January 25, 2013
Revisiting the Good Old Days
At the risk of sounding like a homer, some of the most thought-provoking articles that I have read over the last 10 years have been published right here at Baseball Prospectus. These works of analytical art have influenced and often reinforced personally-held beliefs about the sport, from Nate Silver's statistical shenanigans to Mike Fast's work with batted-ball data and Max Marchi's studies of pitch-framing. The piece that made the most lasting impression was a 2007 article by BP founder Gary Huckabay, in which he made the bold proclamation that “Baseball analysis is dead.”
Huckabay went on to qualify the statement, specifying the diminishing rate of return on the investment of performance stats and citing the marginal utility that had been offered by the latest advances in sabermetrics. He emphasized that the major lessons of statistical analysis had already been learned and postulated that the next major breakthrough would come from elsewhere. Gary's words were prescient, as the revelations that grew from the work of Fast and Marchi were made possible by the recent revolution of ball-tracking technology, including HITf/x and PITCHf/x.
The f/x technology has blazed the trail for the integration of numerical data and on-field events. Although PITCHf/x has opened the door to advancements in baseball analysis by the all-consuming society of seamheads, we are unable to access the privatized information of HITf/x and FIELDf/x. We do still have the ability to combine numbers with physical actions on the field, but first we must train our brains to evaluate the subjective interpretations of our eyes. Experience has taught me that enjoyment of the game is magnified when a personal observation is validated through multiple subjective experiences and then further substantiated by the numbers.
The “analysis is dead” article was Huckabay's first piece in six months, and just the second one that he had published on the site since announcing his farewell in February of 2005. Gary had originally broken his retirement in March of '07 with another powerful piece, this one motivated by the widespread misconception of his branded acronym, TINSTAAPP. To quote the man himself:
The TINSTAAPP phenomenon was further supported by the evidence that, although hitters tend to follow a relatively predictable performance pattern as they age, pitchers are all over the map when it comes to career trajectory. Individual pitchers progress at much different rates, both physically and mechanically, and the theoretical construct of the injury nexus underscored the confluence of interacting risk factors as a player ventures through these rapid stages of development. My only reservation regarding Huckabay's call to arms is that young players can be physically immature and mechanically inefficient, yet they might thrive in the minors on pure velocity and movement. Tasking an underdeveloped prospect with a big-league workload under the intense lights of the main stage will further accelerate the pulsating clock.