the metrics would indicate otherwise…” it doesn’t matter. The stats guys were ridiculed for so long, I guess, as soon as they got some momentum they flipped on the people who had always belittled what they did. Metrics aren’t really new, they are just being much more widely accepted.
Sometimes I like to hear a hunch, though. Isn’t that part of the fun of baseball? It’d be like if you said before last season that you thought Carlos Ruiz had the chance to hit .300. You would have gotten killed for that. You’d be getting quoted numbers like batting average on balls in play, how many catchers hit .300, and everything else. How is a career .250 hitter going to hit .300? Well, it happened. And, it is the exception, of course, most times the statistics would have been right and Ruiz would have hit his usual .260, but I don’t want to get to the point where you can’t say anything unless you have the laundry list of stats to back it up.
Now, if I was a national sportswriter, and I wrote something like, “you can’t give the Cy Young to someone who has only 15 wins,” I’d expect to be hammered for that. That makes no sense. But, what if a writer with some exposure wrote, “I have a feeling Derek Jeter might have one of his best seasons in 2011. Call me crazy, but I think Jeter has one more run at a batting title in him. He’s come to Tampa looking like a changed man, and I think he has too much pride to not earn the contract he signed over the winter….”
It wouldn’t take long for someone online to say, “Look at this horrendous example of sports writing.” They’d chop it up line by line. Oh, you have a feeling? Well, ok then. Oh, we don’t have to call you crazy, anyone who reads this column will know that right away. Do you know how many middle infielders have won a batting title at Jeter’s advanced age? Zero. Jeter will lead the league in Pride!
I think there is plenty of bad sports writing out there, and there are certainly spots where you should point out if someone is blatantly ignoring and refusing to understand the new statistics, but I hope it is all right to still just have an opinion on something, because really, what does Steve Finley’s 2004 season have to do with what Raul Ibanez does this year? I know it provides that statistical reference point, but in the end, it will be Ibanez who produces his own numbers.
Quiz of the Day: Corporate Logos. Category: Feed the Machine. My Score: 33/36