I haven’t seen the particular ad yet myself, but apparently Sportsnet is using Travis Snider’s fielding percentage in some of its advertising for the upcoming Jays season. I’m going to assume that the vast majority of people who bother to read baseball blogs know enough about the game to know that fielding percentage is not even remotely a good way to evaluate a player.
Anyway, the ad led to an interesting Twitter exchange last night between Stoeten of DJF fame and a guy who goes by GoatmealCrisp about why exactly Sportsnet would take such a tack in its promotional course.
Goatmeal argued that the ad is for the “casuals” and that people who know better are watching the games anyway. Stoeten, who was making the most of St. Patrick’s Day, was having none of it.
So continue pretending a worthless stat means anything? Fuck that. The casuals aren't too dumb to learn. @GoatmealCrisp
— Andrew Stoeten (@AndrewStoeten) March 18, 2011
Now, I’m with Stoeten 100% in that nobody should be pretending a worthless stat means anything, but the second half of his statement might not be entirely accurate.
I’ve often wondered why words like “grit” remain so prevalent in discussions of baseball and what makes a player good or valuable to a team. The following map might, in part, help explain the reluctance of some people to adopt new ways of looking at the game:
What you’re looking at is a map of Canada, drawn up to show numeracy skills for a recent feature in the Globe and Mail. Red is bad. Going by these stats, there are an alarming amount of people in Canada who lack the basic math skills to “live fully in a modern economy.”
The consequences of poor math skills are many and affect more than just the individual who struggled with calculus in grade school:
The financial crisis of 2008 is often blamed solely on the banking world’s irresponsibility, but individual decisions by people struggling to understand their mortgages, or the true cost of a loan or a debt, arguably helped bring world economies to their knees.
To be sure, people losing their jobs and their homes is a much more important issue than the widespread acceptance and understanding of a stat like ISO, FIP or any of the other advanced metrics out there. But if people can’t wrap their heads around a personal loan or a mortgage, with the huge implications those things can and do have on their personal lives, how can we expect those same people to be bothered with the sabr movement?
Now, just to be clear, I’m not saying people who don’t “get” math are stupid — far from it. I know there any many, many factors that go into what people can or can’t do intellectually and the individuals in question don’t have control over all of them.
And I’m not excusing large swaths of the mainstream media for continuing to look at the game of baseball in an outdated way. Good media should be reporting things in the best way possible — including taking advanced stats and explaining them, or converting them into language most people can understand. Unfortunately, most media doesn’t work that way — for a number of reasons, some understandable, some horrible.
Sportsnet really shouldn’t be promoting the Jays with Travis Snider’s fielding percentage. But if you run into a Jays fan in the real world who likes to talk about simple, outdated things like fielding percentage, it might worth it to see if they’ve got a grasp of fielding range or something else that you can get a good sense of without looking at numbers. If they do, their use of fielding percentage as a go-to metric might not be entirely their fault.