Friday, March 06, 2015

The Anti-Progressiveness of Sports Analytics

I've been finding it interesting that the sports analytic movement, driven as it is by people who I suspect are good liberal Obama voters (if I can judge by the throwaway jokes they sprinkle throughout their pieces), nevertheless leads to conclusions that Rush Limbaugh would cheer.
  1. The "bad contract": I've covered this before, but the time was when a player's best contract would come at the end of his career, perhaps with the team he had toiled for for many years, including his time as an underpaid player without access to free agency.

    No longer.  Any player rewarded with such a contract is likely to read his name on a regular series of "worst contract" articles ( with GM's name as perhaps an afterthought).  GMs and owners who avoid these are no longer considered cheap, but shrewd.  We celebrate GMs who win with small payrolls, and discount those who win with high payrolls.

    Owners must love this. It's gotten to the point that fans who might question their favorite team making no attempt to win for 2 years are considered unenlightened.  It's a great time to be a cheap owner!
  2. Diversity in the Front Office and Announcer's Booth  It's interesting that, just as everyone was waking up to the reality that there should be more diversity in the ranks of sports management and commentary, along came a "revolution" that stated that one needed to have particular knowledge (which happened to be possessed by white guys) in order to comment or act intelligently about sports,* and that experience playing the game was largely irrelevant.

    This became clear to me in the dispute surrounding Charles Barkley's recent comments.  It's odd (perhaps progress?) to see an outspoken African American athlete cast as representing the "old guard."  I also notice that popular targets of the analytical revolution include Dusty Baker, Billy King, Art Shell, Denny Green, Barkley, Don Baylor, and Joe Dumars.  A popular website for this was called "Fire Joe Morgan," for crying out loud. A look through their darlings reveals a crowd  about as diverse as an RNC meeting in Mississippi.
  3. Management > Labor In today's analytic piece, Kirk Goldsberry posits that player performance is largely a function of the system they operate in and laments that marginal players are paid more than the best coaches.
  4. Fat Sluggers > Toolsy Athletes  This isn't so much the case now, but before the development of better defensive statistics, sabermetric analysis often favored fats sluggers who drew a lot of walks (e.g. Matt Stairs, Adam Dunn) over players with more diverse and athletic skill sets. (see Adam Dunn vs. Juan Pierre)

    It so happened that the former often happened to be white, and the latter often happened to be black and Latino.

    This was somewhat countered by the tendency to defend brooding sluggers like Barry Bonds who may have been undervalued because the press didn't like them.
I find this all interesting.  I suppose I should salute these analysts for following the data event when it leads to ideologically inconvenient destinations.

* Again, I doubt this is intentional, and I suspect many of the more analytical people would be horrified by the notion that they are pushing minorities out. But it's still interesting to note the effect.
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