Have I converted to the church of Sabremetrics? Conversion isn't necessary. Numbers don't negate stories. Numbers are stories, a narrative way to process and describe reality. Two plus two equals four: beginning, middle, end. Telling stories is what we do, not only as writers, but also as humans; it's our shared way of understanding existence, our collective campfire in the deep, dark woods of an indifferent universe. In sports, the Redemption of Mike Vick—note: ending not yet written—is a story, almost an archetypal hero's journey. Then again, so is his fluctuating quarterback rating.
The danger, I think, comes when we forget that numbers are simply stories—when we convince ourselves that they're something more. Something akin to Gospel. Jake, you mentioned the stock market, that cresting, crashing, wave-like thing, Matthew Arnold's sea of faith as populated by Krakens. What is the Dow, really? A number. A number that tells the story of a bunch of other smaller numbers; each, in turn, telling stories of human confidence. Or lately, a quivering lack of it. Likewise, what is shooting percentage? A number that tells a story of makes and misses. A number that tells a story about Emma coming off a screen, catching, shooting, without thought, the ball seemingly though the net before it leaves her fingertips ... or bouncing off the rim, a byproduct of fatigue, doubt, a bad day at the office.
Hampton is right about statistics. And other stories, too. They are much better at dissecting the past then predicting the future. Scientifically speaking, economics and literature are both rather dismal. And yet, we can't help ourselves. We prod and poke, label and measure, rank and order. Our numeric and verbal storytelling does a pretty good job of capturing our physical surroundings—a bat hitting a ball, a ball hitting a glove, an apple falling from a tree. (Admittedly, quantum mechanics gets spooky). But when it comes to human behavior? To Tyree making his one-handed snag? To Tiger Woods, well, doing whatever the heck he thought he was doing in a Perkins parking lot?
Not so much.
Calculated or composed, stories give us control—or, more accurately, the illusion thereof. This bears remembering. Bill James' most recent book isn't about sports; it's about spectacular crime. Murder and mayhem. Humanity gone off the rails. "I'm not an expert in any of this," he reminds readers. Of course, that doesn't stop him Bard of OBP from trying. Who can blame him? We all do the same thing. To borrow from an author who, according to statistical analysis, is almost certainly Shakespeare: there are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your Baseball Abstract.