But Can He Get Us Any Data?

It’s nice to see that Astros third baseman Morgan Ensberg is planning to read Freakonomics — or at least he was until a last-minute call-up to the All-Star squad — but here’s the big question: can he help us tap into any data that might help solve the myriad mysteries of modern baseball?

Jonathan Hall

What exactly are the "myriad mysteries" of modern baseball, and how could "Morgan Ensberg" possibly help us understand them? The man can swing a bat, I'll give you that.

Stephen J. Dubner

To Jonathan Hall:

I was mostly kidding, but: umpire discrimination; sign-stealing; performance enhancement; etc.

RJ

This is not the topic of this blog

(blogs are overrated, by the way, who wants to read what amounts to as public diaries of strangers? Not I).

Anyway, I am curious. Mr. Dubner is not an Economist, but he is a widely regarded journalist/author. How did you two approach writing this book? I understand that a good writer can write about a subject he is not an expert about (just look at the popular non-fiction titles about Super String Theory and such), so it's no suprise that Mr. Dubner could write about this subject matter, I am just curious how you two delegated what to write about. Thanks

Anonymous

Man, I wish people would stop writing "myriad".

DRDR

But do you really need data from Ensberg? There are PLENTY of places where you can get baseball data (as opposed to financial records of a crack gang) and I don't think there's a shortage of sabermetricians and sports economists researching such questions. And to the list of 'mysteries' in baseball, I'd add one popularized by Billy Beane's assertions to the contrary in Moneyball, do clutch hitters exist? Conventional wisdom says they certainly don't exist on the A's ;).

Ed Cotton

Did someone write a book about baseball data-Michael Lewis?

Thomas

Could one of the "myriad mysteries of baseball" be why average working-class Americans continue to subsidize wealthy people's lifestyles with a smile on their faces?

At least can we recognize that the average fan is being used by the players, owners, and advertisers?

DRDR

thomas - No and no. Many people enjoy attending baseball games, so that's why they smile. And if buying baseball tickets a subsidy, then how could you not call most every economic transaction a subsidy? And the No. 1 reason why fans get sucked into baseball isn't the players, owners, and advertisers -- it's other people. See network externalities. That's why new leagues/sports have a tougher time growing and MLB/NFL keep extending their reach.

John

I'm fairly sure that Ensberg could be as trusted to give accurate information about performance enhancement drugs as Sumo wrestlers are about corruption in the sport.

Stephen J. Dubner

John said...
I'm fairly sure that Ensberg could be as trusted to give accurate information about performance enhancement drugs as Sumo wrestlers are about corruption in the sport.

Hey John: It was in fact the information provided by two sumo whistleblowers that corroborated the bulk of Levitt's research into sumo corruption. Anyway, like I said, I was half-joking about getting data from Ensberg; but I'm not sure I understand your smug reply. In journalism, as in academic research, it's often the case that someone simply doesn't bother asking a worthwhile question because they assume it won't or can't be answered.

Martin

Mysteries, mysteries. You mean like why the mismanaged Oakland Athletics entered the All-Star Break with a winning record?

KJ

In a word: no.

Do clutch hitters exist? Who knows, but Reggie Jackson was a famous one, Mark Lemke, a lousy career hitter in Atlanta, is well known in this city for many huge hits, and Carlos Beltran turned one good month of clutch hitting with a "decent" career into $117 million from the Mets. But I'm sure someone will crunch the numbers and say, "no."

66 Rustang

Ordinary people do subsidize baseball and various other sports. Citizens are enticed by the idea of all the revenue that a big-league team will bring. When they do those calculations, they do them under false pretenses. The only revenue that really matters is the tax dollars that come from the additional outside revenue that wouldn't be captured if there were no stradium

Anonymous

Beltran has had a better than "decent" carreer. 43.6 wins above replacement level at his position throuhg age 27 season, including 10.4 in 2004

Jeter through- age 27 39.4 wins above replacement in rughly the same number of games. Jeter's best season 11.0.

Unless you thina borderlin hall of famer like Derek Jeter has had a "decent" career, it's hard to see how you could argue that about Carlos Beltran.

St Cheryl

1. Reggie Jackson was NOT a clutch hitter. He had three big home runs in one World Series. He was great at personal PR, however.

2. Assuming Derek Jeter does not have the statistics of a Carlos Beltran (a point I am willing to concede), he is a much smarter player than anyone else playing today. That is not a quality anyone, even the geniuses at SABR, has figured out how to measure.

Anonymous

This is fascinating. Many economist bloggers focus on issues like social security, universal health care, the war in iraq, the bombings in london.

What a refreshing change to come across economists who are happy to engage in pointless chatter about baseball!

You steves rock.

mulder

DRDR

"Hey John: It was in fact the information provided by two sumo whistleblowers that corroborated the bulk of Levitt's research into sumo corruption."

True, but that sounds more like anecdotal evidence than numerical data, and as you suggest, anecdotal evidence corrobates research, but it's not going to solve any mysteries on its own because the sample size is usually too small. That's a main theme of Moneyball -- that traditional scouting often fails because of the small sample size. But that's enough nitpicking of an initial post that was only half-serious in the first place.

Anonymous

It's hard to imagine any player being smarter or having better "baseball instincts" that Carlos Beltran: 196 stolen bases, 25 caught stealing. 66 GIDP.

Jeter also a fantastic basestealer has 211 sb 56 cs. Using up 31 more outs to steal only 15 more bases. He's also grounded into 122 double plays.

Maybe you can't measure baseball smarts; however, making outs on the basepaths might be an indicator than Beltran has even better baseball instincts than Jeter. Plus Jeter sucks at defense.

paul

Re: umpire discrimination

Mavs owner Mark Cuban frequently posts stats on win-loss records with various NBA refs. You should crunch those numbers. :)

Jonathan Hall

What exactly are the "myriad mysteries" of modern baseball, and how could "Morgan Ensberg" possibly help us understand them? The man can swing a bat, I'll give you that.