Sabermetric Fatigue, part 3

=== Roll Call Dept. ===

Bill James, at 62 or something, loves sabermetrics more than he ever did.  That is because baseball research was only ever there for one reason to him:  to help him enjoy the game at 7:05 tonight.  :- )

John Sickels, as I see it, has inadvertently studied sabermetrics for the wrong reason -- to keep his resume up-to-date.  If he would simply return to the James orientation, his ennui would quickly vanish IMHO.  Sickels himself put it, "I just wanna go see a game."


Jeff Sullivan, IMHO, writes like a guy who loves baseball, as James does.

There's another pitcher archetype here, though.  Sullivan does potentially have a future in baseball.  When he squirrels away info-acorns, there is (subconsciously or not) the hope and cheer of someday perhaps using them as a hired baseball analyst.

Young guys are not bored by granular information.  We older guys have given up on the dream of ever using that hair-fine information.  We love knowledge, but you get to where you want universe-shaking insights.  You get to where you want big ROI for your research minute.


Tom Tango actually is a baseball professional.  To him, every new thing he learns has an impact on his life.  That's yet another pitcher archetype.  An M.D. reads the JAMA with more interest than you or I do.  He's liable to be able to use it the next day in his job.

Tango doesn't sound to me like he's competing with people.  He sounds to me like he's enraptured with understanding baseball.


Dr. Detecto long ago lost his 20-something academic orientation.  He no longer cares whether his friends think that he's a shade the smarter, or a shade the dumber, than (say) Nick Steiner.

He wants sabermetric info that (1) relates to the Mariners, or (2) is so fundamental and fresh that it draws a smile.  Such as James' SSLI, for instance.


=== Have Sabermetrics Gone Too Far? ===

Per SSI's way of looking at things, this is absolutely the wrong question.  There's no such thing as too much knowledge.  Write a book on isolated Queen Pawns with same-color Bishops?  Is that going "too far"?  Somebody wants the information.   Just don't tell me I have to have it, or I'm not a real chessplayer.

As Sullivan convincingly demonstrated, nobody keeps up with everything sabermetric these days.  When a guy intones, "No evidence exists that.... ", know that he's bluffing you.  Nobody reads comprehensively these days.  Blengino's staff of interns couldn't possibly get it all.


=== The Audition ===

You know, and I know, that a lot of blogs and articles are written in the hopes that somebody up there will hear the author.  Maybe even discover the author.  There are quite a few internet saberdudes who do get discovered through their writing.

Is it okay, per SSI, for the 20-something "academic" to write his articles as work samples?  Sure.  If that's what a guy wants to do with his baseball time, dream of working in MLB, there's not a thing wrong with that.

As you know, academia itself (say, the little committee that will judge your work on 19th-century Belgian weaving) is very competitive and often unpleasantly political.  I don't personally care for it when writers sniff at each other's work in quasi-academic tone.  But, whatever.  The goal of working in MLB, or for Baseball Prospectus, what's wrong with that?


=== While We're Soul-Baring, Dept. ===

We've been asked quite a few times whether we have any "aspirations" to advance in baseball.

1) Dr. D is a 47-year-old man with a family and three different jobs, none of which pay the minimum wage. :- )

2) The typical 'net rat like me, if he ever gets hired into baseball, does heavy sabermetric lifting either for (a) the minimum wage or (b) free.

Dr. D couldn't possibly intern for ESPN, or the Oakland A's, for $20 an hour.  My budget literally couldn't take it.  I'd lose my house.


Needless to say, it would be pretty cool for (say) the Angels to spot my blogwork, go, "hey, write us some POTD's at $200 apiece," and bring me down for a couple of series a year, sit in the boxes and bounce ideas around, something like that.  Everybody would enjoy that gig.

But as you know, the saber market is completely saturated at this point, with 100's or even 1,000's of writers who are VERY good at what they do.  It's like Samuel L. Jackson told his basketball player.  "I said dream, not hallucinate!"  The $200-an-article writing work is realistic if you're working outside baseball.

... Dr. D's aspirations on the internet go towards getting a book published, mostly non-sports-oriented.  Auditioning against 1,000 Ph.D.'s to get an internship with the Cleveland Indians is no longer appealling.


And as it turns out, the benefits associated with writing baseball have turned out to be quite a ways in advance of what we ever expected.  :- )  The freelancing work, America's free-market economy, will usually reward you to the extent you deserve.


=== Dr's R/X Dept. ===

Research can't go too far, but it can become divorced from baseball enjoyment.  As you know, SSI seeks the path less travelled -- the Bill James path.

Baseball is a game, not a religion, and not a science.  If we read and write baseball purely for fun, the rest will take care of itself.

See you at the ballpark,

Dr D



...who is rapidly losing any desire to continue terribly long with academia for the pleasure of doing the research (I have to stay in the "game" because to get where I want to go in 10 years, I have to have a Ph.D., but I *hate* the process and strongly dislike most ofd the people involved in this process)...I concur with your basic assessment that the reason some folks are getting frustrated with sabermetrics is that they're being done for the wrong reasons for most to relate to that work.
I don't think it's true that most sabermetricians are in it JUST because they want to prove they're smarter than 1000 others and have a career...I think sabermetrics is the amount of work you have to do to be a part of it and the lack of money coming in to justify said be a labor of love.  I think most of us do it because we genuinely love baseball and want to see others come to an appreciation for the nuances that we've learned to spot while watching games and looking at the data derived from the games.  I think most of us do it for the same reason James does.
Perhaps the way we PRESENT the work is wrong (and I'm often included in this) because we attack it like we attack academic work in general...but I don't think the presentation is a reflection on the true motivation of doing the work.
I, personally, have made almost no progress in baseball research in the last 18 months or so, partially because grad school is very demanding on my time, partially because I am a little burned out on database coding in my day job and can't bring myself to dive back into baseball databases, no matter how much I want to, and partially because my personal life (specifically my drive to start a family some day) has overtaken my baseball life on the list of priorities...but when I was more active, I tended to present things academically because that's how I was trained in school to present work that I approached scientifically...but that never meant I didn't care about the games and it CERTAINLY never meant I didn't apply my knowledge to my own personal enjoyment of baseball games.

M's Watcher's picture

This was a thoroughly enjoyable read, Doc, and now I also have a better idea where you're coming from also, Matt.  Thanks.  What I really want out of sabermetrics are the analytical explanations for "luck", which I think exist in the numbers, but some smart saber-rat just hasn't figured out yet.  Like what happened to the unlucky lost runs of the M's 2009 season, or lucky vs. unlucky BABIP. 
It is now approaching two years past my son's last HS baseball season and thankfully the M's have stepped back into the breach with interesting, compelling, competitive baseball.  It is about time, as we had quite a drought.  But sabermetrics even could explain that, too, though it wasn't enjoyable.


I think of you as one of the guys who has transcended the academic 'personality'.
Didn't even mean to imply that most well-known sabermetricians have that personality.  But a lot of the articles that we read, have that air about them...  We do not see this on Mariner Central or from other posters on SSI, and personally I don't feel that Sullivan's work has a problem there either.
Agree also that a particular article can sound as though it's a work sample, or a paper for a grade, without that being the author's motivation.  As we say, some of it is simply conditioning.
My broad intent here wasn't rebuke.  It was a good-natured reminder that sabermetrics, The James Way, provides a lifetime of satisfying intellectual pursuit.  :- )


Just to be clear, I didn't make my reply with the intent to be argumentative. :)  I was just giving the readers a bit of my position on this particular issue, because I think it helps to see it from the side of someone who is, at the very least, peripherally involved in the field.
I love this game and I know that just about everyone who works in sabermetrics does so in their spare time and because they love it as much as I do.  Sometimes I think that gets lost in what we write and publish, and we are accused of losing contact with the game (which we tend to find offensive, because we know it is not true).  I think while we're reminding people that James has the right idea about linking sabermetric ideas with a real historical context and a dash of love for the game, we should remind people as well that sabermetricians aren't really any different from other fanatical baseball fans...what comes out in public tends to be what they're used to seeing in their own professional lives.
It's important to remember that science is an adversarial process because if it is NOT adversarial, you end up with the ClimateGate scandal...a bunch of "professionals" incestuously pushing a group-think-generated idea forward as consensus.  The adversarial process is supposed to prevent such things from happening.  It's ugly...I don't know if I have the right personality for it...but it works.  And that same adversarial process applies to advancing our knowledge of baseball above the group-think mentality of the sports-writers who used to control how the public thought about the game.


And in my mind, that whole situation really helped the layman to understand just how much political agendas can warp "the scientific consensus."
The NYT harps, again and again, about "the scientific consensus" with a more-than-faintly religious intimidation.  Disagree and we'll disfellowship you...
However, that "consensus" itself can, and often is, gerrymandered by the editorial boards of a few key journals...
Sabermetrics *is* adversarial in the best sense of the word.  The checks and balances are working in almost-ideal mode.  Which is why the research uncovers so much, so quickly.
Would that atmospheric science were as lucky :- )


For SURE the guys writing these academic saber papers love baseball.  They also love a pat on the back for research done in "irreproachable" academic style.
For all that, there is a subtle-but-decisive difference in the way James writes.  His love for baseball is not implicit in his writing; it's explicit, directed to the game on the field tomorrow.
James' SSLI article, in the first paragraph, grounded itself in Kouzmanoff's and Votto's and Jones' prospects for this upcoming season.
He drops right down to age and he says "we know Grady Sizemore is likely to bounce back."  This gives the article color and readability.  Some other sabermetrician will AVOID that reference, because afraid that somebody will quibble about Sizemore specifically.  "Hm!  Am I really sure that Sizemore is a good example of this?  What studies exist that pertain to him?  Maybe I just better leave that out.... here's that R^2 graph again.  Isn't my research technique grand?"
James' articles are not steeped in "gotcha games" and the anticipation of "legal review."  They're steeped in imagination.  James is writing SSLI, thinking about Grady Sizemore's liner into the right-center gap tomorrow night, not in whether another sabermetrician is going to protest his selection of Sizemore as an example.
James doesn't care whether his SSLI "points system" gets him a pat on the back from fellow postgrad students, and nods all around that it could be part of a master's degree.  He cares whether it tells him about Russell Branyan's 2010.  That's what I care about, too, as it happens...

Taro's picture

I enjoy reading all the articles from tango, fangraphs, tht, etc, and consuming all the quality information there is out there whether in Sabr or scout related.. I'm not one of those people thats aspiring for a job in baseball or anything, it just interests me for whatever reason. :-)


A lot of this information *is* fascinating for its own sake.
Best is when you get both worlds together, such as THT's interesting analysis of Milton Bradley's plate discipline... intriguing sabermetrics there, and compelling visuals for the Mariners fan both...

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