Why I Do This

August 19, 2009

Two days ago, I read a Baseball Prospectus interview with Fox Sports’ Pete Macheska. Macheska, who is the Emmy-winning lead producer for the network’s Major League Baseball coverage, oversees what I have long-considered to be the least progressive baseball broadcast on television. Before reading the interview, I consciously hoped to myself that the interviewer would focus on the network’s continual resistance to embracing even the most basic of the “new age” baseball statistics. Thankfully, that’s exactly what happened, even if Macheska’s response truly and viscerally bummed me out for about an hour. Here are the most important – and most disconcerting – quotes:

“My feeling nowadays is there’s so many stats, and the people that are most important—the announcers and the producer and the director—are not in control of those stats.”

So I asked Macheska about OBP, a fairly straightforward stat that’s starting to show up on the broadcast templates of other networks, but not on Fox. His response points to another factor that has an impact on the stats viewers get to see.

“Yeah, we’ve talked about stuff like that. But I think if you listen to Tim McCarver’s philosophy, on-base percentage is different for Albert Pujols compared to a guy who can run. I think what’s pertinent is that a .429 on-base percentage for Albert Pujols, someone who’s not as speedy as, say, Jose Reyes – it matters differently. That’s Tim’s philosophy, and we just sort of follow that.”

Things we have learned so far:

  1. Key members of a baseball broadcast aren’t familiar with many of today’s statistics.
  2. Pete Macheska listens to Tim McCarver. Peruse this, and you’ll know why that’s bad.
  3. Tim McCarver thinks that Albert Pujols making an out hurts the team less than a fast guy making an out.

It continues:

Eric Karros may have a different opinion than Tim McCarver or Mark Grace, so you may see [differences]. But basically we go by Tim more or less when we set the template, and on something like on-base percentage we just decided not to. I’m not saying we shouldn’t revisit that, but I think Tim is the one that’s not… he wouldn’t be against it, but I don’t think he’s as thrilled with that as others are. If you put on-base percentage on there, you’re making the graphic longer, and sometimes less is more. Each spring you go through these types of decisions and you ask, what’s the risk/reward? If you feel it’s not adding a lot, then you leave it off. And the other thing is, sometimes you can put up a statistic and the announcer doesn’t believe in it, or if it needs explaining they don’t explain it properly. Then what have we really accomplished except confusing people?”

Tim McCarver doesn’t believe in on-base percentage or, if he does, he doesn’t know how to explain it properly. I would just like to take this moment to point out that on-base percentage is defined as how often a player gets on base. It’s likely to confuse people, I know.

Even with my intense displeasure with what I was reading, I decided not to blog about it because there’s not much to talk about. It’s just another example of a prominent media member not putting in the time and effort to understand the changing landscape of baseball coverage. It was disheartening, but not worthy of a post.

Then, I stumbled upon Dave Cameron’s piece at FanGraphs. He simply asks why mainstream media folk and sabermetricians spend so much time trying to convince one another that their opinion is unquestionably right. He argues that we don’t need to all be of the same mind – particularly with respect to award winners – because the easy access to baseball statistics allows for objective retrospection, no matter what you believe. He says that regardless of who wins what awards, we can look back on this season, remember who was good, and pass on that personal truth to whomever we see fit. The money quotes:

With the invention of the internet (thanks Al!), we don’t need to look back through a list of MVP awards to remember who was good way back when. We have baseball-reference for that. History isn’t recorded in trophies, but in data and stories, and we now have the capability to store a massive amount of both. No matter who wins the AL MVP award this season, we’re going to have a ridiculous amount of information about what happened on the field in 2009, and we’ll be able to show our kids and their kids just how much fun it was to watch Joe Mauer play baseball. The history of the game, as told by us, won’t be changed one iota by how the BBWAA votes in six weeks.

If they want to think that Teixeira was the most important player to his team in the league this year, that’s fine. Most of us probably disagree, and we’re under no obligation to report that as any kind of factual statement. I’ll be telling people that Mauer was the most valuable player in the American League for 2009, and I’ve got a mountain of information to back it up. How other people view the definition of the word value has no real world impact on me.

. . .

Let them vote for whoever they want. I don’t care.

I do care, and the Baseball Prospectus interview with Pete Macheska shows exactly why. I want people to understand how baseball works because the qualities necessary to do so – objectivity, creativity, flexibility, and plain old persistence – are some of the most admirable characteristics around. I care that the right person wins each award because, like many people, I want the world around me to make sense. I care because I want people to make smart and reasoned choices. I care because I believe in open-mindedness and a receptiveness to new ideas. I care because the failure to even to attempt to understand something – total, out-of-hand rejection – falls somewhere in between crippling and repulsive. I care because the moment you’ve simply decided to stop listening, learning, and entertaining new ideas, you’ve pretty much packed it in as a person. I care because my greatest fear is that I’ll one day end up like the very people I’ve criticized in this space – obstinate, defensive, lazy, and resistant to change.

Call me melodramatic, but that’s why I do this. It’s not to make people feel dumb or make me feel smart. It’s to reveal the sheer intractability of much of the sports media with the simple hope that one person will read this, say “hey, that makes sense,” and start looking at things a little bit differently.

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Factually Incorrect

September 15, 2007

During this afternoon’s Yankees-Red Sox game, FOX broadcaster Tim McCarver brings up the ridiculous year Jorge Posada is having. Discussion quickly turns to his defense, and McCarver says:

“His throwing this year has been superb.(emphasis his)

I’m assuming McCarver is talking about Posada’s throwing out basestealers, not returning the ball to the pitcher every pitch. Let’s take a look. Posada is 18th out of 22 qualified catchers in CS% this year, at 24%. In fact, it is his worst year in this respect since 1997. Yes, 1997.

So, no, Tim McCarver – you are wrong.

EDIT: The Red Sox stole two bases (on two separate steals, not a double steal) shortly after McCarver said this.


A Pop Culture List of Some Kind: The Top Baseball Moments in “The Simpsons”

August 13, 2007

Freaks!

As long as FOX still holds the rights to broadcast the World Series, that unfortunately means a hiatus for “The Simpsons” in late October. Getting in some passive-aggressive digs at the parent company’s schedule bumping (or perhaps just as irritated as the rest of us by their sub-standard sports coverage), this cold open from 2005’s “Treehouse of Horror XVI” highlights the slower side of America’s national pasttime. This clip ends before extraterrestrials Kang and Kodos use their particle accelerator to speed up the game and unwittingly destroy the universe.

Homer’s Pinch Plate Appearance Beats Shelbyville

By it’s third season, “The Simpsons” was the hottest property on television, and despite its ornery reputation, it had the clout to attract huge guest stars. When nuclear power impresario Mr. Burns wagers one million dollars that his plant’s softball team can beat that of rival town Shelbyville, he stacks the odds in his favor by signing up nine Major League ringers for the game. The main plot of “Homer at the Bat” involves the intrasquad rivalry between outfielders Darryl Strawberry and Homer; here the writers have cleverly cast Strawberry as the consummate team player (three years before his redemption in pinstripes). Of all these late ’80s/early ’90s stars, only Roger Clemens and Ken Griffey Jr. are still playing; a few more have basically been confined to the dustbins of baseball history (or VH1 reality shows).

Isotopes Win Pennant

Season Ten episode “Wild Barts Can’t Be Broken” opens with some of the best jokes on baseball fandom in recent television history. Homer is Springfield’s biggest fairweather fan – and who can blame him for doubting the hapless Isotopes? But when the local team is in the championship game, he makes like a Red Sox fan circa 2004. One of the episode writers even cops to being exactly such a bandwagon hopper during Boston’s championship run. The post-game celebration is one for the ages too – can you spot the non-combustible item that inexplicably bursts into flames?

Dingers!

When my friends and I found out that Mark McGwire was going to be on “The Simpsons”, it was a huge deal. “He’s on pace for 65 homers again this year? Who cares?! He’s gonna meet Homer!” Knowing what we do now about the 1998 home race, this scene from Season Eleven’s “Brother’s Little Helper” has a bittersweet quaintness to it; there’s also plenty of eerie symbolism in the way the Springfield mob are so easily distracted by the longball. I love that they got Big Mac to read the line “Yoink!”; and a nice touch having Vin Scully (impersonated by Harry Shearer) as the voice of the satellite.

What’s that? It’s mid-August? Oh, well I guess I know what that means…


Ken Rosenthal, Come On Down!

June 19, 2007

Somehow, Ken Rosenthal has remained out of our crosshairs since the blog’s inception. This is primarily because – to me, at least – he has never seemed overly idiotic, lazy, or unreasonable. I’ve just sort of known him as the mousey little guy who does “sideline” reporting for FOX baseball.

But then he wrote this:

These are the Yankees we’re talking about, not some low-revenue club that counts every nickel. The Red Sox have done a far better job developing and retaining homegrown players — closer Jonathan Papelbon, left-hander Jon Lester, first baseman Kevin Youkilis and now second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

Um…I object to this statement. I object to this on the grounds that, at the very least, the Yankees and Red Sox have developed and retained homegrown players with equal success. And that’s being generous. A more aggressive (and also truer) stance would be that the Yankees have done a better job than the Red Sox.

I’m not sure what the fairest and most objective way to compare the Yankees’ and Red Sox’ homegrown talent is. So, I’m going to list all homegrown players from each team since the year 2000. Also, since homegrown player retention is a part of the equation, I am only going to list players that have played either their entire careers or the vast majority of their careers (Trot Nixon, for example) with that team. All players must be drafted by the Yankees or Red Sox. Finally, I will include that player’s career ERA+ or OPS+, and how much they played. Let’s take a look:

BOSTON:

  • Trot Nixon, OF, 115 OPS+ (1037 G)
  • Paxton Crawford, RP, 114 ERA+ (65 IP)
  • Wilton Veras, 3B, 60 OPS+ (85 G)
  • John Valentin, IF, 109 OPS+ (1105 G)
  • Kevin Youkilis, IF, 114 OPS+ (328 G)
  • Jonathan Papelbon, RP, 290 ERA+ (126 IP)
  • Manny Delcarmen, RP, 100 ERA+ (65 IP)
  • Craig Hansen, RP, 70 ERA+ (41 IP)
  • Jon Lester, SP, 97 ERA+ (81 IP)
  • Kason Gabbard, P, 130 ERA+ (3o IP)
  • Dustin Pedroia, 2B, 98 OPS+ (87 G)
  • Nomar Garciaparra, SS, 128 OPS+ (1260 G)

NEW YORK:

  • Jorge Posada, C, 123 OPS+ (1351 G)
  • Derek Jeter, SS, 123 OPS+ (1745 G)
  • Bernie Williams, CF, 125 OPS+ (2076 G)
  • Shane Spencer, OF, 96 OPS+ (538 G)
  • Andy Pettitte, SP, 120 ERA+ (2404 IP)
  • Mariano Rivera, RP, 195 ERA+ (907 IP)
  • Erick Almonte, IF, 86 OPS+ (39 G)
  • Andy Phillips, 1B, 77 OPS+ (142 G)
  • Robinson Cano, 2B, 112 OPS+ (320 G)
  • Melky Cabrera, OF, 90 OPS+ (193 G)
  • Chien-Ming Wang, SP, 119 ERA+ (412 IP)
  • Sean Henn, P, 67 ERA+ (40 IP)
  • Jeff Karstens, SP, 91 ERA+ (47 IP)
  • Tyler Clippard, SP, 67 ERA+ (27 IP)
  • Philip Hughes, SP, 126 ERA+ (11 IP)

A couple notes. I initially left Garciaparra off this list, since he played 8.5 of his 12 seasons with the Red Sox. While this was certainly the majority of his career, 70% is not, in my opinion, the vast majority. After consulting Keesup, I decided to put him on the list. In exchange, I granted myself the right to include Hughes for the Yankees, despite his 11 IP.

I’m not going to analyze these lists too much, because that would take forever and I’m tired. But here are some important things to remember:

  1. You can pretty much throw away each team’s marginal players (Veras, Almonte, Phillips, etc.)
  2. The Red Sox have a group of young but largely unproven pitchers (with the exception of Papelbon). Furthermore, Hansen and Delcarmen have struggled as they’ve ascended, while Gabbard has very limited work at the major league level and is not considered a real prospect.
  3. The Yankees have more marginal players than the Red Sox, but they also have produced more homegrown players than the Red Sox (15 to 12). I’m not sure what this tells us. Probably nothing.
  4. Philip Hughes and Tyler Clippard are projected to be a #1 and a #4 starter, respectively. Hughes has done nothing so far to change that assessment, while Clippard’s future has become murky.

Now, for the final analysis. The Red Sox’ best players (combination of performance and projection) are Trot Nixon, Kevin Youkilis, Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia, and Nomar Garciaparra. The Yankees’ best players are Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Robinson Cano, Chien-Ming Wang, and Philip Hughes.

By any measure, Rosenthal is wrong. Even if we go player-for-player, Rosenthal (at best) breaks even. Papelbon? Hughes. Lester? Wang. Pedroia? Cano. Youkilis? Melky (iffy response, but somewhat allowable because Wang has been better than Lester and Cano has been better than Pedroia). If we throw all of those players out, the Yankees still have the clear advantage with guys like Rivera, Jeter, Posada, Bernie, and Pettitte against the Red Sox’ Nixon, Garciaparra, and Valentin.

I guess my point is: no, Ken Rosenthal, you are wrong.


Al’s Quote of the Day: 4/3/07

April 4, 2007

Unless you live in New York and your favored team has the clout to buy its own network, you can’t expect much from your basic cable regional network broadcast team. Case in point: Fox Sports Net Midwest, the Cardinal’s flagship cable channel which broadcasts about 150 of their regular season games. Sometimes we get to hear (literal) favorite son Joe Buck call a game, which is fine with me; he’s got the voice and St. Louis roots, and he tends to remain inoffensive and impartial for most non-Randy Moss-related issues.

Otherwise, the everyday line-up consists of play-by-play man Dan McLaughlin, somehow more vanilla than Buck; and Al Hrabosky, a well-meaning but mostly useless color commentator who was a decent reliever but was mostly famous for getting all histrionic on the mound. Just like every other player who has played baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals, he can do no wrong when he is within the St. Louis metropolitan area, and he even has the requisite restaurant. He’s also kind of dumb. Mike Shannon at least has the rambling, hilariously senile angle on the radio, but Hrabrosky is just bad.

So any night I can catch one of the Cardinals’ games on FSN Midwest, I will try to transcribe some gem of Hrabosky’s that really made me writhe. Let’s inaugurate this piece, son!

    I’ll tell you, what sets the Cardinals apart from a club like the Brewers is that the Cardinals, they find a way to win.

He said this as the Mets were dishearteningly beating the Cardinals for the second night in a row. We were getting shut out by a guy who might well be 49 years old. Meanwhile, the Brewers were winning their second game in a row against the Dodgers, a team many picked to win the NL pennant.

Keep this up, Al, and we just might have to revoke your credentials as the Mad Hungarian. Or as a broadcaster.