MY NAME IS PITT, AND I'M NOT BUYING YOUR [EXCREMENT]
Pardon the paraphrase of Jules from Pulp Fiction. I'll readily acknowledge that turn of phrase did not spring forth first when I read Jason Whitlock's anti-statistics musings. It came as I watched The X Factor last night with Mrs. TetreaultVision. The final Dallas contestant came out spouting attitude and proceeded to sing just well enough that his pomposity earned him a cluster of no votes and a dejected march backstage.
I quipped at first, people buy from those they like, a reality driven home as I work to become a successful salesman of enterprise software. But then the thought coalesced into the title of this post, and I've tried applying it to the stories I've read this morning.
Per Whitlock, statistics are ruining sports. Well no, they aren't. They just make a less informed world view increasingly untenable. Need proof? Come and see how readily Whitlock's intellectual bankruptcy shines through by the end of the piece:
I don't know the answer. But I want to discuss and debate it. And I don't want to do it with people who simply want to quote stats. The answers and the questions that make sports special, unique, our collective national pastime, can't be found on a stat sheet. They're in our imaginations and our individual interpretation of what we witness.
When the "Moneyball" movie hysteria subsides, I hope the sabermeticians [sic] STFU.
Of course. All good debates should center around one faction Sierra Tango Foxtrot Uniforming, amirite? Makes it much easier for the ideological opponents on the other side. Because when one group Sierra Tango Foxtrot Uniforms all the debate ceases in a grand crashing halt. Add in your own screeching tire sound effects. Go ahead. Your cubemates will laugh at you, but that's okay.
Debate is the clarification of ideas in open competition. Thus debate is at minimum a dialogue, which etymologists tell us stems from the Greek words dia, which means through, and logos, which means discourse. So through discourse we arrive at agreement. And whether that agreement is the agreement to disagree or at some point of commonality upon which both parties can agree matters not. Debate begins with discussion and ends with clarity.
Sports engender passionate feelings among its many followers. We love our teams. We love the thrilling plays and many of us love a deeper understanding of those contests.
Find yourself in coherent congruence with any of my ideals, I bet you do. All of them, not likely at all. Report writers (and really most every database user) understand this inherently. If I join search terms with OR I get everything that matches at least one, and a big crowd. Couple them together with AND and you get a radically smaller subset. Thus debate is natural and needed among sports fans, and no matter of jargon laced monologues will silence those discussions.
The idea that Whitlock's desire is for those he disdains to Shut The Uck Fup suggests his claims of statistics chilling debate are more projective than steeped in any actual event of sabermetricians telling the other side that they need to zip it. Debate ends either when the moderator declares time is up or one side presents an argument so clear and compelling that it convinces the other side of its wrongness. You cannot silence others with your perspective, unless you convince and convert them to your way of thinking.
Whitlock's disconnect comes from the ignorance of the press about which they cover. Media types tend to align themselves ideologically and philosophically with the sources they cultivate. We buy a line of reasoning from those with which we agree. In the case of folks like the "olde tyme sports writers", these notions of analysis are as incomprehensible to them as they are to the people within the game to whom they speak.
Because the people who help inform his worldview of sports are not espousing a sabermetric viewpoint, there is no effective check on his assumption that statistical analysis is bad. Using that echo chamber to define your point as correct is lazy and incurious. Much like the stat head who regurgitates numbers without adequate observation or context is equally lazy and incurious. Only in combining our powers of observation, concrete data and adequate unseeable context can we best understand the world around us. Including the games about which we are passionate.
We choose to ignore that truth at our own peril. I'll leave you with this quote from F.A. Hayek, which strikes me as entirely relevant:
The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.no comments
BASEBALL ENDURES: With professional football kicking off tonight, I'm reminded that baseball's marathon draws towards its inevitable end. For six months, the promise of more summer days beguiled us, beginning when pitchers and catchers reported in February. But now with days visibly shorter and cooler air enveloping us, we turn our eyes towards autumnal pursuits. Teams that thrilled in the early going have wilted down the stretch. In a shock, last year's champion has been unseated by a pack of upstarts.
I think that baseball becomes a game that we collectively follow more as years pile up on our internal odometers. Time passes. Such is the nature of baseball where change (and Red Sox-Yankee games) moves at a glacier's pace, slowly reworking the landscape incrementally. Football is more an earthquake - violently jarring us to full attention. Not to say that the young can't enjoy baseball and those not so young loathe football, but that we tend to relate more to the former as we examine the marathon of our lives and pace ourselves after our all-out sprint.
So, the baseball blogosphere found itself in a snarling contest, thanks in no small part to the work of a writer at a blog I regularly follow and one time even wrote for. The Sporting Hippeaux dropped a bomb on the acolytes of WAR and ruffled the feathers of the great Rob Neyer and Tangotiger, who followed up with a functional defense of WAR later. But his comments most recently illustrated the point of what makes Hippeaux' post great. Hippeaux researched and revealed a germ of truth in his analysis that will expand our knowledge of the game. Hats off to him.
Sabermetrics has been and remains a quest to understand the game of baseball more completely than mere observation allows. No other sport devotes such attention to minutiae in such a pursuit. Because all other sports center on one of three aspects. The ball. The chase. The fight. This is why gymnastics, diving and figure skating, while remarkable athletic competitions are not sports. The ball, the chase, the fight provide objective understanding that clarifies the nature of the contest. Usain Bolt is the fastest man on the planet, because he is. Mike Tyson was a devastating fighter because for one amazing stretch, he pummeled all who stood in his path. Whether its football, basketball, soccer, hockey, or whatever ball-centric sport you follow (Congrats to the Boston Cannons adding to the Best. Decade. Evah.) the games that use the ball to tally points have a defined and objectively measured results.
But not baseball.
Baseball uses incremental progression to mark its results. In football a few unlucky bounces can doom a team that has dominated its opponent. In baseball, a masterful, dominant pitching performance can end with one swing of the bat piercing the night. Nine batters take their turn against each pitcher, trying to evade outs and add runs. Our understanding is enhanced by delving deeper into the underlying aspects of the game. What players get on base, enabling their teammates the opportunity to drive them home? And which when presented that opportunity succeed? Which pitchers understand the mechanics of what they control and benefit from slick fielders backing them up? We understand this and more through unpacking the component parts and more thoroughly consuming the games themselves. Is WAR perfect? Hardly. Nothing created by man shall be. Not baseball, and certainly not the metrics we use. But we can strive to make them more perfect, a cause Hippeaux has aided.
As did Michael Lewis when he published Moneyball in 2003. And now, eight years later, when we have seen ample evidence that Billy Beane's stuff (I'm paraphrasing) could be copied and perfected by others, a major motion picture arrives to rehash (and rewrite) the tale of the little Oakland that could. I'm immersing myself in sports dramas this month, with the excellent Warrior fresh in my mind, I await another attempt at baseball on the big screen. But knowing how the story ends will undeniably spoil the show.
Let's talk Warrior for a second. Opening wide tomorrow, I snuck into a screening with Mrs. TetreaultVision to enjoy the first really great MMA drama. A tale streaked with dysfunction and dedicated to the proposition that sometimes wounds heal only when there is a bloodletting. Tommy (Tom Hardy) and Brendan (Joel Edgerton) are the focus, but the overriding specter of their father (Nick Nolte) haunts both men. The notes are somewhat melodramatic. Brendan fights to save his home. Tommy fights because his heart is filled with rage from the way his father, brother and country abandoned him and his compatriots. Consequences pile up as Brendan gets suspended from his job for his side job and Tommy faces punishment for his own act of abandonment. Nolte's Paddy Conlon suffers most for his years of drinking, isolated, alone, left with meetings and 12 steps and no connection to either son. You root for healing and triumph, but only one fighter can win. Back top that idea above of the clarifying nature of fights. And in the end you are left to make your choice. Which Warrior would you choose? Good stuff all around.
Ach, nearly 1000 words later and I'm still rambling. Quickly then: The Zealots have the results of the Bloguin Heisman poll up, and I'm pleased to participate. More loquacious breakdowns will arrive next week. Peyton Manning may be done. And that leaves the great Nate Dunlevy filled with sorrow not only at the prospect that an era is over, but that he must stoically bear the pall in the procession. His reporting has been top notch. And worthy of your attention and respect.
I like the Saints tonight. And Oklahoma St. I doubt Tim Wakefield will ever win #200. I think the NBA Lockout is dragging through November. I await the New Years Eve visit of the Stanley Cup Champion Bruins to the Metroplex. I miss Woody Durham. I applaud Maury Brown's fantastic reporting on the story of Jim Crane. Back to back seasons with Texas based teams in contentious sales. Thankfully the state is out of MLB teams. Full slate of college top 25 picks tomorrow. Headlines, if time permits.no comments
TIME FOR LUNCH. Many years ago when I was but a lad and mastodons still roamed the plains freely, consuming entire swaths of scrub grass as they went, Roger Clemens on the heels of his first Cy Young Award stormed out of Red Sox camp demanding a better deal than the one the team was allowed under the CBA to pay him.
Gorman, when questioned by a ravenous pack of rabid hyenas, better known as the Red Sox press corps, responded to the tantrum that indeed, the sun would rise, the sun would set and he'd have lunch and those were the three things he could count on that day.
Words to live by. And on that note, it's time for me to affirm the validity of the third truism Gorman uttered. Here's to you, Lou.
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