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Murray Chass Should Put Away His Slide Rule

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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.

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