The Other Fifteen

Eighty-five percent of the f---in' world is working. The other fifteen come out here.


Tribune waffles a bit on the whole "math" thing

Rick Morrissey wants you to know that even if that math stuff may have worked in the past, he wants no part of it.

But they don't run the world, yet, which means we can still type in our credit card numbers online without worrying that all our money is being sucked into a fund earmarked for global dominance by a dastardly computer.

Computers have no use for heart, or least they can't quantify it. They can't analyze what's inside an athlete, for example. They can't tell you who has the heart of a lion or the backbone of an earthworm.

Computers can't tell you that White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko is upset with how he played last season. All they can tell you is that he hit .259 in 2007, that he just turned 32 and, therefore, he must be on the downside of his career because that's what the model says is supposed to happen to him.

Right. Computers can only tell you about the relevant facts. God, I would love to see Morrissey cover the financial markets once:

Computers have no use for heart, or least they can't quantify it. They can't analyze what's inside a mid-level sales associate, for example. They can't tell you who has the heart of a lion or the backbone of an earthworm.

Computers can't tell you that Countrywide mortgage specialist John Doe is upset with how he performed last quarter. All they can tell you is that the housing market is in a decline, his company is facing bankrupcy, therefore, his sales and commissions are likely to continue to decline next quarter.

Just once!

The best part, and the part I want to address without mocking, is this:

That the Sox dropped from 90 victories in 2006 to 72 games last season was one of the shocks of the baseball season. But not to Baseball Prospectus, and the people who run it deserve their props. They chalk up a lot of what happened on the South Side last season to the inevitability of time catching up with older athletes. I chalk it up to a number of players having down years at the same time.

Isn't there room for a number of Sox to have good years at the same time? Say, in 2008? If Jim Thome stays healthy, he could have an excellent season. It's a big "if," of course, but not like wondering if, say, the rain can hold off in Seattle for a month or two.

It's possible that a number of Sox players could have good years (that is, play above their expected talent level) at once. I know this to be true, because I've seen it happen; that was the year they won the World Series.

So it's possible. But, and I'm going to try and emphasize this as much as possible:

Projections, in baseball or anything else, are simply the best estimate we have given the data available of the most likely future performance.

When PECOTA (or anything else, for that matter), projects the White Sox to win 77 games, there's a six-win standard deviation on that forecast. Absolutely has to be; in 162 games you cannot get any more accurate than that. So the Sox could win anywhere from 71 to 83 games and the forecast would be on target.

Could the White Sox exceed their forecast by another standard deviation? Sure. All of the aging players on that team could simultaneously "defy" their aging curve, some of their younger players could have unforeseen breakout seasons... a lot could happen. But it's not likely.

The improbable is possible. But there's absolutely no reason to project the improbable.

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1 Responses to “Tribune waffles a bit on the whole "math" thing”

  1. # Anonymous andy

    We can also point out to our friend Rick that Steven Seagal has never been a top grossing star, (at least according to this list http://tinyurl.com/28qd6x), but this really brings up an interesting question, is Rick Morressy stuck in late 90's hipster irony, or just nostalgic for it? My guess is nostalgic for the 90's in general, when he didn't have to compete with the internet (oh no, comupters!) for his job. He should be worried less about computers stealing his money and more about them putting him to work in their nefarious baseball data mines, where he will slave all day extracting numbers from the ground, shipping them off to factories where they will be molded into baseball players.  

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