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Stats, Projections and the Future: Joint Diary (hopefully)

Grover and Sal were commenting on projections and stats in the LD yesterday, and I thought this diary was as good a place and time as ever to talk about which sets of information and which ranking systems we think are most appropriate to be trusted.  Because I'm further exploring a discussion primarily based between two people, I'm calling this the first-ever 'joint-diary' on AN.

Moneyball taught us that the A's have been one of the most stat-oriented ballclubs, and it seemed for a while that Stat-Ball was winning out over Old-Ball (gut feelings, hunches, non-quantifiable experience).  But with the recent overhaul of the Dodgers, perhaps the pendulum of baseball ideology is swaying back in the other direction.

Grover commented before that it's a thin line he tread-- navigating the waters of stat-land and mixing in projections.

PECOTA isn't omnipotent and they can't say for certain... because no one can... how anyone will pitch next year. If they were willing to sacrifice their 1st born children if they mess up a projection THEN their data should be given more importance.

All I'm saying is a preseason projection shouldn't have the power to sway opinion on deals from the previous years. Their 2006 performances should be the measuring stick for any such judgement.

And then he says...

The A's have a couple prospects (Putnam and Buck off the top of my head) who should be able to match Barton's current projected production at the big league level. The difference between Barton and those guys is age, Daric's younger so he has more "potential" than the other two.

Sal read it as apathy, and I agree to an extent, but I definitely hear what Grover is saying.  In reality all PECOTA is attempting to do is quantify players' abilities, and create projections about how a guy will perform.  But it's not a perfect science by any means.  In fact, it all boils down to which stat set or method of projection you believe does the best job of doing so.

With this being said, I originally was just going to ask Grover to elaborate on how he handles the intersection between stats and projections and intangibles, but as I was writing my response to his post, I got curious as to how everyone regards this complicated and complex intersection.

In terms of religion, I'm agnostic, because there's no way to know the truth-- like to actually know it.  And I guess I'd term myself 'agnostic' in terms of baseball too.  What I mean is that stats are all we have in order to find 'truth' in baseball, so to disregard them would be foolish, but at the same time, I wonder if statistics and numbers tell the whole story, or what other factors might be in play?

Statheads put their faith in stats because stats most often correlate to results, but perhaps we must step back yet again and consider the idea that something else causes numbers in the first place.  What I'm talking about is basically like the reason that Daric Barton is a professional ballplayer and not, say, me or you.  And that certain players perform consistently better than others.  Some people call this 'talent,' others call it 'potential.'

But I have a lot of problems with these words.  Talent and potential are two things that don't exist intrinsically, or maybe they do, but in reality they are things that can only be measured definitively in retrospect.

Sure, stats tell a lot of the story, but what percentage of the story do they tell?

100%? 99%? 90%? 75%? 50%??

I think most fans will concede that the stats we have tell at least 50% of the 'story of baseball,'  as they provide a quantified history of the game, as well as an up-to-date snapshot of what is occurring in baseball.  

But I have a really hard time believing that we're anywhere near being able to totally quantify the game-- unless, of course, you have a mathematical breakdown at an atomic or quantum level and can completely understand the way particles interact (and if you do, we should talk, because then we can go beyond baseball and revolutionize the modern paradigm of thought).

So, assuming we don't have the second coming of Einstein reading AN, who's ready to apply quantum theory to baseball, we're left with a slew of stat-sets to choose from.  To which do you subscribe, AN?

[And just one last caveat to the uber-statheads who I (and many other AN'ers, I'm sure) admire: there are many people who know less than you, but want to learn.  So if you can classify what is specific to each stat-set, what makes it unique in itself, and why you favor it, I (and countless others) would appreciate it.  Thanks and looking forward to some good discussion!]

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