I’m not a mathematician or a scientist. In fact, the last time I took a course in mathematics was in my last year of high school. It was calculus, and in it I achieved the lowest mark of any of my final year courses. Aside: My teacher’s name was Mr. Wink, and if my mark properly reflected his efforts in teaching me, it would’ve been much higher.
Despite my lack of talent for dealing with numbers, I like to think I understand them. To me, they seem like a source of reason, even when the way they were gathered and processed might be unfamiliar. Yes, when you’re not as clever with digits, you have to have a little bit of trust in the person presenting you with their findings, but no more than the amount of faith you would have in a pilot, a doctor or even a reporter.
Like the rest of those professions, it’s hard for someone dealing with numbers to continue dealing with numbers unless they’re doing it in an accurate fashion. Misrepresentation and frauds are found out quickly. Also like the rest of those professions, every day people rely on the validity of number crunchers to properly do their job.
Major League Baseball’s managers should be no exception.
There are several quotes from Toronto Blue Jays manager John Farrell in this piece from MLB.com that are maddening to anyone who follows the most basic of beliefs in reason or logic, but by far, the most troubling to fans of Toronto’s baseball team is this section that Gregor Chisholm summarized:
Farrell often talks about his tendency to rely on past performance statistics when making decisions with the bullpen. He said approximately 10 at-bats translates into a suitable sample size, but how a pitcher is throwing should also factor into any potential move.
Ten. Ten times. Ten times. I’m sorry, but I’ll have to say it again: Ten times! Let’s not bring up numbers here. Let’s just think about this reasonably. We’re all baseball fans. No matter where we sit on the spectrum measuring belief in the best way to predict an outcome in the sport, we can all admit that there are large elements of luck and variables outside of a pitcher or hitter’s control at play in any single event on a baseball diamond.
So, how could a measly ten times tell you absolutely anything about a potential outcome? Would anyone trust anything that’s only been done ten times before? Would you use a drug that was tested ten times before you took it? Would you believe someone was a psychic if they correctly guessed “heads” on a coin flip more than half of the ten times you tried it? So, why would you possibly trust ten pitcher/batter matchups to tell you anything at all?
It’s true that I haven’t been very impressed with the efforts of the Blue Jays new manager, but to this point I’ve merely complained as a powerless observer. But I don’t want to merely complain in this fashion any longer.
During lunch, I went over to the Chapters book store on the corner of John and Adelaide and purchased a copy of The Book: Playing The Percentages In Baseball. I will be couriering this copy to John Farrell with a letter urging him to read several sections, and at the very least, to think critically about the decisions he makes as a manager.
Even if he laughs it off as the ramblings of some nerdy spread sheet jockey or doesn’t open the package up at all, I can, at the very least, breathe a little bit easier and feel as though I’ve made some effort to improve some of the more questionable in game decisions.
As a manager of a Major League Baseball team, I’d imagine that Mr. Farrell has an enormous amount of calculations at his disposal. Yet, there seems to be a disconnect between having these numbers and using these numbers. It’s my hope that taking a look through this work by Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman and Andrew Dolphin might bridge that apparent gap a little bit.
Again, I’d like to point out that I’m not suggesting that I’m smarter than anyone or know more about baseball than the team’s manager. I’ve merely read a book that uses statistics to draw conclusions that seem reasonable to me. And I believe that these reasonable findings could be of benefit to Mr. Farrell and any other person making decisions that affect the outcome of something that I’m particularly fond of: a baseball game.