Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Sabermetrics and the perspective of the fan...

In a (now not so recent BS Report, Brian Kenny makes the case for eliminating pitching W/L record from conversation about baseball, meeting some resistance from Bill Simmons.

As they note, pitching W/L records and other antiquated stats are being kept alive by ex-ballplayer color commentators, even though "smart" fans know that there are better metrics that can be used to evaluate players.

Kenny and other sabre-boosters say this is the triumph of intelligence, and data.  What I think it represents is that fans (and I think Simmons is a pretty good proxy for someone straddling both sides of this) are changing their perspective from that of a player to a coach and GM.

When I was growing up, I couldn't tell you who the General Manager of my hometown Phillies was.  Pat Williams was a bit of a celebrity running the Sixers, and Bobby Clarke came in to run the Flyers, but the stars of the team were the players and on-field coaches.

Now, things are different.  We've made a movie starring Brad Pitt as Billy Beane (while the only real-life player we've made a recent movie about is Jackie Robinson, and it made Branch Rickey the hero).  We know who the GMs of all the prominent teams are.  Even Daryl Morey, whose Rockets have won one playoff series, is a minor celebrity.  Conversations are now less about plays made or missed than timeouts or challenges used or not used.  We don't rank the best players; we rank the best "assets".  We used to fantasize about being John Elway the quarterback; now we imagine ourselves as John Elway the team president.

I think the main cause of this is that we are not introduced to these games by playing them, either in organized leagues or in the neighborhood, but by playing video games.

And I don't think it's a good thing, because it is leading to anti-competitive practices like taking fouls when ahead, letting teams score (or trying not to score), undefeated teams resting players rather than trying to make history, and now teams tanking entire seasons (or multiple seasons).  From a players' perspective, these are all abominations.  To the video game player / GM, they are smart strategies.

So, if the game you're watching happens to be between two teams who deem it to be in their interest to try and win the game, you might get to see some actual competition.  But, along with the "all about the rings" sports culture, that is becoming less and less likely.

Maybe pitching wins (and RBI and batting average and fielding percentage) are bed metrics. But they do demonstrate something that matters to players.  Turning away from them may represent a turn toward rationality, but it also represents a turn away from experiencing sports as players, and to less competitive games.

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