Before the 1990s, a significant proportion of sabermetric research was done without the benefit of computers — or at least, without the kind of computer power and software we have today. A great deal of statistical information had to be compiled by hand, or typed by hand into spreadsheets. As a result, many studies used only a small amount of data, in order to keep the workload manageable.
Things are different now, of course, and it’s harder to study new areas without the benefit of a computer and a good baseball database. That’s because a lot of the low-hanging fruit has been picked, and we’re now looking for more and more subtle effects. In 1977, Dick Cramer’s clutch hitting study consisted of only two years of batting average data, entered by hand. From that, he was able to find that clutch hitting consistency was next to nothing. But, that was only one year’s data, not enough for a definitive conclusion. It took others, with more sophisticated computers, and existing baseball databases, to refine that result to the level of understanding we have today.
In an early 2000s essay on this topic, Neal Traven wrote, “the computer is almost an obligatory … tool for sabermetric research.” That holds even more today.
It’s unfortunately true that you’re going to need a certain amount of computer skills in order to be able to take a huge mountain of baseball data and try to squeeze conclusions out of it.