Brian Kenny, Max Scherzer, and #KilltheWin
Originally posted at isportstimes.com on July 22, 2013
If you follow Brian Kenny on twitter, then you too have been inundated over the past few weeks with tweets about killing the win or the save or the RBI or whatever other “traditional” stat is on Kenny’s mind that day. Kenny has become somewhat of a spokesman for the sabermetric community since moving from ESPN to MLB Network. Lately, he has become one of the leading voices arguing that the traditional stats like wins, saves, and RBI have no place in baseball discourse and should be stricken from the backs of baseball cards (they still make those right?), in-game television graphics and box scores.
The argument goes something like this: these traditional stats offer very little analytical value. Their use leads to misinformed fans and managers like Ron Washington and Dusty Baker. The argument also claims that the only way to fix this problem is to abolish these stats from the baseball lexicon.
(It should be noted, people like Mitch Albom make the same type argument from the other side. It’s just as misguided coming from Kenny as it is from Albom. Actually, I take that back, nothing is as misguided as that Albom column.)
But the people making the above argument are missing the point. There’s no such thing as an inherently ”bad” statistic. All a statistic does is provide information to give context to what transpired on the field that day or that season. The issues arise only when people attribute additional meaning to the stats that doesn’t exist.
Sometimes I want to know who the winning pitcher was in a game. Maybe I want to know who the RBI leaders are at the all-star break. When I think back to the 2009 season, I remember that Zack Grienke led the league with a 2.16 ERA, not that he led the league with a 2.33 FIP.
Despite what Kenny and others like him may say, there is a place for both traditional stats and sabermetrics in the baseball world. ERA tells us how many earned runs a pitcher gave up per nine innings. FIP tells us how many runs a pitcher should have given up per nine innings based on the number of batters they strike out, walk, and allow home runs to. They both tell us something, but they both tell us something different. In fact, a stat like FIP is only useful because of ERA, because its analytical value stems from how a pitcher’s FIP deviates from his ERA.
It is possible to be an enlightened fan while still using traditional stats. Fans can be impressed by Max Scherzer’s 13-0 start and Miguel Cabrera’s 90 RBI with a week left before the all-star break. Fans can also appreciate these things while keeping in mind that Scherzer leads all pitchers in run support (6.17 runs per game) and that Cabrera’s RBI total is dependent on the batters in front of him getting on base.
There is room in baseball for both traditional statistics and sabermetrics. They can better enrich the fan experience together than they can alone. Baseball statistics don’t need hegemony, they need harmony.