Saturday, October 6, 2012
Old School vs. New School
This is the debate:
For the last 30 or so years, Baseball has been evolving. Yes, we added the designated hitter, interleague play, and supposedly got rid of steroids, but I'm talking about a revolution. Bring out the guillotine and start chopping off heads. No, not a revolt, but a radical transformation. We didn't bring muskets and a declaration of war (I know the irony is killing me too), instead we brought our slide rules, statistical regression textbooks, and maybe a computer or two. Starting with the father, Bill James, and moving on to greats like John Dewan, Earnshaw Cook, and Tom Tango, the way we look at the game of baseball has changed. Change can often sound like a bad thing, especially for a game characterized as the National Pastime. But stories like the The Natural and tales of the great boys of summer, brought Baseball only so far. The key to moving baseball out of its archaic shell was science. Yes, pesky old science, that class in high school you so royally skipped except when you were set to dissect a frog or a guinea pig. Science crept into Baseball, just as it does with most aspects of life that have yet to be analyzed in depth.
This isn't a new concept. Originally, we as humans thought that the world was flat. In fact, some of the most brilliant minds of the ancient generations, not only assumed, but also proved the world flat. Eventually, around the 6th century BCE, with the help of the great Pythagorus, the ancient Greeks agreed that the world was not flat, but spherical. On the other hand, it took the Chinese until the 17th Century to change their minds, and even some during the time of the great explorer Christopher Columbus thought the earth was shaped like a discus.
eliocentrism, a concept originally developed by the great Polish scientist and Catholic cleric, Nicolaus Copernicus. Copernican theory stated that the sun stood still while the other bodies in the universe, the earth included revolved around it. This idea was almost the complete opposite from religious doctrine. From the Bible, we can make out that the Earth was the center of the universe, but according to the Pole Copernicus, the sun was at the universe's center. Galileo, the great Italian scientist reproved all of Copernicus' theories concerning heliocentrism, and using his influence in the Catholic Church attempted to sway the Pope to allow him to publish this knowledge as fact. The Pope even asked Galileo to give arguments for both sides in his writings, but Galileo would not allow his name to be associated with false information. In the end, Galileo was sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life. Not a great endorsement for the Church.
Finally, science budged its way into the classical idea that God created the world in 7 days. Along came a guy named Charles Darwin who proved, scientifically, that humans evolved through natural selection, which had been going on for millions of years. Even to this day, many religious earthly citizens believe that the world was created in 7 days. Some believe a middle ground called creationism, but the concept of evolution is the only theory ever to be proven, similar to how heliocentrism and the earth being round were previously proven. Much like those other theories, great debates had to be waged in order for the general public to accept them as fact. In the case of evolution that debate was the Scopes Monkey Trial. The trial was between the modernists and the fundamentalists, and while the details of the case concerned a specific law called the Butler Act, the main argument to be made on both sides concerned which was the correct theory, Evolution or Biblical scripture.
Now, let's jump to the Cabrera vs. Trout debate. Much like the debate between Galileo and Pope Urban, and the State of Tennessee vs. John Scopes, the decision of who wins the MVP won't change every baseball fans' mind, but it serves as a necessary part of the process towards progress. In the years since Billy Beane used the concept of on-base percentage to take pennies and turn them into a playoff team, sabermetrics has claimed many Baseball fans, but hasn't changed the minds of most. The mere fact that the "new-school" sabermetric point of view makes a significant appearance in the discussion for the MVP award gives it more validity than ever before.
I've heard numerous older pundits and sports people talk about how ludicrous it is to consider anyone but Miguel Cabrera for the MVP award because he won the first Triple Crown in 45 years, and his team made the playoffs. When making this argument all of these sports guys, including Mike Wilbon, Tony Kornheiser, Mike Greenberg, and Mike Golic, always mention that they don't believe any new statistics like WAR means very much in comparison to winning the Triple Crown. This may sound like an ornery and entrenched perspective, but by even mentioning statistics like WAR on national television, these respected sports minds give the sabermetric idea more credibility.
The winner of the old school vs. new school debate does not depend on the winner of the AL MVP award because no matter the outcome, sabermetric believers have already won just by participating in the discussion. Cabrera may win the award, and while he isn't a bad choice, he is not the right one. New statistics are not scary; they just allow us to analyze the inner workings of the greatest game on the planet. A planet, that we know is spherical, revolves around he sun, and that has supported ever-evolving life for millions of years.