Monday, December 19, 2011

2 comments Ron Chimelis Has Some Thoughts About Sabermetrics

Ron Chimelis is writing about the Red Sox manager search and how it relates to Sabermetrics. In Chimelis' opinion, Sabermetrics is a highly advanced mathematical concept that consists entirely of all those crazy-stats loving freaks who refuse to stop using computers to ruin the sport of baseball. These are the same "computers" which every single person involved in Sabermetrics believes should decide the outcome of sporting events. Chimelis accepts advanced statistics, but he doesn't like them. So he describes the managerial search through the prism of advanced statistics, while expressing his disdain for advanced statistics. He uses one sentence paragraphs to describe the managerial search that led to Bobby Valentine being hired as the Red Sox manager. Seriously though, nearly the entire column consists of one sentence paragraphs.

What's shocking to me is Ron Chimelis looks like a guy who would really, really enjoy the use of numbers. I figure he talks in generalities when discussing statistics so I can do the same when discussing what he looks like. Plus, stereotyping is fun. Take a look at his picture above the article, isn't that a person who looks like he enjoys advanced statistics?

People sometimes ask my opinion of sabermetrics.

End of sentence/paragraph. Next sentence/paragraph.

I tell them I accept the concept. I also hate it.

People sometimes ask me my opinion of dinosaurs. I tell them I accept the idea. I also hate it. The idea of huge, small-armed animals roaming the Earth eating whatever food they want without any type of portion control disgusts me.

It's good to hear Ron Chimelis accepts the concept of advanced statistics. That's better than many in the anti-sabermetrics movement can do. I have to say though, I'm not sure the use of advanced statistics is a concept or not at this point. You can't debunk the existence of advanced statistics, though you can debunk the usefulness of advanced statistics in two ways:

1. Using an intelligent argument explaining why the specific advanced statistic is not useful and providing an alternative to that statistic that may better provide the information necessary.

2. Calling anyone out who uses an advanced statistic as living in their mom's basement and suggesting the advanced statistic presented isn't effective because person presenting the advanced statistic hasn't seen Player X/Team X perform on the field and isn't a "real" baseball person.

I'll let you guess which way Chimelis attempts to debunk Sabermetrics.

The search for a manager always seems to dovetail back to whether a candidate embraces New Age stats

I love calling them New Age stats. It gives me the picture of Enya or Kenny G music being played in the background as a person uses incense and a crystal ball to explain why something occurs. I call them new age statistics for this reason. It's a fun picture.

that have turned baseball into Trigonometry 101.

I took Trigonometry in the ninth grade. My point isn't that I am a genius, which I am clearly not. My point is this is the standard argument against advanced statistics, that it is like Trigonometry or another advanced math like Algebra most people took in high school. As a full grown adult shouldn't a person have a minimal grasp on the principles of these types of math anyway? Advanced statistics aren't useless simply because a person doesn't want to think very hard to understand them. Ignorance isn't an excuse to make advanced statistics irrelevant.

Interestingly, the frontrunners are Bobby Valentine and Gene Lamont, who have a combined 91 years of pro baseball experience.

This really isn't that interesting.

They are the only two candidates who managed in the ancient, pre-metric era before 2002.

Now that is interesting. Let's move on to the next sentence/paragraph.

Being considered for the job still requires a bow to the metric shrine. Look at Valentine, 61.

I can't believe the Red Sox are looking at a manager that will have some tolerance for the same advanced metrics that helped the team win two World Series titles! The madness of the front office to choose this direction for the team. Next thing you know, the Red Sox will start looking in other countries for good baseball players. At that point, when there are immigrants playing baseball in the United States and people are using Sabermetrics to evaluate these players, well that isn't a United States Ron Chimelis cares to live in.

It's really not insane the Red Sox aren't looking at managers who would refuse to acknowledge the use of Sabermetric principles. Would a natural science museum only look at candidates for a curator position who don't believe dinosaurs existed? The minimal use of or understanding of Sabermetrics is important in a manager, simply based on the fact it is a widely accepted way to evaluate players. The lack of refusal by a manager to acknowledge the authenticity and occasional use of a widely accepted idea isn't a terrible idea.

Widely regarded as a throwback, he still described himself as practically a pioneer of metrics. Remember how people thought Al Gore took credit for inventing the Internet? It reminded me of that.

That's a really good analogy. I'm lying.

Perish the thought of managing by instinct and observation.

Not at all. Absolutely manage by instinct and observation. If your instinct or observation says Eric Hinske always hits home runs off left handed pitchers in the bottom of the 9th inning during day games because you remember Hinske hit one off B.J. Ryan three years ago, then you may want to check the statistics to make sure this isn't the only time Hinske has hit a home run in this situation. "Supplement, not replace." That's my motto for advanced statistics.

As any police officer can tell you, people's memory sucks and much of instinct or observation relies on memory.

The dark shadow of Grady Little, keeping Pedro Martinez in for too long because his gut told him so, is never far away.

If only Chimelis could stick to his own criteria, he would know if Little had used observation then he would have known Pedro was starting to get hit hard by the Yankees. You didn't need statistics to tell you this, because it could be observed.

I think there is great value in them - to a point.

Much like the elderly, right?

Preparation is crucial; dismissing information is lazy, close-minded or both.

Dismissing information is lazy.

Ron Chimelis from the introduction to this column:

People sometimes ask my opinion of sabermetrics. I tell them I accept the concept. I also hate it.

It sure does sound close-minded doesn't it?

If I were a GM, I would want some number to validate what my innards were telling me they were worth.

I would say this is absolutely crucial for excellent player evaluation. I would also say I would make sure my innards validate what the statistics may say in other situations as well.

My problem with the sabermetrics concept is this: It's useful, but it's not the Bible.

I am not sure anyone has ever equated the Bible with sabermetrics. The issue is that old-school statistics aren't the Bible either, which is why advanced statistics are popular. RBI's are fantastic, but they don't tell you much on their own when comparing two players if one player had 123 RBI's and was at-bat with 250 RiSP, while another player had 85 RBI's and was at-bat with 125 RiSP. A .300 batting average is fantastic, but if the player has an OBP of .307 a player who has a batting average of .280 with a .345 OBP may be a better option.

The only people who say Sabermetrics is like the Bible are idiots who try to accuse Sabermetricians of thinking their craft is like the Bible.

Yet it is being treated that way, not so much by real baseball people, but by those who analyze real baseball people.

You aren't real baseball people Sabermetricians. Sorry Theo Epstein, go spend more of your time analyzing baseball people. You are a bum.

Ever talk to these types? They sound like zombies, talking in the vocabulary of initials, not words.

Because we all know zombies only use initials when speaking. Just for clarity, ERA and RBI are traditional statistics and they are initials. So even traditional statistics use initials in their vocabulary.

They can convince you that Derek Jeter has been overrated, or that J.D. Drew was worth the money.

Well, if "they" can convince you of this then perhaps there is some merit to the argument "they" are making. It isn't a crime to take people's traditionally held beliefs and present those beliefs from a different angle. It doesn't mean you have to accept the new angle on the belief, but you should at least understand how the belief was formulated in order to decide whether it has merit or not.

Red Sox GM Ben Cherington is a disciple. He was weaned at the feet of Theo Epstein as well as Red Sox advisor Bill James, the guru of the art.

See how those who follow Sabermetrics are described? I believe my contention the only people who compare Sabermetrics to the Bible are those who are anti-Sabermetrics.

Cherington is a "disciple." This is just after Chimelis accuses Sabermetricians from thinking advanced statistics are like the Bible...and yet Chimelis uses a biblical reference in describing Cherington.

He "weaned" at Theo Epstein's feet, which obviously not meant literally (that would be gross) means he has withdrawn from something he has grown excessively fond of. Again, Chimelis uses Epstein as sort of a religious figure who has spawned followers.

Then Chimelis describes James as a "guru," which again creates the perception he is a religious figure who teaches his followers or disciples "the way" things should be done.

So really who is at fault for comparing Sabermetrics to the Bible or a religion of sorts? Proponents of advanced statistics or the anti-saber crowd?

James' passion has even gone Hollywood. The movie "Moneyball,'' based on a book of the same name, chonicles how Oakland's Billy Beane used new data to uncover unappreciated players he could get on the cheap. That no longer works, because big-money teams have the secret formula now, too. Everybody is in on it.

The Rays would probably argue otherwise. Also, there are new metrics being used (like fielding metrics) where teams are trying to differentiate the way they evaluate players. Throw in the fact a large market team didn't appear in the World Series (again) this year and I'm not sure how caught up big-money teams truly are. Not to mention success on the baseball field starts on the baseball field and we all realize the games are played on the baseball diamond. Advanced statistics proponents have never said differently.

No longer ahead of the sabermetric curve, Epstein is competing against front offices using the same weapons he does. In other words, don't pencil the Cubs into the World Series yet.

(Bengoodfella goes to erase Cubs from the World Series...then realizes he had never put the Cubs in the World Series)

Sabermetrics has definite use. New Age stats have correctly debunked batting average as the bottom line of hitting value, for one thing.

Again, there is at least some open-mindedness here.

But I hope there is more to the Red Sox decision than how a manager handles a stack of printouts.

Oh there isn't. The Red Sox are hiring a manager completely on how quickly he can sort through a stack of papers, memorize the information, and then regurgitate the information back to their computer master, who will then give this potential manager directions on what he should do for the rest of the day. Because computers rule the lives of advanced statistics proponents and are afraid to do anything their computer master may disagree with (checks with his computer this statement is correct).

I want to know how he'll handle the first time the chicken guy comes a-knockin'.

Considering there are no advanced statistics to use for fried chicken consumption in baseball, I think no matter what sort of statistical background this manager has he would have to use his instincts and observation in this situation.

To borrow a phrase, it's still baseball, not rocket science.

Baseball played by computers, right?

Played by humans.

Thanks for clearing that up. No one was really confused by this nor does anyone want baseball to be played by a computer.

Also, Chimelis compared advanced statistics to Trigonometry 101 earlier and now he compares it to rocket science. I hope he knows there is a huge gap between Trigonometry 101 and rocket science. Understanding how to use advanced statistics isn't even close to understanding rocket science.

The first time the new Sox manager says he made a move "just because I thought it was right,'' he will have my undying admiration.

Because basing managerial decisions on a gut feeling is better, especially if that manager making the decision is a real baseball person. This is the lesson I learned today.

And that is only because it is considered unprofessional for a writer to give a manager a hug.

Claiming to hate a widely accepted principle of statistical measurement and refusing to understand these concepts through willful ignorance is completely professional of course.


Anonymous said...

Does this writer really think that a managerial candidate should win the job more because of his answers about "the chicken guy" than actual baseball philosophies and in-game strategy? This might be one of the least effective attacks on stats that I've ever seen. LOL.

And where exactly does Trigonometry come into play when calculating FIP or babip or wOBA? Forget Trigonometry, I think adding and multiplying might even be too much for this writer.

And I think he meant to add one little caveat about giving his undying admiration to a manager who made a move "just because I thought it was right." And that would be "as long as I agree with that decision as well." Because I'm pretty sure that if Bobby Valentine benched Adrian Gonzalez in favor of Kelly Shoppach just because he thought it was the right move to make, this writer would be ripping him a new one rather than offering him undying admiration and a bro hug.

But then again who cares if Bobby Valentine benches Adrian Gonzalez, as long as he knows how to deal with the chicken guy, right?

Bengoodfella said...

Anon, that "chicken guy" comment is just a way of writing about using chicken and beer as a scapegoat for the Red Sox problems last year. I think Chimelis was just trying to be cute and funny. What's interesting is this isn't an all-out attack on stats, but more like an attack on the idea of using stats to evaluate players. He acknowledges the use of stats and then says that stats shouldn't be used by managers in making decisions. He fails to see you don't need statistics to keep "the chicken guy" out of the clubhouse.

There is no trigonometry involved in FIP/BABiP or wOBA, he just wants to make it seem more complicated than it is in order to make sabermetrics seem like an outlying idea for stat heads only.

"As long as I agree with the decision as well" is a definite caveat that needed to be added. Terry Francona put a rookie catcher in the 5th spot against the Orioles on the last day of this season b/c he had a gut feeling and that didn't work.

I guarantee if Valentine makes moves Chimelis disagrees with then he'll rip him a new one and then blame it on stats. It would be funny if Valentine defended all of his decisions by saying he had a "gut feeling" about something, but in fact based it on what statistics said. Obviously that won't happen.