Saturday, July 02, 2011

Is Phil Mackey really this big an idiot?

There is a new study by a group of scientists that concludes that reason is used to win arguments, rather than arrive at the truth.Here is a link to a NYT story about the study Reason Seen More as Weapon Than Path to Truth ( This certainly explains a lot about the use of baseball statistics and a lot of other "facts" we hear in the media and on the Internet.

Lets start with BABIP for hitters since this is the topic of a post on one of the local sports show blogs by a guy who apparently engages in amusing banter as the sabermetric guru with his dinosaur co-host as the foil. I say apparently, because I haven't actually ever wasted time listening to them. Here is the claim made on his blog:

"BABIP can vary depending on solidness of contact, luck, trajectory, etc., but it usually evens out over the course of a season for each individual hitter.

Even an elite hitter like Albert Pujols has a career BABIP of .312.

The word "lucky" might be too harsh.

Unsustainable? Yes.

To put Nishioka's .399 BABIP into context, no MLB hitter posted a mark that high in 2010. Austin Jackson led the league with a .396 BABIP, followed by Josh Hamilton (.390), Carlos Gonzales (.384) and Joey Votto (.361). Only nine hitters posted a BABIP higher than .350.

Anything higher than .350 generally requires a great deal of help from the baseball gods -- or consistently facing teams with nine statues on defense."

So does hitting .400, but we no one calls Ted Williams a bum because he couldn't repeat the feat. Nishioka's BABIP was extraordinary last year. In fact, there were only 6 major league seasons between 1960 and 2005 where a player achieved those numbers. The players? Rod Carew, Roberto Clemente, Ichiro Suzuki, Derek Jeter, Willie McGee and Jose Hernandez. Four of those players either are in the HOF or likely will be and McGee and Hernandez were not exactly one season wonders.

There are many players who have had multiple seasons and even career BABIP in the .350 range. Albert Pujols just doesn't happen to be one of them. On the other hand Nishioka's fellow Japanases batting champion Ichiro Suzuki is. His career BABIP is .354. Rod Carew had a career BABIP of .359. Its no fluke of the baseball gods that they put up outstanding BABIP for a single season, it was just an outstanding display of the talent they demonstrated throughout their careers.

So lets for a moment take a look at Nishioka's BABIP if we started with a neutral question. How good is that? How have other players with that sort of success done? The answer is that if Nishioka had put up those numbers in the major leagues, he would have marked himself among the elite hitters in major league history. This is the exact opposite of the conclusion our intrepid media stathead arrived at.

The real question is how did the mythology that getting hits in play is mostly "luck" come from? How did it become an article of faith for the sports talk show host who made this claim without so much as a reality check. The answer is easy. It supports his point. He is trying to win an argument, not find truth.


David84 said...

You compared Nnishioka to Ted Williams. Hahaha. Nice truth.

Anonymous said...

Just so you know, guys like Ichiro and Carew were able to post higher BABIPs because of their speed (i.e. beating out infield hits). It's common for speedy guys to have a BABIP around .350 while a power hitter is closer to or even below .300.

TT said...

While I agree that speed was an asset for both Carew and Ichiro it is not a requirement. Mo Vaughn, as one example, had .388 BABIP two years in a row. He didn't do it beating out infield hits.

Maija said...

Luck is such a huge part of baseball to begin with, the argument "he's not good he's just lucky" is just odd. I think it's just because sabrmetrics don't reflect all the possible ways a player can be successful. Sabrmetric fans tell me things like "Ichiro isn't actually that good" and I just stare at them.

Isn't it good to be lucky anyway?

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