This morning, one of my favorite persons on the planet, Rob Neyer, posted something on which I've been kinda preachy about both here and on twitter for some time. The gist of it is something along the lines of stop with the stupid WAR cliches in your headlines, spell it out, use it appropriately:
...WAR just looks and sounds ... silly, don't you think? Have you ever noticed how many baseball people -- writers, broadcasters, ex-players-turned-analysts -- sort of sneer every time they say "WAR"? I feel a little ridiculous every time I write it. I'm not going to argue that Mike Trout would have picked up a single additional first-place vote in the MVP balloting if so many of his boosters hadn't said WAR so often. I do believe that ridiculous-sounding acronyms don't help the cause of objective analysis, in the long run.
So what's the alternative? We don't want to say Wins Above Replacement again and again. Too much of a mouthful. What I suggest is that do use Wins Above Replacement upon (as they say) first use ... and switch to Wins -- yes, with a capital W -- afterward. Let's be honest: Nobody has a solid idea of what "replacement" means anyway, and in fact different methods for computing Wins Above Replacement use different definitions of replacement."
Why I'm retiring WAR (but not what it stands for) - Rob Neyer
There's a bit about changing the name of it to Wins but I think that part is somewhat irrelevant to his bigger point, which I think is more about our tendency to obscure what we're talking about by relying on acronyms.
Now, to really get this you need to know where Rob is coming from as both a tenured writer and as an editor/mentor for many of us both in and outside of SB Nation. While I don't presume to speak for him, I can say I had the pleasure of hearing him speak in Vegas (details on that weekend
later never!) on the exact topic of how to communicate data to a wider audience. It's been more than a year now, but I'll paraphrase:
Spell out your acronyms at least the first time they appear in an article; don't be afraid to round your numbers; decimals are your enemy, and especially don't be afraid to spell out your numbers.
Numbers ain't the story. Baseball is the story.
But the bigger point is this, and I've said this to all the writers that come through here at Beyond the Box Score: numbers ain't the story. Baseball is the story. If you're writing about numbers as a topic itself, you're probably writing to a highly select group of readers and not advancing much of anything.
And that all brings me back to the topic. Apparently Rob's article spawned a discussion that is both rather meta and definitely self-indulgent. The question, spawned by some number of tweets by several of my other favorite people on the planet -- Colin Wyers, Ben Duronio, Marc Normandin, Sky Kalkman, Dan Turkenkopf, and DevilFingers:
Do we really need to explain ourselves?
Let's jump right in the middle of the conversation, if only because it doesn't really have a beginning worth adding. Here:
@marc_normandin @robneyer stat movement skipped steps. We should be pushing park adjusted components at this point, not aggregations.— Bloggie McSoapbox (@yagottagotomo) November 16, 2012
@yagottagotomo @robneyer I agree with you there, but it's not like the concepts are going to vanish. Still need to be referred to.— Marc Normandin (@Marc_Normandin) November 16, 2012
@yagottagotomo @cwyers But there needs to be more done to teach people about what we've already figured out in a digestable way.— Marc Normandin (@Marc_Normandin) November 16, 2012
@yagottagotomo @marc_normandin Okay, and if that's what interests you, go do that. Frankly I think there's a surplus of that myself.— Colin Wyers (@cwyers) November 16, 2012
Forgive me ahead of time if some of the nuance of this conversation is lost or out of order. I think I'm catching the big picture here. More:
@yagottagotomo @marc_normandin So we should call a halt on all progress until everyone else catches up to where we were at Total Baseball?— Colin Wyers (@cwyers) November 16, 2012
@cwyers @marc_normandin who said that? Im suggesting that when conversing with/writing for general public, stick to easy to digest compnents— Bloggie McSoapbox (@yagottagotomo) November 16, 2012
@marc_normandin @yagottagotomo @cwyers There were a number of good "primers" being written 2+ years ago. They're still there. But people— MJK (@devil_fingers) November 16, 2012
@marc_normandin @yagottagotomo Okay, but the people who are writing for a mass audience ARE already writing that way. I don't get the point.— Colin Wyers (@cwyers) November 16, 2012
There's a lot, lot more. I'll skip ahead.
You guys know it is possible to both explain-as-you-go and advance the frontiers of sabermetrics at the same time, right?— Beyond the Box Score (@BtBScore) November 16, 2012
@btbscore So basically, all my posts are going to be 3,000+ words as I explain as I go? Cameron's going to love that.— MJK (@devil_fingers) November 16, 2012
@btbscore What is "explain-as-you-go"?— Sky Kalkman (@Sky_Kalkman) November 16, 2012
@sky_kalkman Thinking: some balance of prerequisite understanding while providing tools and language to those that need it? I dunno.— Beyond the Box Score (@BtBScore) November 16, 2012
@btbscore So you mean if an article mentions WAR or RE24, you explain those things in-line?— Sky Kalkman (@Sky_Kalkman) November 16, 2012
Like I said, there's a lot missing from the conversation. Twitter is a notoriously bad place to try nuance and keep different conversational threads organized. Either way, I think we're at a place where we can open it up for discussion. I want to hear your thoughts:
- Where do you stand on liberally using acronyms as stand-ins for statistical explanations? Is it unnecessary to spell it out the first time? Too much work?
- Who are you (we) writing for? Do you assume some minimum amount of understanding and competence?
- Do we as saberists/saber-writers have an obligation to explain what we're talking about, either in-line or otherwise? At what point do we say, dude, start HERE (glossary), and come back when you understand?
- Where do we go from here? Where's the balance? How can we provide the tools necessary to understand our writing to a total noob that wants to understand while also not insulting our current audience -- or bloating our content with 500 extra words of explanations every time we write?