John Thorn

Baseball’s official historian slams statistical analysis


What’s more unexpected: me linking a Bleacher Report column or baseball’s official historian — and sometime sabermetrician — John Thorn talking about how apocryphal tales are preferable to the actual nuts and bolts of what happened on the baseball diamond?

For a whole generation of fans and fantasy players, stats have begun to outstrip story and that seems to me a sad thing. Even the unverifiable hogwash that passed for fact or informed opinion in baseball circles not so long ago seems today wistfully enticing, for its energy if nothing else … Frankly, in today’s baseball writing I miss such [broadcaster Bill Stern’s] balderdash: the wink and the nudge of a Barnum or the tall-tale bluster of a Davy Crockett. Amid today’s mix of straight-on account and sabermetric analysis, I miss the fun …

… A decade ago, when counterintuitive strategy briefly was fashionable, someone thoughtfully provided a list of the all-time leaders in receiving intentional bases on balls with no one on base. This put me in mind of Thoreau’s remark in Walden: “It is not worth the while to go round the world to count the cats in Zanzibar.” Fixate on the particular and you miss the big story.

Except, the big story is often baloney without the particulars.

The reason why someone might measure intentional walks with no one on base is to figure out how fearsome the hitter was at the time in the eyes of his contemporaries.  To take that analysis away and rely on “ripping yarns,” you get people simply asserting that a certain player — like, say, Jim Rice — was feared when, in fact, he really wasn’t as scary as everyone says. Oh, and then that allegedly fearsome guy gets elected to the Hall of Fame based, primarily, on the strength of a ripping yarn as opposed to merit or even fact.

There is such a thing as bad or pointless statistical analysis, sure, but one of the biggest reasons sabermetrics exists is because there was so much bad narrative history being done that it left a significant segment of the fan base (i.e. the future statheads) dissatisfied with the way baseball was handling its history. It’s entirely possible to lose sight of the big picture when you dig into the numbers, but it’s just as easy — I’d say easier — to lose sight of what actually occurred when you rely on anecdote and memory.

The point of any worthwhile sabermetric analysis is to answer a human question, not to traffic in numbers for numbers’ sake.  Human questions that help illuminate baseball’s history in ways that, one would hope anyway, would inform someone who was just named baseball’s official historian.  That he seems to be missing this is somewhat unsettling.

Braves pitcher Matt Marksberry woken up from medically induced coma

ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 4: Matt Marksberry #66 of the Atlanta Braves throws an eighth inning pitch against the San Francisco Giants at Turner Field on August 4, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Braves pitcher Matt Marksberry has been woken up from a medically-induced coma at an Orlando-area hospital. Marksberry complained of stomach pain and went in for a colonoscopy on Tuesday. During the procedure, he suffered a seizure and a collapsed lung.

Marksberry’s brother Ethan said on Facebook that doctors were removing an endotracheal tube, preparing to wake him from from the coma.

Marksberry tweeted on Monday:

Here’s hoping for the best for Marksberry as he recovers from this scary health issue.

Marksberry, 26, missed the last two months of the season with a shoulder injury. He spent most of the season with Triple-A Gwinnett but did face 17 batters at the big league level for the Braves this season.

Here are the lineups for NLCS Game 5

David Ross
Getty Images

It’s tied 2-2, but if you’re like most people you have feelings about who has an edge.

Maybe you’re a “momentum” person and you like the Cubs’ current vibe because they scored a bunch last night. Maybe you’re a “momentum is your next day’s starting pitcher” guy, and you prefer either Jon Lester or Kenta Maeda. Or maybe you’re playing chess with all of this and thinking a couple of moves ahead. As in “yes, the Cubs have an advantage tonight because Lester is better than Maeda, but if they DON’T win tonight they’re screwed because then they have to face Kershaw and Hill in Games 6 and 7.”

I dunno. I find all of that rather exhausting. Let’s just watch and see what happens. Here’s who will be doing the happening:


1. Dexter Fowler (S) CF
2. Kris Bryant (R) 3B
3. Anthony Rizzo (L) 1B
4. Ben Zobrist (S) LF
5. Javier Baez (R) 2B
6. Jason Heyward (L) RF
7. Addison Russell (R) SS
8. David Ross (R) C
9. Jon Lester (L) LHP


1. Kiké Hernández (R) 2B
2. Justin Turner (R) 3B
3. Corey Seager (L) SS
4. Carlos Ruiz (R) C
5. Howie Kendrick (R) LF
6. Adrian González (L) 1B
7. Yasiel Puig (R) RF
8. Joc Pederson (L) CF
9. Kenta Maeda (R) RHP