Murray Chass Should Put Away His Slide Rule

Bill James (subscription required):

It is the people who bad-mouth statistics who inevitably start spewing them. The people who tell you why you can’t trust statistics are the people who trust them most, who rely on them most blindly. What WE do is try to teach people NOT to rely on them, but to examine them more carefully and more suspiciously. Steve Stone may have gone 25-7, we say, but did he really pitch that well? Ichiro may have won the batting championship, we say, but was he really the best hitter in the league? We question the statistics and examine them further. The traditionalists accept them at face value.

Conveniently enough, online columnist Murray Chass:

My problem is with Hernandez winning the award with 13 wins. I am not alone in that view. Four writers voted for David Price (19 wins) and three voted for CC Sabathia (21).

Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune voted for Price because, he said, Hernandez’s 13 wins didn’t merit the award and Price was a dominant pitcher in his own right.

Speaking of the one-sided outcome of the vote, Rogers added, “I wonder how much of it was bullying on the Internet. There were a lot of columns written in September saying no one should be stupid enough not to vote for Felix. Maybe that’s what happened, but I hope not.”

Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun noted that the difference between the leaders in wins last year was three (Zack Greene 16, Hernandez 19) and this year was eight (Hernandez 13, Sabathia 21.)

As I said recently, Chass doesn’t even try the old “whatever the statistics say, I’ve seen him play!” routine, which is generally foolish, but at least coherent. What I really don’t understand is how you can simultaneously spend about 90% of your energy as a writer attacking number-crunchers and then assert that the pitcher you concede to be the best in the league should be denied the award given to the best pitcher in the league because he ranks lower according to a single arbitrarily selected (and obviously heavily team-dependent) statistic.

11 comments on this post.
  1. RobNYNY1957:

    Am I correct in concluding that this is about baseball?

  2. Davis:

    The question they need to ask themselves, but they won’t, is how many wins would Sabathia have getting three runs a game with the Mariners, instead of nearly six with the Yankees?

  3. Incontinentia Buttocks:

    I also love Rogers’s attempt to turn the outcome of the vote into a demand for a Blogger Ethics Conference.

  4. Bill Murray:

    Murray is raising his Chasmoblalkin plus into the stratosphere. He may be approaching an all time record

  5. Bill Murray:

    Wait I think it was Chamoblalkin. This’ll never get off the ground if I can’t remember the name. Woe is my statistic.

  6. Ken Houghton:

    Those Evil Bloggers all ganged up on sportswriters the year Nolan Ryan went 6-16 with an ERA about a run below everyone else’s, too.

    Oh, wait, that was the sportswriters, who kept writing columns about how Ryan should win the Cy Young until Bill James wisecracked that “if 1/3 of the writers who say he should win the Cy Young vote for him, he will.”

    Guess how that turned out.

  7. Amanda in the South Bay:

    Well, Ryan pitched for a lot of shitty teams, but I vaguely remembering that there was some stat of his that sucked (walks, I think??) that had nothing to do with playing for mediocre teams.

  8. Ed:

    Walks. Wild pitches. As Bill James also said of Ryan, the list of Ryan negatives is, well, really negative, or words to that effect.

  9. wengler:

    I know who Zack Greinke is, but I have no idea who Zack Greene is. I really hope this was a transcription error on your part.

    Once again, a pitcher’s wins is not an important statistic when evaluating his performance. It really isn’t that hard to understand. It’s like giving the MVP to the player with the most triples, because that is the most important thing ever!

  10. Bill Murray:

    Ryan’s adjusted ERA (tied for 276th all time, 1 season in the top 500) was nothing special either as he pitched in some pretty good environments

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