Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Post-Season Play, Atheism, and the Worrying Classes

Stephen Dubner of Freakonomics yesterday published an interview of Bill James, founder of sabermetrics (statistical analysis of baseball). The interview reveals James as a no-nonsense purveyor of wisdom, and not just about baseball. Some examples:

Q: Billy Beane, G.M. for the Oakland A’s, has made sabermetric stats a major part of his “value” philosophy when building a baseball team. He’s frequently said that his method will build regular season winners but it doesn’t seem to work in the playoffs. Do you think that this is simply a result of a small sample size or the wrong statistics being used, or is it something more fundamental about “unmeasurable” statistics, like the ability to perform under pressure and “heart?”

A: Oh, I thought people had stopped asking that. Blast from the past there. Look, there’s a lot of luck in winning in post-season. You’re up against a really good team, by definition, and you’ve only got a few days to get it right. It takes some luck.

Are there also types of players and factors that are helpful in that situation? Of course. It’s like asking a physics professor whether there is a God. Scientists don’t know anything more about whether there is a God than morons do, because it’s not a scientific issue. This isn’t something I can measure. It’s a matter of faith.

James agrees with me about the meaning of post-season play, or, rather, its meaninglessness. James also reveals himself as a true scientist when he rejects "scientific" atheism.

Q: What unanswered questions (either baseball-related or not) are you thinking about right now?

A: Why does American society always perceive itself as becoming constantly more and more dangerous — and thus devote ever more and more effort to increasing security — even though almost all measurable dangers, including crime rates, have been falling throughout most of my lifetime? And … is this a good thing?

There speaks a man who seems to understand that we are over-regulated because of the "worrying classes" and their fear of the free market.