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?