April 2, 2010
BASEBALL: Bill Simmons Joins The Revolution
The Sports Guy gives an overdue thumbs-up to sabermetrics. It's only fair to note that I was using context-translated pitching stats, using OPS and discussing the latest research on BABIP, looking at zone ratings and getting linked by Baseball Prospectus a decade ago when I was writing for Bill's site, so really this stuff should not have been news to him in 2010, but converts to the cause are always welcome. Bill's a great basketball writer and does a number of other sports well, but realistically he'd fallen behind the times in writing about baseball by ignoring the revolution in statistical analysis.
Bill also echoes a point I made recently about the obstacles that some of the more complex stats face in gaining public acceptance (although oddly he picks as his example OPS+, which to me is one of the more easily intuitive stats - like ERA+, it's a simple ratio that compares you to the league average):
In my opinion, the biggest challenge for sabermetricians (not just in baseball, but every sport) is making their numbers more accessable to all types of sports fans.
The 1980s were about introducing sabermetrics (with Bill James leading the way). The 1990s were about working out the kinks. The 2000s were about three things: a generation weaned on the James Era creating their own formulas and pushing things to another level; front offices incorporating advanced metrics into their own evaluations; and the mainstream media begrudgingly accepting that there were new ways to look at the sport (although there's a ton of work left, obviously). Now we're here. We have so many precise ways to break down baseball players that you could skip watching an entire season and still know exactly what happened, and yet, a disconnect between sabermetricians and regular fans remains. Why? Because regular fans don't want to spend clutter their brain with things like, So we start at 100, and then every point you're better than a 100 equals half of a percentage point that you're better than everyone else ...
Important note: I'm not absolving regular fans, although you can't put a gun to their heads and force them to care about this stuff. Nor should media members be absolved. (For example, any mainstream writer, announcer or talking head who discusses someone's 2010 power credentials solely by referring to homers and RBI needs to hop in the Hot Tub Time Machine and go back to 1986.) But we don't want sabermetrics to be exclusionary, either. What good does that do? A stat like OPS+ just seems stubborn to me: Its appeal could be broadened with a simple tweak, only nobody wants to make it.