Team-Wide Trends Continue To Elude Joe Morgan

September 22, 2009

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.


John Sterling’s Notable Lack Of Spontaneity (And A Great Home Run Celebration)

September 8, 2009

I was reading Baseball Prospectus’ “The Week In Quotes” column yesterday when something struck me as fairly odd. It was a quote from Yankees radio broadcaster John Sterling, and it went like this:

“I like things to be spontaneous. Besides, there’s not much you can do with it. The number one Yankee in hits in history? The names are Gehrig, Ruth, DiMaggio and Mantle—what an honor. What else is there to say?” (on how he’ll call Derek Jeter taking over the Yankees mark for career hits)

John Sterling is many things. He is gregarious, misleading, passionate, exuberant, biased, overwhelming, underwhelming, and possibly blind. But he is not spontaneous. After all, he regularly and automatically uses the following catch phrases when a Yankee hits a home run:

  • “An A-Bomb, from A-Rod!” – Alex Rodriguez (and, infamously, Hideki Matsui)
  • “The Melkman delivers!” – Melky Cabrera
  • “El Capitan!” – Derek Jeter
  • “It’s a Tex Message!” and “You’re on the Mark, Teixeira!” – Mark Teixeira
  • “It’s a thrilla by Godzilla!” – Hideki Matsui
  • “Robbie Cano, don’t ya know!” – Robinson Cano
  • “Hinske with your best shot!” – Eric Hinske

EDIT: An observant and industrious reader has pointed out it’s “El Capitan” and not “El Capitano.” Serves me right.

You get the point. John Sterling is not spontaneous. Now, on a less cranky note, I give you the Milwaukee Brewers’ amazing team celebration after a recent Prince Fielder walk-off homer. Baseball needs more of this, if for no other reason than to get the ornery Baby Boomers riled up (starts at the 0:50 mark):

Inexplicably, Home Runs Remain An Underrated Means Of Scoring

May 26, 2009

One of the more puzzling sentiments that has made its way into mainstream baseball analysis is the idea that home runs kill rallies. You don’t hear it in every game, or even most games, but when the opportunity presents itself, you can count on a broadcaster unleashing this bit of misinformation. For example, if a team loads the bases with no outs, and the batter hits a grand slam, it is likely someone will say “I’d rather have had a single to keep the line moving than a rally-killing homer.”

I hope the fallaciousness of this thinking is fairly self-evident. A home run is, by definition, the single best result a hitter can achieve during his at-bat. At the very least, it guarantees one run for his team. It often guarantees more. But it’s a guarantee, and that’s the most important point to remember and the very point that people forget when they proclaim certain home runs “rally-killers.” As a fan, it’s easy to understand the feelings behind such a statement. The bases are loaded, no one is out, and there’s all the promise in the world of an endless inning with lots and lots of scoring. When a player hits a home run and clears the bases, it just feels like the start of the inning all over again. Sure, multiple runs have scored, but now there’s no one on base. So, I understand the visceral reaction leading to the idea of rally-killing home runs. It’s important to understand, however, that the home run itself is the very rally that people fear has been killed.

I bring this up because Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Jason Isringhausen has introduced an apparent descendant of this misguided maxim. After helping blow a 10-0 lead over the Cleveland Indians, the Rays’ reliever offered this bit of thinking:

“The walks are unacceptable,” Isringhausen. “I’d rather give up home runs than walk guys.”

Isringhausen’s preferences are his own choice, but if he’s intent on pitching effectively, then his choice is wrong. It’s wrong for the same reason that home runs as “rally-killers” is wrong. If hitting a home run is the best thing a hitter can do, it’s also the worst thing a pitcher can allow. A walk is bad, yes, but allowing a home run means that the opponent has instantly scored one run. That’s much, much worse than allowing a baserunner.

While wrong, Isringhausen’s statement is understandable. As a fan, it’s agonizing to watch your pitcher walk batter after batter. It’s a slow, painful death that wreaks havoc upon the nerves and grants an amplified feeling of powerlessness. Seeing your pitcher allow a home run, on the other hand, provides certainty. It’s the devil you know. Once the ball leaves the park, you know exactly what the score is going to be, and you can start to get on with your life. Walks don’t afford that luxury. So, once again, I comprehend the feelings behind a statement like Isringhausen’s. That doesn’t make him any less wrong.

Fine, I’ll Point It Out

October 7, 2007

Throughout tonight’s broadcast of the Indians-Yankees game, Chip Caray has (rightfully) pointed out the Yankees’ inability to hit during the series. But he also keeps saying the following phrase, verbatim:

“The Yankees led the world in homers during the regular season.”

The Yankees were 4th in baseball this season in homers, behind Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati.

George Herman Ruth, You Moron

September 12, 2007’s Dayn Perry’s power rankings:

4. The Yanks are once again surging, and they now hold a semi-comfortable lead in the AL Wild Card chase. Alex Rodriguez reached the 50-homer mark for the third time in his career, and he’s on pace to finish the season with 58 bombs, which would be the second-most in Yankee franchise history. On the downside, Andy Phillips is likely done for the year, and Roger Clemens probably won’t be able to return to the mound until the weekend.

I am going to ignore the fact that Perry thinks losing Andy Phillips is a problem for the Yankees, because it’s not a problem – it’s a blessing.

What I am going to focus on is the part where Perry thinks that 58 homers would be the second most in Yankee franchise history. Roger Maris is first with 61 – I think we pretty much all know that. But there’s also this Babe Ruth guy who hit 59 homers in 1921, and 60 in 1927. Last time I checked, 59/60 > 58. If A-Rod hits 58, that would be fourth most in franchise history. Not second. Not third. Fourth.