Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Why the MLB Network is a Failure

24/7 baseball should be a good thing. 24/7 football is a good thing. Why? Because their studio shows aren't made of insultingly dumb opinions.

The MLB Network doesn't have this "skill," and here's an example of why in a video where their studio show takes on PECOTA.

(Sorry for the quality, I have no fancy devices.)

I'm going to respond to every stupid thing I see as it goes along.

First off, let me say this intrigues me. I was excited they were going to take a critical look at a "new" angle of baseball analysis. Being critical is good, but they really should be informed and intelligent before they do so, and they weren't successful in that regard. It's also good for them to introduce the baseball public to a little more critical thinking and better analysis, but their idiocy after the fact may have destroyed this attempt.

1:20: Our first problem: they give the silly triple crown stats as an example of PECOTA's projections and wins and losses for pitchers. RBIs and Wins and Losses are team stats, folks. That means you're including a minimum of 24 other players and their own set of variables in to the equation, thus lowering further the accuracy. While PECOTA goes ahead and projects these numbers, it's more interested (and useful) in projection what is actually in a player's control, and team stats are not. Nevermind the fact that batting average tells you very little and home runs only account for a small slice of a player's plate appearances. PECOTA gives you a full analysis of a player's performance, and focusing on such a small slice of the projections -- let alone an unimportant slice -- greatly misses the point. And as you'll see, that's a problem.

1:38: Matt Vasgersian seems like a smart guy, but the way he words these things, as Mrs. Grif pointed out, echoes a feeling that seems to come from baseball: that things like PECOTA seem to be seen by the baseball establishment as some sort of crazy Kaballah religion. Vasgersian also mentions the fact that Prospectus is more often than ont "on the money." As a subscriber, I know he's correct. Think Hug Me Harold Reynolds or Sean Casey are going to acknowledge this fact? Think again, silly reader!

2:13: It wouldn't be a baseball stats discussion without an inappropriate use of the term "moneyball!"

2:19: "I also think, too, baseball is greater than that!" Thank you for these empty words, Sean. When you're worried you might have a strongly supported statement, talk about the mysticism of The Game. That works for Joe Morgan!

2:48: "Stats are ridiculous!" See, Hug Me hates stats, and yet, I hear him cite them all the time. What he meant to say was, "stats that challenge the opinion I already have, and stats that I have not been brought up looking at, and stats that I might have to think about are ridiculous because I can't handle a challenge." Everyone looks at baseball stats, so everyone who decides they can throw them out of the window is being a hypocrite just because they're lazy. Not that there's anything wrong with being lazy, but there is something wrong with denying it and trying to pretend you're not lazy, you're just too smart to be bothered.

Reynolds comes off ridiculous, he doesn't even know what he's talking about but he talks anyway. What is he talking about with the Hall of Fame? I think he sees statistics as a simple set of numbers that don't tell you much instead of an objective record of just about everything that happens on a baseball field. He doesn't realize how unlimited they are and that most of what he talks about can be measured because he doesn't know anything about the subject. So why is he on a television broadcast talking about it, anyway?


I got my cat to hit the key. Still, I'm sueing. In any case, the Youkilis numbers do seem low, but they're also not the important numbers of a PECOTA projection, either. See, the problem is not with Reynolds questioning the numbers, it's with him not actually understanding the process or what it's telling him before opening his mouth, and dismissing them as wrong before it's possible to be wrong.

3:59: What is a quality .215? Is that like a team being a competitive 57-105? Is it better than a crappy .378? Does it tell you more than some crazy number like taking how often a player avoids an out and then adding that to something like how many bases he advances himself when he has an at bat? Maybe, but I think he's making it up.

4:11: This is just a curmudgeonly silliness. They'd rather listen to some dude who has done nothing but form a subjective opinion with his eyes over a couple games than someone who has put together an objective opinion over a full sample size using actual tangible evidence. And Larkin's insistence that an objective analyst can't tell you "why" is just nonsense. Does he think they just make up numbers as they go along and trust they're correct without actually having a real reason for arriving to them? Also, how does Sean Casey know the straw man has seen the player "with the game on the line?" What makes him think stats weren't recorded in that game?

5:02: Is there a place for stats or are they ridiculous, Harold? It seems like he thinks "stat mongers" should be allowed to exist just as some form of political correctness. Sort've like someone who thinks women have a place in the office, just not doing actual work. (Unless they're giving him a hug, of course.)

Also, this is how you know someone knows baseball: he smokes cigars and has gray hair. Remember this, folks. Also: note that none of these people have gray hair or cigars. I'll bet Bert Sugar knows a thing or two about rounders, though.

5:16: Barry Larkin doesn't actually know what "educated decision" means. Barry, someone who makes a decision based on an objective record of what a player has done in the past is, in fact, makin an educated decision. By the very definition, his decision has been educated by something (in this case: what the player has done playing baseball). It may not be as educated as possible, but it is educated. Just like watching a player for three games and making a decision off of what you see is educated.

5:48: It occurs to me than Hug Me is very much removed from the game if he thinks "at the end of the day" every team is just ignorin all these stats they've put together and leaning on one guy who looks like Red Aurbach to make their decisions, and that's clear when Larkin and Casey smack down his hilarious assertation. I think Reynolds sees stat guys as some folks who sit around in the front office and put together some numbers that everyone looks at with wry amusement and then ignore to the betterment of the club.

6:15: "It's what the game was founded on, I'm sorry." And there we get to the root of the problem: an aversion to change. The problem is just that it's different and not traditional, and Hug Me has a problem with something that is over his head, comes from "outside" the game, and messes with the way things have been done since darkies weren't allowed on the field and catchers caught fastballs with their bare hands to prove they were men.

It's just ridiculous that they take a neat concept and can't bother having an intelligent discussion on the subject. None of the players have a clue about PECOTA, they just talk anyway. Why do we only have a bunch of ex-players, anyway? Why not have someone there who knows about the topic? Another view point? Why not make sure all the panelists are educated on the topic?

They essentially presented the topic and then spent five minutes spewing empty words that sound good and make fans unaware of the subject go, "yeah, that sounds right!" And that's why the MLB Network is a tragic failure no better than ESPN. Why did none of them address the accuracy of PECOTA and talk about that? Because it would challenge their opinions?

And, as was already pointed out by Goose, this isn't an either/or thing. There is absolutely value in watching players and trying to find the things you just can't find in the evidence with the help of people who know what to look for. There is absolutely no reason NOT to look at numbers in a sport where they tell you so much, though, and there is a lot of reason to put more weight on the actual, objective evidence than anything else. Very few seem to understand this, though. To be fair, I think Larkin and Casey do to a degree, but Reynolds is just another type who thinks it's a "Scouts vs. Computers" debate and that you can't have both (and, furthermore, those robots will destroy the game if you give them an inch).

A challenge and discussion of the system and statistical analysis in baseball with an educated group would be great. The MLB Network couldn't be bothered.

But I love when they stand around on a fake field and tell me how to throw a ball to first base for 15 minutes!!!


Anonymous said...

They have Costas there. They used have used him to balance out this idiocy.

Anonymous said...

Should have used him is what I meant.

Goose said...

Costas would have helped. How much, I'm not sure.

About the only good from this, aside from our posts, is that perhaps we'll see a Nate Silver interview in the near future a la them talking to Brian Bruney after the 8000 replays of Reynolds saying that the Yankees don't have a bullpen.

Goose said...

Watching this again, I have no clue what Harold was talking about before saying, "Stats are ridiculous."

Oh yeah, what was that noise at 2:38?

Skye said...

I check out every time I hear someone say yeah, on-base percentage is good and they're looking at it, but you can't look at numbers and not make-up.

Does everyone just skim over the passage in Moneyball about make-up? And Billy trashing a good-stats guy cause his make-up is awful? Oh my God. It kills me.

Rook said...

When it comes to this sort of thing, I think Costas probably would have sided with the anti-stats "analysts", albeit probably with not as much blatant bias. I used to like him a lot, but recently it seems like he's just on an agenda to point out all the things "wrong" with the sports world. As a commentator, he's probably still one of my favorites, though.

Btw, awesome post, Grif.

Grif said...

FWIW, Bob Costas is a noted Bill James advocate and a staunch supporter of the fat little bearded know-nothing's work.

Rook said...

Really? I never would've guessed that about Costas. Perhaps they should get him to weigh in on this sort of thing then.

Anything would be better than the "expert analysts" that MLB Network has provided us with thus far.

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