What would you say to that faction of the game — the Joe Morgans of the world — who are scared off by, or otherwise resistant to, advanced statistical analysis?
Well, I don’t argue with people. I suppose that’s odd to say, but I really don’t. If you don’t get it, you don’t get it. That’s not my problem. A lot of the assumptions people have about us are not true. A lot of the ways they assume we look at the world are not the way we look at the world at all. But honestly, you can’t explain that to people. If they don’t get it, they don’t get it. There’s really no point in talking about it.
Flipping through Gold Mine, you seem always to be finding things that excite and surprise you. What’s one of your more felicitous recent discoveries?
I like the base-running stats. We count things like runners going first to third on a single, and how many times people are thrown out on the bases and that sort of thing. I like that stuff, in part, because it’s one of those things you don’t necessarily see while watching the game, but once you see it in the stats you can look and see it on the field. Like, the stats have shown, for two of three years since we started doing this, that David Ortiz is a much better base runner than you think he is.
He’s just not very pretty doing it.
In a spring-training game a couple weeks ago, there was a game where David ended up sliding into second, sliding into third, and sliding into home. He moved from first to second on a wild pitch, second to third on a ground ball, and scored on a fly ball. When you start watching him, you realize that he is alert, and if a ball gets away from the catcher, he does move up. You can see, once it’s pointed out to you, that he really is a good base runner, and it’s not some statistical illusion.
I think i can predict the answer to this one, but do you think baseball can ever be “solved”? Do you think you could ever run out of stuff you don’t know about the game?
Absolutely not. Think about it. Answering one question simply poses a new set of questions. Over the last two or three years, we’ve started to get this fantastic pitch data — the Pitch-f/x data that mlb.com has, and also from Baseball Info Solutions, where they chart every pitch, whether it’s inside or outside, a curveball or slider. I mean, do you have any idea how long it will take people to figure out that stuff? It’s a lot of fun to play with, but in terms of really understanding it, we won’t make any headway for a long time. And there are so many other things like that. We’re never gonna figure it all out. And we’re no closer to figuring it out now than we were 30 years ago.
I’m assuming that was the impetus behind starting the Web site, giving you the space and immediacy to deal with issues whenever and however you want.