This Academic Life
In the same interview, Robinson declares: "Numbers don't win you ballgames, I don't care what they say." Sure. Last time I looked, numbers don't even play ballgames, so they can't win or lose the game in any event. Player statistics aren't actors; they do not exercise agency; they can't be responsible for anything. Players, and teams, and umpires, and ballparks, and even the weather can be responsible for a particular game being won or lost, in that we can attribute responsibility and actor-hood to those factors without committing the kind of category confusion associated with praising or blaming "the numbers." Josh Beckett pitched a lights-out game against the Nationals yesterday; Beckett's numbers didn't do that, although they record it. Antonio Osuna has a season ERA of somewhere north of 43 (!); his ERA didn't do anything, although it certainly records the fact that he's having a very shitty year thus far.

Statistics doing things would be like structures doing things. Both baseball statistics and accounts of system structure are ideal-typical depictions of past actions; one can use these analytics to interrogate and perhaps account for specific occurrences in retrospect, but projecting them into the future -- assuming that "global capitalism" will endure or that guys who are now batting .500 will still be doing so in September -- is an assumption for the sake of argument, a kind of thought experiment that may help to illuminate certain dynamics but doesn't actually produce knowledge about the future in any definitive sense. I can account for Beckett's performance yesterday by noting that he performed up to his usual excellent level, and explore this by delving into the specific statistics about how opponents hit (or, in this case, didn't hit) against him, etc. But the fact remains that his performance, measured statistically, is just an ideal-typical abstraction useful for making sense of concrete individual events.

Numbers don't win you ballgames. True. But if you are winning ballgames, you'll have good numbers, since the numbers are just a more precise way of analyzing how games are won and lost.

Analysts always run after practitioners, analyzing what they do and trying to put it into some sort of meaningful context. That's our job. And those analyses -- particularly the ones that raise uncomfortable facts -- can hopefully provide the raw material for producing more informed, more internally consistent and more morally defensible practices.

But they still won't make you, the analyst, any better at getting the bat on the ball.

[Posted with ecto]

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"Academia als Beruf," or, an occasional record of the various aspects of my life as an academic. Written by "21stCWeber," an arrogant handle I know…but I must confess that I do want to be Weber when and if I grow up :-)



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