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Bob Ryan asks if the average fan cares about baseball stats

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Bob Ryan penned the latest edition of an article in which a sportswriter complains about all these new-fangled stats everybody’s using nowadays. He writes that back in his day, managers only got stats on little index cards and went with their guts. Ryan says he feels compelled to keep up with the stats junkies lest he be viewed as a Luddite, then asks if the average fan truly cares about the stats.

The answer to that is an easy yes. Many fans are involved in fantasy baseball in some way, shape, or form and fantasy baseball is the most applicable use of Sabermetrics for the average fan. They may not understand the advanced stats themselves, but they visit websites that display and interpret them and they follow the writers on Twitter and participate in those writers’ live chats.

But the practical answer is that while the fans may not desire an intimate knowledge of the stats themselves, they do care if their favorite teams are abreast of the latest trends. As a Phillies fan, I’ve long been reading the criticism of GM Ruben Amaro for the organization’s slowness to adapt to the statistical zeitgeist. Generally speaking, teams that have adopted statistical analysis have experienced more success in recent years and it’s readily apparent. Fans don’t like watching their team lose, and a failure to utilize important, available information is one of several factors that goes into failing to reach the playoffs. Thus, fans like stats if it helps their team win.

Where Ryan really loses the argument is when he, like every other sportswriter to have made the case, says that numbers junkies can’t appreciate a baseball game. Ryan writes that they get angry at every decision a manager makes, be it lineup construction or bullpen usage. Would that every fan cared as much about the game that deeply — baseball might one day close the popularity gap between itself and the National Football League. And, by the way, casual fans are just as guilty of second-guessing. Everybody has that uncle who yells at the TV. If they don’t, it’s their dad.

Ultimately, Major League Baseball should hope that more and more fans care about the game enough to delve deep into the numbers. That kind of engagement creates a long-lasting relationship with the sport. How many kids grew to love and appreciate baseball by gawking at the numbers — even if they were batting average, home runs, and RBI — on the backs of baseball cards even as recently as 20 years ago? Instead of questioning whether fans really care to engage that deeply, we should be encouraging them specifically to engage that deeply.

The National Anthem: an unwavering sports tradition . . . since the 1940s

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Associated Press
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There’s an interesting article over that the New York Times in the wake of the Colin Kaepernick stuff. This one is about the history of the National Anthem at sporting events.

The anthem is a fixture for as long as those of us reading this blog have been attending games and it’d be weird if it wasn’t there. But it hasn’t always been there, the Times notes. Indeed, it was not a regular fixture until 1942 when it was added for the obvious reason that we were at war. The other major sports leagues all adopted the anthem soon after. The NBA at the inception of the league in 1946 and the NHL in the same year. The NFL’s spokesman doesn’t mention a year, but notes that it’s a non-negotiable part of the game experience. The non-negotiability of it is underscored by the comment from the MLS spokesman who notes that they felt that they had no choice but to play the anthem when that league began play in the 1990s.

I like the anthem at ballgames. It just seems like part of the experience. I like it for its own sake, at least if the performance isn’t too over the top, and I like it because it serves as a nice demarcation between all of the pregame b.s. and the actual game starting.

But this article reminds us that there is no immutable structural reason for the anthem at games. Other countries don’t play their own anthems at their sporting events. We don’t play it before movies or plays or other non-sports performances. It’s a thing that we do which, however much of a tradition it has become, is somewhat odd when you think about it for a moment. And which has to seem pretty rote to the actual ballplayers who hear it maybe 180 times a year.

Jeremy Jeffress will enter rehab after Friday’s DWI arrest

CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 23:  Jeremy Jeffress #23 of the Texas Rangers pitches in the seventh inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on August 23, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Cincinnati defeated Texas 3-0.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
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Rangers reliever Jeremy Jeffress was arrested on Friday for driving while intoxicated (DWI). According to a report from WFAA-TV in Dallas, Jeffress changed lanes without signaling and almost hit a car. While he was undergoing sobriety tests, he could not keep his balance or stand on one leg. His blood-alcohol content registered at .115.

Major League Baseball has opted not to suspend Jeffress as he has voluntarily chosen to check into an inpatient rehabilitation clinic, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reports. He’s expected to spend about a month at the clinic, which is based in Houston. There is still a possibility Jeffress can rejoin the Rangers in time for the postseason.

Jeffress issued a statement, which Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports provided:

This is not the first time Jeffress has had trouble with substance abuse. He was suspended 50 games in 2007 after testing positive for a second time for a drug of abuse, which was marijuana. He tested positive again in June 2009 and was suspended 100 games. It was later revealed that Jeffress suffers from juvenile epilepsy and he was self-medicating with marijuana.

Hopefully, his time in rehab helps him recover from substance abuse. Substance abuse is an issue about which people have a shortage of empathy, especially when it comes to celebrities, including athletes.

The Rangers acquired Jeffress along with catcher Jonathan Lucroy from the Brewers at the August 1 trade deadline. They sent prospects Lewis Brinson, Luis Ortiz, and a player to be named to Milwaukee. In nine appearances with the Rangers, Jeffress has a 4.00 ERA and a 6/5 K/BB ratio.