Confessions Of a Simpleton


Here’s another post to add to the multitude you’ve probably already read about Moneyball. My brother gave me the book by Michael Lewis several years ago. He told me that he thought I’d find it pretty interesting.

“Why not?” I thought. I read just about anything I could get my hands on and I’d been reading sports books since my parents introduced me to Chip Hilton and his freakish athlectic* abilities.** Little did I know how this collection of pages about the Oakland A’s would make me fall in love with baseball all over again.

*This is a typo, but I’m not going to correct it. I’ve decided it’s a new word….maybe a cross between “athletic” and “eclectic.”

**I’m convinced that Chip Hilton would have been a star at any sport he tried his hand at. Rugby, Lacrosse, Kite-flying….He could do no wrong.

I came to understand that there was more to a player than his batting average (if he was a hitter) or his win/loss record* (if he was a pitcher). I started watching and following baseball in a much different way than I ever had before. I’m sure there are those of you who may scoff, either because you come from the group that doesn’t believe sabermetrics holds any water or because you’re amazed at how long it took me to realize how sweet advanced stats are. If you are of the former then I’d say that you’re a little close-minded and if you’re of the latter I’d say, “Hey shut up! I didn’t realize how much sweet baseball stuff there was to read on the internet.”

*Okay, that not necessarily true. I had been watching Greinke pitch for awhile before I read the book and I was already woefully familiar with how futile a pitcher’s win/loss record really was.

I realize that this may seem a strange admission from someone who writes for Kings of Kauffman, but it’s true. Whether you want to call it stupidity or, well…stupidity (I prefer “ignorance”), the fact remains that I’m a latecomer to the realm of advanced stats and baseball. 

Since I’ve been blessed with the chance to write about the baseball team I love, I’ve spent a lot of my time exploring the internet and discovering all of the amazing resources that are available for the stat fanatic. You can spend hours and hours of time looking at different splits for almost any possible statistic you want and with the evolution of advanced statistics you can look at stats that may make you look at players in more ways than you could ever have hoped for.

After seeing the film adaptation of “Moneyball” last night, I was once again reminded of how intricate baseball is. Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t think that sabermetrics are strictly the end-all basis for how you should evaluate a player. I still think there is a little something to be said for intangibles.* However, I think these advanced statistics are awesome because I can look at a player who might be hitting .262 and realize that he’s still a valuable player because he takes a ton of walks and has an OBP of .389.

*To a degree…if you try to tell me Yuniesky Betancourt had intangibles I’ll laugh in your face.

“Moneyball” awakened me to sabermetrics. Now I’ve got way more to look at when I analyze a player other than “oh he’s a good player because he hits .294″ or “oh that shortstop is the worst in the league because he has more errors than this guy even though his range enables him to make an attempt on ground balls that other shortstops wouldn’t even be able get close to.”

Being able to better understand a players skill set or lack thereof makes you and I more knowledgeable about our team. It makes us better able to predict when a player is good and when he’s on a hot streak.

For me, “Moneyball” was just the beginning of becoming a better baseball fan.

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  • jim fetterolf

    So-called advanced stats are useful, but I admit that how they are used and the attempt to divorce them from context is extremely annoying. Most obvious example is taking a yearly or career average number like OBP and using it to judge a player’s usefulness, my example against its independence being Billy’s .100 difference between batting 5th and batting 3rd. That tells us more about the hitter following Billy than Billy himself.Second major annoyance is the quest for significant sample size that leads to irrelevant sample size, a case arose awhile back on Lee Judge’s blog where a gamer informed us that a base runner on 2nd with one out made a mistake in trying to steal third because Tom Tango crunched numbers covering 18 years said so. In the particular case, the runner at 2nd was a decent base stealer, the pitcher on the mound was Ubaldo Jimenez in a dominating performance, and the two following hitters were totaling .400 between them. 18 years of stats on everyone who played the game are irrelevant to the specific instance faced.Where I find stats most useful is when they are charted, which establishes trend and range. Hoch’s aggregate stats for the year show a mediocre pitcher, his trend line shows a pitcher rapidly improving since making repeatable adjustments, and his new range shows a #2 starter rather than a number #4, which is useful information. Third annoyance is the mantra, “Reversion to the Mean”, as if any of the possible means are fixed in concrete. The Nerd mean tends to be career, so becomes useless when a player goes through major changes, whether injury or adjustment. In the case of our outfield, Gordon played injury free and with a new swing and approach. His old mean doesn’t really apply to the current Gordo. Melky dumped some weight and adjusted his swing for more power, Frenchy lost weight and flattened his swing for more contact and started hitting more to the opposite field and is hitting 5th, which has his OBP up to .350. All three exploded their means and, in my mind, started establishing new means. Bruce Chen is another example of someone who is a completely different player than over the bulk of his career.Lots of use in the new stats and I like forward to the results of fielding fx, but statheads remind me a lot of recent converts to a new religion, the glow of revelation and the certainty in a new scripture creating an obliviousness to visible reality.

  • jim fetterolf

    So-called advanced stats are useful, but I admit that how they are used and the attempt to divorce them from context is extremely annoying. Most obvious example is taking a yearly or career average number like OBP and using it to judge a player’s usefulness, my example against its independence being Billy’s .100 difference between batting 5th and batting 3rd. That tells us more about the hitter following Billy than Billy himself.Second major annoyance is the quest for significant sample size that leads to irrelevant sample size, a case arose awhile back on Lee Judge’s blog where a gamer informed us that a base runner on 2nd with one out made a mistake in trying to steal third because Tom Tango crunched numbers covering 18 years said so. In the particular case, the runner at 2nd was a decent base stealer, the pitcher on the mound was Ubaldo Jimenez in a dominating performance, and the two following hitters were totaling .400 between them. 18 years of stats on everyone who played the game are irrelevant to the specific instance faced.Where I find stats most useful is when they are charted, which establishes trend and range. Hoch’s aggregate stats for the year show a mediocre pitcher, his trend line shows a pitcher rapidly improving since making repeatable adjustments, and his new range shows a #2 starter rather than a number #4, which is useful information. Third annoyance is the mantra, “Reversion to the Mean”, as if any of the possible means are fixed in concrete. The Nerd mean tends to be career, so becomes useless when a player goes through major changes, whether injury or adjustment. In the case of our outfield, Gordon played injury free and with a new swing and approach. His old mean doesn’t really apply to the current Gordo. Melky dumped some weight and adjusted his swing for more power, Frenchy lost weight and flattened his swing for more contact and started hitting more to the opposite field and is hitting 5th, which has his OBP up to .350. All three exploded their means and, in my mind, started establishing new means. Bruce Chen is another example of someone who is a completely different player than over the bulk of his career.Lots of use in the new stats and I like forward to the results of fielding fx, but statheads remind me a lot of recent converts to a new religion, the glow of revelation and the certainty in a new scripture creating an obliviousness to visible reality.