Overwhelmed or Overjoyed?
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, Iâ€™ve been interested in the discussion prompted by Minor League Ballâ€™s John Sickelsâ€™ post a week or so ago. In it, Sickels expressed some frustration with sabermetrics â€“ essentially saying that reading many sabermetric articles now felt like more of a chore thanks to increased â€˜granularityâ€™ 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 (Iâ€™m more comfortable talking about Marco Scutaro than Markov chains), itâ€™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 hitterâ€™s overall value. They could tell me that ground ball pitchers had certain advantages, but couldnâ€™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 â€˜hot streakâ€™, but couldnâ€™t pick out when a pitcher learned a new skill.
All thatâ€™s changing now, thanks to Pitch FX and an army of amateur analysts whoâ€™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 â€˜Dave Duncan is magic.â€™ 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 Mâ€™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 pitcherâ€™s â€˜stuffâ€™ so effective (as an aside, Iâ€™ve always loved the broadness and imprecision in the word â€˜stuff.â€™ Itâ€™s the perfect umbrella term encompassing a pitchâ€™s velocity, break, deception, consistency and degree of wiggle. No other term could describe Felixâ€™s arsenal as well as Tim Wakefieldâ€™s.). As you can tell, Iâ€™m incredibly excited about sabermetrics right now, and I think weâ€™ve only scratched the surface.
As Mariner fans â€“ and as USSM readers â€“ much of this may sound obvious. Weâ€™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 isnâ€™t some adversarial relationship between their scouting department and Tony Blenginoâ€™s shop. Has seeing Franklin Gutierrez made it more difficult for me to really â€˜getâ€™ John Sickelsâ€™ complaint? Probably. Dave Allenâ€™s graphs here or here help too. What do you think? I know this isnâ€™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 Mâ€™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)?