Sabermetrics In The Mainstream

When browsing the headlines at Baseball Think Factory this morning, one jumped out – Why Haven’t Sabermetrics Gone Mainstream? My first reaction was “they have”. I mean, really, let’s take a look at the baseball world today.

The Wall Street Journal started a sports page about a month ago. I have a piece in there today, and Carl Bialik wrote about Matthew’s work on Ryan Madson’s change-up. I’d imagine most people would consider this to be something of a sabermetric website, and the Wall Street Journal to be fairly mainstream.

The media is definitely on board – ESPN employs Rob Neyer and Keith Law as two of their main baseball writers. Karl Ravech was talking about PECOTA the other night. John Dewan has had numerous features done while promoting The Fielding Bible II. Sports Illustrated just did a story on the rise of defense in baseball. You can’t get away from mainstream media coverage of ideas that were generated in the sabermetric community.

It’s even more pervasive in MLB itself. Obviously, everyone knows about how the A’s operate thanks to Moneyball, but the links between the organizations and this community of baseball analysts are growing tighter by the day. The Tampa Bay Rays now employ James Click and Chaim Bloom, who got their start at Baseball Prospectus, along with former FanGraphs writer Peter Bendix and Pitch F/x guru Josh Kalk. The Seattle Mariners hired Tom Tango over the winter, and have created an entire department of baseball research that they’re filling with sabermetrics kids. The Indians have Keith Woolner, among others. The Pirates hired Dan Fox. The list goes of people hired by MLB organizations from the internet baseball community is remarkably extensive.

The struggle for legitimacy is over. Sabermetrics has been accepted as a fairly large part of baseball. Maybe not by everyone, but by most of the people who are in positions of influence. For better or worse, this isn’t a bunch of outsiders struggling to get their voice heard over the shouting mob anymore. This little brand of baseball analysis that we all enjoy has crossed over.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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15 years ago

What’s humorous is that the average fan has accepted sabermetrics at a level seemingly higher than that in some FO’s…

Rob in CT
15 years ago
Reply to  alskor

That’s not my experience with the “average fan.” I think the FO’s of the MLB clubs are ahead of that particular curve. Yes, there are a couple of refuseniks, but most clubs get it on some level.

David Appelmanmember
15 years ago
Reply to  Rob in CT

I find that the “average fan” typically does not know much about sabermetrics and I think there are a lot of reasons why.

It actually takes a lot of time to keep up with the advanced stats. They’re changing all the time, adding this and adding that.

How many different versions are there of the Bill James Runs Created? 3-5? How many different versions are there of the non Bill James Run Estimators? Maybe 10, 15, who knows. Needless to say, there are a lot.

What kind of casual fan has enough time to keep up with all that, and all the changes, and which one he should actually use?

While I think all the progress and research is really great, it’s very hard for any of these new stats to become accepted in the mainstream while nothing remains constant and the names keep changing. This is something I think BP has done a really commendable job on with VORP.

Getting stats into the mainstream is about a constant PR onslaught. Nothing more, nothing less.

15 years ago
Reply to  Rob in CT

As the author of the original post, I can say that David understand what I was saying. Maybe mainstream was the wrong word (I didn’t put more than 15 seconds of thought into the title). The average fan, in my mind, isn’t sabermetrically-inclined, and the article was an inquiry into why that is.

15 years ago
Reply to  Rob in CT

Have to disagree. With the caveat that I live in the Northeast and have a law degree and most of my friends are pretty intelligent… it seems like most average fans I know have a basic understanding of fundamental sabrmetric principles, which is a far cry from a decade back when I first read Bill James.

Maybe its a Red Sox fan thing… but most people I talk to about baseball understand or have heard of these terms and for the most part dont eschew them like some MLB front offices (what I was referencing above). Maybe they dont know how to apply them correctly and couldnt explain them, but they know these things exist and what they measure (for the most part)… Walk through Fenway and ask people what VORP means and I guarantee the majority could tell you and a large percentage could go a lot further.

Look at the way average fans know OPS and value OBP these days. You would get a blank stare 15 years ago. Its seeping in faster than you guys are giving it credit for…

15 years ago
Reply to  Rob in CT

Further… the opposition to these ideas has failed. Even sportswriters are giving up the fight. 15 years ago there was a large amount of conventional wisdom that mocked the sabrmetric revolution.

Now, even people who dont understand it will give it their attention. They accept that these ideas are fundamentally correct even if they dont fully understand how they work.

The groundswell in favor of sabrmetric thought has blossomed. There now exists a sort of recognition and acceptance that sabrmetrics are the future and that they are important. The arguments for old time baseball though and old time scouting instead of stats (NOTE: Not with!) are fading. Even the hardline, old school baseball people have accepted that Bill James is the future, whether they like it or not.

Joe R
14 years ago
Reply to  alskor

No way. Tons of people still can’t grasp the fact that a guy that goes .250/.400/.470 with 25 HR and 180 K’s is better than someone that goes .310/.350/.390 with 3 HR and 50 K’s. I just saw on someone say Youkilis’ “strikes out too much”.

Ya know, the guy who gets on base over 40% of the time. That Kevin Youkilis.

Youkilis for Cristian Guzman straight up probably sounds good to some people.