Perhaps more than any other single researcher over the past decade, Tom Tango has done more to push forward the art and science of objective baseball analysis. From his work with Mitchel Lichtman and Andrew Dolphin on 'The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball', to the host of other concepts and creations (linear weights! wOBA! more!), to providing checks and assistance to plenty of analysts, Tango has been a stalwart of the public sabermetrics community.
One of his favorite projects, the Fans Scouting Report, has just gone live this past week at his site. If you appreciate the work that he's done, you want to contribute a little something to the overall sabermetric discourse, or just want to feel the sweet, sweet shiver of judgement, go ahead and click that link above, and share your thoughts on the defensive prowess of players you've watched this season. It's way more important than reading the rest of this article.
It's cool, I'll wait.
Okay! Welcome back. Now it's time to chat with the man himself. I rustled up a series of questions from staffers here at Beyond the Box Score, and reached out to Tango to get his opinion on some of the hot-button issues facing sabermetrics today ... as well as more info on the Fans Scouting Report.
BtBS: Could you tell us a little about the theory behind the Fans Scouting Report, and what you think the best use of it as a tool for sabermetrics?
Tango: The theory is the idea that we can see quickly what requires a mountain of data to tell us with any degree of certainty. Manny Machado is a SS playing 3B, and it's very easy to see (literally see) the reason. In his first partial season, where he played a third of the year, he was +5 in UZR, which annualized to +15. But because of the lack of data, we'd have to assume he was actually a +7 annualized. But from 2012-present, he's annualized +18. So if anything, the tremendous data he had may have shortchanged his actual talent. Basically, how do you separate a +5 from one player to another, without assuming they are all part of the same group? You do that by using their observable tools.
BtBS: How many responses do you feel you need to make the FSR most viable / useful to you?
Tango: Really, the reliability is extremely high. I'm ecstatic at 20 votes per player, and am happy with 10. Five votes meets my minimum comfort level.
BtBS: Do you ever do any auditing of the FSR, to see where it jives with existing defensive data, or where it differs?
Tango: Yes, I did that a lot in the first few years. You'd see things like the "halo" effect, that benefited a guy like Ken Griffey Jr. Basically, it takes a fan about two years to come to terms with the fact that the player isn't as good as he thought. In terms of predicting future UZR, it does about as well as past UZR. So, the Fans are definitely capturing things that UZR isn't.
BtBS: What do you consider the most innovative public sphere research areas right now -- in terms of topics, at least?
Tango: Anything to do with ball tracking, whether it's out of the pitcher's hand, off the bat, or in the fielder's glove. What this does is really quantify things that the scout is really looking at. As I've said for a decade, the convergence of scouting observations and performance analysis is upon us, and anything that you can do to bridge that is really where the innovation happens.
BtBS: Do you have a favorite piece of research / writing that you've seen recently? Any recommendations for where to go for good sabermetric research these days?
Tango: The very most recent is this one. [Editor's Note: Eric Lang's piece on the 3D strike zone from The Hardball Times.] But, there are tons of them. I love all the work being produced, and I read it all. I like all the saber sites on my Reader, be it FanGraphs, The Hardball Times, Baseball Prospectus, Beyond the Box Score, and several others. I like seeing questions being asked, and the process to trying to answer those questions, especially if it leads to even more questions. Anything that gives you more questions than answers shows you are on the right path, and that's because I don't know about hundred times as much as I do know. If you get to the point that you have all the answers, all you've proven is that you aren't asking enough questions.
BtBS: Is there a public sphere research area that's really lagging behind what you're hearing is going on in front offices, or is there an area of inquiry that you feel is built on a faulty premise?
Tango: Well, where the public is lagging is entirely dependent on the lack of data being available. But where the data is available, the public does a tremendous job.
BtBS: Do you see any big methodological differences in what's being done in public sphere research versus what you've seen before in private / team research? Or rather, is there one non-specific takeaway you'd share with public sabermetricians?
Tango: I can't comment on anything that is team-related. But generally speaking, the best public researchers are those that understand baseball specifically, and sports in general. You have to be a subject matter expert first to make sense of the data.
BtBS: Your book "The Book" with Mitchel Lichtman and Andrew Dolphin came out almost a decade ago ... which concepts are you happiest to see implemented in the game today? Is there anything in The Book that you're surprised still hasn't caught on quite yet?
Tango: I think the "Times Through The Order" is starting to make its way, however slightly. I know it will have made its way when people say "of course Times Through The Order is real ... it's so obvious!" Well, it wasn't obvious 10 years ago.
BtBS: Do you see there being another big strategic or tactical shift coming in the game any time soon (a la pitchers hitting eighth)?
Tango: I think the continual evolution of the Times Through The Order concept, and how relievers get managed will play a role.
BtBS: There's an opinion in some circles that public sabermetrics is "slowing down"and that there isn't much room left for innovation or for finding large areas of untapped value. Would you agree that public inquiry into sabermetrics has changed over the last few years, for better or worse?
Tango: Well, a lot of talent is being pulled away from the public, and a lot of data isn't being shared with the public. It's only slowing down in the way that the public keeps driving 55mph while those with access to more data are being given a 75mph road to drive on.
BtBS: Thank you so much for your time and your insight!
Tango: I appreciate the questions.
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Bryan Grosnick is the Lead Writer for Beyond the Box Score and a columnist at Baseball Prospectus - Boston.