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Gianella: The Semmelweis Reflex: Why resist sabermetrics?

From Mike Gianella at Baseball Prospectus on October 10, 2013:

A data analyst is hired to analyze a problem a baseball team is having. He studies and studies the problem from as many angles as possible but still can’t solve the issue. Finally, he comes upon some data that offers strong, tangible evidence of how to fix the problem and comes back to the team with his findings. The manager institutes the analyst’s recommendations and the team’s on-field performance improves. But then the general manager finds out about the change and orders the manager to go back to the old way of doing things. The analyst’s recommendations fly in the face of conventional wisdom, so despite the proof offered, the team rejects the analyst’s findings. Worse yet, not only is the analyst’s advice rejected in this specific instance, but he is discredited in the industry for presenting such a controversial theory as fact. He never gets a job in baseball again, and dies alone, penniless and forgotten.

This story sounds terrible, and I don’t mean that from the perspective of the unfortunate analyst who is now living on the mean and gritty streets of Hypotheticalville. It comes across as apocryphal nonsense that couldn’t have possibly happened in the real world and was devised by a numbers-oriented writer to pedantically prove a point.

The story, though, is based on real-life events. The only thing untrue about it is that it isn’t a baseball story.

In 1846, Ignaz Semmelweis was an assistant (resident) at the First Obstetrical Clinic in the Vienna General Hospital. At the time of his appointment, the mortality rates for women admitted to the First Clinic due to puerperal fever was 1-in-10. Vienna General’s Second Obstetrical Clinic had a 1-in-25 morality rate. The First Clinic’s reputation was so bad that some women refused to be taken to the clinic until after their babies were born.

It took the accidental death of a professor to lead to the solution to this horrible problem.

Read the full article here: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=22011

This page was last updated October 10, 2013 at 4:52 pm MST.

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