Sabermetric Relationships Pt. I

So, I’m hanging out with my 3-year-old niece yesterday afternoon, you know, just drinking Stellas (Lights, don’t be judgmental), thinking about my last two divorces, why my former employer keeps telling people I’m illiterate and that my left foot is articificial, and wondering if anyone would buy the film rights to my book of poetry so that I could pay off my substantial student loan debt or perhaps buy a Crispy Crunch, and she says to me “Uncle Michael, you have no children because you are alone.” At first, I thought it was the Belgian ale talking, and that her comments were ill informed and mean-spirited. But, you know, she’s three and her tolerance is embarrassingly low, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that her declaration was born of both caring and ingenuity. She was reducing my existence to a very basic equation: (Uncle Michael) x (0 partner) = 0 children. At three, she was quantifying her uncle for the purposes of evaluating his position in life. She was, perhaps unknowingly, developing the philosophy of sabermetric relationships.

Sabermetrics is the “specialized analysis of baseball through objective, empirical evidence, specifically baseball statistics that measure in-game activity.” It is a term coined by baseball historian Bill James, popularized by Billy Beane as General Manager of the Oakland Athletics, documented in the book Moneyball by Michael Lewis, and brought to the masses by the film adaptation starring Brad Pitt. Its philosophy is quite simple, though its execution is less than scientific, certainly something that can be said of dating. Statistics such as stolen bases, runs batted in, and batting average, historically typical quantifiers of baseball players, are antiquated notions of a 19th century perception of the sport and the statistics that were available at the time. More specifically, sabermetrics relies more on empirical evidence, and less on chain-smoking, heavy drinking, overweight scouts in fedoras sweating through their short sleeve dress shirts making summer long road trips to places like Bluefield, Virginia; Missoula, Montana; and San Pedro de Macorís, Dominican Republic.  Basically, it removes the romanticism from summer’s pastime.

So with all that romanticism out of work, why not borrow it? Why not plug sabermetrics into the less quantifiable pastime of love? My niece, two sippy cups of Stella in, started the process, but since she naps often, is asleep by 7:11, and easily distracted, I thought I’d attempt to finish it.  First, let’s replace Bill James with Henry James. Makes sense, right? James was a realist, favoured celebrating the banal over stylized romanticism, and appreciated a good narrative, and what is baseball but an unending narrative? And what’s more banal than statistical analysis?

But the substitution of James for James is intriguing on many levels. Of knowledge, the exploitation of which fuels sabermetrics, Bill James wrote:

“There will always be people who are ahead of the curve, and people who are behind the curve. But knowledge moves the curve.”

Henry James had similar thoughts on knowledge:

“It isn’t knowledge, it’s ignorance that–as we’ve been beautifully told—is bliss.”

And what leads best to loneliness, but ignorance? Henry James enjoyed juxtaposing elements of the old world with those of the new, and what is sabermetrics but that exactly? My niece was on to something. Perhaps she could be the next Orioles GM.

Once we’ve exchanged the James’, we’re forced to confront the acronyms–the seemingly endless list of statistics that excite the sabermetrics faithful. Where once baseball was about the digits of RBIs, HRs, and AVGs, love was about acquiring seven digits, a six-pack, and occasionally doubling up. But no more. Love, like baseball has become more complicated. The sheer number of forums in which you can meet another person is seemingly infinite. From Facebook to Twitter to Lavalife to J-Date to Second Life to speed dating. Whatever happened to just going to the bar, getting drunk, and letting the rest sort itself out? Well, the same thing that happened to batting average, the Triple Crown, and chewing tobacco I suppose.

So, off-and-on for the next while, I’m going to consider a few of sabermetrics most prominent statistics, and how they relate to relationships, and continue to develop the philosophy of sabermetric relationships. Today, WAR.

Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is a non-standardized statistic that is used to show how many more wins a player would give a team as opposed to a “replacement level”, or minor league/bench player at that position. While WAR values are scaled equally for pitchers and hitters, the result is calculated differently for pitchers versus position players: position players are evaluated using statistics for fielding and hitting, while pitchers are evaluated using statistics related to the opposing batters’ hits, walks and strikeouts.

Basically, this is the baseball equivalent of measuring a prospective partner against his contemporaries. Let’s say you’re a single young woman, and you’re at a respectable bar with some friends for an evening of cocktails and frivolity. Sitting across from you is a table of like-minded young men, out for similar cocktails and hopes of frivolity. As a young woman, you’re immediately judging that table, calculating each individual at the table’s value in comparison to all the others. The table is the bench. The stats are simple at the evening’s beginning, generally based on aesthetic. As the evening progresses, as the night gets into the later evenings, the stats change. Because WAR is non-standardized, on any given evening we can consider stats such as Drink Consumption, Conversational Acumen, Ability to Stand Up, and Tab Payment Quotient.  Depending on what point in the season we’re playing, and how deep our bench is, different considerations come into play within the umbrella of WAR. Most people strike out, some walk home, and some are fortunate enough to work the counts deep, score a few runs, and make it into extra innings. Okay, the metaphor is corny there and a bit weak, but remember this was the idea of a half-cut 3 years old. Work with me.

Next Week: STDs & BABIPs: DIPS, LIPS, and Prophylactics