Monday, February 15, 2010
Sabermetrics have not gone too farPosted by Dan Novick
Pat Andriola and I accidentally wrote about the same exact thing today. Thankfully, we approached the topic in different ways, and both versions are up for your perusal
Over the last decade, baseball has undergone a major transformation. We started the decade in the heart of the steroid era, then came the Moneyball revolution, and now we're finally seeing the effects of that revolution really shape how the game works. In that same span, sabermetrics have started to become relatively mainstream, as more and more eyes look at more and more data. Inevitably, there will always be people to take it one step further than the rest, though that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Today at Minor League Ball, John Sickels writes about those people who have taken the study of baseball beyond even his level of interest. For those of you who don't know, writing about baseball is John Sickels' job. The noted prospect expert said this on facebook a few days ago:
I got sick of grad school when the things they wanted us to study (19th century Belgian weavers for example) became so granular as to become meaningless. I'm starting to get the same feeling about sabermetrics sometimes.
That's his own personal feeling, and there isn't anything in there that's necessarily incorrect. The math involved in some more recent work is beyond my understanding, and really is not even intended for a large audience. Take, for example, a piece from Patriot a few years ago, in which he talks about EqA, calculus, tangent lines, and other things a random Joe Schmoe wouldn't know a whole lot about. I could quote a portion of the text, but I wouldn't even know where to begin.
Getting back to Sickels, I think almost everyone can agree with him to a certain extent. Not all sabermetric content is for everyone. One of the reasons the internet is so great is because of the sheer size of the thing, and the number of different resources you can go to to read about baseball. There are sites for individual teams, there are sites for entire sports leagues, and there are sites that take a whole bunch of smaller websites and put them under a single umbrella. If you're looking for something different, there are sites that can make you laugh, sites that make you think, and sites that help you remember. That's why, when Sickels says something like the following, I'm a little confused.
"But I'm finding that as I read the most advanced sabermetric stuff regarding major league players, my eyes glaze over and I start to get the grad school feeling again: why am I reading this? I'm not enjoying it. I want to watch a baseball game."Baseball writing on the internet is a meritocracy. Sabermetrics isn't spreading because we say it is. It is spreading because there is an increasing number of fans that find it useful. There is no such thing as "required reading." If you don't find a particular aspect of sabermetrics useful anymore, there won't be any negative repercussions should you choose not to read it.
This brings me to the final paragraph of the Sickels post:
So am I just entering my dotage prematurely? Or is advanced sabermetric analysis becoming so specialized that no one but physics and math majors can understand it, leaving us humanities majors behind, let alone the average fan? If that is true, what can be done about it? I don't mean stopping research; obviously it needs to go forward. But I mean, how do we find ways to disseminate the new knowledge and make it comprehensible for the non-math folks among us? How do we integrate and explain the new knowledge?
This highlights a common misconception about sabermetrics: It's not just one thing. There are plenty of "sabermetric" blogs out there that aren't research- or math-heavy at all. Just look at THT Live alone. Last week, for example, we had postings on the persistence of platoon splits, data reliability issues for pitch velocity, whether or not teams should shift against Albert Pujols, and some insight into the Johnny Damon drama.
Sabermetric knowledge is not becoming too specialized. It is only the extremely specialized portion of sabermetrics that is becoming too specialized for Sickels (if that makes sense). Knowing whether to use outs or plate appearances when creating a run estimator is not essential to studying baseball, but it is an essential question for certain people to answer because of the specialized work that they do. One of the many goals of the sabermetric movement is to spread knowledge to the average fan. That's why pieces like Dave Cameron's Win Values series and the recent influx of sabermetric primers have been so important. Because they bring these seemingly granular advances in baseball knowledge out into the public eye, making them more transparent and understandable.
To wrap this thing up, I'd just like to reiterate that there is something out there for everyone to read and enjoy. Even if one particular thing is not your cup of tea, the advancement and proliferation of baseball knowledge is something we can all take part in and benefit from.
Dan Novick is a lifelong Yankees fan, and still gets the chills every time Enter Sandman plays from the Yankee Stadium speakers. He welcomes comments and questions via e-mail.