Friday, March 21, 2008

Charlie Manuel flouts statistics (or does he?)

From this BBTF thread about this Philadelphia Inquirer article:
[Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel] will continue to consult statistics when considering matchups, but he will trust his eyes more. So what if a hitter is 0 for 6 against a particular pitcher? Manuel saw those six outs, and they were all hard-hit line drives. Eyes win. And so does the gut.
This is totally illustrative of the inability of the mainstream to grasp what statistical analysis is. Manuel is here portrayed as flouting statistics to go with his gut feeling, but in reality he is demonstrating an implicit understanding of proper use of statistical analysis. 0 for 6 tells you absolutely nothing. No self-respecting statistician would try to draw any sort of conclusion ever on the basis of 6 trials.

Now, you shouldn't actually use the fact that your guy hit the ball hard six times either. That's just another statistic. However, I suspect that what Manuel is really saying here is "I know based on my vast experience observing baseball players that my player is well equipped to deal with this pitcher, I just don't have the numbers to back it up yet." And you know what? That's what you have to do in that situation.

Now if you find that your opinion is constantly leading you to choose hitters for specific situations who are generally inferior, it may be time to question your baseball experience. It should take a lot of experience to choose Neifi Perez over Albert Pujols, for example. Pujols should be your choice 99.9999% of the time, not because he has performed better or worse in a specific situation a small number of times, but because he has performed well in a general sense many, many times. Therefore, the number of situations in which Perez is a better hitter must be exceedingly small (or non-existent). If it were not, the general gap between them would be smaller as hitters.

People who do not understand statistical analysis are the ones who constantly abuse it. The people who think stats are garbage and say that "spreadsheets don't play baseball" or that "players aren't stat generating robots" are the same people who turn around and use small samples both as the tools of confirmation bias and as a straw man to attack those number-loving geeks.

For the love of God, people, please stop using small samples for any reason whatsoever.

** EDIT ** Changed use of the word "flaunt" to "flout" because I care about the English language.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Alex Eisenberg takes up the scouting mantle

A few months ago, I praised the work of Carlos Gomez even as I realized and bemoaned the fact that he would no longer be able to write publicly. I expressed hope that someone would pick up where he left off. It appears that Alex Eisenberg has decided to do so.

I have no idea what Mr. Eisenberg's credentials are, but he certainly sounds like he knows his stuff. It's certainly worth keeping an eye on. Good luck, sir.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Costas clarifies

By way of Deadspin comes a clarification from Bob Costas on his comments in last week's Miami Herald article:
I don't have any problem at all with the mainstream media being challenged or supplemented by new media. No entity has a monopoly over good writing from a valid point of view. In that sense, the more the merrier. In fact, many bloggers, on numerous subjects, sports included, are talented, humorous and bring fresh perspectives.

My commentary was aimed solely at a portion of Internet sports discourse, an unfortunately large portion, that consists of nothing more than potshots, ad hominem arguments, ignorance and invective. No one who is familiar with the general tone of public discourse, whether it be sports, politics, whatever, can honestly deny that much. It comes from that direction.

I was absolutely not saying that most or all bloggers were losers. It just seems so often that commenters use insults in the place of arguments. Is there a lot out there that's also well-written? Or course. But forgive me for not placing the exact same value on an comment on a political blog that I would to something said by Ted Koppel. Sure, they have the equal value in a voting booth. But you have to assume that if you've done something reasonable well for an extended period of time, you have some notion of what you're talking about.
I appreciate Mr. Costas' clarification. I've always liked him as a commentator, so I was particularly disappointed to see his comments last week.

That being said, I still have a problem with a portion of what he's saying. He is in essence saying that we need to filter out the good bloggers from bad bloggers, as opposed to credentialed journalists who we can accept because, hey, they are credentialed journalists.

To my mind, the process of determining the worth of someone's opinion has nothing to do with the platform by which one is enabled to speak. It has entirely to do with the content of the opinion. Mr. Costas believes that a large segment of the blogger community is full of invective and ad hominem attacks, and this is true. Unfortunately, so is the journalistic community.

That's the key point and my chief criticism. There are plenty of mean-spirited, illogical, name-calling journalists out there. They deserve the same treatment as mean-spirited, illogical, name-calling bloggers.

Finally, I think it's telling that the chief source of Internet community garbage is to be found on mainstream sports media websites. If you want a mostly intelligent, mostly polite, mostly rational, mostly entertaining community, you look elsewhere.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Et tu, Bob?

Bob Costas in the Miami Herald, by way of Shysterball:
I understand with newspapers struggling and hoping to hold on to, or possibly expand their audiences, I understand why they do what they do. But it's one thing if somebody just sets up a blog from their mother's basement in Albuquerque and they are who they are, and they're a pathetic get-a-life loser, but now that pathetic get-a-life loser can piggyback onto someone who actually has some level of professional accountability and they can be comment No. 17 on Dan Le Batard's column or Bernie Miklasz' column in St. Louis. That, in most cases, grants a forum to somebody who has no particular insight or responsibility. Most of it is a combination of ignorance or invective.
Dear Mr. Costas,

I am sorry that you feel that your opinion is worth more than mine because you have a career in broadcasting and I have a career in computer science. I can assure you that, contrary to what you may have heard, I do not live in my mother's basement and I that I do indeed have a life, not to mention a job.

You apparently have been informed that all blogs are places where people spout uninformed, irrational, irresponsible opinions. While many blogs are like this, not all of them are. To paint all bloggers with the same brush is itself an irresponsible opinion. Many blogs are run by people with far more knowledge of their subject than their counterparts in the media.

Do bad blogs exist? Without question. However, the opinions of bad bloggers are not more worthless than a responsible journalist's because of their medium of communication. They are worthless because of their content. That you have failed to grasp this point illustrates that you do not understand why journalists exist in the first place.

Who made the established media the guardians of public opinion? What law says that someone with a degree in journalism is more important than someone with a degree in art? What divine decree established that only the anointed purveyors of mass media were allowed to express their ideas?

Journalists have had their position because in the past the tools of communication required special training and access. Journalists were not given a position of influence because their opinions were of extra importance. Their opinions gained extra importance because of their position of influence. You have put the cart in front of the horse.

Now the barriers to communication that have always existed between people are crumbling. Economists can communicate directly with the masses they study. Programmers can communicate directly with the people who use their programs. Ball players can communicate directly with their fans.

The journalist now finds himself without control. Understandably, he is scared, afraid that this information revolution will render him obsolete. And it has. People are now getting their information from people with actual knowledge, not from people with a degree in parroting other people's opinions.

It's a new world, Mr. Costas. Suddenly, journalists can be directly challenged by people who possess more knowledge than they have. They can no longer spout lazy opinions and meaningless rhetoric with impunity. The responsible elements of the blogosphere have shown exactly how lazy and arrogant the journalistic community has become.

Those journalists with real knowledge, real substance, and real communication skills will still find themselves with a real audience. I expect that you will find yourself in this group. Those who do not will find themselves in the same situation as the bad bloggers: a right victim of the natural selection process that is constantly working for the betterment of society.


John P. Lynch

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Chien-Ming Wang and why he should fascinate you

From this Jonah Keri interview of Angels' second baseman Howie Kendrick:
Keri: Who's the toughest pitcher you've ever faced?
Kendrick: Chien-Ming Wang. It's that sinker ball. He's one of those guys that you definitely have to be a little more patient against. He can throw two different sinkers. He has one that has a little more sink to it, where he takes a little speed off. Then he throws you a hard one also. So you have to be patient and really try to elevate the ball. He's pretty much the only guy that I've had some problems with in the major leagues.
Chien-Ming Wang is the most fascinating pitcher in baseball today, and Kendrick, who can probably hit .300 in his sleep, illustrates half of the reason why. Wang is well known for throwing what analysts have termed the "power sinker," a sinking fastball that is thrown a few miles an hour faster than a traditional sinker. Hitters hate hitting the pitch, and Wang has been effective throwing it.

Yet if history is any guide, Wang should not be able to continue his success. It is near impossible, if not entirely impossible, to find pitchers with sustained major league careers who strike as few batters as Wang does. If strikeout numbers are indicative of good "stuff," then Wang should not have the "stuff" to continue succeeding on a high level.

However, the argument is that he does have good "stuff," it's just not "stuff" that induces strikeouts. The argument that pitchers should pitch to contact has been made time and again, even in the face of evidence that as much as coaches have preached this philosophy, the pitchers who have succeeded are those who made batters swing and miss.

If you look at most guys who were supposed to be the exception to this near-rule, you aren't going to be looking at a group of guys who are going to be making anyone's "toughest pitcher" list. That's what is fascinating about Wang: he is purported to be that rarest breed of pitcher, one who has great stuff, but no strikeouts to show for it.

Whether or not Wang can continue bucking history is on the short list of things to keep an eye on over the next decade or so.