Chaz Scoggins has been around. The longtime Lowell Sun writer has served as the Red Sox's official scorer for 34 years. He's been a SABR member for nearly as long. He even served as president of the BBWAA. But his hidden talent appears to be master satirist. How else to explain his weekend column, which could only be a pastiche of all the terrible anti-stats columns of the past decade—surely he can't be serious?
If you're going to send up the hysterical, reactionary old guard, threatened and confused by metrics they don't understand, you're going to need to hit a few key points. Let's go down the checklist and make sure Scoggins didn't miss anything.
• Ascribe powers to advanced stats that practitioners don't even claim themselves:
As a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) since 1979, I like to think I was among the first devotees of sabermetrics, a term that had not yet been created for the math wizards who claim they have devised formulae that can reveal to you everything a major-league team needs to know about a ballplayer and (gasp!) essentially predict his future.
• Decide that sabermetrics leave no room for any other analysis:
Their work has made baseball scouts relics of the past, like typewriters, VHS tapes, audio cassettes and, yes, even newspapers. Or so these brainiacs would like to have you think.
• Invoke a universally repudiated stat (Quality starts? Really?) as an example of a good stat, because at least you understand it:
Other statistics categories Gammons and I helped pioneer were quality starts for pitchers and catchers' earned run averages. We also kept stats on how successful batters were at getting runners home from third with less than two outs.
• Claim that an advanced stat doesn't tell you everything (even though it never claimed to). Bonus points if you can use David Eckstein as an example:
But now the sabermetricians have gone too far. OPS (on-base plus slugging) is redundant. I can look at a player's on-base and slugging percentages and judge instantly how good they are, and OPS as the defining statistic of a hitter does an injustice to the David Ecksteins of the world who don't have power but can beat an opponent in a myriad of other ways.
• "You can only judge a player by watching them!":
And all these complex mathematical formulae! I don't believe there is any formula — and many have been promulgated — that can determine whether or not someone is a good defensive player. Only your eyes can tell you whether or not someone can play.
• Dismiss a stat by pointing to an award, voted on by writers like you:
The Red Sox got caught up in the ridiculous UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) a couple of years ago and made some bad decisions acquiring players who were nowhere near as good as allegedly advertised. Jacoby Ellsbury was a way-below-average defensive center fielder according to the UZR. My eyes told me otherwise. A year later Ellsbury won a Gold Glove and was runner-up for the MVP Award.
• "If sabermetrics are so great, why haven't the A's won a World Series?":
As much as I loved the book and movie "Moneyball," the Athletics were twice eliminated in the playoffs because their players couldn't run the bases properly. There was, apparently, no formula that could warn a team about that.
• Willfully misunderstand a stat:
Well, here's what I think of WAR: As dreadful a year as the Red Sox had, they were 47-43 before David Ortiz got hurt on July 16. They were 22-50 without him in the second half. Ergo, for the Red Sox to be four games above .500, in that stretch, their replacement designated hitters would have had to come up 16 more wins than they did.
Yes, Ortiz was worth 16 more wins to the Red Sox than his replacements, easily outdistancing both Cabrera and Trout in that department. So David Ortiz is the true MVP of the American League.
That's pretty much every point to make, except maybe invoking parents' basements. But the baseball world really has made great strides in accepting and integrating alternate metrics. Instead of totally sincere analysts going item-by-item and dissecting his logical errors, instead everyone just kind of points and laughs and asks, "Holy shit, it's 2012 and you actually wrote this column?" Automatic dismissal instead of needing to explain why Scoggins's Luddite inertia ought to be dismissed? Now that's progress.
Baseball's stat geeks have gone too far [Lowell Sun]