Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Fight On- An Open Letter To Dave Cameron


It’s been a while since my last post, for which I apologize. I’ve been traveling around the UK and have been somewhat removed from both internet connections and the world of baseball. I’ll be back at the end of the month and return to posting more regularly.

However, Dave Cameron recently announced that he’s been diagnosed with an aggressive brand of leukemia, and as you’ll learn, this requires me to respond. Without Mr. Cameron, I don’t think I’d be doing what I do, and I think that’s true for many amateur sabermetricians plying their trades in various dark corners of the internet.

For the last decade-plus, Cameron has been enlightening the baseball world with revolutionary analysis in the virtual pages of such illustrious publications as Baseball Prospectus, the U.S.S. Mariner, FanGraphs, and the Wall Street Journal. Cameron has performed groundbreaking research in evaluations of an almost endless list of facets of the game we all love, including defensive evaluation, pitcher skill and development, roster management strategy, and about a billion other studies that have made the sabermetric community just a little bit smarter.

However, his most important contribution may be not in his own analysis, but in allowing others the ability to do the same. As the managing editor and operator of FanGraphs, Cameron and his colleagues make it possible for me to use the statistics I do in my analysis, and the same can be said for nearly every saber-blogger on the web. By making advanced statistics publicly available and creating a forum for discussion of these statistics, Cameron has displayed a commitment to making the best statistics and information in the baseball world available to anyone interested in seeking it out, free of charge. Though many sites provide high-level baseball analysis, no site has done better to bring this analysis and the underlying data that supports it to the masses than FanGraphs. Dave Cameron, as a contributor and leader of the site, has led this charge, and for that I owe him my sincerest gratitude. Over the past decade, sabermetrics has begun to move into the spotlight, gaining widespread acceptance and respect throughout the game of baseball. Throughout this transition, Cameron has been at the forefront of the field, and outside of Bill James, there may not be anyone who’s done more for the sabermetric community than he has. So, an open letter to Dave Cameron.

Dear Mr. Cameron,

I’m writing to express my gratitude for all that you’ve done for sabermetrics. Your analysis throughout your career has been nothing short of brilliant, your insight enlightening, and you have done it all while making your work accessible to those of us who may not be as well-versed in statistical methods as yourself and others at the head of the field. Though the advancement of the field of sabermetrics may rely on the most complex and in-depth statistical methods available, its mainstream acceptance relies on the ability to make these methods and the results they produce accessible to baseball fans who may not have a PhD in Statistics from MIT or a Harvard MBA. You have always been wildly successful at bridging this gap, expanding the audience for sabermetric analysis exponentially by producing groundbreaking work while explaining to your readers why that work matters and what it means in a way any baseball fan can understand if they simply take the time to listen. You write deftly for an audience at a variety of levels of understanding, without ever dumbing down your work at the expense of your analysis or allowing your explanation of your methods and results to seem patronizing. You are a shining example of a sabermetrician willing not only to learn but also to teach, and I can honestly say I wouldn’t be where I am without you.

If I’ve learned anything in my time analyzing baseball, it’s that this sport can teach you life lessons, even when you’re not looking for them. The most enduring images of the game involve the men that never gave up, who refused to resign themselves to defeat, and who believed that through hard work and mental toughness they could defy the odds. We can analyze and measure and study the game all we want, but when push comes to shove, the results that matter are the ones that happen on the field of play. We develop statistics and create models that explain likely outcomes, then root for our teams to defy these outcomes through a unique sort of magic, the kind that happens in the moment between the most dire situations and the most incredible conclusions. It’s the moment where Carlton Fisk wildly gyrates his arms as he begins to jump down the first base line, hoping for a stiff breeze or divine intervention. It’s the moment where Bobby Thompson’s shot is just a “long drive,” and every fan in the stadiums wonders if he could possibly have gotten enough air under it. It’s the moment where Kirk Gibson hobbles up to home plate, or Mookie Wilson rolls a dribbler down the first-base line. The numbers go out the window, and all that’s left is the will to keep fighting and the ability to maintain hope when all but the smallest glimmer is lost.

Mr. Cameron, keep fighting. The sabermetric community you helped build, the men and women you helped teach, and the fans you continue to enlighten at every turn are pulling for you.


Doug Wachter


  1. I echo your sentiments completely. I'm a M's fan, but--although this sounds like hyperbole--I honestly enjoy reading Dave's analysis at USSM more than I do the M's themselves.