Menand: What baseball teaches us about measuring talent

From Louis Menand at The New Yorker on April 1, 2019:

The subject of Christopher Phillips’s “Scouting and Scoring: How We Know What We Know About Baseball” (Princeton) is baseball, but it’s worth reading for more than just the baseball. The book is an effort to help us understand one of the oldest problems in modern societies, which is how to evaluate human beings. Do we scout or do we score?

The “scouting” in Phillips’s title refers to the traditional baseball scout. He’s the guy who sizes up the young prospect playing high-school or college ball, gets to know him away from the diamond, and draws on many years of experience hanging out with professional ballplayers to decide what the chances are that this one will make it to the bigs—and therefore what his price point should be for the club that signs him.

The “scorer” is what’s known in baseball as a sabermetrician. (And they don’t call it scoring; they call it “data capture.”) He’s the guy who punches numbers into a laptop to calculate a player’s score in multivariable categories like WAR (wins above replacement), FIP (fielding independent pitching), WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched), wOBA (weighted on-base average), and O.P.S. (on-base percentage plus slugging). Quantifying a player’s production in this way allows him to be compared numerically with other available players and assigned a dollar value.

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Originally published: April 2, 2019. Last Updated: April 2, 2019.