Conlin’s Losing Numbers [UPDATED TWICE: See end]

As you might recall from late August, I picked on Marcus Hayes of the Philadelphia Daily News for his close-minded and immature diatribe against proponents of Sabermetrics in baseball.

I’ve found another target. Bill Conlin, also of the Philadelphia Daily News, recently wrote an article called Rollins’ Winning Numbers. Fire Joe Morgan has done a great job of dissecting his article.

I sent Conlin an E-mail, but before I reveal those, I’d just like to point out the snippet of his article which deserves much ire.

Despite his defensive contribution being backhanded by Red Sox front office stat man Bill James – baseball’s most influential cybergeek – the league’s managers and coaches awarded him a Gold Glove.

Apparently, James decided that a Range Factor based on successful chances (putouts plus assists) times nine innings, divided by number of defensive innings played is more important than the result – for example, a friggin’ out. Despite his No. 3 fielding percentage of .985 (behind Troy Tulowitzki’s .987 and Omar Vizquel’s .986) Rollins rated No. 15 in the James Range Factor. Fortunately, the baseball men who vote for the Gold Gloves depend on what they see, not laptop science. Jose Reyes, a nimble windshield wiper, ranked No. 25 in RF.

Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version of that article:

  1. Conlin attempts to insult Sabermetricians, who devalue Rollins’ defense compared to baseball statistical traditionalists, because he was given a Gold Glove anyway. Remember how meaningful the Gold Glove is when you are reminded that Rafael Palmeiro was given a Gold Glove at first base in a season in which he logged just 28 games at that position.
  2. Conlin shows his ignorance of basic math by making Range Factor out to be more complicated than it really is. Range Factor is (Putouts plus Assists) divided by Innings Pitched. Fielding Percentage is (Putouts plus Assists) divided by (Putouts + Assists + Errors). Which one is more “complicated”? In addition, he wrote, “James decided that a Range Factor [...] is more important than the result – for example, a friggin’ out.” If only the result of putouts and assists wasn’t “a friggin’ out.”

As many other “cyber-geeks” did, I decided to send Conlin an E-mail.

Hi Mr. Conlin,

Hope all is well. My name is Bill as well, and I run a blog called Crashburn Alley. Needless to say, I’ve read many of the blogs bashing your article, such as Fire Joe Morgan and the discussion at Baseball Think Factory.

So, I’m not going to bash you since it’s already been done. And hey, I already picked on your colleague Marcus Hayes.

I do want to ask you, though, what makes Rollins better than New York Mets third baseman David Wright as a National League MVP candidate?

Wright hits for more power (.546 SLG to Rollins’ .531), gets on base at a higher rate (.416 OBP to Rollins’ .344), fields his position about equally as well as Rollins fields his (shortstop is defensively more demanding, however, but not enough to make a huge difference), and has comparable speed to Rollins (34 SB, seven less than Rollins’ 41).

The Sabermetrics really make the case for Wright, but I know you’re not a fan of those and won’t waste your time with them.

What does Rollins do better, besides being a hairline better than Wright defensively and on the basepaths (whereas Wright is more than a hairline better than Rollins at getting on base and slugging, the two things a hitter is paid to do)?

My personal top-five NL MVP rankings would go Wright, Albert Pujols, Chipper Jones, Rollins, and Matt Holliday.

It’s a bitter pill for me to swallow — to make the case against Rollins — being a die-hard Phillies fan, but I try to be objective. I don’t even think Ryan Howard deserved the NL MVP award last season over Albert Pujols.

Thanks for your time,

Bill B. (Crashburn Alley)

Conlin deftly dodges my questions and stated facts with a simple response.

Know what, pal? Bash this. . .Tell your bloggers, my career against theirs. . .

If I felt like being smarmy, I could have pointed out to him that this is just an appeal to authority. A statement is not any more right because someone more important is saying it. For instance, is 2+2=4 any more correct if Albert Einstein says it than if George W. Bush says it? You don’t have to go to accounting college to know that.

Anyway, I let him know I was disappointed in his failure to address any of my points.

Well, Mr. Conlin, I have to say that I’m disappointed. I know your colleague Marcus Hayes responded with little tact, but I guess it’s a trait of those who work at the Daily News.

I will take it by your evasion of my questions and the facts I’ve stated that you are unable to make any legitimate case for Rollins over Wright for MVP. But, hey, whatever helps you sell papers.

You have given me an easy decision, with your tactless, factless response, not to ever buy a newspaper from the Philadelphia Daily News or to watch their program on Comcast SportsNet, at least until you and Mr. Hayes resign, or in a more likely scenario, are fired.

Hope you had a nice Thanksgiving.

– Bill B. (Crashburn Alley)

Note in my initial E-mail to Conlin that I identified myself as a Phillies fan, and in both E-mails, I linked him to my blog. So, there should be no confusion that I am a fan of any other team but the Phillies, right?

Wrong. He responded thusly.

Don’t you need to contact the 30 electors–including the two Mets beat writers–who failed to give write a single first place vote instead of a commentator who does not vote for the awards. You’re a Mets fan and you had your little bubble of arrogance and smugness burst. Your team choked big time, an epic gagaroo. At least the 1964 Phillies had an excuse–they were probably no more than the Cardinals, Reds, Braves, Dodgers and Giants that year. One question: When a Mets team chokes in a forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a gagging sound? Next time bring more to the table than wishful fan numbers that bear no semblance to reality. I wonder how it feels to be the Phillies bitch

That would hurt so much… if I was a Mets fan. I’m a Phillies fan making an objective case for David Wright.

So, this is twice now that a journalist from the Philadelphia Daily News has been both tactless and unable to present a legitimate factual case for anything they’ve posited. I truly hope that Conlin isn’t a microcosm of American sports media — ignorant and close-minded.

As for Wright over Rollins, the facts make it plain to see.

Rollins

.875 OPS (.344 OBP; .531 SLG)

41-for-47 in stolen bases

9th out of 14 qualified NL SS in Revised Zone Rating; third in Out of Zone plays.

Wright

.962 OPS (.416 OBP; .546 SLG)

34-for-39 in stolen bases

5th out of 12 qualified NL 3B in Revised Zone Rating; first in Out of Zone plays.

And that’s only using the most basic of Sabermetrics, and only for defense.

Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP), which accounts for both offense and defense in one handy statistic, puts Wright at 12.7 WARP. Rollins is at 11.5. For fun, Matt Holliday is at 11.9, but he’s purely a product of Coors field.

So, not only was Conlin disrespectful and close-minded, he was flat out wrong.

CORRECTION: Thanks to reader Double D for correcting me. I had said that Conlin voted for the awards this off-season, but Double D asserted that only active beat writers get to vote.

UPDATE: Conlin just responded with what may be the quote of the decade

I said:

Mr. Conlin,

I linked you to my blog, and I called myself a die-hard Phillies fan in my initial message to you. Remember? I said:

It’s a bitter pill for me to swallow — to make the case against Rollins — being a die-hard Phillies fan, but I try to be objective.

So, I enjoyed the Mets’ collapse as much as you did. :)

Though I don’t appreciate your tact, I do appreciate that you respond to those who contact you. A lot of journalists don’t even do that.

Toodle-oo,

Bill B. (Crashburn Alley)

Conlin said:

The only positive thing I can think of about Hitler’s time on earth–I’m sure he would have eliminated all bloggers. In Colonial times, bloggers were called “Pamphleteers.” They hung on street corners handing them out to passersby. Now, they hang out on electronic street corners, hoping somebody mouses on to their pretentious sites. Different medium, same MO. Shakespeare accidentally summed up the genre best with these words from a MacBeth soliloquy: “. . .a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. . .”

UPDATE #2: Conlin clarifies his Hitler statement. Before that, though, he said:

Just make sure you bring a higher level of literacy to go with your decimal points. Most of you guys are unreadable. That’s one of my gripes. And while many of you–not all–can get away with a level of insult and ridicule that would be actionable in a publication governed by standards and libel and slander laws, professionals must abide by those standards and laws. My columns are read by a minimum of three editors for fact, style, fairness and balance. Despite that scrutiny,errors still filter by the goalies. In my Rollins column that has upset so many of you, the only thing I would remotely take back was having Holliday performing his Game 163 heroics against the Diamondbacks when, of course, it was the Padres. D’Backs were on my mind as the soon-to-be-vanquished division champions when I wrote the line. Any editor worth his salt should have caught the error. However, most of them are so intent at catching the bad stuff they let the obvious error slip by. Who checks your facts and deletes a line that is over the edge of good taste or might demean or defame an athlete or subject? Did you take a course in the libel and slander laws? Or do you merely throw it against the wall and see what sticks? That’s what most of you do. I can’t pin that on you specifically because I have never read your blog.

I said:

Mr. Conlin,

Unfortunately, your words about Hitler have sparked quite a firestorm. I don’t think you actually meant what you said there…

As for your last response to my E-mail, you bring up a host of great points. Bloggers don’t have anyone to answer to besides advertisers (if any). However, the lack of censorship can bring about a lot of good things. Subjects that you’d never be allowed to touch (for instance, would you be allowed to have a pro-steroids article published?) can easily be covered by bloggers.

The hard work you and others have put in as journalists is something I truly admire and is something I am currently striving for myself. So, yes, I am familiar with libel and slander and all that journalistic stuff.

If you responded to your readers the way you just responded to me, you’d probably enjoy bloggers a lot more than you currently do.

Please let me know if you’d like me to post a clarification of sorts on my blog for you, as a lot of people took your words the same way I did — not very kindly. I never set out to sully your name, and feel bad that you’ve drawn much ire. And hey, it might be a golden opportunity to turn over a new leaf with bloggers.

Thanks for the discourse,

Bill B. (Crashburn Alley)

Conlin responded:

I think I’ll let the words I wrote after the death of my dear friend and colleague, the former local Associated Press Bureau Chief Ralph Bernstein and the nearly half century relationship my wife and I have had with Ralph and his family through good times and bad represent me against any contrived and baseless attempt to slime me as an anti-Semite. I was a speaker at Ralph’s Memorial service. Quite obviously, the Hitler line was used in a satiric response to what has turned into a concerted assault on my Jimmy Rollins column and on my career. It was quite obviously used in a personal e-mail. I did not publish the insulting things said about me. As editor of the Temple University News in 1960-61, I received death threats from the White Citizens Council after writing an editorial denouncing Gerald L. K. Smith and his anti-black and anti-Semitic hate-mongering newspaper “The Cross and the Flag.” I was one of the most outspoken critics of Marge Schott’s blatant anti-Semitism to the point some of my columns had to be toned down. Ditto my stand on Al Campanis, a friend, by the way, and Jimmy The Greek Snyder. I also had a long and close relationship with the late, great Dick Schaap, who wrote about my impact on The Sports Reporters at length in his autobiography, “Flashing Before My Eyes.” I am heartened that both a clear conscience and the First Amendment will be at my side.