Don’t care about WAR.

“…a boring, life-sucking disaster?”  Well yeah, they’re 17-24.

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I was reading a Grantland piece on the Mets last night and it was interesting.

Jay and I care not about Wins Above Replacement Player.

… So let’s not mince words: The 2013 Mets are a boring, life-sucking disaster.

Now that’s good writering.  Ok Mr. Grantland, you have my attention.

Their roster boasts the third-worst combined Wins Above Replacement in the ma…

o_O.  Ooops.  You lost me.  Gonna click on my Wunderground map now, check the weather.

Third worst WAR?  In MLB?  Their roster boasts this?  DONT CARRRREEEEE!

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I enjoyed a good Archies comic book back in the day.  Those teen-age hi-jinx at Riverdale High.  Why don’t you like Betty more Archie… she’s good looking *and* nice to you?  I had a lot learn on that front but circling back to sports, the comic book experience included an ad whose combination of placement and message left many a ten year old spellbound.  Strat-o-matic.  The origin* of Sabermetrics.

stratomatic

Kat-nip for kids.

I was ten when got my first Strat-o-Matic game in 1971 or 72.  No.  It was 1970 and I know this because Merv Rettenmund hit .322 that year and even though he didn’t start for Earl Weaver, he started for me.  Don Buford was the odd man out.  Strato did that.

I got the five team starter set** which worked great for me as a Reds fan in Grandview Heights.  I was several years away from our family’s move to Lorain County and it accompanying adoption of the ~1975 Indians due to a mix of wanting to embrace my new Cleveland-ness and it was just too easy being a Reds fan so I sought the richer complexity of rooting for Charley Spikes.  Rose, Geronimo, Tolan in your outfield with Foster and Griffey waiting behind them?  Where’s the sport in that?  No.. appreciating the nuance of Spikes, Hendrick, Manning was more interesting to me.  (Actually .. this is all true.)

Pre-emptive.

Anyway, through Strato I exploited the Rettenmund edge in BA, got over the Lee May trade because he whiffed a lot, inserted Dave Cash in the Pirates lineup long before Danny Murtaugh, Cesar Tovar could play any position,,, and Tom Hall.  Look at this guy’s 1970 K/9 ratio and you tell me why he wasn’t the Twins’ closer in 1970 (or why the Twins traded him to -who else- the Reds).

I offer this background as a proof point that I’m an original stats guy from way back.

And I think the wonk trend in baseball is a tad overdone.  Juuusst a little.

The Grantland example is perfect to illustrate this.  Like:  Can’t I just look in the standings and see seven games behind the division leader in mid-May and derive the Mets’ life-sucking disaster level?

Bats over .300 with a fair number of walks? Leadoff hitter.

No.  The author thinks I need post-modern analytics for this discussion.

I’m not saying these new stats aren’t useful and don’t have their place.  But cripes.

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WAR:  normalizing normalized data.

I’m not totally closed-minded on this.  OBP?  I definitely want to know this info and I definitely want the top of my lineup setting the table with OBP guys.  But even when I was ten I could look at a card of Rose’s to the right and figure out if the BA and Walks made him a good lead-off guy.

BABIP for Pitchers?  Fine I guess but something of a nit.  OPS+?  I understand it, feels like normalization overkill and says here wOBA is a better stat.  (Big League Stew offers nice primers on some new stats at these links:  BABIPOPS+FIPwOBAWPAWAR, UZR.)

So okay.  I can see how they can give a better picture and I can see the appeal to the higher-level baseball hobbyist.  Like I said, I’m an old Strato guy.  I get it.

You start to lose me when RBI and BA stats are diminished in favor of Runs Created and OPS.  I know RBIs*** depend on having guys on base in front of you, but the RBI guy is getting them home.  There’s the whole ‘clutch’ thing that Bill James doesn’t believe in, but I do.

Screen Shot 2013-05-19 at 10.45.30 PM

Combined WAR? Really?

And then I tend to shut down when we get to WAR.  I reject the premise of WAR.  I get that WAR effectively rounds up all your stats and normalizes them and then normalizes them again by comparing the first group of normalized stats to a guy who doesn’t exist.  The mythical replacement being a composite of the league.  But in fact, the replacement player is the guy sitting at the end of the bench.  E.g., Don Buford’s _true_ WAR is the delta between him and Merv Rettenmund.  WAR is too normalized.  Too fantasy.

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He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp posts — for support rather than illumination.

What are stats for?  It’s not uncommon for me to have an idea and then to hustle over to Pro-Football-Reference to support it.  But what you don’t see are all the ideas I’ve had that fold like origami after a statistical review.  So I hope I’m judicious in stat use, I try to be.  I try to rule the stats, not vice-versa.  I really do.

When I read some of the stat focused pieces out there, ,,, my eyes roll back into my head.  Talk about your life-sucking disasters.  There’s something about the wonk pieces that suck the joy of the game off the field and put it on a spreadsheet and something is lost there.  I can’t say what, but something.

Alrighty, that’ll do.  Let’s go Tribe at noon today.

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By the way, I dropped my collection of gifs and movs and jpgs into a photobucket account.  It’s public so you should be able to browse them here.

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Shout out to Midview, Ely Stadium, and Lorain County Special Olympics which was held last Friday.  Looks like a great crowd came out and you can’t not be touched looking at the send-off the Middie team got.  Click pic for their Facebook link.

Click for more pics.

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* I had friends with the older APBA but its spinny arrow mechanism seemed weak for serious statistical game re-creation.  Dice.  Now that’s your random number generator.

** It was the five team baseball starter edition and as a result in know more about the 1970 Reds, Pirates, Orioles, Twins, and … who was the fifth… must’ve been the Yankees because I remember thinking Horace Clarke to be a funny name … than most ten years olds back then.

*** I’ll never use the plural form of RBI without the s.  Neh-vah.

  • dan

    I find the concept of Wins Above Replacement a useful philosophical tool, but the stat itself less so since it isn’t a reflection of something that can be observed.

    RBI is a stupid stat. If you want to measure “clutch” hitting or how well a batter brings runners home, measure that — with batting average with runners on base, for example — rather than RBIs, which measures how often the players ahead of the batter get on base as much or more than it measures the performance of the batter.

  • jpftribe

    Never been a numbers wonk. I liked Rick Manning because he could fly in CF. I liked Charlie Spikes because he had a cool name and cool hair. I liked Jim Thome because he could hit a ball about as far as a human could hit. I liked Omar Visquel because I have never seen another human being play SS any better. I liked Kenny Lofton because there was no better leadoff man in baseball.

    I’m not saying there is no value in stats. they are probably most important in baseball where the game is elongated and complex. But using them assumes the past predicts the future, and that is often a dubious bet. To the extent they can be used to compare previous circumstances to current ones, fine, always looking for an edge.

    But, I watched the Rangers beat the Tigers this morning (last night for all you western hemisphere folks). In one inning, there were five bonehead plays by the Tigers. Only one will show up on the stat line, a wild pitch. And it had no meaning. The others gave up what turned out to be winning runs.

    There are two stats I think are really important, and right now, I’m really digging that my Tribe is leading in both in their division. GW and GB.

  • clay

    Strat o matic ruled. I had 1985 season, which means I was 10. Think I was allowed to pick my 5 teams. Indians, Yanks, Mets, Boston, Cubs.

    • i got one for a nephew like 15 years ago. lead balloon. i bought their computer game; kinda sucked (i just did fast play and had a simulated game in a second). really hard to recreate that time and place.

      if you want a laugh or to confirm that Strat-o-Matic was just two guys and a dog, check out the streetview of the Glen Head HQ.

  • i knew they had a special deal,,, maybe it was four teams and not five. all i know is that i *had* to have it but had no cash. so i simultaneously got sucked into a comic book money making scheme and sold flower seeds door-to-door in the neighborhood to pay for it.

    i was tempted, but managed to avoid, that worst of all exploit-little-kids schemes: Selling Grit subscriptions. ugh.. can you imagine?

    wow, it still exists.

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