For Serious Baseball Stat Geeks: Does Your Gut EVER Overrule Your Numbers?

This is not so much a question for casual fans as it is for serious number-crunchers and sabremetricians.

All of us are human, and we all have our favorite players, and we all have guys we just can’t stand. That goes without saying. Sometimes, our feelings and perceptions lead us to seriously overrate or underrate players, even when we see statistical evidence that pretty well proves we’re wrong.

Example I’ve used before? Mention “Horace Clarke” to any New Yorker who followed sports in the late Sixties and early Seventies, and he’ll either laugh or groan, then tell you what a horrible second baseman Clarke was. EVERYBODY who watched the Yankees in those days remembers Clarke as a joke. Thing is, the numbers don’t bear that out! Not only was Clarke’s fielding percentage perfectly respectable, he actually led the A.L. in assists for 6 straight seasons.

But these numbers never change anyone’s mind, of course. People remember or perceived Clarke as an inept fielder, and stats just can’t change those perceptions and memories.

Stat geeks already understand how irrational most of us fans are. But I’m asking the geeks, what about YOU? Which players tempt you to disregard the stats you generally swear by?

Is there a hitter you really believe, in your gut, is a “clutch” performer, even though you don’t believe “clutch” hitters exist?

Is there a manager you’re convinced couldn’t manage his own checkbnook, even though your favorite mathgematical formula seems to prove he’s a winner?

Is there any player you’d put in the Hall of Fame, even though your pet numbers say he doesn’t deserve it? Or anyone you secretly think “sucks,” even though the numbers seem to prove he’s a huge asset to his team?

In short, are you really as logical as you’d like to be? And if not, which players tempt you to toss out the stats?

This was a VERY old post of mine, one that nobody answered… but which I’d still sort of like to hear some answers for.

Good luck with that. Stat geeks will never admit that their gut could ever overrule the numbers. Which I think is a damn shame.

You know, Justin, that’s a bunch of bullshit, and it’s really tiresome. I had a post typed up responding to the actual question, then I previewed, and I see that lazy nonsense, and suddenly I just don’t have the energy for the conversation.

Of course it happens. What, people who are interested in statistics aren’t human beings? We’re not actually aware of the game that’s being played?

Sorry, astorian; I know that isn’t what you were asking. And the answer for me is that it happens on a very regular basis. The only thing that makes me a stat geek, I think, is that I at least recognize the tension between my subjective impressions and the objective information available, rather than dismissing it. I recognize, unlike some fans (the “real” ones), that there actually is such a thing as objectivity.


I’m sorry, but after reading through some of the stat geek posts in The Game Room about Hall of Fame qualifications and then being told that the traditional stats are terrible indicators of who is and who isn’t a good player, I’m mighty sick of stat geeks.

So you’re upset that your favorite stat has been insulted?

I’m not upset at all. I was just making a crack about stat geeks because they get on my nerves at times.

Anyway, to the OP: I think Roberto Alomar was a great defensive player, even though I know that the best defensive stats available at the time said he was average at best.

Is this the philosophy you apply to every other aspect of your life, too? People who disagree and attempt to back up their disagreement with fucking logic are geeks? Everybody who’s thought of something you haven’t is a geek, and worthy enough of dismissal that you seek out places where they’re having a conversation to talk about how much they bother you?

I mean, if it’s not true that some traditional stats are terrible indicators of value, well, you’re a big boy. Use your words. If it is true – and it is – then what’s your fucking problem?

Jesus. Now people named after Nintendo game phenomena are calling us geeks.

I have the same opinion of Alomar, actually. And I believe that some pitchers are in control of what happens even on batted balls, even though for the most part that isn’t really demonstrated.

My gut tells me that the Wii is a terrible console, because it only has games for kids and casual gamers. And none of your fancy stats can tell me otherwise.

Not sure the stats tell the whole story anyway. How do the characterize “incredible” defensive plays vs. “good” defensive plays?

What I want to know is Do you statheads ever root for your team to win? Do you ever clap at a clutch hit, even if you don’t believe that “clutch” exists? Do you remember great plays you saw or is it all a blur of numbers? Do you like the fresh air? Do you have favorite players? Do you eat popcorn and drink beer at games or do you just munch on your calculators and sliderules? Have you ever passed gas?

Horsehockey. I’ve been reading Bill James since the mid-80’s, but one lonely October evening in 2004, after the Yankees blew out my Red Sox 19-8 to go up 3-0, I remember lying in bed, idly thinking to myself, “Okay, series is not over, they can win 4 straight against these bozos” followed almost immediately by the thought “they will win 4 straight against these bozos.” And they did.

To answer the OP, rarely.

Going more in depth, even the most advanced defensive stats are notoriously unreliable. However, using such gems as fielding percentage and assists gets us nowhere. The first tells us virtually nothing about range (in fact, there is likely an inverse relationship); the second can be heavily influenced by the kind of pitching staff (i.e. groundball pitchers) on that player’s team.

The current “posh” defensive statistic is UZR/150, which is determined by some stat monkeys watching every single play in every single game over a season. Unfortunately, because of the labor required, data is only available from 2002 on, which obviously excludes virtually all of Alomar’s career.

So instead we are left to rely on flawed stats like range factor, which tell some of the story but not all of it.

When it comes to offensive stats, especially wRC+ and wOBA, those are virtually bulletproof and I would trust those over my own instinct every single time.

Moved from IMHO to Game Room.

Oh, gosh, another blathering rant about “stat geeks,” that imaginary boogeyman.

No, I don’t believe “clutch” hitters exist. I do, however, actually go outside and play baseball on a regular basis, which, in my experience, is more than can be said of most people who rant about stat geeks and claim to be better fans. They seem to be much likelier to not actually play ball.

I’m into the stats because I love baseball. I want to know more about it, and sabermetrics are just one more thing I can learn about baseball.

In my opinion - and I stress that it is solely my opinion and people do enjoy things in different ways - I find it absolutely unfathomable that a dedicated baseball fan WOULDN’T want to know more about what sabermetrics tells us. Why would you want to know LESS about baseball? Why would you adopt an attitude that it’s better to be ignorant? Isn’t wanting to know more about baseball a sign you like baseball?

Saying that stat geeks don’t like baseball as much as some fool like Richard Griffin is exactly like saying Carl Sagan didn’t like astronomy as much as a guy who refuses to learn about gravity and insist that stars are pinholes in God’s ceiling.

But for what it’s worth, I think my favourite Blue Jay of all time was Devon White, even though he obviously was not the BEST Blue Jay of all time.

I struck a fucking nerve!

Jesus, it was an offhand joke relating to the fact that no one responded to this thread for seven years. I don’t have some deep-seated problem with “stat geeks” (which, for the record, was the phrase used in the OP). I think they go a bit overboard sometimes, but I don’t have a problem with them. And I never said anything about stat geeks not liking baseball. That’s just absurd.

It was a damn joke and one I apparently shouldn’t have made.

You don’t know what I look like, but trust me, I’m a geek. My use of the word in the OP was not intended to insult anyone anyone (I’ve spent as much time in my Mom’s basement as anyone, in my day).

My question was sincere- even those of us who KNOW that superstitions are silly and unsupported by fact often HAVE superstitions. To steal a line from “Jaws,” a plumber knows damn well that the pipe he’s working on isn’t alive, but he’s still liable to curse at it and bang it with his wrench, when things go badly.

I wonder if even a Bill James finds himself believing, now and again, that his favorite player is better than the numbers indicate, or trying to convince himself a guy with great numbers ISN’T really all that.

As a Yankees fan, I KNEW there were countless more productive offensive first basemen than Chris Chambliss, but he still FELT like a clutch performer, and MANY Yankee fans felt (probably wrongly) confident when he came up in a crucial spot.

If you’re a fan (and even the geekiest of statheads is a fan!), you probably can’t help being at least a bit irrational. I honestly like hearing would-be Vulcans admit that they can’t help thinking various players are a lot better or worse than the evidence indicates.

Well, as Giants fan, I really wanted to believe that Matt Cain was doing something to limit his home runs per fly ball, which before about a year ago was anathema to sabermetricians.

But now there’s been some research that shows that there are actually “types” of pitchers who can limit their home runs, and Cain matches the ideal almost perfectly.