Our arrogance comes from the strength of our position; we’re right about baseball and we know it. The problem is that things have become almost cultish; our alphabet-soup language poses a formidable barrier to entering the club. And that’s where these primers come in. If we can walk people through the silliness of pitcher wins and ERA, they’ll greet FIP with open arms. That’s the plan.
But I’m not sure it works as elegantly as we’d like. I believe we’ve reached a sort of saturation point with advanced stats. Most anyone who wants to know about WAR is already plugged in. And the primers, while enjoyable, accurate, and insightful, are still lessons. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I got into sabermetrics because I enjoyed discovery. There’s a fine line between learning and being taught, and the former is much more enjoyable than the latter.
What’s more, at the end of the day, do we really care if the people we watch the game with know the differences between UZR and Dewan Plus/Minus? Does it matter if they can discuss the merits and flaws of SIERA? Do our friends need to carry run expectancy charts in their briefcases?
I say no. What’s important about sabermetrics isn’t the statistics, but the approach to the game.
This has long been one of my two major critiques of Baseball Prospectus, much as I respect and value what BP brings to the table (the other is the ceaseless hyping of prospects without adequate perspective about how often super-prospects stumble and face a learning curve even when on their way to great careers): too much advanced math too close to the surface, too many non-obvious acronyms (WXRL sounds like a radio station to me), too many boutique stats with non-obvious scales (quick: what’s the typical WARP for an All-Star? An MVP?). That’s all well and good if you are writing a trade journal for professional GMs, and sometimes that seems to be what BP aspires to, but it’s impossible for even an educated BP reader to translate this stuff quickly and cleanly to neophytes. And it often leaves one with a false sense of certainty about inherently imprecise inquiries, while the opaque nature of the numbers renders their inner workings impervious to analysis by most outsiders, who simply have to take the workings of the formulae on faith. Personally, I never use any math on this site more complex than algebra; partly that’s my own mathematical limitations, and I recognize that there are times when a regression analysis would come in very handy, but if you start with the assumption that your readers come to be entertained and enlightened rather than have all arguments settled for all time, it’s sometimes worth trading some level of precision for more easily understood measurements. That’s a lesson Bill James, not just the greatest original thinker among baseball analysts but also the greatest popularizer of the form, has never forgotten, and I try to adhere to his example.