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.
“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.”
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.