How not to criticize sabermetrics

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I like the idea of Bill Simmons’ new Grantland site.  I think we need more deep-thinking, longer lede sports writing.  Someplace where folks who consume their sports news in 35 bloggy bits a day (ahem) can go and breathe a bit. But really, if you’re gonna go through the trouble of building such a site, make sure it has a bit more rigor to it, will ya?

Setting me off is Jonah Lehrer’s piece today in which he criticizes sabermetrics.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not one of those people who get all angry when someone criticizes stuff to which I’m partial. Everything is better when put to constructive criticism.  Only, Lehrer doesn’t do that. He offers criticisms that are completely unsupported with any reference to observable fact:

My worry is that sports teams are starting to suffer from a version of the horsepower mistake. Like a confused car shopper, they are seeking out the safety of math, trying to make extremely complicated personnel decisions by fixating on statistics … coaches and fans use the numbers as an excuse to ignore everything else, which is why our obsession with sabermetrics can lead to such shortsighted personnel decisions.

Except there isn’t one example cited in the entire article where an “obsession with sabermetrics” has led a coach or a general manager astray.  Not one “team that has suffered from a version of horsepower mistake.”  He notes that the Mavericks got a lot out of some players who aren’t statistical darlings, but his citation to the Lakers — who he appears to be setting up as one of those stats obsessed teams, but doesn’t quite come out and say it — is horribly wrongheaded given that they, you know, had won the previous two championships and previous three conference titles.

In the end, this is an aimless, cranky complaint at best. It’s a misleading strawman argument at worst.  If you’re going to accuse sabermetrics of leading organizations astray, shouldn’t you be obligated to cite a single example?

The Red Sox start is ridiculous

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The red-hot Red Sox completed a sweep of the previously red-hot Angels last night, outscoring them 27-3 in their three-game series. Last night’s game was, relatively speaking, a close one, with the Sox winning “only” by six runs. They did manage to strike out Shohei Ohtani three times, though, so some style points help make up for the “squeaker.” Also worth noting that they held Mike Trout of all people to a 3-for-11 line in their three-game series. He did not score a single time and drove in no runs.

That series win puts the Sox at 16-2 on the year. They dropped their Opening Day game to the Rays, but then won their next six games against Tampa Bay, which I’d say makes up for it. In between those two series they swept a two-game series from the Marlins and afterwards they took two of three from the Yankees and three in a row from the Orioles. The only thing that even threatened to slow this juggernaut down is the weather, resulting in a postponement of Monday morning’s Patriot’s Day game. Somewhere in here we should notice that they’re doing this with their starting shortstop and starting second baseman on the disabled list.

As we’ve noted many times, their 16-2 record is the best start in the Red Sox’ 118-year history. It’s also the best start for any team since the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers began 17-1 (let us just forget, for the time being, that those Brewers lost 18 of 20 in May of that year). They are the fourth team since 1961 to win 16 of its first 18 games.

The Sox aren’t simply getting lucky here. They’ve scored 116 runs and have allowed only 50, which is a Pythagorean record of 15-3. They lead all of baseball in offense, scoring 6.44 runs a game, leading individually in average, on-base percentage and slugging. They are only three one hundredths of a run behind the Astros from leading all of baseball in pitching, allowing only 2.78 runs a game. They’re winning all of these games because, in the early going, they’ve simply been that dang much better than everyone they’ve played.

No, the Sox are not going to go 144-18, as they are currently on pace to do. Yes, they are going to find a lot more trouble in their schedule once they play the Orioles, Rays and Marlins less, play a healthier Yankees team more and face off against the Astros, the Blue Jays, the Indians, the Twins and some tougher interleague opponents. This is baseball, obviously, and no one makes it through a season without rough patches, long, short and numerous.

Still: this has been one whale of a start for Boston. Those wins are in the bank. It’s been quite the thing to see.