Joe Morgan is a Hall of Fame baseball player and a former member of the Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine. He is also a commentator for ESPN and a strong opponent of all the new fangled baseball statistics. Anyone who has listened to an ESPN broadcast of Major League Baseball has heard Morgan criticize the Moneyball style of managing baseball teams. There are some interesting parallels between Little Joe’s position on baseball statistics and creationists’ dissent from science.
Ideally, baseball statistics should objectively measure the performance of individual players. Traditional baseball statistics are flawed because they depend on what other players do or don’t adequately represent a player’s contribution to his team. For example, runs batted in (RBI) depend on whether a player’s teammates can get on base. For a pitcher, wins and losses depend on whether or not his teammates score runs. Other statistics, like batting average, neglect important aspects of a batter’s performance (ie, walks, hitting for power, etc).
Bill James (along with the help of many others) developed a new collection of statistics which fall under the umbrella of Sabermetrics. Statistics such as on base percentage plus slugging percentage (OPS) take into account a batter’s ability to get on base as well as his ability to hit for power. Sabermetricians have also ambitiously tried to encapsulate a single player’s contribution to his team’s wins with the Win Share (a combination of a player’s hitting and fielding performance). This approach toward understanding performance through statistics was made famous in the book Moneyball, which follows the success of the Oakland A’s despite their miniscule payroll. The practicality of Sabermetrics was legitimized when the Boston Red Sox won the World Series with a team built using the new statistics.
Enter Joe Morgan, a baseball traditionalist. Morgan favors the classic methods of evaluating baseball talent, such as on location scouting, over statistics. The Sabermetrics approach does not exclude traditional scouting, but it recognizes the subjectivity of judging talent based on how a player looks. Ironically, Morgan has one of the best Sabermetrics resumes. If we were to judge Morgan using the more conventional metrics he’d come across as quite average — he was a career .271 hitter who stands a mere 5’7″. In his Historical Baseball Abstract, however, Bill James ranks Morgan as the best second baseman of all time based on Sabermetric statistics.
Why doesn’t Joe value the statistics that suggest he is one of the greatest players of all time? Here’s a taste of Morgan (dare I say, a ‘Cup of Joe’) from Fire Joe Morgan, a blog dedicated to pointing out the ridiculous statements made by columnists and commentators:
Stats don’t tell you about heart, determination and mental attitude. I have heard there are teams that think they can look at a stat sheet and tell you if a guy can play. I don’t agree . . . I never would have gotten a chance to play if someone had just looked at me on paper. I got a chance and it paid off.
Follow the link above to see what the Fire Joe Morgan boys have to say about Joe’s lunacy. What I’m most interested in is why Morgan takes these absurd positions. Does he not understand the statistics? Is he math-phobic? Does he favor subjectivity over objectivity?
The Sabermatricians analyzed all the historical records they could get their hands on to determine how individual players scored runs and helped their team win. They determined that the most important thing a batter could do was keep from getting out. Stealing bases and sacrifice bunting do not help a team score runs. A batter’s most important responsibility to his team is to get on base — be it by hit or walk. This conclusion is not based on opinion or tradition; it’s supported by evidence from actual games.
But Morgan, along with most baseball experts, cheer players for advancing runners by making outs. They cling to baseball traditions that were based on gut feelings rather than evidence. Ignoring the evidence for whatever reason is not acceptable. If you think your opinion is correct, then you must find evidence to support it. The only time there are two sides to a story is when both sides bring data to the table.
Both creationists and baseball traditionalists disregard evidence in favor of traditions. Those traditions were good explanations or strategies at the time they were developed, but newer research has shown them to be greatly flawed. Despite the fact that the evidence rejects their model or strategy, both groups still cling to their outdated ideas. Their unwavering support for their opinion in the face of empirical evidence that suggests otherwise unites creationists and baseball traditionalists. Joe Morgan is the public face of baseball creationism.
Here are a couple more Joe Morgan quotes for those of you who can’t get enough. Joe on his dislike of stats:
A lot of guys read numbers and stats but that’s not me. I watch games every day and I’m watching SportsCenter right now, but I do so as a fan. I only put my announcing shoes on in the booth. I follow the game I’m watching and it will take you where you’re supposed to go. I dont’ go in with a lot of numbers trying to creat a script. I just try to get a feel for teams and go into a game and let it take me somewhere. I have some notes but not much else.
The guy that wrote Moneyball can’t teach me about the game. That is what I meant. If you haven’t been on the field, why should I read your book? How can that person teach me about the game? I learn plenty about the game everyday. Every Sunday night I learn something. The game changes almost every day. But I’m still not going to read Moneyball or books written by people who haven’t been on the field or really experienced what goes on in the game of baseball.
I want to clarify the misunderstand [sic] about what I learn. Every Sunday I learn something new. But I’m going to stand by the fact that somebody who didn’t play the game can’t teach me about the game. I learned from the best, the legends who played the game. I played alongside so many great players. I’m just not going to read a book in hopes of learning how to play baseball. But this is an everchanging game and I do learn something almost every day. I’m just a former baseball player who is now an analyst. My thoughts are about the game and not medical technologies and such. Just because somebody writes a book doesn’t mean they know the game.