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Thread: Evolution revisited

  1. #1
    Hey Cubs Fans RFS62's Avatar
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    Evolution revisited

    I posted this piece last year on opening day. It took me several years to come to these conclusions. I'm posting it again because I've seen a lot of fighting on the board lately between newer posters and long time contributors in the stats vs. scouting battle.


    ev·o·lu·tion n.

    1. A gradual process in which something changes into a different and usually more complex or better form.



    Numbers have a special relationship in baseball. No other sport has such a long history of celebrating the numeric benchmarks that have been passed down from generation to generation. The .300 hitter…. the 100 RBI guy… 30 homers. They were standards with which we all agreed. It was how we defined excellence. They gave us perspective, a way to judge players from one era to another.

    But there was always an uneasy feeling among “baseball men” that there was more to player evaluation than simple numbers could ever reflect. Subjective judgment was still more important, in spite of the variety of opinions you could get among talent evaluators. People who spent a lifetime in baseball used statistics as a side dish, but not as the main course. How could a number ever express the beauty of Mazerowski turning a double play? What equation could describe the jump Mays got on the ball off the bat?

    We were right when we argued that statistics didn’t tell the whole story. We were right when we gave more weight to scouting methods steeped in subjective judgment.

    The reason we were right wasn’t that statistics is an imperfect science. The reason was that the particular statistics that we grew up with were inadequate in expressing what was going on. So, we very often drew the conclusion that stats are incomplete, and we were right.

    But baseball, for all it’s tradition and history, does not exist in a static environment. It’s dynamic, ever changing, evolving. And a big part of that evolution in the past 30 years comes from a group of dedicated baseball lovers who were also mathematicians. These were people who, like the “baseball men” of the day, saw the current statistical measures we used were inadequate. But they didn’t stop there, as we did. They looked for better ways to express performance through mathematics.

    And they came up with some surprising conclusions. Things that were counterintuitive to the traditional baseball world. Much of this “new thinking” came in the form of complex equations, far beyond the simple formulas used for batting average, ERA, and the counting stats that had been used as benchmarks ever since Henry Chadwick conjured up the first box scores.

    The community of mathematicians saw the value immediately. This was their turf, and it wasn’t even that complicated, relative to the kind of things they were doing in other fields. But it was voodoo to most baseball men. An egregious transgression, perpetrated by a bunch of people who “never played the game”.

    And as the movement grew, the divide between the “baseball men” and the “statheads” grew ever wider. It became a turf war. And it got ugly.

    The “statheads” ridiculed “traditionalists” like it was a dirty word. Moneyball portrayed scouts as tobacco chewing Neanderthals, simpletons, incapable of seeing the big picture. And traditionalists loved to tell stat guys to get their nose out of their spreadsheet and actually watch a game. It was personal, demeaning, and very emotional on both sides.

    I was one of the guys who laughed out loud when I first heard some of the conclusions coming out of the sabermetric movement. Before I even scratched the surface of trying to understand what they were doing, I lumped the “new math” of baseball into the same category as the old stats, the ones that I and all of my friends KNEW were incomplete in describing the big picture.

    And I was right, from my perspective. But my perspective was skewed. It was incomplete. So, even though I was convinced from all my years of playing and coaching and studying the game I loved that I was right, I wasn’t. In the grand scheme of things, I was wrong.

    The craziest thing about all of this is that both sides come from a noble place. Both sides are seeking the truth about baseball. Both sides want the same thing.

    I’ve been studying and debating and really agonizing over all this for the past 4 years. And I’ve bought in completely.

    And I’m glad that I didn’t come to these conclusions easily. I’m glad that I resisted, kicking and screaming all the way. I’m glad that I demanded proof, and challenged it at every turn.

    But to me “buying in” doesn’t mean that I have to abandon what I know and have learned from a lifetime of observation. I’ve said over and over that a “balance” between statistical analysis and subjective judgment from observation is the optimum approach. I now believe this more than ever. There has to be a blend with which the two disciplines can co-exist.

    In my opinion, the perfectly evolved baseball mind doesn’t exist on either extreme of the spectrum. It’s somewhere in the middle, depending on your background and experience. You don’t forget how to crawl when you learn how to walk. You just find a better way of moving. I submit that both extremes have to give up old attachments and open our minds, and learn a better way of thinking about the game we love.

    I would love to see the fighting stop between the so-called “traditionalists” and the so-called “statheads”. It’s gone on for too long. The personal attacks, the condescension, it’s all so counterproductive. It’s a turf war that serves no useful purpose.

    I don’t mean to stop the discussions. I don’t want the challenges to every new and old idea to stop. That’s how we evolve, we test our theories against one another, and we seek the truth. But the personal rancor and invectives are childish and ridiculous, demeaning to all involved.

    We all seek the truth about the game we love. What could be more noble?
    "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
    ~ Mark Twain

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  3. #2
    Score Early, Score Often gonelong's Avatar
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    Re: Evolution revisited

    Agreed, and I am starting to feel a bit bad for the new guys. They get jumped on from the word go with many of us that have hashed these arguments out many times. We have evolved ourselves, we can argue these points very well, as we have done and seen it done in the past. We need to allow them to evolve as well. None of us were brought up on OPS, RC, etc. ... somebody helped us understand these along the way. It was up to each of us to figure out how much we would rely on these newfangled numbers.

    We also get a bit tired of arguing the same point every 3-4 months as new guys come aboard. Its a bit of a problem, but I think it is more incumbent on the crusty old vets here to take it upon themselves to be above the fray a bit.

    If you want to teach someone something, show them your point of view, or share your opinion, belittling them is not the way to go.

    As a GM I'd do exactly as you say. I'd blend both, use one to validate the other and use one to test the other. I doubt many disagree with this other than the weight you give to either discipline.

    As a GM I'd weight the scout higher than I can as a fan. I can get ahold of the numbers, I can't get ahold of the scouting reports and determine which scouts are reliable and which are not. I can't watch more than a 150 games a year. I can't travel to see all the minor leaguers play.

    On the same page, its pretty obvious that stats need to be interpreted as well, and some are much better at it than others.

    Too much of anything is not a good thing. All things in moderation.

    GL
    Last edited by gonelong; 01-26-2006 at 07:40 PM.

  4. #3
    The Boss dougdirt's Avatar
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    Re: Evolution revisited

    Quote Originally Posted by RFS62
    I posted this piece last year on opening day. It took me several years to come to these conclusions. I'm posting it again because I've seen a lot of fighting on the board lately between newer posters and long time contributors in the stats vs. scouting battle.
    Why do I have a feeling this has to do with me arugeing with several posters?
    ***edit out the rest of his post, caused the page to be much longer than needed***
    Very good write-up, glad I read it.
    Last edited by dougdirt; 01-26-2006 at 08:45 PM.

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    RaisorZone Raisor's Avatar
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    Re: Evolution revisited

    "batting average" is evil.

    There I said it, and I'd say it again.

    "But I do know Joey's sister indirectly (or foster sister) and I have heard stories of Joey being into shopping, designer wear, fancy coffees, and pedicures."

  6. #5
    The Boss dougdirt's Avatar
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    Re: Evolution revisited

    Batting average isnt evil, its just slightly overrated.

  7. #6
    RaisorZone Raisor's Avatar
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    Re: Evolution revisited

    Three most evil things in Baseball/Redszone:

    1. Puffy
    2. Batting Average
    3. The mayo/mustard/relish combo paste thing they used to have at the old Kingdome in Seattle.
    "But I do know Joey's sister indirectly (or foster sister) and I have heard stories of Joey being into shopping, designer wear, fancy coffees, and pedicures."

  8. #7
    Hey Cubs Fans RFS62's Avatar
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    Re: Evolution revisited

    Now you get Puffy, smear him down with that mayo/mustard/relish combo paste thing, and get him talkin' about batting average.... THAT would really suck.
    "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
    ~ Mark Twain

  9. #8
    RaisorZone Raisor's Avatar
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    Re: Evolution revisited

    Quote Originally Posted by RFS62
    Now you get Puffy, smear him down with that mayo/mustard/relish combo paste thing, and get him talkin' about batting average.... THAT would really suck.

    That's an image I really didn't need.


    :thumbdown
    "But I do know Joey's sister indirectly (or foster sister) and I have heard stories of Joey being into shopping, designer wear, fancy coffees, and pedicures."

  10. #9
    Waiting for a tour/album KittyDuran's Avatar
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    Re: Evolution revisited

    Stats are dead numbers on a page of past performances... just sayin'
    2014 Reds record when I'm attending: 3-4
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    "We want to be the band to dance to when the bomb drops." - Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran

  11. #10
    breath westofyou's Avatar
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    Re: Evolution revisited

    Quote Originally Posted by KittyDuran
    Stats are dead numbers on a page of past performances... just sayin'
    Stats are the footprint in the sand that prove you were there, otherwise the bad historians will win.

  12. #11
    Haunted by walks
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    Re: Evolution revisited

    I'm just trying to keep a Zen-like balance between my inner Foghorn and my inner Egghead.

  13. #12
    Hey Cubs Fans RFS62's Avatar
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    Re: Evolution revisited

    Quote Originally Posted by BCubb2003
    I'm just trying to keep a Zen-like balance between my inner Foghorn and my inner Egghead.

    There could be no goal more noble.


    "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
    ~ Mark Twain

  14. #13
    RaisorZone Raisor's Avatar
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    Re: Evolution revisited

    I'm not sure where you got that picture, but I do NOT own a beanie.

    just sayin
    "But I do know Joey's sister indirectly (or foster sister) and I have heard stories of Joey being into shopping, designer wear, fancy coffees, and pedicures."

  15. #14
    1st pick 2022 B.B. draft George Foster's Avatar
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    Re: Evolution revisited

    Quote Originally Posted by KittyDuran
    Stats are dead numbers on a page of past performances... just sayin'
    "The best predictor of the future is performances of the past."
    Not this year...maybe a Wild Card

  16. #15
    Pitching is the thing WVRedsFan's Avatar
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    Re: Evolution revisited

    Quote Originally Posted by George Foster
    "The best predictor of the future is performances of the past."
    That's the perfect quote for a history major like me. Kind of like "How can we know where we are going if we don't know where we've been."

    Anyway, to be brief, I've taken the same approach as RFS. Rather than get into an argument about the new statistical methods, I decided to read up on it and believe it or not, this 50-something guy now gets it. I also talked to a lot of baseball nuts who I respected and who I knew had bought into it. The quote that got me?

    Jimmy, one of the high school coaches said to me, "what if Sean Casey had stuck out instead of hitting ground balls with a runner on first and not hit into a double play? How many more runs would the Reds have had a chance to score? See a strikeout is just an out--1 out."

    You have to make things simple for a history major...
    www.ris-news.com
    "You only have to bat a thousand in two things; flying and heart transplants. Everything else you can go 4-for-5."
    -Beano Cook


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