FIRE JOE MORGAN: Computers Don't Have Feelings


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Sunday, March 11, 2007


Computers Don't Have Feelings

So you can go ahead and attack them. It's fine. They don't care. You might want to think twice before you accuse them of not giving a team enough "respect," though. 'Cause that sort of sounds like a feeling, you know, and like I just said, computers don't have feelings.

Dave van Dyck of the Chicago Tribune, what do you think?

Computer crashes White Sox
Statistical program predicts aging team will win only 72 games

It's funny, the legitimate-sounding rationale for the prediction is already in the subhead. (It's aging.)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- After winning a World Series and more games the last two seasons than any team in baseball except the New York Yankees, the White Sox should have earned a little respect.


Well, again, it's not really about respect. It's about looking at strikeout rates and walk rates and aging curves and ... there are a lot of variables. It's a computer program that does a better job on average than one person just making a guess. Except you're right, they probably only inputted a 3.9 for the White Sox' Respect Over Replacement Team (RORT) when they should've obviously given at least a 5.4.

Well, maybe from real baseball people, but not in the surreal world of computers.

Got it? Anyone who has ever touched a computer is not a real baseball person. They are imaginary, and they hate baseball. And they (cue reality show confessional cam) don't give us enough respect!

(Warning: people who use computers may in fact be computers themselves.)

Baseball Prospectus, considered the new-age statistical bible, projects the White Sox to finish with a 72-90 record this season.

Van Dyck's been reading Murray Chass. Don't do that, van Dyck.

Re: new age -- please read the following, reprinted from February 27.

"New age" is touchy-feely. New age is spiritual. New age is intangible. VORP, Mr. Chass, is not new age. It may be relatively new, but it is not new age. It is the opposite of new age. It is an attempt to quantify, to measure, to analyze. You know, a more scientific approach to knowledge. Science -- that thing that humans do to find out more about the world around them. Not new age -- a fake thing that involves pan flutes and rubbing crystals on your body.

A statistical bible is not new age.

What the White Sox will be battling, however, are their own statistics, their ages, historical comparisons and myriad other data fed into the PECOTA system at Baseball Prospectus.

Exactly. See, it isn't so hard to figure out how this stuff works. People are working on this system. They tinker with it to improve it. It is not a random number generator.

How the computer arrives at its final projections is way above the average baseball mind, a sort of "objective" analysis of what the computer predicts is going to happen.

Dave van Dyck has a low opinion of your mind, fellow baseball fan. He is the kind of guy who would put finger quotes around the word objective if he were reading this article out loud.

And the scary part is that the computer can be accurate much of the time. It projected five of the six division winners last spring and predicted the Detroit Tigers would finish with a better record than the defending champion White Sox.

That's good. Good predicting. A computer did that? A surreal-world-living computer?

But 72 victories for a team that has averaged 95 the last two seasons? How could that be?

Well, they won 90 last year. And their Pythagorean was 88 wins. So let's start there.

Last year, four batting men on the White Sox accounted for 28 WARP1. It's true. Those men were Jermaine Dye, Joe Crede, Jim Thome, and Paul Konerko. Now, if you follow baseball at all, you might know that Dye had an insane career year, Crede performed better than he ever has, Thome bounced back from injury and put up big numbers at age 35, and Konerko -- well, Konerko stayed good and stayed healthy. PECOTA, not unreasonably, projects Dye to return to Earth, Crede to come back to his previous levels, 36-year-old Thome to be banged up, and Konerko to decline a bit at age 32.

All told, for these four guys, the 2007 WARP projection is just 15.9. 28 minus 15.9 is 12.1.

88 minus 12 is 76. So we're basically almost there already. Just with these four guys. Dye is the main culprit. At age 32, he posted an 8.5 WARP1. This is what the last six years of his career look like: 4.5, 3.4, -0.5, 2.4, 2.9, 1.9. So you can forgive PECOTA for being skeptical.

Pitching-wise, PECOTA isn't optimistic for a bounceback to 2005 levels. Mark Buehrle, for instance, is predicted to continue being 2006 Mark Buehrle, and again: pretty defensible. The man had a K/9 rate of 4.0 last year.

But, Williams was reminded, the computer says the Sox are a year older.

"Maybe we're a year better then," Williams said.

Um, what?

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posted by Junior  # 3:29 PM
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