Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Meanderings

* Advice to aspiring sabermetric bloggers who’d like to increase comments on their site: blog about Jim Rice. It doesn’t have to be about Jim Rice’s Hall of Fame candidacy, it just has to be timed around the Hall of Fame season (unfortunately for you, this is his last year of eligibility, so chop chop). As a matter of fact, you can even explicitly say that your point is not to discuss Rice’s candidacy as a whole, but rather one of the many arguments that have been offered on his behalf. It doesn’t matter.

Then comes the hard part. You have to figure out a way to get your post linked by a much more prominent blog, like the BTF Newsblog or Rob Neyer. I don’t really have any advice on this count, since I don’t go around seeking to have my posts linked anywhere, but I’m sure you can figure something out. Send them nice emails or something.

And now you’re in business. Now you will get a steady stream of comments from Rice fans and supporters, and this post of yours will get more comments than the last two dozen boring posts you wrote combined. The drawback is that these new posters consider you a big meanie for daring to say something less than complementary of Rice, have no interest in sabermetrics, and will never read your blog again. But hey, at least you got comments!

Seriously, though, this illustrates why topics like the Hall of Fame debate de jour will always be plastered all over the net: they sell. They get attention and comments and page views, and for anyone with any dreams of making money off his blog, it’s tough to pass up. I am always amused by which posts of mine get linked in other places most often, because the ones that get the most exposure (which admittedly is still not much at all) are the ones I tend to think are the weakest and/or most blah. Posts about Jim Rice, OPS, the MVP award, and rankings of players are popular. Posts about Base Runs and the nineteenth century National League, not so much.

* I recently went digging through a box of Baseball Weekly back issues, looking for one with roughly the same date as now--the end of December. In short order I found the “on sale through December 26, 1995” issue with Ozzie Smith on the cover. I was hoping to find some stuff that read very funny in retrospect--not in an attempt to mock the writer, but just as an illustration of how funny some things that seemed perfectly reasonable at the time would look thirteen years later.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find too much material along those lines. One of the problems was that it is one of those skinny, wintertime, forty page editions they used to have. There aren’t too many opinion columns, just a lot of notes on which marginal free agents are signing where. I should try it again over the spring with the 1996 preview issue, which should be a much more fertile ground for the kind of stuff I was looking for, and will juxtapose well with my annual “don’t take predictions too seriously” disclaimer.

All that being said, there was one gem to be found, a letter to the editor from Dave Roman of Brooklyn. This time, I will be poking a little fun at the author, as this is not just a bad prediction, it’s a bad prediction combined with a large presumption of knowledge and a dash of haughtiness thrown in--the kind of stuff I would make fun of anywhere, anytime:

Your piece (Mets, Marlins rebuilding, Dec. 6-12) should serve as an excellent reference for the Yankees and their owner, who should take notes on how to stop insulting their fans with lousy management tactics and overall lack of planning. There are no “yes men” or lackeys at Shea.

As a longtime Mets fan, I just sit here and laugh quietly knowing that class organizations like my Mets, the Marlins, AND Buck Showalter’s Diamondbacks will win championships before the Yankees.


In fairness, the Marlins have won a couple of championships, although in the process they completely destroyed any perception of being a class organization. And the Diamondbacks did win a World Series, albeit after Showalter was fired. But the Mets…well, at least they managed to win a pennant. And lose the subsequent World Series. To the Yankees. Good call, Dave.

* Within the last month I received my annual (actually, now bi-annual thanks to a title shakeup) copy of the SABR Baseball Research Journal. I have been a member of SABR since 1999 and have read all of the BRJs since then, as well as all the back issues dating back to 1996 and probably about a dozen from before then.

The difference in quality between the early journals (I’m using “early” here to mean “early in my time as a member”, not to refer to the BRJs of the 70s and early 80s) and the most recent editions is night and day. The older ones had many more articles, generally much shorter in length, and many about trivial topics (which is some people’s cup of tea, but not mine). The sabermetric pieces in them were generally trash; freak show rankings of players, endless rediscoveries of bases/something, and the like. There were always some very good non-statistical articles to be found, but the consistency of quality left something to be desired.

It is therefore a great endorsement of both the former SABR publications director Jim Charlton and his successor, Nick Frankovich, to say that the recent editions have been light years better. From the sabermetric perspetive, the BRJ remains non-essential, and that will probably always be, as sabermetricians were early adaptors of the internet and most of the best research will always wind up there. Additionally, the internet provides a great “peer review” outlet for sabermetric research, and allows for frequent publication.

However, the sabermetric pieces that are in the BRJ now are of a much higher quality than those of a decade ago. While the 2008 edition features a dialogue between Bill James and Phil Birnbaum lifted from the pages of By the Numbers (the newsletter of SABR’s Statistical Analysis committee), they are good articles as is a lot of what is in BTN. The old state of affairs was that the sabermetric articles in BTN, the quarterly newsletter of a single committee, were vastly superior to those in SABR’s flagship annual publication, which was pretty sad.

The historical articles are of greater quality and greater detail than those of the past, generally speaking. A couple that I really enjoyed in this one were Daniel Levitt, Mark Armour, and Matthew Levitt’s piece on Harry Frazee and Jerry Kuntz’s piece on George Lawson, baseball rabble-rouser who tried to organize a couple of “major” leagues. If you were unfamiliar with Mr. Lawson, don’t feel bad, as I was too. But the man was an unbelievable character as Mr. Kuntz’s piece demonstrates. Apparently he is working on a book about the Lawson brothers, which if this piece is any indication, will be a very entertaining read for a biography, even if much of the story is non-baseball.

Like any other journal covering a broad spectrum, there are articles that you will not find up your alley, and there are certainly a few pieces that didn’t do anything for me. Regardless, the recent BRJs are a huge step forward from those of a decade ago, and are a great example of the benefits of SABR membership and the wide-ranging interests and expertise of its members.

* I am an unabashed fan of the World Baseball Classic and am very much looking forward to the second edition. I am also an American and an unabashed supporter of the US team. That being said, though, I have no issues whatsoever with Alex Rodriguez choosing to play for the Dominican Republic.

While I am fairly patriotic (although that’s not why I go by the handle “Patriot”--that's another story, and not a particularly interesting one), I am an individualist first, and so I support any individual’s right to represent whichever nation they’d like in something as innocuous as a baseball tournament (if ARod had signed up for the Iranian army, that might be another story). While the various means of determining citizenship for international competition are a little silly, as long as a player is eligible under the rules, I see no problem with them choosing to represent either of his possible choices.

From a value perspective, the loss of ARod is not really much of a blow to the US team, if his replacements at third are indeed David Wright and Chipper Jones. While Adrian Beltre is a fine player (assuming he is playing in the WBC), it’s safe to say that Rodriguez is more valuable to the Dominicans relative to his replacement.

While I will be rooting for the US, my number one wish for the tournament is that Cuba be kept from winning, and strengthening the Dominican side without doing much damage to the American cause is a winning move on this front. My antipathy towards the Cubans is purely political and not directed at their baseball people; I feel bad for their players, and I also feel bad for the Cubans like Jose Contreras, Kendry Morales, and Orlando Hernandez who may well want to represent their country but cannot because they fled the Castros’ regime. Unfortunately the players are pawns in a political game, and unlike baseball games which are ultimately for fun, that one is for keeps.

I can also justify pulling for the US and the DR on the basis that I generally prefer to see the “better” team win a small sample size tournament. All things being equal, I will root for the team with a better regular season record in a playoff matchup. While both national teams may have failed to reach the semifinals in 2006, it would be difficult to argue that the US and the DR don’t produce the most plentiful talent, as evidenced by major league performance, with apologies to Venezuela.

Finally, I can’t help but be amused at the stories that said something to the effect of “Howard declines invite to Team USA”. I don’t doubt the veracity of this, but in a sane world, this would read like me announcing that I am declining to toss my hat into the ring for the Browns’ coaching job.

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