Wait, we’re still arguing that people who like stats don’t enjoy or appreciate baseball?

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Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe, who you think has met enough sports fans and analysts in his career to know better, decided to use his Sunday column to peddle the old b.s. about how people who are into statistical analysis don’t appreciate and enjoy baseball:

What ultimately matters is whether you can still appreciate a given baseball game. I wonder if the New Breed Stat Guys ever actually enjoy a game, because they are so obsessed with what the manager is or isn’t doing, based on the data in front of them. They’re often upset before the game even starts, because the lineup isn’t sufficiently stat-based. And God forbid the skipper who doesn’t properly handle what they have termed “high leverage” situations. Sometimes lost in all this is an appreciation of the aesthetics, whether it’s a great play in the hole by a shortstop or a snappy inning-ending 5-4-3 double play or a base runner cleverly taking an extra base. Or even a game-winning hit in the ninth inning if it happens to be delivered by someone other than the guy they thought should have been up at the plate. Sometimes the New Breed Stat Guys aren’t so good about accepting the vagaries of a very complex game.

This “all stats guys want to do is second guess” thing is exceedingly rich coming from Ryan, who makes a lot of money showing up on obnoxious, shouting television shows every day in which he and three or four other sports reporters spend a half hour second guessing every possible thing that happens in sports. But let’s leave that alone for now. Let’s let Ryan believe that, until Bill James came along, no one ever second guessed managers or lineups or strategies. That thinking the manager is making a mistake is purely a function of linear weights, statistical regression and WAR. You’re right, Bob. Nice catch.

What’s also rich? That it’s only sportswriters who come from the “no cheering, no rooting” school of reporting who accuse other people of not enjoying the game. Call me crazy, but those of us who routinely pay for our own seats, enjoy a beer while we watch the game and wear our fandom on our sleeves may be enjoying ourselves a wee bit more than the people who think the worst offense one can commit is showing some native and emotional enthusiasm for what happens on the field and who, at least if their Twitter content is any guide, spend far more time complaining about the air travel, deadlines, no-comments and everything else that comes with their chosen profession. I may be hyper-critical of Fredi Gonzalez’s decision to bunt in the third inning of a 0-0 game, but I defy anyone to hang out with me while I have the Barves on TV and accuse me of not enjoying it.

But neither of those things are really the issue here. No, what really mystifies me is how one can truly believe that people who devote all of their mental energy to figuring out baseball stats don’t appreciate or enjoy baseball. Has Ryan ever met a “New Breed Stat Guy?” Ever watched a game with one? I can tell you, there is no one more focused on baseball — aesthetically and intellectually — than one of those dudes. It’s almost as if scores and scores of them loved baseball so much that they ceased working on other things in their lives and devoted all of their energy and free to time to baseball, with some even giving up far more lucrative career tracks in order to pursue jobs working in or writing about the game. I’m struggling to think of any other similar obsession in any other walk of life one could have and be described as not appreciating the subject of the obsession.

“God, look at the guy who left his accounting career to write obsessively about gardening and then came up with new ways to talk about and understand gardening and then got that job working for The American Association of Gardeners. He must REALLY HATE gardening!”

That’s silly, but guys like Ryan say it about baseball geeks all the damn time.

I’ll agree with Ryan that most fans probably don’t care about advanced stats. The cool thing about that is that they don’t have to. No one is making them. Indeed, it’s perfectly easy to enjoy a game without thinking about stats once. I do it all the time when I have a game on TV or, even more so, when I’m at a park. Every stats person I know enjoys and appreciates baseball and its aesthetics in such a way. It’s almost like that’s what drew us to baseball to begin with and it’s almost as if we’d still pay attention to the game if someone took our spreadsheets away.

But it’s also worth remembering that all teams care about those things. They all have stats departments and analysts and they all make decisions based on the sorts of analysis Ryan dismisses as mere distraction and superfluity.  And it’s worth acknowledging that anyone who wants a deeper understanding of what teams do and why and what they might do in the future would be well-served to at least appreciate the broad concepts of advanced analysis. That’s just basic logic, right? “Who will the Mudville Nine trade for?” is best answered by knowing how the guy who runs the Mudville Nine thinks and what he believes will make the Mudville Nine better. To the extent Ryan thinks that only “New Breed Stat Geeks” care about such questions is crazy. Indeed, his entire career is based on readers and viewers caring about and wanting to know such things about the Red Sox, the Celtics, the Patriots and the Bruins.

So, if “New Breed Stat Geeks” enjoy and appreciate baseball — and they do — and lots of fans beyond “New Breed Stat Geeks” care about team strategy and decision making — and they do — why is Ryan so hostile to the stats stuff?

Is it because he doesn’t understand stats and, as is often the case with one who does not understand something, he is lashing out? I kinda doubt that. Ryan is not an idiot. I’ve seen him quickly explain statistical concepts in broad layman’s terms showing that he understands that stuff perfectly well. He’s like me, actually: not a numbers person by any stretch of the imagination, but conversant with the concepts behind them and what they’re trying to explain. He’d fit right in with the so-called Liberal Arts Wing of sabermetrics if he wanted to (though he obviously doesn’t want to). So that’s not it. Ryan understands these things.

Is it because he knows a lot of his readership doesn’t like or understand stats and he’s throwing them the sort of raw meat that people who truly don’t understand and/or hate stats like to chew on from time to time? Possibly. The comments to his column certainly brought those folks out to play today, so that’s a distinct possibility. But at the same time, Ryan doesn’t appear to be engaging in simple trolling of the “I don’t really believe what I’m arguing here but I’m arguing it anyway” variety. Just as I’ve seen him explain statistical concepts, I’ve seen him repeat versions of this argument in the past and I think he believes it well enough. Ryan isn’t being disingenuous here.

Is it because, while Ryan may not be specifically threatened by the stats, he feels threatened by the people who use them? The reporters, columnists, bloggers and — increasingly — front office personnel to whom statistical analysis is so important? I feel like this is far more on the money. The sort of reporting Ryan made his name doing is no longer the exclusive means to achieving status in media or achieving a connection to the people inside of the game. Recently Ryan lamented that there isn’t any chumminess between reporters and athletes. He argued that “the human factor” remains the most important in sports. He may have good points on both counts, but it’s also worth noting that relationships with insiders and writing the narratives which explain “the human factor” are what has set him apart from everyone else for the bulk of his career. It’s what made him valuable. Now people are doing, more or less, what he’s doing and they’re doing it without that access and without caring nearly as much about “the human factor” and I bet that galls him.

I know Ryan is not a stathead, but I wish he understood and took to heart one concept that statisticians must know: mutual exclusivity. As in, it doesn’t apply to baseball fandom or baseball reporting. We can have our kinetic game action and our statistical analysis. We can have our human interest stories and inside dish and we can have our outside observations and outside voices. That Ryan seems so upset about a new — actually, not even new anymore — way of enjoying and talking about the game is telling that he thinks there isn’t room for both. That’s wrong. And kind of sad.

Red Sox survive back-and-forth affair with Astros, win 8-6 to take 3-1 lead in ALCS

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Game 4 of the ALCS on Wednesday night between the Red Sox and Astros was a thrilling back-and-forth affair with seven lead changes. Ultimately, the Red Sox emerged victorious with a hard-fought 7-5 victory.

The Red Sox wasted no time getting on the board, plating two runs in the top of the first inning against Charlie Morton thanks to a walk, hit-by-pitch, wild pitch, and a Rafael Devers single. In the bottom half, José Altuve hit what appeared to be a game-tying two-run home run to right field off of Rick Porcello. Mookie Betts leaped and was interfered with by fans in the stands, so Altuve was called out instead. The ruling was upheld after review.

In the bottom of the second, the Astros officially scored their first run when Carlos Correa knocked home a run with a single. The Red Sox immediately got it back when Xander Bogaerts doubled in a run in the top of the third, running the score to 3-1. In what would become a trend, the Astros also responded as George Springer drilled a solo homer and Josh Reddick hit an RBI single of his own to tie the game at 3-3. Tony Kemp added a solo homer down the right field line in the fourth to put the Astros on top for the first time. Bogaerts hit another RBI single in the top of the fifth to re-tie the game at 4-4. Correa followed suit in the bottom half, hitting his second RBI single of the game to give the Astros back the lead.

Jackie Bradley, Jr., who hit a soul-crushing grand slam off of Roberto Osuna in Game 3, hit another homer in Game 4, a two-run shot in the sixth off of Josh James. In the seventh, the Red Sox loaded the bases with two outs and Lance McCullers, Jr. entered to try to put out the fire. He did not, briefly, walking Brock Holt to force in a run and make the score 7-5. McCullers did end up getting out of the inning without any further damage. Just for good measure, though, J.D. Martinez tacked on a run in the eighth with an RBI single to make it 8-5.

Ryan Brasier got five outs and Matt Barnes one in the sixth and seventh. Manager Alex Cora decided to call on Craig Kimbrel for a six-out save when the bottom of the eighth rolled around. The 2018 postseason hasn’t been kind to Kimbrel as he had given up runs in all three of his appearances. Kimbrel gave up hits to the first three batters he faced. Kemp led off with a single but he tried to stretch it into a double and was thrown out at second base by Betts. Kimbrel then hit Alex Bregman with a pitch and surrendered a double to George Springer, putting runners at second and third with one out. Altuve knocked in a run with a ground out to make it 8-6, but Kimbrel saw his way out of the inning by striking out Marwin González.

In the ninth, Cora decided to keep Kimbrel in the ballgame despite his continued struggles. Kimbrel got Yuli Gurriel to pop up to start the inning, but then issued back-to-back walks to Reddick and Correa. Kimbrel got out number two by getting Brian McCann to fly out to right field, then walked Tony Kemp to load the bases. Cora decided to stay with Kimbrel as Bregman came to the plate. Kimbrel threw a first-pitch, 97 MPH fastball that Bregman laced into shallow left field. Andrew Benintendi charged in and dived, catching the ball just in time to save the game, ending it for an 8-6 victory. Of the 18 half-innings, the two sides failed to score in only seven of them.

The Red Sox, now up three games to one in the ALCS, will try to close it out on Thursday night in Houston. If the Red Sox win, they will return to the World Series for the first time since 2013.