This thread has been interesting so far. Here is my two cents:
Let me ask everyone a question. Albert Pujols is a great player, right? He has been since he entered the NL. Now, how do we know he is a great player? Is he a great player because he has a sweet swing? Or because he makes great digs at first base? If some one asked you to show why Albert Pujols is a great player what would you say? Well, most of us would probably say, "because he can hit .350 with 45 HRs and 145 RBIs!" You see, greatness is LINKED to baseball statistics. Baseball stats are not just numbers but a form of language. Baseball stats speak to us, they tell us stories about th players. They are just not numbers. The following is from Ken Burns' book, Baseball
. He's talking about baseball stats:
And third, from this unique phenomenon, baseball statistics acquire the powers of language, which is what makes them so uniquely fascinating.
Did you ever wonder why it is that people who don’t give a hoot where the Dow Jones average is, who couldn’t tell you within three points what the prime rate is or the crime rate or what the Nielson ratings were can tell you nonetheless that Carlos Baerga has gained eight points in a week and is up to .296?
It’s because they don’t receive baseball statistics as numbers, they absorb them as words. A .296 average doesn’t stand for 296 of anything, it doesn’t make one think of 296 apples or 296 oranges. Three hundred means excellence: .296 means just short of the standard of excellence.
All baseball statistics are like that. Forty home runs doesn’t refer to forty of anything: it just means power, big power. This is a tremendous advantage. When the average man hears that the Dow Jones average is 3100, this immediately brings up a series of questions. Thirty-one hundred what? Thirty-one hundred dollars? Thirty-one hundred stocks? Is that good or bad? Didn’t it used to be like, 1200 or something? The prime rate is 7.3, what does that mean? Can I borrow money at that rate?
Baseball statistics are fascinating because:
a) they are personal, and
b) they don’t reformulate themselves immediately into these kinds of distracting questions
For the existence of a widely recognized standard, transmogrifying “40” into “power” and “.307” into “consistency”, baseball statistics acquire the ability to narrate stories in a manner that is absolutely unique in our culture. We don’t relate to any other numbers in the same way.
I agree that one can put too much empahsis in stats and not look at the player. However, the other extreme is also true, to disregard stats completely and rely totally on subjective judgement is just as bad. In Moneyball
I was amazed about how the "old-school" scouted scouted prospects. They placed a large importance on looking good in a uniform, having "good face", and having "wheels". Doesn't this strike everyone as lame? "Old-school" scouts completely disregard stats. And this is wrong also. In a previous post someone mentioned Lenny Dykstra. "Old-school" scouts completely ignored him because he didn't have a classic baseball body. Yes, he had tremendous desire but he also had great baseball skills. They just weren't readily apparent to most people when he was a prospect. I especially liked it when he had Billy Beane as a teammate in the minors. He asked who the pitcher was and Beane told him it was Steve Carlton (on a rehab assignment). I loved Lenny's response. "I going to stick him!" If you look at his minor stats it was obvious Lenny could play.
Stats have always been a part of baseball. Stats didn't begin with Bill James, thats for sure. They have ALWAYS been a part of the game. ESPN's Alan Schwartz recently wrote a book on the history of baseball statistics. I haven't read it yet, but I've heard it's really good. Has anyone read it yet?