Monday, September 13, 2010

How Do You Trust?

In that moment; when a batter steps into the box, the umpire is ready, and the pitcher comes set; fans have already assessed the situation and determined a level of trust that their guy will produce the desired outcome. This confidence is the presumption in the ability of the player in this situation, in this game, at this moment to do something to help the team win. In fact, many of these trust assessments are made prior to the game, or even prior to the season, to theoretical situations in rhetorical games. Every fan who pays attention expects an outcome and then anticipates the result.

During this moment of anticipatory trust assessment, fans rely on a composite of two factors: what's on paper, and what's in the gut.

What's on paper is stats. There are lots of stats on which fans rely. They include everything from basic batting average and ERA to advanced WAR and OWn%. All fans use stats, probably more than they realize. Every time a player is introduced, either in the ballpark or over the broadcast, his basic stats are introduced with him. This is how I know that Joe Mauer is a good hitter and Francisco Liriano is pitching well this season. And for fans who want to understand more, compare players, and get predictive, there's a stat for that. There are thousands of stats for that. Stats document the history of the game. And for folks who are responsible for voting for achievement awards, the advanced stats are useful for making appropriate comparisons.

What's in the gut is an innate combination of observation, intuition, and emotion. And, like stats, they come in a wide variety of tones and flavors. While these responses can sometimes be wrong, that is, disproved by the stats, they are still quite important to the experience. These are what make us like or dislike a guy or a team no matter what. More importantly, they are what separates "fans" from "spreadsheets." This gut reaction is to blame for me trusting Matt Guerrier more than Jesse Crain -- even though Crain's numbers are better. However, this intuition is also why I'm a fan of Jim Thome's -- I don't need to know his numbers to know that whenever I want him to hit a big homer, he usually will. Some fans even throw some superstition in to the equation just for fun. Teams rely on fans to have an emotional attachment because that is what compels them to spend their time and money.

Both factors need to be present in order to know and care about the team, players, and situation. A person with no knowledge of stats won't  know what's going on; a person without emotion won't care. How a fan blends these two components depends on the fan, but every fan knows how much to take from each aspect to calculate a suitable level of trust. But no single blend is better than any other. If a fan is more interested in one part than the other, that's fine. It's a very personal relationship.

So, back to the moment...the batter, the umpire, the pitcher. This is where the trust matters most, but ultimately, matters not at all. Fans can be armed will all the data available or all the intuition possible--or both--go on to measure their confidence, but, in that moment, every one of them is reduced to waiting and hoping for the best.

And that's what makes baseball great.

No comments: