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I Demand That the Useless Stats I Remember Be Held Sacred!

[ 29 ] November 18, 2010 |

Not everyone is happy with the good news Paul mentions below.   Take not-blogger Murray Chass, who in a blog post online column claims that the dumb criterion that caused sportswriters of yore to determine that such durable immortals as LaMarr Hoyt and Steve Stone and Pete Vukovich were the best pitchers in the league should continue to be used because…nickels had pictures of bumblebees on them:

Just a few years ago a pitcher with a 13-12 record would never have been considered for the Cy Young award. But last year Zack Greinke won the A,L, award with 16 victories and Tim Lincecum won his second straight National League award with 15 wins.

The development, I believe, is directly related to the growing influence of the new-fangled statistics which readers of this site know I have no use for, a fact that sends stats-freak denizens of the blogosphere into a stats-freak frenzy.

“Look out, he’s at it again” the cry will go out, as if a carrier of the black plague were loose in the land. And a flood of e-mail messages will pour in to my inbox calling me vile names (they are only the best educated and articulate of responders) and telling me I don’t know what I’m talking about.

And also, Steve Carlton had a really good record with a bad team, which means that somehow King Felix should have won 18 games getting no support from a historically bad offense. So Hernandez shouldn’t win the award even though “he’s the best pitcher in the league.” And even though the obscure statistics that the sportswriters are using are “ERA” and “strikeouts” — using more advanced metrics, the Al Cy Young race is actually much less clear cut. All very convincing.

Chass is also outraged that his former employer is trying to inform its readers, particularly at the expense of St. Derek Jeter:

The Times has increasingly used statistically-based columns, often at the expense, I believe, of the kind of baseball coverage it used to emphasize. But Kepner’s use of “Total Zone Total Fielding” was the clincher, demonstrating that the Times has gone over to the dark side.

Kepner, the Times’ national baseball writer, used the statistic in reporting that metric men were critical of the selection of Derek Jeter, the Yankees’ shortstop, as the Gold Glove shortstop. The Total Zone formula, Kepner wrote, rates Jeter 59th, or last, among major league shortstops.

What’s striking is that Chass doesn’t even try to argue that the metrics are wrong or misleading, which isn’t surprising since anybody who saw the Yankees play this year knows that Jeter has terrible range for a major league shortstop. He doesn’t argue that the Times‘ audience isn’t interested. It’s just that he can’t be bothered to understand new research or even to make arguments based on anything but bare assertion, and if that’s all he wants to do that’s all any consumer of sportswriting should get. Let’s just say I think the Times‘s decision has been vindicated.

…here’s an argument from authority you won’t be seeing on Chass’ blog compendium of online columns.

Comments (29)

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  1. Bill Murray says:

    It’s just that he can’t be bothered to understand new research or even to make arguments based on anything but bare assertion, and if that’s all he wants to do that’s all any consumer of sportswriting should get.

    So he’s a Republican-style conservative, at least wrt baseball.

  2. howard says:

    just to speak of victories for a moment, one reason i pay attention to quality starts is that they correlate excellently to victory (close to 70%, and a good number of losing quality starts are to other quality starts).

    last year, felix had 30 quality starts in 34 total starts, which is not only an extraordinarily good ratio but also suggests that even a mediocre offense would have given him the 20 wins that chass would have deemed an acceptable marker of cy young-hood.

    but as our host notes, chass is obviously too brainlocked to even understand something like that.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      Amazingly, I saw Felix pitch twice last year. They were 2 of his 3 worst starts. WTF? I think his ERA with me not in attendance is Bob Gibson-esque.

      • howard says:

        in the 1985-86 nba season, the eventual champ celts (who won all 10 of their home playoff games) lost exactly 1 home game that season, to the portland trail blazers.

        and they not only lost it, the blazers, led by a young jerome kersey (imagine! a young jerome kersey!) killed ‘em (121-103, i just looked it up).

        which, of course, is why they play ‘em on the field: even the greatest have an off day sometimes….

        • howard says:

          sheesh, i meant to mention that i was at that game (12/6/85, to be precise), which is why i made the comment in the first place….

          • elm says:

            Your becoming more like Grandpa Simpson with every blog comment! Did Jerome Kersey wear onions on his belt during the game? That was the fashion at the time, after all.

            • howard says:

              now then, elm, this one i didn’t think was so grandpa simpson! jerome kersey played until he was about 103 or so (ok, 38) that he takes on an older player’s look in memory: it’s simply funny to point out that even jerome was a young player once….

              in fact, you inspired me: here’s a nice 2009 writeup about the regret bird and walton still have about losing that game, and the box score confirms my memory: kersey scored 22 points in 22 minutes on 11-15 shooting:

              http://www.nba.com/2009/news/features/03/31/85celtics.20090331/index.html

              now, remind me sometime to talk about seeing the aging paul arizin (then the nba’s 3rd leading scorer) playing out the string for the camden bullets in the old eastern basketball league against my hometown allentown jets in the early ’60s and you’ll have something to talk about! (i guess arizin just passed away in fact)

              but we digress….

              • elm says:

                No the grandpa simpson part was forgetting why you were making the comment so it comes off as a completely irrelevent anecdote about some random thing.

      • Mr. Trend says:

        To be fair, he didn’t give up any earned runs in that 9-1 walloping in Cleveland.

  3. Hogan says:

    So his examples of pitchers winning with bad run support are pitchers who had *more* run support than Hernandez got.

    Why, the fax machine is nothing but a waffle iron with a phone attached!

  4. efgoldman says:

    I’m (a) 65 years old and (b) definitely not a stat-head, and I still don’t understand the Chassites of the sports world.

    I mean, OK, in the early 80s, when the first Bill James Abstracts came out, I could see the skepticism (he did, after all, conclude one year that Wade Boggs might have been the best player of all time).

    But both the predictive and analytical value of SABREmetrics has been proven so often, for so long, that one has to be a willful idiot to ignore them.

    Bill Murray leading off above is exactly right: Its the GOBP/Conservative/Teabagger mindset writ large.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      (he did, after all, conclude one year that Wade Boggs might have been the best player of all time

      Actually, that essay just concluded that Boggs was the best player in baseball in 1987, which (as he later said) was probably wrong but not unreasonable.

  5. mark f says:

    Steve Carlton had a really good record with a bad team, which means that somehow King Felix should have won 18 games getting no support from a historically bad offense.

    I like how he explicitly mentions that Carlton got more run support than Hernandez did . . . but credits Carlton’s wins to GUTS or WILL or something anyway. And I dig Roy Halladay weirdly implying that other teams won’t be looking to obtain Hernandez because he just doesn’t know how to win.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Yeah, put Halladay with the Mariners and somehow his ability to win would vanish pretty quickly.

    • Jeff says:

      Yeah, I gotta love that “Good pitchers find a way to win..”. And just how was Hernandez, in the American League, (with the DH) supposed to find a way to win? Steal signs? Pinch hit in the bottom of the ninth? Poison the other teams Gatorade?
      Which leaves us with the obvious– the only way Hernandez could win was by doing what he was doing, keeping the other team from scoring.

  6. wsn says:

    If Hernandez wanted more run support he should have done better at the plate.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      I was also at the game in New York a couple of years ago where Felix hit his grand slam off Johan Santana. Given that this was the first time I met my future in-laws, all huge Mets fans, it was a pretty awesome moment on many levels.

  7. Joe Kopena says:

    I don’t understand why everyone’s writing comments here instead of emailing him to note how thought provoking and interesting you find his blog…

    That would seem to be the best way to win the discussion, by making his head explode.

  8. Murc says:

    How many more years until the cadre of sportswriters who want everything in baseball to be like it was in the 1950s finally die off? I mean, I know these guys basically live forever, but come on.

  9. whetstone says:

    Both Carlton and Dickson had more run support than Hernandez, but both found ways to win in spite of the teams they played for.

    Well, that it pretty impressive if you put it that way. Maybe they won with their minds, or their teammates were more likely to score for them because of their awesomeness or love or the game or something.

    King Felix couldn’t get his team to score more runs, which obviously disqualifies him.

  10. wengler says:

    The thing about baseball is that it is a sport that has ALWAYS been dominated by stats. What makes this guy HULK SMASH is that his preferred stats used in past suck at showing how valuable a player is in getting his team a win(team wins being the only stats that actually count for anything).

    It’s very simple really. Getting on base matters because that is how you score runs and runs matter because that is how you win the game. For a pitcher, your most important defensive position, limiting the team from getting on base and scoring runs is what matters the most. Usually pitchers that do this the best get a lot of pitching wins because their offense is likely somewhere around league average. But other years you have outliers.

    King Felix’s wins this year was an outlier of an outlier. Maybe these old fogeys should stop yelling at clouds and figure out that their preferred stat sucks at describing how good a player is.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Right. He’s not even making the “stop looking at stats and start watching games, you geeks” argument, which would be bad enough. He’s saying “you have to base the Cy Young Award on one not very useful stat because I’m to lazy to learn about anything else and I get the sense that you’ll piss off statheads if you it that way.”

  11. Bill Murray says:

    I also demand that the useless stats I invent be held sacred. I have invented the Chass-Morgan Bloggin’-Talkin’ (Chamoblalkin) Ratio. You take the number of down home homilies add the number of cliches and the number of contradictions to previous statements and divide this sum by the total number of words. The Chamoblalkin+ normalizes this to the season average for all annoucers/writers. In 2007 I believe Joe Morgan had a Chamoblalkin+ of 193 — 7 points better than Joe did in OPS+ during his 1976 MVP campaign.

  12. elm says:

    Hee! I love Chass’s blog. It so curmudgeonly and cranky! “This isn’t a blog because I hate blogs! Ignore the fact that it’s indistinguishable from a blog!”

    My favorite part of the blog is the end of the bio where he informs us that “A month before winning the Spink award he was inducted into the Western Pennsylvania Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in Pittsburgh.” There’s a joke here, but I just can’t get the bat off my shoulders.

    • efgoldman says:

      Too bad that the Daily News’ Dick Young didn’t live long enough for blogs. Can you imagine?

      And Will McDonough (mostly on the football side) makes two.

  13. Doug says:

    To quote @OldHossRadbourn “A bespectacled scribe once told me he was calculating my ‘batting average.# I shot him on the spot. I deplored the new-fangled statistics.”

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