Today on Streets.mn: Comparing SABR to Critical Urbanism

Baseball is one of my favorite things, and I wrote a post for Streets.mn today about the lessons that SABRmetrics can teach critical urbanists.

Lots of good stuff:

First, baseball statheads rigorously test their theories. No old baseball assumption goes unchallenged at a SABR convention. For decades, there have been endless debates over whether pitchers can induce outs, the existence of clutch hitting, the importance of batting order, or how catchers “frame” balls and strikes. The adages of old school managers — e.g. the hit and run, bunting, always having a middle infielder in your leadoff spot (ahem, Gardy) — are continually being debunked by the sabermetric community.
That’s something that urbanists should be doing too. Do streetcars really attract investment? Are wider car lanes really safer? Do parking minimums really reduce congestion? Continually challenging the assumptions of the urban design professions is a noble cause, and we can learn a lot from sabermetrics. No theory should go untested.
Second, sabermetrics is excellent at noticing and ridiculing bad investements. Some baseball teams are legendary for signing aging players to long-term contracts. Some cities do the same thing, building spectacular economic development or transportation boondoggles. Ryan Howard’s contract is like Block E. The convention center subsidy is like signing Alfonso Soriano to an eight-year deal. The new Vikings Stadium is going to be for Minneapolis what Barry Zito was for the Giants. (A-Rod = the Big Dig?)
Rejecting bad investments, and developing alternative models for allocating scarce dollars, should be the goal of saberurbanists. Some teams are adept at trading players when they’re most valuable, and signing young players to long-term team-friendly contracts. Is Portland the Tampa Bay Rays of urban planning?
The final lesson of saberurbanism is that outsiders can change the rules of the game. As Moneyball shows, for a long time baseball insiders have been hostile to outside (sabermetric) analysis. People like Bill James have been writing critical analyses of baseball since the 70s, and new measures of value (like OPS, xFIP, WAR, VORP, etc.) have exploded in popularity for decades (especially on the internet). But most teams began paying attention only recently. The Twins just hired their first dedicated statistical researcher, and it seems that most front office people have slender grasp on even basic advanced baseball stats.

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