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Sabermetrics, the Sound off the Bat, and a Bit of Phenomenology

Baseball as a sport, like most activities of daily life, is one which we consume primarily through our eyes. While I’m certain some people still enjoy it by listening to the radio (a mode I’m still partial to), I think you would be hard-pressed to that argue baseball is not visual. That’s not to say we don’t listen to the sounds (personally I find baseball on mute to be close to a kind of torture). However, our judgments of the game, and more importantly our judgments of the players in it, are based on what we see visually. We don’t know Mike Trout is good just because the announcer tells us he is good, we know he is good because we can see how good he is. We can see the balls he snatches away as they clear the fence, as well as the balls he smashes over them.

There are other methods we can use to see that Trout is good as well. Sabermetrics and Trout have seemingly been tied together in their emergence into the public baseball consciousness. As he blossomed into a star, so did Sabermetrics as it rose to the forefront and into the view of the average fan. Like Trout, the way we digest sabermetrics is in a sense almost purely visual. We come to FanGraphs, and we read a stat line off the screen. When we look at exit velocity or launch angle, we’re looking at metrics we’re aware of because a computer system visualized them for us.

To a large extent, what I’ve said above is simply a result of us privileging sight more than our other senses. Baseball utilizes the other senses as well. We all likely have memories tied to the smell of the stadium or a leather glove. Maybe every time you go to a game you get a hot dog, and that taste is as connected to baseball as the sound of a cheering crowd. Baseball at its best is a palimpsest of all of these senses working together to create our experience. Read the rest of this entry »