Cultural Implications of Not Measuring Success

Criticism of statistical systems like Value Add Baseball fall into categories of those who; 1, benefit from subjective alternatives, 2, do not want their established statistical approach replaced, and 3, do not like measures of success or winning. Here is a breakdown of the three types of criticisms and the cultural implications of taking away the scoreboard to no longer encourage winning or being successful.

1. SUBJECTIVE ALTERNATIVES. in 1985, Bill James noted that if you took (Hits + Walks) x Total Bases and divided that by (At Bats + Walks) you would have a very accurate measurement of how many Runs a player created. That shook the world of people who earned a lot of money by being the only ones who "knew" enough subjectively to tell everyone else who were the best players.

2. NO NEW STATS. In 1999, Voros McCracken started working on DIPs and was called "insane" by most people according to his own account (click here). With the 2013 release of Value Add, a dozen hysterical reactions (vs. 2839 who liked Value Add enough to tweet it out) were similar to the reactions 14 years earlier to DIPs. Ironically one of the critics even attacked Value Add by writing, "I'm guessing you've never heard of the concept of DIPS, or even know what it stands for." I noted that in another 14 years, someone may write of an additional advancement, "I'm guessing you've never heard of Value Add!"

3. IT'S NOT SOMEONE'S FAULT IF THEY DON'T SUCCEED! Now in 2013, the New Republic and some other critics were most hyperactive over the fact that Value Add even considers whether or not the game was won. While their arguments are easily refuted (see Value Add Strikes Out New Republic), the bigger problem is a society that increasingly says we should not encourage someone to succeed or even note if they have succeeded (or won).

Bill James correctly said years ago that winning (success) was the "Golden Grail" of measuring value. 

In fact, Value Add correctly calibrates that those who overcome much tougher circumstances deserve a lot more credit for winning than those who have it easier. A pitcher who makes just a little support hold up for a 1-0 or 2-1 win will usually be credited for almost full win (0.9) in Value Add, while a pitcher who wins a game with seven runs of support gets credit for succeeding, but just a little (0.2) credit. Value Add makes a pitcher who got an easy win do it four or five times before we give him the credit of a pitcher who pulled out a 1-0 win - but the mere fact that we are judging pitchers on whether or not they are ultimately successful (winning) bugs the New Republic.

There seems an analogy to cultural issues. I was fortunate enough to run a Republican campaign years ago for a candidate named Paul Harris, who became the first African-American elected to the Virginia legislature since Reconstruction.

Both Paul and his opponent were very successful. The reason Paul won an easy victory is we produced and ran a TV commercial that pointed out that it was a lot harder for Paul to be successful. We filmed the housing project neighborhood where he grew up surrounded by bars, then his humble church, and the hospital where his Mom worked to help him go to West Point and earn a law degree. 

Like with Paul, statistically it is accurate to measure whether or not a player is successful, and then measure how hard it was for him to be successful. Value Add works, and we should never fall into the trap so many have of simply saying people "can't" be successful unless all the circumstances are ripe for a win. Those in a setting in which only 10 percent succeed should receive huge praise and be an example. 

Likewise, a pitcher who gets NO support is not punished, and even gets an adjustment to his overall rating for those games. However, over the course of a season he gets various levels of support and chances to win and earn a high Value Add. in fact, over time, the statistics behind Value Add were calculated so that the same pitcher will get roughly the same Value Add whether he receives a lot of support or very little support. 

Likewise, we should not look down on someone who is dealt tough circumstances and numerous setbacks throughout their life - and enough of a safety net in harsh situations to give them the ability to keep striving for success. We just cannot fall into the trap of instead sending them the wrong message by saying they should not always strive for success and instead should settle for welfare because it is too hard to succeed.


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