Monday, May 28, 2012

9 comments Jerry Green Talks the Magic of Baseball, Statistics Stink, Back In My Day

Whenever an older baseball columnist writes the obligatory "Statistical analysis sucks" column, it may as well also be a retirement column. By not even acknowledging new advances in the field you work in is also acknowledging you have no interest in learning more or continually educating yourself about the sport you cover. If you aren't interested in becoming better and more informed at your job when given opportunities to do so, you should simply retire. This doesn't go for just sports. Any employee who refuses to even learn about new advances in his/her field is basically saying they have no interest in becoming better and more knowledgeable at their job. Yet, in the field of sports ignorance on a topic and a refusal to learn more about the sport you cover is supposed to be seen as funny and in some way noble. The world changes. Learn to accept it and ignorance of statistical analysis isn't funny, it is indicative of your willingness to be more informed at your job.

Jerry Green of "The Detroit News," who apparently is already retired, hates statistical analysis and refuses to understand it either. Maybe since he is already retired he isn't supposed to keep up with new advances in baseball statistical analysis. Still writing this column isn't funny or noble, but just a little sad. It says more about him that he doesn't care to know what VORP or WAR are and how they are used more than it says anything about the relevance of the statistics. How can you mock or disprove something you yourself don't attempt to understand?

The vogue in baseball these days is to mash all the numbers into some cryptic statistical gumbo such as WAR, WHIP, OPS and VORP, etc.

It's not cryptic if you take the time to understand these terms. It's clear Jerry Green hasn't taken the time to understand these terms and their application. He can define them, but that is seemingly the extent of his knowledge. WHIP and OPS are incredibly basic numbers and requires the knowledge of statistical gumbo like "the ability to do addition while also possessing the ability to read numbers on a paper" and "the ability to do division while also possessing the ability to read numbers on a paper." So yes, WHIP and OPS are statistical gumbo as long as you do not have the same basic grasp of math that a 3rd grader typically would have.

The process is then to use the product that is poured from the blender

I'm pretty sure you don't make gumbo in a blender. So Jerry Green appears to be willfully blind to new knowledge, as well as not able to entirely keep up the analogy he is trying to use in order to show just how stupid statistical analysis can be.

as the reason the Tigers go belly up against the Seattle Mariners.

Sabermetrics don't give the reason why the Tigers go belly up against the Mariners, though they could help to compare two different players. Again, Jerry Green has no clue what statistical analysis is used for or how to use statistical analysis, he just knows he doesn't like it. It's always good to see open-minded sportswriting like this.

As though runs, hits and errors don't amount for much any more.

No one said these don't amount for much anymore. These statistics just don't amount for absolutely everything when it comes to evaluating a player anymore. There's a difference. If you can't grasp it, that's not anyone else's fault but yours. You don't have to agree with the use of Sabermetrics to evaluate a player, but you have to be open-minded enough to dispute the use of Sabermetrics through reasoning that doesn't include "it uses too many big numbers and is hard to understand." That just makes you look lazy and ignorant.

And W's and L's are meaningless parts of the magic formula.

They are not meaningless. Time and common sense has helped us better understand "W's" and "L's" are team-oriented statistics. If a player's individual statistic relies primarily on how his team as a whole plays, that statistic is probably a more team-oriented statistic like "wins" or "losses" and should be framed in terms of being a team statistic. We've learned over time that solely judging an individual pitcher on a team statistic like wins or losses probably isn't the most accurate way of determining that pitcher's performance.

And HRs and ERA and RBIs and HBPs are ancient creations from a previous century.

Actually they are. The terms HRs, ERA, and HBP were created in the late 1800's, so these statistics actually are creations from another century. So is the Internet and cell phones.

These numbers like ERA, HRs, and RBI's are still prominently used in baseball and will be prominently used for the foreseeable future. Advanced statistics are here to supplement these statistics.

WAR, for example, means wins above replacement. That translates, I presume, to how many more victories Brandon Inge would mean to the Tigers than Prince Fielder.

Actually, it is more likely the other way around. How many more victories Prince Fielder would mean to the Tigers than Brandon Inge. At least Jerry Green understands this statistic. That's at least a little something.

VORP stands for value of a replacement player over an entire season. That to me, scratching the gray of my head, could be construed as the opposite of WAR.

Stop scratching the gray of your head and go use the Interwebs to find out the differences. They are not opposite of each other. They aren't opposites of each other, but different ways to calculate a player's value. WAR seems to be more in vogue now than VORP.

WHIP is the statistic to summarize a pitcher's walks and hits surrendered in an inning.

It takes hits and walks, both statistics that Jerry Green should like and combines them into one statistic. What is not to like for an old-timer? Other than the whole progress and "this is new, which means I may have to take time out of day to understand it" element of it?

Then lovers of baseball are treated to such statistical items as PERA (peripheral earned run average) and DIPS (defense independent pitching statistics).

If you don't like these statistics, don't use them. It's that simple. Don't prevent other people from using them to agree or disagree with your argument though. That's the catch. Everyone doesn't have to use these statistics but when confronted with the idea Justin Verlander is a better pitcher than Jered Weaver because of PERA don't act as if this statistic should have zero meaning in this discussion simply because you don't choose to use this advanced statistic. This seems to be a major point of contention. Those who dislike the use of advanced statistics don't want anyone to use these statistics simply they personally don't like using advanced statistics. I find this to be stupid.

These new categories fall under the title of Sabermetrics, the figment of several self-anointed geniuses, mostly originated via the vivid imagination of the illustrious Bill James.

Yes, it does take some imagination to create some of these advanced statistics, but the numbers used are not imaginary. Bill James isn't sitting in a dark room creating statistics that no one has a need for to evaluate baseball players. Bill James and Sabermetrics have caught on because there is a use for these advanced statistics.

Yet now, amid all that claptrap, we are being treated to a Major League Baseball season for the ages. It is the sort of season that grabs any longtime baseball lover with sensational joy of the game, without the mashed numbers.

Everyone can enjoy the season without statistics. The mashed numbers do come in handy at the end of the season, or even during the season, when comparing two players to each other for postseason awards like the MVP, Rookie of the Year or the Cy Young award. This is a common mistake opponents of advanced statistics make. They seem to believe the joy of the game is being replaced by numbers. This is completely untrue. Advanced statistics are being used the same way home runs, wins, losses, and ERA have been used in the past. ERA and batting average don't replace the joy of the game, do they? They are statistics to be used to evaluate baseball players, just like advanced statistics are used. If the use of RBIs doesn't ruin the joy of baseball, how does the use of OPS ruin the joy of baseball?

Imagine, in the first six weeks true baseball lovers have been treated to one perfect game and one game in which a batter struck four home runs.

We don't have to imagine. It actually happened. It seems Jerry Green struggles a bit when discussing the idea of imagining things that really happened or are based on concrete statistics that can be used. He seems to think actual concrete, real events need to be imagined rather than remembered.

I reckon, attempting this new baseball math, that his WHIP was zero for that particular game. Of course, Humber got shelled in his next start — and nothing much has been heard of him since.

So this is supposed to show the irrelevance of using WHIP? I guess I'm confused as to what mentioning Humber's WHIP and then mentioning he hasn't done much since then is supposed to prove. Maybe it just goes to prove baseball is magical, which is something we can all agree on. The statistics aren't trying to take away the magic of baseball, I promise.

Hamilton, of course, is a recognized star for the Rangers. And he sure gave his OPS a boost that night, although he did not receive the rewards Bobby Lowe did for a four-homer game.

Apparently the reward Bobby Lowe received was complete and utter irrelevance in the annals of baseball history. I say this since I have never heard of him and I feel like I have pretty good name recognition among baseball players since baseball history is a hobby of mine.

Of course, if I was Jerry Green I would dismiss Bobby Lowe as a piece of crap player, simply because I haven't heard of him, who got lucky to hit four home runs in a game. If were Jerry Green I wouldn't dare take this opportunity to learn something new about baseball. In fact, if I used Jerry Green's method of writing I would write an entire column about how four home runs in a game means nothing because Bobby Lowe did it and I have never heard of him.

The Boston fans were so appreciative they littered the field with $160 in silver coins as gifts for Lowe, we are informed by baseball's historical textbooks.

Josh Hamilton is making $13.75 million this year. He wins.

It is stuff like this that makes baseball a joy for this withered old guy.

Advanced statistics aren't taking the joy out of this occasion. In fact, advanced statistics and Sabermetrics have nothing to do with this occurrence. So why the hate?

And he plays the game the old-fashioned way. He took the deliberate shot in the back from Hamels and ran to first without a grimace.

Bryce Harper = Old school baseball player.

Could the moniker of Bryce Harper as an old school baseball player fit any perfectly? Is my sarcasm getting through?

A few minutes later, on third when Hamels tried to pick a runner off first, Harper stole home. I have no idea into what Sabermetrics category Harper's steal of home fits into.

It fits into the category...wait for it...keep waiting and I will explain how we came up with this statistic..."steals." This statistic is used when a player steals a base. Hopefully Jerry Green doesn't find the concept of "steals" too complicated.

I don't think there is any such series of initials for old-style baseball savvy.

Probably because this is an intangible idea and not anything that is actually quantifiable.

There also isn't any series of initials for magic pixie dust scrappiness, yet David Eckstein had a ton of that as I have been told repeatedly on hundreds of occasions.

Throwing out non-quantifiable and non-tangible ideas as a way to disprove the use of advanced statistics is beyond stupid. Jerry Green is the same guy who says Bill James used his imagination in coming up with some of the quantifiable and measurable advanced statistics he created and is now attempting to disprove advanced statistics by using a non-quantifiable, non-measurable concept called "old-style baseball savvy." Of course old-style baseball savvy is in no way a figment of Jerry Green's imagination. It's a real quantifiable thing, unlike WHIP, which was created by Bill James while dropping acid in his mom's basement.

Baseball does not thrive on all this Sabermetrics bunkum. It thrives on games and the athletes playing them,

No one is arguing any differently. I do enjoy hearing the same straw man argument every single summer from some bitter columnist who is incapable of attempting to understand advanced statistics enough to even acknowledge or understand how they are used. The games will always be played by the players. Advanced statistics helps to explain and compare a player's performance. It's as simple as that.

and on W's and L's and HRs — and no runs, no hits and no errors and no runners left on base.

(Jerry Green continues) "And baseball also thrives on popcorn, crackerjacks, men wearing ties at the park, and separate bathrooms for Mexicans, African-Americans, white people, homosexuals, Asian people, and using only basic numbers that I care to understand to compare players."

Yes, but WHIP helps explain how many runners a pitcher lets on-base per inning. OPS tells us how often a player gets on-base and how he slugs the ball in one easy metric. WAR tells us which players are most valuable as compared to each other. So these statistics tell us something just like hits, runs, and RBIs do.

This is what has frustrated me most with this whole argument/discussion. Those who hate advanced statistics don't even take the time to understand their application. The advanced statistics aren't replacing the players or other statistics, but are a way of finding different methods to compare players by using different statistics. It's to supplement, not replace. If you don't understand this, well, then you really should understand it or refrain from commenting on how stupid advanced statistics are.

As Casey Stengel — who once managed successfully without the benefit of Sabermetrics but with the aid of Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra — once said:

"I've been dead for 37 years?"

"You could look it up." Casey was the master of another old-fashioned merging of letters — BS.

I would love to hear in the opinion of Jerry Green why runs, hits, ERA and runners on-base are more accurate or better statistics to use as opposed to OPS or WHIP? I'm guessing it is simply because he understands these statistics and isn't threatened by the use of them. That's what this all boils down to. Jerry Green is afraid the game is passing him by, so he rails against advanced statistics in an effort to dismiss this new baseball knowledge as inconsequential and useless, which if true, would mean he was still consequential and useful.


HH said...

Casey was the master of another old-fashioned merging of letters — BS.

I don't recall Stengel being particularly interested in blown saves.

Bengoodfella said...

HH, nice. It's easy to take the time and come up with folky sayings when you have Hall of Famer players littering the roster.

I didn't think of blown saves when I read that. I missed a good joke.

rich said...

VORP stands for value of a replacement player over an entire season. That to me, scratching the gray of my head, could be construed as the opposite of WAR.

How you could look at "wins ABOVE REPLACEMENT" and think it's the opposite of "value OVER REPLACEMENT" is beyond me. They're difference measures of the same thing.

In fact didn't WAR kind of replace VORP?

Those who dislike the use of advanced statistics don't want anyone to use these statistics simply they personally don't like using advanced statistics. I find this to be stupid.

You are much nicer than I am.

Yet now, amid all that claptrap, we are being treated to a Major League Baseball season for the ages.

Are we? I'm not paying as much attention to baseball as I will once the NHL playoffs end, but "season for the ages" doesn't seem right.

Kemp had a great start then got hurt, Hamilton is on a tear and Phil Humber threw a perfect game.

That's really all I can think of. I guess Bryce Harper?

Imagine, in the first six weeks true baseball lovers have been treated to one perfect game and one game in which a batter struck four home runs.

In 2010 there were two perfect games thrown in the span of three weeks.

Is the new metric for "season for the ages"? Two people have great games in the span of 6 weeks?

So why the hate?

I'm going to go on a non-sports tangent here. They hate things like this for a few reasons.

First is that they never grew up with it, so they're not as comfortable with it. Someday we'll be the same way with various things.

Second, they clearly don't understand the stats and don't care to find out. So instead of having to admit to themselves that the younger generations have surpassed them, they demonize it.

It's kind of the same way with a lot of the older professors at college, one I TAd for still used the old school projector with the tiny dry erase markers to teach. He often went on rants in class about how new technology was warping the younger generations mind or some shit.

Jerry Green is afraid the game is passing him by, so he rails against advanced statistics in an effort to dismiss this new baseball knowledge as inconsequential and useless, which if true, would mean he was still consequential and useful.

Damnit, you beat me to it.

I have no idea into what Sabermetrics category Harper's steal of home fits into.

How does it fit into the old categories that this moron is defending so hardily?

God I hate this argument - you can't explain this therefore your model is wrong!

Well guess what, your model can't explain it either, so STFU.

Bengoodfella said...

Rich, I decided to be nice to Jerry Green and say his lack of understanding of advanced statistics was stupid. I won't be as nice next time.

It's been a pretty good baseball season. I don't know if I would say one for the ages or anything like that. Maybe Jerry gets more excited about the season then I do.

I do think a lot of the hatred towards stats is reflected in the idea some of these sportswriters don't want to make it seem like the game has passed them by. It is about making sure they are still relevant I think and it is sad to read. I wish there were a bigger effort made.

Good point about how a steal of home doesn't fit into a new or old metric. Of course if it did fit in a new metric Jerry Green would immediately dismiss the metric as too complicated.

Arjun Chandrasekhar said...

i don't really follow baseball but as a basketball fan i would say that the introduction of advanced, more sophisticated versions of conventional box-score stats has actually made the game more enjoyable because we can discuss the game in a more informed manner. it's interesting and fun to figure out and debate why a player may be more or less valuable than his statistics indicate, or attempting to find better ways to quantify the things we see on the basketball court. replacing archaic box score stats with better, versions of those stats (such as pace/minute adjusted stats, rates rather than raw totals) we're better able to guage players' value, and the kind of players who would have been over or underrated 10 years ago are better classified now. to me wheenever someone says stats take the fun out of the game, that's code for "i'm too lazy to become more informed, therefore this is bad" because honestly i don't understand how being MORE informed and MORE knowledgeable makes watching the games LESS fun

jacktotherack said...

It's amazing that these same articles continue to appear. I've been reading these old fossils in the BBWAA compalin about new-fangled stats since Fire Joe Morgan started back in 2006. How can these tired old hacks just recycle these same whiny, out-of-touch articles year after year after year??? The only thing this is missing is a "blogger living in his mom's basement" joke.

Bengoodfella said...

Arjun, I think being more informed is a good thing too. It seems that many people are threatened by the existence of new stats b/c they threaten to "take over" the game and take away from the beauty that is baseball. They incorrectly view statistics as a threat to baseball, as opposed to a way to better understand the game.

Jack, I'm amazed too this articles keep popping up. What gets me is Jerry Green only writes every week or so. Doesn't he have something better to write about since he is only doing one column per week? I guess not.

Naliamegod said...

In fact didn't WAR kind of replace VORP?

Er.. not really. VORP was only meant to rate a position player's offense. Defense was considered much less reliable to rate back then than even now.

WAR is what WAR is essentially replacing, mostly because BP refuses to publish how they rate defense. Win Shares was probably the most all-inclusive method before WAR though.

And I love the usage of Casey Stengel, who was famous for using statistics to come up with his complex platoon strategies, as a poster boy for anti-stats

Bengoodfella said...

Naliamegod, that would be too much research for Jerry Green to do before writing this column. Why does BP not publish how they rate defense I wonder?

I'm guessing Jerry Green would say those complex platoon strategies that were figured out by using statistics as part of the "BS" that Stengel was also famous for. He would think Stengel was full of shit by using these strategies. Just a guess.