Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I wasn't going to do this

This post popped up from the fine folks at FJM (language warning) and I briefly considered picking through it for some ideas. I held off for two reasons: first, whenever I do a baseball column it tends to get loudly ignored. I don't like to annoy my guests. Second, I had been saving up for a "meta column" of sorts, trying to get down to the reasons why stat-hounds and grit-n-hustle lovers get after each other with such venom. (Those are the posts where I annoy myself by lapsing into that faux learnéd textbook tone. You know the one. I'm such a smug little idiot.)

I may yet write the meta-column. (Cripes, even the term "meta-column" is so textbooky. Grrrrr.) But the Bill Conlin column is back on the table, in a big way, because after FJM (and a few others) disputed his contention that Jimmy Rollins deserved the National League MVP award this year, he completely flipped out. Some of the details are at the crashburnalley link, but I learned of this at Ace of Spades HQ.

Background - Conlin made a case for Rollins as a deserving MVP. Well, cool - there were a few great candidates in the NL, though I found a couple of flaws in Conlin's reasoning. First, he cited Rollins impressive hitting. I had already pegged the problem with this: if Rollins isn't hitting for power, he doesn't do enough to justify 750 or more plate appearances per year.* Turns out that FJM had a better peg: Rollins wasn't even the best hitting shortstop in his division this year. Second, Conlin cited Rollins' Gold Glove. He's better defensively than Hanley Ramirez, to be sure, but Gold Glove good? Troy Tulowitzki handled more chances in fewer innings, turned more double plays, and committed the same number of errors. Too often lately the GG has been given more like a Silver Slugger, where big names with good sticks get the nod. And I think Conlin gets that, because while he was snidely dismissing Bill James' range calculations, he said that the important thing in fielding was getting the out - and James' stats were an attempt to find out how many times that happens. If Tulowitzki gets to more chances than Rollins, he gets more outs, thus saving more runs, thus playing defense better.

(This also circles back to the chief critique of Rollins as a hitter - he makes a lot of outs. If the whole point of defense is getting the out, thus preventing runs, it only stands to reason that the whole point of offense is NOT getting out, thus causing runs.)

Anyway, he wrote up his piece, was a little prickly about it, but less than the guys excoriating his writing. (And again, I plead guilty on this.) You know, free exchange of ideas and all - it's not like Rollins is an atrocious hitter and stone-gloved fielder who somehow hypno-toaded his way to an MVP award. Congrats and all that. But that's when flipping out occurred.

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

Nice. Of course, Bill Conlin has no idea what most bloggers do for a living. Besides, there are plenty of bloggers who could easily take up this challenge - Mark Steyn, James Lileks, and Bill Simmons pop into mind immediately. Simmons is in fact the prototypical blogger-made-good, writing up Boston sports in his spare time and winning such a following that ESPN snapped him up. There's more than one way to pay your dues.

Things escalated unfortunately from there between Conlin and Bill B at crashburnalley. After a couple more snarks back and forth, Conlin took a time-honored internet law - "The first person to bring Hitler into the argument, loses" - and broke it into bitty bits.

"The only positive thing I can think of about Hitler’s time on earth–I’m sure he would have eliminated all bloggers."

I've seen plenty of people cross that law by calling their opponents "Hitler" but this is the first (and hopefully only) time I've ever seen someone call himself "Hitler" and mean it as a compliment. This is the baseball equivalent of hitting into a triple play, while running over your star player and blowing out his ACL. I mean - WOW. You hate bloggers, so you wish Hitler had started roasting them or something? Because the actual Hitlers of today are actually doing this to actual people all over the world. In Cuba, people are jailed if they open libraries. In the Middle East and China, pro-democracy writers (print and online) are routinely harrassed, beaten, and silenced. Do you really want to use this as an example of your disdain for part-time writers with a passion for their topics? They disagree (perhaps rudely) so break out the jackboots?

In order to defend the high ground, you have to stand on it. This wasn't the way. I mean, some of the quotes of Conlin's taunts are astounding. The guy touts his high IQ, but then snits like he hasn't gotten past first grade; he touts his baseball experience but then shouts down any new information that could help him improve that experience. It's a terrible trap to automatically assume "there's nothing new for me to learn, so cram it." I mean, being snide about chances handled per nine innings? Any baseball writer knows about ERA, right? Well, what is chances per nine innings but a rough equivalent for fielders? It's not the only measure any more than ERA is the only pitching measure, but it's not outrageous for a writer, fan, manager, or whomever to take it into account - "Gee, he gets to more balls per game, but doesn't hit as well, but he's a little faster... who's better?" That's what talking sports is all about, unless one prefers a shouting match where the crankiest coot in the bar "wins" by volume rather than debate.

*The relevant section, for those who don't want to hear me whine about Mark Kriegel's writing, is as follows: "Jimmy Rollins is a pretty fair ballplayer, likely this season's NL MVP, but I think it's amazing that Krieger [oops] would rather talk about his leadership and his fighting spirit, and not about his becoming the fourth guy in the entire history of baseball to have 20 doubles, triples, homers, and steals in the same season. (It was all the rage a few weeks ago when Curtis Granderson got there.) He is also no better than average at getting on base - .344 this season, .331 for his career, never topping .350 - so if Rollins isn't hitting for power like he has the past two years, he is not as valuable as Wright or Beltran. (A three-way comparison of this season.)"

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