Last week in this space, I wrote a column called “The Geeks Will Inherit the Earth.” The premise of the piece can be summed up in a few simple sentences. “Advanced baseball stats are becoming more and more prevalent. It seems like every offseason move the Sox made was based on them. Guys who believe in sabermetrics take themselves really seriously. Let’s make fun of them.”
And that’s about it. Toss in a little satire, some harmless ball-busting, a bit of self-deprecating humor, some genuine concern that the Sox might be relying too much on sabermetrics, Phoebe Cates lust, a dose of paranoid hyperbole about Communist plots, a dash of wiseass irony, and some genuine man-love for Theo Epstein and the job he’s done and boom goes the dynamite, you’ve got a column.
The self-professed Stat Geeks took the piece in the spirit it was intended. We laughed, we hugged, we learned. We threw our heads back and freeze-framed while the theme song played and the end credits rolled.
Just kidding. They pretty much came after me from all directions like ninjas. The WEEI.com comments section blew up with what was 95 percent angry, bitter invective. The Stat Geeks reacted in much the same way that the Knights of Templar would if you told them the Grail was nothing but a Solo cup.
I can honestly tell you I was no way prepared for the response I got or the level of vitriol it included. I mean, who could’ve known the guys who love obscure baseball arcana were so sensitive? Or spend so much time on their computers, for that matter? In six years of writing, the only time I’d ever set off a similar excrement-storm was when I almost got fired from Barstool Sports for saying “Talledega Nights” was better than “Major League.” But compared to this, that was cream cheese. When I started reading the comments, my reaction was somewhere between Chloe-and-Jack-watching-the-terrorist-plot-unfold astonishment and Ron-Burgundy-when-Veronica-told-him-his-hair-looks-ridiculous incredulity. “Whaaat? What did you saaayyy???”
But truth be told, I think it’s great. I dished it out, I’ll take it. Remember when Bill Simmons whined about getting called a “fraud” on the Big Show and then made a complete buffoon out of himself? We’ll have none of that here. So out of respect to the Stat Geeks whose cages I inadvertently rattled — and to avoid getting a thousand “Magic: The Gathering” wizard spells cast upon me — it seems only fair to respond with my first ever mailbag column out of the comments I received:
Sounds like you need to get out a little more, Mr. Thornton. Although if you actually met half the people you’re making fun of here (including myself), you’d feel like the geek in the room. I’m sure that would be an all too familiar feeling. Probably would bring up horrible, horrible memories of your youth.
If this was a joke, it wasn’t funny enough. If this was serious, then I deeply feel sorry for you.
If this is serious, then wow...there’s no word in the English language strong enough to describe how stupid this article is. I feel nauseous. If it’s satire, then I see the humor ... but the satire part of it needs to be a bit more pronounced next time. Please, dear god, tell me it’s just poor comedic timing, and not a complete failure to even have a rudimentary understanding of the game of baseball.
This has to be a joke. If not, what an incredible jackass this writer is.
This article is a joke. Can this man from WEEI!!!
– Bob Munday
Possibly the worst thing on the Internet. Shockingly derivative, poorly written and aggressively ignorant. If you were trying to sound like an idiot, congratulations: You did it.
A: Thanks to you all. I appreciate you responding to my column about how sabermetricians take themselves too seriously by ... taking it too seriously. You’ve made my point better than I ever could.
Seriously, where are you guys from? Where is this magical world filled with unicorns and cotton candy trees and chocolate rivers where no one ever belittles one another? You can’t be from around here, because the Massholes I know talk crap to each other all the time. You’re part of the sports landscape now. Congratulations, you won the war. So learn to sit on the field of victory, toast to your success and stop being so sensitive. Have you ever actually listened to the radio station connected to this site? There aren’t a lot of protected classes around here, and Stat Geeks are certainly not going to be one. Lighten up, Francis.
Maybe you should think about what you’re writing before you write it next time. This is essentially hate speech; you’re making fun of an entire group of people just for being different than you.
– Brett Miller
A: So the next time a kid with a Baseball Prospectus in his pocket gets a Swirlie, that toilet water will be on my hands...
Looking at your picture, I can’t believe you have the balls to call ANYONE a geek.
Speaking of geeks, how about that pencil-necked twerp on the upper-left corner of this page?
– Tostada McFancy
How can this guy call anyone else a geek? Look at him! Ha Ha!
– Mike Haiga
A: You’re all wrong. As I’ve been saying for years on the comedy stage, I look like Mr. Smithers from “The Simpsons.” And no one would call him a geek.
You’re a complete moron. It’s no wonder WEEI is getting slaughtered by their competition. They employ journalism dropouts and idiots that piss themselves at the first hint of something that challenges their worldview.
A: What did you call me? A “journalist”? OK, now you’re getting personal.
The Communist Party taking over Hollywood? Really? Putting aside the factual inaccuracy there, you can see the paranoia oozing out of that sentence.
A: Sounds like Commie talk to me. And don’t forget, no one kept statistics about production like the Soviets did.
What are you talking about?! Kevin Youkilis? Did you read the freaking book? He’s one of the most talked about players in Moneyball. OBP, not batting avg. and RBI is what had Billy Bean drooling over him.
– Craig Huntington
A: Whatever Billy Beane saw in Youk is secondary to the fact that the reason he’s a great player is his production. His power numbers, his batting average, his RBIs and his OBP. All those things that advanced stats have sought to diminish. If anything, Youkilis is exactly the kind of guy that old school scouting systems would have loved.
P.S. Do I get any love for pluralizing Youkilis as “Youkili”?
Really? Mom’s basement? Again? Sigh.
– Jimmy Dean’s Sausage
A: Fair enough. I have to admit that was laziness on my part. I take pride in not falling back on easy clichés, and you’re right to call me on this one. If I could, I’d go back and change it to “their bedrooms with the Bill James Fathead on the wall.”
Hilarious read! Looks like you really pissed the sycophants off! People on this message board attack this author for insulting people, yet really it’s Theo and the sycophants who insult people by dismissing opinions and analysis that differs from theirs in a belittling fashion, like people who don’t fully subscribe to the value of sabermetrics are primitive thinkers. Personally, that’s what pisses me off. I’m all about stats like OPS+ and RC600, but when I’m told I’ve failed the idiot test merely because I think RBIs do have at least something to with scoring runs... I don’t know, I think I’ve made my point.
A: Your dislike of Theo aside, it’s readers like you that make life worth living.
You are delirious if you think that the Red Sox’ success under Theo and his investment in sabermetrics and Bill James are independent of each other.
Awesome considering that the three Boston teams who have won titles are at the forefront of advanced statistical/personnel analysis. You’re right though, stereotypically stupid New England area fan, Theo Epstein should just throw 100 million to every free agent who has over 100 RBIs.
I’d argue that the BoSox actually just use the stat geeks as one part of the operation -- I don’t think that Victor Martinez or Jon Lackey are stat geek favorites at all, but I didn’t realize the panic that Mr. Thornton would feel in letting Jason freaking Bay go. Calm down.
– Jimmy Dean’s Sausage
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Mr. Thornton, but the geeks already helped the Red Sox win two rings.
You know the English language well. You weave your words nicely. You know a lot about sports because you’ve been watching them your whole life. You must be a pleasant man to deal with because you’ve nabbed a good job and have a solid career. But you are so wrong about this. So wrong, in fact, that I beg you to try as hard as you can to play devil’s advocate to your own article and then read it again. If you still can’t see how wrong you are by citing Mike Cameron’s RBI total as a reason why he isn’t a good fit for the Sox dollar for dollar, then you should find another job. Advanced stats aren’t the only thing that good GMs consider when they build their team, but they are the standard basis from which to build on.
A: Look, I don’t hate statistics and in spite of my snarky tone I don’t even hate advanced statistics. For instance, Kerry Byrne, who contributes to WEEI.com, is one of my favorite football writers and his site, Cold, Hard Football Facts has the most insightful, stats-driven analysis on the web. And much of what his research has found is counter intuitive, against-the-grain stuff like disproving the old bromide that “you need to be able to run and stop the run in order to win.” And obviously baseball numbers can have the same validity. So I’m not a Luddite.
Nor am I convinced that every advanced metric and complex baseball analysis formula that’s out there is worth it’s acronym. There are lies, there are damned lies and there are statistics. Then there are the statistics that prove that J.D. Drew is a more productive hitter than Jason Bay.
I’m not asking that Theo ignore a datum just because it goes beyond the standard 20th century, old-timey stats. His approach seems to incorporate modern baseball research but balance it with what the guys behind home plate holding the radar guns and writing the scouting reports say. Which is how it should be.
But it’s a gross exaggeration to say claim sabermetrics won the Sox two championships. It may have helped. But the major contributions to those two titles came from decidedly old school, non-sabermetric players. Sluggers like Manny Ramirez. High batting average guys like Bill Meuller. Run producers like Kevin Millar. Many of whom played mediocre defense, by the way.
Didn’t the Stat Geeks convince Theo that a closer was a waste of money, which led to the Closer-by-Committee fiasco? And it was only when they sunk huge money into the retro Keith Foulke and developed a throwback power closer in Jonathan Papelbon that they were able to win it all. Furthermore, one of the tenets of sabermetrics is that “clutch” doesn’t exist. And yet the Sox have held a special ceremony just to honor David Ortiz as the best clutch hitter in Sox history. And there’s not a formula in existence that can convince me they’re wrong about that.
So again, despite my harsh words, I don’t begrudge the Stat Geeks anything. Crunch your numbers, have your fun, keep on scoring the game and work magic with your formulae and do so with my blessing. Meanwhile those of us who scraped by with C’s in Calculus will sit in the stands behind you, drinking beer and trying to reduce Mark Teixeira to tears. There’s room enough for all of us.
I will say, though, that I thought “The Staturian Candidate” was pretty clever. So Thornton’s got that going for him, which is nice. Enjoy the page views!
– Padman Jones
A: Ding! Ding! Ding!
Thanks for your input, everyone. After all these years of tooling on Boston sportswriters, I finally know what it feels like to be Ron Borges or Dan Shaughnessy. Almost.