Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m wildly, consistently and preternaturally optimistic about the Red Sox, especially this time of year. My spring training default setting is to just assume that 7½ months from now, we’re going to be treating last night’s champagne hangover with a mixture of the hair of the dog that bit us and duck boat exhaust fumes. And I’m not shy about pointing out the two times I was right.
And this year is no exception. As daylight savings time begets Irish Christmas, which segues into March Madness, which will tide us over until Opening Day, I already can feel the anticipation as we wait for Mayor Menino’s lips to turn the words “Rolling Rally” into a tongue twister of indecipherable consonant sounds once again.
And as I do, there’s only one thing I see spoiling the party. One small, nagging turd in the punchbowl, mitigating an otherwise perfect celebration. I’m afraid that if … when … the Sox win it all this year, it will mean total victory has been achieved by that odd, creepy little subculture that lives among us: the Stat Geeks.
There’s no escaping this conclusion: the Stat Geeks have quietly and insidiously taken power. Every hot stove report I’ve read this offseason, every article written from Fort Myers, every statement from Sox brass, has the Stat Geeks’ grubby little fingerprints on it. They’re like the Communist Party plotting to take over Hollywood in the 1950s before Ronald Reagan got wise to them and kicked their pinko butts all the way back to Moscow and Harvard Square. Only, instead of trying to write screenplays full of anti-capitalists rants, the Stat Geeks have succeeded in making otherwise normal, decent, God-fearin’ Americans start talking about VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) ratings and UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) numbers like they really believe in this nonsense.
And call me overly paranoid, but part of me is afraid Theo Epstein is their prize project. The one they’ve brainwashed into bringing their message of Sabremetric supremacy to the world. The Staturian Candidate.
Look at the Red Sox roster as it’s currently constituted: While there’s still a core of blue chip, proven, battle-tested baseball lifers who’d be winners in any era … the Pedroias, Becketts, Lesters, Papelbons and Youkili … it seems like this offseason, the rest of the roster was supplanted with Stat Geek favorites. Agents who were trained in a basement at the Baseball Prospectus HQ to infiltrate the Sox and destroy them from within. And suddenly, a legit All-Star like Jason Bay is body-snatched away and replaced with Mike Cameron with his 70 RBI but his to-die-for Rtzhm (total fielding runs above average at home) numbers. I don’t know Cameron and maybe he’ll be a great addition to the club. But I also won’t be surprised to find out he talks in a robot voice and repeats “I am Mike. I play center field. Would you care to discuss my lgRF9 (league range factor for 9 innings) numbers?” over and over again all year.
Look, I love Theo. A lot. He’s delivered in spades and I’m not afraid to admit I’m part of his cult, as you would know if you’ve ever seen me down at Park Street in a suit and tie handing out little pamphlets to spread the word about how following the word of Theo has given my life meaning. So if he says this is the path the team needs to follow in 2010, he’s earned the benefit of the doubt with me. If he says pitching and defense are the keys to victory, who am I to argue? Even if the defense is judged on obscure, impossible-to-understand and largely subjective stats that some pale virgin made up in his mom’s basement, I’ll trust Epstein. That’s why my rubber bracelet says ”WWTED?”
But I just can’t feel good about it. Maybe my ever-growing paranoia is exaggerating things, but I can’t shake the feeling the Geeks have taken over the Red Sox, if not all of baseball. And believe me, I think they’re capable of pulling off such a coup. It’s amazing how resourceful and clever these nerds can be when their minds aren’t occupied with anything but their own little obsessions. How do you think Bill Gates got where he is today? It certainly wasn’t from spending his free time at the gym.
At this point you might be saying “Gee, Jer. How do you know so much about Stat Geeks anyway?” Glad you asked because the answer will surprise you. Because I, for a very brief time in my life, was one. Yes, it’s true. Looks like mine and brains, too? As implausible as it sounds, I Was A Teenage Stats Geek. I read the backs of guys’ baseball cards. I studied the day’s box scores. I committed to memory the tops of the all time career statistical rankings in dozens of categories. I swear it’s a true story that I visited the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown with and my fellow Stat Geek buddy Roger corrected the career HR list on the wall. One time I was home sick so I interpolated Ted Williams’ career numbers to fill in the years he lost to two tours of duty in the Marines (700 homers, if you’re wondering). With all the time I squandered playing Strat-o-Matic, I could’ve turned myself into an academic All American.
I loved sports in general and baseball in particular and became fascinated by the numbers. Also, I found out that a guy from my high school, who was drafted in the top 10 in the country by the Mets, was digging foundations at a construction site where my brother was the foreman. So, in addition to realizing Judge Smails was right about the world needing ditch diggers, I figured following baseball was probably a surer route to success for me than actually playing it.
But then, I made an amazing discovery. Something that the Stat Geek population doesn’t know and never will. Women. And it changed my life forever, in much the same way that Blossom’s life changed in that Very Special Episode where she gets her period, I would never be the same. As I recall, the exact moment for me came when Phoebe Cates climbed out of the pool in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and took her top off in slow motion to the Cars’ “In Stereo” that did it for me. What Phoebe showed me that day was perfection. I wanted to have them and I was willing to do what it took to get them. Then my whole world was transformed. Suddenly Butch Hobson’s RBI total didn’t mean quite as much. Jim Rice’s total bases faded from my mind. And for me that mean putting away the Baseball Encyclopedia, getting outside and living an actual life. It also led to other discoveries like jobs, cars, activities, beer and sunlight.
But not everyone has evolved the same way. There is a growing subculture of stats-crunching troglodytes among us, and I for one am frightened that these mouth-breathing, greased stained Gollums might actually be influencing something vital to our national interest. Namely, the 2010 Red Sox. They’re like the nerdy fanboys from “Galaxy Quest” being asked to use their ridiculously detailed knowledge of the show to save the world for real. I mean, consider Bill James, who is like a god to these Sabremetric trolls. He’s made an industry out of making up silly, useless formulae to prove things like Alex Gonzalez should be bussing tables in the Fort Myers Waffle House, and yet Theo has given him a position of power and influence in his inner circle. It’s the equivalent of my old Missle Command skills getting me a job with NORAD or my Bill Belichick building a gameplan around my Coleco electric football offense.
So as a public service to all like-minded fans, concerned Red Sox citizens worried about the direction the Nation is headed, I’d like to put my ex-Stat Geek skills to us and offer my own formula for judging all statisticians. Let’s call it the NSGR/MMUSRI (Nerdy Stat Geek Ridiculous/Meaningless Made Up Statistic Rating Index). You take any new, obscure baseball evaluation stat and you start with the weight of the guy who invented it, times how many days he’s been wearing the same “Han Solo Shot First” T-shirt, divided by how many times he’s had sex in his life, multiplied by how often his mom cooks his meals add how many days a month he sees the sun times the percentage by which he throws like a girl.
Then you throw them all out and go with what your eyes tell you. And stop wasting our time with this Sabremetrics foolishness.