March 18th, 2007 → 9:30 am @ Seth Mnookin
Only the most dyed-in-the-wool fanboys would ever claim that Manny Ramirez is a good outfielder; those folks that claim that he ouwits opponents by goading them into running on his (at best) average arm are as bad as folks that argue that Bush actually has a plan for getting out of Iraq. But his outfield play is not responsible for the Red Sox’s woes over the past six years, as some would argue.
Like, for instance, today’s “Keeping Score” column in the Times, which, in its own way, is just as dumb as Murray Chass’s “I refuse to learn anything about statistics because I’m a lazy toad, er, it would ruin my enjoyment of the game” gem. In today’s piece, Dan Rosenheck tries to smokescreen the reader with lots of impressive sounding, supposed truisms to argue that Manny’s defense is so bad it basically brings him down to the level of a mid-level All-Star. His central argument is this: “Accurate numerical evaluations of defense only became possible in 1987, when Stats Inc. began sending observers to every game to record the location and speed of every batted ball. This play-by-play (P.B.P.) information made it possible to measure fielding ability much more precisely, by comparing the rates that players at the same position fielded various types of balls…”
I’ve spent a fair amount of time speaking with those Stats Inc. “observers.” They are, for the most part, college kids who are given little training and are paid poorly to sit in the stands and carve up the field into zones belonging to each defensive position. The problem is, those zones are about as reliable as Mel Gibson once he’s gotten a few drinks in him. (Right, Leary?) To give Stats Inc’s P-B-P info this much weight is as dumb as, say, giving Derek Jeter the Gold Glove because you think he looks good in the field. Smart observers — and smart teams — make every effort to create their own defensive metrics, and those same observers have made cogent arguments as to why their work should not, on the whole, be considering overly reliable.
Rosenheck solidifies his Chassness with the following, completely asinine suggestion:
“The other solution would be to move Ramâˆšâ‰ rez to designated hitter. That would require switching the incumbent D.H., David Ortiz, to first base. Ortiz is even less mobile than Ramâˆšâ‰ rez, and given his corpulence, the demands of playing the field may substantially increase his risk of injury.”
To which I can only say: Wow. Ortiz has said clearly he’s more comfortable as a full-time DH; there’s also plenty of evidence (anecdotal and actual) that at least part of Ortiz’s prodigious offense results from the time he spends in the clubhouse between at-bats, when he studies previous at-bats against the opposing pitcher and reviews what might lead to success. What’s more — what’s more important, in fact — is the evidence that Ortiz’s well-chronicled injury history resulted from the pounding he took in the field. And bad knees plus first base is a bad combo. Right, Buckner?
Finally, “corpulence”? That’s a fancy way of saying someone’s fat. “Given his size,” maybe. “Given his history of knee injuries and attendant immobility,” maybe. But fat? David Wells is fat. I’ve seen David Ortiz with his shirt off. He’s a big man. But he’s not fat. And I bet Rosenheck is glad he’s not ever going to risk saying that to Papi’s face.
“Keeping Score” is often one of the Times‘s most interesting sports columns, especially when David Leonhardt is weighing in. Today’s is embarrassing. At the end of the day, Manny’s play in the field undoubtedly hurts the Sox. It’d be interesting to find out just what the cumulative effect of this is. We’re not going to learn that from the Times.
February 27th, 2007 → 10:04 am @ Seth Mnookin
In today’s cranky old man column, Murray Chass pulls a move that surprises even me. (Close readers of this blog will know it’s hard for Murray to shock me; they’ll also know I’ve only put up one Chass-related post this month, which is truly a sign of how hard I’m trying to keep from getting crazy about that ol’ coot.)
Anyway, here’s Chass on VORP:
“To me, VORP epitomized the new-age nonsense. For the longest time, I had no idea what VORP meant and didnâ€šÃ„Ã´t care enough to go to any great lengths to find out. I asked some colleagues whose work I respect, and they didnâ€šÃ„Ã´t know what it meant either. Finally, not long ago, I came across VORP spelled out. It stands for value over replacement player. How thrilling. How absurd. Value over replacement player. Donâ€šÃ„Ã´t ask what it means. I donâ€šÃ„Ã´t know.
I suppose that if stats mongers want to sit at their computers and play with these things all day long, thatâ€šÃ„Ã´s their prerogative. But their attempt to introduce these new-age statistics into the game threatens to undermine most fansâ€šÃ„Ã´ enjoyment of baseball and the human factor therein.
People play baseball. Numbers donâ€šÃ„Ã´t.”
It’s been a good long time since I’ve heard a reporter actually brag about his total and utter lack of curiosity regarding his work. One of the biggest changes in baseball over the last decade has been the emphasis on using everything possible to understand the game. This doesn’t undermine enjoyment of the game any more than learning the historical references contained in Shakespeare plays leeches the enjoyment out of a night at the theatre. Information is knowledge, as that hoary old cliche goes. Lord knows Murray ain’t much one for knowledge — he practically shouts his ignorance from the rooftops every time he puts pen to paper — but it’s embarrassing for him to beat his chest about it. If a fan doesn’t want to get bogged down in the minutia of VORP or OPS or equivalent averages, that’s all well and good; I loved watching baseball in the days when I couldn’t identify a breaking ball from high and tight heat. But if it was my job to watch baseball games and then inform the public about these very same games, I’d sure as shit make sure I knew everything I could about the sport, regardless of what language I used to write about what was taking place on the field. And anyone who thinks that being better informed makes for a less enjoyable day at the ballpark clearly hasn’t ever watched a game with Bill James.
February 6th, 2007 → 8:54 pm @ Seth Mnookin
There are a lot of great sports reporters out there. With that caveat out of the way, the reason Eagle-Tribune Sox beat writer Rob Bradford‘s stuff stands out so much is that he’s always coming up with new angles and new ways to approach stories and then reporting the crap out of them. He had a pair of doozies in the paper over the weekend, both about J.D. Drew. If anyone missed his piece on Drew’s, um, unusual regimen for staying healthy, do yourself a favor and check it out. And in this story, Bradford explains — or helps explain, anyway — why Drew’s contract got held up. (If only Murray “call me Woodward and Bernstein” Chass had half the initiative and a third of the reporting chops of Bradford, Times readers might have known this a while back…and been spared a whole slew of insane jeremiads. Oh well.)
January 31st, 2007 → 10:25 am @ Seth Mnookin
Murray Chass articles about the not-yetness of J.D. Drew’s contract with the Red Sox in the three weeks before January 25: five.
Articles in the week since the final details of the contract were announced: one.
Nonsensical, logically inconsistent suppositions (based, naturally, on anonymous sources) contained in said article by the only baseball beat writer on record who has compared himself to Woodward and Bernstein: one. (“Word out of the Drew camp was it agreed to the out clause to allow the Red Soxâ€šÃ„Ã´ doctor to save face after a second opinion supposedly found nothing suspicious about Drewâ€šÃ„Ã´s shoulder. But the final structure of the contract seems to enable Boras to save face because he recommended that Drew walk away from the Dodgersâ€šÃ„Ã´ deal. Had the Red Sox contract extended the out clause to the final three years, Drew could have wound up with only $28 million.”)
Corrections attached to any of Chass’s Drew-Red Sox articles, despite the on-the-record insistence by the story’s main characters that Chass’s unnamed sources are completely incorrect: Zero.
January 26th, 2007 → 12:08 pm @ Seth Mnookin
By the end of the day, the Red Sox and J.D. Drew will have signed a contract. (I know at least one person who’s gonna be pretty disappointed by this.) The conspiracy theorists who speculated that the Sox had “come to terms” with Drew merely as a way of greasing the skids with Scott Boras in advance of the Dice-K contract have been proven wrong.
The two sides came to some specific agreements concerning Drew’s surgically repaired shoulder; the deal is similar to the ones the Tigers worked out with Magglio and Pudge. The details are pretty straightforward. Now we can all focus on pitchers and catchers…
January 23rd, 2007 → 8:46 am @ Seth Mnookin
One more bit of Murray funness before we get on with our day. Last Sunday, apropos of absolutely nothing, Murray wrote one of the odder (even for him) pieces I’ve ever seen. Since I’d never be able to do it justice, I’ll just reprint it here in full:
“Kicking About the Evil Empire”
A report here last week about Devern Hansack, a Nicaraguan pitcher for the Red Sox, prompted an e-mail message from Sergio Maltez of Managua in which he recalled the head-to-head competition the Red Sox and the Yankees waged for JosâˆšÂ© Contreras four years ago. Contreras had defected from Cuba and had established residence in Nicaragua so he could be a free agent.
The Yankees won the bidding, prompting severe vocal reaction from Larry Lucchino, the Red Soxâ€šÃ„Ã´ chief executive, and severe physical reaction from Theo Epstein, the Red Soxâ€šÃ„Ã´ general manager. Lucchino called the Yankees the evil empire. Epstein chose a different response.
‘It was true,’ Maltez wrote, ‘that Theo Epstein broke the door of the hotel with a kick when the Yankees signed Contreras and not the Red Sox.'”
Besides the fact that a Google search of Sergio Maltez turns up pretty much nothing (in English, anyway), this piece is weird because a) nobody had been talking about 2003, and b) Murray himself knows it’s not true! On December 29, 2002, in an early article in what became an ongoing series in which Chass condescended to Theo Epstein, the Times baseball columnist wrote, “Theo Epstein is the youngest general manager in baseball history, even if he does age a year today, but in his month on the job with the Boston Red Sox, not one of his fellow general managers has accused him of throwing toys across the table at them. Nor, he said, has he broken doors or windows or chairs, not in Nashville, not in Nicaragua. ‘I’ve never broken a piece of furniture in my life,’ said Epstein, who turns 29 today. Why the stories then? ‘It started in Nashville,’ he related, referring to the winter meetings earlier this month. ‘There was a chair in our suite that was broken when we got there. We placed it outside the room. One of the writers asked about it. I said we came close to a deal and it didn’t happen. It was an attempt at humor. One writer didn’t get the humor.’ The image of Epstein as El Destructo emerged, too, from his failed pursuit of Jose Contreras in Nicaragua last week. This time, the tale went, he broke a door and a window. The Red Sox attributed it to Yankee propaganda, not as in ‘Yankee, go home,’ but as in the New York Yankees’ dirty tricks.”
Somehow, this managed to shock even me. In desperately casting about for his latest piece of irrelevance, Murray Chass actually printed something that he himself knew was a lie. Did someone mention the lax ethic of the sports section?
January 23rd, 2007 → 8:38 am @ Seth Mnookin
Apparently not satisfied with the correspondences with his readers that I’ve been printing, Murray Chass devotes todays column to making fun of “Red Sox fans” who failed to grasp the humor of an earlier piece, which suggested that the Red Sox sign Barry Bonds, put him in left, and move Manny Ramirez to right. (Chass didn’t actually print any of his responses, perhaps because a) they’re oddly churlish, and b) they’re full of spelling mistakes. In fact, here’s the latest response forwarded along to me: “Perhaos (sic) in your ignorance you are unaware that The New York Times Company is an owner of the Red Sox. If you didn’t know that, it doesn’t day (sic) much for you and your view of things. And you obvioudly (sic) are so blinded by what I write about the Red Sox that you don’t know a joke when you see one. Maybe you are the one who is pathetic.” But I digress…)
The mere fact that so many people didn’t get Murray’s joke (including me) seems to indicate not that said readers are pathetic, but that Chass is as poor a humorist as he is a speller, a writer, and a baseball analyst. What’s more, ironic humor tends to work better when there’s a track record of prescient intelligence, not one of blinding incomprehensiveness. (To wit: nobody thought Steve Phillips was joking when he brought up the notion of Barry playing in Boston, either.)
Today’s column is one in a long line in which Murray, who, honest, has absolutely no bone to pick with the Red Sox or their fans, goes after Crimson Hose supporters. Some other recent examples. August 22, 2006: “Red Sox fans are hurting.” “Red Sox fans…don’t take kindly to criticism of their heroes — unless they level it themselves.” October 4, 2005: “For Boston Fans, a Case of Pinstripe Blues.” (This whole column was about Sox fans. Seriously.) Sept 11, 2005: “Not because I am a Yankees fan, as Red Sox fans believe incorrectly in their mixed-up, Red Sox-motivated minds, but because they have been so smug all season in their belief that last year’s World Series champions would finish ahead of the Yankees this season.” August 2, 2005: “Red Sox fans shouldn’t assume that the wild card, if not first place, was theirs. … If the Red Sox fail to outlast the Yankees…they squandered their best chance to drive a stake into the dark heart of the Evil Empire.” At this point, he should be happy he’s still getting emails. It shows someone cares.