Monday, October 11, 2010
The Simpsons go sabermetric
By Henry Abbott
Did you see the Simpsons last night? (If not, it's on Hulu.) It was stat geeks vs. jocks, in all their glory. You have to admire how that show is made. Fantastic stuff.
Here's roughly how it goes:
Nobody will coach Bart Simpson's little league baseball team. At the same time, Lisa is distraught at learning she has not taken on enough extra-curricular activities to be on an Ivy League path. (It's worth pointing out she's in the second grade.)
So the brainiac Lisa takes over as manager of her brother's team.
But she doesn't know anything about baseball. So she walks into the bar where her dad and his buddies are watching the game.
"I was hoping you and your friends could tell me something about baseball strategy," she announces.
The gruff bartender fields the query.
"The only thing I know about baseball strategy is that whatever the manager does, it's wrong. Unless it works, in which case he's a button pusher."
Eventually Lisa is directed to the Sabermetric fantasy baseball geeks in the back booth who talk the sport in terms she can understand.
"Baseball is a game played by the dextrous," explains one, "but only understood by the Poindextrous."
There is talk of Bill James and she walks out with a copy of "Moneyball" and a stack of geekery, no doubt half of it by Rob Neyer.
Next thing you know, she's managing the team to victories galore. The wins are great, but for Bart, the game has lost its spontaneity and joy. "This isn't the game I grew up with!" he shouts. "From now on, I'm going to play my game ... Dummy Ball."
Later, as he approaches the plate in a crucial moment, Lisa, laptop in hand, tells him not to swing under any circumstances, because the pitcher is having control issues.
"But I'm on a hot streak!" he exclaims.
"Hot streaks," she replies, "are a statistical illusion." (Like the hot hand!)
"I wish you were a statistical illusion," Bart replies, before ignoring his manager's advice, hitting a game-winning home run, being carried off by his teammates and then getting kicked off the team.
That feels about right to me, in terms of the state of advanced stats in sports today. There's a little tension there, for sure.
(Thanks to the Dream for the heads up.)