Friday, November 12, 2010
Joe Morgan and the war between sabermetrics and dirt -- what if they gave a war and you didn't know it was happening?
While we're talking about stupid things, let's talk about sabermetrics.
That was meant as a joke so don't get your shorts in a wad. Too late...right? OK, stand up, straighten things out, and sit back down. To some extent, maybe that's the point. Sabermetrics have become a line in the sand. Young Turks on one side. Old farts on the other. No room in the middle and nobody whose shorts aren't in a bad place.
I think the sabermagicians like it that way. They become the outlaws. The rebels. They're the fresh young faces ready to storm the gate. It's always good to be the underdog.
I've come to understand all this in the year or so we've been writing the Henrywiggen blog. Call me grossly uninformed but I had never heard of this war over sabermetrics. I liked Joe Morgan on Sunday night baseball. I liked Jon Miller better. How can you not like Jon Miller? He actually has a professional voice unlike nearly everyone else who squeaks and screeches when they call a major league baseball game today. Call me old fart, but I prefer a voice smooth as silk to, say, however you want to describe Scott Hamilton's voice.
Anyway, I didn't know a war was being waged. I thought you could evaluate baseball by who won and who lost. I thought good ballplayers usually wound up on good teams and good teams won. Money usually bought good teams who bought good players who won games. Pretty simple.
I liked small ball because it was interesting to watch. And, because it was for underdogs.
But I also liked home runs. Loved home runs. The sight of a baseball launched into the night was as majestic as anything I'd ever seen -- having never seen a space launch first hand.
I thought a very small number of pitchers could control the games they pitched. I thought a very small number of hitters could -- four times a game -- elevate your team's chances of driving in a run. I liked to watch scrappy hitters because ... I like underdogs. And I thought some hitters always let you down, even if their averages were high. Always thought their averages must be some kind of statistical mistake.
I thought lefty/righty matchups were for mediocre players and part of the full employment act for managers.
I was open to numbers and open to the wisdom of those who played in the dirt.
I liked Joe Morgan ... most of the time. When he got on a tangent, I went to the kitchen for a coke. I feel the same way about everyone on television in anything from sportscasting to news to Sons of Anarchy.
So I didn't know I had chosen a side. That is, until some of my students assumed I had. Suddenly I became a curmudgeon. A purist (pronounced with a spitting motion). An old fart.
OK, not an issue. If you're a teacher you get used to being a curmudgeon. In academia you get used to being behind the times -- most academics are terrified of being behind the times. They jump on the next big thing, preferring to surf the next wave in the rocks than be swallowed by a tsunami. You pick yer poison.
Now, I know how deep this sabermath divide really is. I'm amazed. I just finished this wonderful article reprinted from the San Francisco Chronicle on Deadspin about Joe Morgan vs sabermetrics and aside from a few gratuitously snippy comments -- transparently aimed at pleasing the aesthetics of the blogosphere -- it was a trove of both information and fascinating ideas.
Which side are you on? Is it still possible to be on both sides?
BTW: I'm still waiting for someone to explain how Tim Lincecum could only be worth four games across a 162 game season to the San Francisco Giants over, say, their triple A hurler Tony Pena Jr. Yes, THAT Tony Pena, Jr. I'm listening...
Illustration: Michigan State University