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Moore: The secret history of sabermetrics

From Jack Moore at Baseball Prospectus on July 16, 2013:

The system of keeping batting averages needs a complete overhauling. At present this system merely gives the comparative number of times a player makes a hit without paying any attention to the importance of that hit. Home runs and scratch singles are all bulged together on the same footing, when everybody knows that one is vastly more important than the other. The result is that the records are grossly misleading.

The above screed could easily be mistaken for something off the electronic pages of FanGraphs or Baseball Prospectus in the current millennium, or perhaps from one of the paper pages of Bill James's famous Baseball Abstracts from the 1970s and 1980s. In reality, the story it comes from is approaching its 100th birthday.

F.C. Lane was the editor-in-chief of Baseball Magazine, one of the first monthly baseball publications, from 1912 until 1938. Lane is also considered by many to be the first sabermetrician. In 2012, the Society of American Baseball ResearchSABR, the root of the word “sabermetrics”posthumously bestowed upon him the Henry Chadwick Award, established “to honor those researchers, historians, analysts and statisticians whose work has most contributed to our understanding of the game and its history.”

In a 1915 issue of Baseball Magazine, Lane penned an article titled “Why the System of Batting Averages Should Be Changed,” and subtitled “Statistics Lie at the Foundation of Baseball Popularity – Batting Records Are the Favorite – And Yet Batting Records Are Unnecessarily Inaccurate.”

Not much has changed in 98 years.

In the article, Lane asks the following question: “Suppose you asked a close personal friend how much change had in his pocket and he replied, 'Twelve coins,' would you think you had learned much about the precise state of his exchequer?”

Here, in this question, lies the foundation of sabermetric thought. Baseball demands numbers. No fandom looks to its statistical history with more frequency or reverence than baseball's, and no sport has a statistical record as clean or as robust as baseball's. Data demands analysis, and thus the early statistics like batting average and earned run average were born. Lane's question is specific, but it alludes to deeper, more primal concerns: Do our measurements describe what happens on the field? Are we closer to understanding how baseball teams score runs, get outs, and win games?

Read the full article here: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=21234

Related link: Want to learn more? Check out our Guide to Sabermetric Research at SABR.org/sabermetrics

This page was last updated July 16, 2013 at 12:30 pm MST.

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