In re: Poetry and Baseball

(NOTE: This was actually a letter I wrote to a sort-of-baseball-fan friend today.  After I wrote it, I decided to start this blog.)

Please to read this from Carson Cistulli.  My response as follows…

This is the cutting edge of baseball nerd-ery.  We’ve gleefully tossed ourselves into a maelstrom of advanced statistics and algorithms yet emerged with only a cursory understanding.  Thus, what we find ourselves returning to is an in-depth discussion of why it is that we love what we love.  From sabermetrics to aesthetics we go.

We feel as though we conquered the game itself.  For years indeed that was the goal of the nerdiest of us.  Baseball commentators on TV and columnists in newspapers fed us information which, thanks to Bill James, we figured out was simply not true.  Traditional statistics were deceptive.  They did not tell us the true value of a player.  With the advent of the internet, first dozens then hundreds of brilliant people with a few moments of spare time were able to produce results and share them.  Data, massive reams of data, were made available to everyone to manipulate at will.  We replaced Batting Average with WAR (Wins Above Replacement).  We replaced errors with UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating).  A pitcher’s ERA and win/loss record, so long the subject of our ire, were eradicated and replaced with xFIP (Fielding Independent Pitching adjusted to ballpark and league).  We decoded luck and discovered what a vital role it plays in this game.  All in the name of truth and objectivity did we redefine how we examine this game.

So now what?  We know the truth.  But we do not know ourselves.  This is even more exciting that the sabermetric revolution because it’s attracting the best writers.  Carson Cistulli is an MA in literature.  He has a book of poetry.  The newish blog Pitchers and Poets spends thousands of words trying to figure out why we watch, eschewing statistics altogether not out of ignorance, but in focus.  Cardboard Gods intimately explores the relationship between the players and the fan.  And they all write spectacularly.

It’s a very cool time to be a baseball fan.

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A new attempt at writing and a new direction

The idea for this blog came from a fangraphs podcast.  Some weeks ago, Carson Cistulli was interviewing Dan Moore from Viva El Birdos.  Instead of talking numbers or metrics, the conversation focused almost entirely on writing and the experience of being a fan.

This struck me as so much more intriguing than a routine sabermetric analysis.  With all the information that’s out there and all the incredible analysis being done, it feels as though there’s nothing particularly new to say.  In fact, it seems that to a certain degree we’ve gone just about as far as we can go with this stuff.  Certainly there are improvements to be made with regard to defense.  UZR, for example, certainly isn’t the most informative or accurate stat one could hope for.  But in general, what could I or anyone else possibly say that Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs, or your local team’s resident saberist couldn’t (or hasn’t)?

That, ultimately, was the frustration of my first attempt at blogging.  An original statistical argument about a player was difficult to find and even more difficult to express with any modicum of artistry.  How many different ways can I quote LOB%?  Of course there are a number of sites and blogs that do analytical writing well and with a unique voice.  Dave Cameron comes to mind.  Chad Moriyama at Memories of Kevin Malone has managed to be both entertaining and alarmingly accurate.

Yet instead of trying to imitate my analytical superiors or re-join the throng of BABIP-citing Saber-bloggers, I’ve decided to write primarily about the experience of being a fan and the appreciation of the wealth of good writing we now have available.  While I’ll always want to focus on my particular teams, being a fan as I am, there’s far too much happening outside the greater Los Angeles area to simply ignore it.  We’re all fans, after all, whether wearing a Drew Doughty jersey or a Florida Marlins hat.

Comments and suggestions will always be welcome.  Feel free to post links to recommended reading.  Thanks for reading!

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