Anyone who has ever watched, listened to, or even heard of the game of baseball knows it’s a sport driven by statistics. From Ty Cobb’s hits to Cy Young’s wins to Nolan Ryan’s strikeouts to Babe Ruth’s home runs, statistics have been as big a part of the game as the game itself. And statistics are constantly evolving. With the introduction of “sabermetrics” in the 1970’s the world was introduced to the advanced metric, but the way we have evaluated the game has always been changing. So really, when walks were recognized as a stat, that was an advanced metric at the time. The same is true with saves and holds, or hit-by-pitch. The desire to find value in statistics is nothing new, but as technology grows and allows for deeper analysis, have we lost sight of the game itself?
Watching a baseball game is a wonderful thing. There is so much intensity and passion crammed into a few short moments in the game. If you blink you can miss it. A suicide squeeze or a stolen base can bring fans to their feet, but these are two big no-no’s if we look at stats alone. A lot of us no longer see the player getting a jump from first and dashing madly to second. We no longer see the batter squaring around to bunt and angling his bat to poke the ball in just the right direction. Instead we see percentages and numbers churning out in the dust left behind the base stealer. We see calculations and probabilities littering the barrel of the bat during the bunt. And that’s fine, but remember to enjoy the game itself.
I love advanced metrics. I am fascinated by the power of numbers in evaluating players and finding value that has previously gone undiscovered. But these stats are not the definitive answer to anything. They are an experiment in science. If Dave Roberts was guided by advanced metrics in the 2004 ALCS, he wouldn’t have stole second and it’s very likely the Red Sox would have been eliminated.
The point is this; baseball is a game. We are all fans. Sometimes it’s fun to put down our excel spreadsheets and calculators and watch the game like we did as kids. Sometimes it’s fun to let ourselves be amazed by what these athletes can do. They can hit balls farther than we’d ever dream, they can control a baseball like there’s a string attached, and they can chase down balls in the outfield like a gazelle. Analyzing baseball by the numbers is wonderful, but every now and then we should evaluate a player by the way they look. Use the eye test. Don’t get lost in the numbers and remember to love the game as a fan too.