Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Will To Ignore

White Sox announcer Hawk Harrelson recently appeared on MLB Network, where he and Brian Kenny discussed / yelled about sabermetrics. The kerfuffle has become somewhat of a sensation, as Hawk insisted on the glory of TWTW: His freshly minted statistic called "The Will To Win." Watch here, if it pleases you:



But here is the problem: Hawk is trying too hard in a couple of areas. First, he is trying to transmute intangibles into the sphere of sabermetrics, a world dedicated to tangibles. His TWTW is moot because no sabermetrician should ever discount intangibles. To suggest sabermetrics ignores TWTW is to firstly imply TWTW is an objective quality or quantity that observers can detect with a little prudent watching.

The will to win is measured in offseasons, though. It is measured in batting cages and weight rooms. Even a broadcaster like Hawk does not have the access necessary to even begin attempting a TWTW analysis.

Hawk second problem, and by far his chief problem, is his limited knowledge of the sabermetric sphere. He has admitted to seeing the movie Moneyball, but beyond that, his understanding of sabermetrics appears as limited as his data collection of TWTW. He still assumes sabermetricians are at war with scouts, a la the early 2000s Moneyball paradigm. He has not researched his opinion. He has not approached the subject with an open mind. That is the chief problem.

Chicago Sun-Times writer Rick Morrissey came to Hawk's defense Friday night. Morrissey argued the sport of baseball has devolved into a battle for thought superiority:

Buffalo (N.Y.) News columnist Jerry Sullivan recently wrote a lovely tribute to longtime colleague Larry Felser, who had just passed away. This clause stood out: ‘‘At a time when people tweet their thoughts without filters and everyone wants to be the smartest guy in the room . . . ’’

I thought to myself: That’s it, isn’t it? The need to be the smartest guy in the room has taken over sports discussion and turned it into a cold, unwelcoming place where no attempt is made to understand the other side. There is only the attempt to crush it like an uprising.

My question is: What was it before? And what is his proof for this new environment?

If the conversation around baseball analysis has changed, it has changed away from an echo chamber that lasted over a hundred years. From the initial connection between baseball and the news, the thought gang of old school analysis went unbroken. Fringe writers like F.C. Lane and Bill James rang out like a voice in the wilderness, but the heart of analysis sieved through the sportswriter's paradigm -- and his chief objective was to create drama.

I commented on Morrissey's article, and I think it is germane enough to reprint:

[The preceding commenter] is precisely correct here. No one in the sabermetric community worth their keyboard suggests intangible do not matter, that character does not matter. Harrelson is succumbing to a strange case of strawman-phobia. He does not even bother to try to learn about sabermetrics, or what sabertmetricians say about baseball, and so he can comfortably create these mysterious, unknown beliefs about scout-hating, intangible-ignoring students of the game.

"But when Harrelson mentions that numbers can’t tell the whole story, that some people have a brighter pilot light than others, he’s an idiot."

This is a straw man argument, Morrissey. You cite the word "old" and a poster at unnamed message board. Are these the only places where Hawk is derided? Is this the most powerful vitriol coming from the sabermetric community?

Did Tom Tango call him an idiot? Did Bill James or Dave Cameron or Rob Neyer accuse him of using hocus pocus? The pillars of the sabermetric community are lamenting Harrelson's closed mind, not his unique perspective.

Do not ignore sabermetrics. If you are going to deride something and suggest it is worthless, know it first. Learn about it. TWTW is not worthless. It is subjective and unmeasurable -- and in some cases, say in that of Mr. Barry Bonds, unimportant. But intangibles are important, and we -- sabermetricians -- know this. When did we ever say otherwise?

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