Team-Wide Trends Continue To Elude Joe Morgan

I’d like to apologize for the lack of content recently. I spent much of last week working on a large piece, hoping to post it on Friday. Then I sent it to the smartest person I know, who lived up to that billing by pointing out several problems with the argument and its lack of focus. So, licking my wounds, I’m returning to the drawing board with no estimated time of arrival. I’ve also started a new job working with middle schoolers to improve their literacy skills (those of you that have followed Fan Interference since its inception can feel free to shudder now). Although it’s only part-time, it requires a significant commute and some work outside the classroom, so finding time to post will become marginally more difficult. But, much like utilizing both sabermetrics and scouting, I’m confident that a balance can be found.

Today’s offering is meager but meaningful. One week ago, I posted a blurb about ESPN analyst Joe Morgan’s infamous reluctance to look things up before offering his opinion. Well, Morgan did it again in today’s chat:

Matt (St. Louis): Hi Joe, From the current playoff contenders which team do you think is the best well rounded?

Joe Morgan: I think St. Louis in the National League. They have excellent starting pitching. Good relief pitching. Until recently Ryan Franklin was great as a closer and I think he can be again in the playoffs. In the American League, I’ve been believing in the Yankees for the last month. But you have to wonder about their starting pitching. Sabathia will get the job done, but you have to wonder about Burnett. Pettitte has the shoulder problems and Joba is a star in the Yankees’ minds and no where else. But I guess all the good teams have some weaknesses. Philly doesn’t have a closer. Anaheim is just now getting their pitching in order, but you have to wonder about their power. Boston, their starting pitching, Lester and then Beckett, but he’s been struggling until recently.

Astute baseball fans will quickly notice Morgan’s incorrect assessment of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s perceived deficiency – lack of power. The Angels rank fifth in baseball in slugging percentage, 11th in home runs, 12th in triples, and 14th in doubles. Morgan’s argument for the St. Louis Cardinals is peculiar in two ways: (1) the Cardinals rank 12th in slugging, 15th in home runs, 19th in triples, and 11th in doubles and (2) his argument consists entirely of touting their pitching. I’m not sure the answer to Matt’s question is the Angels. But if Morgan is going to pass over the Angels because of their weak hitting, he can’t go for the Cardinals either.

The more interesting aspect of Morgan’s response is its relationship to the rest of the mainstream sports media. Traditionally, the sports media is slow to pick up on changes in a team’s style of play. I’ve written about this phenomenon before, in which people base their analysis on their perception of a team’s style (usually rooted in history) rather than what the data tells them. Good examples of this include last year’s persistent declaration that the Pittsburgh Steelers are a running team, even though they finished the season ranked 23rd in rushing. Or that the Minnesota Twins are built on defense and unselfish play (read: bunting), when in reality they rank 21st and 25th in those categories. It’s a pretty common practice.

Joe Morgan has consistently demonstrated an inability or unwillingness to evaluate each edition of each baseball team on its own terms. That much is unsurprising. What’s quite surprising – and more than a little disconcerting – is how he’s been left in the dust by even the most obtuse of his peers. I will refrain from naming names, because I still haven’t given up hope that a major sports media network will offer to buy this blog from me for millions of dollars (note: kidding), but I’ve consistently heard these members of the mainstream sports media admire the Angels’ sudden shift from a punchless team to a slugging one. I never thought I’d see the day when the talking heads aren’t praising the Angels for their headiness, grit, guts, baserunning, and timely hitting, but that day has come. The word is out, and everyone knows it: for the first time in years, the Angels can really, really hit. Everyone but Joe Morgan, professional baseball analyst, that is.

… And there goes my multimillion-dollar absorption.

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One Response to Team-Wide Trends Continue To Elude Joe Morgan

  1. Alex says:

    I haven’t paid much attention to AL play this year, but I’m guessing the attribution of power to the Cardinals is almost solely based on Pujols and Holliday. At least the STL local media understands that our insane division lead is almost entirely from starting pitching and defense and in spite of a slumping offense and bad relief corps.

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