Given a number of stat v anti-stat threads that have popped up lately, I thought it might be constructive to actually look at some of the stats people like to use.
As us stat-heads have been told over and over, the game is played on the field by real people. While some of us find beauty in the numbers, undeniably the best part of the game is what happens on the field.
So why do we have stats anyways? Certainly we don't need to know what Adam Dunn's slugging percentage is to enjoy a go ahead 3-run homer. We don't need to know the Volquez has an ERA under 3.00 to cheer at another strikeout.
At the simplest level, we use stats because we're trying to understand the game better. We realize that within the course of a given game it's pretty much impossible to figure out who the best players are. At the more complex end, we're trying to build winning franchises or compare Babe Ruth to Josh Hamilton.
In order to do this, we start counting what happened. At some point in the 1800s, people starting combining measures of events in to rate statistics so we could assess how often things happened. Along the way, we've fiddled with how we count things, certain rules we apply to exclude certain events or give extra credit to others.
The key thing to remember in all of this is that stats are just a means to an end. No stat is intrinsically better or worse by nature of it's existence. Rather, we should judge stats based on how well they do what they are supposed to do.
Taking the case of batting average, it was invented to assess basic offensive performance. The goal of offense, by definition, it so score runs. And because most runs are scored as a result of the combined efforts of players, we try to assess each player's individual run production to understand his contribution.
Over time, we've found ways of combining the measurements of offensive events to measure run production that, when added back up at the team level, better match up with how many runs actually end up scoring. Yet many, if not most people, are resistant to ditching batting average even thought its utility has been easily surpassed by other widely available metrics. It's like somebody said they would upgrade your car for free to make it more comfortable, look better, and get more better gas mileage -- and some people aren't interested.
What I'd like to understand is why.
I'd like to have an open conversation about what stats people like to use, what those stats tell them about the players and the game, and why people prefer them to some alternative. This isn't about any player, it's about the way we measure what they do.
I understand that many people don't like to have this conversation for a number of reasons including:
- You just don't care
- You don't want to spend the time
- You hate math
- Stat-heads can be arrogant and condescending
- It just doesn't make sense
- Bill James broke your Optimus Prime toy in 1986
If nobody is interested in doing this, that's cool. But in effect it seems we have an ugly, contentious version of this topic at least twice a week. If you'd rather ask a question about a stat you don't use, feel free. But let's get this conversation going in a constructive manner.