A friend asked me if there was a point to the “Moneyball” movie coming out now, several years after the book. All of the lessons its insights have long since been coopted and mainstreamed, my friend said. It’s kind of old news.
I considered the argument for a minute and, as I often do, I randomly surged the web as I thought. I somehow landed on Jerry Green’s column in the Detroit News, lamenting the fact that “narrow-minded” baseball writers will “gyp” Justin Verlander of the MVP award because they’re under the spell of voodoo baseball metrics:
The problem is with the voters, the select journalists in the Baseball Writers Association assigned to the voting. Two from each franchise city. And the problem is that this exotic math known as Sabermetrics has contaminated baseball’s once-neat statistical system. We have cryptic designations such as WHIP and WAR and OPS thrown about by stats geeks who believe themselves to be geniuses with ciphers.
And you know exactly what’s next. No, not some call for a more subjective criteria for MVP. A desire to insert drama and good stories into the mix. I could at least understand that kind of argument as an appeal for something different. No, what comes next is Green saying “all of these stats are awful” and proving the point by citing … other stats:
I prefer the ancient meat-and-potatoes stats — a better mixture. Batting average, home runs, runs batted in, runs scored for the position players. Victories, earned run average and strikeouts for pitchers.
And what I do know is that Justin Verlander has won 22 games this season against five losses. His total projects to 24 or 25 victories. No other pitcher in the major leagues is anywhere near him. And I know that his strikeout total, 232, is the highest in baseball and that his ERA, 2.24, is tied with Jered Weaver’s for the lowest in the American League.
All that is in the baseball’s ancient stats info. You could look it up — as this ancient did.
As always, these arguments are not about statistics. Or even about baseball. They’re about politics. Tradition vs. modernity. Fear of change in a changing world. Baseball statistics are simply the McGuffin in this grand debate. It could just as easily be music, hairstyles or the height of one’s pants.