I’ve known Ken Arneson, in that way you “know” certain people on the Internet, for years. He’s an incredibly smart guy who thinks about baseball in ways that form a bit of a tangent from your typical analytically-minded person. He’s certainly well-versed in sabermetrics and the like, but he’s also maintained a good bit of healthy skepticism and distance from it all.
Which allows him to drop utter bombs like his piece today, which should blow people’s minds. At least the minds of people who are familiar with advanced analysis but maybe don’t engage with it themselves in a hands-on way. I’m one of those people — a fellow traveller of the stats folks and, at times, a member of its liberal arts wing, as Jay Jaffe describes it — and because of that I am not the first person to identify flawed thinking among the folks whose work I otherwise appreciate and follow.
But Ken is a computer science guy, and today he has some amazingly smart observations about how baseball is analyzed and what, as a result of that process, is missed. Fundamental things about how the basic language we use colors our ability to see certain things. About how, because we use databases to analyze baseball, we are biased in favor of things databases can capture but unwittingly blind to those it cannot.
The central observation and biggest takeaway, I think, is that THE biggest thing in baseball is this:
But I do know that if I were to build a technology for analyzing baseball, this is where I would begin, right at the core of the game, the engine that drives the sport: what pitch the batter is expecting from the pitcher, and what happens when the pitch he gets conforms or deviates from that expectation.
Ken lays that all out in very clear and illuminating terms, and it is incredibly compelling. He allows that teams may very well be working on this game theory-ish piece of the game already — I’m assuming they are — but the public analysis of the game at places like sabermetric websites, blogs and, increasingly, mainstream baseball outlets fails to capture this because it really doesn’t have the tools to do so.
Just some super thought-provoking stuff that you should check out ASAP.