Kahrl Highlights SABR 39
Christina Kahrl of Baseball Prospectus was the highlighted speaker for SABR 39 held in DC this week.Â There were great sessions.Â There was enough trivia and analysis toÂ sate theÂ hungriest baseball appetite,Â but for inspiration it was allÂ Christina Kahrl–an iconoclast withÂ shiny new BBWAA keys to baseball’s executive washroom.
SABR 39 is my first convention and I must admit I was surprised how good the presentations were.Â It was fascinating to learn that Babe Ruth batted cleanup and started on the mound in the same game for Boston, going 5-for-5 in the bargain.Â Â I thank Eric Weiss and the other presenters who did the work to make the conference fun and informative.
The Library of Congress presentations were invaluable to researchers and I sold some books–along with a few other McFarland authors (Mitchem, Leavengood, Outland in the photo, l-r), so it was all good.
But pumping us up, giving us something that at the end of the dayÂ keeps us wanting to do this stuff–that belonged to Christina Kahrl.
There is a wonderful edge to Christina and I would bet a beer or two that she has always had it.Â Â It all comes out so fast, like a very well-ordered, analytic stream of consciousness.Â You just grab hold of the opinions and informationÂ flying past andÂ hang on.Â And like the Prospectus itself, she tucks the humor into surprising places that keep you smiling and demand your attention.
First and foremost though, she isÂ about sabermetrics and she admitted that she is still looking for that unified theory, a “Rosetta Stone”Â of player evaluation and team performance that will allow us to compare statistics across one era to another, to make reasonable assertions about howÂ dead ball era players compare to those from the most modern eras.
“There are limits, though,” she acknowledged and she settled into telling stories about the beginnings of Baseball Prospectus.Â The first publication in 1996 did not contain assessments of all 28 teams playing at the time–a beginners oversight.Â “But if you want the Word file on the Cardinals that was missing, I can get it for you.”Â She was proud to admit the mistakes because she and her colleagues hadÂ the determinationÂ to come back and get it right the following year.
She stillÂ works both sides of the aisle–writing her “Transaction Analysis” Column for Baseball Prospectus.com and still contributing toÂ the annual print publication, but she has an affinity for on-line journalism.Â She had great insights into what she called baseball’s “explosion of information,” one that she believes coincides with the expanding need for analysis.Â She opined that when Joe McCarthy was a manager, he probably only had to know the tendencies of several key players on a few teams–a sharp contrast to the complex information demands of today’s managers.
The exponential growthÂ in baseball analysis has created a demand or market for it within today’s game she believes.Â But Kahrl was insistent not to overstate the importance of statistical and analytic research.Â She emphasized the balance between so many things–scouting of course, and she gave a nod to her colleague Kevin Goldstein for stressing it within the Baseball Prospectus group, but also of oral histories and video studies that have gotten increasingly sophisticated with computer applications.
Kahrl had insights for web sites like this one as well.Â “Diversity of content offering,” she said, is a key.Â She was talking about the need not just to stress statistical analysis in her end of things, but she said the smart journalists are always looking for the newest and best kinds of information, always on top of exactly what people are looking for.Â “It is asking the right questions,” she said, “more than finding the right answers.”
Talking about today’s baseball writers focusing on statistical analysis she said it is about “people who can put together the right information,”Â as though she really knew exactly what she had in mind.Â The art of it is that I think she did.
Kahrl said that it is satisfying to see the success sabermetric analysis has had.Â She asserted that only the Philadelphia Phillies do not employ a sabermetrician on their staff–a curious metric in and of itself.Â But she believes thatÂ more effective statistical analysis could beÂ employedÂ by broadcasters.Â “Can Hawk Harrelson even read?” she asked playfully.
Broadcasters use of stats begin and end with triple crown numbers, she said.Â But radio and TV broadcasts could only be improved by something of greaterÂ depth–something more than the “Bull Durham interview” pabulum that so many players learn to mouth for TV as players and then too often fall back on in the booth.
She was asked in the end whether her induction into the Baseball Writers Association of America with colleague Will Carroll has changed her perspective.Â While she said she valued the establishment writers more, some part of ChristinaÂ Kahrl will always be an outsider looking in, always be a social scientist arguing method to… the establishment.Â ButÂ that perspective is her strength.
She stayed and answered questions long after the session ended andÂ had a devoted audience until the very end.Â “It is an art to conceal art,” she said early inÂ her hour, but it was hard to hide the bright smile and intellect of Christina Kahrl.Â Â It will be fun toÂ to see where her success takes herÂ next.