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1685Re: [APBR_analysis] Cross Generational Simulating/Comparisons

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  • igorkupfer@rogers.com
    Jan 23, 2003
      I hope the graphs came out okay.
      ----- Original Message -----
      From: <bchaikin@...>
      Sent: Thursday, January 23, 2003 2:00 PM
      Subject: [APBR_analysis] Cross Generational Simulating/Comparisons

      someone mentioned in previous postings a study by paleontologist stephen jay
      gould in his book "full house" (1996) where he talked about the disappearance
      of the .400 hitter in baseball as being due to a decrease in variation of
      batting averages (whose mean he states was stable over that same time) over
      the 130 years of baseball, and that that decrease in variation implys a
      general improvement of performance in the game of baseball over time, and
      that person posed the question of whether a .260 hitter in i think 1890 was
      the same as a .260 hitter today (gould would say no). since gould did a
      somewhat statistical study using standard deviations, and that was attempted
      by others here in this discussion group to try to find if an analogous
      situation in pro basketball existed using FG%s, lets look at what gould did,
      keeping in mind what we want to use his statistical evidence for - to ask can
      we compare directly basketball players of today to yesterday, are the players
      of today better than those of yesterday, and if so why, and can we simulate
      games between teams/players of today to yesterday, and if not where is any
      cutoff point...

      Gould was arguing for the reduction of variation among professional baseball players, by looking at batting averages. If we do the same for FG%, we can see that there is a small trend towards greater variation.
      The trend is clearer if we look at only the top 10 and bottom 10 from each season:


      ".....I do recognize that some improvement might be attributed to changing
      conditions, rather than absolutely improving play…older infields were
      apparently lumpier and bumpier thatn the productions of good ground crews
      today - so some of the poorer fielding of early days may have resulted from
      lousy fields rather than lousy fielders. I also recognize that rising
      averages must be tied in large part to great improvements in the design of
      gloves, but better equipment represents a major theme of history, and one of
      the legitimate reasons underlying my claim for general improvement in play…
      "(page 121)

      up and to this last quote i've given you an idea of what gould is saying, but
      re-read this last quote. basically what gould is saying is that, yes, i admit
      that while the rules of the game have remained essentially the same, that the
      conditions in the game have indeed changed (not to mentioned changes in
      stadiums, favoring either the hitters or pitchers as bill james stresses but
      gould ignores) over the years, but guess what - i don't care, they actually
      legitimize my point, i.e.. that doesn't change anything. he is saying that
      yes conditions of the game have changed, but he does not admit that that may
      be part of the reason, if not a major part, for players improving over the

      FWIW I agree that different generations can be meaningfully compared -- maybe even simulated. But Gould is talking about something different: the "improvement" he mentions takes place when the variation in true ability becomes smaller, dragging the mean level of play higher. We see a different pattern in basketball, where variation has at best remained constant, and maybe increased.
      It's important not to forget why this is relevant: the people who disagree with you by claimng that cross-generational comparisons are not very useful claim that the game is not the same as it once was. They can point to the greater variation in FG% as evidence showing that the players entering the league vary much more than  they did previously, and therefore the level of competition is not what it once was.
      this is very important for our discussion for basketball, where the
      conditions of the game haven't changed very much
      how does this effect your argument? If conditions haven't changed, then any differences we see across the years are due to the players themselves being different -- making comparisons more difficult, right?
      gould quotes james a number of times in his book, but its evident from
      reading these
      five chapters that he hasn't read james thoroughly. i think most would agree
      that bill james has probably done more for the understanding of baseball
      statistics over the years than has gould (and possibly more than anyone),
      especially when it comes to comparing players from different eras, and james
      has gone into detail about how the conditions of the game has changed
      (stadium size, lefty/righty, rule changes and outside influences) over the

      obviously gould hasn't read james most recent historical baseball abstract
      book (an update to his mid1980s book), kind of hard when six feet under, but
      the vast majority of the book is the same, so gould should have read all of
      james' mid-1980s edition.
      You are reading too much into what Gould was trying to say. His argument was only about the decreasing variation in true ability among baseball players -- I think he used fielding percentage as an example, too -- and how that could account for the disappearance of extreme hitting percentages. This is relevant to his argument about the diversity of life that follows the baseball chapters.

      so how does this relate to basketball? i contend that unless someone can show
      me how the game is different, condition wise, between the years of the mid to
      late 1950s to today, as james has done for basketball, that like gould we can
      look at the numbers directly. gould only looked at the numbers and james has
      shown that this needs refinement based on how the comditions of the game have
      changed. i would love to see some arguments on how conditions in basketball
      have changed from the mid-to-late 1950s to today, thus having the stats
      affected in some way, such that the numbers cannot be compared directly, but
      i have yet to see this...
      Well, I won't be the one to claim that conditions are so different that comparisons become meaningless. I am completely agnostic on that issue. However, I do wish to preserve Gould's argument in it's proper context: he only tried to show that variation had decreased over time. That's it, he had nothing to say about differing conditons because they were irrelevant to his argument.

      ".....Wade boggs would hit .400 every year against the pitching and fielding
      of the 1890s, while wee willie keeler would be lucky to crack .320 today...."
      (page 125)

      this is a preposterous statement. what would wade boggs have done when he got
      sick, or just a cold, back then? how about a pulled muscle? a broken finger?
      Because, of course, no modern athlete has ever tried to play through an injury.
      Gould's point, in context, was that the very greatest hitters of today stand as close to the extreme limits of human ability as those of yesteryear -- and that hitting percentage was not a measure of true ability, but only relative ability against the opposing pitcher. In basketball he would've said that Shaquille O'Neal's best seasons stand next to Wilt's, even though the raw numbers are different.
      until a study is done similar to what gould did, showing the standard
      deviation of not just FG% but a multitude of other stats have had
      convincingly shrinking variation thru time from the mid to late 1950s to
      today in pro hoops i certainly do not see any evidence that the game has
      changed to the point that the players cannot be compared directly based on
      their stats...
      FT% is the only unambiguous indicator of at least one ability, since the question of defense is removed.
      We see the same pattern: increasing variation in league-wide talent levels, opposite of what Gould tried to show in baseball.

      "....Symmetrically shrinking variation in batting averages must record
      general improvement of play for two reasons - the first because systems
      manned by the best performers in competition, and working under the same
      rules through time, slowly discover optimal procedures and reduce their
      variation as all personnel learn and master the best ways: the second because
      the mean moves toward the right wall, thus leaving less space for the spread
      of variation…as variation shrinks because general play improves, .400 hitting
      disappears as a consequence of increasing excellenece in play...." (page 128)

      this is gould's conclusion. but how does it stand up to the test of time with
      barry bonds recent slugging percentage marks, and the complete repeated
      wipeout of babe ruth and roger maris's home run records by mcgwire, sosa, and
      bonds? as james would say, its the conditions of the game that are different,
      not the players...
      I agree that Gould soft-pedals this point. But I hardly see how your argument is strengthened -- after all, if players are bigger, stronger, faster than before, wouldn't this make comparisons more difficult?
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