Making Political Science Matter: Debating Knowledge, Research, and Method

By Sanford F. Schram; Brian Caterino | Go to book overview

4
A Statistician Strikes Out
In Defense of Genuine Methodological Diversity

Patrick Thaddeus Jackson

Allan Roth, the team statistician … recorded every pitch
of every game on a sheet of graph paper and tabulated
his data in a cross complexity of techniques. … Rickey
had hired Roth to supply information to the manager. If
Shuba never hit lefthanders' curves, then sit him down
against Ken Raffensberger [a left-handed pitcher who
threw curveballs]. Dressen [the manager] regarded Roth
and his bodies of facts as threats. “I got my own way of
figurin',” he said. Dressen soared on intuition and proba-
bly feared that figures might wither his expertise. (Kahn
1972, 126–27)

There is an old argument in professional baseball about the best way to manage a team to victory. On one side of this debate stand the traditionalists, trusting to their instincts in making decisions about which players to draft and retain and which to put in the game at key moments. On the other side stand the aficionados of “sabermetrics,” the highly technical practice of breaking every aspect of a player's performance down into quantifiable components, and making management decisions on the basis of numerical projections and analyses. Each of these two positions leads to very different ways of evaluating players, with traditionalists emphasizing subjective judgments about a player's potential and sabermetricians focusing on measured past performance (Lewis 2003, 30–32). The jury remains out on which of these approaches is the superior one,

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