Sabermetric Fatigue, part 2

=== Founding Father, Dept. ===

Bill James has never, to my knowledge, written Word One with the intent of proving that he's smarter than some other smart guy.  You will never find a word that James wrote that is written with the intent of earning a phantom Ph.D., as in my opinion most sabermetrics are written these days.

James writes everything because he is ecstatically in love with baseball.

The difference in the end product is subtle but critical.  You could read through Bill James' Historical Baseball Abstract all day, because every new discovery (RC/27, new PAP, DER, whatever) is there for the purpose of understanding specific ballplayers.

DER will be discussed in the context of celebrating James' beloved 1970's Royals. 

Pitcher abuse will be discussed in the context of enjoying Roger Clemens' career. 

A James article on Park Effects will finish with, "We all know that Joe DiMaggio was a great player.  But I think it is fair to say that, in most other times and most other places, he would have been an even greater player."


=== Tango x James, Dept. ===

Tango gets close to this, IMHO, when he notes that often "presentation" is the difference between enjoying sabermetrics or getting bogged in them.

Close, but the SSI scorekeeper has a different opinion.   Academic sabermetricians (of whom Tango is NOT one) often complain, sour-grapes style, that James is only popular because he can write.

No, James is popular because when he presents a new Strong Seasons Leading Index, it is about baseball players.  Not James' IQ.

I can go through James' SSLI and, at a bare glance, see that Chone Figgins and Russell Branyan have the worst 2010 projections in baseball.   I don't like seeing that, but it's compelling.

Read the article.  It starts with the two words, "Kevin Kouzmanoff."   Read this very fine sabermetric article.  How many baseball players are mentioned?

When an academic writes a sabermetric article, I learn (1) that groundball pitchers aren't particularly gopher-susceptible and (2) that the author is good with R^2 values.  They're right on the graphs, where I can't miss them.  Half of the article is there to demonstrate that the article is well-written.

(That's nothing against this particular author, who is a cool guy and good at what he does.  We're illustrating two ways of approaching sabermetrics.)

When Bill James writes a sabermetric article, I learn (1) the sabermetric principle of the day and (2) Chone Figgins was one of the 10 best players in baseball in 2009.  Or that Adrian Beltre is the 21st-century Brooks Robinson.  Or that Tim Lincecum will probably finish as one of the 20 best pitchers who ever lived.  Or whatever.


part 3




Since you stopped conversation in the third post...I'll issue my minor correction here...
Would that CLIMATE Science had the same fortune as sabemretrics.  Weather forecasters don't believe their own models can predict the weather a week from now, let alone 50 years from now.  And those are the high resolution good models with realistic physics equations...not the slap-shod general circulation models that are used to predict climate change. :)  Point being...I'm an atmospheric scientist...Prof. Jones, James Hansen, Michael Mann...those people know next to nothing about weather...they're not atmospheric scientists...their climate scientists...and rather poor ones at that.
OK...I'm done now.  LOL


that I *rerouted* conversation.  :- )  You hadn't yet noticed that we don't 'stop' conversations at SSI?  Well, admittedly, once or twice we've suspended them for a day or two so folks could decompress...
Right, climate science, thankx.  Hey, seriously, could you delineate the difference between climate science and atmospheric science?
Rock on all you want about climate and atmosphere.  I'd love to hear it.


I ought to make that an article though rather than a comment.  Perhaps a bit of a narrative on the scientific method and the lack thereof in climate science as compared to atmospheric science.
And you're right...I shouldn't have said "shut down"...redirection is fine with me. :)

Uncle Ted's picture

I was going to write a longer response to this, but I think this sums it up:
Doc, are you sure you aren't mistakenly assuming that the academic writing style is an indicator of the motivations of the writers?  Academics get trained to write in a fairly nit-picky way, and we are also trained to approach conversation critically.  That said, most academics I know were only willing to pursue a PhD because they genuinely love what they do.  Getting a PhD takes a ton of time, is a process that can at times be quite destructive of one's ego, and the job prospects in academia are generally pretty bleak.  


you yourself are an academic Ted, so would be able to give us a more nuanced view of the situation.  Would appreciate the extra nuance.
I don't believe that I have the right to assume that Sabermetric Writer X has Motivation Y :- ) but in terms of *trends*, will stand by my opinion that *much* of academic writing goes to a "here's how smart I am" syndrome.
Where a postgrad writer is going to be nitpicked, then sure, that explains the excruciating precision and self-justification -- and granted, this can "condition" the writer to where we get what we see on Fangraphs.
All that said, there is a *separate* component of the writing that comes across as "here's how smart I am" and IMHO this makes many of the articles tedious.
But your point is well taken -- in many cases the excruciating self-justification is defensive and becomes conditioned.  Any particular SABR writer who views his lay audience with respect can wave off my little post.  If the shoe doesn't fit, don' wear it :- )
Like we say, Bill James' saber articles start with the names of baseball players, he refuses to worry about who approves of his writing, and the end product is very agreeable.

Uncle Ted's picture

I can only speak for philosophy departments, since that is what I've experienced.  I'm fairly certain that most graduate students in philosophy have an experience some time in their first or second year of graduate school where they recognize that they don't know nearly as much as they thought, and that they aren't nearly as smart as they thought.  This is a natural response to being surrounded by a ton of really smart faculty members (and advanced graduate students) who have paid their dues and know their discipline in ways that you weren't even aware were possible.  From people I've talked to in other disciplines, they have a similar experience, but to a lesser degree than philosophers.  This is in large part because the antagonistic nature of philosophy is such that we are constantly told how and why we are wrong to believe what we do.  
That said, there is a fairly large degree of inter-disciplinary rivalry.  This is so for two reasons. First, departments are actually in competition with one-another for funds.  If the economists hire someone else, this comes at the cost of some other department being able to hire someone.  Second, and more important,  Ph.D level academics get really good at approaching social/political/economic/whatever issues from within a very well defined single methodology, and of course they all think that the way they do things is the way things ought to be done.  Part of this is just natural self justification.  If you focus almost single-mindedly on one thing, you HAVE to convince yourself that this thing is VERY valuable and VERY interesting.  This is true whether you are focused on an academic discipline, or on raising your kids (just think about how much parents talk about their own kids to the annoyance of everyone else).  The result of this is that economists come to believe that everyone should look at things as economists do, and philosophers think that everyone should look at things as philosophers do et cetera.  (the case of philosophy is especially interesting because in many ways we don't really have a subject matter, but rather a methodology that we apply to other people's subject matters.  This naturally annoys those other people.  Of course we're right and they are wrong ;)
So I'd say that insofar as you are detecting something, you may be misplacing it.  The attitude in question is not as likely to be "look how smart I am", but rather "look how smart we are".  I think this kind of attitude is found almost everywhere where people surround themselves largely with those who think like they do.  This is true if it is philosophers, economists, Christians, wealthy country-club wasps, leftists, rightists, whatever.  
That said, I still think that the SABR writing style is just recognizably academic.  I happen to really like it, but of course, I've been trained to appreciate it.  
As an aside, I should say that I think academic disciplinarity is a good thing.  There are truths you discover by getting really focussed in a single methodology.  The mistake is to think that this is all that may be worth discovering.  Inter-disciplinarity is a good goal for academic institutions, but this should be understood as "multi-disciplinarity" not, some ill defined kind of non-disciplinarity.

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