Sunday, January 18, 2009

Pinto on "Intangibles"

This post from David Pinto's excellent Baseball Musings blog had me nodding vigorously, and I thought I'd share:
Ignoring Intangibles

Lone Star Ball links to a story summing up the Michael Young situation in Texas. I love description of seamheads (emphasis added):

"One side held that the Rangers owed Young more respect than to simply order him to move. The other said Young is a highly compensated employee who needs to simply do what he's told. That group was bolstered by the 'seamheads' -- ardent fans of baseball statistics -- who judge things almost strictly by the numbers, and thus tend to disparage Young because of his lack of range at short, and ignore the intangibles he brings to the organization."

Maybe seamheads should take a course is quantifying things that aren't capable of being appraised at an actual or approximate value. Here's the syllabus:

1. Guessing.
2. Defending the guess with anecdotes.
3. Adding smugness.

Yeah, that's the ticket.


CoverageisLacking said...

Steven, did you play organized baseball at even the high school level, or higher? Typically those who disparage the intangible aspects of baseball have little experience playing the game, have never heard a fastball sizzle past their ear or seen a curveball coming towards their head break into the zone, to cite just a couple easy examples.

I know in previous posts you have credited reading books as the basis for your baseball knowledge, and I recall that you said in one post a while back that you didn't believe you were in a position to be able to critique Manny's managerial moves because you didn't know much about in-game tactics and strategy, and would have to read up on it. So I think I know the answer to my question, but I just want to make sure.

In any case, if you've never played the game...I'm not saying your subjective opinions are necessarily invalid. But when you critique people for talking about something like intangibles, you are really demonstrating your lack of appreciation for and understanding of a huge aspect of a beautiful and complex game. There are some things that you just can't learn through reading (or even watching) alone.

Steven said...

CIL--Thanks for demonstrating a good example of "smugness."

You can talk about the value of qualities like leadership and character and the like in an intelligent way without resorting to the kind of argument Jim Reeves makes, where the presentation of evidence itself is ridiculed.

Do 'intangibles' like leadership and character matter? Yes. I've never said they didn't. How much, and is it valuable enough to overcome let's say Michael Young's poor defense? Well, to answer that question you need to actually try to provide some fact-based analysis.

Personal experience in the game actually should allow you to have MORE evidence to back this argument, not less. But to present your argument with absolutely no evidence and simply assert, "I've been there and you haven't otherwise you'd understand that crappy fielders with great leadership skills are teh bestest!!" is quite unpersuasive.

Matthew said...

I agree with you about intangibles in this instance. Young doesn't bring any intangibles at SS that he can't from 3B.

Overall though, I think that stats can't show the intangibles, like leadership or "clutchiness."

An example would be from a post you made a few days ago. The "clutchiness" of Zims was at the bottom of the team, but I think you might agree that he has more of the big "clutch" (gamewinningdestroyingtheevilempire'scelebratedcloserandmaking mostoftheworldrejoices) type hits.

So, I suppose I agree with both you and Coverage, it just depends on the situation. Young has no claim to remain at SS, but he may actually be a leader/clutch type. If I cared about the Rangers at all, I would know.

PS Just to deflect any inquiry by Coverage, I played all through HS and on rec league equivalents in college. Now I'm relegated to beer league softball.

Dave Nichols said...

the ironic thing here is that "clutch" and "intangible" are qualities developed by sports writers who never played the game. there's an awful lot of evidence out there that real clutch simply does not exist. it's a human quality to remember the important hit because it's important, and a player will play to his overall ability more or less in every situation called upon. now, there's some underlying data to say that certain players are better or worse in certain situations, but for in the overall, those numbers are slight outliers, i.e. not statistically significant.

i have some real opinion about how certain players get tagged with good intangibles while others don't, but i won't go into it here.

Dave Nichols said...

oh, and i played the game :-)

CoverageisLacking said...

Steven, you didn't answer my question, though I guess your silence is answer enough. As for smugness, one could easily say that your inital post, and your retort to me, are just as "smug" as my comment was, if not moreso.

I was not talking about Michael Young. I don't watch him enough to know about what intangibles he might or might not bring to the table. What I was addressing is your tendency to discount across-the-board things like intangibles, which you expressed in your post (fwiw, I didn't see you talking about Michael Young and his defense, either). Another example of something you have discounted that reflects a lack of appreciation for the game is the value of good coaches, at any level including MLB. Most of your response to me is irrelevant to my point.

Steven said...

@CIL--I didn't respond to your question because I think it's irrelevant and rather obnoxious, and I choose not to validate it with a response. Your question is just a jerky attempt to embarrass me, and I'm not going to play your game. If you don't like my blog don't read it.

That said, I don't think you're reading my post or comments very closely.

I said, "Do 'intangibles' like leadership and character matter? Yes." You reply by telling me that I "discount across-the-board things like intangibles."

Re: coaches, I don't "discount" the value of good coaches--I simply believe their effect is exaggerated by some. For instance, I disagree with those who blame all or nearly all the Nationals' offensive problems in 2008 on Lenny Harris. We'll see what happens in 2009--maybe they'll be magically transformed into the '27 Yankees now that he's gone. If you want to give me some action on that, I'll take it.

As I recall, someone argued on this blog at one point that a good pitching coach would consistently have the equivalent runs-saved effect of turning Tim Redding into Jake Peavy two times over. I think that's ludicrous.

Of course all this has nothing to do with Pinto's post, which simply mocks a sportswriter who thinks a guy should be left in a position he can no longer field well because of his leadership, which is a ridiculous position.

An Briosca Mor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
CoverageisLacking said...

Steven, I do like your blog very much. Generally speaking, I think that analyzing the numbers and the insight that has been developed in that area over the past several years has been extremely important. As for me, I grew up reading the Baseball Abstract, and I hardly disparage this kind of analysis.

But stats don't tell the whole story. So I do think your blog would be better if you recognized that there are some things that cannot be measured by stats alone. I don't think you do that. Although you give lip service to the importance of intangibles, the initial post quoting Pinto, which you said you agree with, disparaged the notion of anything having significance that can't be quantified. Also, there are intangibles involved in the actual playing of the game, that go beyond leadership and character. Some of these relate to fielding.

Steven said...

Fair enough. Consider it recognized.