Monday, November 22, 2010

Meanderings

What follows is a very lightweight post, even for one of this nature.

* I have a half-written post somewhere about the generation gap in sabermetrics between people who got into the discipline prior to the explosion of online sources and those who started at some time after that. I've never finished it or posted it because it's not about baseball--it's about sabermetrics, and because one could easily read it as self-aggrandizing (and perhaps even as a sign of old fogeyism). But the themes have manifested themselves a little bit in the reaction to Felix Hernandez winning the Cy Young.

I'm not crazy about looking at the BBWAA votes for an award as any kind of triumph or defeat for sabermetrics, but if you are inclined to view it in those terms, it's tough to see how Hernandez' win was anything but a victory for the discipline. The win craze in Cy Young voting may have reached its zenith after the Stone/Vuckovich/Hoyt selections stopped in the early 1980s, but it never fully died, not with Jack McDowell in 1993 or John Smoltz in 1996 or Bartolo Colon in 2005. The shiniest W-L may not have been the strong Cy indicator it once was, but a good W-L record was still necessary to get a seat at the BBWAA table (provided the pitcher in question was a starter). It was unprecedented that a 13-12 pitcher would get serious consideration.

It's absolutely true that one didn't need FIP or xFIP or SIERA to make a case for Felix Hernandez; ERA, innings pitched, and strikeouts, which have been kept for the last century, were sufficient to make one consider that Hernandez might have been the league's outstanding hurler. Still, it should not be forgotten that the notion that ERA and strikeouts and the like were useful indicators is one embraced by sabermetrics, that had many less adherents pre-James than it did in 1990, and many less adherents in 1990 than it did in...well, you get the idea.

But for certain members of the community (largely peripheral members, i.e. not the people authoring sabermetric blogs or engaging in their own research), generally those that fall into what could be called (uncharitably to the site) the "Fangraphs generation" of saberites, the notion that actual runs allowed is an acceptable tool by which to evaluate starting pitchers is foreign, as foreign as the notion that W-L was the key evidence was to my generation of sabermetricians.

* Any skirmishes about the baseball awards are a garden party compared to the battle being waged over Horse of the Year between Zenyatta and Blame. I would vote for the latter without a moment's hesitation, and I've yet to see a coherent argument for Zenyatta that is based solely on her 2010 performance. The Zenyatta crowd talks about her "transcending racing" (it's not a popularity contest), or about how she should have won in 2008 or 2009 (arguable, but wrong I believe, and irrelevant to a 2010 award), or about her accomplishments in 2008 and 2009 (beyond irrelevant). Blame ran a more ambitious campaign, beat better horses more times, beat Zenyatta head-to-head, had better speed figures, won more money, and ran exclusively on dirt and at classic distances.

Hernandez/Sabathia is actually not a bad comparison--Sabathia pitched well and wouldn't hardly have been the worst selection in the award's history--but outside of W-L record, it was hard to find an area in which he had Hernandez beat. Outside of the fact that she's Zenyatta, it's hard to find an area where she had Blame beat. To the same degree that I was reasonably confident that Felix Hernandez was the best AL pitcher in 2010, I'm reasonably confident that Blame was the best North American thoroughbred of 2010.

* It now looks as if the expanded playoff format is an unstoppable train. Writing on the idea in an earlier post, I said "In this case, not only do I consider the idea stupid, but it would seriously dampen my own enthusiasm for the playoffs."

Reading it back, I realize that was an overreaction. I don't like the idea of an extra wildcard team any more today than I did then, but I do realize that the likelihood of my enthusiasm for the playoffs being dampened is next to zero. If anything, I'll probably be happy to have a few extra games to watch. The allure of the game is too strong, and to make bold statements about my own ability to resist is self-flattery. I'll object with my head, but I'll tune in and I'll like watching the games if not agreeing with their existence--and so will others, and everyone will make money.

Also, it is worth noting that even with ten playoff teams, MLB will still have the lowest proportion of playoff teams among the big four US leagues.

6 comments:

  1. "Also, it is worth noting that even with ten playoff teams, MLB will still have the lowest proportion of playoff teams among the big four US leagues."

    I dislike that. "even though this is stupid, it's not as stupid as THIS" (that's not a personal attack on you, I just hear that a lot)

    re: extra playoffs-

    It WILL dampen the playoffs. First, it will probably feature two AL East teams. Where before inter-division playoff match-ups where reserved for the Championship Series because it adds extra drama...all that is being thrown out the window! "Welcome to the AL Wild-Card playoffs featuring the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees! Let's get this over with so the real play-offs can start!"

    Where before you had real contenders fighting for the last spot...now you'll have teams like the 2010 Red Sox and the 2010 White Sox fighting for that last spot. Those teams had no business sniffing a spot. And for what? So we can watch baseball on Nov.10th? Ridiculous.

    And all this talk about "practically no GM opposes this"...Does Theo Epstein not remember the WC has been the Sox's bread and butter? Can someone get me his e-mail? Of all people, I'd think he would oppose this*

    *I suspect he'd say, "My job is to get the Red Sox into the playoffs. 3 game series, 5 game series, it's all a crapshoot."

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  2. Dale, if you read the linked post you will see that I agree this is a bad idea. This was just a way of walking back what I decided was an overly melodramatic emotional response on my part in that post. Intellectually, I maintain that a second wildcard is unnecessary. But I have to admit that I'll watch in 2012 and I the likelihood that I'll pout about it at that time is minimal.

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  3. I, for one, would love to read your half-written post about the generation gap in sabermetrics. It's something I've pondered.

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  4. I just pulled up the post and it's a mess, but I'll put it on my to do list.

    The starting point is that there are three generations of sabermetricians/sabermetrically-inclined fan:

    1. Pioneers--these are the people that did the initial research, the Bill James and Pete Palmers and George Lindseys

    2. Second wave--the people who came into the field later (either doing their own research or just as consumers of others' work), but whose initial exposure to sabermetrics was through the work of the pioneers.

    3. Internet generation--people who came into the field after it had been popularized to some extent, people who have never had to calculate any metrics for themselves if they didn't want to (since they can be looked up on B-R or Fangraphs).

    Basically, my concern (if it qualifies as such) is that there are a fair number of people out there from the internet generation that really don't understand the concepts or the calculations and have a certain unfounded arrogance. And I think that zealotry for DIPS-types metrics is one of the primary noticeable manifestations of this.

    As I said, it can all be looked at as very self-serving and divisive, since I would put myself on the tail end of the second wave group. Of course I don't mean to lump all individuals into a group--there are countless great sabermetricians from the internet generation. However, it's also a lot easier to be a consumer of sabermetric ideas than it was previously, and as with anything I think there's a lot that one can learn from actually getting their hands dirty themselves--even if that only entails calculating Runs Created for one's self (for example) and not doing serious research.

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  5. I would also like to see this post developed further. As someone who belongs to group 2, I see a big difference between groups 2 and 3. The "internet generation" creators are great, but the users of the statistics too often don't understand the stats and misuse them.

    I feel as if FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference has made it almost too easy to access advanced measures. I certainly don't want them to stop making them accessible though because I want to use them! It's probably better that the statistics be misused rather than not used at all. I feel as if there's a better chance to educate "misusers" than nonusers.

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  6. That is a good way of putting it. The biggest advantage that those of us from the pre-internet generations had in terms of understanding was that, for the most part, we had to figure it for ourselves. That represents a lot of wasted time, but it also forces one to understand the inputs and how they fit together, and really encourages a better understanding of why the method is designed the way it is.

    And of course one of the resources available for misusers is Beyond Batting Average... :-)

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