Apparently nobody ever told that to Mike Puma of the New York Post. Not only has Puma gotten himself in trouble this year for an unprofessional and unfunny joke about Mets starting pitcher Bartolo Colon’s weight, but after the Mets’ 3-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves Wednesday night, he unleashed this golden nugget on Twitter, spurred on by comments made earlier by Sandy Alderson to Jon Heyman:
Mets are three outs away from falling a season’s worst 11 games under .500 … But at least their runs differential doesn’t stink.
— Mike Puma (@NYPost_Mets) July 3, 2014
I am in no way suggesting that Puma was the only Met beat writer to make a joke about that comment, because he wasn’t, but let’s really examine the level of ignorance contained in that tweet.
The Mets’ record now stands at 37-48, but their run differential is not too shabby. They have scored 328 runs, and allowed 334. That works out to a Pythagorean record of 42-43, just one game below the .500 mark, rather than 11.
There is a very strong correlation between run differential and win-loss record (see the chart to the side), but as anyone who has taken an intro-level statistics class could tell you, there are sometimes aberrations – outliers, if you will – in the data that sometimes break from the prevailing trend.
A situation like that is the exception, not a reason to discard legitimate statistical findings.One of the best examples of a team breaking the trend was the 2007 Arizona Diamondbacks. That team went 90-72, winning the NL West despite a run differential of -20, and a 79-83 Pythagorean record.
So for Puma, or whoever wants to dangle run differential out there to take cheap shots at sabermetrics, I genuinely feel sad for you.
Somehow, you’ve managed to completely miss the boat on what sabermetrics – and being a fan of baseball – is all about.
Statistics assist in that search for more objective knowledge about baseball. They help us know the exact run expectancy value of a runner on first and no outs, versus a runner on second and one out, so that we can guide strategy, knowing that the sacrifice bunt – in almost all situations – is a negative play.
We can look at a player like Mike Trout and put a number on his overall dominance of the game – and compare him easily to other players both in the game today and in history.
And yes, we can look at the underlying numbers of a team, and say that they are perhaps getting a bit unlucky, and are due to start playing well as the statistics regress to the mean, and the “luck factor” wears off as the sample gets larger.
Then again, that might not happen, because that’s the game of baseball. That’s part of the beauty of the game. The process can be 100 percent correct, but you can have bad results, and vice versa.
That’s why it’s so important to emphasize getting the process right. In the long run, a team with good process but bad results in the short-term will do better than the team with bad process and good short-term results.
If you want to take shots at something, at least come armed with the proper tools, and not just attitude and clichés. Hashtagging your tweet #WARWhatIsItGoodFor isn’t going to change the fact that WAR is the best way to fully measure the overall impact that a player has on the field devised to this point.
Saying that sabermetrics are made up is about the dumbest argument that a person can make to try to argue against them. Of course they are. All stats are made up. Wins, losses, ERA, saves batting average, home runs, RBIs, even at bats – all made up. If you reject a statistic because it is made up, perhaps you should go back to the days of Henry Chadwick’s boxscores, which published only runs.
If Puma wants to blatantly and outlandishly brush good research aside so that he can wag his finger and laugh at those dang kids with their spreadsheets, that’s his problem. Bill James is laughing up in Boston as he looks at his three World Series rings. Billy Beane in Oakland has for a third time rebuilt the Athletics into a playoff team on a shoestring budget. Every single team in baseball has an analytics department working with sabermetrics. All 30 of them.
But remember, sabermetrics don’t work, and anyone who thinks they do is dumb, and obviously knows nothing about baseball because they’re too busy making spreadsheets in their mother’s basement and not watching the games. After all, we’ve thought about baseball for one way for over 100 years, and so that must be right.
But ask yourself, is there anything that existed over 100 years ago that hasn’t been either improved upon or made obsolete? Would you get in a 100-year old airplane that hadn’t been brought up to today’s safety standards? It was common advertising less than 100 years ago to say that cigarettes had health benefits, and could help you lose weight.
Things change over time, but for some reason, there are groups that think that baseball – and the way we think about it – haven’t.
In the end, Puma is the one who doesn’t feel the need to enrich his understanding of the game of baseball by opening his mind to new, and yes, better ways of thinking, which is strange, since his job is to cover baseball. One would think that he would want to get his facts right so he can do his job to the best of his abilities.
I enjoy a good discussion about the game of baseball, and if someone wants to argue against aspects of sabermetrics, legitimate points can be made. But an argument from ignorance is something that grinds my gears.
I don’t know all there is to know about the game, nor do I pretend to. I am always trying to learn more, because I want to understand baseball as well as I can, so I can do my job better, and because I’m a junkie. I enjoy learning something new about baseball, even if it means that I have to change a viewpoint that I previously held.
“If someone studies the results of the research, and then provides criticism of the methodology, assumptions, data and underlying basis of the research, then I can have a conversation with that person,” said Tom Tango, co-author of The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball in an email interview for the aforementioned article in December. “Providing a summary opinion with no evidence is tantamount to bulls**t. It’s the very definition of bulls**t. And I’m not interested in debating bulls**t.”
Joe Vasile is the voice of Fayetteville SwampDogs baseball.