(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 us with Theo Epstein or Bill James. Truthfully, the term Sabermetrics barely gets a nod in Right Off the Bat. Why? It all goes back to my (Evander’s) childhood. Fade-in…I remember almost flunking a pre-calculus thingie, having something to do with probability. In fact, the lowest mark I ever got, a 35 (out of one-hundred percent), was on a test the semester and very day I decided I didn’t need to study anymore, instead attending an evening theatrical premier of a would-be 60-minute TV broadcast on ABC Stage 67, subsequently titled “Eat the Document.” I ate all right; spaghetti that is, flopping into a restaurant adjoining the long-defunct Academy of Music, after freezing on line outside with all the hipsters and flipsters. Now you know one big reason why I shy away from objective reality. Fade-out

(I just wanna go home…a beeseball geem…[might as well vomit into the camera,] I’ve done everything else into it.) That’s Tom Keylock, Rolling Stones’s chauffeur driving  these two 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 paid more attention to school instead of to movie screens, I “probably” would have been better equipped to evaluate 21st-century major-league talent, now regularly monitored via such esoteric stats as WAR (wins above replacement—covering batters as well as pitchers as I understand it); FIELDf/x and Reaction Analysis (respectively measuring a player’s defensive value and how much ground is covered, as well as how quickly); 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); and undoubtedly others, even a little older, like WHIP (walks-hits-innings-pitched: the lower, and even below “1,” the better).

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.

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About rightoffthebatbook

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