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Lies, Damn Lies, And Statistics

My eyes are drooping as I write this, thanks to a late night watching a very exciting World Series game seven for the ages.

This year’s series featured two teams that didn’t even win their respective divisions, sneaking their way into the playoffs with one-game Wild Card playin games against statistically superior teams. But both teams overcame the statistical probability and found a way to win.

Baseball is nothing without statistics. I learned basic multiplication when I was a kid by poring over boxscores in the afternoon newspaper (yes, that existed then). Batting averages and winning percentages were my gateway drug to baseball math.

Then I moved on to Strat-OMatic Baseball, a popular baseball simulation game that was played with cards with the actual statistics of actual major league players and a set of dice to simulate the at-bats of a real baseball game.

Managing a pretend team of baseball players taught me the basics of probability and forecasting outcomes based on data. My friends and I formed our own league and played actual simulated seasons, keeping standings and scheduling playoffs, and I found for the first time in my life that math could be fun.

As an adult, I, like many other youth-squandered middle-age men I know, play fantasy baseball. It’s basically Strat-O-Matic with computers, and instead of dice rolls to simulate at-bats, actual MLB results are used. Every March I spend hours analyzing statistics, tendencies, ballpark conditions and dozens of other advanced metrics to piece together a team I think can be superior to my league-mates’ teams. It would be sad if it weren’t so damn fun.

Today in baseball there is a battle going on between traditionalists who still rely on tried and true stats like batting average and runs batted in to determine who is the better player, and a new breed of big-data believers who embrace complicated metrics of on-field play to do the same. Instead of RBIs and Ks, the new breed spit out terms like fWAR and BABIP. For some reason, it infuriates the traditionalists.

“Baseball is not played by computers; it’s played by human beings!” is the popular refrain from the data poo-pooers.

I, for one, have embraced the new data wave in baseball. Statistics are not foolproof. They can be manipulated and extrapolated and interpreted differently depending on your biases and beliefs, but in the end, they are evidence, sometimes overwhelming, that point to a likely conclusion. They have helped me win my fantasy league more than a few times.

TWICE’s By The Numbers issue presents a ton of industry statistics from a strong bench of industry research experts to help you assess the winners and losers in the upcoming holiday season and beyond. They are merely statistics, not truisms, but filtered through your own judgement, they can be a valuable tool in assessing your future strategies. We hope they are helpful, enlightening, or both, because we realize for you, the holiday selling season is no fantasy.