Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Finding a Happy Medium Between Stats and Your Eyes

"I don't have to see stats to know that Manny is a good hitter"

That was said last year by a friend of ours when we were discussing how we look at stats in baseball. The more I think of that statement, the more truth I find in it both ways. More and more new stats are coming into the world of the baseball fan and changing our long held opinions of certain players. I think that is both a good thing and a bad thing. I've linked fangraphs on the sidebar and they obviously operate a stats based website that uses things like BABIP or wOBA to evaluate players. I find these stats to be very helpful, they do a great job of explaining why a guy had a career season out of nowhere (aside from using steroids) and they can help explain why some players suddenly aren't as good as they were in previous years.

Stats can also be a bad thing when they are used as the absolute end all of any baseball argument. I'll use Fukudome as an example of this. Anybody who watched the Cubs play last season knows that Fukudome wasn't good. Sure he played lights out defense, but he was awful at the plate. I can represent his awful season by pointing to things like a OPS of .738 or a batting average of .257. Virtually every stat about Fukudome says he isn't a good hitter, however on another website last week when I was trying to explain this to people, I was given the stat that he had a league average wOBA. That was used to show me that Fukudome wasn't bad and could have hope for a solid 2009 season. This is where I feel stats can go bad, beside the fact that Fukudome isn't here to be "league average," if you are going to argue that this one stat shows he isn't that bad, you're wrong. Some players just are not good, especially in comparison to their contract.

Now back to good things stats do. Defensively I love stats, even though that is the hardest thing to quantify in stats. I did a couple pieces earlier using UZR to figure out who is good at defense and who isn't. Derek Jeter is the classic example of this, he won the Gold Glove from 2004-2006 despite posting UZRs of -.4, -13.7, and -6.5 these are not the numbers of a Gold Glover. People's eyes have deceived them in this case and in many other cases.

So what have we learned? Its simple stats are awesome and most of the time can be used to support an argument. The problem is some people treat them as the end all of every argument, and use them to ignore the obvious fact of a player not being good. For every Fukudome who people misuse stats to support them, there are 50 Jeter's who people have overrated based on things they think they are seeing. It seems like I contradict myself with those statements, but think about what I'm saying. If I were to make the argument that Rickie Weeks was actually not that bad last year because he had a wOBA of .334 I think most baseball fans would smack me. On the other hand if I were to tell you that 2008 SS Gold Glove winner was actually not good at defense because he had a UZR of -2.5 I think most baseball fans would agree with me.

Stats are useful, just don't rely on them alone for the basis of a basketball argument. Just like people shouldn't ignore stats completely. 

1 comment:

  1. This is a great post. The problem I have with stats are that there are far FAR to many of them. There are two sides to the argument on every single player in the league. Your examples point that out so I will stop there. But to me it is very important how good you are in my mind, but I like to use stats to back that up. I may think a guy is good, but when I look at stats I am able to change my mind about a player. The problem is that people get stuck in ruts. "Garrett Anderson sucks, I hate him, he's awful" There are stats that I can show you that go against that claim, there are stats I can show you that support it. But the key is being able to have an open mind on each guy, and to use the numbers not to prove your point, but to use them to help you better understand more about the player.