September 28, 2004
BASEBALL: "[S]tats Nazis"
I noted a few years ago the similarity between (1) the battles between conservatives, particularly bloggers, and the mainstream political media and (2) the battles between statistical analysts of baseball and the mainstream baseball media. Peter Gammons has given us yet another example of this attitude:
Teammate Dave Roberts says Orlando Cabrera is one of those players who is not particularly good playing on bad teams where the only things that count are sabermetrics, but is much better playing for a good team where little things can make the difference between winning and losing.
Cabrera is a dashing, 78 rpm defender who sometimes almost plays too fast. But he gives himself up when necessary, pounds high fastballs and clearly loves playing on a Red Sox team that is in contention and sold out every game all season. . . Roberts is right about Cabrera, and the same thing can be said about Derek Jeter -- who the stats Nazis will insist from their garages isn't an exceptional shortstop -- and Brian Roberts. On the other hand, there are some star-type players that are not as good on a pennant contender.
"Stats Nazis in their garages" does have about the same ring as "a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas." (For the record, I blog in the basement, not the living room or the garage). Ironically, of course, this comes just a little over two weeks after Gammons wrote a warm endorsement of the very types of new statistical analysis of defensive stats that have long supported the case against Jeter's defense and that led the Red Sox to trade for Cabrera. In fact, in that column, Gammons cited Cabrera as a prime example of the value of such stats. As I've noted repeatedly, we have yet another example of how Gammons gives vent to the views of different sources with diametrically opposite world views.
Note that both of the positions that Gammons takes are in support of the Red Sox trading for Cabrera. My guess is that in response to Gammons kissing Theo Epstein's rear based on defensive stats, he received a lot of criticism based on, well, other stats. Of course that means kissing Theo Epstein's rear the next week by saying that stats don't really matter (and calling the people that think otherwise stats nazis probably because the points they made were too good for Gammons to rebut logically). If Cabrera flames out in the playoffs, expect Gammons to say something like "who could have predicted it," without any trace of shame.
And whatever happened to Doug Mientkiewicz anyway?
You need to check the air pressure gauge on your ego.
I see no mention of bloggers in the quote. You only assume it applies to you.
Gammons is clearly talking about amateur or semi-pro sabermetric analysts who aren't from within the world of professional sportswriters. These days, all of those are on the internet, and that covers a lot of bloggers as well as people like the Baseball Prospectus and similar outlets.
Don't get me wrong, I like Gammons, and he dropped me a very gracious note on one of my columns when I was writing for Bill Simmons. But he's clearly giving a platform here to that same insidery view of the world.
I think there's a typo in the Gammons quote - "bad teams where the only things that count are sabermetrics"; the last word in that should probably be "statistics," which does change the emphasis a bit.
The "Nazi" reference ahs been replaced with "statheads". Hmm....
I think Gammons's quote about "bad teams where the only things that count are sabermetrics" is inartfully written, but I don't think it means what you suggest it means (the Nazi comment speaks for itself).
I think what he means is that "On-base percentage, slugging pecentage and other sabermetric indictators count for about 90-95% of a team's success, bad teams are bad because they are deficient in these categories and Cabrera is not going to add much to a team already deficient in these categories but the difference between two good teams can be made by the 'small' contributions of someone like Orlando Cabrera." It's a little bit like saying that a situational lefty can make the difference between Team A and Team B in the playoffs, but will be useless to a team that has medicore starting pitching and a bad offense and is going to end up 70-92.
Or am I giving him too much credit.
To draw out the analogy a little further, I think that both sabermatricians and bloggers sometimes get an inflated sense of their value.
With conservative bloggers, it comes from their claims that they are going to replace the MSM, and the like.
On the other hand, sabermatricians are fond of claiming that there is no such thing as clutch hitting, and that the playoffs are all luck, which roughly translates to, "we're not willing to admit that stats aren't perfect, and can't track everything yet."
This is sort of aside from the point at hand, but-I don't think you need to be a stathead to realize that Jeter is a lousy defensive SS. Watch him for a few games-he has lousy range, both to his left and his right. Anyway, I think most statheads would concede that fielding stats are in their infancy relative to pitching and hitting measures.