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August 7, 2012
A New Frontier for Sabermetrics
Believe it or not, most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.
Brandon Stroud is a blogger and published author who achieved mild Internet notoriety for "The Dugout'" a baseball-themed AOL Instant Messenger comic about curse words and capital letters, before settling into an editor-in-chief position at With Leather. He has never been happier to write for a website, and is still trying to figure out where the sexy lady slideshows are supposed to go.
Writing about baseball as popular culture in 2012 is almost as predictable as writing about baseball as baseball. "Giants over Rockies" appears on splash pages beside "Brian Wilson appears on Sasquatch television show". It's old hat. Even baseball as low-brow popular culture is passé, and if you don't believe me, I'll be happy to direct you to the episode of Full House where Dave Coulier tells an Olsen Twin to "run home" and she runs into their house.
Sabermetrics as popular culture is a little fresher, but Moneyball has raised public awareness of the system to maximum occupancy, and poor stats like VORP that once worked for a punchline in a snarky, insider comedy blog (or Instant Messenger-themed web comics) now close out hacky bits on Saturday Night Live. The next step is to examine sabermetrics as low-brow culture, and if your first thought is, "How could specialized analysis and math acronyms appeal to the beer and shouting crowd?", I've got some troubling news to share.
Sabermetrics has reached pro wrestling.
The search for objective knowledge about fake underwear fighting has begun. As popular as it is—and trust me, it's extremely popular all around the world—professional wrestling, the "male soap opera" where athletes and people pretending to be athletes act out the most basic, hyperbolic stories of rage and unchecked emotion, will never be high-brow. Like anything, it appeals to more people than its stereotypical audience, but the stereotypical audience for wrestling when applied to baseball is more likely to lean less in the direction of calculating Derek Jeter's OPS and more towards standing on their seat and screaming C'MAWN JETER GET A HIT YA BUM.
Pennsylvania-based wrestling promotion company Chikara (Japanese for "power") is a little different. Founded in 2002, Chikara Pro revolted against the confrontational immature maturity of wrestling's popular "Attitude Era" by creating a family-friendly show full of unique characters in colorful costumes doing things that weren't even pretending to be "real" and asking the audience to enjoy it anyway. Where a WWE wrestler might hit you in the head with a folding chair and slam you onto thumbtacks, Chikara would have a guy dressed as an ice cream cone try to slam you onto sprinkles. If an ice cream guy did pro wrestling things to you on sprinkles, that'd have to feel like thumbtacks, right?
Occasionally, Chikara's absurdity has steered into real-life character tropes and situations, such as employees fired for lying on their resume (wrestler Vin Gerard pretended to be a Mexican "luchador" before being unmasked and revealing himself to be a white guy from Coral City) or, in this example, an event coordinator who decides intangible processes based on skill and luck can be decided with math equations.
From "Director Of Fun" (seriously) Wink Vavasseur's May 10th blog:
Trust me, I watch wrestling all the time, and I can barely understand it. Part of Wink's gag is that he's messing up everyone's job by wedging his mathematical deductions into their everyday (imaginary) life, and when you realize wrestling doesn't have a character equivalent to "a guy who walks a lot," you have to ask: How does this all work, exactly?
Wrestler Gran Akuma, a former member of a wrestling team or "stable" named F.I.S.T. (don't ask), stands in for our example.
We've yet to see where this goes. The story is building to Chikara's King Of Trios six-man tag team tournament in September, with Wink constructing teams based on CHIKARAmetrics. I'm not sure who professional wrestling's Scott Hatteberg will be, but it'll be interesting to see if the pay-off is one of worth, or an opportunity for an inherently low-brow thing with high-brow intentions to sarcastically revolt against a thing it barely deserves to discuss.
The lesson here is simple.*
*Derek Jeter's PAMC is 0.