I enjoy listening to “Up and In”, the Baseball Prospectus Podcast hosted by Kevin Goldstein and Jason “Professor” Parks, prospect experts with strong connections to scouts and front office personnel throughout organized ball. That access is what separates their podcast from the pack, and it enables them to provide glimpses of the game fans never used to see. That’s a great thing. And it’s a little dangerous, too, because the more glimpses outsiders like me get, the more we think we know.
But the truth is, if your baseball knowledge comes exclusively from reading books and blogs and listening to podcasts—even if you read and listen to all of them—you still don’t know much. And you definitely don’t know more than the manager you enjoy second-guessing every night on Twitter. To paraphrase Goldstein from an episode early this season, the knowledge gap between baseball insiders and outsiders is at least as great as the talent gulf between big leaguers and AAA players. In other words, it might not seem like a big gap, because baseball is a game measured in decimal points, but the gap is huge.
On the most recent “Up and In” episode (#99), Goldstein and Parks again discussed the knowledge gap when they answered an email from a listener named John:
John: I was reading Russell Carleton’s most recent article this week and was wondering a few things. … The thing I could not help but wonder … was if I will ever be able to keep up with sabermetrics and the study of baseball as just an average Joe Fan. I subscribe to BP, I listen to your podcast, I read any and everything I can get my hands on, but I still feel like I’m way behind. It seems like most major league teams have realized the value of studying the game in almost every way possible by now and that they’re very good at protecting information that they come across … I feel like they know more than I ever could, no matter how hard I search, and I’d like to know if you have an opinion on that.
KG: Yeah, John, you’re screwed. You’re totally screwed, man. The teams are ahead of the public in all sorts of ways.
PP: They’re dealing with metrics that people in the public sphere don’t have access to and can’t—and aren’t writing about. It’s a completely different story.
KG: And would kill to see.
PP: Right. They are dealing with different information.
KG: Yeah, they have data people would love to have public. They have all sorts of stuff, they’re doing amazing stuff with it. They’re doing fantastic, ridiculous stuff that we would love to have public and it would be awesome. And, you know, we’ll continue to try to catch up to em, but they have certain advantages on data and people, and they’re doing some ridiculously cool stuff that no one talks about because it’s all private to the club, for good reason. It’s part of their perceived competitive advantage.
Good stuff to think about next time you criticize something your favorite team does on the field or in the front office.
Here’s the beginning of the Russell Carlton article, “Hire Joe Morgan”, that inspired the exchange above. A link to the full article follows.:
Dear Mr. Morgan,
I owe you an apology. No, not a snarky, sarcastic, “Haha this will get a lot of pageviews and I’ll smack him down at the end—Big laughs all around!” sort of apology. A real one.
Mr. Morgan, I’m a sabermetrician. I’m one of those new-wave guys who like to look at baseball through the numbers. I never did really play the game, unless you count seventh-grade community center summer softball. Instead of that major-league career I dreamed about when I was a kid, I got an advanced degree and a background in statistical analysis. But when I should have been working on my dissertation, I was reading in Moneyball and Baseball Between the Numbers about other guys with advanced degrees and backgrounds in statistics who were working in the game, and saying to myself, “Hey, I know how to do stuff like that!” I figured that if I wasn’t any good at actually playing the game, I could at least do the nerdy next-best thing. I could study it.
About five years ago, I started publishing my own research as a little hobby, and I found out some interesting things about baseball. It was fun, not only in a nerdy way, but in the sense that I really felt like I was contributing to a better understanding of the game.
Had it stopped there, I wouldn’t be writing this letter of apology. But it didn’t. Something happened to me over time. I’m not sure when it happened, but gradually the work became less about having fun by talking about the game of baseball and more about proving that I knew more than anyone else. I somehow convinced myself that the sabermetric way was the only true way to understand the game … and I laughed at those who said otherwise, including you, Mr. Morgan.
- Russell A. Carleton, Baseball Prospectus
Read the rest: “Hire Joe Morgan”
Photo by TS Flynn