SGT: Sabermetric Groupthink

In the comments to my previous post regarding Ken Rosenthal’s criticism of sabermetric groupthink (SGT), a thoughtful reader posted Rob Neyer’s response to Rosenthal (not me). Though I responded in the comments, I think it’s worthy of a post of its own.

Neyer:

“In fact, in sabermetrics there’s really no such thing as groupthink. If you’ve spent any real time with sabermetricians, you know exactly what I mean.

Is there a consensus among sabermetricians that Joe Mauer deserves the MVP? Yeah, probably. But “consensus” is not the same as “groupthink.”

Not nearly the same. Groupthink (according to The Big W) is “a type of thought exhibited by group members who try to minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically testing, analyzing, and evaluating ideas.”

That’s the exact opposite of sabermetrics, which at its very heart is nothing but critically testing, analyzing, and evaluating ideas.”

My response:

I like Neyer, but “in sabermetrics there’s really no such thing as groupthink”? What sabermetrics is and what it strives to be are two different things. All groups suffer from groupthink, sabermetrics is no different than other groups. Rosenthal isn’t denying advances made by sabermetrics—he seems to agree that Mauer is his choice for MVP (as is mine)—but taking on the unnecessarily arrogant tone with regard to the correctness of certain tenets that are pushed by its club members. Flooding the inboxes of sports writers with VORP-laden snarky commentary doesn’t help the movement. Sabermetrics includes some science, but it is not all objective analysis immune from clubish behavior motivated by social aspects.

I think Rosenthal’s message was a polite and important statement that explains why many members of the mainstream media are hostile to sabermetrics. I don’t follow Rosenthal closely, but I have found him to be one of baseball’s more-knowledgeable writers. He may not agree with every tenet of sabermetrics, but he acknowledges the community and ideas; certainly he has not summarily eschewed sabermetric ideas. I read a lot of dumb things by established baseball writers who deserve to be called out. But when you start inundating people who have lived and breathed baseball for much of there lives—no less than active sabermetricians—with new acronyms that are not in their lexicon, don’t be surprised when they are confused. And getting snooty about it doesn’t help. Baseball already has a language, and there is nothing too complex in sabermetics that cannot be explained through terms and statistics understood by little-leaguers.

6 Responses “SGT: Sabermetric Groupthink”

  1. Elton says:

    I’m pretty pro-sabermetric, but I can agree that the saber community can come off as very arrogant, and that doesn’t help the cause.

    (By the way, I think you mean “tenet” instead of “tenant”, although if there’s a sabermetric rental community then I’d be interested to hear about it.)

  2. JC says:

    Good catch on “tenants,” Elton. Thanks. I have fixed it.

  3. Frankly, I don’t trust Rosenthal to accurately evaluate the sabermetric community. He has appeared to lecture a blogger on “standards” without bothering to read the article in question. His presumption that sabermetricians are using VORP, runs created, or win shares shows a poor understanding of the discipline in it’s current form, yet Rosenthal is still willing to generalize and criticize it.

    And watching that video I posted, it certainly isn’t the blogger who appears snooty.

    Here’s Joe Posnaski’s response, and my favorite paragraph:

    “I don’t buy that Sabermetrics are much more respected inside the game now than ever before. And I don’t buy that statistically inclined bloggers are the new power structure in baseball. The mainstream media is still, you know, mainstream. I don’t know how many television and radio announcers use advanced stats. I don’t know how many columnists and beat writers use advanced stats. I don’t know how many scouts and baseball executives talk about stats. But when I go from game to game on radio or TV or read my favorite newspapers, I don’t find myself bogged down with a lot of numbers, to say the least. I’ve got to believe that Ken’s whole notion that baseball bloggers are so powerful and overbearing that they are stifling free speech and people’s willingness to push for Derek Jeter as MVP over Joe Mauer is pretty comical.

    The power of the best baseball bloggers is that they try to pierce through vagueness and wave away myth and get at the heart of things. Sometimes, they do. Sometimes, they don’t. But, to a new generation of sports fans, it makes a lot more sense than saying: “This guy’s just a winner.” ”

    http://joeposnanski.com/JoeBlog/2009/09/17/a-free-country/

  4. http://www.insidethebook.com/ee/index.php/site/article/should_a_pitcher_have_a_fair_chance_at_the_mvp/

    Here’s one of the leaders of the Sabermetric Groupthink chastising anyone who dare speak ill of Joe Mauer.

    No wait, what’s the opposite of that? Oh yes, he’s arguing in favor of an AL MVP candidate who isn’t Joe Mauer.

    This is why it’s dangerous to lump an entire discipline, roughly defined as “people who think critically about baseball” into one group, with one supposed opinion, without offering any evidence of such.

  5. James K. says:

    Let me get this straight. You:

    – don’t buy the “replacement level” concept
    – are OK with the term “sabermetric groupthink”
    – have a blog called “Sabernomics”

    First 2 aren’t consistent with the 3rd. Weird.

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