I love me some Keith Law chats. Thursday afternoons are one of the joys in my baseball life. Rob Neyer and Jim Callis have excellent chats, and they're very informative. But KLaw has the spice. He's informative, but sarcasm is why you love that he often chats for over an hour and why you cry when he watches Spring Training games in Arizona instead of chatting on ESPN.
The sarcasm, however, has its critics. KLaw can come off a bit elitist. He can off a bit harsh. If you have read him for a while, you generally know what will set him off, and if someone who doesn't know asks those questions, that person is going to receive a smart-ass reply. KLaw makes no apologies, and I'm not sure that he should. As he says, "The door is on your left." If you don't like it, don't read the chat.
Anyway ... when people ask certain questions, sometimes they become a theme of the chat, meaning that multiple people start asking the same question because they don't like his original answer (which, to give KLaw credit, is usually along the informative lines with a pinch of snark) and/or they want more of an explanation. It's really hard to give a full explanation during a chat, but the more you ask the same question, the more caustic KLaw becomes. Count that as a flaw for him if you want, but that's not the point I'm trying to make. My point has to do with the past chat's theme -- intangibles.
Klaw, do you think there is a human element in baseball that isnt being measured by stats. For instance the pitcher who in a big situation digs deep and throws the perfect pitch to get him out of a situation as opposed to the pitcher who gets flustered and gives up the hit. Does determination, composure, willpower play a part in stats or is the human element just a myth?
Keith, in regards to Dave in Erie, I think he has somewhat of a point. Ie. Do you think hitters will approach an AB in the last inning when up or down by 4 runs the same as when the tying or winning run is on second? I've seen hitters who I would bet is thinking more about what he's doing after the game than concentrating on his AB.
Klaw, so basically your saying that the human element exists but not at the major league level. By that time most players are producing a the same consistent level no matter what circumstance they are in?
Intangibles are a touchy issue this day in age. Sabermetricians will largely tell you that they're unquantifiable or certain ones don't exist. Traditionalists will tell you that they do exist, and they explain things such as scrappiness, clutchiness, etc. It's not an easy debate. The "American Dream" tells us that, through hard work, we can achieve anything, and saying that these intangibles don't exist is a little like a slap in America's face. On the other hand, just because no one can (yet!) quantify them doesn't mean that they don't exist. But let's just tackle these questions and see if we can't come to some agreement. To do so, we'll need our third key word from the title -- perspective.
It's funny actually. The first two questions, asked by intangibles defenders, actually answer their questions in a way. Dave from Erie, PA wonders why a pitcher can't "dig deep" to make his pitch, and the next guy asks why a hitter can't dig deep to get the hit. The answers obvious, isn't it? IT'S BECAUSE THEY BOTH ARE DOING IT. Essentially, they're intangibles are canceling each other out.
Let's put aside KLaw's argument (that players don't work harder in certain situations) for a moment and agree (for the moment) that players do work harder in certain circumstances. In the ninth inning, stakes are higher. The game is on the line, and the game will be decided (usually) fairly soon. Theoretically, the hitter coming to the plate will work harder to get the hit, knowing his out is very valuable. The crux of the problem is that the pitcher will also work harder to get the out, countering the hitter's additional effort. How does one differentiate between the two? Both players are playing above themselves at this moment, making the resulting difference the same as it was before they decided to be "clutch".
Does one work harder than the other? You could say that one is "clutch", but beyond the stats telling us that players usually show no difference in this situation, players have gotten through to the MLB by being "clutch". These guys aren't the guys with whom you played Little League. They aren't the scared little guy on the end of your bench. They were "The Guy" in your Little League, and chances are that they were better than "The Guy" in your Little League. They've thrived throughout their careers on being "The Guy" in "The Situation". It doesn't make much sense that they will choke now that a few more people are watching. "But they have more at stake now! They want to stay in the majors!" How is that much different from knowing that if you fail in a similar situation in AA, you won't even make it to the majors?
And KLaw's argument brings intangibles down farther. He suggests that players don't work harder in certain situations, or at least they shouldn't. If they do, it means they don't work as hard as they should be earlier in the game. We want our players to put their best in all the time, don't we? This is their job, and I imagine that they're ready to go for each pitch and each at-bat. I have to admit, however, that I don' t think it's that easy. KLaw has a good point, but just because someone shouldn't give away an at-bat, it doesn't mean that they don't. But I'll give him the benefit of the doubt as he usually takes a closer look at players and their actions than I do.
Even if players do act differently in different situations, how do you know what they are feeling? How do you know that they're choking/coming through? The easy answer is results, and for that, you need stats. This is what KLaw means when he said, "There are intangible elements that affect player performance, like intelligence or aggressiveness, but they show up in the statistics." If the player works harder in that instance, you'll notice a change, and after looking at them, you often notice there isn't one. Sabermetricians didn't just ignore this from the beginning. They looked it up, researched it, and realized that there's no discernible difference in a player's performance when it comes to the "clutch".
Intangibles and emotions do exist (we think). But in a lot of situations, they act against each other. For whatever reason, we only tend to see it from one perspective (maybe vested interest in that side), but there are always multiple perspectives. When one player needs to work harder, it's likely that the other team's player is also working harder.
So which intangibles (if any) exist? Look both ways before crossing the street.