When Stats Don’t Matter

It has never been cooler to be a baseball nerd than right now. Moneyball brought baseball analytics to the main stream. It does help when you’ve got Brad Pitt leading the charge.

Now ESPN has published The Great Analytics Rankings.1 It’s worth checking out. But we’re here to discuss something else that is seemingly falling by the wayside.

Where does “feel” fit in the discussion?

Sports have been about gut feelings since Babe Ruth called his shot.

I’m not saying stats don’t mean anything. Stats are definitely great indicators of overall performance for a long period of time with a large sample size.

But they’re not always right. That’s what’s great about baseball. Anything can happen. That’s why David Eckstein can hit a walkoff grand slam. Or Fernando Tatis can hit two in one inning off the same pitcher.

Take a look at Game 1 of the NLDS last year. Kershaw had only given up 3 RBIs to lefties with a .193 average all season. Then with one swing in the 7th inning Matt Carpenter matched that number.

Stats are good indicators for a player’s performance if all else remains equal. But we don’t have a good metric for confidence, desire to improve, or even the situation.

La Russa, now the Diamondbacks’ chief baseball officer, isn’t quite against stats, but he’s not into using them on the field, saying “We’ll use it. It stops before the first pitch is thrown.

Let’s take a look at the records for ESPN’s Top 10 and Bottom 10 analytics adopters.

All In Skeptics 
Boston Red Sox71-91Arizona Diamondbacks64-98
Chicago Cubs73-89Atlanta Braves79-83
Cleveland Indians85-77Cincinnati Reds76-86
Houston Astros70-92Colorado Rockies66-96
New York Yankees84-78Detroit Tigers90-72
Oakland A's88-74Minnesota Twins70-92
Pittsburgh Pirates88-74
St. Louis Cardinals90-72Nonbelievers
Tampa Bay Rays77-85Miami Marlins77-85
Philadelphia Phillies73-89

The first 2 that are all in finished last in their respective divisions in 2014. The Cardinals were the only division winners and the Pirates and A’s didn’t have deep postseason runs. The bottom teams are not good. But you’ve got a couple generally competitive teams mixed in there.

Then in their overall rankings across all sports they’ve got the Astros at number 2, the Rays at number 4, the Red Sox at 5, the Yankees at 6, and the A’s at 9. Definitely some teams that have had some decent seasons in there. But, outside of the Red Sox, not a lot of Championships.

It’ll be interesting to look back on those rankings in 5 years and see what those Championship numbers look like. Or see if the Astros cannot be terrible.

What’s this all mean? Probably not much. Stats seem to be a good indicator for building a team that can make it through the long haul of a baseball season, but can’t determine what happens when teams built this same way meet for 5 or 7 games. At that point anything goes.

It’s not perfect but sometimes managers are just going to have to go with our gut.

 

  1. Bonus points for a really nicely done page for it.