Analytics Guys and Heart Attacks
I’ve written this before: Bob Ryan is one of my favorite people on earth. Love his energy, his unflagging enthusiasm for sport, his storytelling … few things make me happier than seeing Bob on the road and just talking sports and life with him. Bob’s just fantastic.
Of course, he did tweet this:
If Ned Yost beats Buck and Bochy back-to-back, the Analytics guys will have a collective coast-to-coast heart attack.
— Bob Ryan (@GlobeBobRyan) October 17, 2014
Here are seven words I wish "the Analytics guys" could get put up on a billboard somewhere: "NEVER PUT FAITH IN SMALL SAMPLE SIZES." If there is any one idea that is at the center of the enormous and conflicting and untidy world of sabermetrics, I suspect it would be those seven words NEVER ... PUT ... FAITH ... IN SMALL ... SAMPLE ... SIZE. Those words are the gospel, they are the dogma, they are the core principle.
Heart attacks? Come on. No self-respecting Analytics guy would put much faith at all in the reliability of one at-bat or one game or one series. What Cardinals manager Mike Matheny did with Michael Wacha -- sitting him for 20 days and then putting him in in the ninth inning of a tied lose-and-go-home game with lefties at the plate -- defied every bit of baseball logic I know of, sabermetric, traditional or otherwise. But it absolutely COULD have worked. Billy Butler has stolen a base this postseason -- anything CAN work.
Small sample size. Bill James has railed on this. Tom Tango has railed on this. Rob Neyer has railed on this. Joe Sheehan has railed on this. Baseball Prospectus has railed on this. Fangraphs has railed on this. Those aren't Analytics guys telling you that this guy has hit that guy well because he's gone 2 for 6 with a homer. Those aren't Analytics guys telling you that you can expect a scoreless inning because a pitcher has now allowed a run in his previous three appearances. Those aren't Analytics guys telling you that the best teams or the best managers win the playoffs.
Yes it's 100 percent true that many Analytics guys -- including some of us who aren't smart enough to have the title -- find many of Ned Yost's decisions to be curious. It's true that Analytics guys have probably underestimated the things Yost does well. In the Dentyne challenge more than four out of five Analytics guys surveyed would take Bruce Bochy over Ned Yost to manage their teams, I suspect there isn't one who would be even mildly surprised if the Yost-led Royals beat the Bochy-led Giants in a seven-game series. Chuck Tanner beat Earl Weaver in a seven-game series, for crying out loud.
Small sample size. Now, look, if Ned Yost and Bruce Bochy and Buck Showalter were playing 10 seasons worth of Strat-o-Matic with the same teams, and Yost won that league, well, I'm not saying there would be heart-attacks for the Analytics guys, but there might be some mild indigestion.