Wednesday, January 29, 2014

On silence and Marshawn Lynch

Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch didn't talk to reporters all year.  It's Super Bowl week, and now he's talking... but not really.  (He's getting assistance, if that helps.)

The Pro Football Writers of America aren't happy.  Specifically, they are "extremely disappointed."

Let's discuss this:

This is in Marshawn Lynch's contract.  He is required to meet with the media.  That has to be placed in bold; speaking with the media isn't optional, it's contractual.  There are monetary penalties for all players who refuse to speak to reporters.

When players snub reporters, it makes them look bad and it makes the team look bad.  If a player continually snubs reporters, the reporters go right to the team's brass -- or, if need be, the reporter's bosses go right to the team's brass.  Sponsorship and advertising deals are significant, the media reminds the team.  Getting reported on and receiving positive press is a privilege, not an expectation. The media-team relationship is a partnership with mutual benefits.

That said, let's step away from Lynch and talk personality types.  There's extreme shyness and fear of attention and anxiety and all sorts of other traits that arise in a situation like this.  The fear of public speaking is one of the most widespread in the country, right up there with fear of snakes and heights.

Look at the player's perspective on Super Bowl Media Day, via Richard Sherman's lens:

Can you blame a player for getting even a little uncomfortable in the face of that crush?  It's claustrophobic.  It's frightening.  You can understand why a player would prefer a simple one-on-one in comparison.

My Lansing Lugnuts had a player, a good one, who would receive interview requests.  They made him anxious; whenever he could, he would turn them down.  Every now and then, he would sigh and uncomfortably say yes.  It was painful.


So, in conclusion:  Marshawn Lynch, like every other player, should talk to the media... but I understand why he would really rather not.  He's most definitely not alone among athletes.

The media, being the media, is naturally sympathetic.

EDIT:  Oh yes, very sympathetic.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Statistics ARE the game

"I’m not a huge stat guy. I’ve always been a believer that if you took stats out of the game, you’d still know who the good players are, just by watching."
From Fred Heumann, the Lansing-area CBS sports anchor:

In a sense, a rebellion against stats is a rebellion against intellectual, analytical culture.  We see this in politics all the time, where nuanced opinions and terrific intellect and higher education are seen as negative qualities.  It's far better to be "relatable."  People who rail against statistics do not understand why, after decades of having perfectly good stats like batting average and RBIs, we need to suddenly rethink the way we evaluate players.

But baseball statistics are not Moneyball.  They are not created by nerds, sitting a far ways from any diamond, typing madly upon a computer.  They are not WAR, they are not OPS, they are not PECOTA, and they are not Bert Blyleven's Hall of Fame induction.

Baseball statistics are the game.  Every pitch is a statistic.  Every hit, walk, and out is a statistic.

Mr. Glavine, we cannot take the stats out of the game.  If you pitch seven innings and give up two runs, those are stats.  But maybe you're referring to the circumstance in which a player's performance was not reflected in his box score numbers.

* Let's say hypothetically that you pitched wonderfully, but your defense was poor behind you.  Ah ha:  the introduction of earned runs and unearned runs.  We also can tell which teams' defenses are the worst at turning batted balls into outs.

* What if you pitched poorly, but were bailed out by run support?  We have statistics to indicate this, too.

* What if you pitched wonderfully, but broken-bat base hits and bloopers did you in?  That's where a limited sample size is taken into consideration. The more innings you pitch, the more likely your performance will accurately reflect your true ability.

Really, the more you pitch (or hit), the more your stats will bear out your measure.  No batter will consistently hit hard lineouts his whole career.  One season might be lucky or unlucky, another season might look oddly coincidental, but everything evens out over time.

A hitter who gives up his at-bat in order to move up a teammate does get an 0-for-1.  He also will have plenty more at-bats to balance matters out.  Over the course of a season and a career, if that player is worth his salt, he'll be doing far more than providing situational groundouts in order to help his team win.

This is why the idea of the "Eye Test" is ridiculous.  It's an admission of "I don't care about anything other than what I see."  It's the equivalent of a 6-year-old going to a game, seeing Joe Shlabotnik homer, and deciding Shlabotnik was the best player ever.  For a 6-year-old, that's fine.  For you, a limited scope of observation shouldn't be enough to come to a fair assessment.  Anyone can have a great day.  Pat Seerey hit four homers in a game once.  Jose Jimenez tossed a no-hitter.  Armando Galarraga should have been perfect.  (Galarraga went 4-9 with a 4.49 ERA and a 93 ERA+ in 2010, the year of his should've-been-perfection.)

The charismatic Steve Garvey may have been a Hall of Famer to Mr. Heumann -- and in fact, he was a fine player, a perennial All-Star, a solid defensive first baseman, an MVP, an iron man, a postseason standout, and a similar offensive player to Garret Anderson.

But do you know how you make a case for him?  Numbers.

Okay, Steve Garvey didn't hit 500 home runs or collect 3,000 hits... so what did he do?  How did he help?  Was it defensive?  We have stats for that.  Was it in "clutch" ways?  We can research his situational performance.  The iron man streak?  Heck, this might sound weird, but we keep track of his games played.

(Me, I wouldn't induct him.  There've been a number of these sorts of first basemen in recent baseball history:  John Olerud, Keith Hernandez, Don Mattingly, Mark Grace, and Will Clark.  All helped their teams win, all could hit, all could field, but probably none of them is worthy of Cooperstown.)

Really, anyone who says that they'd rather not go by the numbers is either 1) too lazy to look up what the numbers show, 2) displeased with what the numbers show, 3) confused by how to use the numbers properly, or 4) overwhelmed.

That last one I understand well.  Check out the Baseball Prospectus glossary; how well do you understand the metrics that produced BRR, FIP, FRAA, PADE, PECOTA, TAv, and VORP?  For that matter, how well do you know what those acronyms stand for?  I sure as heck don't.  If ERA and batting average is the 101 level of baseball statistics, those are the 301 and 401 level courses.  But we shouldn't run from them.  Instead, we should choose one, sit down with it, and see what we think.

Here:  BRR are Base Running Runs, and they indicate just how well a player runs the bases.  That's a pretty darn valuable stat.  Is there a player claiming that we can't measure his base running acumen in the box score?  Boom.  Now we can.


Returning to Tom Glavine:  It's true, more often than not, that we could figure out who the best players in a game are.  We can see their speed, their power, and their effectiveness.  But, barring an invitation to the MLB Fan Cave, we can't watch every game.  Should that stop us from properly evaluating players whom we don't see?  Why, that might lead to some sort of coastal bias...

Friday, January 24, 2014

Richard Sherman's words, but more adorable

I was watching the Seahawks/49ers game on Sunday with a friend who is a casual football fan of the Detroit Lions.  She had decided she would root for the Seattle Seahawks since, and I'm paraphrasing here, "they were the nicer team."

I pointed out #25 in the college navy and action green.  "That's Richard Sherman," I said.  "He's a terrific player, but he's also the exception to your opinion."

Right on cue, Richard Sherman...
  1. made the play of the day to send his team to the Super Bowl,
  2. rushed over to 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree to personally rub it in,
  3. put both hands to his throat with a clear choking gesture aimed at 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick,
  4. gave this awesome interview to Fox Deportes,
  5. and talked more trash to Crabtree in a postgame interview conducted by Erin Andrews.
My friend reacted with revulsion.

"There you go," I said.  Then I spent the next however many minutes assuring her that there really were nice players on the Seahawks.  Like Russell Wilson!

(And, hey, it's not like Richard Sherman pulled a Claude Giroux.)


Mr. Sherman is not a thug.  He is a tremendous cornerback, and also a sore winner and a displayer of poor sportsmanship.  We are taught to lose with dignity and win with dignity.  Dancing and making the choke sign to the other team's sideline?  That's not winning with dignity.

Thankfully, all is now redeemed.  Erin Andrews' interview, reenacted:

Friday, January 17, 2014

Tom and Peyton, a brief comparison

Quite simply:

Tom Brady's playoff performance
2002 playoffs (following the 2001 season) - W, 16-13; W, 24-17; W, 20-17 in Super Bowl
2004 playoffs - W, 17-14; W, 24-14 vs. Manning; W, 32-29 in Super Bowl
2005 playoffs - W, 20-3 vs. Manning; W, 41-27; W, 24-21 in Super Bowl
2006 playoffs - W, 28-3; L, 27-13
2007 playoffs - W, 37-16; W, 24-21; L, 38-34 vs. Manning
2008 playoffs - W, 31-20; W, 21-12; L, 17-14 in Super Bowl
2009 playoffs - missed season due to injury
2010 playoffs - L, 33-14
2011 playoffs - L, 28-21
2012 playoffs - W, 45-10; W, 23-20; L, 21-17 in Super Bowl
2013 playoffs - W, 41-28, L, 28-13
2014 playoffs - W, 43-22; L, 26-16 vs. Manning

Peyton Manning's playoff performance
2000 playoffs (following the 1999 season) - L, 19-16
2001 playoffs (game took place 12-30-00) - L, 23-17
2003 playoffs - L, 41-0
2004 playoffs - W, 41-10; W, 38-31; L, 24-14 vs. Brady
2005 playoffs - W, 49-24; L, 20-3 vs. Brady
2006 playoffs - L, 21-18
2007 playoffs - W, 23-8; W, 15-6; W, 38-34 vs. Brady; W, 29-17 in Super Bowl
2008 playoffs - L, 28-24
2009 playoffs - L, 23-17
2010 playoffs - W, 20-3; W, 30-17; L, 31-17 in Super Bowl
2011 playoffs - L, 17-16
2012 playoffs - missed season due to injury
2013 playoffs - L, 38-35
2014 playoffs - W, 24-17; W, 26-16 vs. Brady; L, 43-8 in Super Bowl


My purpose for this was simple.   Tom Brady has an 18-8 playoff record, 3-2 in Super Bowls.  Peyton  Manning is 11-12, 1-2 in Super Bowls.  I simply wanted to see it all spelled out... and also wondered what the average amount of points each player's offense scored compared to the points his defense allowed.  My anecdotal memory tells me that Brady needed to do less because his defense was so much better than Manning's.

1.  Note that Tom Brady won his first ten playoff games and is 8-8 since then.
2.  Note, too, that Peyton Manning's teams have been one and done in eight separate postseasons.

The final averages:

In 26 games...
Brady's offense:  653 points scored, averaging 25.12 per game
Brady's defense:  510 points allowed, 19.62 per game

In 23 games...
Manning's offense:  518 points scored, averaging 22.52 per game
Manning's defense:  511 points allowed, 22.21 per game

In case you're wondering about Tom and Peyton's other postseason statistics, from Christopher Hansen's Bleacher Report article:


A history of ballpark fires

From this week's column for Ballpark Digest, caused by the terrible fire at West Michigan's Fifth Third Ballpark:
Ballpark fires are extreme rare these days, but at one time were a major threat to baseball operations. Jesse Goldberg-Strassler looks at how ballpark design changed because of fire awareness:

Monday, January 13, 2014

Baseball writers, take a breather

There is a terrific argument to be made that professional wrestlers need an off-season.  Wrestlers have to work year-round, but their biggest show is at a specific point of the year.  (For the WWE, for instance, the entire year climaxes at WrestleMania.)  This leads to a 12-month cycle with a terrific peak... and lows that are pretty obviously time-fillers and time-wasters.

When people are paid to work but have nothing to do other than, as Red Barber would put it, destroy time, there are consequences:  For wrestlers, fatigue sets in.  For others -- like, say, baseball writers -- when there's nothing important around to write and report about, other matters start looking far more important.  In both cases, at the very least, you forget that you love your job.

Baseball writers, thus, have been concentrating on...

*  Alex Rodriguez, Anthony Bosch, and Rob Manfred, coming off of the report on "60 Minutes."
*  The Hall of Fame, the Hall of Fame process, and future Hall of Fame candidates.
*  Masahiro Tanaka, and Masahiro Tanaka's wife
*  Arbitration cases, and players signing contracts to avoid arbitration cases
*  Derek Holland tripping over his dog
*  Chone Figgins and Johnny Damon planning a return to MLB, much like Mark Mulder

You know what?  None of this, with the exception of Holland's injury (and whenever/wherever Tanaka signs) is all that important.

Note:  Reading about the Hall of Fame process would be a heck of a lot more important if the writers actually agreed with Dan Le Batard that it was broken.  They don't They agree with Ken Rosenthal that the system only needs a little adjusting, so get on it and turn your attention to something else.  We'll have this self-same debate next year.

This is a dead time for baseball, located between the Hall of Fame voting results and pitchers/catchers reporting.  Fatigue is possible, a la wrestlers, but I would worry more about baseball writers trying to search for importance and significance where there is none.  It can't help to have bosses and editors looking for hits and attention.  Twitter especially has not helped in turning non-stories into blow-ups.

So, hey, take a break.  Check back in if something important happens, but for now take a few weeks off -- you're entitled.  When spring training rolls around, your energy will be refreshed and the climate will be much warmer.

Hope your family won't mind.

Alex Rodriguez, and due process

I am Mike Hammer -- I am my own jury.  I arrive at my own verdict through my own deliberation, after going through the evidence that has been presented and/or my own preconceived biases.  There are no mistrials among my opinions.  This is all perfectly swell, but nothing comes of my verdicts except whatever comments I make to my friends, whatever I post online, and however loudly I choose to cheer or boo.

Remember when Barry Bonds was going for Hank Aaron's career home run record?  I knew Bonds had juiced, I knew he was a cheater, I knew his record would be tarnished.  I had banned him in my mind.  Yet there he was, still playing, still hitting home runs.  Those home runs, whether I liked it or not, were legit.  They occurred, they counted in the scorebook, they marred the opposing pitchers' ERAs, and they helped determine a winner and loser in games that affected the standings.

This wasn't Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa juicing and swatting longballs while the whole country thought it was wonderful and wholesome.  This was PED-caused success in the open.  It was an embarrassment for the national pastime.

Such was the verdict reached by many a baseball fan across the country, no evidence required.  The details revealed in Game of Shadows was a bonus, making us all the more confident in Bonds's guilt. 

Embarrassed by what occurred with Bonds, crushing the sport’s image, MLB decided not to experience a reprise when the Miami New Times last year revealed that a Miami clinic had been juicing up athletes.  The clinic's big man was Anthony Bosch, and the clinic's big patient was baseball's highest paid player, Alex Rodriguez.  Here you might think that Anthony Bosch is the true villain of the piece, but Major League Baseball disagreed.  No one knew Bosch's name; everyone knows A-Rod.  Any penalties suffered by Bosch would be ignored by the national population.  If Rodriguez wasn't punished, though, it would be Barry Bonds all over again.

A ban of 216 games was announced for Rodriguez... not so coincidentally, the exact amount of games required to suspend A-Rod for the remainder of 2013 and 2014.  Now, maybe you'd be fine with arbitrarily deciding that Rodriguez should disappear for the next two baseball seasons.  I certainly wouldn’t mind it.

But Major League Baseball cannot work arbitrarily.  In order to punish a player to any extent, Bud Selig and his people needed direct evidence that will stand up before an honest to goodness judge (and not just an emotionally-charged, idealistic fan).  After all, for things to stick, the penalty would have to be proven in a court of law.  The burden of evidence was upon the league.

In order to vindicate themselves, Major League Baseball took the dual steps of paying Tony Bosch for his testimony and giving $125,000 to a guy they only knew as “Bobby,” who possessed pertinent files that had been stolen from the trunk of Peter Fischer, who had been the marketing director at the Biogenesis clinic.

More details, trustworthy or not, were revealed by Sunday's “60 Minutes” report by Scott Pelley, which was filled with characters and dramatics stolen from the pages of Mickey Spillane.

I know A-Rod juiced.  You know A-Rod juiced.  We were all uncomfortable when he kept on playing toward the end of 2013, trying to help the Yankees reach the playoffs.  Well, now Alex Rodriguez is banned for 2014.  (He'll try to appeal it, but it doesn't look good.)

In the end, this is the result I wanted.

It is unsatisfying.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Dan Le Batard should be thrown out of the BBWAA, and I support him

This afternoon it was revealed that Dan Le Batard gave his Hall of Fame ballot, granted him by the Base Ball Writers Association of America, to Deadspin.

Part of his explanation:
"I don't think I'm any more qualified to determine who is Hall of Fame-worthy than a fan who cares about and really knows baseball. In fact, many people analyzing baseball with advanced metrics outside of mainstream media are doing a better job than mainstream media, and have taught us some things in recent years when we were behind. In other words, just because we went to journalism school and covered a few games, just because accepted outlets gave us their platform and power, I don't think we should have the pulpit to ourselves in 2014 that way we did in 1936. 
Baseball is always reticent to change, but our flawed voting process needs remodeling in a new media world. Besides, every year the power is abused the way I'm going to be alleged to abuse it here."

There was surprise.

There was condescension:
There was disappointment:

And then there was Hank Schulman:
"I have zero problem with a Hall voter asking fans to pick his ballot. Last year, on a much smaller scale, I asked fans on their opinions of Biggio because I was on the fence for that particular ballot. I voted for Biggio in large part because of what you guys told me.... There's a difference between that and handing your ballot to a website whose principal purpose is to ridicule the work of others -- and somehow do something important once in a blue moon. LeBatard this year was the classic example of LOOK AT ME!!!!!!!! And to hide behind the whole charity thing. Amazing."

Before we discuss the larger issue at hand, let's first look at two facts straight off:

1.  Dan Le Batard absolutely did this to draw attention to himself.  He is egotistical, he is someone who wants the spotlight, and he did say, in a sense, "Look at me!"  He succeeded, too.

2.  He took a ballot that was granted to him as an honor, and he handed the responsibility of filling out the ballot to an outside party.  It was both an abuse of the process and outright voter fraud (since he signed his name on a ballot that he did not decide upon).  If I were the BBWAA, I would penalize him to the fullest.


Now then,

The Hall of Fame voting process is a mess, and some of the voters -- voters not named Dan Le Batard -- should be charged with dereliction of duty.  For instance, one voter selected Armando Benitez, one vote went to Jacque Jones, one vote found its way to Kenny Rogers, and two votes apiece named J.T. Snow and Eric Gagne.

Then there was Ken Gurnick:

Dan Le Batard's vote is gone.  He forfeited it.  Murray Chass keeps his vote, despite deciding to use it now to rub smarter people's faces in his ignorant opinions.  Paul Daugherty keeps his vote, despite - remarkably - believing that the "DH is NOT a position."  Good heavens, man.  That should be grounds for vote-forfeiture right there.  Paul Hagen tells of the "informal rule of thumb... limiting the vote to four or five," which is ridiculous considering that the maximum allowed is ten, which was used by a full 50% of the voters -- why in the heck would anyone create/follow an informal rule limiting them even more?

This is not even to touch on those voters who vote, like Terence Moore, by "feel," or others, Chass among them, who won't vote for players whom they have the slightest of suspicion of PED abuse even without any inkling of proof.

So, yes, egomaniac or not, Dan Le Batard is right.  The system needs to be blown up.

Now, what comes next?  Will there be an outcry to revamp the system, or will Le Batard be pilloried while everything else gets swept underneath the carpet until next year?

Gospel truth on PEDs and baseball, via Ray Ratto

From this column:  An unapologetic Hall of Fame ballot revealed, explained.

"I have, do, and will always believe that baseball did the PED Era to itself, so even if you hate drugs and their proponents, you can only ignore them if you honestly think the Hall of Fame is a place for only happy stories, heartwarming ethical stands and majestic figures. In other words, if a player meets the other criteria for the Hall, PEDs shouldn’t keep said player out because:
1. The player did things on the baseball field that few others did.
2. We actually don’t know who did PEDs and who didn’t. We have a few admissions, a conviction or two, and a lot of crap guesswork, which our profession actually does not technically allow.
3. Sportswriters suck at setting and maintaining the moral codes of others.
4. The Hall of Fame still has the color line to answer for.
5. Baseball willfully ignored and massively profited from the drugs era and to date has returned exactly zero dollars earned during those years. Anyone think Bud Selig isn’t going to the Hall of Fame on the first allowable bullet train?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

On baseball, football, and popularity

Read this foolishness first, from the New York Times:  Andy Benoit on "Football, Baseball and the Evolving Tastes of Fans."

Then read this act of brilliance from Hardball Talk's Craig Calcaterra:  "Is Football Dying?"