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

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.

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