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2004-02-10 14:09
by Will Carroll

I've had an ongoing discussion with someone who's name you'd know about several things, but they recently emailed me discussing the latest Rob Neyer column and how he's "advancing the field" by discussing some current research and a recent NY Post article that discussed advanced defensive metrics.

I'll be honest - and this is no secret: I'm no sabermetrician and calling me one is something of an insult to the field. Keith Woolner's "Hilbert Question" column was re-published on BP today and it's timely. Sabermetrics might be advancing the knowledge base of objective facts, but I don't know that more links in Rob's articles does much to advance anything.

Rob's probably the most widely read writer that actively discusses sabermetric priniciples and while I know he can do the math, he often 'plays dumb' rather than going through advanced explanations. This is both device and time-saver, but it points out what I think is the single biggest problem facing sabermetrics over the next couple years: presentation.

It was a big wake-up call for me when the Mets announced they had hired Ben Baumer as their stats guy. I knew two solid people were in the final group and more had inquired that I think could handle the job. Like most, I heard Ben's name and went "who?" Now, from what I've learned about Ben, he's very qualified and I hope he does a great job, but what got him the job was not smarts or data, it was presentation.

Ben created a program called "Pinch Hitter" that takes a lot of sabermetric analysis and puts it into a format that people with no knowledge of correlations or r-scores can follow. We should learn from that lesson. In spite of over thirty years of work starting with Palmer and Thorn, continuing to James and his descendants, to BP and other sites, there's no end of good - even great - work being done.

Ever mentioned your favorite sabermetric site to a friend who's also a baseball fan and got that look of "huh?" BP might be in the Amazon Top 100, but there are people I met at the Winter Meetings in high positions that have never heard of it. I've never once said "Baseball Prospectus" - even in the days after the Pete Rose media storm - where someone didn't need an explanation.

Rob Neyer is clearly the vanguard of getting things out there and there's plenty of good work, so the next step is marketing. Knowledge without application is intellectual masturbation and no iteration of OPS or runs created is going to be what pushes sabermetrics into the "mainstream." I thought Moneyball would be the tipping point, but it's not ... at least not yet.

Right now, baseball doesn't need another Bill James, Mitchel Lichtman, or Nate Silver - we have those. Baseball needs more Michael Lewis', more Danny Deutschs, or Mark Cubans. In tech terms, sabermetrics needs to add a GUI to the command line. Where's our Steve Jobs?

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