One of the many reasons why baseball is an interesting sport is because it lends itself so well to statistical analysis. Almost everything is quantifiable and the formula for victory is simple: get more players across home plate than your opponent. While it is true that other sports also have such a formula, the steps that get there are not as easy to define. I’m sure there are football scouts out there who have come up with ways to quantify an offensive lineman’s blocking, but such information isn’t available to the general public.
This is why baseball really appeals to the thinking fan and why there are so many people out there, on the internet and otherwise, who are able to offer useful critical analysis. Yet, at the same time, the classic logic is that no one can understand the game of baseball better than those that have played it professionally. There is truth in that claim to an extent, as only a former player can truly relate to the trials and tribulations of a current one. However, the current baseball culture paves the way for former athletes to hold positions they would likely be otherwise unqualified for, as FireJoeMorgan.com has shown us.
This culture extends into the media as well, as many members of BBWAA refuse to acknowledge new forms of baseball analysis. This is frustrating, as it is those writers who decide major awards and conduct Hall of Fame voting. Keith Law, in an interview on richarddansky.com, had this to say about HOF voting and BBWAA writers in general:
Yet the aggregate results seem to regularly display an obstinate adherence to a completely discredited way of looking at value in baseball. Seventy-five percent of eligible voters thought that Tim Raines, one of the hundred best players to ever take the field, wasn’t a Hall of Famer, yet nearly that many thought Jim Rice, who was the third-best player in his own outfield for a few of his prime years, is a Hall of Famer. I think it drives knowledgeable fans nuts that a group of people who, as a group, refuse to acknowledge the most basic facets of how baseball games are won and lost control so much of the flow of baseball information.
I should add the obvious caveat, which is that there are many intelligent and thoughtful baseball writers in the mainstream media, many of whom cast Hall of Fame ballots. They’re just outnumbered by people who still think RBI are the measure of a hitter and W-L record is the measure of a pitcher. Those ideas are analogous to the idea that each human sperm contains a homonculus.
It is somewhat embarrassing how this all boils down into a stereotypical “jock vs. math whiz” type debate. Traditionalists cannot grasp the hypocrisy of trashing things like WARP and OPS+ as “pointless statistics” while at the same time accepting BA and RBI as something more. Someone invented those statistics just like every other one. Only now we’ve realized, and it has been objectively proven, that those stats, while interesting, aren’t a great measure of how much a player contributes to wins and losses.
Why it is that such discoveries are met with disdain by so many established members of the baseball community is really confusing.