Why I Love Advanced Stats
My friend and colleague Peter Ellwood recently wrote an article that sums up the feelings of many fans around baseball. Peter has an issue with advanced statistics, and it is valid, but as we know there are two sides to every coin (click here to read Peter’s piece). I am that other side. I love advanced statistics. I love that we have the ability to understand the game at a much deeper level than ever before. I am the first to admit these acronyms and abbreviations can be quite cumbersome at times, but once you understand them you see there is a beautiful logic behind most of them.
Over the years the topic of sabermetrics or “advanced statistics” has become a lightning rod issue within the baseball community. On one side you have your old-school traditionalists who only want to look at BA/HR/RBI or W/L and what their eyes see to determine the performance of players. On the other side you have people who think you never have to step foot in a baseball stadium, or even watch a game to understand it. Both sides are wrong. Just like in politics, these two sides refuse to get along and meet in the middle where the truth probably lies.
I like to look at it like an artist looks at a painting with all the tools I have to analyze the game representing different brushes. In this analogy wins and losses or batting average might represent a broader brush used to paint the background, and advanced stats would represent the smaller more specialized brushes used to add detail. Both need to be used in order to achieve the best end result.
Advanced stats are what allowed people around baseball to see that Felix Hernandez deserved the Cy Young in 2010 despite only having a 13-12 record. Do you think he would have even been considered 20 years ago? Advanced stats allow us to see that Ian Kinsler was one of the best leadoff men in baseball even though his batting average was .255.
There is a downside to advanced stats. Peter was right when he said they strip the game of some of its emotion. Some of that is on purpose. Sabermetricians strive to see the truth, rather than what they want to see. This works in favor of overall objectivity, but it is a tough pill to swallow. I watch baseball with a different mindset than I used to, and quite frankly it might not be as fun. I am a more informed fan than I ever have been, but I am less emotional.
I am by no means advocating a strictly sabermetric approach to the game of baseball. Emotion and analytics both have their place. Never stop watching the game, ever. It is our responsibility to take what our eyes see and then make sure the numbers match up. Being an informed fan is tough. Imagine being a St. Louis fan right now. The best player in baseball just left your team and that hurts. The informed fan has a better chance of objectively seeing that Albert Pujols has already started his decline, and thus that lessens the blow of losing him. Even though the St. Louis Cardinals will be a better organization in the long run because they let Pujols walk, it still has to hurt.
Again, I don’t wholeheartedly disagree with Peter. Keeping up with advanced stats is a time consuming process that can seem quite daunting. It isn’t for everyone, but for those of us who have the time to learn what these stats truly mean, it is a worthwhile endeavor. Again, never stop watching this magical game. And no matter how well you understand VORP or ERA+ don’t let the emotion of baseball escape you either. Balance, my friends, balance.