My sister has a Ph.D in biological chemistry. She got it from a little, no-name school called MIT. The work she does is so advanced that I literally can’t explain it. There is some sort of protein involved (I think) and she works in a lab (I’m pretty sure) and her results are broken into charts and graphs (I’ve seen them but never understood them).
My sister likes baseball, and she knows the sport pretty well, but she’s not a “baseball person.” She doesn’t follow it day-to-day, and her impression of a “baseball person” is someone like me, who prefers to use a calculator to add 4 + 2 (just to be on the safe side).
Some time last year, I sent my sister a Baseball Prospectus article about the development of advanced statistics. Her response was: “Baseball people do this?”
Yes, they do, and the development of advanced statistics has changed the way we look at baseball. Not so long ago, even a fairly routine stat like on-base percentage was not a part of the general baseball dialogue. Now we’re seeing OPS+ and VORP in the national media. Delving into a player’s splits is commonplace, as it should be.
But baseball — and sports in general — would be thoroughly uninteresting if not for the fact that stats occasionally mean nothing. Jose Veras was pretty bad last year, but he did pitch those three brilliant innings against Oakland the night Melky Cabrera hit his walk-off against Dan Giese. I once watched Jim Rushford, a minor league journeyman, hit a spring training home run against the great Mariano Rivera. In his guest post this morning, Yair mentioned the postseason struggles of two very good closers, Billy Wagner and Joe Nathan (though I forget to include the links in his post).
Statistics are key to our understanding of baseball, and the development of better and more advanced statistics does nothing but improve our understanding and appreciation of the game and its players. But the numbers can never tell us everything, and that’s the fun part of watching the game itself.