Light-SABERmetrics: May the Stats be with You

The idea that there is nothing new to be learned about baseball must give the so-called purists some solace about their grand ole game. The dismissive attitude toward sabermetrics, for example, is one that only serves to stifle the perception of the sport as being fun and progressive. Even more problematic with such a notion is the fact that sabermetrics, which is simply an analysis of baseball statistics, has been around for nearly half a century. So, for the purists, new is a very relative term.

Baseball statistics are as much a part of the game as grass and dirt. Stats serve to help tell the story of baseball and provide entertainment for true fans of the sport. A box score provides comprehensible game detail for a fan who may not have been able to watch a game. Fantasy sports has its roots in baseball, where fans used statistics to develop games such as Strat-O-Matic and Rotisserie league baseball.

Billy BeaneStats may also be used in the assessment of a player’s ability. And, for that reason, philosophies like sabermetrics have drawn the ire of opponents for varying reasons. Some notable opponents of sabermetrics include MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan.

Morgan, a former color commentator for ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, once stated that sabermetrics could not tell him anything about the game, and that he refused to read Michael Lewis’ Moneyball because it was written by someone who never played the game. Morgan argued that observation was the only tool that mattered in the assessment of a player’s ability. That is an unnecessarily scathing indictment of a fan’s literary synopsis of the use of sabermetrics by someone who did play the game.

Thanks in part to Moneyball, Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Bean has become the face of sabermetrics. Beane played five seasons in the Major Leagues. And while obviously not being as highly regarded a player as Morgan, he has enjoyed a great deal of success in putting together A’s rosters for the past 13 seasons with a payroll that pales in comparison to most of his contemporaries.

I recommend Moneyball for any fan of the game, including Joe Morgan. I am looking forward to viewing the film adaptation of Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt. A review for FixMLB.org will follow.

I am also looking forward to the post-Morgan era of Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN. I will gladly review that as well, as I suspect the broadcasts can only improve without Morgan’s over-indulgence in belaboring points that go nowhere. The ratings will likely go up too. But then TV ratings are only statistics.

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One comment

  1. bcxists

    Pretty basic ideas being put forth here, but the writing style is good (very good). I think this notion that Morgan and McCarver are bad commentators is a bit skewed, tho. We somehow look to them to be always correct, whereas I think despite their mistakes in trying to “read the minds” of players and managers as the game unfolds actually yields some incredible insights from a Hall of Fame infielder and a man who caught Bob Gibson. I saw Joe Morgan inducted into the Hall along with Jim Palmer, and Morgan struck me as a man filled with the optimism that most have lost during their time playing professional baseball. Moneyball, for all it’s value, has virtually strangled the Phillies management, who no longer use the stolen base, hit and run or many other “old school” ways of manufacturing runs, because Moneyball supposedly proved those tactics obsolete. (Don’t tell that to Jackie Robinson!!!) So, yes, while Morgan (and Selig et al) could stand to open their minds to other ways of managing in the front office and on the field, there’s something to be said for reading the game as you are standing on the dirt and in the grass. That’s something Morgan knows a ton about.

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