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Mozart, Shostakovich, and Baseball: Why I Love Stats

A little over a week ago, I went back to my alma mater with my fiancé to see one of our friends perform in their senior recital.  He plays the oboe and, if I may be so bold as to say so, a beautiful oboe at that.  The oboe can be a frustrating, difficult instrument (from what I’ve heard and observed, at least), but when played with skill…by god, it’s unparalleled.  This performance was very enjoyable and well worth the visit, but that’s not the reason why I’m writing this piece.  I’m writing this story because about a third of the way through the recital, I found myself thinking about baseball.

Before I insult the performer, though, let me clarify: it was not that I got bored and found myself day-dreaming about baseball.  Quite the opposite, in fact; I was enraptured by the performance and found myself trying to fully appreciate the talent I was watching.  Now, to understand my predicament, you need to know a bit of background on me.  I used to play the clarinet and saxophone, but it’s been three years since I picked up either of them.  I used to think I’d study music in college, but then I took one day of one course and decided against that.  I love music and it’s something I always thought I’d know more about than I do today, but the truth is I’m a casual music fan.  I say things like, "Wow, that was a fun piece" and, "Man, that was a tough run right there", but the depth of my knowledge stops about there.  I know what I like, but I can’t always give you a great explanation as to why.

Hearing that performance, though, I wished I’d spent more time playing and studying music so that I could more fully appreciate what I was witnessing.  I knew the performance was damn good – I loved the pieces and from my past experience, could tell that I was witnessing something special – but I felt at a loss to appreciate the depth of the talent I was hearing.  For comparison, my fiancé was sitting next to me and not only was she a music major in college, but she’d performed in her own recital just a year ago.  She’s a skilled performer and has studied music for years, giving her a lens through which to analyze and appreciate what we were hearing.  I’m sure that she knew what the different styles of each piece and time period were, which sections were especially difficult, and how the performance measured against others that she’d heard.  She could find themes in the music and understand why they were repeating, while I would sit there and think, "Hmm, that sounds vaguely familiar."

When I realized this partway through the recital, I became pretty disappointed.  Here I was, witnessing beautiful art being performed, and I couldn’t even really appreciate it.  It felt like such a waste, and not of my time, but of the talent.  And it was at this moment during the recital that I thought, "My gosh, I love baseball stats."

I know there are people out there that deride sabremetricians, telling us to get our noses out of our Excel documents and watch a game – the whole "baseball-isn’t-played-on-a-spreadsheet" argument.  Those people, though, are completely missing the point.  The people that read FanGraphs and write for Beyond the Boxscore aren’t doing it because they love numbers and statistics; they’re doing it because they love baseball.  The statistics are just a way to help understand the game and to appreciate it at a level beyond, "Wow, that Longoria is pretty darn good."  Well, how good?  What makes him good?  You can enjoy a game and get a lot out of watching it, but some of us want/need more than that.  Personally, advanced statistics allow me to appreciate and love the game at a much deeper level than I would be able to otherwise...and I find that pretty darn cool.

Through the rest of the recital, I leaned back and simply let myself appreciate those things that I could.  I let myself get swept up into the beauty of the music, the strength and emotion that flowed into the long, drawn-out notes and passages.  I’m sure that I didn’t appreciate the talent on the same level as my fiancé, but I realized that it was okay; I enjoyed the performance and had a fun time myself, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  What would have been wrong is if I claimed afterward to possess the only correct interpretation of the performance and ignored everything my fiancé said.  I enjoyed the performance, but I wouldn't kid myself and claim that I was able to analyze it. 

So to those out there that refuse to use advanced statistics and dread the word "Moneyball", I respect your decision and that’s fine; understand, though, that sabremetricians are baseball fans too and we’re using stats to increase our appreciation of a game we all love.  Is there something wrong with that?  Not all of us were ballplayers at a competitive level and this is the only way we have of gaining a deeper appreciation.  I don't think you'd begrudge an educated, scholarly art critic their opinions on Picasso, so why should you begrudge me mine on BJ Upton?