The Curious Case of Judge, Polk, and Statistics

Lee Judge.

That name is, usually, instantly associated with a range of emotions or feelings by the majority of statistics-minded Royals fans.

Ron Polk.

That name is almost universally derided in the minds of statistic-minded Royals fans (and probably many fans from other teams).


Perhaps the most controversial word in all of baseball other than steroids. Each group of fans has a strong belief about statistics. People view it as the holy grail of fanship or a crutch for those who never played the game of baseball and everything in between. As time has gone on, statistics has broadened its influence on baseball; a quick look at who stars as Billy Beane in Moneyball is quite telling to the current state of statistics.

Your average fan doesn't know about advanced statistics and assumes ERA and batting average are the pinnacles of judgment. A mention of strikeout ratio or OBP is a tad confusing, let alone things like SIERA or wOBA. As a result, many fans use statistics with all the grace of a charging rhino, wielding it like a mace instead of a sword. Statistics-minded fans often forget that the game of baseball is played by real humans, with real emotions, real distractions, and unseen variables.

Lee Judge knows this.

Judge often does a phenomenal job of covering the bases in a game. He is thorough and his unique position allows him to actually determine the mindset and thought process behind a variety of decisions and happenings. However, he clearly does not understand advanced statistics. His use of 'Polk Points', an arbitrary system of awarding points to players based on various occurrences during the game, is fundamentally flawed, as it exists in direct opposition to advanced statistics. It does a very good job of pointing out things that are overlooked--blocked balls by catchers, smart plays and throws, etc. However, it gives these little things too much value.

Judge's obstinate use of Polk Points could be overlooked if he recognized the fact that other statistics are of worth too. In a way, he is a microcosm of an age-old battle, the battle between statistics and tradition. But it's 2012. The battle has been fought. We 'pop-tart' eating people are looked down upon by Judge. I finally caved, signed in with my facebook account, and wrote a message (you can see the exchange and my original message in the comments here). I urged him to consider statistics as part of his overall understanding of baseball, as he seems to be a person who seeks to know about baseball. I didn't understand why he wouldn't want to know about statistics. Here was his response:

"I’m glad that you’re enjoying aspects of the site, but I really don’t think I’ve dismissed statistics. If you read through the posted comments above, you’ll see me say over and over again that numbers have merit and advanced metrics have value. I just don’t think they’re the complete answer when analyzing players. There are plenty of sites devoted to metrics. I’m hoping to offer something different. As for being condescending, I’m sorry if you see me that way. I do believe it’s only logical that players and coaches who have spent their lives in baseball are going to know more than people who haven’t. And I definitely count myself as someone who hasn’t. Baseball is a hobby with me and I’d be stunned if Dayton Moore didn’t know more about GM issues than a hobbyist with incomplete information. Same goes for Ned Yost, Kevin Seitzer, Doug Sisson…well, you get the idea. I’m sorry if that seems condescending, but remember, I put myself in the ranks of people who know less than the professionals.

There's a lot of stuff in there to talk about, and if I were Rany I would talk about all of it (no offense to Dr. Jazayerli of course). However, the single most salient feature in Judge's response is that he is in denial about his use of statistics. He clearly does not see statistics as very useful, or he would be more civil with the pop-tart crowd. There's not a problem at all with his use of the website as mostly devoid of statistics; that makes it unique. The problem arises because he pretends they don't exist, and much of his writing exhibits this flaw.

However, therein lies a warning. Many statisticians have the opposite view, which is just as problematic. Math is useful. Extremely useful. But Eric Hosmer is a human being just like Chris Getz, just like you or me. Real-world issues like leadership do exist; it would be foolish to ignore so, as most people tend to do. The Kansas City Royals are not just a collection of data. They are a team of people, working together towards a goal. Statistics are perhaps the most important way of evaluation--but we need to not fall victim to the type of smugness, intentional or not, exhibited by Judge.

This FanPost was written by a member of the Royals Review community. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the editors and writers of this site.

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