|Where did you go...|
Recently, Dave and I virtually sat down and talked about Sabermetrics, the past, and memory.
I believe that highly intelligent baseball fanatics in the late 1970's were getting bored with the same old "Mantle vs. Mays"-style arguments in the context of the value of players, the intentionally vague definition of the "Most Valuable Player," things like that. That's what you had, tons of barroom chatter that never really went anywhere. Bill James (influential early proponent of metrical evaluations) wanted to write about baseball, but had few connections into the only avenues of the time, newspapers and periodicals. Leagues were employing ex-players in talent-evaluation front office positions, and presumably James wanted to be part of the establishment, but was blown off. Ultimately, what Sabermetrics is supposed to do is create a benchmark for evaluating players from different eras with an equalized measurement, first James' "Runs Created" measurement. The primary measurement is now Wins Above Replacement (WAR). So now when someone pipes up "Mantle was better than Mays," you can chime in about Willie's 150 WAR vs. Mickey's 105. There's an assortment of formulas out there to determine WAR, but they are all based upon the same principle, that being the comparison of one player versus the theoretical 25th man on the roster. I also believe when fans began playing Rotisserie/Fantasy Baseball for money is the when the measurements dramatically improved. Obviously, when commerce rears its ugly head is where you'll find intellectual and technological advances.
The side effect of all this is that greater knowledge removes a certain subjective element from the conversation. I remember a major baseball journalist wondered publicly if Johnny Damon was a Hall of Famer. I replied that if he achieved 3000 hits, he was in, end of story. The writer was highly offended by my phrasing of "end of story," like this was the worst thing a journalist could hear. He's right about that, I suppose, because a journalist thrives in a subjective atmosphere and benchmarks like 3000 hits and 300 wins are pretty much the opposite of that. In my view, there's nothing to discuss. If you achieve 3000 hits in ten seasons, you're a God in this game. 15 seasons, you're Derek Jeter, a great player. 20 seasons, you're the most consistent .277 hitter in baseball history, or perhaps you're Craig Biggio. Lou Brock would be another example, but his average was .293, with only a .343 career On-Base Percentage (OBP). In today's baseball game, with the focus on OBP, you won't get 20 years to play 156-game seasons with an OBP less than .350, even if you're batting .277, or .280, because with the increased influence of statistical analysis, there will be voices of those analyst-types in the front office of the organization saying things like "So what if he has 165 hits a season, they're all empty singles." Faster than you could say Adam Dunn, that player will be replaced by someone batting .256 but who walks 90 times a year with 25 dingers. A guy like Daniel Murphy could hit .280 forever—if he started at age 23 and never got hurt, he could collect 3000 hits. In reality, at this rate, Murphy will be the next Dave Magadan, hitting .280 off the bench for 200 to 250 at-bats until the age of 38, the spot where that single base-hit matters. For someone in this generation to come this close, there has to be a darn good reason he's on the field, outside of "empty batting averages," as some like to say. I will go so far as to go on record that Johnny Damon might be the last guy to get this far in terms of hits and not make the Hall of Fame.
|Omar, chugging since '89|
I think the accumulation and analysis of sabermetric stats in the context of your affection for a player is the same as your buddy trying to tell you that the girl in sophomore year high school you were crazy about was a terrible lab partner. Good to know, I suppose, but it doesn't really affect your overall perspective on the person. Unless of course, you found yourself in Physics class with her the following year.