[Note by Tommy Rancel, 02/22/10 7:11 PM EST ] Bumped for those who missed it this morning.
If you've been keeping your ear to the ground in the sabermetric community, you're probably aware that last Monday, John Sickels had a few choice words to say about the direction of sabermetrics these days. If you didn't read the article, you should; it's thought provoking and makes you stop and think for a bit, which I always find fun. For those of you that haven't, though, I'll summarize: Sickels basically feels that sabermetrics has gotten "granular", reaching a level where advances in research requires incredibly complicated math, yet only achieve marginal improvements over already established truths. He sums up his argument in his last paragraph:
"So am I just entering my dotage prematurely? Or is advanced sabermetric analysis becoming so specialized that no one but physics and math majors can understand it, leaving us humanities majors behind, let alone the average fan? If that is true, what can be done about it? I don't mean stopping research; obviously it needs to go forward. But I mean, how do we find ways to disseminate the new knowledge and make it comprehensible for the non-math folks among us? How do we integrate and explain the new knowledge?"
As a fellow humanities major, I can understand and sympathize with where Sickels is coming from. I certainly don't consider myself a sabermetrics researcher by any means and whenever I venture over to The Book Blog, I find myself coming away with a sore brain. I can understand all of the current statistics conceptually, but I shudder whenever I think of the actual math involved behind them. But once I admit that I'm not a researcher and never will be, well, then what am I? In a community so research-focused, if I'm not a researcher, what role do I have? And hey, I consider myself very well versed on current baseball research, so if even I can't understand these statistics fully, then how can we expect other people to jump on board and take us seriously?
All of this got me thinking of something Sky Kalkman said in an interview here at DRaysBay a bit less than a month ago. When asked about how he sees the sabermetrics community evolving the future, Kalkman answered:
"I also think there will (should?) become more of a dichotomy between the crunchers and the writers. With traditional baseball writers, you've got the reporters and the analysts. Many try to wear both hats, but we all know when someone is outside their element. As sports media changes -- and the changes are only accelerating -- I think we're going to see specialized roles become more rewarding (TMZ does just fine without any ability to write, for example.) Saber crunchers will provide the substance (think Fangraphs or Colin Wyers) and the writers will take that stuff and entertain us (think Joe Posnanski or Dave Cameron). Not that saber writing has to be numbers based. It's really about the concepts."
While this post wasn't meant as a response to Sickel's words (goodness knows there have been enough of those already), I guess it's evolving into one. Anyway, I like to think that as a humanities major, my role in this community is that of a writer. I educate, I entertain, I analyze, I bridge gaps, I write. And there's nothing wrong with that. It's tough at first, but the big step is admitting to yourself that it's okay that you're not a researcher. It's okay that you're not going to further baseball research in a new way that no one has before. Heck, without good writers like Joe Posnanski, I'd never be as fascinated by sabermetrics as I am today. Instead of being a researcher, I get to do something just as exciting: educate others.
And so finally, I arrive at the point of this post. I don't think it's entirely a coincidence that while Sickels was saying, "How do we integrate and explain the new knowledge?" last Monday, our readers here at DRaysBay were informing us that we need to make advanced statistics more accessible to them. In pondering over both these incidents, I think they point to a larger problem within the sabermetric community: that it's incredibly research and analysis focused, with little emphasis on writing and education. I realized that one of the biggest gaps missing here on DRaysBay (and in the sabermetric community at large) is a handy reference tool to help new users learn about sabermetrics. Sure, we have a stat guide here at DRB, but the stat guide will only take you so far towards fully understanding the statistics. Sure, there's lots of good information out there if you Google search or browse through sites, but why should it be that hard? Why should all the good research and educational information be scattered piecemeal throughout the internet? It doesn't make sense and if we want to take that next step as a community, we're going to need to become more accessible to the everyday fan. Those who are dedicated and interested in advanced statistics are going to take the time to search for the information they need, but the everyday fan isn't going to be convinced to take sabermetrics seriously unless we bring the information to them.
To help solve this issue, with the help of Andy Hellicksonstine and rglass44, I spent all of last week compiling The Sabermetric Library. I'm sure it's not perfect, but the idea behind the site is to provide websites with an easy-to-use and easy-to-link website that they can refer new users towards. You'll notice that there is a separate page for almost every statistic you can find on FanGraphs, with each page containing a brief, no-numbers-involved description of the statistic, some numbers and/or charts to help provide context, a couple bullet points of key things to remember when using said statistic, and links to other relevant websites and articles. Here at DRaysBay, every time we use a statistic for the first time in an article, we will be linking to the specific page for that statistic over at the Library.
Since this website has been put together quite quickly, please feel free to leave any suggestions in the comments below. I'm sure some pages will need editing to make them easier to understand, while there may be other statistics that I should include and other links that I should add. Heck, my explanations for some statistics may need tweaking to make them conceptually correct. Please explore the site and don't be afraid to let me know if a page sucks. I want this to be a useful reference for everyone and the only way to know that is if I get feedback. I don't see this site as an end result, but as a starting ground. Thanks, all.
Thanks again to Andy Hellicksonstine and rglass44 for their help and contributions. And thanks to Lookout Landing for this compilation, from which I shamelessly stole a ton of links. Also, my apologies to Tango - I didn't realize that they'd talked about a "Sabermetric Library" recently on The Book Blog until after I registered the domain name.
PS- A couple pages are in the process of editing, but should be finished within a day or so.