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Jason Isringhausen and sabermetrics (or #SaberCrap)

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I have never met Jason Isringhausen. The one-time St. Louis Cardinals closer and I have never had a conversation, either over the phone or in person. I didn't know Isringhausen was on Twitter until Sunday.

By now, you've probably figured out that I find pitcher and hitter profiles to be interesting. Sure, the bottom line stats are the first stop whenever I check in on a player. What are his slash stats? How low is his ERA and FIP? Has he hit for power? What are his K% and BB%? What's his wOBA? How do the player's numbers compare to the league average after adjustment for park effects? Most of these questions can answered with stats are found on the Fangraphs dashboard for a given player.

My inquiries into player production don't end there, though. I also love to look into what underlies a player's overall production. How often does he swing and miss or how often does he induce a swing and miss? How regularly does he make contact or avoid it? Is he a groundball pitcher? Is he a line-drive hitter? Fangraphs has a stat that answers each of these questions. It's no wonder one can easily get lost looking at the site. (This is even more true now that VEB's own Craig Edwards is going to start writing there.)

Sometimes I discover something when delving into St. Louis stats and think the VEB readers might think it's interesting, so I share it. One day not too long ago, I was perusing Fangraphs, looking at batting stats by team. I decided to test my own impression of the Cardinals' team hitting profile. Before looking at the stats, I'd have said the Cards were a team that made a lot of contact (grounders and liners, in particular) and didn't hit for a lot of power. As I compared the Cardinals' stats to those of other clubs, I was surprised just how true my subjective impression was (because, usually, I manage to prove myself wrong). So I put together a post with some charts (of course) to share my findings with you all.

If anything, I thought the post a bit dry. In my mind, there wasn't anything controversial about it in the least. Perhaps that was because I've never talked to Isringhausen. Well, Izzy apparently did not like my Sunday post. That's how I found out he is on Twitter (and is a verified user):

I honestly found Isringhausen's reply puzzling. The numbers (or stats, if you will) that I used were rather straightforward. I don't think it's in dispute that the Cardinals did not hit for a lot of power last season, which is reflected by the numbers that I put together for the post to help illustrate why. This isn't tricky. It's certainly not dishonest. It's hard to understand how a man could read my Sunday post and conclude that the numbers I put together merited coming up with the delightful #SaberCrap hashtag and declaring the numbers used untruthful.

But what if Isringhausen did not read my post? What if he saw the @BirdsOnTheBat13 retweet of the @VivaElBirdos post title tweet and decided to unload on numbers generally and sabermetrics in particular? In the Twittersphere, this seems most likely.

To be sure, 140 characters is no way to have a conversation, let alone a meaningful debate. Twitter is a medium that is uniquely designed for the quick attack. Those with axes to grind do so at their convenience, when a 140-character tweet shows up in their feed as they are scrolling through on a Sunday morning. There's not enough room or time to get into the substance of the post to which the tweet links. But there's just enough space to attack the numbers, which is really a thinly veiled swipe at those who write and talk about them, as untrustworthy. Why read the post, reflect on it, and form a thoughtful judgment when one can fire off a tl;dr reply featuring #SaberCrap?

I can't say that I'm surprised a former big-leaguer coined that hashtag and used it to punctuate a nebulous aspersion about numbers not telling the truth. Ballplayers (former and current) who are open to exploring baseball stats are the exception, not the rule. That being said, Isringhausen's attack is nonetheless disappointing. Isringhausen is either going after stats out of ignorance—that is, he doesn't understand numbers so numbers are untruthful—or, he's coming from a place of disingenuousness, carrying out a vague smear because he knows he can't make a legitimate criticism with any sort of precision. I'm not sure which is worse.