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Introducing Numb & Numbers, a Series Studying Baseball Statistics

Updated on March 25, 2014

Introduction

First and foremost, Numb & Numbers is not a personal blog. It is not a place for me to rant or offer opinion without evidence. That's what Facebook is for.

This series intends to look at the stories in baseball behind the numbers and the numbers behind the stories. It is for both casual and serious fans. Although it is rooted in statistics, I am not a professional statistician or interested in writing strictly about crunching numbers. I believe that numbers can illuminate, but they can also be seriously misleading.

While covering college basketball for a daily newspaper in Rhode Island, I developed a knack for reading into the statistics to see story patterns. But without the context available from having seen the games for myself, I would have come to many incorrect conclusions.

Context is king. What I will try to do here is provide context, or at least to try to ask the right questions. I will make mistakes; that is inevitable when drawing on more than a century and a quarter of baseball history.

I am drawn to the game’s history, sometimes more than I am to the present. Yet this blog is more about understanding the present than walking through the past. There will be some purely historical entries. Most of it, however, will attempt to tie the present to the past.

The author

Aaron Greenberg
Aaron Greenberg | Source
My Hank Aaron jersey
My Hank Aaron jersey | Source

About the author

My name is Aaron Greenberg. I am a lifelong Yankee fan, born in the Bronx and currently residing in the city’s suburbs. It would not be surprising if there are an inordinate number of Yankee-related posts, but not out of any attempt to focus on the team. I am, first and foremost, a fan of the game. It turns out that I am most knowledgeable about a very interesting and much-talked about team.

I immersed myself in baseball history as a boy, inspired by the exploits of Graig Nettles and Willie Randolph during the late 1970s and early 1980s to study the previous generations of Yankee greats. I was also fascinated by the amazing numbers and stories I encountered about deadball era greats like Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson.

I was the sports editor of my college newspaper, the Albany Student Press at the University at Albany, and interned in the sports department at the Syracuse Post-Standard and Herald-Journal while in graduate school at Syracuse University. After a season (1999) as a baseball clerk at the Associated Press’ headquarters, I was hired by The Westerly Sun in Westerly, R.I. I spent four years in the sports department before moving to the news side. After a dozen years, I moved to Westchester County in New York and worked for a year at the Journal News.

Throughout that time I have written various lengthy essays and columns, a few of which have been published or shared on Facebook. I have spent many, many hours putting together databases with baseball statistics and creating my own simulation game.

I am currently working on a book about the game’s winningest pitchers, excerpts or adaptations of which will appear in some of my entries.

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Series and topics

There are certain topics I intend to regularly write about, whether as a weekly or monthly series or as events inspire me. Here are a few of them:

  • Put Into Context: Fans and the media often treat what is going on today as unique when it isn’t, or exactly like something in the past when it isn’t. This series will be an attempt to look at the reality. So many odd things have happened in baseball history that it is easy to forget similarities or to forge ones that don’t really exist.
  • In Today’s News: These stories involve research relating to what’s going on in the game. If there’s an odd or notable event, there’s likely a good question or two it will bring up.
  • Do You Remember When: Part of the beauty of baseball is the way games remain memorable… at least for some time. This series will recall some of the great games and moments from the past 50 years, along with links to videos and boxscores.
  • Fact Check: Announcers make all sorts of claims. Fans have selective memories. Even renowned experts make claims that just don’t sound true. I will take a look at some of these remarks and bits of common wisdom to see how true they really are.
  • Big Winners: These entries will involve my research into the game’s winningest pitchers, especially their games against each other and significant events that occurred during their careers.
  • Around the Bases: There are some great blogs, columns and features out there, and I want to offer shout outs to excellent writers and insightful commenters. And, if need be, to criticize the more inane rantings. I prefer to dwell on the positive. In both instances, I want to comment or expand upon their findings.
  • Fun with Win Shares: Bill James’ Win Shares are one of my favorite tools. They attribute value within the context of team success. The result is a figure comparable across eras, positions and environments. This series will take James’ statistic and find bests and worsts related to teams, hometowns, positions, eras and the like.
  • Projecting the Future: There is a tool on Baseball-Reference.com which lists the 10 players most comparable to another player, both for career statistics and statistics to each age. Using the latter, it is possible to project a player’s future. It’s also interesting to see what players from the past are most similar to today’s stars.

Target Field

A photo I took at Target Field in Minnesota, from the July 4, 2013 game between the Yankees and Twins.
A photo I took at Target Field in Minnesota, from the July 4, 2013 game between the Yankees and Twins. | Source

Sources and recommendations

The overwhelming majority of the figures I use will come from one of two sources. There are other sites, blogs and writers I also find worth regularly checking out.

  • Baseball-Reference: The granddaddy of baseball statistics sites. I’ve been visiting it since at least the late 1990s. It is primarily an encyclopedia, but there’s so much there you can easily get lost in. There are links to blogs, fun tools and an incredible search engine called the Play Index.
  • Retrosheet: Today’s baseball statistics community owes so much to Retrosheet and its founders. Retrosheet digs up old boxscores and puts them online. They have virtually every boxscore since 1914, plus play by play and splits wherever possible. They even have boxscores for 1871, 1872 and 1874. In addition, there is research and lists of firsts, lasts and unusual events.
  • Bill James Online: Bill James is the preeminent baseball statistician. I find his writing style and analytical approach inspiring, minus some of the cranky one-liners. He interacts with fans through the “Hey Bill” feature and, along with a few other writers, posts fascinating takes on both today’s game and the past. James has had the biggest influence on my view of the game.
  • High Heat Stats: This community of bloggers and commenters began on Baseball-Reference and migrated to a new site. It is perhaps the greatest inspiration for this blog. I comment there on occasion. The comments often spawn their own great threads. This is a must for any statistically-inclined fan.
  • Wahoo Sam: It isn’t updated that often, but I enjoy the features, information on ultimate games and all-time teams on this site.
  • Jayson Stark: I don’t read his stuff nearly enough these days, but Stark is the king of number fun at ESPN. His combination of love of the game and thirst for oddity in numbers make for great, although at times dizzying, reading.
  • Baseball Library: Want to get a quick glimpse into a player or team? Plug their name into the search bar and then check out the result – bios and chronology that go way beyond the standard fare.
  • Rob Neyer: If you can excuse his Yankee-hating, he’s an excellent writer. Like Stark, I don’t read nearly enough of his stuff these days, but hope to change that soon. He has worked with some of the best in the business.
  • FiveThirtyEight: Nate Silver is better known these days for his take on politics, but he got started with baseball. His re-launched site includes a whole sports section. Nobody gets statistics – for baseball, politics or anything else -- better than Silver.

I hope you enjoy this blog. Please let me know what you think. This isn’t just for me to share what I’m thinking about, but to work with readers to foster a better baseball statistics culture. I am sure you have more to offer me than vice versa.

Thank you for coming by, and enjoy!

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