Friday, January 07, 2005

stats vs scouts

an interesting roundtable (including the cubs' own gary hughes) between professional scouts and the sabremetric folks. it is, in some respects, an argument for and against particularity -- the scouts argue for:

you need to see him in the two games a year that he plays against a pitcher that might have any ability whatsoever... A player at UConn, his stats, compared to a guy that I’m watching in the Pac-10, mean almost nothing to me. I’m in the middle of a negotiation right now (with Jered Weaver) where a guy wants to compare our first-round pick’s stats to Mark Prior’s. And to me, there’s no correlation whatsoever.
while the sabremetrics argue, in the main and as would make sense for statisticians, against:

The issue I would bring up is that for all of these issues—level of play, the type of pitchers, his raw abilities like his speed, his strength, his size—these are all things that can be, to an extent, measured. Six-foot-one is a measurement. Five-foot-seven is a measurement. Hitters who are 6-1, do they turn out better than hitters who are 5-7, with similar stats at similar schools? These are the sorts of things that people can analyze, and I think it could provide useful information.
bu it's also interesting to see the sabremetrics folks back away, once confronted, from the hubris that has surrounded the statistics since michael lewis' "moneyball" came out:

ALAN SCHWARZ: Gary Huckabay, I believe you coined the phrase, “There’s no such thing as a pitching prospect.”

GARY HUCKABAY: Yeah, but that was an overstatement designed to sell books....
there's also an interesting discussion of pitching, high school vs college, but what i really took away was the need for the demystification of statistics as a method of analysis in sports. people are particular, and this includes athletes. statistical analysis is, by its nature, generalizing. this dichotomy is irresolvable and will always limit the utility of statistics in evaluating individuals.

at the end of the day, mccracken -- who helped theo epstein build the red sox -- isolated the core idea:

The stats can help the scouts zero in on the guys they should be zeroing in on. And the scouts, once the stats are sorting things through, can tell you who exactly are the best guys to go after.
player development, especially for teams on a budget, has to be an exercize in risk management. things will go wrong; but trying to minimize the risk of a disastrous streak of bad outcomes is the key to sustained success. certainly, it seems to me that statistical analysis which concentrates on metrics whose utility is based on a large set of data is fundamentally risk-reducing.

but it will never successfully replace the primacy of scouting.

ALAN SCHWARZ: But what would you have to see to be encouraged?

GARY HUGHES: The swing, the approach at the plate, the show of fear.

EDDIE BANE: If you show fear, you're gone.

VOROS McCRACKEN: How would someone show fear?

GARY HUGHES: There would be a little give at the plate.

EDDIE BANE: You give on a pitcher with a decent slider . . .

VOROS McCRACKEN: That happens to everyone--everyone gets their knees buckled every once in a while. So if you rule a guy out that gets his knees buckled, that seems extreme. You'd need to see him show fear a bit more consistently. I'm not sure . . .

EDDIE BANE: I am sure. Because if I see fear in a hitter, I'm not ever coming back. I don't see fear in good big league hitters. I know that they get fooled and they'll bail on balls. But for me, that's a different term than fear.
interesting stuff.

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