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

78 Comments

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.

There will be a pitch clock for spring training

Associated Press
1 Comment

Major League Baseball just announced that there will be a pitch clock for spring training. It will be a 20-second pitch clock, phased in like so:

  • In the first Spring Training games, the 20-second timer will operate without enforcement so as to make players and umpires familiar with the new system;
  • Early next week, umpires will issue reminders to pitchers and hitters who violate the rule, but no ball-strike penalties will be assessed. Between innings, umpires are expected to inform the club’s field staff (manager, pitching coach or hitting coach) of any violations; and
  • Later in Spring Training, and depending on the status of the negotiations with the Major League Baseball Players Association, umpires will be instructed to begin assessing ball-strike penalties for violations.

As is the case in the minors, the batter will have to be in the batter’s box and alert to the pitcher with at least five seconds remaining on the timer; and the pitcher needs only to begin his windup before the 20-second timer expires, as opposed to having thrown the pitch. The timer will not be used on the first pitch of any at-bat. Rather, it begins running prior to the second pitch once the pitcher receives the ball from the catcher.

The league has not decided if the pitch clock will be used in the regular season yet. It can do so unilaterally, without union approval, for one year if it chooses to since it first introduced the idea last year.

There will likely be a lot of complaining about this, but as someone who has been to several minor league games with the clock in place, it’s pretty seamless and not noticeable. Minor leaguers had few if any complaints about its implementation.