Over at the Angels blog Halos Heaven, they’re interviewing their own writers so that readers can get to know them. The man who goes by the name of Suboptimal was asked about his thoughts on the “stats vs. chemistry” debate. Or, as I took his answer to mean, the interplay between statistical analysis of baseball and coverage of the personality-based aspects of baseball by the traditional media.
In my view, there is a balance. You have to understand what happens in baseball in objective terms (the stats), but you also must know the limits of statistical analysis. Especially the fact that they do a way better job of explaining what happened as opposed to what is happening or what will happen in the future. Suboptimal seems to grok this concept quite well, and his answer is pretty much the best take on the basic problem I’ve ever read:
I like advanced metrics. As fans, we don’t have access to what happens inside the clubhouse. Unfortunately, the people who get paid to tell us what happens inside the clubhouse are autocratic, pretentious, and incoherent. Sabermetrics is a fantastic critique of bad sportswriting, bad broadcasting, and downright bad thinking. On the other hand, even though heavy stats are great for beating the shit out of bad ideas, it’s much harder to use them constructively. The system is built on correlations and probabilities, which can never predict the result of a single event like a critical late-inning pinch-hit appearance. The ebb and flow of the game is still a human drama, so I don’t think the “stats” and “chemistry” perspectives are necessarily in opposition, although many years of arguing has made them appear so.
I’d only add the words “some of” in between “unfortunately” and “the people” in that third sentence, but otherwise he’s spot on.
Things are way better than they used to be. A great many of the people covering games — especially the beat writers, who tend to skew younger — seamlessly blend stats and non-stat analysis and reporting, giving us a holistic view of things. As is almost always the case in this world, however, you gotta beware of the people who believe that they and their fellow travelers have a monopoly on wisdom and who speak in absolutes.