Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Why I've Realized Statistics Are Stupid

By Mark Smith

Because good advertising agencies make commercials thinking, “I think teenagers will like this.”

Because businesses would never advocate spending their money efficiently.

Because the FDA and drug companies put new medicines on the market without considering the consequences.

Because it’s a bad idea to invest when I could just buy happiness now.

Because Frederick Taylor wasted his time trying to make manufacturing quicker and easier.

Because you want your doctor making a “gut call” when it comes to diagnosing your illness.

Because traffic lights and patterns were designed based on what someone thought would work best (maybe I shouldn’t use that one, huh?).

Because you choose attorneys because “Hey, he won my last four cases” instead of looking at the entire body of work.

Because fast food restaurants, coffee shops, bookstores, etc. design their stores based on aesthetics.

Because companies aren’t frequently reassessing themselves and their methods to suit current needs.

Because Henry Ford stumbled upon the assembly line idea and thought it was a good idea, and he obviously didn’t check to see if it was because it was.

Because people still make weather forecasts based on the color of the sunrise (maybe I shouldn’t use that, either).

Because politicians spend campaign money on what they feel would be best to spend it on.

Because insurance companies wouldn’t try to balance risks.

Because you’d never want to check if something you did actually worked or not.

Because you should put the bulk of your police force in an area because you think it looks like a place of crime.

Because you actually think you’re going to win the lottery.

Because you should stay at that blackjack table and ride out that hot hand.

I hope you get the point by now. Statistics are everywhere, and all businesses use them. They also continuously look at new ways in order to reach customers, make larger profits, and run their businesses more efficiently. So why is baseball so afraid of them? We could go on and on about the different reasons because it’s certainly not one thing (socialization, nostalgia, tradition, pride, fear, misunderstanding), but one of the significant may be that we try to treat baseball as an escape. Entertainment’s value to any society is getting people away from their worries for a certain amount of time, and the more the people engage with it, thus forgetting their worries, the better. As we’ve pointed out, statistics are everywhere in our world, and they are part of our work and our worries. When we get to the ballpark, we don’t want to be reminded about it during the time in which we spent money precisely not to worry about it. But you have to remember that baseball is work for some people, and it is in precisely that view that statistics need to be utilized.

Listen, when I watch a game, I can enjoy the fact that Jose Constanza just bounced another ball just over the mound that the shortstop bobbled ever-so-slightly to get him yet another improbable hit. Monday night, I begged for one in the ninth inning, and I shouted at the top of my lungs when Freeman came up and nailed the ball through the middle. I can enjoy my escape from reality. But when I start looking at the team and its context, I have to look at it through statistics because that’s what the people working in the organization would/should do. Now, I also find statistics to be kind of fun, and it’s also an escape for me. Thus, the two become intertwined. But I always remember that baseball is a business. And that business’s objective is to make money, so they tried to figure out what brings in that money: fans. So they tried to figure out what makes people come out to the games and buy merchandise, and they realized it was winning. So what should they do? Find out how to win, of course. And how should they do it? Find out as much information as you can, of course, and that means statistics and scouting. But statistics does a job that scouting has a much harder time of doing--assessing itself--and good businesses should always do that to make sure it’s having the intended effect. Again, I can enjoy watching Jose Constanza slap the ball around the infield and seemingly will himself on base, but I can also realize that he’s probably not the player he’s looked like over the past few weeks.


Anonymous said...

generally liked the post, but yes, if my attorney has won me four straight cases, i'm probably not looking for someone else!

William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

Traffic lights? What's that?

The Common Man said...

Mainers wouldn't understand. Traffic lights are only for big cities like Portland and Lewiston.

Mark Smith said...

Crap. I assumed, didn't I? Well, I guess that makes us both a$$es (I never understood how that phrase actually worked).

Bill Rogers said...

Uh, Frederick Jackson Turner was the historian who propounded the "Frontier Thesis." Frederick Taylor was the time-and-motion study guy who thought workers were stupid.

Mark Smith said...

Ah, crap. I'll change that.