What if some ministry of information outlawed the collection of baseball statistics and we were all left to judge players exclusively by what we saw, what we perceived and what we remembered? Who would be perceived as the best player in baseball? ...This is something I have thought a lot about, especially when crotchety sportswriters and ignorant fans bemoan (and ridicule) the introduction of new (and better) ways of measuring player performance. (As though the very idea of possessing more information is inherently bad.)
Imagine you're watching a game on Opening Day. If you're paying close attention, you might notice that one guy goes hitless, strikes out a couple times and makes the final out of the game. Maybe he's lodged in your memory because of that final out, so you notice he goes hitless in the second game too. Finally, he gets two hits in the third game and one in the fourth and one in the fifth. Is he good? How about if he goes hitless in the next game but then homers in the seventh, then goes hitless, then two singles, then hitless, then 1-for-4, then 1-for-4, then 1-for-4, then hitless, then three hits. Is he good?
Most likely, you have no idea. Even right now, staring at that paragraph, you have no idea because you aren't allowed to add all those games up and figure out whether they add up to something good. In fact, I can tell you what they add up to -- a .259/.359/.370 slash line -- and you still don't know if they're any good unless you know everybody else's slash lines. And that's just one guy, whom you happen to be paying suspiciously close attention to. There are 750 active players, spread out across 15 games every day. What are the odds you'd remember all 60 plate appearances from one player if you were trying to keep track of hundreds?
No one is capable of watching and retaining the memory of every single pitch of every single game of every single season, of every single fielding play or every runner on the base paths, year after year after year. We need information about those thousands of at-bats, those catches and extra bases taken; we need records of everything that happens on the field; we need statistics. The game is nearly meaningless without them. And the more precise and accurate those statistics are, the better we can understand and appreciate the game and its players.