Sorry that it’s been so long. Again, this blog is supposed to keep me motivated and were it not for this, I might not have gotten back to my work for another three weeks so it’s working already! Anyways, the next few posts are going to be mostly informational posts designed to get this blog up to speed with where my research is at this very moment. I figure that the first thing I need to do is give a more thorough description of the project in terms of its subject, its genesis, and its future direction.
As you can probably guess by the title of this blog, I am writing my dissertation on the Sabermetric movement in baseball. To the uninitiated, Sabermetrics is the use of advanced statistical methodology in baseball analysis. Sabermetrics gets its name from the Society of American Baseball Research or SABR, one of the organizations that people who are interested in this kind of thing use to connect with each other. The people who are involved with this kind of thing are interesetd in more than just batting average. They are interested in much more advanced statistics such as ISO (Isolated Power), VORP (Value over Replacement Player) or PECOTA (Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm). Never heard of these things? Chances are, you haven’t, as they are relatively new in comparison to our traditional baseball statistics such as batting average or earned run average. However, there is a movement within baseball franchises to start using these statistics in making baseball decisions.
However, for me and from a sociological point of view, what truly makes this unique phenomenon, is that it is a movement that has its origins within the fan population (For a good history of the how this movement developed, see Alan Schwarz’ very excellent book, The Numbers Game). In any case, it is these fans that I am interested in studying. From a sociology of culture view, the Sabermetric movement represents a different way in which fans participate in sports. Traditionally, sports fans participate in a distinctly non-scientific manner. Fans have traditionally relied on emotional constructs such as loyalty and heroism to make meaning out of the role of sports in their own lives. In fact, the notion of scientific analysis runs counter to the traditional discourses about sport being representative of a moral paradigm of hard work and success. The tension between these two discourses can be seen as people who participate in the Sabermetric movement are often labeled “stats geeks” and are derided by more traditional fans. However, as the Sabermetric movement grows in size, it seems clear that the cultural practices of this group is worthy of investigation.
From a sociology of knowledge perspective, the emergence of Sabermetrics as a paradigm to make baseball related decisions represents a struggle over the production of knowledge. Sabermetricians are actively seeking to legitimize their products of knowledge using the imprimatur of science, while baseball’s traditionalists reject this notion using the imprimatur of experience and institution to reinforce the notion that they are the true producers and keepers of baseball knowledge.
Those two preceding paragraphs are just to say that I am interested in studying people who have chosen this particular set of cultural practices over another set that is more widely available and acceptable. What are their motivations and what do they hope to accomplish? Do they see themselves as part of a social movement? And how do they see themselves in relationship to other fans?
What I hope to uncover with this research is the process by which knowledge is created from both above and below, especially in relation to an institution as pervasive as sports. How do the notions about scientific research fit in with an institution that uses a discourse that often eschews science? And what social conditions have made it possible for this movement to begin and to grow. I also hope to shed some light on this particular subculture, as I feel that the narrative surrounding these people in the mainstream media as stats geeks is probably an incomplete understanding of what makes these people tick and why they enjoy playing with numbers.
Anyways, this is a little longer than I want it to be, so I’ll save methodology for another post. But if you are interested, you can download a complete copy of my research prospectus (PDF, 14 pages). I’ve also added a link to the sidebar as well and will continue to add documents as I produce them. Anyways, for those of you who have any kind of feedback, please leave a comment. Actually, I beg you, please leave me some feedback, as it can only improve the overall project.