Thursday, April 11, 2013

Declaring War (Wins Above Replacement)

photo of Yankee’s sportscaster Mel Allen
The question is, is the current obsession with statistics in baseball, equivalent to the secondary market in derivatives which Warren Buffet famously called “financial weapons of mass destruction?” A front page Times piece entitled, “Modern Stats Bring WAR to Broadcast Booth (B.A.B.I.P., Too)” (NYT, 4/1/13) describes the burgeoning importance of esoteric baseball statistics which are curiously reminiscent of the infamous CDF’s and CDO’s we heard about in the doomed era of the subprime mortgage crisis. “WAR, VORP and B.A.B.I.P. (Those stand for wins above replacement, value over replacement player and batting average on balls in play, for those of you dusting off your radios as the season begins),” Steve Feder, the Times reporter explains. SABR (The Society for American Baseball Research) already has a large following who will attend their annual convention at the Philadelphia Marriot from July 31 to August 4). But what about the days when the homey voice of Mel Allen gave the play by plays in Yankee games? What about expressions like “it’s a swing and miss,” “it’s going, going, it’s gone,” “looks like he’s bunting,” or merely “it’s three and two with a man on second.” Back in the old times, baseball was a relatively slow moving sport compared to football, basketball and certainly boxing. There would be long periods of silence and there was a solace to the unenlightened commentary. Listening to baseball was like sitting on the porch during a hot summer’s day and that’s exactly where you’d often be listening, with the far off crack of the bat in the old Polo Grounds or Ebbets Field being the only sound to break the silence. But even as a leisurely pastime, it had its legendary moments and personalities. Remember Stan Musial and Ted Williams, Koufax and Robinson? Not to speak of Yank all stars like Berra, Ruth, Gehrig, Jeter and AROD. However, all these statistics play mind games with the brain. Baseball is becoming a little like Zeno’s paradox. Achilles should be beating the tortoise, but he’s become so weighted down with math that he ends up going nowhere.

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