I Am Not a Number, I Am a Human Being: More Offseason Musings on Stats

I really like baseball, but I’m not a stat head. Talking about baseball outside of the blogs, I hear a lot of people add this qualifier when they talk about being a fan. Of course, then most of them go on to remark on the statistics in some way – commenting on a particular player’s batting average, or their team’s Ace’s ERA for example. At first glance, this appears to be a contradiction.

Personally, I can no longer get away with the but I’m not a stat geek qualifier without my husband affectionately mocking me…just because I have been known to describe increased individually weighted segmentation in metrics for everything from corporate annual goals to Weight Watcher points as moving from a straight batting average to OPS. Is that any reason I ask you? Yeah, don’t answer that.

Suffice to say, I do love the stats. I think they’re a lot of fun and one important way to assess a player. However, the things I like the most about particular players cannot be described by stats – drive, hustle, work ethic, being a team player, guts, strategy, intelligence and the player trait that’s most important to me: is the guy clutch? So I would argue that I’m not a stat head either.

I think the reason for the seeming disconnect here is a problem with language. What most of us, myself included, mean when we say I’m not a stat head is that I’m not a person who values the numbers more than the human drama on the field, I don’t think that stats trump what you know with your eyes and your gut. And this is all well and good right up until we self professed non stat heads try to explain the ways in which a player we like exhibits the qualities we do admire – the guts, the hustle, the clutch. Once you’ve said it, how do you explain it? You either start describing a litany of specific feats of prowess during a game or you try to quantify these unquantifiable qualities with the only measure you have available, the stats. This is a conundrum only baseball could produce – even when you are absolutely not a stat head, you still embrace the statistics.

* * * * *

That said, has anyone else noticed how much adding in the sabermetric stats make baseball stats look an awful lot like D&D and other roleplaying game stats?

Ichiro Suzuki: 4E, 7A, +4.5 WAR, +15.6 UZR
D&D Character: 17 STR mod +1, 14 DEX, -2 AC

I’m not entirely convinced this is coincidental. Many of the sabermaticians who came up with these stats were Ivy League math majors, after all. The fact that every time I read one of the more detailed free agent analyses I find myself thinking things like “It looks like a homerun? I don’t think so. My 18 UZR Carl Crawford casts magic missile. Role one D20 to see if your spell was successful,” however, must be entirely coincidental. Clearly I am not someone who would know anything about such things from their youth 😉


  1. ronlang44

    There’s nothing wrong with being a baseball geek or nerd or whatever term you want to use. I just wish there was only one way of determining a players defensive abilities. You have Range Factor, Zone Rating, Fielding Position….there should be a way to combine all of it like .OPS for hitters. Anyway, I love looking at the numbers. While I’ve never played D&D I played a lot of strat-o-matic baseball growing up. It’s kind of a role playing game using dice. Somehow, my Cubs would always win the World Series too!



  2. Hot Tub Baseball Machine

    Wow, I was looking at stats all day at work on my computer comparing Jason Heyward’s stats of his rookie season with 5 other HOFer’s!

  3. blithescribe

    Ron – I think the one unifying defensive stat may be the current sabermetric holy grail. Of course, the minute they come up with one we can all argue about how it doesn’t really tell the whole story either, is biased towards outfielders/infielders/left handed second basemen in their 30s, or whatever. That’s half the fun. Speaking of which, strat-o-matic baseball sounds like it must have been a lot of fun!
    Jeff – I will take that under advisement. Are baseball bats effective repellent for stat zombies or do they just attract them? Regardless, I think I can just shout “Errors are an effective measure of fielding ability” and then run away while they argue and foam at the mouth.
    Hot Tub Baseball Machine – LOL, that sounds like a fun day! Now pray your boss doesn’t read MLBlogs, unless that is your job at which point I am officially envious.
    – Kristen

  4. westcoastgirl

    The comparison to D&D is so great! No one ever picks up on that kind of thing. I think whenever you look at geeks of different subjects, it all starts looking the same.


  5. redstatebluestate

    Baseball bats are only effective for a short amount of time. That’s the problem with the undead… they’re really hard to kill 😉

  6. raysrenegade

    There is sometimes a real fine line between out stats and stories proving us with efficient ammunition to fight off the invading “experts”. More than a few of us have battled with stats flying all around when out of nowhere the logic comes out that no one is right. But still be beat up ourselves and the other combatant with our extreme knowledge and fact filled trival mindset that only a true fan can bestow as a positive personality trait.
    I am guilt of this not only by association, but by the lust of wanting to better my fellow man with a slice of baseball lore or truth that will slay the dragon. But it could be worse, I could become one of those chosen few who do not have that drive and want to feel the passion for sports. Thank God I am a jock in heart mind, body and soul.

    Rays Renegade


  7. blithescribe

    Jane – Ah yes, math, the bane of many a student’s existence. Fortunately as grown-ups we can all use our calculators (and computers) and no one will stand over us and make us show our work, but none of that is going to make it “fun” if you didn’t like it to begin with, I’m sure.
    Jonestein – *grins* I’m pleased to give you a laugh. Thanks for dropping by and commenting!
    Rays Renegade – And thank heaven for the jocks at that or we wouldn’t have any reason to talk about this at all!
    – Kristen

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