The Poor Man’s Analyst

Intro to Sabermetrics

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There are plenty of people out there who believe that the entirety of sabermetrics is coming up with new statistics and the funny-sounding acronyms that come with them (WARP, wOBA, DIPS, etc.). Well, let’s just say that’s not completely right. There are many ways to define sabermetrics, most of which involve calling it some kind of science or analysis for baseball. But that doesn’t really answer the question in the minds of some. So if you’ve ever wondered, “What is sabermetrics?” then this is for you. Bill James is considered the godfather of sabermetrics, so who better to tell us about it? Here’s a speech he once gave:

Sportswriters discuss a range of questions which are much the same from generation to generation. Who is the Most Valuable Player? Who should go into the Hall of Fame? Who will win the pennant? What factors are important in winning the pennant? If Boston won the pennant, why did they win it? If Kansas City finished last, why did they finish last? How has baseball changed over the last few years? Who is the best third baseman in baseball today? Who is better, Mike Lowell or Eric Chavez?

The questions that we deal with in our work are the same as the questions that are discussed by sports columnists and by radio talk show hosts every day. To the best of my knowledge, there is no difference whatsoever in the underlying issues that we discuss. The difference between us is very simple. Sportswriters always or almost always begin their analysis with a position on the issue. We always begin our analysis with the question itself.

If you find a sportswriter debating who should be the National League’s Most Valuable Player this season, his article will probably begin by asserting a position on the issue, and then will argue for that position. If you find 100 articles by sportswriters debating issues of this type, in all likelihood all 100 articles will do this.

What we do is simply to begin by asking “Who is the National League’s Most Valuable Player this season?” rather than to begin by stating that “Albert Pujols is the National League’s Most Valuable Player this season, and let me tell you why.” That’s all. That is the entire difference between sabermetrics and traditional sportswriting. It isn’t the use of statistics. It isn’t the use of formulas. It is merely the habit of beginning with a question, rather than beginning with an answer.

We are no more statisticians than we are historians, or scouts, or accountants, or computer programmers. I suspect that everything we do is much the same as what many of you do. We look to the past, and we try to organize the things we have seen so that they make some sense. We ask ourselves “how many of those were there?” and “how many of those others were there?” and “How many of them ended well?” and “How many of them ended badly?”, just as I would imagine most of you do.


Written by dcn29

December 20, 2008 at 1:41 AM

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