This morning, John Sickels posted an article in which he suggested that sabermetric analysis has become too granular to be interesting and fresh:
The newest stuff is becoming so granular that I’m having problems making sense of it. I’m a humanities guy, and the most advanced math is beyond my ability to completely comprehend. My personal opinion is that the many of the newest metrics (at least in regards to hitting and pitching) are just more complicated ways to say the same basic truths…..
But I’m finding that as I read the most advanced sabermetric stuff regarding major league players, my eyes glaze over and I start to get the grad school feeling again: why am I reading this? I’m not enjoying it. I want to watch a baseball game.
So am I just entering my dotage prematurely? Or is advanced sabermetric analysis becoming so specialized that no one but physics and math majors can understand it, leaving us humanities majors behind, let alone the average fan? If that is true, what can be done about it? I don’t mean stopping research; obviously it needs to go forward. But I mean, how do we find ways to disseminate the new knowledge and make it comprehensible for the non-math folks among us? How do we integrate and explain the new knowledge?
This article has garnered plenty of interest in the sabermetric community, with two writers at THT responding. First, Pat Andriola:
So when you say that they are “more complicated ways to say the same basic truths,” you are, to an extent, 100% correct. However, the questions that remain are: 1) how much an improvement are we gaining over the basic truths and 2) how valuable are those marginal improvements? Maybe you find these advances boring and trite, but many others (such as myself) don’t. I’m sure there are front offices and analysts that clamor over the newest posts at Fangraphs and The Hardball Times, just like I’m sure you find the latest breakdown of a hot prospect’s swing riveting. These are, ultimately, questions of what gives us the most utility (or satisfaction), and are completely subjective.
Pat is right on the money here, as I have spoken to a number of people within front offices, including one GM, who said that they follow Fangraphs and THT religiously, attempting to get an edge in data analysis and evaluation. These teams find these marginal improvements important, hoping that they provide even the slightest edge over their competition. If the clubs find this sort of analysis important, then it makes sense for an interested fan to be interested as well.
The second article, from Dan Novick, does a fantastic job addressing the idea that sabermetric analysis is boring and too technical:
Baseball writing on the internet is a meritocracy. Sabermetrics isn’t spreading because we say it is. It is spreading because there is an increasing number of fans that find it useful. There is no such thing as “required reading.” If you don’t find a particular aspect of sabermetrics useful anymore, there won’t be any negative repercussions should you choose not to read it.
I could not have said it better myself. If you are a Yankee fan and do not like sabermetrics, you can skip over that sort of article here or at RAB, or ignore those sites entirely. There are so many options and forums for discussion that a fan could likely stick to the most basic of sabermetric precepts and still find a place where he or she can have a reasonable discussion about the sport, and have a fairly decent understanding of value and related concepts. If you are a creator of content, you can ignore sabermetrics as well, and cater to a less stat-obsessed crowd. No one is being forced to use sabermetrics. If you do not like them, just ignore them. It really is that simple.
Sickels is not “anti-stat,” and I doubt that he would suggest people ignore sabermetrics entirely. He was simply raising a reasonable point. Do you agree with him?