November 30, 2012

"Sabermetrics: The Dissertation!"

Bob Ngo, a sociology Ph.D. student at UC Santa Barbara is writing his dissertation on the "Sabermetric Movement in American Baseball." He's blogged a few of his notes about sabermetricians:
By this time, I have completed about 24 interviews. I did about 12 interviews at the SABR conference, and the rest of the interviews have been done over the phone, with my most recent one being last Saturday. They have been all with what I’m calling the “rank and file” of the sabermetrics movement meaning that they are just regular people who aren’t necessarily involved with any professional sports franchises or what I’ve been referring to as the baseball institution.

But, their intellectual heroes like Bill James aren't terribly different in how they think, so the rank and file reflect the movement's leadership reasonably well.
All of them have been very interesting and great conversations to have. They’ve ranged from age 17 to 78. They’re all males, and they’re pretty much all white. I’ll be scouring the world for a female sabermetrician, as well as one of color soon enough, so if anyone can refer one to me, that’d be great. ... 

If you know one, just let Bob know ...
Conceptual Chapter #1 – I asked  my subjects about what they thought about the steroid controversy and not surprisingly, many of us talked about Barry Bonds and what he means to sabermetricians.  In fact, when I would ask about why they would write about particular subjects, a desire to quantify barry bonds came up more than once.  for example, one subject wanted to compare how much more valuable bonds was than ichiro in the year that they both won the MVP awards in their respective leagues.

Sabermetricians hate the fact that elegant slap-hitter Ichiro Suzuki beat out beefy slugger slugger Jason Giambi of the Moneyball A's for the A.L. MVP award in 2001. That Giambi developed a tumor a few years later and almost died, quite possibly from all the weird chemicals he presumably took to become a beefy slugger, apparently remains immaterial to them. The point is that Giambi has an OPS of 1.137 versus Ichiro's .838 and that's all you need to know.

Likewise, that same year Barry Bonds was given the N.L. MVP award for hitting a record 73 homeruns, with 177 walks and an OPS of 1.379: a much more satisfying vote than the Ichiro scandal. The fact that this 36 year old man's skull was visibly changing shape is immaterial. Only the numbers matter!
 now i use the term quantify, but perhaps what they are saying is that they want to be able to “tell the story” of barry bonds.  several disagreed with the general portrayal and analysis of barry bonds.  When I originally conceived of this question, I wanted to get at questions of embodiment, in terms of athlete’s bodies are central to the thinking of most any sports fan, but it really seems that at least for this crowd, the body is of little consequence.  

Great line: "at least for this crowd, the body is of little consequence."

This reminds me of a general problem I have in dealing with people on the Internet, which is that most people are most comfortable when they ignore vast realms of knowledge. Different people ignore different realms. People with an aesthetic orientation tend to not like logic and numbers, while people who like logic and numbers don't like to think about how things look. Sabermetricians are sports fans who'd rather ignore the physical.

In contrast, while there's are lots and lots of things I don't know, there isn't all that much about which I like to boast that my ignorance makes me a better person than the unignorant.

For example, numbers and pictures can support each other in helping you understand. Here's a picture that had some impact on my thinking 25 years ago. In 1987's world championships in track when Ben Johnson broke the world record in the 100m dash in 9.83 seconds.

The article in Sports Illustrated went on and on about Johnson's brilliant new weightlifting regimen and how it had helped him overtake Carl Lewis (in blue). I could understand why he'd want to have giant leg muscles, but ... What's the deal with his arms?

So, I spent a lot of time over the next decade thinking about track statistics, and, yeah, it turned out that the pictures and the numbers complemented each other to help tell a comprehensible story.
I’m trying to outline an angle of Bonds as the centerpiece of this chapter.  And I think I’m going to go with how sabermetricians contribute to writing the history of baseball.  The official story of Barry Bonds as told by journalists will be about the steroids.  The story told about Barry Bonds by sabermetricians will be a bit different I think. 

The story told about Barry Bonds by sabermetricians will be Aspergery / hero-worshipping lunacy.

77 comments:

rightsaidfred said...

People with an aesthetic orientation tend to not like logic and numbers, while people who like logic and numbers don't like to think about how things look.

Good line.

Anonymous said...

Roger Clemens would be a far better subject for stat geek boy. He had 4 seasons of mediocrity before becoming Superman, where Bonds only had a slight drop in his unjuiced performance before needling up.

bearspaw said...

Years after Johnson was disgraced and generally ostracized by polite Canadian company, a savy Hamilton, Ontario brewery owner decided to diversify into energy drinks. He hired Johnson to shill his new drink called- Cheetah. Get it? Reviews were mixed, needless to say.

anony-mouse said...

Both horseracing fans and baseball fans are interested in stats. But horseracing fans are interested in stats for betting purposes. Do baseball sabermetricians bet on the game itself or do they do it 100% for interest? Maybe the poorer among them should switch sports.

Rimshot Jones said...

It appears that the sabermetricians might be afflicted with just a little bit of tunnel vision. It could be worse.

There are huge numbers of intelligent people out there who only use their intelligence to rationalize their belief in lies and fantasies.

The entire Leftist agenda is built, defended and imposed by highly intelligent functional idiots. That kind of denial of reality and the tortuous mental gymnastics required to justify it must qualify as mental illness.

Just look at the recent story in the American Conservative (the very name is a lie) about how we desperately need to import millions more third-world savages into the U.S. because there is some evidence that they vote against neoCon wars.

They also tend to vote for leftist tyrants like Obama, they also tend to commit huge numbers of crimes, blissfully take advantage of all kinds of taxpayer-funded programs and essentially ruin whatever area they settle in.

But the "realists" at American Conservative must have us believe that these savages are needed to save us from ourselves. God save us from the cowardly dreaming sheep at the American Conservative.

If these sabermetricians want to focus on the numbers it's no big deal. Who cares if a bunch of athletes dope themselves into monsters? At least the White number crunchers are focusing on part of the reality instead of wallowing in cowardly fantasies of leftist utopia. And they are intelligent White guys.

The numbers prove over and over that it's White guys who you want living in your country even if they are geeky nitpickers.

Anonymous said...

What famous athletes have health issues because of steroids? The only one that ever comes up is Lyle Alzado.How do you prove his brain cancer was definitively caused by steroids?

Anonymous said...

When I watched Ben Johnson at the Olympics, I was amazed at how he exploded out of the blocks. He literally jumped several feet forward and immediately took the lead before the other runners even stood up. It was something only a superhero could do.

Intuitively (not knowing about the steroids issue) I felt something wasn't quite right with that picture.

peterike said...

Fetish, fetish, fetish. Every day in every way, the world tells me that we live in the Great Age of Fetishes.

Anonymous said...

"The story told about Barry Bonds by sabermetricians will be Aspergery / hero-worshipping lunacy"

Actually,sabermetricians were among the first to detect something fishy about Bonds - mainly bt chatrting the divergence of his late career performance from the conventional track oer even the trajectory of late career high perfpormers like Hank Aaron

slumber_j said...

Jason Giambi used to live across the street from me when he played for the Yankees, and believe me: you'd have to like logic and numbers really, really hard in order not to think about how he looked. On the plus side, that time when I congratulated him on hitting 40 homers, he didn't punch me in the face...

No: he's supposed to be a very nice man in fact. And I can report that the Giambis always gave generously to the Block Association.

Still, I gotta say I strongly prefer Ichiro's hitting style. And defensively there's no comparison whatsoever: Ichiro can chase down anything and fire it back in with that cannon of his, whereas Jason Giambi always gave generously to the Block Association.

Luke Lea said...

Speaking of arms, have you seen Carmaleta Jeter?

Anonymous said...

We should just mandate that all athletes have a very narrow range of body sizes, androgen levels, and equal genetic temperaments for work and competition. As long as all athletes are within a standard deviation of an arbitrary mean, competition will be fair, and everyone will have an equal chance of winning. I know I would be more compelled to watch sports if I knew all the competitors were equivalent. Who wants to see some genetic freak performing at the biological limits? No, that is boring. And most of all, it isn't fair that some should be so blessed while others are so average....

I'd actually be interested to see if there is a correlation between steroid moralists and voting for socialists candidates and policies.

Anonymous said...

"This reminds me of a general problem I have in dealing with people on the Internet, which is that most people are most comfortable when they ignore vast realms of knowledge."
Bingo! After 2 weeks of arguing with open borders libertarians, I can attest to the absolute truth of this observation. Is this the downside to the specialization which is at the heart of post-agrarian human economic boom? Is this the essence of specialization for most humans--the ignoring of "vast realms of knowledge"?

Anonymous said...

"The story told about Barry Bonds by sabermetricians will be Aspergery / hero-worshipping lunacy"

Actually,sabermetricians were among the first to detect something fishy about Bonds - mainly bt chatrting the divergence of his late career performance from the conventional track oer even the trajectory of late career high perfpormers like Hank Aaron

Anonymous said...

I could understand why he'd want to have giant leg muscles, but ... What's the deal with his arms?

Don't you pump your arms rapidly when you sprint?

Anonymous said...

"This reminds me of a general problem I have in dealing with people on the Internet, which is that most people are most comfortable when they ignore vast realms of knowledge...
People with an aesthetic orientation tend to not like logic and numbers, while people who like logic and numbers don't like to think about how things look."

This is what makes your blog such an enjoyable read. A natural Geertzian who focuses on bullshit-cutting and quant-friendly topics.

Most people only dig into the details and bring up odd counter-examples to keep their happy delusions alive. You are the weirdo who actually goes beyond simple models to understand things rather than obscure them.

I am thankful that you use your powers for good.

TD said...

I think the most amazing thing about that Ben Johnson / Carl Lewis picture is that there's a white guy in third place. Wtf - Who is he and what is he doing there? I thought the 8 finalists every year were always black.

Anonymous said...

Bob Ngo writing a dissertation about baseball? And they say the Vietnamese aren't assimilating!

Toddy Cat said...

Sabermetrics is kind of like Michael Jackson, the Laffer Curve, and Adam Smith ties; they were really cool back in the '80's, and they probably all made some positive contributions, but it's time to move on. The bloom is very much off the Sabermetrics rose, no matter what Nate Silver thinks.

MQ said...

Sabermetricians are sports fans who'd rather ignore the physical.

Hilarious. Very true.

I don't really blame Bonds, he had to watch all these mediocrities becoming better hitters than him based on chemicals and he finally lost patience. He is genuinely interesting from the perspective of 'what if we took the best possible Hall of Fame material and tried to create a superman by adding the best possible chemistry?'.

I've often thought baseball would be made a significantly more interesting sport by increasing the size of the field and cutting the number of fielders. That would make it harder to hit home runs and greatly increase hte importance of the most subtle aspects of hitting (placing the ball), the most strategic aspects of baseball management (placing the fielders), and the most exciting form of athleticism (fielding based on foot speed and brilliant catching and throwing).

beowulf said...

"The fact that this 36 year old man's skull was visibly changing shape is immaterial. Only the numbers matter!"

Was General Westmoreland the first sabermetricians?

Q: What was Westmoreland’s approach as commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam?

A: Westmoreland decided to conduct a war of attrition in which the measure of merit would be body count, the number of enemy killed.

http://www.amazon.com/Westmoreland-The-General-Lost-Vietnam/dp/0547844921

Sideways said...

This might have gotten you a little firejoemorgan infamy, were that site still active. I don't think you get the SABRE community, at all. It has its aspie contingent, but it's not like, say, libertarians.

They're capable of holding two thoughts at the same time. What bonds did was remarkable, in a "what if the best layer of his generation decided to juice like crazy?" Way.

As for ichiro vs bonds in 2001, Bonds wRC+: 234 (100 is average). Ichiro: 124. Ichiro did get almost half his WAR from defense and base running that season.

I'd put it as appreciating both the freak and the show in the bonds freak show.

There is also a group of very non-aspie people who basically act too cool to care about steroids. Speaking as one of the aspie types, they're very annoying.

Anonymous said...

"The story told about Barry Bonds by sabermetricians will be Aspergery / hero-worshipping lunacy."

Steve, you're normally pretty astute, but you're off base here and have taken too big a lead. I'm one of these folks, attended the last national convention and several before, and I don't know anyone in SABR that worships Bonds as a hero. Not a one. Most have heard plenty of anecdotes about the man's character.

Their view on Bonds is reactionary, and they generally take pleasure in picking apart the work of sportswriters - those same sportswriters who you've cited previously sung the praises of McGwire and Sosa in 1998, who unlike a bunch of old guys who like spreadsheets and databases, had access to Major League locker rooms and should have been the first to know better, which makes their current moralizing smell an awful lot like overcompensation.

The SABR crowd see cheating as cheating on a moral level. If they have a fault, it's not giving the proper weight to the impact different kinds of cheating had. They love to pick at sportswriters for singling out steroid users while completely ignoring the rampant use of amphetamines (Steve, you've read Ball Four and are familiar with greenies) as well as pitchers who doctored the ball and hitters who corked bats. Have you heard any sportswriter suggest the high stolen base totals of the 1960s and 1970s are tainted by all the players hopped up on speed (much of which was handed out by training staffs). Did lower innings counts from starting pitchers from the 1980s and onward stem from not being able to stave off fatigue with uppers?

It's worth noting that while steroids were illegal in the United States, until 1991 MLB hadn't bothered to address the issue (Fay Vincent sent a memo that year to all teams saying steroid use was against the rules), and it wasn't until 2005 that any penalties were on the rule books for users. Given baseball had said nothing about the use of steroids at the time, is Jose Canseco's 1988 40-40 season cheating?

Roger said...

So why should the sabermetricians care about steroids any more than they care about genes, diet, training procedures, temperament, religion, and other off-field considerations that may affect performance?

Anonymous said...

asian american here that has interviewed with a few MLB teams for front office operations (specifically player valuation, advance scouting, etc). Not a total SABR-geek so wouldn't be of use to Ngo, though not sure if Ngo considers asian/indian as the 'colour' he's looking for.

Perhaps he should get in touch with Kim Ng, who had high level positions in front office ops with the dodgers and yankees for his female 'in industry' interview.

That said, Bonds is a special case for me because I think steroids helped his longevity, but not his talent. He genuinely is a top5 of all time talent and that's good enough for me.

Rose deserves to be in cooperstown before any of the ped-tainted players.

But I agree with SABR-geeks, trout wuz robbed.

Anonymous said...

Didn't Carl Lewis dope too?
http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2003/apr/24/athletics.duncanmackay

Anonymous said...

"Speaking of arms, have you seen Carmaleta Jeter?"

it's the new beautiful!

http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/olympics/in-2012-winning-olympic-gold-is-womens-work/2012/08/08/9be7868e-e1a7-11e1-a25e-15067bb31849_story.html

"Something remarkable is going on at this Olympics: Adult human males are now waiting in line for tickets to things they used to make fun of. Female athletes such as boxer Claressa Shields and soccer striker Abby Wambach, women with biceps bigger than your brother’s, are being treated as creatures of worth and even beauty. Apparently, strong is the new pretty."

lying low after lance armstrong revelation

officiousintermeddler said...

I have more sympathy for Barry Bonds' situation than you do. Look at it from Bonds' perspective. He had been by consensus the best player in baseball in the first half of the 1990's, had won 3 MVPs and could justly have been awarded more. In 1998, he was still playing as well as ever. He was probably still the best player in the league, but he was getting no recognition for it, because McGwire, Sosa and the other juicers were putting up their preposterous numbers. Take a look at the voting for MVP in 1998. Every player who finished above Bonds in the MVP voting, with the likely exception of Craig Biggio, was a juicer whose batting statistics that year were grossly out of line with - enormously better than - their their established career norms. Only Bonds' numbers that year looked like the numbers that he had been posting throughout his career. Don't you think he noticed that, too, and that he choked on the Sports Illustrated cover story lionizing McGwire and Sosa? He knew that he was still a much better player than them, and he knew that if he started taking steroids, too, the world would know it. Should he have remained pure, while lesser men continued to make him eat their eat their dust? How many prideful men would?

Anonymous said...

fNot the Bonds had a huge head trope again. The guy's body got bigger. No doubt there, but his skull likely didn't expand no matter what clubhouse rumors we hear about gaining three hat sizes.

Generally the expansion of bone on HGH and other goodies tends to happen in the jawline. As the girlfriend of an Olympian T&F athlete in Houston laughed at me in 1995, "Wait, you don't know why all the sprinters (Carl Lewis included) wear braces?"

Either way, people tend to confuse the addition of facial adipose tissue and to a lesser degree muscle with expanding bone size. I'd recommend anyone spend some time looking at any weight loss before and after site to see the opposite "shrinking skull" effect.

Barry Bonds gained probably one pound of fat for every two pounds of muscle he put on. Insulin is anabolic, and gaining the additional fat would increase his serum insulin and help him hang onto the muscle... which, by the way, came on slower than people like to remember. Start to finish his push to the 245 area from the 190 area took about six years to complete. There's a lot of difference between some twit choking down megadoses of PEDs to gain that much weight in 12 mos, than someone taking a more methodical approach that never added more than 10-12 lbs in a single year, and less than that in most years. But back to the point here, LOOK AT BARRY'S WAISTLINE. It was probably in the 29-31" area when he was at 190 and a base-stealing technician. At 240+ it appears to be in the 36" range, supporting the idea that his muscle weight was accompanied by a lot of adipose expansion which helped pad up the face.

There are few apples-to-apples pics of Barry's head because by the time he started to transform himself he was shaving into a bald pate. It adds some difficulty to figuring out if his skull actually did thicken. Go and look at people with pituitary disorders and see if any of them have the melon-round heads around the brow that Bonds maintained. It's another reason to doubt the hat size rumors.

One last comparison... go find Bobby Bond's photo from his rookie card and examine his head size, then look at how puffy his head got during middle age. Like father, like son. In fact, go back and look at most of your high school or college buddies old photos from when they were young and lean, then look at their head sizes at 35 or 40. It's almost uniform how fat American living makes all of our "skulls" expand. It appears more obvious in athletes who often carry the leanness of their teens into their late 20s or 30s before they get old and slow and start packing on muscle as they change roles. Magic Johnson is probably the most classic example of this going from 215 to 255. And damn did his head blow up in size.

The larger point here isn't to question whether or not Bonds used PEDs. It's that the narrative of him taking gobs of drugs and their effects on his body (and hat size) is largely bullshit and rumor. A slow, almost therapeutic trickle allowed him to gain size without becoming unwieldy or injured like so many other juicers. Note how he almost never was injured for his age. Recovery and being able to show up for most 162 was more probably important to his statistical stack than the additional power he gained. Somehow this rarely comes up. It's not amazing that he got big after 35 as it was that he AVERAGED 140 games for the next five years with no sign of physical decay. Typical juicers actually induce health problems because of the sarcoplasmic hypertrophy usually associated with steroid-driven, rapid muscle size gain. Bonds slower approach likely was biased toward myofibrillar hypertrophy of his muscle mass and was actually protective against injuries in a season that grinds on men 10 years younger.

Ian said...

"Only the numbers matter! ... Sabermetricians are sports fans who'd rather ignore the physical ... The story told about Barry Bonds by sabermetricians will be Aspergery / hero-worshipping lunacy."

Seems to me that many Sabrs watch hundreds of games a seson, and are quite in touch with the physical aspect of the game. There are, for example, "physical", normal-Joe-Six-pack reasons to have been a fan of Barry Bonds in his is steroid years besides numbers, at least for us Giants fans. His batting was beautiful to watch. Almost all players take at least one silly looking whiffy hack every game, if not every plate appearance. Bonds, on the other hand, always looked calm, in control, menacing, like a stalking predator who knows exactly what his prey (the opposing pitcher) was going to throw, and exactly what to do with it. He had a look of patient disgust as he straightened up and backed away from the many balls thrown inside or outside, low or high. But when a pitch headed over the plate, Bonds would coil and strike, and let loose a powerful rip, often sending the ball screaming the other way. I've never seen anything so dramatic and aesthetically perfect, in all my years as a baseball fan.

"They’re all males, and they’re pretty much all white. I’ll be scouring the world for a female sabermetrician, as well as one of color soon enough, so if anyone can refer one to me, that’d be great. ... If you know one, just let Bob know ..."

Calling a group of people hideously white and hideously male is something I am more used to seeing on Kos or Jezebel than iSteve. Seems like a useful tool to use against the Obama IT staff, since they are an explicitly lefty-egalitarian organization, but the Sabrs are not that.

Ian said...

Steve, yours is my favorite blog, and it has been for years - and I read many. I've literally thought to myself the exact words, "Steve Sailer is a national treasure". I appreciate your clarity, intelligence, honesty, and yes comprehensive thinking. I have imagined to myself that, if I were ever a political leader, I would be on the phone to you, asking for your advice, perspective, and insights, as often as I could get away with.

That said, honestly, one of the few things that I don't like about your blogging (and you do it less now than you used to) is when you bitch abound people who get rich, famous, and influential doing what you do (quantitative-ish analysis of social trends), but in a more mainstream palatable (perhaps we could say "dishonest" and "sell-out-y") way. Meanwhile, you are more insightful and tell the truth - but panhandle for money on your blog.

Gladwell and Steve Levitt are examples of two guys who have gotten you steamed with their success in the past, and Daniel Kahneman did recently. Yes, I agree with you that those guys are BS artists. Yes, in my version of a sane world, you would be making Gladwell or Thomas Friedman money and have their audience, and they would be hustling up donations on a blog. But honestly, the emotionally charged articles you have sometimes written about those guys huge speaking fees and immense popularity, or how you personally are more accurate than they are about something, are not my favorite posts of yours.

Seems to me that Nate Silver and Bill James have both gotten your goat similarly recently, and it seems to me that their recent mainstream acclaim and influence is part of it. Unlike Gladwell, Levitt, and Kahneman, you don't know enough about what they actually write about to upend them on content (eg lol calling Miguel Caberera over Trout for the AL MVP this year). So, the statheads must be invalid ... because they never wrote about steroids, and you did. That's the way it looks to me from here on the other side of the computer at least, and it doesn't ring true.

mel belli said...

intelligent people ... who only use their intelligence to rationalize their belief in lies and fantasies.

Now THAT is a good line.

sunbeam said...

Anonymous wrote:

"Actually,sabermetricians were among the first to detect something fishy about Bonds - mainly bt chatrting the divergence of his late career performance from the conventional track oer even the trajectory of late career high perfpormers like Hank Aaron"

What the heck is this? I remember people speculating (and believing he was on steroids) as soon as he started ballooning up. Guys just don't develop radically different physiques like that at his age with just weight training and supplements.

Just as an anecodote I remember lots of barroom conversations about steroids and major league ballplayers going back as far as maybe 95.

Everyone knew Canseco was into Steroids. It was definitely obvious Bonds was.

I really don't remember anyone ever saying Sosa was. McGwire seems pretty obvious in retrospect, but I think a lot of people were just happy not to ask that question. He was always a big guy, and it's not surprising to see a man age and develop that kind of physique. Certainly not as jarring as what happened to Bonds.

But guys, I can tell you that barrooms across America had these guys pegged a long, long time ago.

Apparently before Sabermatricians, Congress, and major league baseball did.

Come off the high horse. This wasn't any kind of secret for a long time. The powers that be just finally decided to notice it, and the media dutifully started reporting it.

Anonymous said...

Hey Steve did you catch ESPN's recent 30 for 30 doc 9.79* about the Ben Johnson scandal?

Here's an interesting anecdote about Ben. Muammar Gaddaffi's son Al-Saadi was an aspiring pro soccer player. In 2003 he hired Diego Maradona as a coach and Ben Johnson as a personal trainer. Apparently one of the conditions of employment was that Ben was never allowed to look Al-Saadi in the eye. Al-Saadi later tested positive for nandrolone while playing for Perugia.

ed

Anonymous said...

PhD... in sociology... in baseball statistics...

Is it wrong to hope he winds up behind the counter at Starbucks?

DaveinHackensack said...

What's the deal with soccer? No steroids there? This guy is currently the second-leading goal scorer in the English Premier League, Robin Van Persie. 6'1", maybe 160lbs.

Anonymous said...

Did you read the "About Me" section on Ngo's blog? Fascinating. An Asian, good at math, but his career path matches the path you might expect from a typical white humanities slacker. Lots of non-profit work and government work. However, aside from the apparent math prowess, his earlier MA suggests that he's a typical anti-racist Lefty. Fascinating, fascinating.

E. Rekshun said...

@MQ: "I've often thought baseball would be made a significantly more interesting sport by increasing the size of the field and cutting the number of fielders."

Baseball is my favorite sport, but I think MLB baseball could be more interesting w/7-inning games, more double headers, and a shorter season. Baseball should not be played in November outside of FL and CA.

Mr Lomez said...

But what's wrong with specialization of knowledge? So what the sabermetricians are obsessed with the numbers? There's an equally vocal and innumerate group obsessed with his steroid use. Anyone with an independent mind, and a few brain cells to rub together, will be able to understand the whole story of Bonds (and the steroids era at large) by balancing out the two views, and in so doing can come up with whatever moral judgement he deems appropriate.

The sabermetricians aren't wrong. Giambi WAS, objectively, a more "valuable" player than Ichiro. Bonds WAS, objectively, the greatest player of his era. Everyone, including sabermetricians, understand that steroids played a significant role in driving these player's statistical achievements. They're not blind to steroid use (though they once may have been); that's just not the side of the office they work in.


I'm not sure what your gripe is. The whole story is being told. Aside from the specialists, there are people like you, Steve, aggregators of specialized knowledge, who help connect the dots for people who can't/won't connect the dots on their own.

Same goes for Nate Silver and political polling. His specialty is to look at the data and make predictions for the future based on certain quantitative patterns. His specialty is not, though you seem to wish it were, to give reasons for why those patterns exist.

Anonymous said...

Ironically, so far as ignoring available visible evidence, the Barry Bonds+Sabermetric Love Affair parallels well with your posts on, say, Jeremy Lin.

Linsanity is (ok, WAS) a byproduct of two things: Mike D'Antoni's Seven Seconds or Less inanity-as-system and the 2004/05 handcheck rule change that fundamentally altered the game away from any type of balance between defense/offense. Guard scoring has exploded since 2004, just as Stern intended.

Likewise, Steve Nash -- a borderline all-star once or twice in the years prior -- suddenly started putting up Stocktonesque (offensively, forget defense) stats with the combined role of a spread floor and non-existent guard defense that allowed him to ball-dominate.

Yet with these factors as background detail for nearly seven years before Lin's "arrival" in NYC, you failed to even consider them as key roles in that ascendency. Come on.

Further, let's see the punchline: D'antoni's no longer around Lin -- no more gimmick-ball to further degrade what little defense is left -- and Lin is putting up stats that are somewhere between paltry and embarrassing relative to his hype and contract.

Considering the other major factor -- no handchecking -- is still in place for Lin, it's fair to assert that he would have trouble even making an NBA roster in the 90s.

Talk of steroids being an outlier that mustn't be allowed is credible and numerate -- which is the myopic and innumerate stupidity of the sabermetrician "standard" -- but likewise the rule changes for the NBA have created a situation where comparing stats between the handcheck era of Jordan/Olajuwon/Stockton/Malone and the post-handcheck era of James/Wade/Nash/Durant is highly problematic. Yet this goes unobserved, and is arguably covered up as much as possible by a complicit sports media.

Disappointing that you either aren't aware of this, or honestly, are too arrogant to even discuss it when talking about the NBA.

dirk said...

If the SABR guys were confused by Ichiro how do they explain Pete Rose? Doesn't Rose's very high BA and very low HR defy the "any batted ball in play has the same chance to become a hit" theory? Or is his career BA explained entirely by few SO's?

ATBOTL said...


"I'd actually be interested to see if there is a correlation between steroid moralists and voting for socialists candidates and policies."

Probably not. I wonder if there is a correlation between comments like this and people who don't understand what how normal people think.

Geoff Matthews said...

Agree that Clemens is a better choice than Bonds. And both would have been HoF players w/o PEDs.

Anonymous said...

Speed Trap, written by Charlie Francis (Ben Johnson's coach) is a pretty good inside look at the training, the doping, and the lifestyle behind the guy.

As a side note, please don't use "aspergery" or "aspy" as an adjective...this is a really annoying trend and it's only a matter of time before it's considered hate speech. I don't have AS, but I think the term is just lazy speech and trivializes a real, albeit poorly understood phenomenon.

Maguro said...

Eh, Bonds (and Giambi for that matter) was massively better at helping his team win baseball games than Ichiro was that year. That's just a fact. Not that Ichiro sucked - he had a very good year - but Bonds was just so much better. Truly an amazing performance, even accounting for the teroids.

Anonymous said...

"Gladwell and Steve Levitt are examples of two guys who have gotten you steamed with their success in the past, and Daniel Kahneman did recently. Yes, I agree with you that those guys are BS artists. Yes, in my version of a sane world, you would be making Gladwell or Thomas Friedman money and have their audience, and they would be hustling up donations on a blog. But honestly, the emotionally charged articles you have sometimes written about those guys huge speaking fees and immense popularity, or how you personally are more accurate than they are about something, are not my favorite posts of yours."

Personally I think the bitterness adds flavor. YMMV.

Anonymous said...

"But honestly, the emotionally charged articles you have sometimes written about those guys huge speaking fees and immense popularity, or how you personally are more accurate than they are about something, are not my favorite posts of yours."

Yes, because anytime anyone attacks a famous person or their views - its JUST JEALOUSY.

Like your attack on Steve. Obviously, Steve is more famous and better than you so you can only make emotional attacks on him. Sad, everyone just can't respect their betters.

David Davenport said...

it's only a matter of time before it's considered hate speech.

I hate haters of "hate speech".

potato chip lover said...

Follow the ladies, Steve. To the critics, the cheaters are guys who could have had it all - respect, athletic glory, fifty years of telling war (sports) stories without the audience thinking ("cheater, cheater, cheater"), if only they hadn't hooked up with Doctor MuscleFix and the Medicine Show.
-But to the 10 on a scale of 10 women with charismatic personalities whose hearts the roid-takers won by dint of their record=breaking performances, the roid-takers are and always will be the best of men who did what it takes to be worthy of their women, and who seized the day and who won, broke records, and made their women look good. None of those women read i-steve or even Bill James and his pay-site, and you know what, I personally would not have the heart to tell them in person that their old romantic choices were suckers who immeasurably diminished their legacy en cherchant la femme.

DaveinHackensack said...

"But honestly, the emotionally charged articles you have sometimes written about those guys huge speaking fees and immense popularity, or how you personally are more accurate than they are about something, are not my favorite posts of yours."

I can see that worm turning. The reelection of Obama, and the mainstream attention turning the implications of demographics may have been a watershed moment. Maybe in a few years Steve will be getting the corporate speaking gigs.

Whiskey said...

Regarding Nate Silver and the poster above, Steve is right, and you're wrong about what Silver does.

Silver just attempts the equivalent of "technical" stock analysis, i.e. price movements based on aggregate factors like momentum, thirty or sixty day rolling average, arcane chart figures, etc. That's basically just voodoo with numbers.

To be of any real interest at all, quantitative analysis should give you a DEEPER understanding of what is going on, be it a baseball season or game, or political campaign, and should be as predictive as possible. NOT just post-descriptive, i.e. "well this happened." Rather, "because this and this and this fit together to cause that, it is fairly likely you will see this particular outcome" ... and the models continually refined to produce better understanding.

Silver's analysis reminds me of the weird stuff cosmologists did with planets inside spheres to explain retrograde motion in the pre-Copernican conception of the Universe, where the Earth was stationary and everything revolved around it. Spheres within spheres were constructed to deal with the observation that the planets would sometimes go backwards in the sky (as Earth caught up and passed them as IT revolved around the Sun).

Silver like the Pre-Copernicans WANTS to be ignorant, so he can keep his cant and comfortable sinecure. Those of us who want to KNOW more, on the theory that knowing is better than ignorance, don't have much use for him.

That's the same with Roissy/Heartiste. He wants to KNOW, rather than just believe cant.

Anonymous said...

What's the deal with soccer?

Does greater muscle mass confer an advantage in soccer?

I'd expect that they're on EPO, HGH, T, blood doping, and a variety of other drugs and practices, directed primarily at increasing aerobic capacity and recovery speed.

David Davenport said...

"I'd actually be interested to see if there is a correlation between steroid moralists and voting for socialists candidates and policies."

I'd actually be interested to see if there is a positive correlation between Lib Lib Libertarian amoralists and child molesters.

One strong objection to adult athletes using steroids is teenagers inevitably want to ape their idols. Teenagers have access to steroids because there is a black market in drugs.

Steroids may be bad for young peoples health. I suppose Lib Lib Libertarians' premise is that adolescents have good judgment.

Anonymous said...

He was such a clown, Ben Johnson.

William Boot said...

Can you stop with the "sabermetrics missed steroids" already?

A. Making the exact same point daily for a month is not that interesting, no matter what the point is.

B. Most number crunchers I know were really, really well aware that many, if not most MLB players were using PEDs (and still are, by the way, just not as flagrantly).

They did not write that "It's obvious that X is on roids" because that constitutes libel in this country and X's agent would sue the pants off the writer.

And the player would win, rightly.

Yes, the numbers were pretty damned suspicious, particularly the increased longevity, but there was really no way to know (not just be pretty darned sure, but to know) that it was roids until the tests came back positive.

And given that it's impossible to know when looking at hundreds of players that it's not better training and nutrition and legal supplements, it's really impossible to know for any individual player.

Which is why it was totally idiotic to give the MVP to a really, really less valuable player like Ichiro because you "knew" Giambi was on PEDs.

And why it would have been suicide for anyone with any real following to argue for Ichiro on grounds that Giambi was an obvious cheater and criminal.

c. Even with all this reason not to write about roids obviously being everywhere, a lot of writers did in fact write about it.

Lots and lots of them.

They were smart enough to avoid accusing individuals and thus transferring food from their kids' mouths to trial lawyers, but I sure recall reading a lot of articles during the 90s about how widespread steroids had obviously become.

Hell, I recall an SI cover with a picture of a flexing bicep, with the hand injecting roids into the muscle. The story argued that the overwhelming majority of athletes in the Olympics that year would clearly be on something and that anyone who thought otherwise was stupid.

This was in 92 I believe, but maybe 96.

In what alternate universe are you the only person who noticed anything or even one of a small cadre of observant people?

Anonymous said...

BTW, Bill James -the king of the Sabercats - is a super-liberal and defended Bonds till the bitter end.

Probably only Steve could explain why so many of Bond's defenders were dyed-in-the-wool liberals. Or why they denied the role Steroids played in the HR boom of the late 1990s and early 21st Century.

BTW, I can remember Bill James screeching "racism" because Sammy Sosa was getting less Pub than McGuire. Even though it obvious that Sosa was juiced even more than Mark.

Reg C├Žsar said...

Speaking of arms, have you seen Carm[eli]ta Jeter?
--Luke Lea

No, but I've seen Michelle Obama.

Steve Sailer said...

"They did not write that "It's obvious that X is on roids" because that constitutes libel in this country and X's agent would sue the pants off the writer. ... They were smart enough to avoid accusing individuals and thus transferring food from their kids' mouths to trial lawyers,"

Old-fashioned sportswriter Tom Boswell of the Washington Post had the courage to call out Jose Canseco in 1988. Here's a quote from the October 5, 1988, edition of the San Francisco Chronicle:

"Thomas Boswell, the Washington Post writer who dropped such strong hints about Jose Canseco and steroids, didn't appear for the midafternoon workouts at Fenway Park yesterday. The Post office had no idea as to his whereabouts but said he was "en route" to Boston, where the A's and Red Sox open the American League Championship Series tonight. When he does arrive, he'll have some explaining to do. A lot of people are outraged about Boswell's comments on CBS-TV's "Nightwatch" program last Wednesday, and there remains the possibility of legal action by Canseco and his representatives. Boswell, long regarded as one of America's most eloquent baseball writers, accused Canseco of using steroids to bulk up to 230 pounds. "He's the most conspicuous example of a player who made himself great with steroids," Boswell told "Nightwatch" host Charlie Rose. "I've heard players, when they're talking about steroid use, call it a `Jose Canseco milkshake."' Boswell's reputation among writers is that of an entertaining conversationalist who can occasionally get carried away. "Last year, he flatly stated that the Twins won the A.L. West because they were stealing signs," said a Twin Cities writer. "That was all very interesting, except he had no factual basis whatsoever.""

Bill James didn't have anything to say about steroids until 21 years later, by which point positive test results had been public for a half decade and James had been a high ranking Boston Red Sox executive for 5 or 6 years.

In short, the old-fashioned sportswriters tend to be more accurate and more brave than the edgy outsider sabermetricians about the biggest stats story of their era.

Steve Sailer said...

"a shorter season"

The baseball season is ridiculously long at 162 games, plus what is now 3+ rounds of playoffs.

Think about just the number of games in a regular season. Say you have a normal job where you work 5 days per week and get 2 weeks vacation per year and 5 national holidays. The Germans would say you are killing yourself with overwork, but compare it to an MLB regular season running half a year from the beginning of April to the beginning of October. 26 weeks times 5 days per week is 130 days of work minus 5 vacation days minus, say, 5 national holidays =120 days of work. The MLB has 162 work days in the same stretch.

Anonymous said...

Eh I'll buy the me and me alone isn't trying to protect my fantasy when you admit that any republican attempting to implement the Sailer strategy will by crucified by the media and lose.

Anonymous said...

Dirk, Pete Rose is explained by the thing that was far more influential on baseball than steroids: artificial turf. Rose and other singles hitters during the Artificial Turf Era padded their stats with grounders that would be routine outs today rocketing through the infield at a velocity approaching light speed on turf.

Ichiro would have hit about .600 on turf.

Babe Ruth is still MY all time home run champion, as is all time hit champ Ty Cobb and his 4,191 hits.

Anonymous said...

"In contrast, while there's are lots and lots of things I don't know, there isn't all that much about which I like to boast that my ignorance makes me a better person than the unignorant."

If I hear one more person bragging about not speaking any foreign languages, I will scream. And it's worst among the self styled intellectuals among the paleocons. Stop bragging about what you don't know - unless I can boast about being indifferent at maths?

Anonymous said...

DaveinHackensack said...

"What's the deal with soccer? No steroids there? This guy is currently the second-leading goal scorer in the English Premier League, Robin Van Persie. 6'1", maybe 160lbs."

Soccer doesn't seem to reward the massively bulked up physiques in the same way baseball did, although I have seen some black players who make me wonder.

If there's a PED problem in soccer, it's more likely to be something like EPO (endurance), cocaine (energy, weight loss) or weight loss drugs.

William Boot said...

"In short, the old-fashioned sportswriters tend to be more accurate and more brave than the edgy outsider sabermetricians about the biggest stats story of their era."

Obviously.

The old-fashioned sports reporters see the players naked year after year and notice that one guy whose skin always looked normal is suddenly covered with acne. They know the players and talk to them, often when they're drunk, and sometimes here things like, "I've seen X using roids."

Why on earth would people who had direct, tangible evidence be more likely to make accusations than people who could only see unprecedented statistical patterns that could be explained in several different ways? (Yes, some explanations were more plausible than others, but seeing a funny pattern is not proof of anything in the way that seeing a vial of HGH is.)

The stats guys were edgy outsiders in the way that stats allowed them to be: by saying that traditional value models sucked and by noting that players began putting up some very unprecedented numbers in the 90s.

They did not miss the biggest stats story of their lifetimes. They wrote again and again about how unprecedented the numbers are. But crunching numbers simply does not allow you to explain why the numbers are different.

And, again, many of them speculated pretty aggressively that those numbers came from steroids.

Did the numbers guys who made their living directly from baseball (or hoped to) rather than from readership play it more conservatively? Again, obviously. As did the traditional old-line journalists who work for teams as TV and radio play-by-play guys. In other news, guys who worked for GM were less likely to call the old CEO an incompetent moron than guys who covered the company for outside sources.

E. Rekshun said...

@William Boot: "They did not write that "It's obvious that X is on roids" because that constitutes libel in this country and X's agent would sue the pants off the writer."

Not libel if it's true.

James Kabala said...

You know, you keep praising Tom Boswell for his courage, but does he really deserve that much praise for a one-time incident? I don't remember him being at all outspoken during the McGwire/Sosa/Bonds years. It's hard to find old articles from 1998 on the web, but I was able to find a couple clear examples in which Boswell completely takes the see-no-evil line on McGwire:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/sports/longterm/general/povich/launch/shirley5.htm

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/sports/baseball/longterm/chase/articles/mac0907.htm

TomV said...

I disagree with Ian. Bitter or not, Steve, please keep on deriding the risible.

Ian said...

Yet again, Steve - I usually experience your writings as contenders for the most sane, reliable, and objective voice on the internet. Your jihad on the sabrs on the steroids issue seems odd, nuts, off, inexplicable to me though.

I think it's absolutely true that Gladwell, Levitt, Kahneman, Jared Diamond, Nicholas Kristof, Daniel Pink, etc have more money, acclaim, audience, and influence than you do because they write gee-whiz fluff and PC-friendly dissimilation while you have the courage to deeply tell the inconvenient and unpopular truth. But I think that you err when you try extend the same analysis to you, Bill James, Nate Silver, baseball, and steroids. James and Silver are not somehow liars, sell-outs, and bullshitters who have lost their soul just by virtue of being successful and influential.

You said, "Bill James didn't have anything to say about steroids until 21 years later, by which point positive test results had been public for a half decade and James had been a high ranking Boston Red Sox executive for 5 or 6 years."

I have a difficult time imagining caring less (and I say that as a twenty-five year Bill James fan). I do not understand knowing why you care (and I saw that as a twelve-year Steve Sailer fan).

There seems to me to be a pretty wide distinction between the purpose/goals/function of statistical analysis of baseball, and the people in charge of rooting out steroids (the commissioner's office, congressional subcommittees, grand juries, and narrative-based sportswriters who like to talk about guts, clutch, and heroes). There is some ven diagram between the two roles, but it's relatively small - and to the extent to which there is overlap, I have seen no shortage of steroid discussions at Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs, Baseball Primer, and other cyber-cafes of the statheads.

Yes, pro athletes using steroids is damaging for the athlete's health, it's illegal, it's unfair to the notion of fair play, and it's a bad example for kids who look up to professional athletes as heroes. But it's also a choice that informed adults make, in their endeavor (which all athletes) share to do their best. Be the best, win, do whatever it takes - this is not only asked of athletes, it’s demanded - coaches demand it, teammates demand it, fans demand it. Some athletes will push the envelope only so far, while others would risk their lives if it made the difference between winning and losing. I'd prefer them not to use steroids in their quest to win, I'm fine with it being illegal, but I understand why they do so - and, honestly, it doesn't especially bug me that many of them have chosen to do so (especially in American pro sports leagues, where their opposition/competition has often juiced as well).

Besides sports, you regularly bring up steroids as they relate to the unfair advantage in enthusiasm and confidence that they give Andrew Sullivan as a pundit/analyst. Sully, of course, is less methodical or insightful than you are, but his histrionics make him more money and get him on TV.

Ian said...


You and Bill James seem remarkably similar to me in disposition, writing style, and methodology (esp since James has branched into social analysis). The two things you keep bringing up about him is that (1) he was honored in Michael Lewis' bestseller book and then the international hit movie, and (2) that he landed a (presumably mid- to high-six figure) consulting gig with one of the more glamorous corporations in America. You, meanwhile, are God for all of us in the little alt-Right HBD blog world, but is unfortunately blacklisted (or just plain unknown) outside of it, having earned fewer accolades than waffen-PC cyberstalkers trying to ruin your life.

Bummer. I hate that the world we live in doesn't reward you with all that it rewards Thomas Friedman and Gladwell (and Bill James too). I respect you profoundly and feel immense gratitude for you for telling the truth, for fighting for our people against those who would exploit them. But, so it goes - there is a reason why the Dark Enlightenment is the road less traveled.

Truth said...

"You and Bill James seem remarkably similar to me in disposition, writing style, and methodology"

"Steve Sailer" is Bill James pseudonym. The avuncular looking fellow in the black jacket that he uses as a totem is actually Gareth Neeson, younger brother of Liam.

ben tillman said...

Dirk, Pete Rose is explained by the thing that was far more influential on baseball than steroids: artificial turf. Rose and other singles hitters during the Artificial Turf Era padded their stats with grounders that would be routine outs today rocketing through the infield at a velocity approaching light speed on turf.

You'll have to verify this yourself, but this site says:

http://www.baseballintheblood.com/?page_id=94

In his career, on artificial turf, Pete Rose had 2,133 hits in 7,043 At-Bats, for a batting average of .302854…on grass, he was 2,123 for 7,010, for an average of .302853.

Also, just for fun from the same site:

“My dad hit one home run in his entire career, and guess who he hit off of? You bet – my uncle!” – Natalie Niekro (Joe’s daughter, Phil’s niece)

And:

“My only career home run happened when I was with the Phillies, and it was my mother’s birthday, I told her I was going to win the game for her. The best part of the story was, it was the home run inning. I won $10,000 for a lady who had four sons, and had just lost her husband. She told me she was washing the dishes, and her son heard her name for the home run inning and got all excited, then they were like, ‘Oh, it’s just the pitcher’…then I hit it out. That was really cool, helping someone out like that.” -Jeff Juden

Anonymous said...


Anonymous TD said...

I think the most amazing thing about that Ben Johnson / Carl Lewis picture is that there's a white guy in third place. Wtf - Who is he and what is he doing there? I thought the 8 finalists every year were always black.


Heike Dreschler.

Anonymous said...

Ian seems to be a "sabre-cat" or Bill James' nephew. He gives us all the odd responses you always get when you attack an Asperbergers Idol. I've noticed the same pattern on other blogs when someone attacks Ayn Rand, Richard Dawkins, or even Stanley Kubrick!

So we get the concern trolling, obfuscation, charges that the critic is "JUST JEALOUS", Doesn't understand HOW COMPLICATED it all is, etc.

James' knew the Bonds number were phony and knew it was from Steroids and said nothing, except to defend Bonds. Ignoring physical evidence, obvious to everyone, players don't suddenly experience *vast* increases in power/batting average as they approach 40 - unless its due to moving to hitters park. To talk about 'nutrition' or "new weight training regimens" is absurd.

Anonymous said...

http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/olympics/in-2012-winning-olympic-gold-is-womens-work/2012/08/08/9be7868e-e1a7-11e1-a25e-15067bb31849_story.html

Comment on the above
MDLaxer
8/10/2012 3:30 AM GMT
NBC just reported that for the first time, every team attending the Olympics had at least one woman on their team. You'd think Ms. Jenkins would have mentioned that if she was trying to describe how women were advancing.

She is so obsessed with minutiae that she misses the bigger picture I suppose that is what you get when you hire a communist like Selena Roberts.

Funny that there is no mention of the Tour de fRance chick who took performing enhancing substances to enhance performance but Lance Armstrong gets mentioned.

I suppose that is what you get when you hire a columnist like Sue Jenkins.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous DaveinHackensack said...

What's the deal with soccer? No steroids there? This guy is currently the second-leading goal scorer in the English Premier League, Robin Van Persie. 6'1", maybe 160lbs.


Proof of muslim superiority?

Steve Sailer said...

"You and Bill James seem remarkably similar to me in disposition, writing style, and methodology"

He's a huge influence on me, a personal hero. I started reading Bill James 27 years ago. I only started ragging on him over not mentioning steroids in, I think, 2007 in a posting entitled "Bill James Is Not Perfect!"

http://isteve.blogspot.com/2007/06/bill-james-is-not-perfect.html

I only got upset over it when James ended his long silence on the subject in 2009 to say a bunch of ridiculous things that were obviously misleading.

John said...

The award is for Most Valuable Player, and Ichiro was less valuable than Giambi or Bonds that year. Bonds was the greatest player ever, and his best years were the result of steroid use. That isn't hero-worship or lunacy.

Though to be fair, I am pretty far to your left and this was your first post that offended me enough to comment.