What do you believe about baseball that you can’t prove?
Just in case you missed it last week, Ken Arneson gave the world a really interesting piece, in which he listed the 10 things he believes about baseball without evidence.
My personal favorite? "A’s fans are magical elves."
But they’re all interesting, and here’s a sample:
Things like platoon splits and home field advantage are not Constants of the Universe like the speed of light or the Planck-Einstein relation. They arise from more fundamental truths about human anatomy and psychology.
For instance, once I got in an argument in which I did not believe that Sean Doolittle pitched better to certain catchers than others. The stats did not agree with me, albeit perhaps with a small sample size. But my objection wasn’t to the numbers, adequate sample size or not, it was to the lack of any sort of underlying physical/psychological mechanism where these numbers could derive from. Sean Doolittle throws 90% fastballs. What the hell difference physically/psychologically does it make what catcher is back there catching it? It’s the same pitch, no matter who is catching it.
I do not consider a sabermetric truth to really be a truth unless there is a biomechanical/psychological foundation upon which that truth can rest, and from which that truth is capable of being derived.
Hold on a second … Did we just pass through the looking glass? One of the things you believe without evidence is that a sabermetric truth isn’t true unless it’s accompanied by … evidence?
Well, yes. I think we’re all in agreeance about that one.
Actually, I think I’ve got an idea what he means here. He’s saying if we can’t come up with a reasonably logical explanation for why something’s happening, maybe it’s not happening at all. I think.
I do admire the way Arneson’s mind works. Or seems to work, since I don’t really understand everything he writes. That’s what makes it interesting! If I were running a baseball team, I would want someone asking these sorts of questions, because anybody can ask the easy ones. If you really want to stay ahead of the competition, you gotta come up with some completely different ways of looking at the game. On the other hand, you might have to explore a lot of different ways before anything useful bubbles up, and before that happens you might decide it’s not worth the trouble. I remember years ago, hearing something about the Red Sox creating a sort of interdisciplinary baseball think tank, and thinking to myself that they might simply revolutionize baseball. Well, the results have been wildly mixed. In the last four years, anyway.
Anyway, Arneson’s essay got me to wondering what I believe about baseball without evidence … and the hell of it was, I couldn’t really think of anything. Which isn’t for a moment to suggest that I know everything about baseball. I’m sure there are some things I think I know, that I don’t … but that’s because I’ve trusted the evidence too much, or haven’t considered enough evidence. I think that most good starting pitchers could be excellent relief pitchers; Hall of Fame-quality relief pitchers, assuming they could stay healthy long enough to pile up the requisite saves. I guess maybe we don’t have great evidence for that, since good starters don’t become relievers. But at least we do have a biomechanical foundation, right? Relievers don’t need to pace themselves like most starters do?
Speaking of relievers, here’s something else I believe without much evidence: Teams use too many relief pitchers, both within games and over the course of the season. Using so many during games means there’s less room on the roster for non-pitchers, which limits a manager’s options on that side of the equation. And management’s impatience with relief pitchers leads to massive numbers of different relief pitchers being used during the season, which seems like a great way of finding pitchers who don’t actually belong in the majors. This year the Orioles used 14 relief pitchers; in 1984 they used eight. But the Orioles are pikers in this regard. In 1984, the third-place Yankees also used just eight relief pitchers; this year they used 22.
My belief is that relief pitchers are not quite as fungible as most teams now believe; that there really weren’t 22 relievers in the Yankee organization this season who were good enough to pitch against the best hitters in the world. But I can’t prove it.
Here’s one more thing … I’ve been asked, from time to time, how much difference a manager makes. My standard response includes some hemming and some hawing, but I generally suggest at some point that the best managers — or rather, the best managers for particular situations — are probably worth an extra 3-5 wins per season. But why do we say something like that? Because 0-1 seems too small and 8-10 seems too big.
If there’s any biomechanical/psychological found in there, I missed it.
So what do you believe about baseball that you can’t prove?