Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Fantasy Killed My Sports Star

I think Moneyball is one of the best and most important sports books written in the past 20 or so years. (Feinstein's Season on the Brink, Sam Smith's Jordan Rules, Will's Men at Work, Bissinger's Friday Night Lights and, sadly, at least in terms of importance, Canseco's book (no link because, screw him...) are some of the others. By early accounts Halberstam's new Belichick piece is right there as well.) For much of time, the decision making of sports teams has been hidebound by 'tradition', 'conventional wisdom' and 'unwritten rules'. So the introduction, and widespread acceptance of genuine, critical, quantative analysis is what an economist might term a net-postive result.

However, Baseball Crank's post about A-Rod's MVP and the resulting commentary raise a question in my mind. The discussion at Crank's inevitably turns to intangibles, because by most measures (aside from some second and third-level meta-analysis), A-Rod clearly had a superior season. However, as a visceral observer you just feel that Papi did more. As an example for intangibles winning the MVP, some point to Kirk Gibson over Darryl Strawberry in 1988. According to, Gibson hit .290/.370/.483 with 25 HR, 76 RBI and 106 R in 150 games. Strawberry - .269/.366/.545 with 39 HR 101 RBI 101 R in 153. Taking defense out of the equation (neither was Andruw Jones in the OF...), Strawberry clearly had a 'better' season, (I won't bore with such things as Runs Creater or Win Shares...) yet Gibson won, largely on the basis of intangibles (and a no-legged WS HR, lest we forget). Now, cutting throught that subjective crap is the whole point behind SABREmatics, and quantitative types say Starwberry got hosed in the voting.

However, is it possible that we have maybe gone TOO far down the path of uber-rationality by reducing the players to nothing more than aggregates of OPS and UzR's? The proliferation of fantasy sports has certainly contributed to reducing players to numeric automatons in our minds eye. But, 90% of the game is 1/2 mental (I'm sure I read that somewhere), and there is simply no way we can measure the benefits Gibson brought to the '88 Dodgers in this area (and I think we can agree that just the numbers cannot and do not tell the whole story about his contribution, even aside from the Eckersly walk-off). I mean, aside from the fact that every player on that team has a ring.

Anyone who has ever played a team sport knows that there is something to the 'winningness' of certain players. Big-Shot Bob Horry has it. Far superior players such as Vince Carter do not. Papi Ortiz has it. And that's all that I'm going to say about that.

1 comment:

Kaiser said...

Yogi Berra, baby.