Indians, WWW

Anti-information coverage and the Response it Engenders

AP Photo/Tony Dejak

Major League Baseball fans have a disagreement over the nature of information that can be considered illuminating when watching a baseball game. Perhaps more divisive than the information itself is the type of coverage a fan may want. There are two competing assumptions from each camp:

  • The old school camp assumes analytics-leaning fans yearn for a technical and boring broadcast, a sort of snobby erudite affair wherein the coverage drones on and sounds like your calculus teacher down to the nasal voice-overs.
  • The analytical crowd assumes traditional fans do not wish for insight nor creative analysis but rather a sort of rapid-fire cliche machine that is not dissimilar to Jon Gruden.

Both assumptions can be described as straw men; intentionally misrepresenting a position, which is easier to defeat rhetorically.

The debate is futile and unending, with the two sides fighting the ghosts of their misconceptions. The sort of volatile responses that these assumptions can trigger are expected. As is the case in many larger social conflicts, there is common ground that can be found, a space where both schools of thought can be satisfied.  Indeed, baseball traditionalists have no fundamental opposition to learning nor stat-wonks an interest against the consumption of moments ill-described by sheets of data.

However, there is one true enemy who endangers the bridging of this intellectual gap: the attention-seeking troll. The troll uses these base assumptions enumerated above to create straw men and then attempts to assert the ultimate truth rests in whatever corner they purportedly support. This anachronistic rhetorical approach calls to mind Plato’s Gorgias. In Gorgias, Plato describes a dialogue including his mentor Socrates and a famous rhetorician named Gorgias. Socrates discusses the true and the false arts, arguing the important distinction between flattery or rhetoric without virtue and rhetoric for the purpose of virtue.1 Socrates seems to criticize Gorgias throughout the dialogue for using his rhetorical powers and position on non-virtuous noise. This sounds like the attention seeking troll though in more complex and descriptive language.

In this vein, certain commentators wield their large platform with skill; to leverage their position either for deceptive analysis or as an authority for illumination. Jensen Lewis though is an exquisite example of simplicity.

Lewis’ straw man is constructed on Roberto Perez walkoff-bunt from Monday night’s win. Perez executed what was a poor bunt and- but for a double-clutch by the Boston first baseman- would likely have ended in the lead runner being cut down. But what is bigger is that Lewis assumes “saber geeks”2 operate with the belief that all bunting is the wrong decision. However, situations shift the efficiency of the bunt. Thankfully, WFNY’s thorn in the side of extremism, Michael Bode, pointed out Lewis’ misconception.

By eschewing the pursuit of actual understanding and constructing a straw man that does not reflect the approach of sabermetricians, Lewis is merely creating noise, which undermines the greater conversation, a dialogue between pure aesthetics and analytics. There is substantive criticism to be found of any approach but criticizing one blindly with the only purpose being to goad reaction from opponents is the sort of rhetorical and influential malpractice that impedes intellectual progress.

  1. Feel free to criticize this interpretation of a Platonic dialogue. []
  2. Nothing less persuasive than an ad hominem attack []

  • Chris

    “run probability says scoring “one run” increases in that situation & we didn’t need multiple. sabermetrics says bunt fine”

    Does that simply assume that you’ve successfully traded an out for a base? Or does it take into account the negative scenarios such as a popup or foul-out, the lead runner getting thrown out, or the rare double play?

  • Chris

    Also, I don’t mind Jensen Lewis’ broadcasts (I’d prefer for him to be with Hamilton), but I agree there’s no need for his attacks.

  • BenRM
  • mgbode

    The math I linked to on yesterday’s Robo piece assumed the base. There is math elsewhere that takes into account the odds of the successfulness of the bunt based on historical data. In the exact scenario we were in, the numbers said to bunt (though with as far in as 1B/3B were, an argument could be made to swing).

  • woofersus

    Agree. He’s a reasonably good baseball commentator, and I don’t always need quantitative analysis from such people, but his willful lack of understanding of what analytics are for is a real throwback. I don’t care if somebody prefers the “eye test,” but it grates at me when they don’t understand something because they don’t want to.

  • Allen P

    During the post-game show on STO after game 4 of the World Series, Lewis put a Chief Wahoo emblem on a stuffed goat and paraded it around the table. Right then and there, I was convinced that the Cubs were going to come back and win. I’ve not liked Lewis since – and this certainly doesn’t help his cause. And yes, there is some thick irony in tying a completely superstitious reason to dislike him to a completely rational, math-driven argument.

  • jpftribe

    To me, he plays the “I used to be an MLB’er” card way too much and comes off too parochial, whether it’s a positive or negative take. He may think it’s fun to take shots at the Sabr crowd, but I see that as career limiting, which is extremely foolish. The world already has too many Bayliss ludites.

  • jpftribe

    Hey Mike, good piece.

    At 51, I’ve learned more about baseball in the last couple of years than at likely any other time. I am hardly a math whiz, nor do I gravitate towards big data, but just like in running a business, if you don’t understand the numbers (financials, production, etc…) then you are at a disadvantage to your peers. They also say CFO’s sometimes ( NOT always) don’t make good CEO’s because you can’t run a business strictly by the numbers.

    And like reading a financial statement or balance sheet, if you don’t understand where those numbers are coming from, how they are generated and what their strengths or shortcomings may be, you can make some pretty big mistakes. But really good insights can be found that otherwise go unnoticed.

    Two other thoughts here:
    1. Even knowing the Sabermetrics inside and out, the MLB clubs have vastly superior data sets and analytic capabilities. So you never really know what goes into some of the decisions made.
    2. Having broken down some Tito in game decisions that I was pretty emotional about, I’ve found that almost all of them are 51% to 49% type decisions. Even if they are 60% – 40%, they generally are not wild ass guesses and can legitimately be argued both ways.

  • Chris

    I think one of the biggest grind’s on Tito (judging by my super duper scientific sampling of WFNY comments) is that players bunt early in games too often, particularly near top of order. He seems to prefer having a small lead over the chance of a big inning.