Assumptions and the Sabermetric Approach

The inspiration for this piece came from reading an article by Russell A. Carleton, which I found through Pat Lackey. I want to start by thanking both authors.

In Carleton’s piece, he points out that “gradually the work [of sabermetric analysis] became less about having fun by talking about the game of baseball and more about proving that I knew more than anyone else.” In essence, he lost objectivity and became focused on beating those on the other side of the issue.

We see this in every discipline imaginable. I’ve seen it in politics; I’ve seen it in sports; I’ve seen it in academia.  People attach themselves to a position and then act territorially to insure that they’ve chosen the right one.  This stifles debate and prevents progress.

That said, I disagree with Carleton’s apology to Joe Morgan and his statement that he was wrong to think that Morgan was “a stubborn and foolish man who wouldn’t listen to a reasonable argument.” Morgan is a prime example of what Carleton was criticizing. In Moneyball Michael Lewis presents Morgan’s response to a question about Moneyball. Without reading the book (he was going off of a review in the New York Times and thought that Beane, not Lewis, was the author) he attacked Beane, saying that his goal had been to make himself the “hero” of the story.  Morgan didn’t only not listen to the argument by dismissing it, he couldn’t even be bothered to hear it.

Morgan represents the opposite of what we should strive for.  We should challenge assumptions, but not exclusively the assumptions of others.  It is even more critical that we challenge our own assumptions. If we do not, our models for understanding things will never improve.

No such model is free of bias. Claiming that one is leads those who use it to fail to challenge it and account for its biases.  The sabermetric model contains a great number of assumptions, and no one should be surprised by Carleton saying so.

Assumptions aren’t inherently bad. Without assumptions, we would never be able to get anything done. Instead, we would all be Rene Descartes, wondering if this world is actually real. They are, however, still assumptions. The sabermetric community has, in my view, defended their assumptions too blindly. It is time to challenge them, and improve the discipline.

P.S. This is my second recent post criticizing the sabermetric community. I criticize that which I love so that it will improve.

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One thought on “Assumptions and the Sabermetric Approach

  1. Pingback: Examining Third Order Winning Percentage | Generation 20

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