Ryan Zimmerman on statistics and ‘nerds’

Jonathan Newton/Washington Post.
Jonathan Newton/Washington Post.

If you’re an athlete and you’d like to find yourself in more blog headlines, say something about statistics and nerds. Works every time.

Ryan Zimmerman was the latest to discover this truth, after starring in the last section of Friday’s Boz column.

The reigning kings of geekdom reside at Baseball Prospectus. They’re so respected inside the industry that the Nats have a “Baseball Prospectus Day” at Nats Park on July 7. PECOTA, a Baseball Prospectus site, uses computer simulations to project performance. They think the Nats have a 41 percent chance to reach the playoffs and a 3.9 percent to win the Series (down from 11 percent preseason). The Orioles currently have only a 17.9 percent playoff chances, in part because they’re in the tough AL East, a minuscule 0.7 percent chance to win the Series….

“How did that [model] work out for them the last couple of years? Not very well, right?” said Zimmerman. “That’s why nerds shouldn’t do that stuff.”

Nerds! “Ryan Zimmerman Thinks You Are All A Bunch Of Nerds,” wrote Deadspin. “Ryan Zimmerman thinks “nerds” should not do playoff projections,” wrote Hardball Talk. Nerds! said the rest of the Internet.

Well, Zimmerman was on ESPN 980′s Sports Fix Friday afternoon, and Thom Loverro — a longtime antagonist of stats lovers — brought up the nerds quote. (Audio here.) Zimmerman immediately groaned and laughed, saying he had made that nerds! quip “in casual talk” with Boz.

“I have nothing against nerds, believe me,” Zimmerman said. “I’m just, I’m so tired – not just in baseball, in every sport – of the new infatuation with stats and numbers and using this stuff to compare players. The best thing about sports is people can hit the same in the first inning and the ninth inning, but you’re trying to tell me that you’re gonna take someone other than Derek Jeter in the playoffs in the ninth inning? If Derek Jeter’s hitting .150, I’m taking Derek Jeter, compared to a guy hitting .450. That’s something that you can’t put in the numbers. You know, the new way to compare people, it’s been a hit, or whatever people want to call it. And some of it’s true; I’m not saying all of its wrong. But the great thing about sports is how people handle pressure and how people handle adversity, and there’s just no way that numbers can do that justice.”

Loverro and Sheehan both chimed in, mostly in agreement, and then opened the floor to Zimmerman again.

“It’s gotten, I don’t want to say out of hand, because it’s part of the game, and part of every sport now is this huge fantasy football market, or fantasy baseball,” Zimmerman said. “And it’s good for the game, because it gets us more fans who might have never paid attention to baseball before. And that’s what this game is all about, is getting fans and having people watch the game and grow the game. But it gets to a point sometimes where they do so many comparisons and so many stats. Just let people go out and play the game. It kind of gets away from what baseball’s really about.”

Still, the hosts promised Zimmerman, he would hear more about this quote.

“Oh, I woke up this morning and I already heard about it,” he said with a laugh. “I didn’t even remember it. I talk with Boz all the time. Boz is great, he’s one of the smartest writers out there and loves the game. And I woke up this morning, and honestly, I didn’t even remember saying that. We were just talking at my locker about stats, about things like that. I didn’t mean any harm by it. You know, whatever. It wasn’t meant to do any damage.”

This nerd thinks it’s all good. And also would like more outtakes from the Boz locker room sessions.

As for the Nats bats, Zimmerman was asked what hitters are saying to each other as they try to exit this season-long slump.

“Nobody’s more frustrated than us,” he said. “And we might not show it. That’s just kind of how we’re wired. And we have to deal with the media and other people, but there’s nobody on the planet that’s more disappointed and frustrated than us right now. And we’re doing everything we can to work and try and get better and score more runs. At this level the coaches can only do so much. The first people to always get the blame are Rick [Eckstein], the hitting coach, and Davey. But when it comes down to it, we’re grown men playing baseball. And when we get to the batter’s box, it’s US up there. And in the end, we’re the ones that have to make the adjustments, we’re the ones that have to get better. They can only tell us so much. We have to go up there and do it, and score runs.”

Also, nerds!

Dan Steinberg writes about all things DC sports at the DC Sports Bog.
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Dan Steinberg · May 31, 2013