Showing posts with label paul daughtery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label paul daughtery. Show all posts

Friday, April 2, 2010

Do College Sports Need the Little Guy?

During the NCAA basketball tournament, the nation's attention is usually captured by the "upset" teams. Honestly, as a casual fan myself, I could probably tell you more about these first- and second- round upsets than I could about the last five years' championship games. That's probably due to the state of media coverage.

Paul Daughtery (whose most recent piece laments the introduction of sushi to the menu at Great American Ballpark) is a good old Cincinnati homebody; I do not mean that as any type of insult. He's not afraid to call 'em as he sees 'em - though, at times, he sees 'em a little superficially.

About four months ago, he wrote about Cincinnati's slim chance at a BCS title game berth. In it, he intimated that the BCS was elitist and unfair to deny a team that wasn't a traditional powerhouse a chanced to play for the title:

Maybe. But how many years? How many seasons of 10-win cred does it take a Cincinnati, or a program like it, to break the BCS glass ceiling? What if the Bearcats play, say, Alabama, in the Sugar Bowl, and roll the Tide the way Utah did? Then do they get a seat at the big boy table?

Last week, he penned an article called "Why too many upsets make a bad Final Four". It's not so much a poorly written article as it is an article that directly contradicts his previous article.

The NCAA tournament encourages the myth of equality. You, too, can be George Mason. We relish that; it's in our national DNA. Rags-to-riches. Butler-to-Indy. In America, anyone can grow up to be president.

Kind of.

But, not anyone does. Thank goodness. By the time March Madness reaches the middle of its second weekend, we'd prefer sanity. It beats Butler in a national semifinal.

So? Unlike Cincinnati's football team, Butler actually stuck it to some good teams on the court.

The Madness is great. Stop the Madness.

Oh what a paradox!

It's like prescribed medicine. Just because five upsets are good doesn't mean 10 are better. There is a limit to their effectiveness. It was reached when Northern Iowa KO'd Kansas in Round 2. It was exceeded when Butler beat Syracuse five days later.

And here's where he starts to go off the deep end. He spent most of the fall complaining that good football teams weren't given the same access as good football teams with traditional pedigrees. Now, he's setting up an argument to suggest that this year's NCAA tournament is a dud because good basketball teams without traditional pedigrees have beaten teams with them.

Give me a tournament where, after the first weekend, pedigrees take over and pumpkins take off. The meritocracy is assured -- yes, Ohio, you really did beat Georgetown! -- but the aristocracy is preserved.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hometown Hero Hates Computers

It's about time for our yearly doses of BCS controversy. This week's comes from the Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Daughtery, who has been featured here before. He's certainly a Cincinnati hometown writer, and to a certain extent I think writers in their hometown papers should be allowed some license. But this article abuses that privilege."BCS is one game UC Can't Win"

"BCS one game UC can't win"

UC wins by 31 and loses three spots in the BCS computer rankings. The Bearcats smack Louisville with a QB who’d never started a college game. The computer says UC had a lousy week.

They beat up on a terrible team. The computer didn't factor in that the QB hadn't started a game before!

That’s because Louisville is bad and BYU is good and TCU won at BYU and Iowa hasn’t lost and Boise State got shafted two years ago and Southern Cal has fabulous cheerleaders. Or some damned thing.

I like how he complains that it's so confusing. Hey, BYU is a better team than Louisville, so a win over BYU should count more! BYU was 6-1 coming in, while Louisville was 2-4.

Also, Iowa, Boise State and Southern Cal all have much more impressive resumes - wins over Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin (Iowa), Oregon (BSU, though their claim is weakest), Notre Dame, Cal, and Ohio State (USC) are more impressive than Cicninnati's.

It's not debatable.

The rankings account for schedule strength, conference strength, coaches voting, global warming, black helicopters and things that go bump in the night. To the BCS computers, if Florida beats Georgia in the parking lot of a Gainesville Burger King Saturday, it means less than if the Gators had done the winning out behind Weaver D’s Restaurant in Athens. Even if REM is eating there.

What? How hard is it to comprehend schedule strength? How hard is it to explain that a win on the road is a little more impressive than a win at home? How hard is it to explain conference strength?

Also, what are all those references doing here? Is this a Bill Simmons article? REM? Black helicopters? I don't get it.

The Bearcats are taking this well. Brian Kelly is absolutely rational about it. Kelly says all the right things, which for Kelly is highly unusual: We’re in the mix, he says. We have some big games coming up. Nobody’s great. Our players don’t think about it. Let’s let it play out.

Good for Brian Kelly, who is being rational about it. I like how Daugherty is surprised that Mr. Kelly is being rational. Like he expects the coach to share his hysterical, irrational perspective.

“It’s great the university is getting that recognition,’’ the coach allows. “I hope our admissions (are) up.’’

Fabulous. Let’s hear it for more applications.

What Kelly doesn’t say is, the whole deal is rigged. Not rigged in the manner of Soviet elections or nickel slots, but rigged just the same. Bloodlines matter, so Florida will win everything. Unless it’s Texas or Alabama.

Bloodlines matter and playing good opponents matter. How hard is this to understand?

The BCS is ingenious in the way it gets us all worked up about college football. Around here, it’s great we have the chance to get worked up personally. It beats planning the roadie to the Papajohn’ Bowl.

Sure, because Cincinnati has its best team in school history. But that doesn't mean they've ascended to the top of college football.

But America isn’t supposed to work this way. We compete. We tap gloves and come out fighting, may the best man win. My mousetrap against yours. We compete. We play off. Computing for a champion doesn’t compute.

Except that all 118 teams in FBS can't play, because a team can only play one game a week, and there aren't 118 weeks in the season. Even the top 25 can't all play! I realize this is a thinly veiled argument for a playoff, but the article doesn't mention any of the stumbling blocks to that end.

I asked Einstein about the BCS. How does it work? I ran it by Galileo, Copernicus and Kant. They had no clue. Stephen Hawking was stumped. Freud said it had something to do with my mother.

Well, I'm glad I read this.

I took my troubles down to Madame Rue. You know, the gypsy with the gold-capped tooth. What about the BCS? She gave me a Nick Saban voodoo doll and some pins. The good fans of Utah begged me to lie down in a cool place.

Well, I'm glad I read this.

“We’re coached just to do what we’re told to do on the field. It’s not a big deal’’ to the players, says Bearcats wideout D.J. Woods. Well, OK, but how come players hung around with their laptops Sunday afternoon, awaiting the new BCS rankings?

Because they want to do well? They're hopeful, even in a tough situation?

“Sunday, everybody was shocked,’’ Woods concedes. “How did that happen? I guess you have to be a big school surrounded by a big stadium.’’

I guess you have to be a school that schedules the best teams in college football instead of SOUTHEAST MISSOURI STATE.

Kelly argues that UC’s success is too new to make a big enough dent. The rookies have to stand on the table and sing their alma maters. You can’t just pledge the BCS frat. You have to swallow some goldfish first.

Or beat some good teams first. The comparison to a frat initiation is asinine. The team has to prove itself on the field of champions, instead of the field of patsies.

“That new person on the block has to prove (himself),’’ is Kelly’s explanation. “We keep winning, we’ll change the perceptions of what those traditional powers are. We’re in the process of putting together another great season.

“(If we) start doing that year in and year out, I think that changes everything.’’

Yes. Or, if your AD would've set up a tougher schedule five years ago, that would've given you a chance.

Maybe. But how many years? How many seasons of 10-win cred does it take a Cincinnati, or a program like it, to break the BCS glass ceiling?

More than one.

What if the Bearcats play, say, Alabama, in the Sugar Bowl, and roll the Tide the way Utah did? Then do they get a seat at the big boy table?

If they play more than one good team and beat them, then yes, they do. One win does not a champion make.

“We’ve got some games in front of us that really are going to serve us well,’’ Kelly adds. True enough, and those wins over Top 25s West Virginia and Pitt would get the Bearcats just high enough to chant “We’re Number Three!’’ if they win their BCS bowl game.

Good luck, Bearcats. But beating West Virginia and Pitt still don't prove your mettle like winning in a better conference would.

The BCS rankings have us talking, all right. Who’s listening?

Lots of people are listening. This is a terrible ending to a terrible article. The BCS has its flaws, I suppose, but this is a stupid article with a stupid premise. Shameless homerism which ignores the facts of the situation - that UC hasn't played and won against good teams, while other teams have - is embarrassing for any news writer or any newspaper.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Writer Attempts to Understand Fielding Statistics; Lobotomy Ensues

Paul Daugherty of the Cincinnati Enquirer is surprised by the Reds' recent stretch of reasonably good baseball. Who isn't? But this article is a slop-fest of statistical foolishness. Check it out:

[Note: this article dates to 5/18 - I simply hadn't gotten around to it till now]

Numbers Add Up to Better Defense

In baseball, defining good defense is like catching a butterfly with a frying pan.

That's why some of us are professional writers and some of us are bloggers. Similes, ladies and gentlemen: not just something your tenth-grade English teacher tested you on.

It's the team with the fewest errors, right? It's the team with the best fielding percentage. Fewer errors equals better defense. Of course it does.

This is what we call a "straw man" - Paul is setting up the old version of baseballthink and oversimplifying it. Then, he will refute it! Paul is smarter than conventional baseball wisdom. QED!

Not really. Reds center fielder Willy Taveras gets to flyballs that some major league outfielders couldn't reach in Danica Patrick's ride.

Pop culture references are not the exclusive property of Bill Simmons. Even hometown joes can use 'em!

What if Taveras gets to a ball in the gap and drops it? He gets an error. Does that make him a bad outfielder?

Can't be fielding percentage, then. Must be putouts. Has to be. An outfielder with a lot of putouts has to be good. He's catching more balls. Makes perfect sense. OK, seamhead, but what if his pitching staff includes more flyball pitchers than groundball guys?

I love the "OK, seamhead" part - as though Mr. Daugherty is conceivably addressing someone who had thought a lot about fielding, but hadn't thought of the last point (which really isn't that complex).

I hope someday I'm in an argument and someone says, "OK, seamhead, listen to THIS!" Then I will slink away like I did when I lost a sixth-grade cap war.

See what I mean?


The Reds defense is better this year. Even as they've made more errors than 29 other major league teams.

Now we're getting interesting. They're last in the majors in errors. That's not a good sign.

I asked readers of my blog to tell me where to go. (They're very good at that.) Actually, I wanted Web sites that delivered cold, hard facts when it came to catching butterflies with frying pans. The posters delivered.

Wow, never mind. Daugherty is cool. He takes advice from his blog's commenters. I take back all the snide, backhanded insults I used earlier.

One offered this helpful tidbit: Compare "the statistics of fielding percentage, number of putouts and assists, along with doubles, triples and inside-the-park home runs allowed by the outfielders this year to the 2008 team after 32 games."

A helpful tidbit to be sure, but it's really hard to measure the stat of "doubles allowed by outfielders"... usually you measure the "doubles allowed by pitchers" stat. I hear Adam Dunn allowed 28375 doubles last year, which was only exceeded by this guy, who allowed 298329757 doubles last year.


I don't think this word is in the dictionary.

Who do I look like, Norman Einstein?

A veiled pop culture reference! TV commentator (and Notre Dame graduate) Joe Theismann once allegedly claimed that "A genuis is a guy like Norman Einstein".

Someone else suggested Batting Average, Balls In Play: BABIP.

BABIP sounds like the hero of a jungle movie. "Babip, come quickly! The lion is eating the little boy!"

To some people, this could be construed as vaguely offensive. To no people, this could be construed as funny. Also, most reasonable commenters who understand what BABIP is will recognize that it doesn't do a great job measuring defense. But hey! it's a funny acronym, and thus it has a place in this article.

A few offered UZR, which isn't a designer steroid

That was a joke! Did you catch it? You wouldn't have caught it if I hadn't separated it like this!

but something called Ultimate Zone Rating. I was directed to an author named John Dewan, who has published the Fielding Bibles, I and II. After the bosses said I couldn't expense the Bibles, I blew that one off,

Gosh, the newspaper industry sure has fallen on hard times when you can't spend thirty-three bucks on books you don't really intend to read because you already don't like stats.


That was another joke! Get it? He blew off Dewan's book, a "Bible", so it was like committing blasphemy! offers a Defensive Efficiency rating, "the rate at which balls put into play are converted into outs." The Reds rank fifth in the major leagues.

Hey! A stat! Maybe that's why the Reds are doing well at defense! Why don't you explain this, Mr. Daugherty? That would be a great way to support your claim that the Reds' defense is better this year.

There were a lot of other, very small numbers to look at, but I felt myself slipping into a coma, so I stopped reading them.

Why were the numbers smaller? I have a subscription to myself and I'm pretty sure all the numbers are the same size. Was there a font problem? Are you actually narcoleptic? [Note: the link is definitely worth the very short time you will invest in it].

Generally, I think baseball stats are like vegetables: An important part of a well-balanced diet and occasionally hard to swallow.

You just spent the whole time mocking pretty much all the statistics - from errors to fielding % to UZR to BABIP to defensive efficiency. Which stats do you like? Which stats, like spinach, are actually good for you, even though they look funny on paper and have weird acronyms? Food metaphors for everyone!

So where do we go with this?

Last year, the Reds were hurt by Ken Griffey Jr.'s diminished range in right field and Adam Dunn's general mismanagement in left.

Amen. I actually like the phrase "general mismanagement" - it aptly describes Mr. Dunn's fielding ability. These guys explain how it works. [Note: the video is worth your time if you've ever been an opposing fan in the left-field bleachers at Wrigley].

But how much better are they now, with Jay Bruce in right and the Chris Dickerson/Laynce Nix combo in left?

More importantly: What has Willy Taveras given them in center field?

What a good pair of questions to ask. Bravo, Mr. Daugherty!

For what it's worth, Nix's and Taveras' RF/9 is a bit above league average, and Dickerson's a bit below. In contrast, Dunn's and Griffey's RF/9 for 2008 are both significantly below league average. Since the Reds' staff is generally the same staff as last year, it seems that the Reds' defense has improved substantially since last year! You're right, Paul!

I asked Sam Grossman. Sam who?

The Reds Manager of Baseball Research and Analysis. Like most astute baseball people, Grossman has a degree in mathematics from Northwestern. He worked in insurance, decided he'd rather not, took a few minor league internships and was hired by the Reds in 2007. Grossman crunches the fielding numbers.

Shit. I should follow my dream like Sam Grossman.

He reads play-by-plays like they're the Dead Sea Scrolls.

More Bible allusions! Anyone who reads this post all the way through will be older than Jared!

They show where balls are hit - their "zone" - and what happened. From there, Grossman employs a double-secret formula similar to the one used by the UZR folks: How hard was the ball hit? Was it off a right-handed or left-handed pitcher? And so on. Then the numbers are compared to the league average.

I wonder how "double-secret" this formula is. I also like how he calls them "the UZR folks".

That's basically how the Reds concluded last winter that Taveras would be a great, um, catch

Another joke! Get it? It's a pun!

as a free-agent center fielder. "It was as simple as (Taveras) turning into outs a lot of balls hit to him," Grossman says. "He played in two big center fields, first in Houston, then in Colorado. He made plays most visiting center fielders wouldn't make."
He still does.

He still has a .330 career OBP as a leadoff hitter. But that's not the point.

The UZR boys

Whatever happened to "UZR folks"? That sounds nicer. Either way, the "boys" and "folks" almost makes these dudes sound like rednecks. The good old UZR boys probably still live in their folks' basements anyways.

currently rank Taveras the second-best center fielder in the game. Jay Bruce - Jay Bruce! - is seen as the No. 1 right fielder. Overall, UZR says the Reds right now have the best outfield defense in baseball.

Excellent! Stats have proved Mr. Daugherty's point, even though he likes them about as much as he likes okra!

"Our formula rates our infield as average and our outfield a little above average," says Grossman, who adds helpfully, "Another guy uses what he calls 'probablistic model of range.' " We really don't want to go there.

I kind of want to go there. When you say "we" don't want to go there, Paul, don't include me in the royal "we". "You" and some other fans don't want to go there because it probably involves too much thinking. Baseball isn't about thinking. Baseball is about turning the double-play and executing bunts.

Grossman notes his work doesn't trump the eyeball work of scouts and general manager Walt Jocketty, but supplements and often confirms it. "A scout can tell you if a guy has good range," says Grossman. "This just quantifies it."

If a scout watches a guy play one game, how can he tell the extent of the player's range in all directions? The UZR, which "watches" every game a player plays, seems to be able to define a player's range a lot more accurately than a scout watching just a few games...

While stats are certainly not the end-all of baseball analysis, you gotta imagine that it stings a little bit for Grossman when he has to say shit like this.

To me, defense is judged best through daily watching. There ought to be a Web site:

Paul, how are the Reds supposed to watch every game of every player they might want to trade for/sign/draft? It's just not plausible. Also, there is a web site like that: it's called and it's pretty great. I've subscribed the last five summers and there's no money better spent. I say, Paul, there ought to be a web site:

"That's how I do it," Jocketty says. "We use (Grossman's) information as a baseline. I use input from scouts, and add my own. It all works together." But unless you're a genetic mutant or Bill James, you can't watch enough baseball to be an expert on every team's defense.

Wait, Bill James actually watches baseball? I thought played Strat-o-matic baseball in his garage every day. Huh.

Jocketty mentioned David Eckstein, the current San Diego Padres infielder who played shortstop on the St. Louis team that won the 2006 World Series. Eckstein's defense had to be seen daily to be believed. "Below average arm strength, OK range," Jocketty says. "But he always seemed to be able to position himself and get a throw off."

YES! Eckstein! It's like an unholy rule! Whenever any journalist wants to mention the "stats are stupid and some things in baseball are just unquantifiable", they have to cite the ECKSTEIN law. Seriously: as any discussion of statistical relevance in baseball grows, the probability of a comparison involving Eckstein approaches 1. It's a law.

Let me repeat one of the most ridiculous statments I've read recently:

"Eckstein's defense had to be seen daily to be believed".

Actually, nothing Eckstein does has to be seen to be believed. I've probably seen the guy play only three or four times in my whole life, and I can believe everything the guy does: play slightly-below average baseball.

Grossman says quantifying defensive ability "was the hardest thing to nail down, in the past. We're getting there."

Hooray for stat-guys!

The past? What's harder to judge now?

"The effect of team chemistry," he says. "The manager effect."

I can't wait until we come up with stats for these ones. The acronyms will be ridiculous!

The manager? That's an easy one. Just ask the fans what they think.

What? I thought this article was about defense?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

News Flash: The Cubs Have A Good Business Plan and a Terrible Baseball Record

A recent article from the Cincinnati Enquirer: Wrigley has Reds green with ivy

This is not going to stand. I will not go quietly into that blogged night.

Wrigley has Reds green with ivy

On a 50-degree Tuesday night with the wind blowing 20 miles an hour, the Chicago Cubs played baseball in front of a full house at Wrigley Field. On a 60-degree Thursday afternoon in the full sunshine two weeks ago, the Cincinnati Reds worked before a crowd of 12,000.

Well, that sucks. It's too bad that Daughtery will not mention that 2.8 million people live in the incorporated areas of Chicago, while 332,000 live in Cincinnati. Even if you divide the Chicago fans evenly between the two teams [and that's a generous split for the Sox], that's 1.4 million per; approximately four times the number of sheer people available to go to the game.

Thursday afternoon, the finale for the Reds in Chicago, the bleachers at Wrigley will fill like a suitcase on a trip overseas. Half the people packing the seats won’t know who wins. Or care.

Paul- get a clue. This is a bad thing. This is the reason that the Cubs have lost for a century: their fan base does not hold them accountable for winning.

The following night in Cincinnati, the Reds will host the Milwaukee Brewers. If 25,000 show up, we’ll throw a parade.

This is not true. Paul is exaggerating.

Cubs ownership might have lucked into mastering the biggest factor in drawing big baseball crowds now.

There is no "might". It happens that the "relatively undeveloped area" around the ballpark when it was built in 1914 is now a relatively developed neighborhood with a fair amount of affluent people around it.

Or they might have drawn up a detailed plan and executed it like an around-the-horn double play.

They didn't. Cub ownership is, to put it frankly, stupid. Ernie Broglio.

Beats me. It doesn’t matter.

Yes, it does. You're about to argue that the Reds need to mimic the Cubs' model. It does matter.

The Reds are at an interesting crossroads. They have an engaged ownership that wants to win. Ownership has hired bright, enthusiastic people to push the product. But winning takes money and money means ticket sales and these days, ticket sales means attracting people who wouldn't know Johnny Cueto from Johnny Appleseed. It's what they do at Wrigley Field.

If this was true, the Cubs and Yankees would win a lot more World Series. But, as we know, winning doesn't take money. Ask those asshole Marlins who flaunt their rings around to the seventeen fans who came to their games.

Where does baseball rank on a trip to Wrigley? In front of a pilgrimage to Murphy's Bleachers, or behind? Ahead of a Ferris Bueller afternoon, or a distant second? The Cubs could finish out of the money every year for a century and still fill The Friendly Confines. In fact, they've done exactly that.


Going to Wrigley is about seeing your Cubbies win, but only tangentially. It's more about the neighborhood, the Old Style, the ivy, the bleachers, Waveland, Sheffield, celebs singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," day games, sunshine, the lake, Harry Caray's ghost, memories of Sammy and The Hawk and Ernie Banks. Let's drink two. At least.

Ugh. This is making me ill. I'm proud to say the Cubs have gotten their shit kicked in every time I've gone to Wrigley and I've enjoyed the schadenfreude thoroughly. Going to Wrigley, for me, is about seeing the myth of Cubs-fans'-fun die a miserable death at the hands of real baseball teams. And I'm not the only one:

This is exactly the atmosphere the Reds have to cultivate to succeed.

Not true. Not true at all. It's simply not true that you have to cultivate a culture of ignorant-but-disposably0-wealthy fans to win games.

Because here is a hard truth in Baseball Town: The game's not enough anymore.

I like the name Baseball town. I'd rather have my city called Baseball Town than Crumbling Stadium With Generally Losing Team That's Fun To Go Watch Town.

It must kill the Reds' marketers to see the Bengals sell out entire seasons when the football team generally stinks and its marketing plan consists of printing schedule cards and opening the gates. In the midst of yet another unsuccessful season, the Bengals last season drew the two largest crowds in the history of Paul Brown Stadium.

The NFL has eight games and a salary-cap. Not a useful comparison at all in this situation. I am getting pissed off. This is a terrible article.

But unless the Reds succeed at making GABP a destination for entertainment first and baseball second, they will lag. This is why vetoing the Broadway Commons site always will be the biggest sports mistake the team and town have ever made. With its proximity to a then-thriving Main Street bar district, Broadway offered a vision of a Wrigleyville South: Come for the party, stay for the game. Return to the party.

Now, Daughtery goes back to the 1996 vote where Hamilton County taxpayers selected a Riverfront site over a slightly-uptown site. He has a point about developing a sustainable neighborhood around a ballpark. That is a good thing. This could have been a reasonable article about creating sustainable development around GABP.

But no, it was an ode to ignorance. The Cubs have built a culture of losing, Paul. The Reds need to avoid that. At all costs. I'd like to see another World Series title in Cincinnati. I don't want to wait eighty-two more years.