Watch Like a Sabermetrican | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

Well, it happened. To the undoubted delight of the teeming hordes, Rickie Weeks is officially a platoon player, sharing time with Gritmaster Scrap Scooter Gennett. As a long time admirer of Weeks, this makes me sad, though even I can’t deny that his performance this year has given the Brewers reason to make a change (although I still don’t know I really agree with this particular change, but that’s a separate column). While I still hold out hope that he has a phoenix-like rebirth ahead, it does look sadly likely that Rickie’s best years are behind him. At his peak, Weeks was a second baseman with patience, power, and speed, which is an incredibly valuable thing, even taking into account the fact that defense was never his strong suit.

Weeks was also sadly unappreciated by vast swaths of the fanbase, and in particular seemed to serve as a flash point between the more sabermetrically-inclined and traditionally oriented fans. I want to explore this a little, because I think there are very real differences in how traditional and saber fans actually view and experience a game, and this becomes clear when viewed through the prism of Rickie Weeks. His approach of patience, power, and strikeouts is anathema to how traditional fans believe batters should succeed, but actually fits right in with how saber fans do.

Most baseball fans, it seems to me, view a batter’s primary goal at the plate to be making contact, hence the vilification of strikeouts. To step up to the plate and not be able to touch the ball with the bat at all is the ultimate failure. However, I, and I believe most other sabermetrically inclined fans, view a batter’s primary goal as making good contact and avoiding outs, and it appears the best way to do this is by waiting for good pitches. What raises my ire is not the lack of contact, but the swinging at bad pitches. When a batter, particularly one in a hitter’s count, swings at a pitch outside the zone and can only meekly hit it on the ground, this is when I get frustrated. All I can see in this situation is the wasted opportunity to get a better pitch, or to draw a walk and give another batter a chance. A more traditional fan, on the other hand, might think, “At least he made contact,” and view this as an at-bat that at least had a chance to make something happen, but didn’t work out. This is how I view strikeouts; I know making good contact tends to mean swinging hard, which means missing pitches sometimes. I see a strikeout as the right process, a chance to make something happen, which just didn’t work out.

The point of this is not to say that my way, the saber fan way, of viewing a game is somehow superior to the traditional fan’s point of view. I’m specifically talking about the quick judgements and emotions you feel from watching a game, which by their very definition are flawed. The way to best evaluate a player is to count what they’ve done, statistically, because even the best memory will blur the cold hard facts. But when we reflect on a player, the emotions we had while viewing them in game tends to be what floats to the surface. Because of the different ways we view the game, when it comes to Rickie, those emotions tend to be positive for saber fans, and negative for more traditional fans.

It is a common accusation against sabermetrically inclined fans that we “don’t watch the games.” Well, believe me, we do, and our love of Rickie Weeks isn’t based on something we saw in a spreadsheet, it’s based on watching him in games. We just seem to watch the games a little differently.

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Comments

Tell us what do you think.

  1. Philboyd says: June 8, 2013

    Great points. That about sums it up. Why or why doesn’t Brewer management see it that way? Are they caving in to fan pressure?

  2. This Effin' Guy says: June 8, 2013

    Justify it however you want, but the bottom line for every sports fan is the W-L column. I think of the year Calvin Johnson had for the Detroit Lions–a great stand alone season by an elite athlete, but ultimately overshadowed by the 4-12 season his team had. Rickie Weeks is an easy scape goat here due to his lack of production. But, anyone who has followed the Brewers this season knows that there are much deeper issues plaguing the organization than on man’s BA. Numbers are fun and great for analysts, but it doesn’t matter how good you are with spouting off statistics, if the team isn’t winning then the team isn’t winning. THAT number doesn’t lie.

    • Gordon says: June 9, 2013

      You’re right, but the win loss column is literally dependent on the statistics. Wins are a product of getting on base and scoring runs while your defense makes outs. Stats are exactly the ways to look at why those wins and losses happen.

      • Beep says: June 10, 2013

        W-L is not literally dependent on the statistics. A team can out play the opponent and dominate the box score day in and day out, but one play at the right time makes all the difference. Averages are only trends of the production in the past, but no guarantee of future success.

        • Scott says: June 11, 2013

          Completely agree here. The 2012 Baltimore Orioles I think are the perfect example of this. They didn’t really blow anyone away with amazing stats and, according to the pythagorean calculation for Wins and Losses, they only should have finished 82-80. But because of the TIMELY hits in clutch moments, they were 29-9 in 1-run games, 16-2 in extra innings, and an absolutely dominant bullpen holding those small leads to a 74-0 record when leading after 7 innings, which allowed them to win 93 games and take the Yankees to a Game 5 in the ALDS. Baseball is the most statistically-driven sport out there, but it certainly isn’t a 100% guarantee to success.

  3. Jeff says: June 9, 2013

    “the quick judgements and emotions you feel from watching a game, which by their very definition are flawed.” You know, those are not actually flawed by definition. Quick judgements and emotions are how human beings survive long enough to have children, fellah.

    Werner von Heisenberg once said that we never view nature in itself, but rather nature exposed to our line of questioning. Statistics see what statistics can see. If you ignore that, you run the very real risk of having a hammer and thinking everything is a nail.

    • Alex Poterack says: June 9, 2013

      Our quick judgments and emotions did evolve for us to survive long enough to have children; however, analyzing baseball players doesn’t really play a role in surviving to adulthood, so we’re not well optimized for that.

  4. Mike Dietz says: June 9, 2013

    Weeks was undone by injuries. Really serious injuries to your wrists and ankle are things baseball players just dont recover from. I’d take a guy with 2 knee injuries before I’d want a guy with 2 wrist injuries. The amount of time that he lost due to those issues and then playing through the ankle thing when it was obviously affecting him really robbed Milwaukee of his best years. Its honestly too bad because I don’t think the Brewers have a guy who works harder than Rickie. His body just failed him earlier than most.

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