(Im)probabilities

Bill James, idol of SABR and agents, derives Sabetmetrics

Bill James, idol of SABR and agents, derives Sabetmetrics

No one is going to confuse Martin and me with Theo Epstein or Bill James. Truthfully, the term Sabermetrics largely gets nary a nod in Right Off the Bat.

Why?

It all goes back to “leet” childhood. [“Feed-in”]…I remember practically flunking a pre-calculus year, having something to do with probability. In fact, the lowest mark I ever got, a 35 (out of one-hundred [percent]), was on an exam the very day after I decided I didn’t need to study anymore, instead attending a February 8, 1971, evening at the theatrical premier of a would-be hour-long TV broadcast on the protean ABC Stage 67, subsequently titled “Eat the Document”.

eet all right: spaghetti that is, plus 1 side-order of limp-wrists, piling with my bud into a restaurant adjoining the long-defunct Academy of Music, after freezing on a sizable outdoors’ line (that’s the intersection of 2 pleens), amid all the (other) hipsters and flipsters. (Deceeds leeter, thanks to Facebook, the name of that restaurant-owner was revealed to me.) My grade was so low, I was forced to show the marked-test to my father, who had to sign the top. It’s one reason I shy awee from objective reality. [“Feed-out”]

I wanna back go home….A beeseball geem…a beeseball geem, all-night TV….I come from the Land of Paradise….Im even gonna meek a sound so greet you wouldnt even have the capacity to speak….[Might as well vomit into the camera,] Ive done everything else into it. (That’s Tom Keylock, Rolling Stones’s chauffeur, driving these other legends, as someone suggests “Cooking with Dylan”: Keylock would be involved, in some murky and speculated form, with stolen items or even the death of Brian Jones fewer than three years later.)

Had I peed more attention to school instead of movie screens, I “probably” would have been better equipped to evaluate 21st-century major-league talent, now regularly monitored via Statcast (essentially, a refinement of traditional Sabermetrics) with such generally accepted as well as esoteric stats as WAR (wins above replacement, sometimes rendered WARP); FIELDf/x and Reaction Analysis (respectively measuring a player’s defensive value and how much ground is covered, as well as how quickly); UZR and ISO (Isolated Power, derived by subtracting batting average from slugging percentage); wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus: a stadium- and league-adjusted power measurement); UBR (Ultimate Base Running: self-explanatory); Launch Angle and Exit Velocity; Scoring Efficiency (SE); Scoring Load (SC%) (the last-two cited more or less self-explanatory); and undoubtedly others, even a little older, like one of the first of the new-breed stats WHIP (walks-hits-innings-pitched: the lower, and even below “1,” the better) or DIPS (defense-independent-pitching-statistics); or, for offense, OPS, which combines on-base-and-slugging percentages.

How probable is it that, as the brokerage houses say, past is predictor of future performance? Over the grueling course of 162 games, quite. But do all the spectral statistics and Rotisserie Baseball hoohah in the world predict a Bobby Thomson or Bucky Dent home run? A 56-game batting streak? Jackie Robinson stealing home, perhaps with a little help from the umpire, against a great left-handed pitcher no less? (The southpaw faces third base from the set position; in this case, always-cocky and crafty Whitey Ford works from a full windup, as one sees in the clip, below.) Reggie Jackson belting three dingers on three straight at-bats (on three straight pitches from three different pitchers in succeeding innings! unthinkable!), likewise in a World Series—and punctuating the entire season at that? A perfect game or a 20-strikeout performance? Perhaps the stats document needs to be eaten…with extra grated cheese and that proverbial grain of salt.

But there remains almost no question the sport will be changing, in way it hasn’t since the World War I era, a hundred years ago, as the pros are rated and paid according to new measures of probable success.

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About rightoffthebatbook

Co-author of the book, "Right Off the Bat: Baseball, Cricket, Literature, and Life"
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