Here We Go Again

I know sports writers are terrified of WAR, but can we give it a rest?

So Bob Ryan wrote a column today. It wasn’t good. In fact, was really, really, really bad. Use whatever adjective you want to describe it: lazy, dumb, misinformed, patronizing.. they’d probably all apply.

In fact, I don’t know what’s in the water lately, but it seems like there’s a renewed fervor on the part of the anti-sabermetric crowd to take a dump on anything that actually makes sense. Maybe it was the trampling of the Triple Crown during the Cabrera-Trout MVP debate that got them all hot and bothered. Maybe it’s that their papers are all going out of business and like most 20-year old furniture, they’re on deck to get cleaned out and replaced. Whatever it is, they’re back, they’re not very bright and worst of all – they don’t care.

They’re here to tell stories, dammit. They done saw it, and it done happened… or whatever. Their story is always the same and they sure don’t need our numbers and facts to get in the way and mess it all up.

The problem with Ryan’s column is that it wasn’t just bad – it was fantastically bad. Half of it was a total waste of time to the point where Ryan actually admits as much in the column himself. The other part was written impulsively – as if he was sitting in the bathroom that afternoon thinking to himself and had this EUREKA moment and decided to write about it without giving it any kind of thought, whatsoever.

It’s so bad, that it’s almost entertaining. To the point where I wonder if Ryan even wrote the column himself. In fact, nearly every word of the column is here in bold for you to read alongside my annoying and un-pithy responses. Why? Because this is one that truly needs to be seen to be believed.

After all, this is Bob freaking Ryan. Not just a guy who I’ve found to be very good and insightful over the years, but also a guy who I’ve borderline idolized. Alas, we’re all human and we all make mistakes so here’s his. I love the guy, but this piece sucked.

If anything, I’ll laminate it and tape it to the bottom of my trash barrel to remind me that even people who get incomprehensibly good at something can say and do really dumb things. This is his moment.

And it’s mine, too…

Was Mike Trout the best all-around player in baseball last year?
You kidding? Who doesn’t know that? No one combined offensive and defensive skill to the extent he did. It’s barely a debatable topic.
So why is there no American League MVP plaque with his name on it sitting atop a mantel somewhere, or, as was the case with one or two of Larry Bird’s NBA prizes, perched on a refrigerator?
He didn’t win; that’s why. Miguel Cabrera did. And there are people out there who consider this the dumbest decision since “Ordinary People” emerged as Best Picture over “Raging Bull” for 1980.
Imagine that, people who want to see the guy who deserves to win the award actually win it. The outrage!

And why is it that the numbers geeks always have to be the guys who are pissed off all the time? Seemed to me that YE OLDE TYMEY BASEYBOLL crowd were the ones who freaked the minute someone suggested the Triple Crown wasn’t as important as it was thought to be.

We’re nerds. We’re socially awkward. When we’re not drowning in a toilet in high schools all across America, we’re busy at home collecting Magic Cards and playing with wrestling figures. Dude, seriously – aggressive we are not.

Did I just talk like Yoda?

Most of those people are quite taken with what is known in the trade as “analytics.” Or “metrics.”

Why are these words in italics? I know Ryan’s audience isn’t exactly overflowing with Rhodes Scholars or anything, but who doesn’t know what either term means?

And since when did they become baseball-exclusive? Plenty of other trades use them as well, such as: all of them.

They crunch numbers, and that’s it.

Well obviously they write, too Bob. Thus they’re trolling around on the internet and bothering you enough to mention us and our annoying use of stuff that makes sense in YOUR SUNDAY FREAKING COLUMN. Also apparently, we inspire. If we didn’t, you wouldn’t have had anything to write about this weekend.

We also play with wrestling figures.

To them, voting for any baseball award is superfluous and perhaps even dangerous. I’ll amend that. Voting is definitely dangerous.

….said no Sabermatrician worth their salt, ever.

It’s what leads to such inane decisions as Miguel Cabrera winning the American League MVP when Mike Trout was so clearly and obviously and statistically the best player in the American League.

My turn to make an amendment this time, Bob: “Obviously and statistically the best player in the American League.”

See Bob, we don’t pull stats out of our backsides or just make events up to suit our point of view. Statistics are made up of occurrences – things that actually happened on the field of play. They happen frequently and infrequently. Such occurrences are then documented and tallied in a way that can interpret said events. These are real things that actually happened in a game.

Therefore, there’s no such thing as ‘statistically best.’ Just ‘the best.’

There’s a war going on in baseball. Did you know that? If you came of baseball age when a long game was 2:45, it was a failing of significant proportion for a starting pitcher not to go nine, all World Series games started at 1 p.m. local, and there was no such thing as a DH, you probably don’t know it. But if your surest sign that spring is coming soon is the appearance of “Baseball Prospectus” on your bookstore’s shelf, you are already a soldier in this skirmish. In your mind, you stand for progress and enlightenment. Speak to you not of “Triple Crowns.” You’d rather rhapsodize about BABIP.
I’m so tired of this argument. There is no ‘war’ going on in baseball over sabertmetrics. 30 Major League Baseball Organizations (the folks that matter) use “Metrics” and “Analytics” as standard operating procedure to measure the productivity and value of players. It’s as ‘out there’ to MLB teams as putting your pants on in the morning, turning your computer or locking the door before you go home at night. Dare I say – it’s old technology by now.

There is no war going on INSIDE baseball and if there ever was, then it’s obviously over. Your side lost. Please try and keep up with the rest of us.

I come from that quaint generation of yesteryear, but I do respect the New Math of baseball. This is no revisionist history, either. Check it out if you like. I nominated Bill James for baseball sainthood many, many years ago. He has influenced how we see the game and evaluate the participants (managers, too) more than any single individual in the last century.

If you respect the new math, and not the minds behind it (James didn’t come up with everything), then you don’t respect it. And if you really respected it, you’d take the time to understand it – of which it’s blatantly obvious that you haven’t. So you don’t.

James taught us that batting average, by itself, is merely a curiosity, that stolen bases are vastly overrated, and that where things are done (i.e. which ballpark) is a critical component of any player or team evaluation, and he opened our eyes to the immense value of a good leadoff man.
He has taught us that, well, a lot of things in baseball aren’t what they seem.
He led a true revolution in baseball thinking and has performed a valuable service. If Alexander Cartwright gets into the Hall of Fame for his 19th century baseball contributions, then Bill James should go in for the ones he made in the 20th.
But it turns out that baseball history is no different than world history. Sometimes a revolution is ripped out of the hands of its original leaders and commandeered by zealots who don’t know when to stop.
Stop with what, exactly? Learning more about baseball? Hang on – let’s back this up for a second.

Isn’t journalism supposed to be about (in part) the pursuit of the truth? Telling stories about people who are underrepresented? Sifting through the noise to find what’s real in society and help readers distinguish it from what’s not? Would I go as far to say ‘protect people’ from misinformation?

Above all else – you’re here to document and record things that happened as they happened. At times, you’re called on to provide us with educated opinions on said issues to help us, well – find the truth.

So if that’s what you are – or at least what you’re supposed to be – then why are you so bent out of shape by people who are trying to do the same thing?

OK, OK, it took me a while, but I’m here. This is an official declaration of war on, yup, WAR.

Wow, thanks for completely wasting my time. I know you’re semi-retired now and have plenty of that to yourself, but please don’t waste mine. Nothing says ‘take this opinion seriously’ quite like “NEVERMIND ANY OF THE STUFF I JUST SAID~!”

Worse yet, you just got done talking about how much you respect the dogs chasing the car, after basically using the whole first half to tongue-in-cheek discredit them in an attempt to set up discrediting their ideas more.

I feel the love. I really feel it.

For those of you who don’t know, WAR stands for Wins Above Replacement. In “Baseball Prospectus,” it is known as WARP, or Wins Above Replacement Player. Same thing.
WAR is the stat de tutti stat for the baseball fans we affectionately refer to as “seamheads.” WAR is believed to be the ultimate rating measurement of a player, combining a variety of offensive and defensive computations (there are also pitching stats) and then coming up with a number that allegedly tells us all how many more wins per season said player is worth over, yeah . . . here’s the problem.
Again, name me a sabermetrician who’s ever said it’s the best possible way to measure a player’s worth? If you had bothered to Google WAR, you’d understand that almost the entire saber community has issues with WAR. Thus, we can’t agree on one way to look at it.

Issues that you could have addressed in your column instead, rather than coming off as completely and totally out of touch with what’s happening around you.
It’s how much more Player X is worth than a player that doesn’t exist!
Yes he does. According to Fangraphs, here he is:

http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=2498&position=2B

Also if you need more of a ‘Replacement Level in Action’ piece to help you better understand, Dave Cameron wrote this 18 days ago. “Google” it. There’s plenty of literature available on the topic. So if you’re going to rip something, take the time to learn a little more about it.

I wish I were making this up. I’m not. Here is the explanation for WAR/WARP on page xiii of the 2013 “Baseball Prospectus”:
“WARP combines a player’s Batting Runs Above Average (derived from a player’s True Average), BRR (Baserunning Runs), FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average), an adjustment based upon position played, and a credit from plate appearances based upon the difference between the ‘replacement level’ (derived from looking at the quality of players added to a team’s roster after the start of the season) and the league average.”
Got that?
Now, even if you are conversant with BRR and FRAA, there remains one little problem in accepting the notion that WAR is a relevant tool with which to evaluate and separate players.
It’s ultimately based on a judgment. It’s not a statistic!
This “replacement player” who constitutes the very linchpin of the entire premise is mythical. There is nothing measurable or precise about his existence.
Guess which stats are also based on judgment and aren’t always precise?

• Errors
• Batting Average
• Fielding Percentage
• Slugging Percentage
• Doubles
• Triples
• Earned Run Average
• Strikeouts (that pesky umpire)
• Walks (f—k the umpire already!)
• WHIP
• Balks
• Hits
• On-Base Percentage
• Some Home Runs
• OPS
• Wins
• Losses
• Assists
• Putouts

And anything else where a human being is forced to make a decision that impacts what happens on the field. I’m not saying you’re wrong Bob, I’m just looking for a little consistency.

Yet supposedly intelligent people have signed off on this utterly bogus piece of baseball idiocy.

Nice to see someone did the same for you, too. We all are in need of a helping hand on occasion.

Irving Langmuir was pretty right when he said that ‘the scientist is motivated primarily by curiosity and a desire for truth.’ Once upon a time, that used to be the same for many baseball writers, too. Unfortunately, this is Boston in 2013 and we should all know better.

Never – EVER let the facts get in the way of a good narrative.

Categories: Bob Ryan Boston Red Sox Sabermetrics The Boston Globe Wins Above Replacement

A world-class baseball nerd, baseball fan, and baseball man, Hunter Golden agreed to terms with Fire Brand of the American League in September of 2012 in exchange for an oversized baby bottle, football helmet filled with cottage cheese and naked pictures of Bea Arthur. In January of 2013, he was named Editor. He likes run-on sentences, enjoys over-using hyphens, and smelling books. When it comes to serious stuff, Hunter is a professional writer (no, really), father of two, Husband of one and whose natural habitat is Western Massachusetts and agreeable parts of Connecticut. Follow him at @hunterGbaseball on Twitter or shoot him an email at [email protected]

3 Responses to “Here We Go Again” Subscribe

  1. Steve H March 4, 2013 at 8:49 AM #

    Great analysis!

  2. james April 9, 2013 at 10:55 PM #

    It was really helpful that you are sharing this details to your readers, I do personally having a worth while in the article. Thanks for sharing such good release.

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