Monday, June 23, 2014

8 comments Bob Ryan Is Better Than This

I really like Bob Ryan when it comes to NBA writing and reporting. I think it's pretty well-known that Ryan is the standard for NBA knowledge and he's a legend in that regard. Playing the old man card about statistics? He's better than that until he isn't better than that. See, Bob Ryan writes from the "Stat geeks hate the game of baseball and are ruining it" template and it's just sad to see him write like this. He can be, and has been, better than this. I keep trying to find the template for writing a column like this, but I can't seem to find it anywhere online. It has to be somewhere because this is how this is the same kind of article that's been written dozens of times by those who don't understand and don't care to understand advanced statistics. 

I’ve got baseball on the brain today.

Baseball is awash in data.

Baseball has always been awash in data. The data and statistics players have accumulated through the history of baseball is so precious that sportswriters throw hissy-fits at the mere idea a player like Barry Bonds would be considered the all-time home run king. Statistics have run baseball for 100 years. It's just now Bob Ryan doesn't like the KIND of statistics being used in baseball. Therein lies the difference.

Aside from people who make a living out of disseminating and analyzing said data, who else pays attention? Just asking.

Fans of baseball who enjoy seeing and interpreting this data.

Anyone who wants to know has a means to know. And I mean everything. What happens on the field in major league baseball has been broken down into the most infinitesimal detail. Who does what on which counts.

It's interesting to see some of this data and what it reveals. The fact this data exists doesn't mean the players, writers, and everyone else has to read/enjoy this data or pay attention to it.

Though not yet as well-defined as the data concerning offense and pitching, defensive analysis is becoming increasingly sophisticated, although some of the defensive judgments are just that — judgments. Should so-and-so have caught that ball? Well, I don’t know.

Actually, that's the point of advanced statistics in regard to fielding. The intention is to find out if Player A would have gotten to the point ball or if Player B would have gotten to the ball. That way the players can be compared and a player's range of fielding can be somewhat measured. It's not a question of "should" a player catch the ball, it's how that player stacks up to his fellow players at that position at fielding his position. It's not a matter of saying "he should have caught that," it's a matter of determining whether that player is good at fielding his position or not overall.

Was the wind blowing at that moment? Was it an opposite-field hit with the ball spinning away from the outfielder? That’s a judgment, isn’t it? And how can a judgment be incorporated fairly into creating a statistic?

I think Bob Ryan is writing gibberish at this point in lieu of just stating he doesn't understand advanced fielding statistics.

All the new data is of surpassing interest to the brainiacs in baseball front offices and dugouts, and pretty much woe to the modern skipper who scoffs at the metrics.

Oh no, progress and a different way of measuring a player's performance! It must be the end of days! If a manager chooses to scoff at these metrics, that's fine, but he's only hurting himself.

The highest compliment that could be paid to someone in Ye Olden Days was that he was a “good baseball man.”

It also has very little meaning.

This meant that he had a knowledge of situations and perhaps little tell-tale things about players that could be brought into the discussion.

So why can't a current manager have this knowledge of situations and little tell-tale things about players that can be brought into the discussion using advanced statistics? Wouldn't it make sense that the more information a person has about situations and certain players' performance in that situation would only increase the knowledge and make him more of a "good baseball man"?

You don’t hear that so much anymore. Being a good baseball man nowadays means a willingness to embrace the new numbers.

So you DO hear it these days, but you just don't like what it means when you hear it? Is that what I'm taking from this? Being "a good baseball man" has lost it's meaning because it doesn't have the same meaning it had when Bob Ryan covered baseball in Ye Olden Days.

We have come a long way since Dr. Charles Steinberg was preparing those little index cards for Earl Weaver, the ones that told him Lee May was 2 for 21 against this guy or that guy. No, I’m not making that up. That was the first step in Dr. Charles Steinberg, a dentist who loved baseball, becoming Charles Steinberg, front office man. Anyway, those little index cards gave Earl Weaver an edge.

Those little index cards are now a mouse click away or a flip through a notebook away from a manager's brain. These same statistics are still being used, just on a larger scale.

Where I’m going with all this is that I’m wondering if all this, to borrow a phrase, Inside Baseball is just, well, Inside Baseball, of interest to the working baseball people and to the new breed of baseball writers and analysts who are perfectly comfortable micromanaging every game they encounter. I read some of these people, and, yes, I learn. But I feel like I have to follow them because I don’t want to be perceived as a baseball Luddite.

Following them and craving the different points of view and knowledge is the first step to not being a moron. I don't care if certain sportswriters/managers/GM's ignore advanced statistics because it's going to be their fault if they stay behind and don't crave the knowledge they can find. I don't have to love a certain advanced statistic, but I should at least be able to explain why I don't like that advanced statistic in way that doesn't include some mention of "stat geeks, nerds, etc" or an insinuation a player's performance on the field isn't being taken into account in favor of listening to a computer spit out meaningless numbers.

My question is, does the average person care? Is the average fan still content with batting average, runs batted in, and earned run average being the Holy Trinity of baseball stats,

I don't know. That's a very loaded question since I have no idea who the average person is. I know I am not content with those three statistics telling me the end-all about whether a baseball player is very good at playing baseball or not. There are too many external factors in each of those statistics that affect them one way or another for me to take them as the Holy Trinity of all I need to know in order to judge a player.

even though the modern Smart Guys have discredited all three? Oh, and — how could I forget? — wins.

This is part of the problem, guys like Bob Ryan don't even know what they are arguing against. No one is trying to discredit these statistics. It's not an "either/or" situation. These statistics can be supplemented and better explained using other statistics. When I hear a pitcher is 16-0, I want to know what his run support has been. If that pitcher has an ERA of 3.25 and gets over 5 runs per game then I think maybe his win-loss record can be partially explained by his run support.

Look at Jeff Samardzija. He was 0-4 with a 1.62 ERA when Bob Ryan wrote this column. Seeing he is 0-4 with a 1.62 ERA one has to wonder about his run support or how many games he has left while holding the lead, only to have the bullpen blow the lead. You don't even have to use advanced statistics for this, but looking further into WHY Samardzija has zero wins can better give the reason why. This is as opposed to saying "Samardzija sucks" because he had not won a game this season.

Speak not to the modern baseball analysts about a pitcher’s wins, those being the most circumstantial of pitching developments, at least in their eyes.

Whether a pitcher wins a game or not is incredibly dependent on his run support and the performance of his bullpen. In the age when pitchers completed most games they started the win statistic had more relevance, but now there are 2-3 relief pitchers that get the ball and have the chance to impact whether a starting pitcher gets the win or not.

I’m guessing that most fans are oblivious to all the new statistical stuff. They just want to watch and enjoy a game.

I wouldn't say this is a guess, it's more like speculation based on the outcome Bob Ryan would like to see occur.

They will continue to evaluate players and teams by giving everyone the Eye Test, just as their father, grandfather, and great-grandfather did. If this means they are then wallowing in some kind of statistical ignorance, then so be it.

Again, Bob Ryan is projecting his image of the average fan and what this average fan wants in order to confirm his own worldview.

I think the average fan really didn’t understand the recent fuss over whether Miguel Cabrera was worthy of an MVP.

I would think the average baseball fan cares who won the AL MVP. Maybe the average fan doesn't feel strongly one way or another, but given the comparisons made in 2012 between Trout and Cabrera I have to believe the average fan would come out on one side or another in this discussion.

He won the Triple Crown in 2012, didn’t he? Isn’t the Triple Crown supposed to be baseball’s crowning offensive achievement? Hadn’t we been waiting since 1967 to see another one?

Yes, Cabrera achieved the Triple Crown and that is impressive. It means he has accomplished being the best in the American League in three statistical categories and that's impressive.

Of course, Miguel Cabrera was worthy of being MVP. Next question.

The fact Cabrera was worthy of being the MVP doesn't necessarily mean Mike Trout wasn't more worthy of being MVP. One player being worthy doesn't mean another player isn't worthy. Next answer.

But wait. The New Breed Stat Guys were apoplectic in both 2012 and 2013. They stopped short of declaring Cabrera a fraud, but they did say he was unworthy because, after all, he was out-WARPed by Mike Trout in both seasons, 10.9-7.3 in 2012 and 8.9-7.5 last season.

Nothing like painting a large group of people with a brush. Bob Ryan is better than this...or he should be. New Breed Stat Guys (at least he thinks of a new name for them) would just point out some of the faults in the reasoning used by those who advocated Cabrera as the MVP. Cabrera's MVP season was defended by saying his team made the playoffs (with one less win than Trout's team had) and it was simply pointed out Trout has the better all-around game while Cabrera was the better. So the question being posed by these people that Bob Ryan is so frightened of is whether Trout's better all-around game made him more valuable to his team than Cabrera.

For those of you old-timers who don’t know, WARP (or WAR), stands for “Wins Above Replacement Player,” and it is the be-all and end-all number for the New Breed Stat Guys.

This is not true. WAR isn't even accepted by every Sabermetrician as a valid statistic to measure a player's value. Even the value of certain advanced statistics aren't widely accepted in the Sabermetrician community, which is a point that shows the lack of tunnel vision and blind dedication to the best measurement of a player's value writers like Bob Ryan leave out when trying to paint Sabermetricians as torch-bearing heretics who only want their group-thought statistics used alongside computers when evaluating baseball players.

What ultimately matters is whether you can still appreciate a given baseball game. I wonder if the New Breed Stat Guys ever actually enjoy a game, because they are so obsessed with what the manager is or isn’t doing, based on the data in front of them.

Of course. The answer is in the question. The New Breed Stat Guys enjoy the game or else they wouldn't be worked up over a manager's decision.

They’re often upset before the game even starts, because the lineup isn’t sufficiently stat-based. And God forbid the skipper who doesn’t properly handle what they have termed “high leverage” situations.

Bob Ryan gets angry there are no "good baseball men" in today's game and then criticizes Sabermetricians for criticizing the lineups these managers put out on the field. So apparently these new-age managers overuse advanced statistics, but they don't use advanced statistics sufficiently.

Sometimes lost in all this is an appreciation of the aesthetics, whether it’s a great play in the hole by a shortstop or a snappy inning-ending 5-4-3 double play or a base runner cleverly taking an extra base. Or even a game-winning hit in the ninth inning if it happens to be delivered by someone other than the guy they thought should have been up at the plate.

These are hypotheticals that serve to mean nothing in the larger context of this discussion. It's using anecdotal evidence to support the larger point. An example would be helpful here, but being "a good baseball man" means criticizing those who disagree with you while providing zero specific examples of the basis for your criticism.

Defensive shifting is all the rage. People do it because it works, although it’s kind of irrelevant if one of the targets hits two home runs. It will be interesting to see what the effect will be in the long run, because the obvious answer to it is for lefthanded hitters, in particular, to be more conscious of hitting the ball the other way. I realize that for most people that is far easier said than done, but perhaps sufficient training in the minor leagues can produce a new generation of hitters. 

Maybe teams can use advanced statistics to determine how to beat these defensive shifts and introduce a new generation of hitters!

All sports involve the need for constant adjustment, but this shifting business is a massive challenge that may take years to offset.

It's just a baseball strategy, don't get your panties in a wad.

And yes, New Breed Stat Guys enjoy the game of baseball or else they would not argue about Mike Trout being the AL MVP in 2012 or argue that the manager of their favorite team isn't putting the best lineup on the field to win the game. It's lazy to paint those who used advanced statistics as not liking the game of baseball. If it were true, what would be the point of evaluating the performance of players in a game they find to be boring and don't enjoy?


Anonymous said...

You know, I really have no problem if someone doesn't care to know more about the world around them. It's your life, and you can live as you choose. Where I get upset is when people get PAID to be this ignorant. Bob Ryan got paid real American dollars to write a column in which he admits he's ignorant of the sport he's paid to cover. Imagine going into your job, telling your boss you're ignorant of the changes and advancements being made in your field, and still getting paid for it. In most walks of life, you either adapt or you die. I don't want Bob Ryan to die, of course, but I do want his ilk to stop getting paid to write sports columns. If you're ignorant of the sport, fine then go enjoy it in your own way. But you shouldn't be paid for your ignorance.

The best sports writers are the ones who mix both analytical data with x's-and-o's breakdowns. You'll never see Zach Lowe write a column in which he focuses just on the advanced data. Instead he mixes it with a complete understanding of the x's-and-o's behind it. Anyone who focuses solely on advanced data is a fool, and someone who relies solely on the eye test is a fool. Yes Bob Ryan, there is a way to use both. The writers who are doing so are lapping the field with your sorry ass.

Anonymous said...

i really enjoyed these two -- back to back -- paragraphs:

Was the wind blowing at that moment? Was it an opposite-field hit with the ball spinning away from the outfielder? That’s a judgment, isn’t it? And how can a judgment be incorporated fairly into creating a statistic?


All the new data is of surpassing interest to the brainiacs in baseball front offices and dugouts, and pretty much woe to the modern skipper who scoffs at the metrics.


Bengoodfella said...

Anon, that's what I don't get. Why not use advanced statistics in order to enhance the enjoyment of a game? It can't hurt, other than a writer's feelings when he/she doesn't understand them.

Anon2, I like how he wonders how a judgment is incorporated into a statistic, but the traditional use of how good of a fielder a player is (based on errors and anecdotal "range" of a player) is based on judgment. An official scorer awards an error or a hit based on judgment. Then Bob Ryan uses how many errors a player has to hand out a Gold Glove.

Snarf said...

The one aspect of what he's saying that I can somewhat agree with is that there is an all-or-nothing minority within the sabermetric/advanced statistics community (as far as it can be called a "community"). I love advanced statistics and believe they help to understand and appreciate the game better. However, I have noticed that there is a loud minority that seems to enjoy using advanced statistics as a platform or tool of being assholes trying to look down on others. For example, those who dismiss Cabrera's case for MVP as ridiculous and fraudulent. In this way, I feel that some in the advanced statistics community (again, an admittedly imperfect description) are no better than the old-school writers with their fingers in their proverbial ears.

Now, that being said, there are assholes in every group and Ryan provides no nuance in his discussion, painting advanced statistics and their adherents with one incredibly broad brush stroke. He's clearly afraid of something he doesn't fully grasp or, giving him the benefit of the doubt, is purposely obtuse, staking out a combative position for column fodder. Good work as always!

Bengoodfella said...

Snarf, I haven't read anyone saying Cabrera's MVP was fraudulent. I would disagree with that. Do you have a link to an article that stated this? I'd like to read one and see if it fits on here.

I don't like a person being purposefully obtuse at all. Why admit you don't crave new knowledge and expect this to make you noble in some sense?

Murray said...

He's not Ben he's another Boston fixture who's a hack

Bengoodfella said...

Murray, but he's so smart about the NBA. I can't believe my preconceived notion about Bob Ryan was wrong. Sarcasm aside, perhaps I wish he were better than this.

Murray said...

I should say he's become one not always was