Nate Silver

Old story: The insiders go after the stat guys. New twist: in politics

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Nate Silver is known for two things: (1) being one of the old school Baseball Prospectus people, where he developed the PECOTA projection system; and (2) being a political polling analyst/prognosticator and proprietor of the FiveThirtyEight.com blog, which appears in the New York Times. He used to crunch baseball numbers. Now he crunches political polling data. Viva varied interests and transferable skills.

One of the facts of life for the early Baseball Prospectus folks was the skepticism to the point of disdain they received — and in some cases still receive — for their methods, conclusions and tone, with said skepticism and disdain coming most significantly from the establishment baseball press.  The worst of that is long over — most baseball writers now accept that general take — and it’s actually notable now when someone whips out a decade-old criticism of sabermetrics and other Baseball Prospectusy things.

Silver is reliving the bad old days in the political arena, however, as in recent weeks a healthy portion of the political punditry has become consumed with attacking Silver, his methods, his conclusions and his tone. While I don’t have nearly the investment in the political stuff as I do the baseball stuff, as far as I can tell, most of the criticism of Silver’s work is based on (a) a basic misunderstanding of statistics and what they can and cannot prove; and (b) a resentment of sorts that someone from the outside, as opposed to political writers who have made their bones pressing the flesh, is making headlines and earning a paycheck in their business.

Gee, sound familiar?

I am not going to jump into the specifics of that debate here because this is a baseball blog and not a political one, but the broad strokes of it all are instructive for our purposes.  The best summary of it I’ve seen so far — one which actually explains why these camps fight the way they do as opposed to merely arguing up one side or down the other — comes from Mark Coddington, who has a great post up today talking about it all.

The executive summary: when someone gets their information and their authority from being on the inside, they are inevitably wary, and often hostile to those who seek to play in their sandbox without getting their information and authority from the inside themselves.

I would also add that those on the outside have historically tended to be overly dismissive of information from people who work on the inside, and have their own history of hostility toward their inside counterparts. There are differences in how that is all manifested — one side clearly is the establishment here and one side the newcomers, which shapes the rhetoric of it all — but it’s mostly a fight about how one comes by information and what one considers to be legitimate information.

It’s a fascinating topic. One which I think serves all of us who care about the information we get and are critical of its sources. And Coddington, I think, does a great job of laying it all out without getting sucked into the minutiae of the actual warring camps.

Don Mattingly thinks pace of play can be improved by changing views on strikeouts

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly sits in the dugout prior to a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Monday, April 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo
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Marlins manager Don Mattingly has one potential solution to the pace of play issue: change the way people value strikeouts, the Associated Press reports.

Strikeouts have been rising steadily since 2005. Then, a typical game averaged 6.30 strikeouts. In 2016, there were 8.03 strikeouts per game. There are many explanations for this phenomenon. For one, teams are searching specifically for young pitchers who can throw hard — like triple-digits hard. They figure they can teach them the other pertinent skills in the minors. Second, Sabermetrics has shown that a strikeout is only marginally worse than an out made on a ball put in play. Sometimes, the strikeout is preferable, especially if there’s a runner on first base with less than two outs and a weak hitter at the plate. Sabermetrics has also shown home runs to be the best and most efficient way to contribute on offense. Furthermore, younger players tend to focus more on power in order to get noticed by scouts. Unless it’s paired with other elite skills, a scout isn’t going to remember a player who hit the ball into the hole on the right side, but he will remember the kid who blasted a 450-foot homer.

Here’s what Mattingly had to say:

Analytically, a few years back nobody cared about the strikeout, so it’s OK to strike out 150, 160, 170 times, and that guy’s still valued in a big way. Well, as soon as we start causing that to be a bad value — the strikeouts — guys will put the ball in play more. So once we say strikeouts are bad and it’s going to cost you money the more you strike out, then the strikeouts will go away. Guys will start making adjustments and putting the ball in play more.

[…]

If our game values [say that] strikeouts don’t matter, they are going to keep striking out, hitting homers, trying to hit home runs and striking out.

Simply believing strikeouts are bad won’t magically change its value. However, creating social pressure regarding striking out can change it. Theoretically, anyway. Creating that social pressure is easier said than done.

There is a dichotomy here as well. Home runs are exciting. Strikeouts and walks are not. Often, though, the three go hand-in-hand-in-hand. A player actively trying to cut down on his strikeouts by putting the ball in play will also likely cut down on his strikeout and walk rates. There doesn’t seem to be an elegant solution here. Wishing for fewer strikeouts, walks, and homers doesn’t really seem to give way to a more exciting game.

Sean Doolittle: “Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans.”

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 25:  Sean Doolittle #62 of the Oakland Athletics pitches during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 25, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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In the past, we’ve commented on Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle and his girlfriend Eireann Dolan’s community service. In 2015, the pair hosted Syrian refugee families for Thanksgiving and their other charitable efforts have included LGBTQ outreach and help for veterans.

Athletes and their significant others have typically avoided stepping into political waters, but Doolittle and Dolan have shown that it’s clearly no concern to them. In the time since, the Syrian refugee issue has become even more of a hot-button issue and Doolittle recently discussed it with Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.

I think America is the best country in the world because we’ve been able to attract the best and brightest people from all over the world. We have the smartest doctors and scientists, the most creative and innovative thinkers. A travel ban like this puts that in serious jeopardy.

I’ve always thought that all boats rise with the tide. Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans. But if we include them, we can make the pie that much bigger, thus ensuring more opportunities for everyone.

Doolittle, of course, is referring to Executive Order 13769 signed by President Trump which sought to limit incoming travel to the United States from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. A temporary restraining order on the executive order was placed on February 3, a result of State of Washington v. Trump.

Doolittle spoke more about the plight refugees face:

These are people fleeing civil wars, violence and oppression that we can’t even begin to relate to. I think people think refugees just kind of decide to come over. They might not realize it takes 18-24 months while they wait in a refugee camp. They go through more than 20 background checks and meetings with immigration officers. They are being vetted.

They come here, and they want to contribute to society. They’re so grateful to be out of a war zone or whatever they were running from in their country that they get jobs, their kids go to our schools, they’re paying taxes, and in a lot of cases, they join our military.

Around this time last year, Craig wrote about Doolittle and Dolan not sticking to baseball. They’re still not, nor should they be. Hopefully, the duo’s outspokenness inspires other players and their loved ones to speak up for what’s right.

[Hat tip: Deadspin’s Hannah Keyser]