Sunday, September 18, 2005

A SS analysis - a rebuttal

It is fair to say that Neil and I disagree with how we fundamentally look at baseball - if I see a statistic that disagrees with my 'view' of a player, I think there is a high likelihood that I am wrong. If Neil M sees a statistic that disagrees with his view of a player, then Neil believes the statistic is wrong.

I understand why people feel the way Neil does, and I don't seem to be able to get him, or any other observer that I have tried to convince, to understand why I think his baseball world view is wrong. There is a very popular quote (attributed variously to Twain, Disraeli and Courtney) that states something along the lines that 'there are three types of lie - lies, damn lies and statistics' that has caught the general public's imagination and seems to underpin a very general dislike of statistics - it doesn't seem to matter that the quote is in itself, a lie - well white lies have to count as a category in themselves?

The 'observer's' view is that what they see with their eye is a more reliable source than that measured by a statistic - they don't buy into my theory that a statistic is simply a factual measurement of what his eye sees. If Eckstein's fielding percentage is .980, and Neil had watched him field 980 of 1,000 total chances, then his eyes and the statistic would have come to the same conclusion. Would the statistic support the conclusion that Eckstein is the best SS in baseball - well no - a statistic is always objective, the opinion formed from the statistic, or formed in defining the statistic in the first place is subjective, and put on the statistic by the observer.

Neil doesn't believe that Eckstein is the best SS in baseball, but chooses to interpret a limited fielding statistic to prove that [all] statistics are invalid - clearly, all I think that it tells me, is that of the chances reached by Eckstein, he had the highest % converted into outs - it doesn't tell me whether he is getting to all the chances that a SS should be getting, nor does it tell me about potential double plays that have gotten away because of his (perceived) weak arm, it doesn't tell me anything about how the official scorer has chosen to interpret certain plays, or numerous other scenarios that should be taken into account in such a discussion.

Are my eyes useless in helping with the debate - no they aren't, but they are limited to what they see. To say that Tejada is the best SS in baseball based on only on my eyes, I have to have seen him play quite a few times - and again, how many times is a suitable measure? is one observation by a scout, better than 10 times by a fan - as well as every other SS in baseball that I think he is better than. How do I do that? I can subscribe to MLB Extra Innings and give up on life, or I can watch SportsCenter and see how he looks in highlights clips night after night, or I can watch him and just state... he is a fantastic SS. And that is fine for observing current players - how do we compare players across era's - was Honus Wagner really any good?

To me there is another simpler way - we can look at the statistics, we can put more value on the statistics that we think are useful, and discount the ones that we don't, we can take years of data into account rather than the however many games we see - and we can also take into account that which we see with our eyes - we just can't let our personal experience outweigh all the other evidence. If I see Derek Jeter make an outstanding catch, diving into the stands to create an out at a critical spot in a non-critical game... he has to be a great SS doesn't he? Well he might be, but that evidence isn't enough. What about that game in April v Kansas City, what about that game in September v the White Sox... neither of which I saw because there was something better on Channel 206?

Statistics aren't all seeing - there are simply too many variables to take into account that we cannot reasonably measure - how hard was the wind blowing, how bright was the sun, how hard was the field etc, etc - but equally our eyes and brains don't take all these things into account either - to dismiss statistics on the basis that they aren't perfect... well neither am I!

1 threw a strike:

At 9:36 pm, Blogger Pete J said...

The problem in the way a lot of people look to statistical analysis is that they look at certain numbers independently instead of really looking at four or five different stats, put them together and draw up their conclusions based upon that.

Another problem is that people weight their priorities differently e.g. I don't rate strikeouts as being a sign of a good pitcher but I place a lot of stock in control which is one of many reasons I rate Maddux ahead of Clemens. You can look at that and say I am wrong but thats what I think based upon my own readings of statistics.

Of course fielding is an entity all of its own and quite frankly I don't know a single stat that can truly tell you if someone is a good fielder or not.

Fielding percentage is just the most useless statistic known to baseball. If a player converts a chance is not the issue its the quality of the chances and the number of chances they have that truly show how good they are.

Mike Bordick, to the best of my knowledge, holds the record for fielding percentage by shortstops (.982) but only a fool would say he was a better defensive shortstop than Ozzie Smith and his .978 or fielding percentage or someone like Rey Ordonez and his .976 average.

The Sporting News recently had an article which stated that range factor (putouts+assists/innings played) was the new stat that shows how good fielders are but once again that really doesn't cover it as it works to the detrement of infielders who play for a team with flyball pitchers and boosts players who play on infields with long grass (Wrigley). It also purports that using this criteria that Albert Pujols is the top first baseman in baseball but I would still rather have a Doug Mientkiewicz or Derrek Lee.

There are too many variables when it comes to fielding and its just impossible to satisfy all of them. Can you really make a statistical allowance for a swirling wind, a white roof or when the ball strikes a bird?

The observation theory is OK if you know what you are looking for but is by no means infallible, again due to all the intangibles that might have come into play on the given day you watched them.

The answer really lies somewhere between the two but God only knows where and how we can quantify it.


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