What Question Are you Asking?

I think that confusing the question is a big part of miscommunication. It’s no different in sabermetrics.

When I write or read an article, I try to separate out whether the writer is attempting to answer any or all of the following questions:

  1. What happened?
  2. Does the player deserve blame/credit for what happened?
  3. What is likely to happen going forward? (Which is the same question as: what is the player’s true talent level, absent any good or bad luck?)

It sounds simplistic, but most sabermetric articles can be broken down in these three ways.

In particular, when the question isn’t clear, commenters tend to assume that the author is answering question 1 when really they are trying to answer question 3. Or vice versa.

For example, let’s say a pitcher strikes out 10 batters in 7 innings. That’s very good. Now let’s say he walks two batters. That’s pretty good too. Now let’s say he gives up only one fly ball all night, and that fly ball turns into a home run, and that home run came with three men on base. A grand slam. All other balls in play he allows are ground balls. (Obviously, some went for hits.) And since his team scores only 2 runs offensively, the pitcher’s team loses 4-2.

  1. What happened? Well, I described it above.
  2. Does the pitcher deserve blame for the home run? Maybe, maybe not. After all, the catcher called the pitch. And the pitcher had to execute it. And he how has a 100% home run to fly ball ratio for the evening. That right there is suspect in terms of blame. I would guess that he just got unlucky. We would have to study video of the pitch to be sure.

    You also have to call into question his defense. A ball in play leading to a hit could have involved a defender either making a poor play or not making a play at all due to their lack of range, arm, etc.

    Finally you have to look at sequencing. Pitchers generally can’t control when they give up hits. (Because defense is part of the equation.) A sequence of single/single/single/home run is more damaging than a sequence of single/home run/single/single.

    Which leads us to …

  3. What is likely to happen going forward? Assuming that the high ground ball rate is not an aberration, that grand slam is not likely to happen again anytime soon. It is more likely he will have another high-K/low-BB game, and over the long run those kinds of games will produce good results for the pitcher’s team.

If I wrote an article answering question 3 and did not make it clear that I was doing go, or did not address question 1 at all, I think I would get a commenter on said article disagreeing with me on the terms of question 1. They might never state that assumption in that comment. Giving up a grand slam tends to produce strong negative emotion in a team’s fanbase, especially if that team is on the cusp of a playoff spot or has been playing poorly as of late.

So it’s important for everyone to clarify. Of course this is a utopian ideal. But isn’t that worth shooting for? 🙂