The 'Moneyball' Effect: Are Sabermetrics Good for Sports?

Here's one thing I think we can all agree on: At least in our current understanding of what makes sportswriting great, sabermetrics doesn't fit into the picture. With that in mind, I think we're all a bit biased here. Moneyball is an incredible book, but it's the tension between the new school, who's obsessed with numbers, and the old order, who's still hung up on whether or not a young man really "looks like" a ballplayer, that makes the writing so great.

In the essay Jake references, Posnanski writes that it's the "stark argument about statistics" that interests him "as a writer." It's not the statistics or the complex theories and equations themselves that intrigue him, or us, but the delicate balance between the two sides. Posnanski goes on, of course, to explain the ways in which he thinks numbers can help us tell better stories, but the only reason he's making the argument in the first place is because Moneyball set up such a captivating dichotomy. We might not know yet how great sportswriting can be fused with sabermetrics over time, but the writing the very debate has inspired has been wonderful so far.

I'll admit to sharing one antiquated bias with our friend Joe Morgan. I played college basketball, and I still play pick-up games at least once a week. It can be hard for me to take seriously any writing or talking from people who have never played the game before. It's illogical and unfair and it's a boring critique to make, but my basic feeling is that someone who's never felt or contributed to the rhythm of the game isn't as capable of authentically communicating what it's like to shoot a turn-around jumper or to come off of a screen. I'm not proud to say it—but I recognize that the feeling probably has a lot to do with the fact that the numbers side of, say, baseball often leaves me feeling clueless and left out. My experience playing basketball all those years is my particular expertise; it's my version of sabermatrics. That's gotta be why Morgan clings to it.

What about you, Patrick? We're 0 for 3. Have you converted?

–Emma

Presented by

Sports Roundtable

Patrick Hruby, Jake Simpson, and Hampton Stevens 

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