Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Grand Old Game & Wondrous New Machines

Here's an email I sent to a friend in reaction to an article about baseball he sent me. I'm reproducing it here in a slightly altered form mainly because the piece prompted some thoughts about baseball and computers and advanced technology. Interesting maybe later on to see how prophetic I am.

Thanks for sending this. What sucks you in is the sensationalist lead to this piece about new technology. Nothing is going to replace the stats baseball people have relied on for years. I'm with Jack McKeon . . . You know that I'm a lover of all the baseball numbers, from the old tried-and-true we've had for years to the first generation of sabermetric measurements, the products of Bill James and Pete Palmer, things like OBP, RC, RC/G, OPS, park adjustments, WHIP, batting and pitching runs, and more. I have not embraced the increasingly esoteric measurements (see here too) that are being produced by anybody who's got a baseball blog and a spreadsheet program. There comes a point of diminishing returns with these computer tricks. More and more about less and less that really don't help further our understanding of the game.

The article in WSJ is perhaps interesting, and I do think it's neat to see the trajectory and know the speed of pitches and location of pitches, but this technology is just that, an application of the kind of measurements this technology can produce to the game of baseball. I don't see it revolutionizing the game from the fan's standpoint. Maybe it will for the overall management of the game. But then I'm a fossil who still thinks the DH is an abomination, not to mention other obscenities such as wild cards, inter-league play, 4-team divisions, and more.

Along the same lines, I'm seeing an increasing number of articles that baseball is ready for and should begin to employ instant replay, for the call of HRs only, and not for anything else. That dunderhead Bud Selig, who has screwed the game up royally during his tenure as the owners' pawn, oops I mean Baseball Commissioner, will probably allow it. Now, I'm not all that opposed to instant replay for this purpose, but I am opposed to its extension into other aspects of the game, also the province of the umpires. (Fair-foul calls on the lines occurs to me.) And I think once replay gets established in the game, it's inevitable that it will be extended into other areas. Now that's what I'm really against. I don't want a damn computer calling on the bases and behind the plate. How many baseball fans are ready for that?
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