I like to think, generally, that I’m above a line-by-line takedown of a foolish, obsolete blowhard raging against the light’s refusal to die with him. I’ve started such things in the past, and have always let them fall to the cutting-room floor, unfinished, once the blood stopped flowing to it.
I’m going to do it this time, though. I’m a struggling blogger, struggling in the sense that I badly want to write thoughtful, fun, interesting, searching pieces about baseball on a regular basis, but was last paid a dime for my writing in March 2012. As a full-time worker, a husband and a father of two, I simply can’t put the time and energy necessary to do my best work into something that doesn’t help support my family.
So I’m going to walk through a column that was posted to detroitnews.com on Saturday, written by a retired columnist named Jerry Green. I’ve come to believe that only intense, detailed, specific, step-by-step critique—nah, let’s say ridicule—of blather like this will ever stop its being published, and thereby, push old frauds and fools like Green aside so people like me (not me specifically, or not only me, but people who think about the game more clearly, more intelligently, more lovingly and less cynically, like me) can make the livings we deserve for our superior work.
From this point forward, words in italics are Green’s, and words in plain format are mine.
The oddity of baseball is that the teams play 162 ballgames through six months from March to September so that fourth and fifth-place clubs might engage in combat in a World Series in October. No team finishing lower than third in its division can play in the playoffs under MLB’s current rules. The Giants and Royals, who played in the Series this autumn, each finished second. Presumably, Green means something else by “fourth and fifth-place clubs.” He’s counting the entire American and National Leagues without differentiating by division.
The leagues have each been segmented by division since 1969. Under the current schedule structure, the four opponents making up a given team’s divisional schedule show up 76 times on that schedule. Nearly half the schedule is intradivisional. If Green is choosing to ignore divisional alignment in order to trivialize the Royals and Giants, he’s doing so recklessly. The dynamics of the league are too dependent upon the divisional structure to ignore them.
And then in November, on the glitter of the Major League Network, baseball dishes out the annual awards. That cable sports networks overproduce off-field content is not up for debate, but Green’s use of “glitter” betrays a bizarre resentment of the whole process that will echo over the next few paragraphs. His cynicism snakes its way through every sentence. (By the way, it’s called MLB Network. It’s not even officially Major League Baseball Network, and it’s definitely not “Major League Network.” Hardly Green’s most embarrassing gaffe in simple copy writing, but it bears noting: Sticking to these old journalistic pros is not getting us a better brand of writer, even from the most fundamental perspective.)
It is a weeklong offering of pomp and circumstance from rookies of the year to managers of the year to the Cy Young winners; then at the climax, to the most valuable players. He has, to his credit, correctly listed the awards given out over the course of the week. “Pomp and circumstance” falls in line with “glitter,” helping paint the picture of Green’s disdain for it all.
Basically, all the award contests were absolutely predictable. And my version of the truth is that only the MVP awards mean much. The AL Cy Young Award vote was breathtakingly close, and it’s not even exactly clear whether the right or wrong conclusion came about. In fairness to Green, the complexity of the issue there may allow him to disqualify it by leading off that first sentence with “Basically.” Even then, I’m not sure I agree about the easy predictability of every award, but I see where Green is going.
I enjoy Green’s choice of words in that second sentence: He uses “my version of the truth” in lieu of ‘my opinion’ or ‘my sense,’ which is just perfect. That’s exactly the problem here. Throughout the article, Green decides to espouse his “version of the truth” instead of his own viewpoint. He’s saying, in essence, that his opinion isn’t really an opinion, but a subset of fact, a sort of special case, I guess. It’s an interesting version of truth, that just the one award in each league has meaning, but alright, Jerry, go ahead.
This year the MVPs were won by what I would declare retro ballplayers. Aw, how sweet. Remember, Green is a dinosaur, a fossil. There is no higher compliment an old coot out of touch with the modern game can bestow than “retro ballplayer.” We’ll pay it no mind, for now,
Clayton Kershaw, the 21st century version of Sandy Koufax, was the National League’s MVP with the Dodgers. This is a perfectly fair comparison, and sort of an inevitable one. It’s not insightful, or anything, but there’s nothing wrong with what Green says about Kershaw.
Mike Trout, the 21st Century mixture of Willie Mays and Joe DiMaggio, won the American League’s MVP award with the Angels. Trout was a unanimous choice after two years of wailing and weeping from the Sabremetrics fiends. Because the word “fiend” is used somewhat loosely at times, it’s easy to forget just how high Green is turning the rhetorical dial by choosing it. A fiend is an evil spirit or demon. Sure, maybe Green meant it in the more colloquial sense, where the exact definition is something closer to ‘zealot,’ but I’m not ready to dismiss the word choice at the moment. And hey, another clerical/simple fact-checking error: it’s sabermetrics. The word is not capitalized in normal use, and it’s definitely saber-, not sabre-. I’m not sure whether Green is attempting to apply a Canadian spelling innocently (does he ‘realise’ or ‘realize,’ generally?), or in order to make those who identify as such seem un-American. Or is he simply mistaken about the accepted spelling?
And now these numbers crunchers gloat. Trout has won at last after two years of watching the backside of Miguel Cabrera. Green sure starts sentences with conjunctions frequently. I’m sure it’s a device, not a failure of understanding. Then again, the fact that he didn’t know to set off the parenthetical phrase “at last” with commas before and after makes him look ignorant of simple sentence structure.
And if you don’t believe they gloat, take a look at the website Five Three Eight with its numbers-ingrained copy. Again, we’re missing a comma here (after “Eight”). Again, the sentence starts with “and.” Again, we have simple errors in identification: It’s Five Thirty Eight, not “Five Three Eight.” All of that is nitpicking, though. The real trouble lies in the claim itself. The article I must assume Green believes to be gloating comes closest to actually gloating in the headline—and even then, it doesn’t come all that close. Say, you don’t think Green just saw the headline and made some bad assumptions, do you?
We are now inundated not only by numbers, but also by initials. MVP is old-fashioned. Now we have WAR, OPS, and WHIP. WAR translates into wins above replacement which translates into gobbledygook. “Initials” is a poor word choice here, though not a technically wrong one. He means “acronyms,” really, and the dichotomies he draws—between those acronyms and the numbers, and between MVP and the other acronyms—are totally false. The acronyms just give a shorthand for the things the numbers describe; their existence is a convenience, not a separate burden placed upon those “inundated” by numbers, and MVP is certainly not old-fashioned. If it were, Green wouldn’t have this article to write. Clearly, it’s not being inundated by initials that bugs Green, or he’d simply insist on writing out Most Valuable Player on every reference.
The Sabremetrics fanatics are cheering because Trout finally is the MVP. That award was totally deserved — this past season — because his ballclub finally finished in first place in its division. Not because he led all comers in WAR. Huh. Now winning the division seems to be enough. Interesting. (By the way, leading all comers in WAR is exactly why Trout was a deserving MVP, not only this season, but in 2012 and 2013. We’ll get further into that topic in a bit.)
And the magnificent Kershaw, whose regular season started in March in Australia, pitched his ballclub into a first-place finish in its division. Fact is, the Dodgers won the NL West in a romp with the enemy San Francisco Giants panting after them. I’m not sure what Green intends this to add to the piece, but since we’re here, allow me to point out that Kershaw led the NL in FanGraphs’s edition of WAR, with 7.2.
Brand new PUP
I now have an offering for the Sabremetrics fanciers.
They should add a category — PUP.
PUP is quite simple. It stands for Performance Under Pressure. PUP exists. It goes by several other names, but if what Green wants to capture is a player’s contributions to his team in a context-dependent setting—taking the value of each play in which they were involved, including consideration of the situations—then he’s looking for Win Probability Added, or WPA. If he wants to hone in specifically on the impact a player’s performance had on their team’s chances to reach the Postseason, or win the World Series, that’s Championship WPA. If he wants to isolate a player’s ability to step it up when the chips are down (risking Updike’s wrath in the process), we can help him there, too: We can list a raw batting line, or opponents’ batting line, in high-leverage situations, or show the Clutch stat, which asks and answers how often a player delivers in the most important situations he faces.
Take our two brand new MVPs for a case example.
Kershaw pitched for the best team in the National League. He made the Dodgers the best team in the league. Well, no, he didn’t, and this is a pretty dumb statement. Steve Carlton was, in 1972, every bit of the pitcher Clayton Kershaw was in 2014. He went 27-10 in 41 starts, completing 30 of those efforts, with a 1.97 ERA. He led the league in strikeouts, in Fielder Independent Pitching (FIP), which mimics ERA in its final form but is built using stats the pitcher can control more closely, he led in strikeout-to-walk ratio, all of it. His team was a miserable 59-97
Because of a shoulder injury suffered in March that cost him all of April, Kershaw only pitched to 749 batters in 2014—602 fewer than Carlton faced in 1972. If Carlton’s dominance wasn’t enough to make the Phillies the best team in the National League way back when, why should we believe Kershaw’s somehow made the Dodgers the best team in the NL in 2014? Kershaw pitched in 33 percent fewer games. He faced fewer than 65 percent as many batters. It’s more likely, by miles and miles, that the Dodgers would have finished with at least a .500 record if Kershaw had never thrown a pitch for them, than that Kershaw somehow willed them forward, even on his four off days in every five.
On top of all of that, the Dodgers weren’t the best team in the league. That was the Washington Nationals, who won 96 games to the Dodgers’ 94.
Trout played graceful and wondrous center field for the best team in the American League. The Angels had the supreme record in the league because they had the most talented player — Trout. Again, Green is dancing around an issue here. Trout was the most talented player in the American League in each of the two preceding seasons, too. Not even those who voted against him in previous MVP ballots really contested that point; their issue was with Trout failing to push his team into the playoffs. By their estimation, Miguel Cabrera succeeded in doing so. But if, as Green says above, the Angels aced the league “because they had the most talented player,” then what prevented them from doing so the last two years? He’s ascribing the difference between two disappointing seasons and one excellent one, at a team level, to the one part of the team unchanged across the three seasons.
Some funny things happened before the Giants and Royals battled through seven games in the recent World Series. The Giants were the No. 2 wild-card entrant in their league. The Royals barely were the No. 1 wild card in their league.
That, in essence, made the Giants the No. 5 seed in the National League playoffs. The Royals qualified as a lofty No. 4 seed in the AL playoffs.
In old-fashioned baseball terms, this was a fourth-place team vs. a fifth-place team in what MLB and the Fox sports spielers maintained was a genuine World Series. Well, we already covered this. Green says Trout deserved his MVP because the Angels won their division, but only between two separate statements that belittle the very idea of divisions, that attempt to ignore the reality of them, which is a reality that totally shapes the competitive balance of the league.
I have to ask, too: Was Green expecting someone from either MLB or Fox to denounce the Series? Did he think they would be so attached to 45-year-old ideals that they would engage in anti-marketing of their biggest event of the year? It’s not clear to me what beef he has with the Series’s promotion and presentation. I suspect that there is none, and that he’s simply laying groundwork by stirring up the natural mistrust of big institutions, like the league office and the network TV partner, he knows most of his readers already have buried inside them.
Where were the Angels and Dodgers in late October as the Giants and Royals clashed?
Waiting for next year!
Well, consider my new category PUP.
Trout and Kershaw each scored 0 — a fat nothing — in a figure that should astound the Sabremetrics stats shakers. Well, not really, unless Green just gets to hand out a subjective score on whatever basis he sees fit. (In that case, by the way, I hope you can see the uselessness of the stat itself.)
Green’s entire set-up of this article was about the MVP—a regular-season award voted upon and settled, though not handed out, before the playoffs even begin. Green knows that, we can assume, since he spent 50 years as an active sports writer. Surely he cast a few of those votes, in late Septembers now long past. That he apparently doesn’t begin awarding PUP points until the Postseason is a sharp veer off of his original topic.
What was highly publicized in the Los Angeles media as an upcoming Freeway World Series developed a flat tire outside of Anaheim. I find this to be a really crummy, hacky throwaway line, the kind of thing that ends up in a block-quote box but doesn’t inform the reader of anything. That’s just my opinion, though, and hardly his most damning misstep.
Trout — with all his great talent — went 1-for-12 in his postseason debut. The Angels were swept out of the playoffs by the Royals. While Trout wasn’t good, Green gives the bleakest possible picture here. In three games, Trout did have just one hit, but it was a home run, and he also walked three times. I’m guessing Green doesn’t set much store by walks, but they matter.
Kershaw — with his pitching magnificence — was blown up twice by the Cardinals as the Dodgers were booted from the postseason in their first round. To say Kershaw “was blown up twice” is a much nicer, cleaner lie than what Green said about Trout. I can thwack him for it much more easily. While Kershaw was run roughly in a long seventh-inning rally in Game One of the Division Series, he pitched six-plus innings in Game Four, and only allowed three runs and six baserunners. He struck out nine. In total, he struck out 19 and walked two during the series. The Dodgers lost. It wasn’t because of Kershaw.
PUP — Trout zero.
PUP — Kershaw zero.
PUP — Brandon Crawford 10. Let me help Green out here. Crawford, of the Giants, hit a grand slam that started the scoring in an eventual 8-0 rout over Pittsburgh in the Wild Card Game. He hit .213/.314/.328 over the whole Postseason, which means one of three things, I guess:
- The uncertain scale of PUP rises much higher than 10.
- Crawford’s one huge home run makes all other performance more or less irrelevant.
- Green is just throwing darts, and the one assigned to Crawford found the board. The others remain lodged in the wall.
Pieces of Silver
Nate Silver — a numbers wizard out of East Lansing — is the inventor of Five Thirty Eight, that kooky website that now collaborates with ESPN. More initials. Hey, he got Five Thirty Eight right this time! Everybody deserves a second chance.
‘Kooky’ means eccentric or strange. Five Thirty Eight uses data to analyze news stories, politics and sports. It may be wonky, but it’s not “kooky.”
Silver really is brainy intelligent — and is magical in predicting the results of national elections. He’s not quite so hot in analyzing baseball and occasionally is a bit short on English grammar. I looked it up. ‘Brainy’ is all adjective. It does not have an alternative, adverbial definition. That, combined with a misuse of ‘magical’ and a missing comma in the last sentence, pretty well dismisses Green as one capable of passing judgment on those who struggle with grammar. Perhaps he literally meant that Silver is short (as in brief) when it comes to his grammar? At any rate, Green is picking the wrong fight there.
As for his charge that Silver somehow lacks baseball chops, it’s rubbish. Silver delivered the watershed studies on a number of topics, especially aging curves, and built the excellent projection system still in use (in modified, improved forms) at Baseball Prospectus, from the ground up. Green’s cheap shot will land only with those who staunchly agree with him already, and it costs him points with any readers who have half a brain.
But who’s great all the time? Not even MVPs Trout and/or Kershaw.
Silver wrote after the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 of the World Series that Alex Gordon should have tried to score on the ball he hit to center field.
Reviewing the play, the Giants led the Royals, 3-2, with two outs and Madison Bumgarner, another magnificent left-hander, in command of his third World Series game. Gordon singled sharply to center. Gregor Blanco was caught between steps or something and allowed the ball to bounce beyond him to the wall. There, left fielder Juan Perez reached to retrieve the ball and muffed it away from him.
Finally, Perez relayed the bouncing ball to the cutoff man, Crawford, out beyond shortstop. By then, unseen by Crawford, Gordon reached third base, where he was stopped.
It was Silver’s estimate that Gordon might have had a 30 percent chance of scoring if he had continued — thus, tying the score.
By my rudimentary math, that means Gordon would have had a 70-percent chance of being thrown out at home plate. For the final out of the World Series.
There is no logic in having the final out of a World Series thrown out at home. It would have been a cardinal sin. I let Green go for a while here, because all he’s really doing is restating what Silver wrote in the piece to which Green refers. He earns a firm tap of the brakes, though, by running right by the logic Silver laid out for the position he advocated, and declaring that there was none.
What Silver was saying, and he’s right, is that if Gordon did have anything like that 30-percent shot at scoring, that was going to be the best shot the Royals got. Salvador Perez was due next. Perez was compromised by an earlier injury, had been overused all season and had been abysmal at bat since July because of it. With Bumgarner going so well and Perez so poorly, there was no more than a 25 percent chance that Perez would even extend the game beyond his own turn, let alone drive Gordon home. If Gordon had a better chance than that to score, he should have tried it.
Research by other analysts found that Gordon probably wasn’t as close to being able to score as Silver first estimated. That doesn’t invalidate the logic Silver laid out, though. Indeed, I was thinking the same thing even as I watched the play, and it’s really the only acceptable mental approach to the question.
Green tosses it out, refuses to even consider it, and does so by saying being thrown out “would have been a cardinal sin.” That’s silly; it comes from an oversimplified reading of obsolete baseball axioms. It’s lazy, and it needlessly besmirches a fun and thorough thought exercise by Silver.
Bumgarner got the decisive out on the next batter when Salvador Perez fouled out. And the Giants, having won the World Series for the third time in five seasons, were immediately classified as a dynasty. Green gets sloppy with grammar again here. He also makes a blanket statement, in passive voice, without specific attribution. He says the Giants “were immediately classified as a dynasty,” but I remember considerable ambivalence about whether they are one. For my own part, I don’t think they are. Admittedly, though, I could be further from the pulse of such a conversation than is Green.
Even though they were the equivalent of a fifth-place team. I really do think he uses these partial sentences intentionally, but he uses them way, way too much. Yikes. As for the content of this sentence and its charge, we get it. We’ve talked about it. I don’t love Bud Selig’s added layers of playoffs anymore than Green does, to be honest, but it’s a different kind of fun, and it’s an irrevocable fact of life, so railing against it the way Green is doing seems counterproductive.
Bumgarner received 100 percent of the plaudits and certainly deserved a perfect 10 in my PUP system. A-ha! So 10 is perfection. We have to talk about Brandon Crawford’s score, then, don’t we?
And as for Crawford, who also earned a 10 in PUP, he was just the relay man who caused Gordon to be halted at third base by Royals coach Mike Jirschele. I don’t know whether I can convey stridently enough how little stock I put in Jirschele having considered Crawford—his hands, his arm, anything—before deciding whether to send or hold Gordon. It’s all about the ball, in a spot like that. You might account for an outfielder’s arm, on a more normal play, but in that situation, Jirschele is doing simple geometry: Where is the ball, when does my guy reach third, what’s the quick math? Brandon Crawford didn’t cause Gordon to stay.
Just the relay man. With his back to Gordon and the infield, Crawford short-hopped the relay throw. He made a perfect pick up of a ball twice misplayed in the outfield. An extremely difficult play on which any flub would have resulted in Gordon scoring.
Nobody really realized that Crawford deserved a 10 in Performance Under Pressure for his pick-up of the hot baseball. At least until a few days later on the TV replays of the champagne-spraying aftermath.
Wow. That’s it; that’s the end of the article. It really goes, um, nowhere, doesn’t it?
This is a screed, pure and simple. It’s long, it’s windy, it’s opinionated, but it doesn’t have focus, sound foundation or intellect. It’s neither artful nor tactful. It’s an effort to belittle a segment of baseball fans, analysts and even participants, for no particular reason.
Green seems to have wanted to say two things:
- Sabermetrically-inclined baseball thinkers miss a lot of the finer points of the game, including the value of high-leverage events, which he weights far, far more heavily than what he perceives to be baseball’s day-to-day; and
- Baseball is worse in its current form. The competition is watered down, the integrity of the long season (little though he seems to care for it) is shattered and the media is both off-track and over-the-top in its coverage.
As far as they go, he conveys both points. He just does it badly, and makes a fool of himself, because both points are so objectionable, foolhardy and snide. The first is also objectively, demonstrably wrong. In fact, it’s backward.
Jerry Green is a retired Detroit News sports columnist. Read his web-exclusive columns Saturdays at detroitnews.com.
Reacting to the first sentence there: He’s retired, and still, they let him write, and pay him for it, and diminish themselves in the process. Reacting to the second sentence: No, don’t. Don’t read this crap. Say a gleeful, permanent goodbye to old men who deride the new things of the world, instead of attempting to influence them, or embrace them, or debate them. Read good writers. Look for people who love baseball, and follow them. Demand a better product from the people who bring you sports news. Jerry Green isn’t worth your time.Next post: Cubs Land La Stella, Braves Buy Back Vizcaino: Somebody Has the Next Move in Mind
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