Today In Poorly Formed Thoughts

I wasn’t going to write anything in response to Jason Whitlock’s article on why sabermetrics are such a bad thing, not because it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. The ease with which one targets marine life in a confined space has never held me back before, and it doesn’t here either.

Put plainly, my hesitation was caused by this sort of nonsense just being a case of Whitlock being Whitlock. At this point, it’s expected. His ridiculously lazy, poorly thought out opinions carry about as much weight as a toddler portaging a canoe with two coureurs de bois.

However, I read his piece over again, and it made me think that there might be something of value in pointing out flaws in an argument. It’s not to embarrass the writer. Whitlock does a good enough job of that on his own without my assistance. No, we call stupid things stupid so that future arguments are strengthened.

So that when I suggest Brett Gardner is the best defensive outfielder in baseball, you can say no, Peter Bourjous is because he plays center field instead of left field, and use that as your argument instead of bringing up a specific anecdote, like his one great catch from last night. It’s about finding better reasoning to support the claims we make and challenging each other’s beliefs like iron sharpening iron.

And also it’s kind of fun to make up snarky insults. So, let’s take a look at the most egregious of Whitlock’s paragraphs, which look as though they could’ve been texted in to his editor from a smart phone.

There’s a stat for nearly every action in baseball. Little is left to the imagination. Sports were never intended to be a computer program, stripped to cold, hard, indisputable, statistical facts. Sports — particularly for fans — are not science. Sports, like art, are supposed to be interpreted.

It’s difficult to interpret baseball these days. The stat geeks won’t let you argue. They quote sabermetrics and end all discussion. Is so-and-so a Hall of Famer? The sabermeticians will punch in the numbers and give you, in their mind, a definitive answer.

It’s boring. It’s ruining sports.

God forbid someone derive pleasure from an aspect of sports that Mr. Whitlock can’t spin a fanciful and ultimately faulty narrative around. I understand that it must seem as though “stat geeks” won’t let you argue when they bring reason and logic to a debate rather than mere race baiting, but there’s actually a difference between not letting you argue and winning an argument.

And as long as logic and reason are celebrated in arguments, a record of factual occurrences is always likely to be more persuasive than the volume of one’s voice increasing or the attempt to hammer a square object into a cylindrical hole simply because one is more familiar with equilaterals than circles.

Don’t blame stat geeks for “ruining sports.” Blame the arrested development that stopped Mr. Whitlock from finding new and intellectually stimulating aspects that only enhance the expierence of sports and the passion that erupts in its followers.

Comments (24)

  1. What makes me interested in sabermetrics is the way that it allows us to make reasonable judgements about each player and team’s respective strengths and weaknesses. This is interesting not because it allows us to predict precisely what will happen in any give plate appearance, game or even week during a season, but for precisely the opposite reason: it makes the randomness of small samples all the more interesting because at every turn our logical expectations based on scientific research are on the verge of being defied. Part of what makes baseball interesting to me is that kinetic energy between what is likely to happen and what can happen.

  2. Exactly. Advanced metrics are simply another way of understanding and enjoying sports. They do nothing to take away the beauty that I find in the games.

  3. I think you mean cylindrical hole…

  4. “When the “Moneyball” movie hysteria subsides, I hope the sabermeticians STFU.” – Whitlock

    1) Classy! Telling your readers to “shut the fuck up” because you don’t understand them, in an article you were paid a healthy stack of money to write by a major sports broadcaster

    2) Has the movie really caused any hysteria? Old-school guys are still being old-school and stats guys are still doing stats, as far as I can tell. It’s not like Vin Scully has started talking about UZR’s role in WAR just because a Brad Pitt movie came out.

    3) How can sabermetrics be ruining football? The B in SABR is for baseball. Pretty good indication this guy didn’t even Wikipedia what he was slamming before shitting out an article.

    4) Does he really think the decades-old, well-entrenched, widespread concept of statistical baseball analysis is going to die like a flash-in-the-pan fad? That if the Brad Pitt movie tanks, BaseballProspectus will shut down? That people will finally realize the folly in their ways and uninstall pitch f/x tracking systems, because goshdarnit, it doesn’t account for the heart and hustle of the pitcher?

    5) Was this entire article written drunk? He just jumps around from sport to sport saying his opinions, then keeps saying “fuck nerds” without any example of what the nerds think, or what the hell he’s even talking about. “I like John Elway. Statistics are boring. I don’t like Dwight Howard. Therefore, math is wrong.”

  5. Forgive me for taking off my baseball nerd hat for a moment, and let me put on the traditional nerd hat.

    “Every time I throw this ball, a hundred different things can happen. He might swing and miss. He might hit it. You try to anticipate, set a strategy for all the possibilities as best you can. With the sequence of one pitch after another, and the consequence of each, the game progressively takes shape. But the game wouldn’t be worth playing if we knew what was going to happen.” –Captain Sisko, on why we play baseball, and how it’s analogous to life.

    “To the most beautiful moment in life, Better than the deed, better than the memory, the moment… of anticipation!” –Jacques (from the Simpsons)

    Without those stats — without the information to make the anticipation that much more enhanced — the game becomes less exciting, not more. Less intense, not more. I don’t get upset with people who dismiss stats. I pity them. They’re robbing themselves.

  6. The more of your writing I read, the more convinced I am you have a real bad case of the man-crush for Sam Harris. If by some miracle I’m mistaken, go read his first book, you’ll have some sort of -gasum.

  7. Sabermetrics are ruining sports? Maybe tell that to Bert Blyleven … because without them, he might not be in Cooperstown.

  8. Unfortunately even with sabermetrics, Jim “The Most Feared Hitter Of His Generation” Rice was able to get in there. Blech.

  9. John McDonald hitting a homerun is an awesome moment in baseball, because it proves the stats wrong.

    Stats are a great way to enjoy the game further, and it gives backing to things you see with your eyes. Stat people love the game of baseball just as much as the ‘old school’ regime, they just delve a little further into it. Neither way is the wrong way to approach baseball.

    They don’t have to be two separate schools of thought. You can enjoy baseball with intense stats and also with some good time sitting with your dad, who could care less about the stats, where the only thing that matters is how far Jose just hit that bomb.

    • Please. No stats have ever suggested that Johnny Mac will never hit a home run. If you think a stat says that, you are misinterpreting it. The metrics say that Johhny mac will do so more rarely than most. Period. No individual data point can prove or disprove that.

  10. Jason Whitlock does not sound like a black person name,

  11. I feel bad for the girl in blue, she is missing part of her ring finger.

  12. Here’s the problem I see. There’s no give and take. Logic and reason dictates all. Logic and reason tells us it’s also stupid to cheer for someone who shares your nationality but the vast majority of the world still does it. You can never take the human element out of life or sports as much as you folks may try. Sabermetrics are nice. They add a lot to baseball. But they are not everything as you guys like to suggest.. Well I gues not suggest but tell us.

    http://chrisross91.wordpress.com/2011/09/22/finding-a-balance-between-sabermetrics-and-purity/

    • How can you possibly complain about logic and reason? We are post enlightenment. Logic and reason can perfectly explain why people like Brett Lawrie. Let’s not even use the term sabermetrics, let’s just use reason or logic. It’s the same thing.

  13. You are unreadable.

  14. The whole article is eclipsed by the fact that the girl in front is giving ‘the shocker’. Somehow, I keep coming back to that and not being able to make sense of it. I’m a sad case.

    • I agree. It’s a problem. But that has to be overlooked because that picture of Whitlock is more powerful than Parkes’ arguments…

  15. Ignoring the content for a moment….not complaining from a female perspective, but from one who reads this blog on breaks at work – is it possible to limit the scantily clad females above a cut? Even when I know it’s posted for other reasons than when Bleacher Report trash does it.

    • Fair enough. But I’d think this is an exception and not the norm. I can’t even think of another time we’ve used a pic like that,

      • I’d definitely agree; I’d just wanted to comment, as I’ve assumed the Score blog safe to read at work and had an embarassing moment when somebody came in to give me a file

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