I promised myself I wouldn’t read foxsports.com’s Jason Whitlock’s latest piece, “Stat geeks are ruining sports.” He’s an unmitigated blowhard who seems to only be chasing pageviews with his rants which are devoid of thoughtful insight. He seems to have channeled his inner child by referring to the very smart people who study and create these advanced statistics as “geeks,” even going so far as to tell them to “STFU.” The man is trolling to the highest degree.
So, I’d like to take Jason Whitlock to task.
It’s no longer enough to be down with OBP (on-base percentage). To talk the game, you now must understand OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging), VORP (value over replacement player), BABIP (batting average on balls in play) and on and on.
Aside from Whitlock dating himself by referencing OPS as some cornerstone of statistical analysis (OPS lost most of its usefulness about a decade ago), “understanding” OPS is simple addition, as he points out. HOLY GOODNESS! You mean, you have to ADD OBP and SLG to get OPS? Wow. That’s just way over my head, Jason. Good thing you’re handy with your parentheticals or I would’ve never understood what was going on. As a concept, it’s actually much simpler than batting average. Batting average has all these caveats and unofficial plate appearances and sacrifices that it ends up being a misrepresentation of someone’s hitting ability. OPS is just the simple addition of two percentages, with SLG using a different denominator (at bats instead of plate appearances as used in OBP).
Sports, like art, are supposed to be interpreted.
What the shit does this mean exactly? Here’s a stat for you to interpret you massive ignoramus: .406 batting average. I’ll bet every dollar I have that you have an interpretation of this … stat, otherwise known as a “non-art.” You interpret it as an incredible feat. How does one interpret Dick LeBeau’s defensive schemes? To me, they’re scientific. There exists a problem (the opponent is trying to score) and he designed specific ways to fix that problem. Why can’t sports be both art and science since both clearly exist. Here’s one way to interpret sports: using stats.
They quote sabermetrics and end all discussion. Is so-and-so a Hall of Famer? The sabermeticians will punch in the numbers and give you, in their mind, a definitive answer.
Sabermetricians argue the EXACT SAME WAY AS EVERYONE ELSE DOES but with different stats. Besides, sabermetricians aren’t Hall of Fame voters so what does it matter?
The nerds are winning. They’re stealing the game from those of us who enjoy examining the gray areas of sports. We’re about 10 years away from a computer program that will write stats-based opinion pieces on sports.
Again with the middle school name calling? And who are these pilferers of sport? These robbers of enjoyment whose sole purpose is to make sure little Billy Peehispants never sees the game his loving father taught him. I’m pretty sure I can go to Yankee Stadium and see the same Yankees play the same game they’ve played for over a century.
Last season, the basketball analytics crowd was convinced that LeBron James and Dwight Howard deserved the MVP over Derrick Rose. The fact that Howard’s whiny, immature crybaby-ass was even in the discussion tells you all you need to know about analyzing the game solely on statistics. The Orlando Magic were a joke last season in part because of the immature environment fostered by Howard.
Where in the MVP voting guidelines does it say that “crybaby-asses” can’t win MVPs? What are you doing RIGHT NOW? You’re crying over stats that have made their way into front offices. You’re crying over stats that help GMs make decisions. You use stats in your columns. How do you know that Dwight Howard’s attitude had any effect on his team? Kobe’s known to cry. Even talked about leaving the Lakers. He’s won five NBA championships. Reggie Jackson was perhaps the biggest cancer to any locker room in the history of sports and he won two World Series with the Yanks. ARod? Everyone was convinced the Yanks couldn’t win with him on the team and then he goes on a murderous tear in the ’09 playoffs to help the Yanks … *gulp* … WIN THE WORLD SERIES. In light of all this, Howard’s perceived influence on his team is purely speculative.
It doesn’t really matter who deserved the NBA’s MVP award. What matters is that there was a fun, yearlong debate.
I’m sorry. I can’t. I just … can’t… Okay, I can. What did you just say? It doesn’t matter? Then what are we talking about? People will build arguments from stats and if it’s close enough, each contender will have plenty to argue. Seen the AL MVP race lately?
Sabermetrics/analytics undermines the debate. They try to interject absolutes.
About as much as traditional stats try to interject absolutes. Reggie Jackson is known as the ultimate “clutch” hitter. Though stats have indicated that “clutch” hitting isn’t a repeatable skill, people still reference it. Wanna know how “clutch” Reggie Jackson was in the playoffs? He hit .278/.358/.527. Still very good. Hardly otherworldly.
No one will ever convince me that John Elway isn’t the greatest quarterback/football player in NFL history.
Oh, I’m sorry. Are you trying to interject absolutes or just form an opinion? Wait! Do you know what this means? You are the only human being to not be “ruined” by stat geeks! God be praised! If only you can teach some lowly mortal to form an opinion and steadfastly stick to it, then we’d be in business.
Is it a coincidence that James and Manning have both struggled in postseason play?
Okay, I’ll acquiesce on Bron Bron (even though you saw this year how much he meant to the Cavs) but Peyton has actually won a Super Bowl. In fact, he won the Super Bowl MVP but apparently being the best player in the most important game of the season means about as much to you as dieting.
They’re in our imaginations and our individual interpretation of what we witness.
Here is where I applaud you. You articulated, so beautifully, the inherent problem with the subjective. How someone remembers something isn’t always how it happened. Also, how someone interprets something isn’t always how it happened. Remember when Michael Jordan could fly through the air? Well, he couldn’t. It only seems that way because his body stretches causing his head’s path to the rim to stay flat resulting in an optical illusion. However, his center of gravity still obeys Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation. Go figure. The objective debunking the subjective.
When the “Moneyball” movie hysteria subsides, I hope the sabermeticians STFU.
The “Moneyball” book actually revolutionized baseball but somehow you still deny its application. And STFU? What are you? A 12-year-old girl fighting with her boyfriend over text message? Also, learn to spell.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about Whitlock’s crippling immaturity is his utter lack of open-mindedness. He sees sabermetrics as a tool to wipe out the enjoyment of sports. Sabermetrics tries to find the factors most appropriate to evaluate a player. And since intangibles are presently unquantifiable, they can’t be taken into account. Once someone finds a way to quantify, say, “leadership,” then you can bet it’ll be reflected in the stats. Perhaps John Elway is the greatest quarterback of all-time and conversely, maybe Donovan McNabb is underrated. Wouldn’t learning that make McNabb fans feel better about his legacy and thus enjoy it more? If it works on one side, it’ll work on the other side.
I imagine that his obsequiousness for the presently unquantifiable is largely due to the idea of sports romanticism. Our favorite players transcend the sport and reach an echelon reserved for the very elite. It’s love in its own way. Some fans mentally genuflect merely at the thought of somebody like John Elway or Michael Jordan ultimately inflating their respective contributions to the sport pushing their existence into the mythical arena. There’s a time and place for that but evaluating a player’s ability has no room for it.
How many times have we heard “overrated” or “he was a bad signing?” What are those based off of? Usually, it’s based off a player’s contribution to the team. How is that quantified? By stats. Whitlock’s monstrosity is a contradiction wrapped inside of a caricature. It shouldn’t be taken seriously and I sincerely hope he admits that it was satire.
How are these professional journalists allowed to name call and dismiss a group of people whose own beliefs about stats are shared with front offices running major sports teams? The fact that Bill James in employed by the Boston Red Sox should be enough to shut the Jason Whitlocks of the world up. I don’t think of any less of somebody who doesn’t know or understand or agree with sabermetrics because… who cares? If sports for fans are really about enjoyment, why can’t someone enjoy it in their own way? Why must anybody adhere to Whitlock’s (seemingly absent) rules of enjoyment? Enjoy the game that way you want to enjoy it. What’s the matter with that?
Editor’s Note: Terry would like to thank FireJoeMorgan for the inspiration.