The purpose of the interrupted Baseball Notes series is to highlight just-below-the-surface baseball topics for the purpose of deepening the enjoyment of the game for casual fans like you and me.
In the interest of achieving that casual purpose, this series generally will avoid advanced statistical concepts. One need not grasp the depths of wRC+ or xFIP to enjoy baseball, of course, or even to think about the give-and-take between baseball traditionalists, who eschew advanced statistics, and the sabermetricians, who live by them.
Moneyball famously highlighted this debate, such as it is, and it arose in the 2012 season around the American League MVP race between Miguel Cabrera (the eventual winner, and the traditional favorite) and Mike Trout, and again last season in the context of commentator Brian Kenny’s “Kill the Win” campaign against ascribing significant meaning to pitchers’ win-loss records.
The reason this “debate”– the “eye test,” wins, and batting average versus WAR et al.– isn’t really a debate is because the two sides have different descriptive goals. In short, the traditional group is concerned with what has happened, while the sabermetric group is concerned with what will happen. The former statically tallies the game’s basic value points, while the latter is out to better understand the past in order to predict the future. The basic stats on the back of a player’s baseball card aim to tell you what he did in prior seasons; the advanced statistics on Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference, or in Baseball Prospectus aim to tell you something about what he’ll do next year based on a deeper understanding of what he did in prior seasons.
The previous paragraph represents an oversimplification, and probably a gross one, but I think it accurately highlights the basic, if slight, misalignment of initial points of view from the two main groups of people talking about how we talk about baseball today.
I plan to continue to write about baseball this season, with particular attention to the Detroit Tigers and Atlanta Braves, as in past seasons. Also as in past seasons, I plan to keep the focus of the coverage on the fan’s perspective. There are a lot of people conducting advanced statistical analysis on quantity and quality levels that far exceed my capabilities and desires. I did dip my toes into those numerical waters last season (in a series of posts the last of which ultimately was selected for publication in FanGraphs’ Community Research section), though, and I will continue to follow hunches down that road in the future.
For help, in addition to the mentioned online resources, I will be turning to two new-to-me books. The first, purchased on the recommendation of Will Leitch, is Baseball Prospectus, an annual. The second, purchased on the recommendation of the author, Tigers blogger Lee Panas, is Beyond Batting Average. While we’re talking about baseball books, I’ve also pre-ordered friend-of-the-blog Jonah Keri’s history of the Montreal Expos.