Why I don't love analytics



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  • Why I don't love analytics

    One of the wackiest endings of any World Series game occurred Saturday night when the Tampa Bay Rays scored the tying and winning run on a base hit by a walk on player and two blunders by normally solid fielders. I'm a Dodger fan but I guess more of a baseball fan because I loved it. The unpredictability of it was jaw dropping. And in such a big moment. As Rays' radio announcer, Andy Freed said on the air (and I'm paraphrasing): "We should save 'unbelievable' for moments like these."
    But here's my point. The big hit was delivered by a walk on player only up there because there was no one else left on the bench. The Dodger pitcher was their all-time leader in saves. So what would the analytics tell you? For all the numbers and all the analysis, the game of baseball defies expectations.
    How many times in the World Series have we seen unlikely heroes? For every Mickey Mantles and Willie Mays, there is also a Scott Podsednik, Jim Leyritz, Pat Borders, Luis Sojo, Kurt Bevacqua, Carlos Ruiz, Tony Womack, Brian Doyle, Steve Pearce, Christian Colon, David Freese, David Eckstein, Francisco Rodriguez, Mickey Hatcher, Rick Dempsey, Gene Tenace, Donn Clendenon, Don Larson, and now Brett Phillips (who hadn't batted in 17 days). And I bet I'm leaving out four or five other World Series heroes.

    It's a form of collusion now since all teams use the same analytics. A free agent may have hit 25 home runs last year but if his OPS is under a certain number no one wants him. Forget that he was a model player, a mentor to young players, and a pillar of the community. His OPS was too low. Or a pitcher's WIP was too high.
    And yet, it's the intangibles. Nerves under pressure, anticipation, preparation, and just dumb luck. Analytics can predict many things, but until they can predict dumb luck they should just be used as a tool and not the yardstick by which all decisions are made.
    The argument is made that young people are into analytics and Major League Baseball is slavishly trying to lure that coveted demographic. But consider this: what should be a World Series game ending for the ages was seen after midnight on the east and in the key 18-34 demographics it was beaten by SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. So MLB is not exactly captivating Millennials.
    How many of you, even baseball fans, are hearing about this Saturday night finish for the first time?

    Last night the Dodgers came back to win. Clayton Kershaw, the team's ace and future Hall-of-Famer, started a little shaky. Worked out of a huge jam and then settled down. In the 6th inning he retired the first two batters on two pitches. And was lifted for a rookie pitcher who had struggled but has great potential. What the ****? The kid got some outs (thankfully for the manager and organization), but what does it say about the faith they have in Clayton Kershaw? I can't imagine the Dodgers taking Sandy Koufax out in the 6th inning after getting two outs on two pitches and leading by two runs. You can say "OK Boomer" but I contend the game was more fun and exciting. And some people must've liked it because World Series games were seen by 40 million people instead of three or four.

    And on an unrelated note, Happy Birthday to my writing partner, David Isaacs. Happy 39th.