Welcome to A Very Simple Game. Here we seek to provide insightful, entertaining baseball analysis using both traditional wisdom and advanced statistics and, through this process, reveal that the gap between those two sources of knowledge is not nearly as wide as many suppose (if it even exists at all).
That’s the short version of why the site exists, if you want a fuller (read: long-winded) explanation (and read some poetic waxing on baseball), keep reading.
A Very Simple Game exists because in one sense, the game of baseball is just that: beautifully simple and elegant. However, like all truly beautiful things it is upon closer examination an incredibly complex and nuanced game that allows for all manner of analysis and argument.
It is, on the one hand, a game whose rules have remained largely unchanged for over a century. Indeed the fundamental game play is the same today as it was before the invention of the light bulb – that is a claim than none of the other major US sports can make (and even very few global sports can).
At the same time the means by which we can study the game has advanced at a tremendous pace. We can break down a hitter’s swing in 1000 frame-per-second slow motion, we track every pitch in every major league game, soon we’ll be able to track the movement of every player on the field on every play.
At one point in the game’s history people debated whether a curveball actually curved or whether it was merely a trick of the eye – now we measure the break of every curve thrown, marking how early or late the break occurs, and we can count the rotations the ball makes on its journey to the plate and then compare a pitcher’s average rotation rate to every other pitcher in the league.
The “Fight” over Advanced Statistics
This wealth of knowledge has brought with it a greater understanding of the game but also a greater tension within the baseball world. According to a common narrative, the “Old School” and the “New School” are inexorably at odds with one another. The “Old School” is supposedly composed of “baseball men” – scouts, players, coaches – whose knowledge has been earned on the playing field; countless hours spent taking batting practice, fielding grounders, and hitting fungos.
The “New School”, on the other hand, is composed of so-called “Stats Geeks”, rabid fans who have brought advanced statistical tools to bear upon the bounty of data now available to challenge the status quo and use linear regressions and complex calculations to devise statistics inaccessible to the common fan in the stands. According to the constructed narrative, the Old School sees Young Turks dismissing the collective years of experience and tradition in favor of fomulae and spreadsheets and the New School sees the Old School as moribund dinosaurs unwilling to accept “plain facts” because it threatens their position as arbiters of baseball truth.
In reality, neither side is the simplistic stereotype that has been portrayed by the loudest voices in the media (as is the case for essentially any debate). The Old School is full of stats savvy minds who embrace the new tools that advanced analytics bring to the table – in fact, the so-called “Moneyball” debate is no longer even a debate (every MLB team has in-house analytics people crunching numbers for them).
By the same token, the New School is full of “baseball men” – people who played the game, who have spent time in and around the game – and who merely are looking for new ways to understand the game they love. More than anything, that is the lesson to be learned and remembered in all of this: no matter what school someone belongs to, they love the game of baseball and are just looking for ways to understand it better.
A Very Simple Game is founded with that premise in mind.
I consider myself firmly in both schools. I have spent years playing and coaching baseball. I’ve hopped over thousands of baselines, I have worn rally-hats, rally-pants, and rally-socks; I have the Old English D tattooed upon my right shoulder – I grew up with baseball, have continued around the game in adulthood, and find artistry in the double switch or a perfectly executed bunt and run.
At the same time I am also a fan of WAR and wOBA, I love that stats now let us firmly establish the value of a catcher’s pitch framing or a fleet-footed center fielder (see “why statistics matter”). I love baseball because it is a game of both balletic athleticism and dirty, gritty determination. It’s a game that inspired both Field of Dreams and Bull Durham.
It is a game of stillness and anticipation punctuated by explosive bursts of energy and dynamism. It is a game of strategy, the only game in which the defense has the ball, and a game where the central competition is between two isolated players but in which even the best player only bats one out of every nine turns.
Is is a game of sandlots and cathedrals, of jesters and poets, and its traditions are treated with a religious reverence while at the same time it has led all other sports in innovating new ways to measure and and understand its play.
It is for all of those reasons that this site exists. I love baseball and I want other people to love it the way I do (or at least understand why I love it like I do). I feel at peace with both the sandlot and the spreadsheet and hopefully, through our writing, you all will as well.
Why Statistics Matter
In one sense, the existence of this entire site relies on two premises:
First, that baseball (and sports more generally) matter in some way. If they don’t, then there’s no point to any of this. If you’re bothering to read any of this, we’ll assume you agree with the first premise.
The second premise is that stats relate to sports in a meaningful way that improves people’s experience with the game.
There’s a reason that people track on base percentage and strikeouts but don’t track the number of times a player spits on the dugout floor – it’s not because we couldn’t if we wanted to, it’s because that statistic wouldn’t improve our understanding and enjoyment of the game (at least for most of us – there’s probably some spitting aficionado out there who’d really dig that…gonna have to find another site for that, sorry).
So, if the reason we track stats is because they improve our enjoyment of the game by increasing our understanding, then it follows that the more a given stat reflects on field success and excellence (I.e, wins), the “better” that stat is – simple, right? That’s really the crux of the biscuit – stats don’t exist just so ESPN talking heads have something to yell at one another, they’re a measurement of the action itself and the more they reflect the important bits of that action, the more useful they are.
Now, no stat is perfect and no stat tells the whole story. Also, no stat is more important than the game itself – the game isn’t there just to produce fun numbers to “play” with. But if we all agree that what goes on in the game matters, and that the better a stat reflects that action the better the stat is, the question isn’t whether it’s important to look at stats, the question is “which stats give us the best understanding of the game?”
Our (cop-out) answer: all of them, though some more than others. And to understand why we emphasize some stats above others, see the methodology and glossary pages.
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