November 10, 2011

My patience with "Moneyball" is running out

The subhead for Michael Lewis's review of Daniel Kahnemen's Thinking, Fast and Slow in Vanity Fair reads:
Billy Beane’s sports-management revolution, chronicled by the author in Moneyball, was made possible by Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky.

Then Lewis goes on to lament in amazement how could anyone have made such super gigantic mistakes as all the baseball executives in the history of the world until Bill James and Billy Beane came along, or something like that.

I'm a big fan of advanced baseball statistics, but its actual impact has been pretty marginal (other than the message: take lots of performance-enhancing drugs, but that didn't really require a degree in stats to figure out). Consider this shocking revelation I discovered in my voluminous readings of sabermetrics:

Q. Who was the greatest baseball player of all time?

A. Babe Ruth.

Of course, Babe Ruth was also the most famous and popular baseball player of all time, in real time. Baseball fans went nuts over him the moment he started hitting huge numbers of homers. Decades later, sabermetricians fired up their computers and figured out: hey, the bleacher bums were right.

Q. Who was the greatest American League player of the 1950s?

A. Mickey Mantle.

So, the nine year old boys of America were right in 1956. Mickey Mantle was enormously famous throughout his career. I suspect many of my foreign readers don't believe that Mickey Mantle was a real baseball player. They can vaguely recall the name, but he sounds like a fictitious folk hero, like Yankee Doodle or Jack Armstrong or Horatio Alger, made up to symbolize American post-WWII dominance. (Similarly, I suspect foreigners sometimes get Babe Ruth and Paul Bunyan confused.)

In other words, baseball fans's views were pretty accurate. And that's not terribly surprising: if you listen to most of your teams's games on the radio, much less have season tickets, you'll figure out pretty accurately who are the best players on the team and who are the worst. For example, sabermetricians like to claim that LA Dodger first baseman Steve Garvey was overrated because he was handsome but didn't get a lot of walks. Statistics prove, they like to say, that Reggie Smith was better than Garvey in the Dodgers' World Series years of 1977-78. Indeed, but Dodger fans knew that already. Fans at Dodger Stadium voted Smith the team MVP both years over Garvey.

What advanced statistical analysis did was improve what national baseball intellectuals had to say. What sportswriters had to say about their local team had always tended to be pretty reasonable: they watched all the games and, as Yogi Berra said, you can observe a lot just watching. But when sportswriters went to vote for the Most Valuable Player award for the whole league, since they didn't see many games played by the likely candidates, on other teams, they tended to overvalue dumb statistics like runs batted in. They felt they needed some statistical evidence to justify their votes, and it was traditional to overweight the RBI number.

Bill James argued that people who denounced his emphasis on statistics weren't free of statistics, they were just slaves to dumb statistics. But that was mostly true of their evaluations of players not on their own team. You know how at hockey games, the announcer comes on after the game is over and announces the third-best, second-best, and best player in tonight's game? They don't say that out-loud in baseball, but fans kind of do it in their heads, so if they listen to 100 games on the radio in the season, they have a pretty good idea in their head that in those 100 games Reggie Smith was the best player in about 18 of those games and Steve Garvey in about 12, so Reggie is the team MVP.

But league MVP awards are a pretty minor part of the game. 

Similarly, when I was a kid in the 1960s, Babe Ruth was the most famous ballplayer ever, but it was a mark of intellectual sophistication to say that his homerun hitting was vulgar and that real experts all knew that the line drive hitting and base stealing Ty Cobb was better. But that's just mostly an epiphenomenon. Nobody benched Ruth because they didn't understand baseball statistics. They just watched games and Ruth clearly dominated over the other players.

So, while the rise of sabermetrics had some impact on how baseball was played (much of its impact malign), in the big scheme of things, it's pretty small change. The big impacts of better statistics are on the post-season awards and who gets into the Hall of Fame, not on the field of play.

Remember how it drove sabermetricians crazy in 2001 that sportswriters gave the AL MVP award to elegant Ichiro Suzuki rather than lumbering Jason Giambi, who almost died a few years later from all the PEDs he was taking in order to get his Billy Beane-approved surfeit of homers and walks? (For some reason, those statistical geniuses never tried to figure out which players were on the juice.)

For example, who were the best players on the 2002 Oakland A's, the team featured in Moneyball, as ranked on Wins Above Replacement? Oddly enough, you can't answer that question accurately from reading Lewis's book. The main reason the team did well was little mentioned in the book: its three ace pitchers Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, and Mark Mulder were 15.4 wins above replacement. Three of the bad guys in the book for not taking enough pitches, Miguel Tejada, Eric Chavez, and John Mabry, were 10.8 wins above replacement. And the three heroes of the book, Scott Hatteberg, Chad Bradford, and David Justice, were 5.5 wins above replacement: useful acquisitions, but pretty marginal in the big picture of things, which is a pretty accurate evaluation of sabermetrics role in baseball: modestly useful.

50 comments:

TH said...

Mickey Mantle was enormously famous throughout his career. I suspect many of my foreign readers don't believe that Mickey Mantle was a real baseball player. They can vaguely recall the name, but he sounds like a fictitious folk hero, like Yankee Doodle or Jack Armstrong or Horatio Alger, made up to symbolize American post-WWII dominance. (Similarly, I suspect foreigners sometimes get Babe Ruth and Paul Bunyan confused.)

Frankly, as a European, I suspect that most non-Americans have no idea who any of those are. This is the case even when they closely follow American popular culture. Personally, I've never heard of Jack Armstrong and I've only a vague idea who the rest are.

The big American sports are hardly played at all in most of the world, which explains why many famous American sportsmen are unknown abroad, whereas "folk heroes" are by definition local unless they become the subject of Hollywood movies.

Anonymous said...

As a non-American who knows almost nothing about baseball...

My take on Bill James etc is that the greatest players (and the really hopeless) stand out anyhow. But all these stats may help a team choose between different middling players who dont, on the face of it, differ much from each other, yet one might have a useful statistical edge. So the gains made through this sort of player selection may be useful but not earth shattering.

I suppose thats what Steve was saying anyway.

Anonymous said...

Kahneman seems to get credit whenever things go wrong. Here he's getting credit for promoting statistical models over intuition, which in the psychology literature goes back to Paul Meehl showing computer algorithms can sometimes make more accurate diagnoses than professionals. But Kahneman was also lionized during the financial crisis and lumped together with Nassim Taleb when statistical models of finance broke down, since some of his work could be interpreted as saying economists can get things wrong.

His experiments on college students on like inkblots that elite journalists look into and then claim that scientific data show the irrationality of people they dislike.

alonzo portfolio said...

Just imagine how much better Mantle would have been if Joe DiMaggio hadn't ruined his knee in his rookie year. I wonder if that's why he became a heavy drinker.

Anonymous said...

Do yourself a favor and don't write when you're tired or angry. The application of sophisticated statistics have revolutionized the appreciation of baseball talent.

Old baseball guys would have sworn up and down that a singles hitter with a .360 average but no walks was miles better than a guy who hit .270 but drew enough walks to have a .380 OBP. They'd have sworn that a great speed guy who could steal 100 bases was among the most valuable guys in the league, even if he did get thrown out 20 times. And they'd have sworn up and down that some guys were "clutch" and that they were thus more valuable than their numbers showed.

There are dozens of examples I could use of utterly incorrect things that everyone in baseball would have sworn to until sabermetrics finally got picked up. To say this was a minor change in how baseball talent got evaluated is just stupid.

Steve Sailer said...

Yeah, I've read all the self-serving publicity for decades, but where's the beef in the big picture? Yes, Luis Aparicio should have batted 8th in the lineup instead of the 1st but he should have been in the lineup. Big deal.

Reg Cæsar said...

What's so damned exciting about a fat guy hitting the ball out of play, and waddling around the bases? Is that more thrilling than an inside-the-parker? Is a 15-9 blowout really better than a perfect game?

If high scoring is all that great, why hasn't cricket pushed baseball aside in America?

Funny that Cobbball is appreciated in St Louis and Cincinnati, the two most knowledgeable baseball cities. Ruthball, by contrast, is exemplified by Minnesota-- where the NFL draft pushes baseball right off the first (and second and third) sports page.

Rrg Cæsar said...

"Sabermetrics", by the way, is an incredibly stupid word. Kinda like "homophobia". Doesn't anyone know Greek anymore?

Steve Sailer said...

For example, getting pitcher Bert Blyleven into the Hall of Fame was a triumph for sabermetrics because his won-loss record wasn't that outstanding. But it's not likely statistical ignorance deprived him of work in the major leagues: he was the starting pitcher in 25 games at age 19 and in 24 games at age 41. So, sure, it's great that people who never saw him can better evaluate his worth. But, people who saw him on a weekly basis didn't have much doubt that he was really good.

Anonymous said...

What's so damned exciting about a fat guy hitting the ball out of play, and waddling around the bases?


That hardly describes Ruth, at least not in his prime. In game 2 of the 1921 World Series he walked, then stole second, then stole third, in the same inning.

James Kabala said...

Reg Caesar: The name was coined as a joke (by James himself, I think). "Saber" stands for SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research. I don't think anyone realized it would catch on nationally until it was too late.

astorian said...

As Steve says, the statistical revolution hasn't changed things THAT much.

Long before Bill James came around, if you'd asked the most innumerate fans and sportswriter to name the three greatest hitters of all time, they'd probably have said "Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Ted Williams." And sure enough, they'd have been right.

New stats invariably confirm that the guys everyone thought were great really were great, and the guys we all thought were lousy really were lousy.

That doesn't make stats useless- but what the numbers show is that, sometimes, guys we THOUGHT were borderline great were just pretty good, while guys we THOUGHT were pretty good were borderline great.

A generation ago, nobody thought of Bert Blyleven as a Hall of Famer. Bert was the kind of guy who made skeptics sneer, "It's the Hall of FAME, Not the Hall of Very Good." On the other hand, a lot of fans and writers DID think Jack Morris was a lock for the Hall of Fame.

Stats have made a difference in both cases. tats showed that Bert was a little better than everyone remembered, while Jack Morris WASN'T quite as good as we remembered.

It's at the margins that numbers are useful.

jody said...

game 6 of the world series was easily the best baseball game i have ever seen.

Anonymous said...

Surely, it was the Israeli Psychologists and not free lance writer Eric Walker, a life long San Francisco Giants fan coming from an engineering background, who wrote the book "The Sinister First Basemen and Other Observerations" developing what would be the forerunner to OPS (TOP). It was Kahnemen who Alderson heard on the Bay Area NPR station opining about how most GM were using an incomplete data set.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I think you are overlooking the New York factor. Mantle was probably the best of the 50's but places, oh, 5-50 are royally screwed up because people undervalued players outside of NYC, and this increased as time went on - because the writers tended to come from NYC.

DiMaggio, as an example, is overrated in the imagination, largely on the strength of where he played.

More than Moneyball, I'm sick of reading NY writers reminisce about the game as if their experience were the universal one.

Thursday said...

What advanced statistical analysis did was improve what national baseball intellectuals had to say.

I suspect a lot of scientific analysis of the arts will have much the same impact: it will reduce the amount of dumb things literary and art critics have to say, but won't much affect what people enjoy.

Anonymous said...

I just remember hearing almost all the A's games that year on radio and it's still important to remember it's better to have a so-so hitter get on base because he has a good eye for getting walks so that the free swingers with punch like Tejada and Chavez (actually Chavez wasn't the wild swinger Tejada was) could knock in runs.

beowulf said...

Which reminds me, maybe it was Dennis Rodman who wrote Shakespeare.

Repeatedly, my research on Rodman has led to unexpectedly extreme discoveries: Rodman was not just a great rebounder, but the greatest of all time—bar none. And despite playing mostly for championship contenders, his differential impact on winning was still the greatest measured of any player with data even remotely as reliable as his. Part 4/4(b)
http://skepticalsports.com/?page_id=1222

beowulf said...

Personally, I've never heard of Jack Armstrong and I've only a vague idea who the rest are.

Neither have I, but I guess "Neil Armstrong" picked the right stage name anyway.
:o)

Anonymous said...

I suspect the value of sabermetrics is not in spotting who the MVPs are but in discovering the best mediocre and poor players are.

Anybody can notice that Micky Mantle or Babe Ruth are good players. But no one can make a team composed entirely of Mickey Mantles, 1927 Yankees aside. The stats help you spot better utility infielders, middle relief, and role players for cheap. Since on the offensive side you have to rotate through all or most of your lineup, and not just send Mickey to the plate again and again, this adds up. You can't exploit your superstar player advantages as much as in basketball since you can't just do the equivalent of passing the ball to Jordan.

So the moneyball approach is mostly an attempt to increase the Mendoza line.

greenrivervalleyman said...

Old baseball guys would have sworn up and down that a singles hitter with a .360 average but no walks was miles better than a guy who hit .270 but drew enough walks to have a .380 OBP.

Not necessarily. With runners on 2nd and 3rd the high OPB guy contributes nothing to his team's run total. The high batting average guy bats in 2 runs.

BTW- Horatio Alger was a real person- that's the name of the author, not any of his plucky characters.

Mr Lomez said...

With all due respect, I think you're missing the point, Steve. This is uncharacteristically sloppy logic.

The point of Sabermetrics was never to prove whether or not Babe Ruth was the best player of all time or whether Blyleven belonged in the Hall. The point of Sabermetrics has always been precisely to uncover "marginal" differences between a player's true value and his market value. Thus, teams with less money to spend can, if they exploit these differences, compete with spendthrifts like the Yankees. This is still true, even as market value catches up to particular metrics like OPS. Whether Sabermetrics' limited utility is disappointing to you personally, obviously, is another question.

Quick analogy: Imagine if someone came up with a way of measuring 'g' that more closely correlated to intellectual ability than the methods currently in use. The value of such a measurement would not be in proving that Goethe was in fact a genius among geniuses--just as we don't need WARP to tell us Babe Ruth was a monster at the plate. Instead, such a test would help colleges sort out which students to accept, businesses which candidates to hire, fire departments which minority to promote to Captain.

Steve Sailer said...

"The point of Sabermetrics has always been precisely to uncover "marginal" differences"

Sure. And that's why I'm getting tired of Michael Lewis's overheated rhetoric about "Billy Beane's sports-management revolution."

And if you subtract the steroids effect, the revolution looks even more marginal. Notice how when steroid testing got better, Billy Beane's general managing got worse?

I like Lewis a lot, but he's milked the Moneyball cow plenty already. His going back to the well reminds me of the disingenuous and dishonest aspects of the whole story.

Whiskey said...

Steve, the whole reason for Michael Lewis writing is the "search for a bargain." And who doesn't love a bargain.

I'd argue the opposite, that Moneyball has completely changed not just baseball but football. As noted above, yeah sure your top draft picks are going to be pretty good. But if you want teams other than the Yankees and Dallas to win every year, they need to be able to get bargains to compete. What Moneyball stats-based approaches do is find well, bargains. Guys undervalued by the market because of bad bodies, or undervalued talents, or abilities uniquely suited to the particular team.

You've noted Bill Belichek has used more White players than other coaches, valuing role-playing veterans who can grasp complex schemes quickly even if they've lost a step. Since New England being a relatively lower spending team, does not sign monster rosters like Dallas or Philly or what have you.

Mr Lomez said...

"And if you subtract the steroids effect, the revolution looks even more marginal. Notice how when steroid testing got better, Billy Beane's general managing got worse?"

The stats based "sports-management revolution" started with, but certainly did not end with Billy Beane. Beane was simply the movement's first (and because of Lewis's book, most famous) practitioner. Smarter, more innovative GM's have since usurped Beane's position at the head of the pack (see: "The Extra 2%" about the Goldman Sachs traders who used Wall Street valuation techniques to turn around the Tamba Bay franchise). Still, Beane's legacy lives on. To deny that the landscape of professional sports management has been completely overhauled by Beane-style stat-driven analysis, is an act of willful ignorance.

Bluetooth said...

Reg: you do realize the ash character isn't used in present-day English? I defer if you are merely settling into your new job as New Yorker fact checking intern

Anonymous said...

Steve,

A word about the titles of your blog posts. Ones like this one "My Patience with Moneyball is running Out" lend themselves to eyeballs and google searches far better than ones like "Italy." Consider getting creative with your titles to get more traffic.

traderkirk said...

http://youtu.be/9YKxf3OkpJc

The so-called "moneyball" approach as elucidated by the Earl of Baltimore. In other words, sabermetricians merely quantified Earl's observations about winning baseball. That should make you old timers feel better about it.

Anonymous said...

"...because people undervalued players outside of NYC, and this increased as time went on - because the writers tended to come from NYC."

Stan Musial was amazingly good and gets little press these days. Imagine if he had played in New York.

Anonymous said...

Stan Musial was amazingly good and gets little press these days


He's ninety years old and has been retired since 1963. How much press do you expect him to get? When he dies I'm sure there will be a lot written about him,even in the New York market.

Anonymous said...

DiMaggio, as an example, is overrated in the imagination, largely on the strength of where he played


Having nine World Series rings and being Mr Marilyn Monroe does tend to raise a guys profile, as does being immortalized in song by Simon and Garfunkel (among many other musicians). With all that on your resume you're going to be famous even if you played for Baltimore.

Not a bad baseball player either - his 56 game hitting streak is a record which remains unbroken seventy years later.

Cult, -Cause. said...

"Who was the greatest baseball player of all time?"


Joe Shlabotnik.

Steve Sailer said...

Dimaggio may have impressed sportswriters on the road even more, because Yankee Stadium hurts right handed power hitters like Joltin' Joe. That's why there was discussion of a straight-up trade of Dimaggio for Ted Williams, a left handed power hitter whose stats were also depressed by playing in Boston.

Dimaggio's 56 game hitting streak is overrated (it was a fluke) because he lacks other common stats that show just how good he was for a variety of reasons (playing 2 or 3 seasons in the minors when he could have been in the majors, missing three years to WWII, some injuries, then retiring fairly early). But, but he was very, very good. So, all the hype about his 56 game hitting streak balances out his other common statistics that rather underrate his impact.

airtommy said...

DiMaggio, as an example, is overrated in the imagination, largely on the strength of where he played


Having nine World Series rings and being Mr Marilyn Monroe does tend to raise a guys profile, as does being immortalized in song by Simon and Garfunkel


Dimaggio was immortalized in song by Simon & Garfunkel BECAUSE he played in New York.

Anonymous said...

Dimaggio was immortalized in song by Simon & Garfunkel BECAUSE he played in New York.

To bring it full circle to the musing on which baseball players are known outside of baseball-playing nations: I recall a poll of various cross-sections of British society on this very question from the 80s, I believe.

From toff to cockney, the average Brit seemed to be able to consistently identify only two: Ruth and DiMaggio.

Follow up questions tried to establish why those two. Answer: the former because, well, if they didn't know anything else about the US national pastime, they knew at least that the Bambino was supposed to be its greatest player ever (query: what percentage of Americans who know next to nothing about cricket would nonetheless recognize or volunteer the name "Bradman"?) Recognition of the latter apparently was 99% due to Messrs. Simon & Garfunkel.

astorian said...

Sigh... not the old "New York Media Bias" canard.

I've lost track of the number of times I've heard Southerners or Midwesterners whine that "If only Joe Schmeaux played in New York, he'd get the acclaim he deserves" or "If only Billy Whatshisface played in New York, he'd have been a first ballot Hall of Famer."

Speaking as a native New Yorker (albeit one who's lived in Texas since 1986) and a tepid (once passionate) Yankees fan, my response to such perennial complaints is: BULL.

ARE there advantages to playing in New York? In some sports, yes. A baseball player can make a LOT more playing for the Yankees than for the Pirates or Royals, and will have far more opportunities to make commercials and endorsement deals.

Otherwise, no, New York athletes DON'T get any more acclaim or awards than they deserve.

Don't believe me? Okay- name me some undeserving New York Mets who've won the National League MVP award. Can't think of any? Tell you what- name me ANY New York Mets who have EVER won the MVP award, period. Oh wait, that's right- NOBODY from the Mets has EVER won the MVP award! "New York Media Bias", my backside.

Ah, but surely the Yankees win too many awards, right? WRONG! Since George Steinbrenner bought the team in 1973, Yankee players have won four MVP awards (one for Thurman Munson, one for Don Mattingly, and two for A-Rod). In that same time, the Oakland A's and Texas Rangers have won SIX MVP awards. "New York Media Bias," my backside.

People often point to Derek Jeter as an overrated Yankee. Okay then, how many MVP awards have the writers wrongly given him? NONE! Every time he's had an MVP caliber year, writers gave the award to a player from the "small market" Minnesota Twins!

How about the Hall of Fame- is it loaded with undeserving New York players? Only one, as far as I can see: Phil Rizzuto. But Phil wasn't chosen by the media, he was chosen by the Veterans' Committee. And the Veterans COmmittee has inducted WAAAAY more undeserving St. Louis Cardinals than undeserving Yankees (thanks to former Cardinal Frankie Frisch, who used to run the Veterans' Committee).

To those who gripe that somehow Stan Musial hasn't gotten all the credit he deserves, let me point out that Stan won just as many MVP awardsd as Mickey Mantle and Joe Dimaggio, Stan was a first ballot Hall of Famer (unlike Dimaggio, who was forced to wait several years). Stan also received the Medal of Freedom. It's not only FALSE to say Stan is underappreciated, it's RIDICULOUS. Stan Musial has gotten all the honors and acclaim any player could hope for.

That's it for baseball. WHat about other sports- does anyone REALLY Want to say the New York Giants get too much media attention? (Really? Is Phil Simms in the Hall of Fame?) The Giants get FAR less media attention than "small market" teams like the Packers and Steelers. Meanwhile, the Knicks of the NBA and the Rangers of the NHL get almost NO media attention.

"New York Media Bias," my backside.

Anonymous said...

I'm so disappointed in this Steve schtick.

He commits so many of the errors he would normally pounce on.

For example, instead of how baseball has changed its focus on what's valuable in pretty broadly significant ways, Steve goes after the Moneyball A's, the sort of straw man crap he normally hates.

For another example, he vastly overgeneralizes. Yeah, sure, baseball fans had this figured out all along. Baseball fans now talk WAY differently than they did when I saw my first game in 1970. There is simply not a minor transition here. In fact, from about 1992 to 2002, among the sharpest fans, one of the biggest arguments was over the validity of Bill James' theories.

But here is the example that gets me the most tired of Steve's shtick. He should understand the value of seemingly minor insights actually having transformative powers.

Please, Steve, stop talking about on-base percentage and start talking about pitches taken.This is another crucial sabermetric insight that doesn't get much ink.

Did you EVER hear ANY fan or ANY manager broadly emphasize this skill before 1998?

Nope.

Figuring out, as James and DiPodesta and others did, that having a lineup that got the starter to 100 pitches by the sixth innning was a fabulous insight.

I have to say in sum this whole line of argument is among the most disappointing I have ever encountered for Steve.

It would take rudimentary computer simulations to establish many sabermetric insights are not tiny marginal things but things that over 162 games would yield victories.

But Steve doesn't want to go there. As the guy who sees himself as the Guru of Math and Science and How Life Works, he's rather undercut Bill James and Michael Lewis than give them any more props.

Really disappointing. Hope Steve answers with rigor and specifics, not dismissively.

Steve Sailer said...

"Figuring out, as James and DiPodesta and others did, that having a lineup that got the starter to 100 pitches by the sixth innning was a fabulous insight."

Okay, sure, that's a fairly new idea -- it was around but not in a coherent fashion -- but how does adding 22 pitches to games make baseball better? Four hour Yankee-Red Sox games don't make baseball more popular.

Steve Sailer said...

The big Moneyball idea -- take steroids and HGH and hit the ball 450 feet -- was at least crudely entertaining in a pro wrestling sort of way. In contrast, wearing out the starting pitcher so fans have to watch a bunch of obscure middle relievers is time wasting and boring.

jeppo said...

they tended to overvalue dumb statistics like runs batted in.

RBIs are a dumb statistic? I would have thought that RBIs are one of baseball's least pointless stats, at least compared with doubles, triples, stolen bases, walks, slugging percentage, etc.

Getting down to brass tacks, the point of baseball is to score more runs than the other team, just like the point in hockey is to score more goals than the other team. In hockey, the players are simply ranked by points scored (goals plus assists). Yet in baseball, with its plethora of dumb and pointless stats, there is no similar statistic that measures a player's points scored, or "runs produced" if you will.

To calculate a player's runs produced, simply add runs scored to runs batted in, minus home runs (since a player who hits a solo HR is credited with a run and an RBI even though only one run is actually scored). Comparing it with scoring in hockey would look like this:

Goals (Runs scored)
+ Assists (RBIs minus HRs)
= Points (Runs produced)

Wouldn't this be the simplest way to calculate a player's offensive production?

Reg Cæsar said...

at least crudely entertaining... time wasting and boring....

Steve brushes on a point most miss. There are serious fans and casual fans. The former may attend more games per capita, but the latter outnumber them 5- or 10- or 20-1. (Depends on the city.)

But aspects that fascinate the serious fan bore the casual fan. Likewise, things that excite the casual fan quickly bore the serious one.

The casual spends the bulk of the money-- and brings his family. So the rules and eventually the strategy moves towards his pole. And cheapens the game.

It's like "professional" vs. amateur wrestling.

Reg Cæsar said...

Let another New Yorker in exile (albeit more Upstate than Down-) second the Astorian's view.

In the Upper Midwest, you'd be led to believe the Yankees were the only team left in N.Y.C. And their coverage is due more to their place in the standings than their place on the map.

(At least Packer and Bears fans are aware of the Giants, who've been coming to their towns for 90 years.)

This guy's the wisest Astorian since Samuel P. Huntington!

(Hey, you're not my mom's cousin, are you? Who ran several convenience stores in Texas and carried a pistol openly because Texas hadn't legalized concealed yet? He was from Queens.)

Anonymous said...

Dimaggio was immortalized in song by Simon & Garfunkel BECAUSE he played in New York.


And you base that dogmatic assertion on what, exactly?

Anonymous said...

Funny that Cobbball is appreciated in St Louis and Cincinnati, the two most knowledgeable baseball cities. Ruthball, by contrast, is exemplified by Minnesota-- where the NFL draft pushes baseball right off the first (and second and third) sports page


Funny that you don't know baseball history. Ruth, the fat guy hitting for power or nothin' in your version of things, is in fact number ten in MLB lifetime hitting average. You make him sound like an early Dave Kingman.

astorian said...

Jeppo- RBI's are always a good thing, but RBI's are a "dumb" statistic if you're using them to judge between two players.

To use one good example, in 1985, Don Mattingly won the MVP award, largely on the basis of his 145 runs batted in. That same year, George Brett had a higher batting average, and a better slugging percentage, but "only" 112 RBIs. All in all, Brett had a better year than Mattingly. So, why did Mattingly have so many more RBIs?

Because Don Mattingly had Rickey Henderson and Willie Randolph ahead of him in the lineup, which means Mattingly was constantly coming up to bat with Rickey Henderson on 2nd, or with Rickey on 3rd and Randolph on first.

Yes, Mattingly was a great hitter, but Brett was actually a little better that year. Mattingly was LUCKY to have two guys ahead of him who were so good at getting on base. If Brett and Mattingly had traded places, Brett would surely have been the one with far more RBIs.

The point is, while it's always good to drive in a run, you CAN'T drive runs in all by yourself. You need other guys to get on base for you. That means RBIs alone are NOT a good or fair way to tell whether Brett or Mattingly had a better year.

ben tillman said...

Figuring out, as James and DiPodesta and others did, that having a lineup that got the starter to 100 pitches by the sixth innning was a fabulous insight.

You didn't finish one of your clauses.

Reg Cæsar said...

Funny that you don't know baseball history. Ruth, the fat guy hitting for power or nothin' in your version of things... Anonymous the Lionhearted

Funny how people refuse to read carefully. At no time above did I dismiss Ruth's all-around abilities-- hell, he holds AL pitching records to this day.

I was talking about his influence being bad. He turned baseball into softball. But nobody said he couldn't play baseball.

Though I'm not that impressed with his batting average-- he never had to face Yankee pitching!

Antioco Dascalon said...

I think that there is a NY effect, but like the Moneyball effect, it is in the margin and applies mostly to baseball. The theory is that most sports media writers live in the Eastern Time Zone and no one can watch 25 baseball games a day. So, they pick and choose the most convenient and most important games, which means that evening games on the West Coast are often ignored, since they don't even start until after 10 EDT. So, when picking say, Silver Sluggers or Golden Gloves, voters basically pick those who won the year before. The same goes for All Star picks.
Your examples of the Hall of Fame or MVPs don't really qualify since these receive extra scrutiny and voters take their responsibility very seriously so can watch tape or ask around. I think the Texas Rangers are a good example of East Coast Bias as they were underrated the past two seasons. All you heard about were the Yankees and Red Socks even though Dallas was the defending AL champ. In 2010, out of 36 predictions, 57 of 72 (or almost 80%) predicted World Series teams were from the East. Of course, there were no teams from the East, as it went San Francisco over Dallas.
http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/preview10/news/story?page=10expertpicks
In 2011, out of 45 predictions, 83 of 90 (over 92%) teams picked for the World Series were from the NL or AL East. But once again, no East teams played with St. Louis over Dallas. http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/preview/2011/news/story?page=11expertpicks
So, two years in a row, a wide variety of experts overwhelmingly chose East Coast teams over the rest of the country and both years were totally wrong.

Anonymous said...

That no one knows about Jack Armstrong, All-American Boy (eat your Wheaties) or Horatio Alger (Ragged Dick doesn't translate particularly well in modern parlance) comes as no surprise. One about the scion of white privilege, the other about a poor kid making it without government help, are not what's sold today.

Sabremetrics is about numbers. It has nothing to say about the human factor. This past year's Red Sox team was built with Bill James blessing, with no attention paid to well-know clubhouse cancers like Ortiz, Youkilis, Beckett, Bucholtz and Crawford not offset by a true team leader. Stats see Youkilis' OBP numbers, not that he's a bad body guy that will break down past age 30 (42 games missed last year).

The human factor isn't readily apparent when you have a strong manager/coach, like the aforementioned Earl Weaver, to rule the clubhouse with an iron fist. With a easy-going, let-the-boys-play guy like Terry Francona, results may vary.

dcite said...

"even if you played for Baltimore"

hey, Babe Ruth was from Baltimore.