Friday, April 02, 2010

Bill Simmons Becomes a Saber

The big news in the saber world today is that popular ESPN Bill Simmons has joined the sabermetrics revolution.  This might be the best opportunity yet to get sabermetrics more into the mainstream.  It wasn't just a Sports Guy humor column either.  It was a thoughtful discussion of sabermetrics reminiscent of Joe Posnanski's ramblings.  For example, I enjoyed his critique of OPS+:
Love the concept, don't love the execution. Right now, everything plays off the number 100. If you have a 100 OPS-plus, you're average. From there, your OPS-plus increases by two points for every percentage point you're better than everyone else that season. When Albert Pujols led the National League in 2009 with a 188 OPS-plus, that meant he was 44 percent better than average (100 + 88 / 2) before correcting for park factors. That's already too complicated for someone like my father. He's out right there. If your stat is complicated AND hard to relate to, that's a deadly combo. 

What he's saying is that a 188 OPS+ does not mean that Pujols was 88% better than league average.  It means he is 44% better than league average.  Simmons implies that the statistic would be more easily understood if it matched the interpretation, that is, Pujols should have an OPS+ of 144.  I've heard that critique before and I absolutely agree with it.

Simmons also discusses UZR, WAR and other stats which are gaining steam on the Internet.  This was a pretty big step for a writer who previously expressed his frustration with sabermetrics:
See, I stopped writing about baseball these past two years when the sabermetrics movement became too complicated for my liking. Did I respect the work of Baseball Prospectus, Bill James, Rob Neyer, Joe Posnanski, Jonah Keri and everyone else in that community? Of course. I just hated the finality of it, the concept that numbers could trump anything I was watching with my own two eyes. If numbers always prevailed, what was the point of watching baseball or having arguments about it? I longed for the old days when you could say things like, "I hate watching J.D. Drew -- when is that contract going to end?" and there wasn't some dude lurking behind me with Drew's stellar OPS, VORP and WAR numbers saying, "Well, actually ... "

His column today was great news to someone who spends a lot of time trying to explain advanced statistics to fans who are new to sabermetrics.  This should help to advance the field quite a bit.  And selfishly, it could expand the target audience for Beyond Batting Average.

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