Saturday, March 31, 2012

Hilariously Inaccurate

            Something I have learned while writing history papers is that if you have already decided what the evidence will show and what your conclusion will be before you even begin researching your world will not completely collapse. It will, in fact, be remarkably easy for you to write a quote-filled, argumentative paper that seems to prove exactly what you expected. This monumental success can be had by any researcher and writer so long as they are willing to sacrifice but too inconsequential things: quality and accuracy.

            In baseball writing, as in historical analysis, this easy tradeoff is made all too often. This is not entirely a bad thing, after all, baseball reporting does not attempt to define patterns of human existence, and the choice of topics and opinions are necessarily subjective. The evidence used in support of these positions should not be subjective, however, and it is the lack of subjectivity in the presentation of “evidence” that dooms the reactionary forces of Old School Baseball.

            The statistics used to describe the game are so varied, expressive and complex that presenting evidence in an attempt to back one’s own argument is remarkably easy. Thus, it is somewhat of an indictment of the entire human race and the American educational system that Jerry Thornton, a reporter for WEEI (Boston), compiled an article attacking Sabermetrics two years ago in which he presented evidence that directly disproved his argument.

            As I have explained, the statistics in baseball are so facilely twisted to make such an achievement appear to be theoretically impossible. Mr. Thornton, however, not only managed to render his own argument entirely irrelevant, he did so without even using statistics.

            Though this article has been capably destroyed by several other, more experienced, Sabermetrics Trolls, I feel that the magnitude of Mr. Thornton’s accomplishment in this case should be further highlighted.

            First, he seems to be obsessed with the:

 creepy little subculture that lives among us: the Stat Geeks

            Suffice it to say that while we do not mind the comradely moniker of “Stat Geek,” the overt characterization of our rapidly expanding religion as a “creepy little subculture” is entirely too bold.

            Now that you understand the tone of his writing, let us progress to the first moment in which Mr. Thornton entirely destroys his credibility:

            the Stat Geeks have quietly and insidiously taken power. Every hot stove report I’ve read this offseason, every article written from Fort Myers, every statement from Sox brass, has the Stat Geeks’ grubby little fingerprints on it. They’re like the Communist Party plotting to take over Hollywood in the 1950s before Ronald Reagan got wise to them and kicked their pinko butts all the way back to Moscow and Harvard Square. Only, instead of trying to write screenplays full of anti-capitalists rants, the Stat Geeks have succeeded in making otherwise normal, decent, God-fearin’ Americans start talking about VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) ratings and UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) numbers like they really believe in this nonsense.

            I am offended by this paragraph on a remarkable number of levels.
1)    As a baseball fan
2)    A Sabermetrician
3)    A human being
4)    A Democrat
5)    A Californian
6)    A lover of classic cinema
7)    A Jew (the whole god-fearing thing is very New Testament)
8)    And most importantly, as an aspiring historian

I should hope that I do not need to explain that the trumped up charges against Hollywood writers and the insidious blacklist of suspected communists are not a high point in our nation’s history. The repression and public castigation of dozens of actors and writers whose only crime was expressing their political beliefs or being gay or Jewish was not prompted by any Communist Party plot. Additionally, though Ronald Reagan was a vocal conservative in Hollywood at the time, connecting him to McCarthyist terror in a positive light is not only insulting but also inaccurate.
            Because the Communist Party was NOT trying to take over Hollywood in the 1850’s, it is clear that Mr. Thornton is saying that Sabermetricians are NOT trying to insidiously take over baseball. As this little anecdote seems to run counter to the rest of is article in which he

 can’t shake the feeling the Geeks have taken over the Red Sox, if not all of baseball.

            The rest of the article is highly entertaining if only for its unintentionally hilarious anecdotes about the author’s discovery of women, breasts and, (apparently simultaneously) the pause and rewind buttons on the TV in his bedroom.

            The one remaining part of the article that does not deal with Mr. Thornton’s personal journey away from baseball cards to the hallowed land of puberty is his dismissal of Sabermetricians writing about baseball as being:

Like the nerdy fanboys from “Galaxy Quest” being asked to use their ridiculously detailed knowledge of the show to save the world for real.

In case you were wondering, this sentence only offends me on levels 1, 2 and 3 of the above-mentioned scale. Added to this is my disgust, as a Sci-fi fan, at Mr. Thornton’s failure to understand the ending of what I consider to be one of the best movies of all time. To put it simply to those deprived and depraved folks who have not seen and memorized the movie (spoiler alert!): The “nerdy fanboys” use their ridiculously detailed knowledge of the show to save the world for real. It is that simple, Mr. Thornton is attacking the “stats-crunching troglodytes among us” for attempting to use Sabermetrics principles to make baseball decisions by comparing them to fictional characters who use their own complex calculations to save the planet from impending doom. To complete the metaphor, Sabermetricians will revolutionize baseball, teams that embrace their principles will win the World Series every single year and Jerry Thornton will soon be out of a job.

            It boggles the mind… In case the introduction to this remarkably long rant has faded from your memory, allow me to briefly tie it all together:

1) Mr. Thornton chose to write a biased, subjective article based on whatever evidence he felt like including.
2) Mr. Thornton included two pieces of entirely made up evidence that directly contradicted his argument.

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