Friday, April 8, 2011

2 comments Well, I Guess I Have To Reconsider My Entire Opinion On Sabermetrics

Murray Chass finally has evidence, FINALLY, that sabermetrics is useless and advanced statistics are dumb. The proof is that someone wrote a book about how sabermetrics are useless. That's all the proof Murray needs to finally close the door (and his mind) to the use of advanced statistics in evaluating MLB players. He's very eager to get over this black period in baseball's history where statistics were used to accurately compare and evaluate players. It's time to ignore the well-written books with evidence of the value of advanced statistics, this one book about how those books are wrong is all the definitive proof Murray needs.

This was going to be a column about a new baseball book, but a couple of matters intruded and have to be dealt with first, both having to do with the book, “The Beauty of Short Hops” by Sheldon and Alan Hirsch.

So before Murray can get around to discussing the book this blog-entry was going to be about, he has to deal with some matters surrounding the book this blog-entry was originally going to be about. So the first part isn't about the book, but about some matters dealing with the book. I'm glad we are all on the same page now.

It is subtitled “How Chance and Circumstance Confound the Moneyball Approach to Baseball.”

So this book is essentially proving "Moneyball" wrong (are we still trying to prove this book wrong? It came out 8 years ago...aren't we over this by now? It was just a book that helped spawn a movement of using advanced statistics to help evaluate players, it is not THE way to evaluate players), by stating non one can predict the future and crazy shit happens. The idea people can not predict the future would not only confound "the Moneyball Approach," but would also confound every prediction that been made in the past or every prediction that will be made in the future. Because if a person can't predict the future perfectly then that person will always be wrong.

So the essential retort to the Moneyball approach (I am not capitalizing it) is that we can't predict the future because freak things happen. Very true and I don't know if anyone would argue differently, but the purpose of advanced statistics is to compare players on an even playing field and give an idea of how a player might project over a period of time. No one is trying to predict the future exactly. I think this point has been missed somewhere.

When I have written about “Moneyball” negatively, which is the only way I have written about it, its advocates have written to me telling me I don’t understand the book.

Not that I needed reassurance, but the Hirsch book shows me most clearly that I have always understood it.

I am sure Murray Chass has understood "Moneyball," he just hasn't accepted its principles. He refuses to accept them. Really, I think the book has been completely mis-characterized over the past few years. It is about finding untapped advantages in the market for players and about a different way to evaluate players in a competitive market, it is, nor was it ever intended to be, about how advanced statistics are the only way to evaluate players.

So I don't know if the value of a "win" is a "Moneyball" approach to baseball or the result of more open-minded baseball fans looking into how wins are calculated and what has to happen for a pitcher to get a win or a loss. As I stated in a previous post, Warren Spahn had a terrible record when his team didn't score runs for him, so there is merit in stating a win for a pitcher is a result of getting good run support. Advanced statistics are supposed to supplement older statistics, but for some reason Murray Chass and many others can't see it that way.

They make many of the same points I have made since the book became a best-seller. Talk about unmerited rewards.

One book agrees with Murray Chass' point of view! What are the odds there would be TWO closed-minded people in the world? The fact there is one book that agrees with Murray means everyone who disagrees with Murray is completely wrong...naturally.

When I have written about the new-age statistics, I have mostly expressed disdain for them and have paid the price, receiving tons of e-mail from promoters of the new statistics.

"Promoters" of new people who use new statistics are outside a tent at a carnival with a top-hat on trying to fool people into giving $5 to be a part of a scam.

I don't get "the price" Murray has paid. I haven't seen where any fans of new statistics have emailed him and called him a basement-dwelling blogger, referred to how often he changes his underwear or in any way suggests he is a lower form of life than most humans for his beliefs in old statistics. All of those insults/comments have been directed towards fans of Sabermetrics. So Murray has a way to catch up in terms of "the price" to be paid for believing and defending his point of view.

Two things I have learned that the brothers will learn: I am always wrong, and the sabermetric way is the only way that counts.

What's funny is that Murray claims sabermetricians believe this, but Murray spends this entire blog-entry telling them how wrong they are and believes his way of measuring a player's value is the only one that counts. So Murray is guilty of the very same thing he accuses those of the sabermetric way of being guilty of.

One blog, by Rob Neyer, criticizes the book based not on the book itself but on a news release about the book. When Neyer was at, he seemed to be building a respectable reputation, but he has moved to a new Web site,, and I guess that site’s standards are lower than ESPN’s because I doubt that his blog on the news release would have been posted on the ESPN Web site.

It is not a "blog" that Rob Neyer is using to criticize the book. It is a "blog-post." There's a difference. Neyer didn't set up the entire blog to after one book. He used a blog-post to go after the book. In typical Murray Chass fashion, since he is a student of real professional journalism and how to write all professional-like, he doesn't cite the post where Rob Neyer criticizes the book.

I don't know much about the correct way to write, since I am not nearly as educated and prestigious as Murray, but I do know when I cite something or take a quote from an article, I cite the article so the author gets credit and the reader can go read what I am talking about and make up their own mind. For those who click on the link, Rob Neyer merely notes the authors watched the 2009 Boston Red Sox team and based the book on what they observed in those 162 games. He found this interesting since he believes the management of that Red Sox team is a team that fully bought into the sabermetrics approach to baseball. So it is not like he completely criticized the book without reading it, you know, like Joe Morgan does when he discusses "Moneyball."

“Is it worth pointing out,” Neyer writes, “that these same Red Sox have built their organizational philosophy around the Bill James-Moneyball myths? That without sabermetrics the Red Sox wouldn’t have won one World Series, let alone two?”

I'm not sure at what point, criticizing a book's premise comes off as a lower class of journalism, but I am sure that if criticizing a book's premise is a lower class of journalism then Murray's criticism of "Moneyball" takes him down into this class with Rob Neyer as well.

Moneyball teams didn’t consider defense a priority, and the Red Sox were one of them. When they realized the reality of their circumstances, they decided to gamble on not being thrown out of the Moneyball clan and traded for shortstop Orlando Cabrera and first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, solidifying their infield defense and enhancing their playoff chances.

This statement that Moneyball teams don't consider defense a priority is wrong. Here's an article about sabermetric teams and their discussion of defense. It is also important to note that Doug Mientkiewicz got on-base at a clip of .387, .365, and .393 the previous three years prior to joining the Red Sox, so he was a part of the advanced statistics movement in that aspect. Nonetheless, I don't want the facts to take precedent over Murray's revisionist history.

The second blog was worse than the first. Appearing on, this one was written by Lincoln Mitchell, who is identified as a teacher of international politics at Columbia University. College teachers have long operated under the threat of “publish or perish.” In this instance Mitchell should have opted for perish.

This guy stated that Murray Chass is the person who wrote the book that Murray Chass is essentially giving a long-form review of in this blog-posting. Stupid move on his part and he should probably learn to do some research before criticizing something. He has now acknowledged his mistake and talks a little bit about the "war" going on between traditionalists and fans of advanced statistics in his updated post about the book Murray discusses.

But there’s one thing I can count on and now the Hirsches can count on it, too. Write critically or disdainfully about new-age statistics, and the critics will erupt.

Quit being a baby about being criticized. Murray says he doesn't mind being criticized and then he starts whining about how he can't have a certain point of view without being criticized. Saying you don't mind being criticized and then crying about being criticized is contradictory.

They urge me to consider the statistics, and I have. I do not find that they enhance my enjoyment of the game I have watched for many more years than they have breathed on this earth.

Maybe this is the entire problem. No one is looking to enhance the enjoyment of the game necessarily. Using advanced statistics is about finding better ways to evaluate and compare players when the need to do so arrives. You know, like when determining an MVP or Cy Young award winner for a given year. If a writer is going into the process of choosing an MVP and wants to have a ton of shits and giggles combined with a barrel of laughs in the process of doing so, then maybe he shouldn't be voting for an award like that.

No one wants to suck the fun out of the game, but simply because advanced statistics don't enhance the joy of the game doesn't mean they lack relevance. I don't believe anyone wants to be a killjoy, but advanced statistics aren't supposed to be used to enhance enjoyment, but to be used alongside older statistics when needing to evaluate a player.

To introduce the authors, who have no professional connection to baseball, Dr. Sheldon Hirsch, 55 years old, is a nephrologist – he treats people with kidney problems – and Alan Hirsch is a college professor, teaching legal studies at Williams College.

So the fact these two guys have no connection to baseball means this book has more or less reliability in terms of accuracy? I'm asking. Murray seems to indicate this means these two authors are neutral observers, while others may say the fact they have no connection to baseball as a bad thing.

Much of the use of advanced statistics relies on projections and determining more efficient ways of evaluating baseball players. They aren't intended to be fun or necessarily enhance a person's enjoyment of baseball, but rather enhance the knowledge of baseball in terms of comparing and evaluating players.

Would Dr. Sheldon Hirsch ignore new medical findings that may contradict something he previously believed simply because these findings didn't enhance his enjoyment of treating people with kidney problems? I would hope not. So I doubt he shares Murray's need to dismiss Sabermetrics because it isn't fun to learn something new.

I don't know what kind of work on kidneys Dr. Hirsch does, but if he does a surgery and a family asks him what are the chances the surgery will work prior to the surgery, I am assuming he gives them a percentage of times the surgery works or at least a projection of how he thinks the surgery will go...based on some sort of data I would hope. Obviously things could go wrong during the surgery, but that doesn't mean his initial projection of how often the surgery works is incorrect or has less meaning. The same goes for the book the Hirsch's have written. Simply because a baseball may hit a pigeon or a ball may take a bad hop doesn't mean sabermetrics are wrong. Shit happens and there's no way to take this into account really.

“Focusing on numbers,” they write, “while overlooking the nuances and subtle forces that can’t be quantified sabermetricians fail to appreciate the complexity of the game they seek to try to transform.”

Yes, those wonderful nuances and subtle forces that can't be quantified are overlooked. So what's to be done about this? How the hell can you accuse someone of overlooking an issue that can't be quantified? If it can't be quantified then there isn't a way to factor these nuances into any discussion of a comparison between players. I don't think any sabermetrician says they have taken ALL of the factors into account when analyzing a player, much less think about using factors that can't actually be calculated in the analysis.

Close to 10 years ago, Michael Lewis sought to turn a very good general manager into a god-like general manager.

No. He intended to write a book about Billy Beane's unique process of putting a team together and evaluating players who he felt were mis-evaluated. Michael Lewis wasn't trying to make Billy Beane into a genius, but the method seemed to make sense to some people, so they adopted the concepts he used.

The eight were Jeremy Brown, Stephen Stanley, John Baker, Mark Kiger, Shaun Larkin, John McCurdy, Brant Colamarino and Brian Stavisky. The names should not be familiar to you because they never made it. They never even made it far enough for you to consider drafting them as sleepers for your fantasy league team.


I am also not sure where this list of 8 players will come from, I am more familiar with the 20 players Beane said he would draft if he didn't have to compete with other teams. Interestingly, this list of 20 players includes successful major league players, while the list of 8 players Murray gives us just so happens to leave the successful players out. This is the list of the other 12 players Beane wanted in a perfect world below. I will list the 12 players Murray left off the list, in a pure coincidence of course, since many of them are successful in the majors.

Jeremy Guthrie
Joe Blanton
Jeff Francis
Luke Hagerty
Ben Fritz
Robert Brownlie
Stephen Obenchain
Bill Murphy

These are the 8 pitchers Murray left off the list and three of these pitchers are still in the majors. The 8 players Murray listed are all batters, but let's see what batters he left off this non-inclusive list:

Nick Swisher
Russ Adams
Khalil Greene
Mark Teahan

What do you know! Murray left off the four most successful major league hitters from his list of players Billy Beane covets! As Murray said earlier in the chat:

Where oh where have the professionals gone?

Because it is professional to leave off information that may look negative to your present argument.

What happens when a ball is hit but not over the fence, this idea says, has nothing to do with the pitcher but is mostly a matter of luck. Bill James, who is credited (blamed) for starting sabermetrics, agreed that McCracken’s idea was “’basically true.’”

Again, I would love to see the article where James made this statement, yet again Murray doesn't cite or give us where this statement is made, simply because Murray is a true professional who doesn't cite his references or even link them. He just quotes Bill James and trusts us to believe it is taken in context, which I may or may not believe to be true.

The book notes that McCracken’s “goof” got him a job with the Boston Red Sox, whose new owners hired James in 2002 to advise the baseball operations people.

And, as we all know, the Red Sox immediately went to the bottom of the standings in the AL East and certainly didn't win the 2004 World Series.

In a recent conversation, Fay Vincent recalled the eulogy Bobby Brown, the former Yankees’ third baseman, delivered at Joe DiMaggio’s funeral.

“I played with him,” Vincent quoted Brown as saying, “and there’s no statistic that measures how many times he took an extra base in the last three innings of a game

Well, there probably is a statistic somewhere.

and there’s no statistic that measures how often he threw out a runner at third base in the last three innings of a game.”

There is probably a statistic that measures this as well. The mere fact they aren't statistics readily available that measure these two things doesn't mean DiMaggio did this a lot or didn't do this a lot. This reasoning for a player's crappiness/greatness based on a supposed event or group of events that occurred just isn't accurate in my mind. I'm uncomfortable with a justification for a player's greatness being based on a person's memory or perception of how an event happened. Memories are just not accurate over time.

James didn’t see DiMaggio play.

There are box scores though, which can be used to evaluate him. I doubt Murray Chass saw Joe DiMaggio play every game in his career either, but this doesn't stop him from telling third-hand stories of DiMaggio's greatness.

He didn’t see much of Roy White and Horace Clarke either, and the authors cite that as a shortcoming in his assessment of players.

So it is a shortcoming of Michael Lewis that he can't bias his opinion of these players by seeing them play live? I'm confused as to how it is a bad thing that Michael Lewis never saw these players play, but it is a good thing the writers of the book Murray talks about have no affiliation with baseball.

Sheldon Hirsch, the author of the book Murray is propagandizing for, is 55 years old. He was born around 1955/1956, so he didn't see Joe DiMaggio play all his games either. So I hope he doesn't say anything positive about DiMaggio or any player he didn't personally see play. Otherwise, he is relying on what other people said about him to judge his talent when writing this book. I don't doubt there are other players in this book that the authors never saw play too.

In assessing White, the authors write, James wrote that he “’did everything well.’” But the authors say correctly that White didn’t do everything well. He had one of the weakest outfield arms in the majors. True.

David Eckstein has the weakest arm on a shortstop that I have ever seen, including in recreation league women's softball, and yet he is still a gritty player who takes the extra base and plays the game right in the mind of many. It is possible to still do everything well and have a weak outfield arm. You can throw a runner out even with a weak arm. Jeff Francoeur has a rifle for an arm and this doesn't make him a good baseball player at all. So James saying White did everything well, while knowing he had a weak outfield arm, is still possible.

James, they write, ranks Clarke among the top 100 second basemen, ignoring the fact that Clarke had a “tendency to bail out on the double play.” Also true.

Where the hell is this quote coming from? The book Murray is propagandizing for? I am assuming so. Is it really impossible for Horace Clark to be one of the top 100 second basemen of all-time while still bailing out on the double play? So the Top 100 second-basemen in the history of baseball had zero flaws? None of them weren't great hitters or great fielders, but made up for this in other facets of the game? I have to say I question this selection of Clark in the Top 100 second basemen as well, but I base it on the statistics he put up in the majors and not on some story that he bailed out on the double play.

Those weaknesses, the Hirsches point out, do not show up in box scores and can’t be quantified.

Then how do we know this is a fact? I'm not saying it isn't fact, but if you base your evaluation of a player on non-quantifiable observations then the reliability of the information has to come somewhat in question.

An obvious shortcoming in UZR, the authors say, is its consistently low ratings Derek Jeter earned until 2009.

So what is wrong with the statistic of UZR is that it doesn't come to the conclusion that the authors thought the statistic should come to. On a similar note, there was clearly something wrong with the 2010 MLB Playoffs because the Atlanta Braves didn't win the World Series. Something should be changed in the structure of how the playoffs are run obviously.

Jeter has demonstrated many unrated intangibles,

How is a statistic supposed to take into account supposed intangibles that CAN'T BE MEASURED?

most notably his retrieval of an errant throw and his backhand flip to get Jeremy Giambi at home plate for a series-saving out in the 2001 playoffs.

So the statistic of UZR is faulty because it doesn't take a once-in-a-lifetime play by Jeter into account when determining how good he is at fielding? It isn't like Jeter makes plays like this on a regular basis, this happened once, yet this one play is supposed to be influential in a rating that measures Jeter's defensive performance over hundreds of balls that have been hit to him?

Notice Murray doesn't mention another example similar to this of how UZR stinks, so he is essentially using one play to show that Jeter has great range. Ignore what the statistics with the huge sample size shows, it is that one great play that one player made that shows how good of a fielder he truly is, while at the same time rendering an entire fielding measurement moot because it doesn't come to the conclusion it is "supposed to" come to.

No big deal here. Just another failed rating system.

I just adore how one example of an immeasurable intangible play and one book brings the entire idea of Sabermetrics down in Murray's mind. Yes, players have intangibles and there are certain plays that can't be part of the analysis when calculating some statistics, but this doesn't mean the whole system is a bust.

As the Hirsches write, “Sabermetrics has uncovered no blueprint to follow in the quest for a championship team.”

Neither has the plan of, "Finding a bunch of players with intangibles," uncovered a blueprint to follow in the quest for a championship team.

Proponents of sabermetrics should do themselves a favor and buy the book to find out if they should have something to think about. Those who have no use for sabermetrics should buy the book to find out why they are on solid footing.

Either way, buy the book, I guess.

I have chosen not to explain the authors’ reasons for finding fault with much of the sabermetricia they write about. If I were to give all of their reasons for their criticisms, you wouldn’t have to buy the book, and they wouldn’t appreciate that.

Plus, the other reasons they give in the book are possible shaky when it comes to having relevance to the Sabermetrics discussion or having logic behind them that can be defended.

So all Murray really wants is everyone to have an open mind to ideas, despite the fact he has never had an open mind to new ideas.


Anonymous said...

Here are some tweets from Ken Tremendous regarding this book:

"I quite literally cannot believe this book has been written. I honestly thought we had moved beyond this, as a culture."

"Sometimes, random stuff happens in baseball. So if you run a team, just do whatever you want, with no methodology."

"How many fingers am I holding up? You don't know, do you? That's why math is stupid and you should just do whatever."

"Short Hops GM: "I read about Schrodinger's Cat. Then I signed Brad Ausmus to a 30 year deal, because the future is unknowable."

"I don't know what's going to happen in five minutes, so I'm going to liquidate my assets and jump off a bridge."

"One time a ball hit a pigeon. So 'Moneyball' is crap."

Bengoodfella said...

Anon, those are great. I love it. I know he is trying to be funny, but those are accurate. The book is all about crazy shit happening. Yeah, crazy shit happens but that doesn't mean you shouldn't have some sort of plan.

Simply because I could get hit by a bus tomorrow doesn't mean I should go out and smoke crack and just generally screw my life up.

So while the Tweets are funny, they are also true.