Baseball’s official historian slams statistical analysis

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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.

Marcus Stroman loses no-hit bid in the seventh inning of WBC final against Puerto Rico

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
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Update (11:57 PM ET): And it’s over. Angel Pagan led off the bottom of the seventh with a line drive double down the left field line off of Stroman, ending the no-hitter. Manager Jim Leyland immediately removed Stroman from the game.

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U.S. starter Marcus Stroman has held Puerto Rico hitless through six innings thus far in the World Baseball Classic final. The Blue Jays’ right-hander has held the opposition to just one base runner — a walk — with three strikeouts on 68 pitches.

WBC rules limit a pitcher to throwing a maximum of 95 pitches in the Championship Round, so Stroman has 27 pitches left with which to play. If he hits the limit during the at-bat, he can continue throwing to the completion of that at-bat. Needless to say, though, Stroman won’t be finishing his potential no-no.

The U.S. has given four runs of support to Stroman. Ian Kinsler hit a two-run homer in the third inning. Then, in the fifth, Christian Yelich and Andrew McCutchen both provided RBI singles. Update: The U.S. tacked on three more in the top of the seventh when Brandon Crawford drove in two with a bases-loaded single and Giancarlo Stanton followed up with an RBI single.

We’ll keep you updated as Stroman and any pitchers that follow him attempt to complete the no-hitter. Shairon Martis is the only player to throw a no-hitter in WBC history. However, the game ended after seven innings due to the mercy rule, or as it’s known now, the “early termination” rule.

Video: Ian Kinsler homers in WBC final, rounds bases solemnly

Harry How/Getty Images
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Ian Kinsler found himself in hot water on Wednesday evening when he criticized the way players from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic play baseball. It is his hope that kids watching the World Baseball Classic decide to emulate the emotionless way players from the U.S. play baseball as opposed to the exciting, cheerful way players from other countries tend to play the game.

Needless to say, Kinsler’s comments didn’t sit well with many people, but he has the most recent laugh. Kinsler broke a scoreless tie in the top of the third inning of Wednesday night’s WBC final against Puerto Rico, slugging a two-run home run to left-center field at Dodger Stadium off of Seth Lugo.

Kinsler, of course, rounded the bases solemnly which is sure to highlight just how cool and exciting the game of baseball is to international viewers.