January 10, 2014
Rereading Nate Silver: 17. The Holes In Adam Dunn's Swing
In which Nate drops like 15 Matrix Reloaded references.
Abstract: Nate takes one of the less revolutionary parts of Moneyball--that “that every hitter (excepting Scott Hatteberg, Pickin' Machine) has a hole in his swing, and that the hole will inevitably be discovered and exploited in repeated trials”--and applies it to Adam Dunn to see whether such a discovery and exploitation can be found in the statistical record. First finding evidence that Dunn struggles against pitchers who have seen him before, then finding stronger evidence that Dunn does not struggle against pitchers who have seen him before, Nate ultimately proposes that game theory presents great challenges for sabermetrics, but that creative sabermetricians might nevertheless utilize it. Indeed, to some degree he prophesies the use (and misuse) of PITCHf/x data for thousands (tens of thousands? hundreds of thousands?) of individual player profiles that have been written on sabr-friendly sites like this one in the decade since.
Key quote: “It's possible that Lewis is really on to something with his emphasis on game theory. Maybe not Dunn, but are there certain types of hitters who flounder or excel in repeated trials against the same opponent? Are there certain types of pitchers? Do they stick around long enough for us to identify them? Or is all this talk about game theory the modern equivalent of clutch hitting, something that seems intuitive but is really just another way to get around our reluctance to attribute events to chance?”
Key out-of-context quote: “Where can I get some of that orgasm cake?”
Moneyball: Not long ago, I also used the hole-in-the-swing passage to launch an article. (It also was about game-theory, as it turns out. And it turned out to be fun, so go reread it.) Somebody messaged me afterward: “Don’t think Moneyball is quoted enough in that context. Gets quoted for other stuff obvi but not the real basebally stuff.” This is so true. Moneyball, it seems to me, has largely been reduced to political tract, but in fact there’s so much color in it that has nothing to do with whether Jack Morris should be in the Hall of Fame; color that would have fit into any great book about baseball, and that gets lost in the impact (and invective) of its thesis. Among the many outstanding passages of Moneyball that have little or nothing to do with moneyball, this is probably my favorite:
A few days earlier, Mabry had complained to [A’s video coordinator Dan Feinstein] about his lack of playing time, and Feiny had tried to help him out. “You know John,” he’d said, “maybe you want to try taking a few pitches.”
On the Nate Silver Must-Read Scale: 2
(reminder: 1 is low on the scale; 3 is the highest point on the scale.)