A novel by Jonah Lehrer
The Math Problem
Sabermetrics can help teams identify hidden talent and turn regular sports fans into math nerds. But can the numbers lie?
No, not by themselves. They need the help of idiots to do that.
I have to paste this whole awful analogy. Bear with me here fellas.
Buying a car is a hard decision. There are just so many variables to think about. We've got to inspect the interior and analyze the engine, and research the reliability of the brand. And then, once we've amassed all these facts, we've got to compare different models.
How do we sift through this excess of information? When consumers are debating car alternatives, studies show that they tend to focus on variables they can quantify, such as horsepower and fuel economy. (Psychologists refer to this as the "anchoring effect," since we anchor our decision to a number.) We do this for predictable reasons. The amount of horsepower directly reflects the output of the engine, and the engine seems like something that should matter. (Nobody wants an underpowered car.) We also don't want to spend all our money at the gas station, which is why we get obsessed with very slight differences in miles per gallon ratings.
Furthermore, these numerical attributes are easy to compare across cars: All we have to do is glance at the digits and see which model performs the best. And so a difficult choice becomes a simple math problem.
Long and short of it: Jonah thinks that evaluating an athlete based solely on statistics can be misleading, much like relying on "metrics" like horsepower and fuel economy for buying a vehicle.
Unfortunately, this obsession with horsepower and fuel economy turns out to be a big mistake. The explanation is simple: The variables don't matter nearly as much as we think.1 Just look at horsepower: When a team of economists analyzed the features that are closely related to lifetime car satisfaction, the power of the engine was near the bottom of the list. (Fuel economy was only slightly higher.) That's because the typical driver rarely requires 300 horses or a turbocharged V-8. Although we like to imagine ourselves as Steve McQueen, accelerating into the curves, we actually spend most of our driving time stuck in traffic, idling at an intersection on the way to the supermarket.
Dude. You could not have picked something that more PROVES the necessity of sabermetrics. Here's the analogy you set up on accident. Substitute batting average and pitcher wins for horsepower and fuel economy. Stuff you might think on the surface is important, but when the economists (sabermetricians) analyze what really matters, it's surprising stuff like.....
This is why, according to surveys of car owners, the factors that are most important turn out to be things like the soundness of the car frame, the comfort of the front seats and the aesthetics of the dashboard. These variables are harder to quantify, of course. But that doesn't mean they don't matter.
And that is the point of sabermetrics. To identify which elements of a baseball player (car) are actually important, weed out those that aren't, and use that information to value them properly.
I truly apologize to my many, many fans for that incredibly dry chunk of text. But I think it's important to show how clueless this guy is before we get into the crap. His car analogy far more easily lends itself to explaining why sabermetrics are important than proving that they're overly relied upon.
But this is not a column about cars. My worry is that sports teams are starting to suffer from a version of the horsepower mistake. Like a confused car shopper, they are seeking out the safety of math, trying to make extremely complicated personnel decisions by fixating on statistics.
There is not a single sports franchise in the world, not even the Oakland Athletics, that is this hell-bent on ignoring non-numerical data. You clearly have no idea how sports teams operate (hey, a label!).
Instead of accepting the inherent mystery of athletic talent — or at least taking those intangibles into account — they are pretending that the numbers explain everything.
Who??? Who is doing this? Didn't Milton Bradley just get cut? Doesn't Mark Kotsay still play professional baseball for some reason?
And so we end up with teams that are like the worst kind of car. They look good on paper — so much horsepower! — but they fail to satisfy. The dashboard is ugly, the frame squeaks, and the front seats make our ass hurt.
Examples please. These are just general statements with no proof. Were the Houston Astros, Cleveland Cavaliers, Buffalo Bills, and whoever the fuck is bad in the NHL good teams on paper?
This is largely the fault of sabermetrics.
No no no no no no no. Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong. You need to provide me with one fucking example to get me to even listen to you.
Although the tool was designed to deal with the independent interactions of pitchers and batters, it's now being widely applied to team sports, such as football and basketball.
First of all, sabermetrics is not a word applicable to any sport besides baseball. So stop using it. It comes from the acronym for the Society for American Baseball Research. Stop fucking telling me that people are analyzing football with sabermetrics, because unless xFIP is somehow helpful in evaluating a wide receiver, you're making no sense.
I am now going to assume that instead of "sabermetrics", Jonah instead means to say "big scary numbers that I don't understand".
The goal of these new equations is to parse the complexity of people playing together, finding ways to measure quarterbacks while disregarding the quality of their offensive line, or assessing a point guard while discounting the poor shooting of his teammates.
Yes, and that's a smart thing to do. An intelligent GM in any sport considers the context of a player's ostensible success or failure and tries to evaluate how he would perform if extracted from his environment and placed in that of the team he runs. Why is this a problem?
The underlying assumption is that a team is just the sum of its players, and that the real world works a lot like a fantasy league.
No one, not even Ed Wade, is this stupid.
In many respects, sabermetrics has dramatically improved personnel decisions. By relying on unusual measurements of performance, such as base runs and plus-minus ratings, teams have been able to identify neglected talent, whom they can sign on the cheap. Sabermetrics has also helped sports executives double-check their instincts. Instead of blindly trusting some errant whim — and thus making a terrible trade or picking the wrong free agent — they can consult the math.
And now we come to the paragraph where I became 100% convinced that Jonah is clueless, rather than someone bad at arguing.
If the Giants had trusted the numbers, for instance, they wouldn't be saddled with Aaron Rowand's five-year, $60 million contract. (He batted .230 last year.)
I'd think this is a pretty good point if not for the fact that Jonah clearly thinks he's pegged Rowand for useless (and duh, he is, but still...) because of his batting average in a single season of his deal. That, after all, is a sabermetrically sabermetric statistic that will convince your argument's opposition (sabermetricians) that you know what you are talking about.
They would have realized that his OBS
I don't know what that is.
and OPS is pretty mediocre, especially once his two outlier seasons are taken into account.
Rule: If John Kruk knows what it is, it's not a sabermetric statistic.
(Edit: Jonah since crossed out "OBS" since my initial read of this article. But on the other hand..."OBS"??@?!?!?!??!#?@#?R#$!!!#!$!???????????????? It's not a typo, of "OPS", because he distinctly wrote "OBS and OPS".)
But sabermetrics comes with an important drawback. Because it translates sports into a list of statistics, the tool can also lead coaches and executives to neglect those variables that can't be quantified. They become so obsessed with the power of base runs that they undervalue the importance of not being an asshole, or having playoff experience, or listening to the coach.
Incidentally....that Rowand guy......
[x] Not an asshole
[x] Has playoff experience
If Jonah Lehrer was the GM of a baseball team, he'd start Derrek Lee at first base and David Eckstein everywhere else.
This is the moral of the Dallas Mavericks.
Uh oh. You don't want to do that Jonah.
By nearly every statistical measure, the Mavs were outmanned by most of their playoff opponents.
Pretty tough to debate this. Few people could seriously argue they were favorites on paper against the Lakers or even the Heat.
(According to one statistical analysis, the Los Angeles Lakers had four of the top five players in the series. The Miami Heat had three of the top four.)
Wow. Yeah let's only look at the top 5 players on each team to prove a point. There isn't an NBA fan in the world that doesn't understand that the Miami Heat are largely pathetic once you drop below the Bosh node in the pecking order.
And yet, the Mavs managed to do what the best teams always do: They became more than the sum of their parts. They beat the talent.
They beat the Lakers and Heat in 7-game serieseses. The *best* teams always win a 7-game series!
Consider the case of J.J. Barea. During the regular season, the backup point guard had perfectly ordinary statistics, averaging 9.5 ppg and shooting 44 percent from the field. His plus/minus rating was slightly negative. There was no reason to expect big things from such a little player in the playoffs.
But CONTRARY TO THOSE EXPECTATIONS......he averaged 8.9 ppg and shot 42 percent from the field in the playoffs.
And yet, by Game 4 of the NBA Finals, Barea was in the starting lineup. (This promotion came despite the fact that he began the Finals with a 5-for-23 shooting slump and a minus-14 rating.)
Primary reason: DeShawn Stevenson was playing like absolute shit. Let's not mention that though.
What Dallas coach Rick Carlisle wisely realized is that Barea possessed something that couldn't be captured in a scorecard, that his speed and energy were virtues even when he missed his layups (and he missed a lot of layups),
Not helping your case.
and that when he made those driving floaters their value exceeded the point score.
Please please please please Jonah, if you could take a moment to re-read that sentence....
Because nothing messes with your head like seeing a guy that short score in the lane.
Wow, there you have it. This is why LeBron James played like crap in the 4th quarter. J.J. Barea's floaters were just ::sniff:: too demoralizing! This is why Earl Boykins has won so many championships!
Although Barea's statistics still look pretty ordinary — his scoring average fell in the Finals despite the fact that he started — the Mavs have declared that re-signing him is a priority. Because it doesn't matter what the numbers say. Barea won games.
Wow. Big slap in the face to Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry, who could not have withstood the tremendous 4th quarter play of LeBron James without J.J. Barea's floaters that caused Chris Bosh to start openly weeping after they went in.
What follows that paragraph is a depressing and poorly-placed story.
I'm thinking here of a Philip Roth metaphor. When asked by David Remnick, in a 2000 New Yorker profile, how he felt about a cramped literary interpretation of one of his novels, Roth busted out a sports analogy. He imagined going to a baseball game with a little boy for the very first time. The kid doesn't understand what's happening on the field, and so his dad tells him to watch the scoreboard, to keep track of all the changing numbers. When the boy gets home someone asks him if he had fun at the game:
"It was great!" he says. "The scoreboard changed thirty-two times and Daddy said last game it changed only fourteen times and the home team last time changed more times than the other team. It was really great! We had hot dogs and we stood up at one point to stretch and we went home."
If that little kid were around today, he'd be obsessed with sabermetrics.
"Scoreboard changes" being one of the pivotal cornerstones of advanced baseball metrics.
He'd almost certainly win his fantasy league, but he'd miss the point of the game.
Tsk tsk. If only you left out that part about the hot dogs and the 7th inning stretch, you might have a point. Sabermetricians have never attended baseball games, and if they did, they surely wouldn't waste their time eating hot dogs or stretching. WHAT IF THEY MISSED A SCOREBOARD CHANGE!?!??!?!
Sure, he wouldn't have squandered center field on Rowand, but he also wouldn't have started Barea or bet on the Mavs.
Are you telling me that you, Jonah Lehrer, thought the Mavs would win the NBA Finals at the outset of the playoffs? They were a 16:1 shot. Not impossible for them to win, but there isn't ANYONE who knows shit about the NBA who would have bet on the Mavs at the onset of the playoffs if betting on all teams payed out equally.
His car would have way too much horsepower and shitty seats.
Stop with this crap already. It doesn't make sense.
For reasons that remain mysterious, some teammates make each other much better and some backup point guards really piss off Ron Artest.
Well since the GM of Ron Artest's team has no idea whether a player he's going to trade for will piss off Ron Artest or not, he might as well just not even bother trying to evaluate anyone, right?
These are the qualities that often determine wins and losses, and yet they can't be found on the back of a trading card or translated into a short list of clever equations.
Seriously, no shit. Obviously it matters in basketball if players play well together, accept their roles, and complement each others' skillsets. You'd have to be a total asshat to think otherwise. The issue is that no one knows which players specifically fit best with Deron Williams before they actually play on the same court together. GMs do the best they can with the information they have at hand, and most of that information is statistics and scouting reports. It's pointless speculating who's going to become best friends with your fucking point guard. I've had it with this. Your Mavericks argument is shit, because it's based 100% in hindsight. Your definition of a "winning player", in essence, is "a player who won something". Try arguing to me that J.J. Barea is by definition a "winner" if LeBron goes off for double-digit points in every 4th quarter of the Finals like he's more than capable of and the Mavs lose. Because that's essentially foresight that you're holding sports teams to be responsible for knowing and acting upon rather than the data they actually have.
This is the paradox of sports statistics: What the math ends up teaching us that is that sports are not a math problem.
Putrid. Horrid. That sentence makes me want them to free Mariotti.
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
A novel by Jonah Lehrer
Sunday, June 26, 2011
Back in the day, way back when that other FJM blog (the one that copied our name and stole our idea) was still active, they occasionally wrote posts picking on small-time sportswriters. Really small-time. Like, they'd pick on the guy who writes the sports section, entertainment section, and police blotter for the North Platte Plains Journal. I always thought that was kind of pointless; sure, those writers had really stupid things to say about sports, but it's not like anyone ever read their garbage. It kind of had the feel of a literary critic ripping apart entries from a middle school short story contest.
But you know what? Fuck that. If they can steal our ideas, we can steal theirs. Last week I stumbled into this piece by some dude from the Enid (Oklahoma) News and Eagle. And that dude, Dave Ruthenberg, has some really great and valid points to make about interleague play. So lean back in your porch swing, take a sip of homemade iced tea, and enjoy some small town sportswriting from a guy who really isn't too sure about this whole Facebook Twitter thing.
In the normal scheme of things, Tuesday’s 5-2 victory by the Florida Marlins over the Los Angeles Angels would garner nary a notice other than a mention on that ubiquitous lower-screen ESPN crawl on your television.
Well your first problem is that you're watching ESPN and expecting any kind of baseball coverage at all. TONIGHT ON SPORTSCENTER- JUST WAIT UNTIL YOU HEAR WHAT CAM NEWTON HAD TO SAY ABOUT BEING COMPARED TO MIKE VICK IN A TWEET FROM LEBRON.
Certainly, the fact the Marlins and Angels were playing an interleague game bore little or no interest to most fans.
Whereas most Marlins games get coverage like the first moon landing.
Interleague play, once an intriguing an idea before the explosion of cable and satellite TV brought nearly every team from the American League and National League into our homes, has run its tired course.
Baseball has been shown on national TV since 1965. I understand that MLB Extra Innings is a little different than a single game being broadcast nationally once a week on ABC, but it's not like the only option for following games when interleague was conceptualized was to sit around your family's vacuum tube radio and hope you could pick up the Senators/Redstockings game.
Interleague play was a new idea in 1997,
All ideas are new ideas when people first have them. That is the essence of an idea.
but has quickly grown old and needs to put out to pasture. Be honest, does anybody care that the Detroit Tigers are playing the Colorado Rockies or that the Washington Nationals are playing the Seattle Mariners?
Does anyone care when the Tigers play the Mariners and the Rockies play the Nationals? Pointing out that unpopular teams play interleague games is not a reason to can it. Although I have to agree with the author's implied premise: baseball certainly would be more interesting if the AL consisted of only the Red Sox and Yankees and the NL consisted of only the Dodgers and Phillies. Geez, that would be so exciting that it might even be worth reconsidering this whole “let's shelve interleague” thing. Yankees-Phillies! Can you imagine?
Sure, there were a couple of intriguing matchups such as St. Louis and Kansas City
Yeah, a good 40% of Missouri was riveted to that one. THAT'S the one you pick?
or the Cubs versus the Mets.
Not to mention that White Sox/Rangers interleague series from a few weeks back!
But even those games have lost their luster in the middle of a baseball season that is sorely lacking intrigue or excitement.
You know what would help baseball regain its status as America's favorite sport? If it had more football in it.
So why would a game involving the Florida Marlins, who entered Tuesday with an 11-game losing streak, matter to anyone? Jack McKeon.
Hey, one of the league's least-followed teams hired an 80 year old dude to manage. NOW we'll see some intrigue and excitement.
/waits for Jack McKeon to say something racist or pee himself during a press conference
While baseball needs to retire interleague play, it is a little ironic
I don't want to be a grammar dick, but it's ironical.
that a manager long ago thought to have been put out to pasture, became, at least for now, baseball’s most interesting story.
So ironical. I guess in Dave's world, interleague play = boring, Jack McKeon = interesting. Geez, where does the fact that the Pirates just signed a contract with a new hot dog bun provider for PNC Parkfit on this scale? Can it even fit or do we have to acknowledge that some things are so incredible that they simply can't be categorized?
The 80-year-old McKeon was brought out of retirement to take over as interim manager of the woeful Marlins after Edwin Rodriguez stepped down as their manager. Rodriguez compiled a record of 78-85 since taking over one year ago but things were heading downhill swiftly but when the Marlins named McKeon, most observers snickered.
Editorial standards at the News and Eagle aren't what they used to be.
But really, an 80-year-old manager? McKeon is old-school and offers no apologies.
Unlike Manny Acta, who simply will not stop fucking apologizing for his age. It's really awkward, actually.
“Why should experience get penalized?” McKeon said after he took on the job.
Is there a more predictable way for an 80 year old in a young persons' industry to respond to a question about their age? I'm certain that there isn't. Eat your heart out, Ted Stevens. WELL I TELL YOU WHAT I DON'T KNOW TOO MUCH ABOUT THE INTERNET ROBOT MACHINES BUT I KNOW A LITTLE BIT ABOUT DOUBLE SWITCHES
but outside of that I don’t have any problem disciplining my kids – or these players.”
So McKeon will not be telling Hanley Ramirez to get his lazy fucking ass in gear via tweet or status message. Gotcha.
You have to admire straight-forward talk like that.
No you don't. You have to either 1) shrug it off as a stupid cliché or 2) nod along cautiously because you're also 80 and have no idea what Facebook and Twitter are.
Not being familiar with today’s so-called social media may be an advantage. How many games have been won via Twitter or Facebook?
Exactly 273, but who's counting? Yeah, I have to admit that the other FJM was onto something w/r/t these small time sportswriters. I might have to start checking in with Dave from Enid regularly. This guy rules.
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
There is nothing redeeming about this article. It has no message, no insights, and no element of originality. Which is why I read it and will now make you read it too.
Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday and now the big one: Albert Pujols is on the St. Louis shelf, leaving the baseball picture looking through the Arch
leaving the baseball picture looking through the Arch
Let's just move on.
even muddier than the mighty Mississippi below it.
When a picture is described as muddied, that means it's unclear or difficult to discern. It's not difficult to discern what the picture is like for the Cardinals right now: it sucks big time elephant ass. If Pujols was struck by lightning, knocking him out of the lineup for two weeks but possibly leaving him with even more superhuman hitting skills, that would muddy the picture. Anyways.
As if there's not enough drama, pain and angst in this Cardinals hardball season,
I certainly hope those greedy cuntwads over in the NFL can figure things out so we don't miss this fall's pigskin season.
and as if there weren't already enough questions surrounding Pujols' future, now comes a left wrist fracture,
Which sort of brings up the same questions as an uncertain contract situation if you take a lot of meth and think on it for a while.
four-to-six weeks on ice and the biggest challenge yet for Tony La Russa's gritty club.
This was not the Monday news the Cardinals wanted to wake up to.
But it is the kind of news they've been waking up to all season.
Ah, the ol' Bill Plaschke sentence-paragraph.
That second single-paragraph sentence was made more dramatic by the blank space surrounding it, no?
That the Cardinals are tied for first place in the NL Central with Wainwright out, eight players on the disabled list and with Chris Carpenter having produced just one victory is crazy.
The NL Central: riding the short bus since 1995. Since realignment its teams have combined to win one World Series (Cardinals in '06) and two other pennants (Cardinals in '04, Astros in '05). They're home to baseball's all-time most pathetic franchise (hint: rhymes with “tubs”) and baseball's most pathetic franchise of the past 20 years (rhymes with “zirates”).
There were people who wrote off the entire Cardinals season when they lost starting right-hander Wainwright this spring.
A favorite technique of shitty sportswriters: talk condescendingly about a vague, unidentifiable mass of people who are being proven wrong. That's a Mariotti favorite. “Some people said Jay Cutler was a big game quarterback, BUT I KNEW BETTER! AND NOW LOOK WHERE WE ARE!!!!!” I don't think anyone with any fucking credibility at all said the Cardinals' season was "lost" when Wainwright's injury came to light. At most, people talked about how either the Brewers or the Reds might be the favorite at that point.
Then Holliday had an emergency appendectomy on April 1 and missed seven games, then landed on the disabled list with a quadriceps strain last month while he was leading the NL with a .342 batting average.
AND PEOPLE SAID THAT WOULD CAUSE THE FRANCHISE TO LIQUIDATE ITS ASSETS AND LITERALLY CEASE TO EXIST! LOTS OF PEOPLE! BUT THEY WERE WRONG!
The list of fallen Cardinals goes on, from third baseman David Freese (broken hand)
Oh my! THE David Freese? The 28 year old with 26 XBHs in 400 career PAs?
to backup catcher Gerald Laird (broken finger),
Not Gerald Laird! He's one of the top 60 catchers in the league!
but we'll skip all those gory details.
There are so many that, eventually, your eyes glaze over like when one of Grandpa's stories moves onto, "Then, my drive on the 14th hole ...."
Very apt comparison. Voluntarily reading about the 10-ish injuries sustained by Cardinals players this year = being forced to humor an elderly relative who is a bad storyteller.
What's important now is that the Cardinals are stuck without their middle-of-the-order rock just when Pujols was finally turning around his season.
During the slowest start of his career, Pujols went a career-high 105 at-bats without a homer from April 24-May 23. It was like watching Bruce Springsteen on stage singing with a dead microphone.
On May 4, Pujols was hitting .233. By May 29, his slugging percentage had dipped to .395. There was no sound, no power ... nothing.
Sound being one of the key elements of successful hitting, along with strike zone discipline, quick hands, and skin.
Everyone knew it would be only a matter of time until Pujols flexed, which is what makes the timing of this fractured wrist so miserable for the Cardinals.
Such a novel, profound perspective. Scott Miller is a fucking pro. How many baseball fans made that observation when news of the injury came out? The answer is probably somewhere between “a millionty billion” and “all of them.”
(a bunch of wasted words describing how Pujols was having a good June deleted because, well, no fucking shit he was having a good June)
Pujols has been on the disabled list just twice in his career, and the Cardinals are not accustomed to playing without him. Since 2006, Tony La Russa has only written 23 lineups that did not include Pujols' name.
But he was A GENIUS when he did so- AN ARTIST AT WORK when putting someone else at first and in Pujols's normal lineup spot. La Russa did it in a way that no other manager could have. Just ask some asshole baseball snob who knows about 5% as much as he thinks he knows and constantly puffs La Russa's penis, someone like George Will (if Will is unavailable ask Bob Costas). Tony La Russa and his No Country For Old Men haircut can't retire soon enough for me. I hope it happens as I'm writing this.
The bizarre thing is, this season started with visions of the Cardinals without Pujols, only not quite so soon. Entering the final year of his contract before free agency this winter, Pujols set an extension deadline of the day he reported to spring training.
Did he? I heard nothing of it. It was only the biggest story in all of baseball during spring training (placing it 45th on the list of biggest stories in all of sports at that time, just behind “Favre plays catch with Mississippi high school football players” and just ahead of “Rex Ryan promises media that impending lockout won't prevent him from eating a pound of bacon per day”).
When that didn't happen, Pujols spent 30 minutes talking with the media that February day about an uncertain future, vowing that would be the last time he spoke of his personal situation.
To which the media responded: “good luck with that!”
He's kept that promise, even following a much-celebrated pre-game hug with Cubs general manager Jim Hendry at Wrigley Field in May that fueled all kinds of Pujols-as-a-future-Cub speculation.
Giving Pujols a 10 year, $300 million contract so he can give them 3 or 4 years of the downside of his prime and then become a complete payroll anchor would be such a Cubs thing to do.
As La Russa told me in May, "He's very conscious that he doesn't want to distract from what we're trying to do. And that's a very honorable thing to do."
Brilliant gambit by La Russa to acknowledge his star player that way. You think any old garden-variety manager would have had the smarts to do that? Yes? Psh. You probably don't even realize that batting the pitcher 8th increases a team's expected runs per game by 0.00069 during night games on artificial turf when there's a full moon.
Measured against this, the Cardinals undoubtedly would take those distractions in a heartbeat.
Yeah, I imagine they'd rather have Pujols playing than not playing. Step 1: hire Scott Miller to write for your publication. Step 2: wait for the awards and $$$$ to start rolling in.
At best, Pujols will be back, sometime between July 20 and Aug. 1.
Commas, when overused, tend to break up, a sentence.
But beyond that, there are questions that right now cannot be answered.
Like “How much longer are teams going to pay Jeff Francouer to have a .290 OBP?” or “Which team has more zilcharoo meathead fans: the Mets or the Phillies?”
Wrist injuries can punish hitters long after they're again playable, especially someone with the quick wrists and bat speed of Pujols. Baltimore's Derrek Lee had his 2010 season ruined by one that still isn't right, and a bad wrist wrecked Vernon Wells' 2009 in Toronto.
And a year later the Angels stepped in and said WHAT? All we have to do is give up Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera and pay Wells's terrible contract for the next four years and we get him? There's gotta be a catch!
Once Pujols returns, can he again this summer be the same hitter he's been for the past month, or will he be hobbled?
The second one?
And at 31 (his listed age), what of his impending contract negotiations? Teams will consider his age and the fact that by today's post-Steroid Era standards, he probably doesn't have more than two or three more years left in his prime. And that's with two good wrists.
And some team run by dipshits, like the Cubs or the Angels or the Dodgers, will still offer him every penny he's asking for. Christ- MLB teams are the worst at not bidding against themselves. See: Holliday, Matt. And in this case there are actually going to be other bidders too.
That the Cardinals are tied for first place today is a credit to their resiliency, pluck
Double lunchpail alert. And this time with extra pluck.
and to Pujols' turnaround. Lance Berkman is a great insurance policy to plug into first, and the NL Central is still winnable even with Pujols out temporarily.
I dunno, the Pirates are still hovering around .500. There's a chance they get hot and end up with the 86 wins it's going to take to grab that crown.
But until he is back and swinging hard, there will be some very unsettling questions as background noise.
And Miller ends with a fittingly delightful mix of nothingness and DUHness.
Sunday, June 19, 2011
First of all, hey ESPN, nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnope:
Friday, June 17, 2011
Of a piece of information undoubtedly divulged to a reporter as some kind of "super top secret" detail that in fact adds absolutely nothing to a news report. You see these all the time as you read AP blurbs, but this one stands out from most I've ever seen.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Why not? Sure, it's just a blog (that also maintains a ton of statistical information- here I'm just talking about their analysis). But we pick on Deadspin because Deadspin is a shit factory; and in its own way, FG is just as much of a shit factory. More importantly FG holds itself out to be a source for serious, objective baseball analysis. So I don't feel bad at all as I engage in this episode of blog-on-blog crime.
I "discovered" FanGraphs (by which I mean "was linked to" or "was told about"- don't you hate it when people try to act like they actually discovered some well-known site or blog before the general public? Like they got in on the ground floor or something? GRRRRRRRRRRR) sometime back in 2008. My initial reaction was "Wow! This is great! A whole blog dedicated to numbers-based analysis!" Within two or three weeks that had changed to "Wow! This is insane! What a pathetic collection of smartest dipshit in the room writers and sycophantic pathetic commenters! How could a concept this great be executed this poorly!"
It's sad and true. Despite offering itself as a high-minded source of objectivity, in reality it's often simply a bunch of pick-and-choose-which-stat-helps-your-predetermined-conclusion garbage. Frequently its analysis is no more objective that the kind of crap Dayn Perry or Scott Miller peddle. If a hitter the FG staff approves of (usually a Mariner, a Ray, or a backup catcher with a high OBP who is SO UNDERRATED IT'S CRIMINAL! THIS GUY WOULD BE A 5 WAR PLAYER IF THEY'D JUST LET HIM PLAY EVERY DAY! (Note: player does not play every day for a perfectly good reason, such as an obscene platoon split problem or the fact that he spent last year putting up slightly above average numbers as a 26 year old in AA ball)) is struggling, it's because of an "unsustainably low" BABIP or HR/FB or whatever. And if those metrics are down because that player's LD% is down and their GB% is up compared to their career numbers, no worries, it will certainly normalize itself in due time and you'd be a fool to think otherwise.
BUT- if a player who is not one of their chosen favorites is struggling, it's a whole new set of rules. The reduced BABIP or HR/FB which is a function of a tanking LD% is not going to change anytime soon. After all, the LD% was "unsustainably high" in the first place. People who say otherwise are selling snake oil. And of course, apply appropriate numbers and logic for pitchers FG loves/doesn't love. Long story short, the whole site is a celebration of the lies/damn lies/statistics thing. Decide what you want your conclusion to be, then build an argument around it based on cherry-picked stats. Just because batted ball splits tell us more about a player's skill level than RBI or batting average doesn't mean they can't be misused just as egregiously. Effecting the egregious misuse in question just takes a little more skill.
In any case, there's no more well-known or hilarious example of FG's groupthink stupidity than the 2010 "organizational rankings" which saw the Mariners, who just happen to be the team of choice for managing editor Dave Cameron, come in ranked shockingly high (#6org!) despite a crummy MLB team and a very questionable farm system. But there were TOTALLY LEGITIMATE AND OBJECTIVE REASONS behind that ranking- just ask any of those smartest dipshit in the room writers or sycophant commenters. Until June or July 2010, anyways, when the Mariners were on their way to a very foreseeable 101 loss season and everyone associated with the site started to get really annoyed with any commenters who made light of the whole situation.
But I'm not writing this post to generally dump on FG. I'm writing it to point out two atrocious posts they've published in the last two days. To be fair, neither is of the lies/damn lies/statistics ilk I was just talking about (although I'll keep an eye out for the next one of those they put out). Nope, each of these is flat out awful for different reasons. I think both would fall nicely under the label of "articles that didn't need to be written."
First, we have this peach, in which the author spends 5 paragraphs and 600ish words expressing the very controversial position that Paul Konerko is ABSOLUTELY NOT a hall of famer. No fucking shit, of course. But what really serves to douse the whole thing with dumbsauce is the reason the post was written in the first place: because White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said that Konerko was a HOFer. So can anyone raise their hands and tell me why Ozzie might have made that argument? And further explain why saying this in response:
Over his career, Konerko has been worth only 26.7 WAR. Again, a far cry from Hall of Fame level. Just a quick glance at his stats reveals a good, but not exceptional, player. If that’s the case, why is Ozzie so convinced Konerko will make it into the Hall?
is kind of like using a hammer to open a can of soda? It's a completely ridiculous and pointless method for dealing with the situation. Ozzie is sticking up for his player (a conclusion deftly reached by the author in the post's final paragraph). A dumb Sox fan who thinks Konerko is bound for Cooperstown because he gave Jerry Reinsdorf the damn ball after the 2005 World Series isn't going to listen to someone talking about WAR. And you certainly don't need to explain that Konerko is not a HOFer to anyone who reads FG. Overall just a useless fucking article that takes the mindless bluster of one of the game's great mindless blusterers and turns it into an excuse to blandly state the completely fucking obvious. Awesome.
Better yet we have this, which is mind-bogglingly dumb enough to have rolled off the ESPN.com press.
What a tough question. What are the top rivalries in baseball?
Who gives a shit? Is there some kind of prize for the two teams involved? Is there any way to get past the insane subjectivity involved in this discussion? And in case I forgot to mention this, who gives a shit?
I’m sure Yankees fans will claim it’s Yanks-Boston,
I realize saying this makes me a hypocrite (to pick nits, I'm saying what's NOT the best rivalry in baseball rather than what IS), but this is almost certainly the most overrated rivalry in sports. It has negligible historical roots and is largely fueled by the fuckwits in the MLB front offices pushing it on everyone every goddamn second of every season. Anyways.
but if you went out on the West Coast, I bet you’d hear plenty of fans saying Giants-Dodgers deserves more consideration.
Actually, I bet most fans out here probably would say that it's Red Sox-Yankees anyways because they've been told over and over and over and over and over again for the past seven or eight years that that's the case. See above. Thanks Bud Selig! You make Roger Godell look downright sensible sometimes.
How exactly do you declare one rivalry “bigger” than another?
You can't, in any meaningful way.
How do you measure fan excitement, and compare one fanbase against another? Is it possible?
NO. Leave writing this article to Jayson Stark. Walk away right now while you still can.
Probably not, but regardless, I’m going to take a stab at it anyway. My methodology is very simple: I’m ranking rivalries based on the amount of Google hits returned for the search “(Team name) (Team name) rivalry”.
Your head should be buried in your hands right now. Tears optional. I'm not going to tell you what the results are, although they're fairly predictable. The point is this: FanGraphs is fucking hole. It's a disastrous combination of misguided analytical elitism and worthless poopstain articles like the two linked here. Fangraphs upsets me just as upset (if not more) as tales of Simmons and J-Hench's AL East-only 17 team keeper league.
Sunday, June 12, 2011
Item 1. The NBA playoffs are over. Feels like they just started yesterday, no? Chris W agrees I'm sure. Anyways, ss the final seconds of the Heat/Mavs game ticked away, ESPN announcer and obvious MENSA member Mark Jackson had some great ideas for Miami's front office (forgot to DVR, quote is approximate).
If you're Miami, you know you got close this year. So this summer you make everyone on the roster available. You've got the pieces for a championship team, but you need to move them around and get the right combination.
First of all: what in the fucking fuck are you talking about? Make EVERYONE available? You realize you're not talking about the Pacers or the Jazz, right? Second of all, even if we were to try to make this quote intelligible by assuming he meant "make everyone except Wade and James available," what the fuck are they going to get in return?
For Bosh you could probably get another incomplete player with an undeserved max contract. Joe Johnson, come on down! For Mike Miller or Udonis Haslem you might be able to get something of fair value. For the rest of the team you could probably get exactly jack diddley fucking poo. HEY GOOD NEWS FOR TEAMS THAT NEED A REALLY UNREMARKABLE POINT GUARD, I HEAR MARIO CHALMERS MIGHT BE AVAILABLE FOR THE RIGHT PRICE.
What a weird, weird, weird (and wrong) thing to say. If there's ANY team that isn't going to do anything significant with its roster this offseason it's Miami. And the Knicks, because the Knicks are screwed six ways to Sunday in terms of the salary cap and the only guy in the management side of the organization without his head up his ass just left town.
Item 2. Deadspin continues to a good place to catch breaking news and watch funny/cool videos. And it also continues to publish editorial material that's so thunderously stupid it makes me wonder how the site got to where it is. Even Barry Petchesky hasn't said anything as dumb (in the last two weeks) as what Tommy Craggs had to say about Grantland Rice. And just to clarify, I'm not some Rice fan. I don't give a shit about him. But really, look:
He was a pandering mythmaker who wrote verse and prose the way Thomas Kinkade paints carriage lanes ("The Hills of Fame still beckon where the Paths of Glory lead …"). Reading him today is not unlike looking at your maiden aunt's collection of Precious Moments figurines. Moths come flying off every word. He was responsible for a lot of the worst pathologies of sportswriting today, and the fact that a major web site now unironically carries his name tells me we've done to Rice what Rice did to so many ballplayers over the years.
Right, because he wrote 80 years ago, when audiences demanded that kind of stuff. There was no TV, no internet. Either you read about the game in the newspaper or you had no fucking idea that it even happened. Using purple prose made a lot more sense back then. It reads awkwardly today, but do you think people back then demanded it in part due to the fact that they never got to watch the events of a game unless they attended it? Do you think critics back then appreciated it more than critics today do? I'm going to guess that if the answer to either of those questions was no, then no one would know who Rice is today. This criticism is akin to talking shit about baseball players from the 19th century because most of the hitters couldn't hit home runs and none of the pitchers threw sliders.
An older Rice wrote: "Only those who looked upon the spectacle today can know what it means. One might as well attempt to describe the glory of the Grand Canyon or the peak of Mount Everest at dawn."
Rice was covering the fucking Olympics.Wow, how fucking ignorant about 20th century history can you be? Yeah, the Olympics. Which were the biggest fucking deal in the world of sports at that time. I'm kind of surprised Craggs didn't immediately move on to attack Rice for failing to cover the Super Bowl. GOD, HOW COULD YOU EVER ACT LIKE THE OLYMPICS ARE A BIG DEAL? How about if you wrote about them when one world war had just ended and the foundation was already being laid for another?
Four years later, he called the success of American blacks at the Berlin games "Darktown on parade" and wrote: "America will be okay until it runs out of African entries. ... We may have to comb Africa again for some winners." Elsewhere, Joe Louis was "stalking" his prey, a "panther" with the "speed of the jungle, the instinctive speed of the wild." (He once said of Louis, "Sportsmanship should be the very mortar of an athlete but never an entity in itself for conscious display," and a modern reader might hear the same harp music that played over all those preposterous stories about Kevin Durant's humility.)
Right. He wrote a lot of really racially insensitive stuff. JUST LIKE EVERY SINGLE OTHER FUCKING SPORTSWRITER OF HIS ERA. Doesn't make it right, of course. Just makes it completely unremarkable. But don't tell that to Deadspin, the sports blogosphere's leader in 1) general cluelessness about sports/everything and 2) desire to sensationalize shit that isn't sensational. Hmmm, have we seen this before?
The standard defense here, that Rice was only as bigoted as his time, is probably accurate.
Item 3. Speaking of Grantland, I decided to head over and check out Simmons's project as it launched. I checked out two of his posts (because much as I bellyache about him I'd rather read his tripe forever than read a single word from Malcolm Gladwell or Dave Eggers, especially if they're writing about sports or pop culture). If you haven't checked out his "welcome to the site" post, I'll summarize it for you: Hey, I was a writer for Jimmy Kimmel when he launched his late night show! Pretty neat, huh! /name drop name drop name drop
Not yet fully deterred, a day later I checked out an article he wrote about the Boston Bruins. His shameless frontrunnerism when it comes to the Bruins has been discussed here before, so I was pleasantly surprised to see him admit to such right up front in the post's title. And then I started reading the body of the post, and there it was, right at the top-
My father had three things left on his Sports Bucket List:
And that's as far as I got before I remembered: you can take Bill Simmons out of the formal ESPN mainframe but you can never get him to stop being Bill Simmons.
And of course, as always, let me throw in our boilerplate Simmons disclaimer. I am insanely jealous of Bill Simmons. I only write about him because I wish I had his job (and that he was my dad).
Thursday, June 9, 2011
Does anything better demonstrate the degree to which Sportscenter has become a tabloid piece of shit than this?
One night after his post home run bat flip,
Monday, June 6, 2011
A couple hours ago on Baseball Tonight, while talking about how successful the Brewers have been since Corey Hart came off the DL:
Sunday, June 5, 2011
I browse through Rick's ESPN column from time to time. Usually don't bother blogging about him because 1) most of his columns are more or less identical 2) super extra low hanging fruit, etc. and 3) you know what? Fuck Rick Reilly. This week, though, he decided to take an ultra-controversial stance and claim that fans should root for the Mavericks to prevail over the South Beach LeBron James All-Star Pussyfaces in the NBA finals. And I read it and said to myself "Why the hell not blog about it? Maybe he'll put in a couple paragraphs about how WACKY golf is too."