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TYU on WFAN

Posted by Steve S. at 6:56 am Add comments
Jul 132010

Mo broke the news on his TYU Twitter last night. I’ve been invited by Evan Roberts to appear on WFAN’s Joe and Evan show to discuss and debate advanced stats and sabermetrics with host Joe Benigno, who is a staunch disbeliever. They’re filling in this week for Mike Francesa, so I’ll be on the air from 5:00 to around 5:40 this Wednesday. Topics will be the basic stuff like WHIP, WAR, BABIP, FIP and rate stats in general. For those unfamiliar with the show, Joe Benigno is very, very old school. He isn’t completely sold on ERA, much less these stats. He also thinks anyone who understands these basic SABR concepts must be a geek. I’m going to try to explain to him that many of these stats are simply ways of sorting out what’s luck and what’s skill, and ways of separating the average performers from the exceptional. SABR stats aren’t at odds with old school axioms and principles of Baseball, most of the time they provide evidence for their validity. Advanced stats can also help solve some of Baseball’s age-old arguments, and sorting through the opinions and seeing who’s actually right in some provable way.

That’s where you come in. I’m like Joe Girardi in that I’m big on preparation, and hate being caught off guard. I’d like to solicit our readers to help me bolster my arguments. Tell what are some of the most common rebuttals you’ve come up against when explaining these stats to people who are completely unfamiliar with them, and how you counter their arguments. It’s radio, so short and succinct answers work best. Any argument you’ve encountered, no matter how irrational, would give me a chance to prepare and have an answer in my back pocket. I doubt they’ll want me to credit you on air, but I will make sure to thank you in the follow up thread where I link the audio.

I’m hoping most of our readers will tune in, but don’t expect an NPR-style breakdown on sabermetrics. WFAN is first and foremost and entertainment station. One that’s in the business of attracting as large an audience as possible, and they do it better than anyone. It’s going to be a light hearted and fun conversation, all I’m hoping to get out of this is to have a good time, and maybe get a few points in that change a few minds out there. This is afternoon drive, in New York City on it’s most popular sports station. One that’s not known being heavy on advanced stats and why they matter. If you’re a SABR devotee, this could be an opportunity to open some eyes and move the ball a bit further among mainstream and older fans. Help me make the case in a way that the average listener will easily understand. Thanks in advance for your replies and thanks as always for reading TYU.

24 Responses to “TYU on WFAN”

  1. I don’t need people to explain these stats to me, I’m very familiar with them. What I’m looking for is why people who are unfamiliar with them have problems with them? Frankly, I don’t run into that all that much. People I’m friends with often accept them, and if you have a conversation with a stranger about Baseball you typically don’t get into formulas and speak more in generalities.

    If you’re a reader and don’t accept these stats, I’d love to hear why.  (Quote)

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    The Honorable Congressman Mondesi Reply:

    I always get the impression that many people who dislike modern statistical analysis are under the impression that people who like modern statistical analysis are telling them that they don’t see the game the right way, or that the new stats somehow negate their impression of the game. That is to say… For some reason they’re threatened by modern statistical analysis. Surely some of that is a reaction to the attitude of some proponents of such analysis. I think the point to be made is that nobody is saying modern statistical analysis fundamentally alters baseball, it solely exists to provide observers with more comprehensive ways of understanding the game.

    I think it’s also important, in these conversations, to stipulate, first and foremost, that nobody would argue that any of these methods of analysis are perfect. I think the people who fear modern analysis tend to dislike it because they think its proponents are slavishly devoted to it, and they don’t understand how anyone could think a stat like WAR is perfect. But nobody does think metrics like those are perfect, they’re just educated attempts at providing new, better types of analysis. They’re all pieces of the puzzle, they’re not the finished product.

    Really… I guess the most important and most basic point is that modern statistical analysis isn’t at odds with scouting, it’s something to be utilized in addition to scouting. It’s not something that exists to detract from our enjoyment of the game as fans, it’s something that exists to supplement our enjoyment of the game. The entire concept of the ‘us vs. them’ mentality that seems to exist in this conversation is based on a faulty premise.  (Quote)

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    The Honorable Congressman Mondesi Reply:

    And really… Since you’ll have to make your points in short, somewhat witty bursts, considering the forum… Just ask the guy if he’d hire an accountant or a stock broker or a lawyer or a doctor who uses the same methods that were used in 1910, without the help of a computer, and who not only eschews more modern developments in their field but actively argues against any sort of progress of that sort. The obvious is answer is no, because that would be, well, stupid… So, then, why would someone say that that’s what they want out of their baseball analysis?  (Quote)

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    Steve S. Reply:

    Just ask the guy if he’d hire an accountant or a stock broker or a lawyer or a doctor who uses the same methods that were used in 1910, without the help of a computer, and who not only eschews more modern developments in their field but actively argues against any sort of progress of that sort.

    Bingo. Good stuff HCM, this is the kind of thing I could have used.  (Quote)

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    clip Reply:

    Some who are unfamiliar and have problems with the stats think they know enough about them when they really don’t, so they don’t really accept it. On one of the recent Mets broadcasts, Gary Cohen and Ron Darling had a discussion on BABIP and why they didn’t buy into it, attributing some performance to luck (or the lack of) and such. They claimed that good hitters will hit the ball harder, etc. so BABIP is pretty much overrated in their eyes, when they fail to realize that the hitter’s expected BABIP can be determined by their batted ball profile and then adjusted for possible regression/progression. To Gary and Ron, I think they believed that it was thought that all hitters should be have a BABIP around .300 or so.

    A lot of the people who are reluctant to accept sabermetric evaluations seem to just stop at the beginning of an explanation and then reject the stats.  (Quote)

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  2. You state, “SABR stats aren’t at odds with old school axioms and principles of Baseball, most of the time they provide evidence for their validity.” yet one of your regular contributors has stated repeatedly that in pitching, wins and ERA are the least meaningful stats around. I expect Benigno would take issue with that and I doubt you will convince him otherwise. As I have said before, baseball is such a rich environment, there is plenty for everybody. It’s just always a good idea to maintain a sense of perspective and humility.  (Quote)

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    Stephen R. Reply:

    Just to be clear – I’ve said that Wins are one of the least meaningful stats. I have less of a problem with ERA, although it has its obvious shortcomings.  (Quote)

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    Steve S. Reply:

    ERA isn’t an axiom, it’s a stat. I’ll give you an example of what I was referring to with that.

    How many times have you heard John Sterling say “You can give up Walks, you can give up Hits, but you can’t do both (and be a good pitcher)”? That’s an old line that gives you a way to measure pitchers. It’s also exactly the same as WHIP (Walks+Hits/IP).  (Quote)

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    Zack Reply:

    I think the “Win” argument is pretty easy.

    All you have to do is ask why should a SP be punished for his team not scoring runs?
    Or why should a SP be rewarded for his team scoring 5-6-7 runs?  (Quote)

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  3. Congrats on this opportunity Steve. I wish you luck dealing with those two. From my experience dealing with people who hate SABR, aside from being ignorant to why they are useful (luck vs. skill) they always bash how hard it is to calculate the formula. Maybe if you know (and you prob do) how to compute say ERA+ or FIP that would show them you have an understanding of how it works (as confusing as it may be).  (Quote)

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  4. I would start as basic as possible, explaining in a simplistic fashion the problems with the traditional stats and motivation for the more advanced ones. Then I would explain briefly what the more advanced ones are. For example, using hitting, I would do something like what I have below. (I realize you know all of this already; this is basically a rough layout of what you can say, it is not meant to inform you.)

    (1) Show traditional stats have problems
    AVE – ignores walks and power
    RBI – dependent on team — something like, “Joe, you would of course agree that ARod wouldn’t have 70 RBIs if he were batting cleanup for Houston, right?”
    R – dependent on team, same idea

    (2) Motivation for more advanced stats: So the goal is to come up with something that is not team dependent, and properly weights various hits and walks. The common one you are probably familiar with is OPS. It turns out, though, the OPS under values reaching base in comparison to power. OPS is a simplistic way to improve on the basic stats but falls short.

    (3) Somewhat of an aside – explain how we know that OPS undervalues OBP: We can figure out how much event is worth. Based on many games played over a period of years, we know how many runs are scored given each base-out situation. For example, we know that ___ runs are scored on average when there is a runner on first and one out, and ___ runs when there are runners on first and second and one outs. Based on this, we can figure out how much each batting event (e.g., single, double, home run) is worth.

    (4) Explain advance stats: Using this technique, we can figure out the proper value of each hit. Then based on those values, we can create various all-encompassing offensive statistics. For example:
    (a) There is something called “linear weights” [choose your run estimator here] that uses this information to tell you much runs a hitter has been worth.
    (b) Since people are familiar with stats like BA and OBP, Tom Tango (& MGL?) developed a stat called wOBA, which basically recasts linear weights into an “average” on a scale that people are familiar with. He/they also made other adjusts
    (c) We also can figure out how many runs each win is worth based on the number of runs scored in a game. So once we know how many runs a player is worth offensively, we can say how many wins that player is worth offensively. A stat called WAR (“wins above replacement”) uses this to tell us how many wins a player is worth. WAR actually includes defense as well, so we have only covered the offensive component so far.

    Similar things can be done for pitching (and defense, if you have time).  (Quote)

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  5. Congrats on the radio appearance.

    I think you will encounter two types of arguments:

    1. The people who simply don’t understand the advanced stats and why they are useful

    2. The people that refuse to believe that you can take luck out of the equation and rate perforamnces on equal footing (and correct for issues like lousy teams or pitcher parks)

    People want to be able to look at a player and say he’s good (or worth $X) or he’s lousy and dont like it if advanced metrics are saying something other than their eyes are seeing.

    Best of luck.  (Quote)

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  6. This is like the West Wing episode “Debate Camp”… Answers in 10 words or fewer! The two worst stats, based upon their prevalence and inaccuracy in baseball analysis, in my opinion, are Wins and RBI. Just kill him on those, because he doubtlessly relies on them and they mean very very little.  (Quote)

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  7. In the words of Obi Wan: “Your eyes can deceive you. Don’t trust them.”

    But, then, he believed in luck…  (Quote)

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  8. are you Steve in Bayside?!?! i cringe every time Joe talks to you.  (Quote)

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    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    Yeah, he is.  (Quote)

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  9. I think one of the more compelling arguments in favor of stats like OBA is how you can see their emphasis by some of the greatest managers in history, like McGraw, Stengel, Weaver, and McCarthy. Just listening to Stengel’s talk (rant?) ‘modern ballplayers’ not knowing that a ‘walk is as good as a hit a lot of the times’ and how important he thought getting on base was, shows how much he thought of it. I don’t have a lot of examples of these guys talking about those things off the top of my head, but I’m pretty sure there are some floating in the internet ether.
    Another OBA argument is the expression ‘oh, those bases on balls’ which has been modified a lot but is always saying the same thing: walks are bad for pitchers. If walks are bad for pitchers, they’re good for hitters.  (Quote)

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  10. As a few of us mentioned on Primer, I’d avoid throwing around the word luck. Yes, when used (and interpreted) properly, it does often describe the events on a baseball field. But when dealing with people who are hesitant of advanced stats, it’s often a conversation stopper. It’s easy enough to convey what you want (random variation, chance) without getting bogged down in a semantic fight.  (Quote)

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    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    Yeah, Steve, I wanted to notify you that there is a thread on primer with a few suggestions, as SOSH pointed out.

    http://www.baseballthinkfactory.org/files/newsstand/discussion/tyu_on_wfan_-_sabermetrics_on_the_radio/  (Quote)

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  11. I think the most important big-picture point you can drive home is that sabermetrics is about winning–about identifying and quantifying the things players do that help teams win baseball games. That is what many people who reject advanced stats don’t understand. The most common defense of judging a pitcher by his W/L record is usually something like, “hey, ultimately the game is about wins, everything else is secondary.” The stereotype about “stat geeks” is that they’re lost in the details and couldn’t care less about the big picture of winning. That of course could not be further from the truth. Whatever course the discussion takes, I recommend that you keep bringing everything back to winning.  (Quote)

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  12. Good luck. One common argument I have heard against sabermetrics is that they “sound funny.” Terms like WAR, xFIP, etc… I have heard the argument that “They just sound stupid” so someone chooses to dismiss them. I counter by saying, “If it hadn’t been around for a while, and someone came up with a state called “RBI,” you think it wouldn’t sound funny?” This is invariably a trivial argument that non-SABR folks come back to.

    Also, I would suggest hammering home the point that this stuff is all intuitive, and Joe himself knows it… high SLG in Colorado in the 90′s isn’t the same as a high SLG in Citi Field, and SABR attempts to do things like correct for ball park, competition, teammates, etc.  (Quote)

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  13. I think that the advanced stats are better at finding out what the player does well outside of the team context. Wins, Runs and RBIs are team dependent stats and don’t tell enough about the player.

    when you are building a team it is pretty obvious that you want guys like Jeter or Ripken or Pujols. But where can you get the best value for your dollar when it comes to contributions from your lesser players? Without seeing every player play every game, whether in the minors or majors, you want a picture that can help you make a more informed decision.

    The advanced stats help paint a much clearer picture. They still don’t explain effort, chemistry, clutch performance, or how a player will/won’t fit in with teammates or fit into a larger/smaller city. Advanced stats are part of the decision making process and when used properly, in conjunction with what your scouts tell you, you will more often than not make a better “purchase” for your club as a result.  (Quote)

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  14. “If you’re a SABR devotee, this could be an opportunity to open some eyes and move the ball a bit further among mainstream and older fans.”

    Why older fans? Bill James is 60…. so by older, you mean the 70 – 80 age-range?

    I don’t think it’s only the SABRmetrics that most “older” and “mainstream” people have a problem with, it’s the obnoxious way in which (some of) its practitioners seem to feel they are educating the poor masses.

    Stick with 1-2 stats, and explain how they help to paint a more finely-detailed picture than just tradational stats used alone — they don’t have to replace them, necessarily.

    Listen to, for example, Steve S above…and stay away from Kenny’s argument (above), unless you want to get laughed off the air.  (Quote)

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