Editor's note: Spring 2015 Baseball Research Journal
This article was published in the Spring 2015 Baseball Research Journal.
Spring is here! I don’t care if I still have six-foot high snow mounds in front of my house. If baseball season is here, it is officially spring, and winter can go stuff it. Migratory birds are onto something, leaving town and then coming back just in time for Opening Day and baseball season. I’m ready for a new season to unspool into history.
Every season has its twists and surprises. To be prepared for some of what’s to come, I just peeked at MLB.com’s “milestones” tracker. I see it predicts that if Alex Rodriguez returns to the field (as is currently expected) and stays healthy, he’ll pass the 3,000-hit milestone by mid-June. In fact, he’s poised to climb several of the all-time records lists; hits, runs scored, home runs, RBIs, games played, and a few other choice stats-ladders could see him moving up several rungs. But Rodriguez has demonstrated an uncanny knack for eliciting criticism in the face of success which will add intrigue to the numbers. If he passes Joe Morgan (34th) on the games-played list, or Stan Musial (8th) on the runs-scored list, comparisons beyond mere numbers will be inevitable. Can “character” be quantified?
I don’t mean that as a rhetorical question. I believe in the future we will see “intangibles” made tangible, “team chemistry” formulas, and psychological “makeup” measured in a useful way. Any major league team that believes they’ll find value and competitive advantage in it will be studying it. Scott Boras, when addressing the SABR convention in 2011, spoke at length about Harvey Dorfman, a pioneer in the mental aspect of baseball training. An article in this issue discusses Dorfman’s life and works.
The difference between a team’s Decision Sciences experts and many of us in SABR is this: their job is to look forward, our job is to look back. But ultimately the goal is the same: understand this game. We are still probing for ways to account for comparisons across eras, not only deadball/live ball but PED/non-PED. Our search for understanding requires cleaning the dataset, as Herm Krabbenhoft is doing with pre-1920 RBI records, and imagining what might have happened if things had been different, as Chuck Hildebrandt (with the help of thousands of SABR voters) did with simulations of All-Star Games that never were. We look at the rules and how they’ve changed, from Richard Hershberger’s discussion of the origin of the “dropped third strike” rule to Gil Imber’s analysis of the oh-so-recent introduction of video instant replay to MLB.
Stats show us unlikely is not the same as impossible, and that our idea of “usual” may be unusual. A “typical” issue of the Baseball Research Journal contains 15–20 articles which are “usually” between 2,500 and 6,500 words long. That is like saying the typical big-league inning has five batters who see five pitches each. (I’m making those numbers up, by the way: I’m certain someone has determined the actual means and medians.) But what is memorable is often what is atypical or unusual. This issue of the BRJ is atypical in that it contains fewer articles than usual, but several are longer than usual, which balances out. Like we always say, you have to play the games.
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CECILIA M. TAN is SABR's Publications Editor. She can be reached at email@example.com.