Overwhelmed or Overjoyed?

marc w · February 24, 2010 at 9:30 am · Filed Under General baseball, Off-topic ranting 

Hello – I’m marc w, a frequent commenter here and at Lookout Landing. Dave asked to help out at USSM as the blogging equivalent of a utility player – I’ll be discussing the minor leagues with JY a bit, debating the positional battles with Dave, and discussing sabermetric research in a Mariner context. Hopefully a bit more ’01 McLemore than ’05 Bloomquist.

Like a lot of you, I’ve been interested in the discussion prompted by Minor League Ball’s John Sickels’ post a week or so ago. In it, Sickels expressed some frustration with sabermetrics – essentially saying that reading many sabermetric articles now felt like more of a chore thanks to increased ‘granularity’ that, in his mind, obscure the beauty of the game behind an array of formulae and esoteric math.

While I understand that feeling at some level (I’m more comfortable talking about Marco Scutaro than Markov chains), it’s important to point out that fans with 7th grade math and some curiosity not only have access to more information than ever, that information describes more facets of the game, in more accessible ways than ever. That is, people are doing more than squeezing another percentage point in accuracy (however you define it) from pitching metrics, they’re providing entirely new ways of looking at pitching.

Ten years ago, stats began changing the way I thought about what kind of players good teams needed (why choosing a lead-off hitter based solely on speed or batting average might be counterproductive), but struggled to give a fuller picture of any given lead-off hitter’s overall value. They could tell me that ground ball pitchers had certain advantages, but couldn’t tell us which fly ballers might be worth a risk in certain contexts. They were valuable in using larger sample sizes to temper enthusiasm about a random ‘hot streak’, but couldn’t pick out when a pitcher learned a new skill.

All that’s changing now, thanks to Pitch FX and an army of amateur analysts who’ve provided pitch databases to anyone who feels like poking around in them. We can guess why Joel Pineiro succeeded in 2009 without resorting to short-cuts like ‘Dave Duncan is magic.’ Going beyond an increase in GB rate, we can say what changed about his sinking fastball. We can say why Yuniesky Betancourt was one of the worst position players in baseball without limiting the discussion to his on-base percentage. Instead of talking about his declining range in isolation, we can talk about the impact of that decline on the M’s pitching staff.

Perhaps more importantly, these sorts of stats have begun to break down the supposed dichotomy between scouting and statistical analysis. Now, both sides can help illuminate what makes a pitcher’s ‘stuff’ so effective (as an aside, I’ve always loved the broadness and imprecision in the word ‘stuff.’ It’s the perfect umbrella term encompassing a pitch’s velocity, break, deception, consistency and degree of wiggle. No other term could describe Felix’s arsenal as well as Tim Wakefield’s.). As you can tell, I’m incredibly excited about sabermetrics right now, and I think we’ve only scratched the surface.

As Mariner fans – and as USSM readers – much of this may sound obvious. We’ve seen first-hand what can happen when a team marries new-fangled analysis with great scouting, and many of you have been in the room when the front office explains why there isn’t some adversarial relationship between their scouting department and Tony Blengino’s shop. Has seeing Franklin Gutierrez made it more difficult for me to really ‘get’ John Sickels’ complaint? Probably. Dave Allen’s graphs here or here help too. What do you think? I know this isn’t a representative sample, but do you think stats are continuing to change the way you watch the game, or have we entered a period of diminishing returns? Has watching the M’s success in 2009 (or watching a panel discussion including Tony Blengino AND Carmen Fusco) made you more likely to pay attention to new developments at Fangraphs or the Book Blog, or are you perfectly content to outsource that work to Jack Z and Tony B? Are you overwhelmed by the information available these days, or do you get just the right amount from gatekeepers (whether Fangraphs, USSM, Lookout Landing or others)?

Comments

39 Responses to “Overwhelmed or Overjoyed?”

  1. Mariner Melee on February 24th, 2010 9:43 am

    At times I feel it can become overwhelming and I find myself just spewing out to friends and family what I read from sabermetric sources (Fangraphs, LL, here).

    I try my best to make my own informed decisions, but with the lack of time I have, I am elated to have places like USSM, LL, PBNW, and PI to point to and say “I agree with those guys.”

  2. dlukas on February 24th, 2010 9:53 am

    I love reading the analyis from USSM and LL and definitely place value on that sort of analytical rigor. I enjoy understanding more of the decision-making process at the highest levels of the Mariners organization. However, I imagine that I am like most USSM and LL readers in that I am unlikely to plug a bunch of raw data into Excel and start manipulating to draw my own conclusions.

  3. kinbote on February 24th, 2010 9:56 am

    Even though I don’t understand all of it, I sure enjoy reading it. One of the articles that got me hooked on this site was the one about how Jarrod Washburn should stop throwing the exact same pitch in the exact same location if he wanted to succeed. Turned out it was right.

  4. SunDevil1 on February 24th, 2010 9:58 am

    I am sometimes overwhelmed by the amount of information and sometimes have trouble remembering what a particular piece of that information is trying to express. However, for me Sabermetrics is no different from a discipline such as cosmology. They both grind down into sometimes agonizing granularity, but that takes nothing away from the beauty of the cosmos or baseball. Understanding even a bit of each enhances my enjoyment of those things. With baseball, it’s another component of the fun, like a great hot dog, an ice-cold beer and a companion who truly enjoys being at the park on a sunny Seattle day (she turns off her cellphone and stays until the final out).

  5. tmac9311 on February 24th, 2010 10:08 am

    Sabermetrics is overwhelming, I’ve learned a few advanced stats, or at least what is considered good stats to have in those categories. But to answer the question, it doesn’t change the way I watch baseball, other than I will appreciate guys like Jack Wilson more than I would of before seeing him hit .230. Other than that, saber metrics really only affects the offseason and transitions part of baseball. Growing up on ESPN I still have appreciation for the guys that can homer in any given at bat, although they will strikeout 90% of the time, and now I also have the appreciation for guys who can draw walks and play good defense. So saber metrics has done nothing but increase my love of baseball.

  6. gwangung on February 24th, 2010 10:15 am

    Actually, I think the newer stats quantify what the better scouts are seeing. That’s where they work hand in glove.

  7. Liam on February 24th, 2010 10:16 am

    I consider ’09 to be the year of Fangraphs for me, I love it. The Mariners success certainly helped with that, as I’ll follow the team more regularly if they are competitive.

    It definitely changed the way I watch the game. Before I might look forward to Baseball Tonight in years prior and now I’ll actively avoid it. Like the “Dave Duncan is magic” example, the things these “analysts” say can be so ridiculous once you educate yourself even a little bit.

  8. hawgdriver on February 24th, 2010 10:23 am

    There was a time when simple percentages were mystifying to a general audience of fans. As organizational excellence tracks along with the use of more accurate metrics, fans will evolve–or they will revert to solely discussing qualitative facets of the game, leaving the beauty and power of pure empirical analysis to those able to enjoy it. However, logic reinforced by empirical evidence has a brutal way of trumping heuristics–and not always for the best.

    I don’t have the time to contribute to the community, although I could find a passion in doing so. I think the ‘amateur analysis community’ has developed into a robust enterprise and I rely on their effort. It’s really a joy to follow.

  9. maqman on February 24th, 2010 10:29 am

    I can relate to what Sickles is fumbling toward. I’m a generation or so older than him and find my mind getting fogged up by some of the minutia prattled about by some of the sabre-speakers but I can also testify that some of it does improve my understanding of the game. However I still have faith in the simple overriding truth of what my own eyes tell me.

  10. Paul B on February 24th, 2010 10:35 am

    I was an avid reader of Bill James, back when he started publishing. I’ve sort of followed the changes in stats since then, but will admit to being somewhat behind sometimes (example, I still use OPS+ instead of wOBA without thinking about it)on the latest and greatest analysis.

    I appreciate USSM and LL and Fangraphs as that is how I try to keep up.

    My impression is that the media is starting to do a better job of communicating with the more casual fan, and slipping in some of the more advanced stats here and there.

    Too much information is a problem in many industries. Statisticians have a lot of exploratory analysis tools that can be used to convey the knowledge that is buried in the data.

    And that is why we use things like WAR and wOBA to boil things down and make it simpler for quick and dirty comparisons and casual conversation.

    I don’t think a media person has to dig into the nitty gritty details, but I do think they need to read some of the articles and books and be conversant in what is being learned about how baseball games are won and lost.

    I think we’re pretty lucky to have a good blogging and tweeting community that follow the M’s from many perspectives.

  11. davepaisley on February 24th, 2010 10:47 am

    I think there is a bit of information overload, but when it comes down to it, the information enhances the appreciation and enjoyment of the game.

    Some people just don’t want to see how the hot dog is made. Spoils the enjoyment a bit.

    Whereas the neo-stat geek might say “Mmmm, needs more snout…”

  12. Paseman on February 24th, 2010 10:54 am

    I think there is a bit of an overload, between FIP, tRA, WAR, wOBA, etc… It can all be a bit confusing. I appreciate the Sabermetrics 101 going on at LL, that is a good start. I guess all that I could ask for would be a thread or something where we can ask for clarifications. I read the wOBA primer and understand for the most part, but it would be helpful if I could ask someone who truly understands it to clarify a few things.

  13. diderot on February 24th, 2010 10:54 am

    I don’t know that any readers/fans have to be overwhelmed…since they can choose exactly how much information to ingest. For the authors here and elsewhere, overload could be a problem, I guess.

    But the aspect of statistical analysis that has benefited me most is the appreciation of players I rarely if ever get to see play. For example, if someone from an NL team is coming to town for an interleague game who has inordinate range at second base, or is an extreme fly ball pitcher, knowing those things in advance and looking for them heightens the enjoyment of watching the game.

  14. Uncle Ted on February 24th, 2010 11:11 am

    I find that I still enjoy reading sabermetric articles when they change how I think about the game, either by drawing attention to a misconception I had, raising a question I hadn’t thought about, or providing an analysis that alters, in a fundamental way, my thoughts about what the cause and effect relationships are on the field. In comparison, increasing precision in measurement doesn’t interest me that much. So, in short, thumbs up for the conceptual stuff, thumbs down for the more applied stuff. Fortunately, my preferences also tend to correlate well with my math skills. I think that there has been a natural progression over the last decade away from the conceptual towards the applied, but there are still at least half a dozen articles that I find every month that really do interest me.

  15. smb on February 24th, 2010 11:33 am

    Hopefully a bit more ‘01 McLemore than ‘05 Bloomquist.

    This sentence alone affirms your great credibility with me! Looking forward to reading all you have to contribute…

  16. Mid80sRighty on February 24th, 2010 11:47 am

    I think one thing we should all be cautious of, after pouring over the myriad of information, is not to let ourselves forget that there is still a human aspect. After reading article after article, stat after stat, it can be easy to start judging players solely based on the numbers. I realize that’s all we have, since we don’t know these players on a personal level, but we should still be aware that there might be other more human factors contributing to a players success, or lack thereof. To me, that seems like one of the few downsides to having access to all the information we do. Because, in reality, we still choose which articles to read or not read. If you’re reading so much that it’s hindering your enjoyment of the game, then just stop reading so much.

  17. msb on February 24th, 2010 12:14 pm

    I find it interesting from a distance, primarily because I am one of those born with an antimath brain and complex equations give me twisty-eyes.

    I like the idea of trying to quantify abstractions, and how it keeps evolving … and it doesn’t affect how I watch the games or how I read the site– other than give me some basis (or links) to back up my side of arguments.

    and, I love that Brian Bannister, Max Scherzer and Ross Ohlendorf are on board …

  18. georgmi on February 24th, 2010 12:26 pm

    I have an obsession with knowing how and why things work, so add my vote to the “overjoyed” column.

  19. Ike Clanton on February 24th, 2010 12:59 pm

    I don’t know that any readers/fans have to be overwhelmed…since they can choose exactly how much information to ingest.

    I agree with everything Diderot said, especially this part. If it overwhelms you, skim on by. Read the paper. Watch ESPN.

    One thing I have to disagree on is that all you need to understand is seventh grade math. When I was in the seventh grade I had to fight my way up the chain of command to get them to put me in pre-algebra (and I was still in honors everything else at that point). Seriously though, public schools

    Um, yes. Thank goodness for the G.I. Bill (and fine arts [down with maths!]).

  20. Badbadger on February 24th, 2010 1:17 pm

    I think a large part of this issue is just lack of familiarity. Most people don’t caculate on base percentage or ERAs themselves, but we see them all the time and they are familiar and their values are understood by essentially everyone.

    When you’ve been following baseball for decades, and then all of a sudden you have to go to reference materials to understand what other fans are talking about, it’s kind of off-putting. But I don’t see any reason why the newer stats couldn’t become familiar like the older ones, it’s just going to take them being widely reported so people get a feel for what’s good and what’s bad.

  21. Jeremariner on February 24th, 2010 1:18 pm

    Rigmarole! An offseason without sabermetrics? Stat checks and analytical speculation were all that got me through those cold, cold winter weeks between signing sprees.

    On the other hand, you’ve got to shut the hood before you can enjoy the drive, so once the springtime rolls around we’ll see if I revert to my good old home-run-dancing buffoonery. Won’t wash that motor oil off my hands, though.

    P.S. Nice inaugural post!

  22. behappy on February 24th, 2010 1:26 pm

    I have been a baseball fan for as long as I can remember. My dad use to take me and my older brother to games back in the good ol’ Kingdome. I still rememeber sitting up in the nose bleed sits looking around and seeing more empty seats than fans. This was back in the mid to late 80′s. I use to root for the A’s and my favortie player Jose Canseco.( I know what the hell was I thinking but, that was a long time ago. Wow more than 20 years) Sorry, I used to love the homeruns. And Oakland use to be the best team in the west.

    Anyway, the one moment that I became a diehard baseball nerd was in ’89 when Kirk Gibson hit the game winning homerun off of Eckersley. It has been a love affair ever since.

    Then I stumbled upon USSM about three years ago. And my understanding for the game has deepend. I now understand the BA can be an empty stat, or ERA is not the best way to measure a pitchers ability.

    However, I do get overwhelmed by many of the stats. But, that is ok. The stats is such a small part of the total equation for me. It is only one tool in the tool box to understanding the game. There are many tools to understanding baseball.

    Let me just say thanks again to Dave, DMZ and the gang over at LL for helping me understand the numbers of baseball.

  23. Jake Squid on February 24th, 2010 1:55 pm

    Advanced statistics and analysis and those who cover/explain them have only served to enhance my enjoyment of the game. Advanced statistics don’t make me jaded so that I am unable to appreciate the speed and athleticism of Franklin Gutierrez. Advanced statistics don’t prevent me from marveling at the kind of contact Ichiro can make on pitches not meant to be hit by human beings.

    No. Advanced statistics have given me a way to understand causes instead of just looking at results. I can appreciate the things players do that make them good, bad or superb in ways that I never could before.

    New statistics can only add to my enjoyment, they can never detract.

    I may not have a good understanding of all of the statistics we discuss but that isn’t a failing of those statistics.

    Writers, particularly professional sports writers, who complain about advanced statistics and those who write about them are marginalizing themselves. Their laziness or rigidity or whatever it is that keeps them from embracing sabermetrics increasingly makes them a less valuable resource than many I can find for free on the internet.

  24. thehemogoblin on February 24th, 2010 2:08 pm

    In general, I believe that advanced stats have helped quantify why I liked certain players, but they also opened my eyes to those who I was underrating. I definitely think they’re good for the game, especially when you’re setting the threshold for how many you want to understand.

  25. MrZDevotee on February 24th, 2010 2:37 pm

    (Self edited– and removed.)

  26. msb on February 24th, 2010 2:43 pm

    Turns out Jack Wilson follows what is happening in defensive stats.

  27. davepaisley on February 24th, 2010 2:57 pm

    “When it came out, being a defensive player, we can actually use this in salary negotiations and stuff because finally there is almost a set value for defense when there never was before.”

    There’s nothing like the smell of money for motivation…

  28. Dobbs on February 24th, 2010 3:25 pm

    I used to be totally opinionated about who the best baseball players were. Then I found USSM, realized they much smarter opinions than mine, and promptly stopped having any opinions.

    When asked about a move the M’s made by a friend or family, I simply tell them to let me go read my reaction off USSM and get back to them.

    Sure I understand some of what’s being said, but I’m content just watching baseball and coming here for good ol’ fashioned analysis.

  29. behappy on February 24th, 2010 4:19 pm

    I used to be totally opinionated about who the best baseball players were. Then I found USSM, realized they much smarter opinions than mine, and promptly stopped having any opinions.

    Dobbs, You still need to have an opion nothing is absolute. The numbers just help define players.

  30. heychuck01 on February 24th, 2010 4:23 pm

    I am with those who think that baseball has become more interesting, and more enjoyable with the ‘new’ advanced statistics that are out there.

    I appreciate so much the work that people at USSM and Fangraphs (etc.) do. However… I am overwhelmed by the information. I am just not that into delving that deep into it. But I am happy that other people are and I can gain insight and knowledge from their conclusions!!

    Even though I majored in Engineering, I am not interested in ‘doing the math’. That would take away from my enjoyment of the game. But again, I am glad someone else is doing this, and hope it helps them enjoy the game more.

  31. Evan on February 24th, 2010 4:26 pm

    If I ever feel like John Sickels (and sometimes I do) I just stop following the sabr for a while. I can pick it up later.

    I got in a shouting match with Will Carroll (probably my last, as my BP subscription expires in 4 days) over the need to evangelize baseball analysis. I don’t think there is such a need – teaching people about baseball doesn’t interest me. Learning about baseball interests me, so that’s what I’m doing. But Will wants to dumb-down the sabermetrics to make it easier for people to grasp it. I can see why he thinks that’s important (after all, he’s selling a product), but I’m concened about the loss of information that occurs in that process, especially since the people most interested in doing it are the ones who don’t understand the math in the first place.

  32. behappy on February 24th, 2010 4:30 pm

    Half the fun of being a baseball fan is debating about the players and teams. I love to listen to other peoples ideas about the game. Every game we watch anything can happen, any team can win, any player can hit the game winner. More so than any other team sport, Baseball has so many variables.

    Lets not forget the best part of the game, The Unknown.

  33. thegroovewrangler on February 24th, 2010 8:16 pm

    Overwhelmed AND overjoyed. I love both the “head” and “heart” aspects of baseball, so I’d like to say thanks, marc w, for an entertaining article about education!

  34. heyoka on February 25th, 2010 5:46 am

    OVERJOYED!!

  35. okobojicat on February 25th, 2010 7:01 am

    I enjoy the sabrmetrics. However, occasionally I just feel completely overwhelmed. Trying to stay up on AthleticsNation, USSM, LL, AaronGleeman (I’m a Twins fan), Fangraphs and Hardball Times daily can just go crazy. And when I do, I just take a week off and only read Gleeman and USSM. I don’t care about the maths (and the serious stats with regression require at least a college level understanding of statistics) as long as I know I can trust they are accurate.

    But it has helped me appreciate baseball more and like it more. If occasionally piss people off. Like yesterday, I said offhandedly that Yuniesky Betancourt was the worst regular in baseball which upset some people seeing as I recently moved to Kansas.

  36. hawgdriver on February 25th, 2010 9:48 am

    There is an interesting analog between Sabermetrics (and I use that to generally describe what’s happening in baseball analysis) and professional baseball itself.

    Not everyone can play professional baseball; not everyone can play at the highest level of analysis. That doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate both. It’s like a sport and our team, by that I mean the USSM-liocentric enclave, kicks ass.

  37. goat on February 26th, 2010 12:47 pm

    I’ve read Sickel’s post and a number of posts referring to it, and I don’t think most people got his point. I don’t think he was saying do away with sabermetrics. He was mostly saying that new metrics using measurements he doesn’t have access to while evaluating minor league talent are meaningless to him, so there’s no point in trying to understand each new metric someone comes up with. Knowing everything detracts from his ability to do the things he’s supposed to do well. It’s no different than any other field in that regard.

  38. Jay Yencich on February 26th, 2010 2:44 pm

    I agree that a lot of people missed the point as far as what he was saying, but I also have to acknowledge Tango’s point, that it was a bit curious that he would simultaneously acknowledge the value of UZR and the like while implying that there were other analytical methods equivalent to statistical voodoo that should be avoided, without directly mentioning what those were. It makes it read a bit like he is just resisting the newer methods.

    By the way, I didn’t want to undercut Marc’s post, because it was his first, but I also did my own reflective post from a non-math vantage to come at some of the issues Sickels was raising.

    (toot toot)

  39. goat on February 28th, 2010 3:55 pm

    ok, your definitely acknowledging the academic approach there.
    I suppose my impression of Sickel’s post was similar to your commentary on geocities prospect lists in your latest post.

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