By Mark Smith
Freddy Got Fingered isn’tthat great of a movie. At it’s very best, it’s a fun movie to watch when there’snothing important on, and in all honesty, it’s probably a movie that should beplaced on a VH1 Awesomely Bad list somewhere toward the top. That doesn’t mean,however, that it’s a complete waste of time, and I thoroughly enjoy watchingit. It just has no redeeming quality outside of being completely ridiculous,which is kind of a redeeming quality I suppose. Anyway, the funniest moment, inmy opinion, is when Tom Green’s character, an aspiring cartoon writer, getsturned down by a cartoon exec, who suggests that Green needs “to get inside thecharacters”. This, of course, means that Green doesn’t really understand hischaracters or where they are coming from, but Green … well, hold on. On his wayhome, he hits a deer, and because of the advice he receives and that he drawsanimal cartoons, he literally cuts the deer open, gets inside the deer, andparades around before finally getting hit by a semi. Watch the movie. I don’tdo the moment justice.
As a budding baseball writer/blogger and analyst, I wonder if I’m notin a similar position to Green’s character when it comes to baseball stats. Iunderstand baseball stats. I understand why the traditional ones don’t alwaysdescribe what they think they do, and I understand why advanced stats do abetter job. I can even explain the logic of newer stats to other people. What Ican’t do, however, is explain how those stats were derived, and I can’t tellyou which one is better than another.
Let’s see if I can explain why I have to begun to admit that I have aserious problem with this, at least from my personal perspective. I’m not a manof faith. The reason is simple - faith isn’t something you can argue with. Itcan’t lose. I can sit here all day and explain how a certain religious beliefis probably ridiculous, but faith can always argue that it’s the deity’s planor that I don’t know. It’s frustrating. I’m not saying it’s wrong, but as a manthat has to understand, faith is particularly difficult for me (please don’t send me crisis of faithemails/tweets; that’s not what this is about). What I started to realizewas that sabermetrics had become my “faith”.
That probably seems absurd. Sabermetrics is all about science, numbers,and the pursuit of knowledge and, as such, seems to be the anti-thesis offaith. But from my perspective (andbelieve the perspective of many), it is a point of faith. The differencebetween religion and sabermetrics, however, is that this faith crisis withsabermetrics can be solved, whereas I’ll have to wait a hopefully long timebefore meeting my maker and figuring out how I screwed everything up. To thispoint, I certainly understand the logic behind the stats, but also to thispoint, I’ve taken it as a point of faith that the numbers actually work.
The definition of faith is a “beliefthat is not based on proof”, and despite my evangelism of sabermetrics, Ihave to come to admit to myself that I have no proof, despite the fact that itis out there. What’s the difference between “It’s God’s will,” and “The numbersjust worked. Someone checked.”? For me, the two are now uncomfortably close,and for that reason, I’ve decided to do something about it.
I want to understand the stats. I want to “getinside the numbers”. I want to be able to be able to do the math and thefact-checking necessary to know that I’m saying is actually backed up in fact.Thus, I’ve bought a stats book that will teach me by using baseball statisticsas a guide, and after I find it in my mom’s basement (shocker, I know), I’ll be reading through it, with the hope that I’llbe able to decipher what Russell Carleton used to call “Messy StatisticalDetails” (or something like that).
But let’s understand what I am not saying.I am not saying that I don’t trust analysts and stats inventors that are outthere doing excellent work. I am not saying that I think sabermetrics has gonesome wayward path. I am not saying that anyone who doesn’t understand the mathbehind the stats is a lemming. What I am saying is that I feel the need, inorder to be intellectually consistent to myself, to learn about these stats.
I bring up my personal quest for a fewreasons. One, I think a lot of people are in the boat I’m in. They understandthe logic behind it, but if it came to a point when someone demanded a betterexplanation, we couldn’t really give it to them. Two, if people want, I’mwilling to help people learn along by putting up a post as I finish a chapter,explaining what I learned. This would help me learn by having to explain it,and it might help others more than trying to learn from an “expert” who mightstill talk a little over a novice’s head. Three, I always need post ideas, andthis seems like an interesting off-season venture. Four, I'll probably get something wrong, and I'll need people to point it out.
Lastly, I think the sabermetrics movementdeserves it (not me, per se, but havingits supporters truly understand). Logic will often work, and it’s oftensufficient for an explanation. But people will always ask, and people willalways want to know the difference between this stat and this one. And it’sjust irresponsible to offer an opinion when one truly doesn’t understand whatwent into the stat. So here’s my confession. Forgive me Basebaal (I think Bill Baer was the first to use thisthat I saw, but I thought it was awesome for a baseball deity), for I havesinned. This is my first confession. I have advocated for stats of which I didnot truly comprehend. My penance is to read this book (when I find, I’ll let you know) and explain it to those willingand/or eager to listen.
Also,if those who do really understand the stats jargon and such would like to helpin my endeavor before I post and make a fool out of myself, I would appreciate being able to ask knowledgeable baseballpeople about how these apply to advanced stats.