Friday, February 22, 2013

Friday Baseball Post

The Friday Baseball Post is really an elsewhere this week; for those who didn't see it earlier, I wrote something for Baseball Prospectus about Paul Richards (who regular readers will know I had developed a bit of an obsession with). So there's that. Bonus fact. You know Walker Cooper, right? He managed exactly two years, both in the minors. The first year, with the 1958 Indianapolis Indians, he managed Joe Altobelli, Sam Mele, and Bobby Winkles. Perhaps not the greatest set of managers of all time, but that's a still a lot of games managed for one minor league roster, no? Also -- the team had Killebrew, Norm Cash, and Johnny Callison. That's not bad.

Beyond that, I'm very much looking forward to listening to the first weekend of games from Arizona for the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants. Excellent!


  1. Speaking of baseball, and on a favorite hobby horse, I was thinking about our discussions of why the PED era matters when the baseball preview SI arrived Wednesday. Bryce Harper is posing on the cover in front of the Washington Monument, with the headline cheesily advising that Harper is ready to put up "monumental" numbers. The mag even advises you turn to page 42 to see what those numbers are.

    There are numbers on page 42 and the several pages that follow, alright, a veritable stat salad of data. But not, alas, the "monumental" ones. Those are hidden in Harper's phone, and he won't say. Writer Tom Verducci didn't speculate. I think we all know why: its bad copy.

    "Sophomore star Bryce Harper might approach 50 homers in late summer, with a chance to make a run at the now-outdated but only-realistically-accessible home run mark of Roger Maris!" That doesn't work. "Harper knocks the cover off the ball, puts up an amazing OPS+ total of 155, which is fully 60% of the way to the bizarro old man numbers of Barry Bonds!" No, that's no good either. What stat dreams remain marketable in the PED era? This is a serious issue.

    Without relatable records, or even distortions that we can adjust for, baseball is left sounding a lot like Verducci's article, actually a lot like your HR department's worst resume nightmare:

    A lot of jargon, sounding superficially impressive, meaning very little.

    1. Huh? Look, offensive levels have fluctuated throughout baseball history. Of course it's unlikely that anyone will top 60 HRs in the current era, since offensive levels have deflated. Is that a steroids story? Perhaps, perhaps not; it seems unlikely to me, however.

      Most players, most years -- even the greatest players -- were unable to realistically target the top all-time yearly numbers. I don't see how that's either a new thing or a bad thing.

      My suggestion? As Bill James said long ago, records are almost always set when the conditions favor them. That absolutely applies to the Bonds single-season HR number, whatever "conditions" consisted of -- that, at the very least, should be something that everyone can accept. And then move on.

    2. But baseball has "moved on" - that's the implication of the way Verducci (and Harper) handle that article: 'monumental' numbers are now a tease, like the empty jargon on 99% of the resumes on the web, signifying nothing. Surely even the smallish crowd that thinks Bonds' outrageous late-30s production was a result of him being a mythical creature can recognize that 20 years ago, a lede that Harper was going to put up "monumental" numbers would be followed by actual, you know, numbers.

      Does this matter? Consider this thought experiment: Sports Illustrated will do a football preview, 6 months hence, in which they very well might put Adrian Peterson on the cover, saying that now that his knee is fully healthy he might put up "monumental numbers". In AD's case, we know what the numbers are, they are relatable and accessible - and also three decades old.

      Will SI do so? Hard to know for sure, but we all would guess probably not, because 'monumental' numbers were never part of the draw of the NFL anywhere near as much as MLB.

      Finally, of course Bill James is right that actual records are broken rarely, but surely Bill James realizes that 20 years ago, the low probability of Bryce Harper hitting 62 home runs wouldn't have stopped SI from speculating about same in spring training.

    3. 20 years ago? You're one year off -- the hitting explosion, IIRC, started in 1994. Before that? No, not really.

      I don't remember the 1960s, but I do remember the 1970s, and the idea that Maris was vulnerable wasn't really a thing; I'm sure it came up, but no one really talked about whether Rice or Foster or whoever might get to 62. It was a low-offense era, and so 60 HRs wasn't really on anyone's radar. True in the 1980s, too. And yet baseball survived and thrived in those years.

      "Will someone get to Maris?" as a constant thing really only started in 1994, when Matt Williams had an amazing pace during the strike year.

  2. My baseball post this week was about the distraction at the Cardinals spring training of electing a pope.


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