We congratulate Scott McCormick, who bested 3,472 competitors to win our NCAA Tourney Pants Party Pool. As promised, he is rewarded (?) with a signed copy of God Save The Fan and a free post to write whatever he pleases. So, here it is. Congrats, man.
Your Statistics are Clogging Up
It says a great deal about my priorities that this is an unbelievable thrill for me. I managed to submit the winning bracket in the Deadspin Pants Party for the NCAA Tournament, and Will got stuck letting me write a free post, forever crippling his fine website's "credibility." Once it looked like I might win, I started to actually think about what I'd write about given this forum. For better or for worse, this is what I came up with. Bear with me; there's a reason I don't do this professionally.
One of my three entries, "McC 2" (I minored in creativity), was full of chalk; of course, this year that turned out to be a blessing. I knew it was a good sign when Will posted my doppelganger in his championship day pool update on Monday morning. I suppose that one shouldn't get too big a head for winning with a bracket that looked about like what my Mom probably would have submitted ("the #1 teams must be the best, right?"), and I'm sure she hasn't watched a basketball game since I played in high school ("ohh, Kansas is a flatland state, I'll pick them!"). But hey, you have to revel in these moments — I'll probably never win a big tournament pool for the rest of my life, and needless to say I was on cloud nine when Chalmers hit that three both, because it saved my bracket and for the pure thrill of a great sports moment and fantastic game. I'd been really high on Kansas for months, and with some guidance from the Pomeroy ratings, the discussion of home/away records by the outstanding Vegas Watch and a few well-chosen (lucky, in other words) upsets, it all ended up coming together for me this year.
So I will unashamedly say that statistical analysis (by people smarter than me) helped me pick some reasonably successful brackets, both in the Deadspin pool and others that I entered. A rather lucrative year in college basketball, actually. So one semi-related question that comes to me is: Why are so many people are literally hostile towards the use of innovative statistics in their favorite sports? (I'm primarily discussing baseball, but we'll see how the basketball community reacts to the Prospectus invasion. I for one welcome our new Pentium-hearted overlords.) Yes, I'm looking at you, Joe Morgan. Surely there is room for fans to enjoy the game in their own way without diminishing the enjoyment of the game for others. And it works both ways — I certainly don't want to get in the way of the old-school baseball fan and their enjoyment of the intangible and mystical aspects of the game. Indeed, they are part of what make sports entertaining, unpredictable and continually interesting.
That said, I could care less about Jeter's calm eyes, but I am extremely interested in his Zone Rating (horrible) and his VORP (quite good). What I do find frustrating and somewhat mystifying is how so many members of the Sports Journalism Industrial Complex are livid about those of us who enjoy quantitative analysis. "Get your heads out of the computer and go actually watch a game!" they say. Do they really think that the sabermetrically inclined baseball fan doesn't watch games? We watch games every day. "They've never played the game!" Sure, not professionally. But most of us played the game at some level, and the fundamentals remain the same...they're just way, way better at the required physical skills than we'll ever be. Does that mean we can't possibly have a clue about whether Juan Pierre is a valuable leadoff hitter? If discussing the BABIP of Roy Halladay helps us with our enjoyment of the game, shouldn't that be celebrated, or at the very least, ignored? And in what possible way does it diminish from their enjoyment of aura and clutchiness? My guess is that these baseball-establishment-types feel threatened, although I can't really imagine why. ("Ahh, they've got graphing calculators!") All I know is that discovering Win Expectancy has enhanced my experience of baseball, and I'm not sure I understand why any fan of the sport would have a problem with that.
So to you, the traditional sportswriter, I say you can have your horrible, horrible sunshine and afternoons at the ballpark. We're quite happy in the basement with our spreadsheets. And sometimes, when the internet is down, we'll even go out to the ballpark ourselves or tune in to watch a game and see something special like Monday's national final and that shot by Chalmers. And I'll freely admit it: getting to be a part of that one shining moment in some small shining way (i.e. by running around the room screaming and high-fiving people with money on Kansas) will always make any kind of statistical gymnastics seem meaningless. (Unless you're on ESPN talking about Memphis's free-throw percentage, apparently.) To the dismay of people who see sports as a lowbrow form of entertainment, it's pretty clear that sports can be an intellectual pursuit, as well as an emotional one. It's a pretty big tent, and one angle doesn't have to diminish the other. Who cares why some people love the game(s)?
To sum up: Screw off, Murray Chass. Sports are awesome, whether you count with an abacus or Excel. Or if you just like the cheerleaders.
Thanks for reading, and thanks to Will for this opportunity.