Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Getting That Wand Out Again

In the 1988 Baseball Abstract, Bill James famously 'broke his wand'. He'd been increasingly annoyed, he said, by the abusive attitude of people that fame had brought him into contact with. So he gave up writing the Abstracts and turned to other projects. Time proved this episode to be a minor blip in the Long March of Sabermetrics, but for about a year people like me were left wondering from where we would get our annual fix about the 'objective understanding of baseball'. In the end, the rights to the Abstract were passed on, and Don Malcolm and Brock Hanke eventually started to produce their own baseball annuals that kept the flame alive until Usenet equipped amateur sabermetrics with a quicker means of debate and discussion. Out of this came Baseball Prospectus and all the sabermetric sites and thoughts we know today in the baseball world.

Last week, I noted that the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports had published a study of batsmen. What I didn't know until yesterday was that Andy Bull, at The Guardian, had written about it. In the comments below his article, a cursory debate about the validity of sabermetrics for cricket ensued. Sadly, I missed all this.

I'm more than a trifle annoyed that, for all the large gaps in my publishing record, someone like Andy Bull has never, ever mentioned that Phil and I were the first people publicly even to connect sabermetrics to cricket. There are plenty of good and bad reasons why I don't post frequently, but all the conclusions I believe are valid have been published in some form or other, either here or on the old site. We deserve some credit for that, the same as F C Lane and George Lindsey get credit in any sound history of performance analysis of baseball statistics.

I've allowed this to turn into a sour rant, but I'm going to let it stand anyway. I actually meant to talk about the scepticism shown by many posters about the validity of sabermetric methods applied to cricket statistics. In particular, the comment by a poster named 'quebecer' that sabermetrics is not transferable to cricket 'except in the broadest possible sense' is, I think, based on a misunderstanding of sabermetrics. However, I'll leave that for another day, or answer him by posting more findings over time, to illustrate why he's wrong.