As we’ve all become more conversant with statistical analysis to some degree or another over the past few years, you end up bumping into the notion of a number that is “meaningful.” It’s a term that increasingly leaves me ill at ease, but that should come as no surprise: There are volumes upon volumes of scholarship in all areas on meaning, and how it is derived.
I mean, what else are we here for if not to find meaning, or at least ascribe it.
When someone who is doing analysis says that a statistic or data point is meaningful, I generally assume that this means that they believe it is predictive. Most of the time, they are speaking of a rate stat, possibly something that has been adjusted so as to flatten out elements of luck or geography.
Side note: Why aren’t there seasonally adjusted stats? Why doesn’t anyone adjust offensive output to a neutral 22 degrees Celsius with a neutral level of humidity?
In spite of the wisenheimer comment above, I’m not here to take cheap shots at advanced analysis, because I think we’ve all benefited greatly from the way in which this predictive data has informed fans, and encouraged us to question the narratives constructed from conventional wisdom and wishful thinking. Given how many fans ask me to predict the outcome of the coming season, I’m happy to have that forward-looking information at my disposal, even if I doubt most of my own prognostications as soon as they’re delivered.
But there is a distinction between a constructed narrative that presents itself as an authoritative view of what is happening in the present, or just about to happen, and a historical narrative derived from looking back at what has occurred in the past, and brought us to today.
No doubt, such a narrative can be corrupted by selecting facts to make you argument. But where counting stats are generally poo-pooed within the context of predictive meaning-making, I think that there’s an argument that looking at a coarse, raw number of accumulated events can help us to appreciate some sort of meaning about what has happened over the past decade with our team.
In the most coarse analysis, people can look back at a player and list off “good seasons” and “bad seasons”, and if one outweighs the other, I suppose that tells you what that player meant and who he was. That seems somewhat unfair, but you always knew I was a softy.
But what I enjoy doing at the beginning of every year is looking at the Blue Jays’ all-time leaders in a few counting stats to get a sense of who has moved into the pantheon of the best in the franchise’s history. And this year, the name that stands out is Adam Lind.
With a half-way decent year – including good health and regular playing time, Lind should move into the top ten all-time in hits as a Blue Jay. He currently sits in 17th place with 838, but an average year of 120 hits will push him past the likes of Rance Mulliniks, Alex Rios, Ernie Whitt, John Olerud and Jesse Barfield.
Lind is also likely to pass Lloyd Moseby for seventh all-time in home runs, sitting nine dingers back at 140. With a good year, Lind could pass Rios to reach 10th all-time in doubles, with a shot at Mulliniks in ninth if he hits 33 two baggers. In RBIs, Lind sits in ninth place, with eighth-place Whitt and seventh-place Barfield sitting 39 and 48 runs ahead of him, respectively.
I know that some of these counting stats easily elicit scoffs, and some would have been happy to see Lind compiling away in another organization by now. But there is something to be said about a player who sticks around long enough to stay in the lineup and move his way into the top ranks of all who wore the uniform.
And if you really need it, Lind sits eighth all-time in wRC+ among Blue Jays with more than 3000 plate appearances. So there.
I hold a picture in my head of a late-2007 game in Ottawa between the hometown Lynx and the Syracuse Chiefs, and of an injured Adam Lind leaning against a railing and laughing with teammates. I took that moment in, and thought that maybe Lind’s temperament seemed a bit light-hearted for someone who had been dispatched from the big league club. That maybe he wasn’t the sort of guy who would stick around for long.
If you had told me then what those counting stats would eventually amount to, I probably would have been happy to anticipate his future contributions.