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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Ty Cobb on Probability & Trick Plays

Via TangoTiger, this is a fascinating read. Ty Cobb is one of the more intriguing characters in major league history, and this article, which was written in 1916 and involves an interview with Cobb, really showcases the sort of player he was. Here's an excerpt, from a discussion on scoring from second on an infield ground ball:
Now this demands six separate and distinct operations by three different players. The infielder has to catch the ball and has to throw it to first. The first baseman has to catch it and throw it to the catcher. The latter has to catch it and tag the runner. Now the runner ought to have rounded third base before the infielder got his hands on the ball. If so, that would mean that these six operations had to be performed by three different players in less than the time necessary for a fast man to get from third to home. It needs quick and accurate work on the part of the infield to catch a man on this play where the breaks are right. And quick work that is hurried is seldom perfectly accurate.
There are many things to dislike about Cobb, from racism, to outright arrogance, to his willingness to harm other players on the field. But there's also no question that he was among the great players of his era, and this article gives insight into what made him so great--not just his tremendous physical talents, but his analytical approach to the game and desire to push the limits of what is possible.

The other thing I like about this article is that it helps show, once again, how a purely statistical approach to player analysis can miss some things about player performance--you miss the human factors that affect how games play out. I always try to keep that in mind in my work here, even if my work is primarily statistical--mainly because I don't have the knowledge to do skills-based scouting. :)