Baseball Toaster Dodger Thoughts
Help
Jon Weisman's outlet
for dealing psychologically
with the Los Angeles Dodgers
and baseball.
Frozen Toast
Search
Google Search
Web
Toaster
Dodger Thoughts
Archives

2009
02  01 

2008
12  11  10  09  08  07 
06  05  04  03  02  01 

2007
12  11  10  09  08  07 
06  05  04  03  02  01 

2006
12  11  10  09  08  07 
06  05  04  03  02  01 

2005
12  11  10  09  08  07 
06  05  04  03  02  01 

2004
12  11  10  09  08  07 
06  05  04  03  02  01 

2003
12  11  10  09  08  07 
06  05  04  03  02  01 

2002
09  08  07 
About Jon
Thank You For Not ...

1) using profanity or any euphemisms for profanity
2) personally attacking other commenters
3) baiting other commenters
4) arguing for the sake of arguing
5) discussing politics
6) using hyperbole when something less will suffice
7) using sarcasm in a way that can be misinterpreted negatively
8) making the same point over and over again
9) typing "no-hitter" or "perfect game" to describe either in progress
10) being annoyed by the existence of this list
11) commenting under the obvious influence
12) claiming your opinion isn't allowed when it's just being disagreed with

Lots of 'Stat Electricity'
2006-06-01 16:00
by Jon Weisman
Note: The Dodger Thoughts blog has moved to the Los Angeles Times.

Much to his credit, J.A. Adande of the Times responded online on his blog, Overtime, to critiques of his Sunday column, "Stat Electricity Provides No Buzz," whose theme could probably be summarized in his closing paragraph: "The lesson: Don't focus on the spreadsheets. Just watch the games."

Here's a longer excerpt of the original piece:

People turn to stats because they have a need to control the uncontrollable, to find certainty in a chaotic world. Of course, that goes against the essence of sports. We watch the games precisely because we don't know what will happen next. If we really wanted an assured outcome, we'd spend all our time watching ESPN Classic instead of ESPN.

One of my favorite baseball moments came a couple of years ago, when Hideo Nomo was on the Dodgers and Randy Johnson pitched for the Diamondbacks (and pitched like Randy Johnson). Nomo whacked a double to the wall over the drawn-in outfielders. The sheer improbability of it made me laugh. And that's what makes baseball great. Things that shouldn't happen can happen.

Four of the last five World Series champions were teams that didn't make the playoffs the previous season: the White Sox, Marlins, Angels and Diamondbacks. I didn't see any algorithms that predicted those results.

Sometimes people become so obsessed with the formulas they forget what works on the field. The Dodgers' acquisition of Nomar Garciaparra and dismissal of Hee-Seop Choi didn't fit into the stats perspective, but it's working pretty well right now. When Garciaparra is healthy, he can hit.

You can tell right away that Adande was taken aback by the response he received.

"The last column I wrote before I took some time off apparently hit on a touchy subject," Adande writes today. "Not Kobe-touchy, but I didn't realize diminishing the value of statistics would hit some people like a dentist's drill without the Novocain. At least when you anger the stats crowd they come back with more rational responses than 'You're just a stats-hater!' "

Among other e-mails, Adande published the one I sent him:

J.A. -

Can I just make these points about your column today?

1) Clearly, you are okay with using some statistics, just not others, since you cite statistics such as ERA and points differential to back up your arguments throughout your column.

2) How do you measure the things you prize - "pitching, defense up the middle and clutch hitting" - without statistics? You can't, unless you have the omniscient ability to just look at someone in a vacuum and discern that they're great, as if sports were American Idol.

3) You make an assumption that people who use different stats from you neither understand that the unexpected happens, like a Hideo Nomo double off Randy Johnson, nor enjoy when the unexpected happens. I don't see any basis for this argument.

4) For every Hee Seop Choi-Nomar Garciaparra example of things going against what statistics might have predicted (and by the way, many analysts were in favor of the Garciaparra signing on a one-year deal), there are plenty of examples that go in favor of what statistics might have predicted.

No one - seriously, no one - is saying that statistics are the be-all and end-all, and that we shouldn't play the games or watch them. But what you've done is confuse a search for more effective statistics with a rejection of the game on the field. You're not the only one to do so, but it doesn't make any sense. No one would take the time to find better statistics if they weren't passionate about the game. And if someone name-called you "stats-happy" for using ERA, I don't think you would respond by saying, "Oh, I'd better find a more simplistic statistic than ERA or ignore stats entirely."

The people who use OPS (which, believe me, is hardly the nerdiest stat in the book) are no different from you. They love the game, they thrill at the great moments, and they just want to understand the game better. But we know we never will understand it completely.

You're perpetuating an Old School-New School battle that needn't exist, and frankly, it does a disservice. You may still disagree, but I wish you'd reconsider some of what you've written.

Best,

- Jon Weisman

In his rebuttal to the rebuttals today, Adande pointed out, quite fairly, that he "never said there's no place for stats," but he also reiterated that he feels statistics are overvalued and that there are many things statistics can't measure.

As I've written in the past, I believe that even though subjective qualities such as confidence can't be measured individually, many are ultimately, cumulatively reflected in stats. If confidence helps a player hit, then those hits will register in his batting stats. If selflessness makes a player dive, than that selflessness will manifest in his fielding stats. It's not that stats are perfect - and certainly, the unexpected always happens - but I would argue that many sports fans, and certainly many sportswriters, undervalue stats as opposed to the opposite.

"Statistics don't really tell me what I need to know," Adande writes, "they don't provide the best answer for the question I get asked more than any other: who's gonna win?"

True. But neither does anything else from Adande's list of "confidence, determination, intelligence, poise and so many other things that are impossible to quantify." Confident, determined, intelligent, poised players lose every day. That's why I'm still mystified by Adande's line of thought, which seems to demand more of statistics than it demands of these other things he values even more. Ultimately, e-mails like mine don't seem to have been very persuasive for him.

But I appreciate his at least giving attention to them.

Comments
2006-06-01 16:08:17
1.   Bob Timmermann
I was told that you gotta have heart. Miles and miles of heart. Oh, it's fine to be a genius of course, but keep that old horse before the cart.

Hey, here comes Gloria Thorpe, let's tell it to her.

2006-06-01 16:13:26
2.   Uncle Miltie
JA's motto must be "Statistics are like a bikini. What they reveal is suggestive but what they conceal is vital."
2006-06-01 16:13:31
3.   OaklandAs
A very nice response, Jon. Hopefully J.A. has a better understanding of the sabermetric point of view.
2006-06-01 16:14:24
4.   thinkblue0
It never ceases to blow my mind that Adande and Plaschke are sports writers for one of the biggest newspapers in the country.....it's literally shocking.
2006-06-01 16:15:42
5.   Marty
Shoeless Joe from Hannibal Mo.
2006-06-01 16:16:37
6.   King of the Hobos
Guzman has been called up, Kent to the DL
2006-06-01 16:16:46
7.   natepurcell
kent DL, guzy up.

wow

2006-06-01 16:18:17
8.   natepurcell
lets see a lineup of

ss furry
2b willy
cf kempy
1b garcy
rf drewy
lf eithy
3b guzy
c marty

2006-06-01 16:18:49
9.   Marty
When I was a kid there used to be a program on a local channel called the "Million Dollar Movie". They'd show the same movie every night for the week. Right after I learned what baseball was the Million dollar Movie of the week was Damned Yankees. I watched every showing of it.
2006-06-01 16:19:13
10.   Eric L
How do we determine who's going to win without taking even a glance at some sort of stat?
2006-06-01 16:19:53
11.   Marty
Guzman's up? This season is gonna go down as one of the more interesting one's I think.
2006-06-01 16:22:31
12.   capdodger
10 Forget who's going to win. How do we determine who's won without looking at at least one stat?
2006-06-01 16:23:03
13.   Jon Weisman
Yep, game chat is now up top with the Guzman news.
2006-06-01 16:23:15
14.   The Saul
I think stats are useful in the preseason (ie, when assembling the team), but I have to say that I agreed with most of what JA was (trying to) say.
After all, a beautiful woman is a beautiful woman, no need to know her exact "numbers" (32-24-34 etc... ;)
Gimme Kirk Gibson's moxie over Arod's .320 42 any day of the week.
2006-06-01 16:23:29
15.   Eric L
12 I was going to use that one. Wins and losses are stats when it is all said and done.
2006-06-01 16:25:26
16.   Nagman
"...they don't provide the best answer for the question I get asked more than any other: who's gonna win?"

But to me, they DO provide the "best" answer, don't they? When oddsmakers put a line on a game they are armed with reams of statistics. To me, that seems like the "best" answer.

2006-06-01 16:25:48
17.   Calvinist
I've generally liked Adande's basketball coverage, which I think is really his first love.

I think the argument people like Adande are trying to make is that they enjoy the aesthetics of the game more than the statistics of the game.

I'm sympathetic to this. I liked watching the fast-break 80s Lakers far more than the weird flow of the Phil Jackson triangle offense.

But that doesn't mean the triangle isn't in general a better offense. Over time I think it has proven to be via W/Ls. I just don't like watching it as much.

And if statistics like OPS better describe baseball the traditional stats, it will be proven by W/Ls. I think that's already happening.

2006-06-01 16:25:55
18.   thinkblue0
look at that lineup..how bizarre. Let's hope Guzman has a good night and doesn't swing at every pitch thrown to him.

Even though I'm irritated beyond belief at all the injuries, I have to say I'm really excited to watch tonight's game....aybar, eithier and martin all playing well....plus all the promise in the world from Guzman and Kemp.

2006-06-01 16:26:01
19.   Jon Weisman
12/15 - Again, to be fair, he's not throwing out all stats.
2006-06-01 16:26:19
20.   DXMachina
9.
Channel 9 in New York? Million Dollar Movie was great if you liked the movie (say, "The Crimson Pirate"), wretched if the movie stank, and positively horrifying if it was something like "Invaders from Mars." I was hiding under the covers for weeks after that one...
2006-06-01 16:26:44
21.   Strike4
J.A.'s first assertion is also wrong, that looking for certainty in a chaotic world goes against the essence of sports. What in the world is a more certain and clear outcome than who won and who lost a game.
2006-06-01 16:27:48
22.   Marty
20 I think it was channel 9, but in L.A.
2006-06-01 16:29:20
23.   capdodger
14 How about Kirk Gibson's .290/.377/.483? Would you take that? You can't hit 1.000/1.000/4.000 all the time, so why base a team on it.
2006-06-01 16:30:26
24.   Jon Weisman
22 - That's what I remember (unless it was channel 5), though I usually didn't watch, so I don't recall that the movies got repeated so often.
2006-06-01 16:33:37
25.   Andrew Shimmin
We need a John Henry contest between BP, or some other stat-geek site and a gaggle of gut-feelers. It would take a long time to do properly, but at least the gut-feelers would have to go on record and not get to keep claiming any UNC over Illinois cheap grace. Statisticians vs. Soothsayers 2006! I'd buy a ticket.
2006-06-01 16:34:31
26.   Jon Weisman
25 - Do we have to lay down our hammer and die at the end?
2006-06-01 16:36:40
27.   capdodger
26 - No. We let them win. They die. Statheads rule the world!!! Mwhhahaha
2006-06-01 16:50:02
28.   Steve
But I appreciate his at least giving attention to them.

Allegedly. But his response is so illegible that we'll just have to take your word for it. I guess the blog doesn't get editors.

2006-06-01 17:00:29
29.   blue22
25 - Can't do that, because inevitably the "gut-feelers" will pick Pujols because of his "intagibles". Check this (albeit basketball-based) example:

http://tinyurl.com/otq8n

2006-06-01 17:00:31
30.   JoeyP
JA Adande should never place wagers on sports.
2006-06-01 17:14:42
31.   DougS
30 :-)

A thoughtful and well-spoken response, Jon, as we would expect from you.

To me, the flaw in Adande's assumptions is the idea that statistical analysis is about imposing order and certainty, that it's somehow a substitute for playing the game. He doesn't seem to understand that it's about determining probability, not certainty, about maximizing the chances of success, not pre-scripting it absolutely.

JoeyP is right: With an attitude like that, he'd better not be a gambling man.

2006-06-01 17:16:14
32.   Daniel B
Vin Scully once said, "Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamp post: for support, not illumination."

Good enough for me.

2006-06-01 17:27:45
33.   Jon Weisman
32 - As much as I adore Vinny (and I'm pretty sure he was quoting someone rather than offering that as an original thought), that analogy doesn't track. The distinction it makes is ... I'm trying to find the right word ... maybe irrelevant. Or wrong. Stats can yield insight. If I'm using them for support, they are keeping me upright, and as a result, they are helping me see.
2006-06-01 18:03:00
34.   bigcpa
Hey Jon-
I just read Adande's follow-up. The third email from Brian is mine!
2006-06-01 18:19:32
35.   Jon Weisman
34 - I had a feeling.
2006-06-01 18:23:31
36.   Kurt
Jon (and bigcpa), thanks for crafting a thoughtful response, I got frustrated reading his Sunday column but couldn't find time to craft a response. Thanks for doing it so well.

I thing Doug (31) said it well, the flaw starts with his assumption those of us who like stats want to impose order and control. No, we just want a better way to define what we are seing, to use a scalpel rather than a meat cleaver.

And there is no reason you can't use a lamp post for illumination, that's what the light on top is supposed to do. You just can't be too drunk to notice what's in the light.

2006-06-01 19:05:56
37.   ToyCannon
Jon, just wanted to echo 36 what a great response.
2006-06-01 19:10:53
38.   bigcpa
36 Thanks- notice how Adande concedes he has an anti-statistical bias. I find that notable since the whole point of sabermetrics is to set aside bias and analyze objectively. So isn't he really just comparing the close-minded camp with the open-minded camp? What I can't stand is being "taught about the game" by media people (with Emmys) that have no use for all that nerdy evidence stuff.
2006-06-01 19:10:57
39.   scareduck
32 - I think it's more at deciding what kind of stats are useful. It's similar to the saw that says "figures don't lie, but liars can figure." Scott Hatteberg hasn't had some great late-career rejuvenation because he's hitting .285 with the Reds; instead we observe he's doing so in a hitter's park. Context matters, but at the end of the day, so does production. In no universe (with a reasonable sample size) is a .100 hitter productive.
2006-06-01 19:32:40
40.   Steve
Picking through Adande's version of the Unabomber Manifesto, it appears to all come down to a plea for self-relevance. If I understand it completely (and really, who could?), Adande believes that he is about to be out-sourced by statistical analysis -- hence the central place in his argument for the "thousands of interviews" he has conducted and the non-sequitur told to him (personally!) about players that don't work. The fact that some players work and some don't is simply not an insight. The only meaningful part of the story is that it was told to Adande.

He appears to believe that in a world of cold, hard numbers, that which makes him stand out -- his access -- will no longer be at a premium. He will have to fend for himself with the rest of us proles.

If I were him, it would scare me too.

2006-06-01 22:04:21
41.   Formerly R
JA's biggest misconception about the laptoppin' statheads is this: he sees SABR-style stats as OVER analysis. But, in reality, sabermetrics is simply about BETTER analysis.

As Jon pointed out, the naysayers can't seem to see this distinction. Not sure why.

2006-06-01 22:49:32
42.   DadofMondy
The second email response on J.A.'s blog is mine! I'm not a frequent poster around here, but definitely always readin'. I give J.A. credit for writing a level-headed response to us geeks; that's more than Plaschke would do. It's clear he doesn't "get it" (to quote an old-school guy), but I guess there's a lot of things I don't get.

I think I'm probably the rare guy on this board who still plays baseball (NABA), and I haven't stopped playing since I was 10... when we're in the dugout b.s.'ing, I'm the guy talking about how lineup order doesn't matter that much, and errors are a crappy way of measuring defensive performance; my brain knows these things--yet when I was moved from leadoff to #8 this year, I made out like it was just going to kill the team, and when I make an error, I will not credit my error if I think, say, the catcher should've handled the throw at the plate from centerfield, and caused my error when it got passed him.

Forgive me for my moment of telling you guys that I "played the game", and let me ask you something: how many of you all are "contrarians"? Because I certainly am, and I think we drive some people (see Adande and Plaschke) crazy. We think we're logical, they think we don't respect their opinion.

Lastly, and I'm sure nobody's going to read this... I wrote Plaschke earlier this year after DePo was fired and I put in the subject line that I hope he rots in hell (I also put my actual home address) along with some more pleasantries in the text of my email... and tubby actually wrote back in part saying he respected that I didn't try and hide behind anonymity. Oh, so maganimous those LA times guys.

2006-06-01 23:25:20
43.   FirstMohican
Good thing AJ wont be looking at his blogs HPD (hits per day, of course) because he'd be rolling out more nonsense.

If AJ (or Plaschke etc) isn't entertaining the people who could care less about stats, someone else would. I find it hard to believe that he thinks assessment of work ethic and the analysis of stats are mutually exclusive. He has to know that for every person who read that and scratched their head, there were five who said "you know what, he made some great points."

2006-06-01 23:56:18
44.   Vishal
jon, this entire post and the letter you wrote to J.A. were pitch-perfect, dead on. thanks for articulating it so well.
2006-06-02 05:41:45
45.   Jimi Shelter
9. Marty
When I was a kid there used to be a program on a local channel called the "Million Dollar Movie". They'd show the same movie every night for the week. Right after I learned what baseball was the Million dollar Movie of the week was Damned Yankees. I watched every showing of it.

Hey, me too! I think it was on at noon.

2006-06-02 09:08:47
46.   Dodger Tony
The one stat that consistently eludes me is a pitchers lack of run support or the opposite. What strange manifestation of the game seems to create a "hard luck" type of pitcher. I.E., one who has a sterling ERA and very little to show for it.

Does anyone have any theories other than the hitters don't like him?

Comment status: comments have been closed. Baseball Toaster is now out of business.