Answering Murphy’s Question

David Murphy, pretty much the only Philadelphia Daily News journalist that is even tolerable (Murphy is great), wrote a blog today asking the question, “How much does Rollins mean to this team?

Before I get into that, let me do my usual thing of linking you to my latest work at Baseball Digest Daily:

Shameless self-promotion aside, let’s get to the question. I’ll go through what he said in his blog and write my response to it.

[...] I’m convinced that Jimmy Rollins is one of those rare athletes whose presence really can invigorate a team. It’s why I disagree with those who say he shouldn’t have been MVP last year.

Well, unless Rollins’ intangibles can essentially add 30 OPS+ points either to himself or to his team (or both) and turn his defense from mediocre to above-average, there’s no justification for Rollins getting the MVP award last season. It was really between David Wright, Chipper Jones, and Chase Utley.

As to his “presence,” I don’t think there’s any question that he has a positive effect on his team, but that effect is minuscule as we are talking about professional Major League Baseball players — the highest caliber in the world. If they need to be in Rollins’ presence to feel excited about playing, or to be energized in the 7th inning in a getaway game, then it’s likely we’re not talking about MLB players.

But beyond that, I’m convinced his presence made his teammates better. Not in a concious [sic] way. Jayson Werth and Greg Dobbs didn’t walk up to the plate thinking, “I’m going to single now because Jimmy Rollins is here.”

The only other way this works is subconsciously then, and there’s really little difference between the two as both are unprovable.

There’s no question the Phillies are a better team with Jimmy Rollins at shortstop instead of Eric Bruntlett, and they’re better with Rollins leading off so Shane Victorino can hit second, Geoff Jenkins or Werth can hit sixth, Pedro Feliz seventh, and Carlos Ruiz eighth (Murphy explains this later).

That much is tangible, though. Rollins is light years ahead of Bruntlett offensively. The lower in the order Feliz hits, the less outs he makes (he is an outs machine). Bruntlett was hitting second and has an OBP of .308. While Shane Victorino hasn’t been any better (.305 OBP) he has a much higher ceiling and the more you pair him with Rollins at the top of the batting order, the less outs there will be when Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Pat Burrell come to the plate, which creates a lot of opportunities to score runs.

But there’s just something about this offense, this team, when Rollins is in the line-up. Everything clicks. Shane Victorino gets to hit second instead of first. That’s where he belongs. Werth gets to hit sixth and bring some speed to the middle of the order. Pedro Feliz gets to hit seventh. Carlos Ruiz gets to hit eighth.

The “Everything clicks” Murphy cites is tangible, as explained above. If he’s going for the intangible — that, in a vacuum, everyone in the lineup is better when Rollins is in there than when he is not — then it’s simply a “God of the gaps” argument, which is basically saying “If we don’t know, then [preconceived notion -- in this case, intangibles] is the answer.”

How many times over the past month has the leadoff spot come up with two out in an inning? When Rollins is that leadoff guy, there’s a real potential for something big to happen. In fact, it’s expected.

“He always tells me just to get on,” pitcher Cole Hamels said.

Hamels got on the eight with two out, and Rollins hit a huge home run.

This is a cherry-pick. Why is Rollins somehow a better candidate when there are two outs? Granted, he has a 1.067 OPS with two outs, but that’s in a small sample size: 10 plate appearances. Last season, Rollins’ OPS dropped with every out recorded: 0 outs, .945; 1 out, .867; 2 outs, .768. And given his mediocre OBP (.331 career; .344 last season), I have more confidence in Jayson Werth (.351 career OBP; .404 last season) to extend an inning with two outs. In fact, Werth’s OPS with two outs was better than Rollins’ at .797.

I asked Hamels if we make too much of the impact Rollins brings to the entire team.

“Absolutely not,” he said.

What do you expect him to say? He’s not about to trash his own teammate.

Here’s another thing I think. And again, it’s just me thinking. But me thinking thinks that Rollins returning will help Ryan Howard too. I don’t think the first baseman would ever admit it, but there was more pressure on him with Rollins out. And that may have affected him. Last year he hit .223 when Chase Utley was down. He put some good swings on the ball tonight. Scored a run.

There are a lot of hasty generalizations here. Tangibly, Rollins will help Howard because it’s more likely Rollins will be on base than his replacement (Bruntlett) would have, so when Howard bats, there will be less outs and runners on base, which means Howard will see more predictable fastballs.

Secondly, Ryan Howard did not hit well when Chase Utley was injured because the Phillies played a lot of teams with good pitching:

  • July 30-August 2: Chicago Cubs, 2nd-best pitching in NL
  • August 3-5: Milwaukee Brewers, 9th-best pitching in NL
  • August 10-12: Atlanta Braves, 3rd-best pitching in NL
  • August 14-16: Washington Nationals, 10th-best pitching in NL
  • August 21-23: Los Angeles Dodgers, 6th-best pitching in NL
  • August 24-26: San Diego Padres, best pitching in NL

Understandably, the Phillies went 9-10 against those teams, and 6-3 against teams with bad pitching staves (4-2 vs. Pittsburgh Pirates’ 3rd-worst pitching, 2-1 vs. Florida Marlins’ worst pitching).

Ryan Howard was helped by Jimmy Rollins because he had some good swings and scored a run? Howard scored 8 runs in 18 games (1 R every 2.25 G) without Rollins and 10 runs in 19 games (1 R every 1.9 G) with Rollins — very little difference.

Howard has had some good swings lately, he’s just been a little unlucky (.211 BABiP). His two good swings last night came in his third at-bat against starter Pat Misch with just over 57 total innings of Major League experience, and in his one at-bat against reliever Tyler Walker who is league-average (102 ERA+ this season, 97 career ERA+).

Rollins’ return to the Phillies makes his team better because he’s better than his replacement Eric Bruntlett, not because he’s energetic or motivational or clutch.

A Response to MBB, Re: Murray Chass

The New York Yankees blog, My Baseball Bias, recently defended journalist Murray Chass after he was bought out by the New York Times. Chass, of course, is not highly regarded among most baseball bloggers, but it’s perfectly fine for MBB to defend him if they have legitimate points. I largely disagree with how MBB backed up its statements, and I’d like to show why. MBB’s words will be in bold, my words in regular typeface will follow.

Why get rid of him at the beginning of this season, and not after last season or at the conclusion of the current one? I’m not sure if the New York Times even gave a reason. Was it his age? Quality of work? Or a combination of the two?

There likely isn’t one big reason; more likely, it was a combination of things: the continuing decline of the newspaper industry, Chass’ abrasiveness, and the popularity of baseball blogs (which is, for the most part, inversely proportional with Chass’ and subsequently the New York Times sports section’s popularity).

The website “Baseball Prospectus” penned an open letter to Chass and criticized him on this point. Like sheep, other internet writers followed suit.

“Like sheep”? So, Sabermetric-minded bloggers don’t think for themselves and simply follow whatever Baseball Prospectus (I’m assuming he’s implying other big baseball websites as well) does?

Because of the scientific mindset that Sabermetrics take, you’ll always find its users criticizing each other. It’s a healthy process that occurs in all other branches of science, as science is self-critical. Baseball Prospectus, for instance, bases some statistics off of replacement-level players. Tangotiger analyzed some statistics to find out that BP’s replacement level is set at too low of a standard.

Sabermetric-minded bloggers aren’t all one cohesive unit that think alike. You may find one person who likes to use VORP, WARP, and UZR to judge a player’s value to his team; another might prefer WPA, Win Shares, and RZR. Every statistic has it’s pluses and minuses, some more than others.

My point is, so what if Chass, who was inducted into the writers’ wing of the baseball Hall of Fame in 2003, didn’t care for what he labeled, “new-age baseball statistics?’’

If he simply “didn’t care for” Sabermetrics, there would be no problem. However, he has overtly criticized people who do use them and has shown little to no effort in attempting to understand them. It’s like saying you don’t like Oreo cookies without ever having eaten one.

Here is exactly how Chass feels about Sabermetrics and the people who use them, from an article called “As Season Approaches, Some Topics Should Be Off Limits” dated February 27, 2007:

Things I don’t want to read or hear about anymore:

[...]

Statistics mongers promoting VORP and other new-age baseball statistics.

I receive a daily e-mail message from Baseball Prospectus, an electronic publication filled with articles and information about statistics, mostly statistics that only stats mongers can love.

To me, VORP epitomized the new-age nonsense. For the longest time, I had no idea what VORP meant and didn’t care enough to go to any great lengths to find out. I asked some colleagues whose work I respect, and they didn’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. Don’t ask what it means. I don’t know.

I suppose that if stats mongers want to sit at their computers and play with these things all day long, that’s their prerogative. But their attempt to introduce these new-age statistics into the game threatens to undermine most fans’ enjoyment of baseball and the human factor therein.

People play baseball. Numbers don’t.

Can you smell the intolerance? He doesn’t just “not care” for Sabermetrics and its users, he views stat-heads as beneath him and the science of Sabermetrics as a waste of time, mostly his.

This is a professional journalist, someone who has a college degree and gets (I assume) adequately compensated to write and publish well-thought-out, well-researched, professional articles about baseball. Instead, he takes offense to an activity that would have no effect on his life whatsoever if he were to just ignore it. Similar to people who are against homosexual marriage — what do you care what people do behind closed doors when you’re not even around — what does Chass care what people do on their computers, what they highlight in newspaper and magazine articles, and how they analyze baseball teams and players?

To be honest, I’m not sure if VORP really adds anything, or simply confuses one’s enjoyment of this beautiful sport.

Just because it doesn’t enhance the game for you doesn’t mean it doesn’t, or can’t, for anyone else. VORP seems to be the cliche “nerd stat” but Sabermetrics are so much more than VORP — an offense-only counting statistic, by the way.

Baseball is a game packed with numbers, some valuable and some not. Does every statistic have meaning?

Some statistics are more meaningful than others. Wins and losses for pitchers? Meaningless. Batting average? Not so meaningful. On-base percentage? Meaningful.

“Meaning,” of course, referring to how informative it is.

I think there were instances when had the A’s used the latter strategy, the team would have advanced in the playoffs.

Isn’t hindsight a great thing?

When Joe Torre was managing the Yankees to multiple World Series titles, he never had a problem moving a runner over or swiping a bag.

Courtesy “Danny” in this BBTF thread about MBB’s article, a comparison of stolen bases and sacrifices in the Oakland Athletics’ four American League Division Series appearances:

2000 ALDS
SB: A’s 2, Yankees 1
SH: A’s 1, Yankees 1

2001 ALDS
SB: Yankees 4, A’s 3
SH: A’s 1, Yankees 1

2002 ALDS
SB: Twins 2, A’s 1
SH: Twins 2, A’s 0

2003 ALDS
SB: A’s 3, Red Sox 3
SH: A’s 1, Red Sox 0

Total
SB: Opponents 10, A’s 9
SH: Opponents 4, A’s 3

The A’s were just a hair out-small-balled.

Oh yeah, the A’s never got past the opening round, and only advanced to the second round in 2006 before getting swept by the Detroit Tigers.

So, the lack of deep-playoff success is the fault of a general ideology? The New York Yankees made the playoffs every season between 1995 and 2007 (13 seasons), but haven’t been out of the ALDS in the last four. Using MDD’s logic, we can pin the Yankees’ recent lack of playoff success on their not having a problem “moving a runner over or swiping a bag.”

My point? There are a lot of factors that go into winning and losing in the playoffs. Pinning it on a broad philosophy is intellectually dishonest and, frankly, lazy.

As a sportswriter, it’s important to keep up with what’s going on, but it’s also vital to dismiss what I think isn’t critical.

There’s a way to do that tactfully. Chass took the route of unprofessionalism.

I enjoyed his insight and passion, and never failed to read his Sunday column, which I felt was consistently strong until the end.

What’s the point? So what, you like the guy. This doesn’t add anything to your case and only detracts from your credibility because it seems you’re biased (that, of course, having nothing to do with the blog’s title).

That Chass, who had been the national baseball columnist for the Times since 1986, is a baseball traditionalist shouldn’t be held against him.

No one is holding his baseball traditionalism against him. He has the right to think the way he does; what we are holding against him is his intolerance for differing ideas and the lack of tact he has in expressing his distaste for Sabermetrics.

I’m a traditionalist, and likewise honor and respect the game.

You don’t need to be a traditionalist to honor and respect the game.

Few internet writers bother to attend games and sit in the press box.

This seems like a subtle “he actually watches the games unlike you nerds staring at your computer monitors” argument. You don’t need to actually attend the games to understand what occurred during the game. There are radio, television, and Internet broadcasts that don’t make stadium attendance mandatory to be hip to the scene.

To me, this is a must, otherwise it’s going to be tough getting players on the record.

Er, what? Chass needs to sit in a press box to get players “on the record”? I’m going to simply claim “false dichotomy” here.

Many bloggers simply just take pot shots, and have no basis in what they’re spouting.

Such a generalization… and MBB cites no examples. What, exactly, is a pot shot anyway?

I would be interested in seeing MBB’s examples of bloggers taking pot shots and having no basis for statements.

Last week I went to writer and Boston native Seth Mnookin’s blog, and essentially said the same thing. Everybody comes in with their own bias. Maybe Mnookin doesn’t care for Chass because he perceives him to be anti-Boston? Who knows?

Who cares what a Boston blogger thinks about Chass? You yourself just said that “Many bloggers simply just take pot shots, and have no basis in what they’re spouting.”

I have never read Mnookin’s work before but if he doesn’t like Chass, it is probably due to his intellectual dishonesty, tactlessness, and intolerance.

What is clear is that Chass, who graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1960, then worked for The Associated Press, and later the Times beginning in 1969, is an expert on all matters pertaining to baseball’s labor and business issues.

All of that has little to do with being “an expert on all matters pertaining to baseball’s labor and business issues,” unless he took a class on matters pertaining to baseball’s labor and business issues. I’m going to guess he didn’t.

During baseball’s strikes, and the events leading up to the work stoppage, reading Chass was mandatory. His work was directly on the pulse of what the players’ union and team owners were saying. His sources were impeccable, and his writing keen, clear and impeccable. He always hit a home run.

If you want, I can get you Murray’s phone number so you can fellate him in person.

Last season during spring training, I e-mailed Chass and asked if he’d do a question-and-answer for a weekly column I write for The Tolucan Times in Southern California. About a week before the season began, and after his stay in Florida was over, he agreed. Most writers, and especially one approaching his seventies, would have begged off. Not Chass, who answered my queries. I give him much credit for this and also not abandoning his trade.

Ah, so we get to the crux of the matter: Chass patted your back, now you’re patting his. This has nothing to do with the quality of his work, it’s simply an anecdote of a time when Chass was simply agreeable. If we had a list of Murray’s interactions with bloggers via E-mail, this anecdote, I’m presuming, could be labeled as a cherry-pick.

At a time when Peter Gammons, Buster Olney, and Tim Kurkjian, have all left the newspaper business and headed for the more-profitable television gig, Chass stayed put. That is until his employer asked him to leave.

It’s funny that the author of this article intended to defend the actions of Murray Chass, but it seems that the longer he wrote this article, the harder it became to rehash the same line over and over, so he started citing positive examples of his personality.

Murray Chass could be the most generous sports journalist to ever live. He could donate half of his salary to charities and one of his kidneys to an ailing family member and rescue orphaned puppies in his spare time, but it matters not in an objective discussion about the quality of his writing and the way he treats people who disagree with him.

Sunday’s Mass in Ruth’s House Contemptible

Before I get into the Pope at Yankee Stadium, I’d like to first discuss the fact that State Farm Insurance had been intentionally and blatantly bilking Hurricane Katrina victims out of their insurance claims. I was appalled to find out that State Farm was denying claims to its customers who had lost everything to the destructive path of the hurricane because the damage was, according to State Farm, caused by floods and winds, which are not covered under their policies. They were backing these egregious claims up by manipulating the claims reports, acquiring “scientifically dishonest” information, and performing “sham re-inspections” of homes.

In addition, State Farm has also been playing hardball on minor-crash claims. According to a CNN.com article from February 2007:

In an affidavit in a New Mexico case where Allstate is being sued, one of the company’s former attorneys said the strategy is to make fighting the company “so expensive and so time-consuming that lawyers would start refusing to help clients.”

If you recall the 2007 MLB All-Star Game and Home Run Derby, State Farm had its logo plastered all over. Since then, State Farm has affiliated with all four major sports organizations and you’ll find banners at every arena, commercials during every national telecast, and in some cases, State Farm being brought to you by some segments like the “Play of the Game.”

The reason why I bring this up is that these sports organizations are affiliating themselves with a reprehensible company. They are all either completely ignorant of or entirely uncaring towards State Farm’s abhorrent practices. It is my hope that with enough exposure of State Farm’s misdeeds, there can be pressure put on these organizations to halt their ties with State Farm.

Similarly, the Pope – the infallible leader of the Roman Catholic Church and leader of Vatican City – is at the top of an organization responsible for abhorrent practices, but the numbers in this case are exponentially greater and the actions more disgusting than State Farm’s. Everyone, of course, is familiar with what I am talking about: the numerous, undying revelations of sex abuse – mostly of children – within the ranks of the Catholic Church. However, only the people who have been caught have been punished; the institution responsible for fostering these urges has never once been given even a mere slap on the wrist. The Pope and the Catholic Church have been given infinite “Get out of jail free” cards.

Bill Maher made some excellent points on April 11’s edition of Real Time with Bill Maher during his “New Rules” segment. He said, “When the current Pope was in his previous Vatican job as John Paul’s Dick Cheney, he wrote a letter instructing every Catholic bishop to keep the sex abuse of minors secret until the statute of limitations ran out. And that’s the Church’s attitude.”

Later on, Maher added, “But just remember one thing: If the Pope was, instead of a religious figure, merely the CEO of a nationwide chain of daycare centers, where thousands of employees had been caught molesting kids, and then covering it up, he’d be arrested […]”

Yankee Stadium on Sunday housed 57,000 hysterical followers of Catholicism and fans of Pope Benedict, “the CEO of a nationwide chain of daycare centers.” The city of New York not only associated with, but enthusiastically opened their doors to an organization made up of “thousands of employees [who] had been caught molesting kids.” To make matters worse, a plaque commemorating the Pope’s visit will be placed in Monument Park alongside the likes of Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and Joe DiMaggio.

This, to me, is unforgivable, and it’s shameful that not one word of criticism has been pointed in New York’s direction. To clarify, I am referring to both the city of New York and the Yankees, as the city bought the stadium for $24 million in 1972 and leased it back to the Yankees. In addition, I’m not claiming that all Catholics or all of Catholicism is bad; there are many philanthropic Catholics and the religion is also used to aid needy people, but it doesn’t somehow forgive what has been done. I’m sure State Farm donates millions of dollars to charities every year, but it doesn’t mean we should forgive them for bilking Katrina victims.

When any business is proposed an offer, such as Major League Baseball being proposed an offer from State Farm to place their logo on billboards across all 30 stadiums, you’d think that that business would only want to associate itself with other businesses who share their positive ideals. After all, you are judged by those you associate yourself with, and if Major League Baseball is associating itself with a company that intentionally slights their customers (particularly those who have few assets), that can’t reflect well on MLB. Similarly, the city of New York and the Yankees should be embarrassed for being so complacent in allowing a religion that is not only responsible for but fosters and attempts to cover up sex abuse within the ranks of the Catholic Church to host 57,000 followers in Yankee Stadium.

When you apply for something like a job, a loan, or a credit card, they look for red flags in your history, reasons they might be concerned about you. Oftentimes, you are asked if you’ve ever committed any crimes. Could you imagine if the Catholic Church had to apply for something like this as an ordinary person would, and have to answer honestly? How quickly would they be rejected when the other side reads “child molester” on the application? Whoever said that there’s strength in numbers must have been talking about the Catholic Church.

In closing, the ballpark is for watching baseball games, not a venue to express patriotism or religious beliefs. Don’t just passively accept everything you see and hear at the ballpark anymore: think about what that national anthem and American flag really means to you and not what it means to everyone else, or what it’s “supposed” to mean to you; what that State Farm advertisement hanging on the façade of the second deck symbolizes to the thousands of people who have lost friends and family members and their homes to Hurricane Katrina, and have nothing left in their name but the clothes on their back; and what it means to the seven-year-old kid who is at “The House that Ruth Built” for the first time in his life on April 29 –  when the Yankees come back home to face the Detroit Tigers – after it hosted 57,000 followers and the leaders of a religion responsible for thousands of cases of child molestation.

Baseball used to be about the fans and the beautiful, intellectual game; now it’s about profit margins, appeasing large political and religious groups.

The saying goes “simpler is better.” Leave the pageantry and political and religious connections for another venue, let’s get back to “see the ball, hit the ball,” as Aubrey Huff would say. The ballpark is the perfect place for traditionalists and Sabermetricians, Red Sox and Yankees fans, liberals and conservatives, theists and atheists, rich and poor, young and old to come together and put aside the stresses of everyday life for three and a half hours in favor of the stresses of failed sacrifice bunts, dropped infield flies, four-pitch walks to the opposing pitcher, and lead-changing home runs in the top of the ninth inning.

A Hockey Post? Really?

Yes, really. I just had to comment on it, as I’m sure millions hundreds of not just Philadelphia Flyers fans, but hockey fans, are as well: the Flyers got jobbed in Game 1 against the Montreal Canadiens.

The Flyers went into the second period with a 2-0 lead and looking much better than the Canadiens, but the crap was only beginning to hit the fan when Alexei Kovalev used his stick to bat down the puck into the net behind goaltender Marty Biron. Everyone who isn’t a Canadiens fan could clearly see that it was a high-stick (above the crossbar) simply by the fact that… his stick hit the crossbar. The referees’ whistles, however, were silent.

That stuff happens, karma, yada yada yada…

With about a minute left in regulation in the third period and the orange and black up 3 to 2, center Mike Richards clearly knocked Kovalev down with his shoulder, but the refs claimed that Richards kneed him, and the Canadiens got a power play with 1:09 remaining on the clock. Unsurprisingly, they pulled their goaltender to create a 6-on-4 advantage, and, as luck would have it, Jeff Carter’s stick broke on the face-off — essentially making it 6-on-3 — and the puck glided right over to Kovalev who promptly tied the game at threes with 29 seconds left in the third period.

The Flyers’ bad luck continued when Tom Kostopoulos scored 48 seconds into overtime.

So, we can say that the referees were responsible for two Canadiens goals and indirectly responsible for another (Kostopoulos’).

Even worse is that Gary Bettman, commissioner of the NHL, calls the officiating “good” according to an article by Scott Cruickshank of the Calgary Herald:

“You know what? I think the officiating is good,” said Bettman. “I think it undergoes intense scrutiny this time of year. Of all the people on the ice and surrounding the ice, our officials probably make the fewest mistakes. This is a game of mistakes, including the officials, and we hold them accountable.”

It’s not just the labor issues that have the NHL lagging well behind the other three major sports organizations — it’s the blatantly awful officiating, and the commissioner of it all has not a clue.

BDD: On Ryan Howard and Brad Lidge

I will be starting a weekly segment updating Ryan Howard’s strikeouts: how many he’s on pace for in a full season, and where his K-total ranks among the game’s elite starting pitchers. Currently, he has more strikeouts (32) than every starting pitcher in baseball except Johan Santana (also 32).

I tackled this issue previously, but given Lidge’s early-season success, it was worth mentioning again: Brad Lidge quiets those amateur psychoanalysts who think he was mentally anguished by Albert Pujols’ three-run homer in Game 5 of the ’05 NLCS.