Wednesday, December 30, 2009

'Tis The Season For Analysis And Reason

Good morning Fackers. One of the positive things about the slow news cycle that we are going through in the baseball world at the moment is that it gives some very smart writers the chance to do long-form pieces that don't get done when the offseason news is reaching its peak. While some may yearn for the heat of the hot stove, a whole lot of writing and thought gets expended on the the same signings and trade with a relatively small amount getting added to the discussion. Without many rumors flying, some have been using their time well and posting tremendously interesting analytical pieces that have in some cases taken on a life of their own.

Joe Posnanski recently cranked out 5,000 words comparing the Baseball Hall of Fame with the Baseball Think Factory Hall of Merit. Larry from Wezen-ball explored the illogical nature of the voting process for Cooperstown. There was an interesting discussion yesterday about putting a third team in New York which began with a piece on by Tim Marchman, and was picked up by Craig Calcaterra of Circling the Bases and Kevin Kaduk of Big League Stew (among others) before Marchman responded to the responses. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs discussed the diminishing value of a marginal win for the Yankees which was further explored by River Ave. Blues and Rob Neyer. Cameron's colleague R.J. Anderson used a quote from Peter Gammons to explain the Time Value of Money as it relates to Jason Bay's contract.

Perhaps the best example of this analytical collaboration are the Mike Silva Chronicles that Tom Tango is currently posting over at The Book Blog. Silva is notoriously suspicious of advanced statistics while Tango is responsible for creating a great many of them and inspiring still more. Recently, Silva compared the necessity for the newly-created stat wRC+ (just like OPS+ but based on wOBA) from FanGraphs to "Cool Ranch Doritos, New Coke, or a colorful cover for the iPod". Tango replied in the comment section, "As I keep saying on my blog time and time again, summary opinion without evidence is the very definition of bullsh!t. And Mike’s statement here is pure bullsh!t."

What might have spiraled into a war of words has instead turned into something productive. Tango agreed to answer ten of Silva's questions about advanced metrics, ranging from the accuracy and utility of UZR to the concepts of replacement level and win shares, pulling back the curtain a bit in attempt assuage some of the doubts that many have about newer stats.

Although these two guys are coming from ends of the statistical spectrum, they are meeting at an important common ground. One of the reasons old school baseball thinkers like Silva distrust advanced metrics is because they doubt their accuracy. The people who understand these measures the best understand their limits because they created them. It could be argued that the people who use UZR and WAR without understanding their blindspots are just as bad as those who refuse to acknowledge their utility at all.

Even if you aren't a stathead, I'd recommend stopping by The Book Blog and taking a look at Silva's questions and Tango's responses. They did five questions yesterday and I believe the next 5 should be coming soon. Although the names of some of the newer stats make them seem vague and complex, I think you'll find that hearing someone explain what they are and why they were created while simultaneously acknowledging their limitations to be quite interesting.