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Defending Harold Reynolds

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Harold Reynolds recently wrote an article on his blog (he has a blog?) about, uh, OPS and Dick Williams and some other stuff.  You see, part of the problem is that it's awfully hard to figure out what he was actually trying to say.  Harold doesn't appear to be a great writer -- which is okay, there's no need to be good at everything -- and he was trying to discuss a topic he's not an expert in, measuring player value via OPS.  Ok, not a big deal, move on to something more substantial.

Except that Joe Posnanski got involved (and while his article could be read as FJM re-incarnated, he actually stated he somewhat agreed with Harold's probable thesis, the fact that OPS is a flawed stat) and when Poz gets involved, everybody else does, too, because, well, everybody reads Poz.  (You don't?  Go, read him, now.) And then there was merriment among those fans who would probably call themselves statheads about how bad a writer Harold is and how little he understands about stats.

Both those points may be true.  But the first point is trivial -- there are tons of bad writers out there and simply writing poorly does not make you wrong, it just makes you ineffective.  The second point misses the boat, too, and is a prime example of why many people find statheads annoying.  You see, there's a difference between harassing Harold because he's wrong and harassing him because he doesn't understand the math to a large enough degree.  The first is fine when appropriate, while the second can be elitist.

Is OPS a great stat?  No.  Will a slugger in a weak lineup receive more walks?  Yes.  Will his home runs be less valuable because pitchers will actually give him something good to hit only when it matters less?  Probably.  And -- allowing for some writing gaffes --  that's Harold's main point.  If someone explained to him that WPA/LI accounted for the context of every game situation and gave appropriate credit for advancing runners when necessary and hitting home runs when they mattered the most, don't you think he'd agree it was better than OPS?  I do.  One of the largest mantras of statheads is that context matters.  Well, Harold just wrote an article about how context matters.

The problem many statheads have with an article like this is that Harold used the language of a traditionalist.  Yes, numbers and analytical research would have made me like the article a lot more, but Harold is still right, if you give him a little leeway. Maybe he doesn't deserve that leeway because of past analytical mistakes, but the point remains even if we move on from Harold Reynolds specifically to non-saberists in general.  Speaking French while in China makes you more difficult to understand, but not any more right or wrong.

Let me make this clear: Poz's article wasn't elitist (although perhaps a bit rude) and there's a bunch of stuff in Harold's article that's crazy (heck, he uses everyone's favorite "clogging the bases").  I'm just using this situation as an example to discuss a larger theme.  Many statheads (and yes, we're a collection of individuals, not a group that meets every Tuesday and issues collective PR statements) are obnoxious and elitist.  And those same people can be right or wrong on a case by case basis.  Attitude and correctness are two different things.  Statheads often value the second one more and sometimes don't even pay heed to the first, especially when we're hanging out with our own kind.  But non-statheads won't even give the second one any consideration if they're turned off by the first.

If we're all going to get a long, with more fans appreciating the benefits of the saber point of view and statheads being seen as real baseball fans, then statheads need to realize that inexperience does not equate to stupidity and that speaking a non-numbers language does not equate to being dumb.  Non-statheads need to realize that many statheads aren't actually being condescending and that they'd probably agree with much of the Saber Bible if it were explained in their own, non-techy language.  I realize getting two groups with different styles to realize their goals are basically the same has never been an easy accomplishment -- dare I mention religious conflicts? -- but it really would be a whole lot more fun for everybody to just talk baseball instead of having annoying arguments.

Let me stop rambling and sum things up.  Bad writing does not make the analysis bad.  Incomplete analysis does not make the analysis wrong.  And using a different language requires those who don't speak the language to translate what's being said, not slam the language being spoken.  Sometimes we statheads have to meet the non-statheads half way, instead of expecting them to come to us while we hurl grenades into the path they're walking.